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The Rise of the Robot Employee

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Bonnie Ramthun

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President Obama’s new initiative is a higher minimum wage, and if he is successful the result will not be higher-paid employees heading off to work every day. Instead their jobs will be filled by an entirely new sort of worker: Robots.

Robots, unlike humans, don’t require pay or sick time or vacations. If they break they’re thrown out and recycled. Robots are expensive, but the threat of a higher minimum wage is now making a robotic worker more cost-effective than hiring a real person.

Across Japan the noodle-making chefs are now made of metal, and when you order a Big Mac at a MacDonald’s in Europe you do it by touch screen. A company called Momentum Machines in southern California has developed a robot that cranks out 400 perfectly-prepared burgers every hour. (Note: Robots do not sneeze. Ever. Think about that for a bit.)

Where is this going? Are we heading for a future where slinky femme fatale robots plot the destruction of mankind while wearing the perfect red dress?

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You Want to Work for a Company Run Like This

Friday, March 14th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

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I never thought the day would come when I got genuinely excited about business management. I do not own a business. Nor am I a manager. Be that as it may, I can’t stop thinking about the potential applications of something called “lean management.”

Have you ever trained in a new hire? If so, perhaps you’ve watched as their initial eagerness and exuberance fade into doldrum and routine upon their learning “how things are done around here.” Perhaps you advised:

No, you’re working too hard….

No, we don’t do it like that….

No, that’s not your job….

Listen, if you expect things to make sense, you’re just going to end up frustrated and disappointed. Go with the flow.

I must confess to having dispensed such advice on more than one occasion. Deep down, I have always resented it. Responding to the muted exuberance of a new hire, I recall my own lost exuberance and ask:

Why don’t things make sense around here? Why doesn’t it pay to work harder? Shouldn’t processes be as efficient as possible?

Meh, that’s above my pay grade. It’s for the managers to worry about. I’m just here for the paycheck.

Organizational structure and management style enable such fatalism and contribute to an inefficient and even antagonistic workforce. When initiative and innovation go unrewarded and even punished, the game becomes doing just enough in just the right way to stay below the radar.

Concisely introduced in the above video, lean management presents an alternative to the modern management style employed in most organizations. Instead of managerial authority, lean management concerns itself with managerial responsibility. Instead of judging performance by results, lean management judges performance by process, recognizing that properly performed processes will deliver intended results. Instead of coming up with an authoritative plan, lean management conducts experiments in a kind of scientific process utilizing feedback to constantly adjust the plan. Instead of making decisions in sterile conference rooms looking at data without context, lean management gets its hands dirty inspecting the value-creation process and asking workers about their work. Speaker Jim Womack outlines these points in greater detail in the video below.

You can begin to imagine what it might be like to work in an organization managed in this way. Exuberance and enthusiasm would suddenly become welcome and profoundly relevant. You would be encouraged to offer feedback and solicit experimental changes to processes. Your job would be safe when innovation fails, because it would be generally understood that experiments are experiments. When innovation worked, you would be rewarded and fulfilled.

The quirky genius of lean management is that it’s not even clever. It’s just the recognition of objective reality and the application of the scientific method to the craft of management. Things are what they are. Processes work how they work. And we ought to adjust our plans accordingly. It’s stupid brilliant.

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The New Morality: Crying Over Served Cake

Thursday, February 27th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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In this day and age, why would you be stupid enough to use your religious beliefs as an excuse to deny someone services?

There are plenty of ways to avoid entering into a business transaction without having to appear discriminatory at all. When I worked for a private repair shop and encountered a client who seemed to be more trouble than they were worth for whatever reason, we used to simply say, “I am sorry, but we cannot provide service.” If people questioned why (which they did, very often and with plenty of attitude), we just kept repeating the same phrase: “I’m sorry, we cannot provide the service.” No one interpreted us as being discriminatory, or went as far as attempting legal action. We were simply annoying, so they moved onto a business that was willing to enter into the transaction. No harm, no foul.

That is the beauty of the free market: You have choices. If a bakery simply said “I am sorry, we can’t provide that service,” and left it at that, a gay couple denied service might interpret the owner’s choice as being discriminatory, but they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on in court. You can’t sue based on an inference. Progressives, however, rely on the courts to push their agenda because Big Government is their god. So the minute you breathe a hint of something that could be misconstrued as an opportunity for a lawsuit, they gain home-court advantage.

By simply saying, “I am sorry, we can’t provide that service,” you may be opening yourself up to some annoying picketing and internet memes, but what’s the worst that will do? Throw you in the same court as Chick fil-A? We all know how well that protest worked out. The bottom line is, you’re letting the free market decide your fate, not the courts.

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To Be a Winner In Life You Must Take Risks

Saturday, February 1st, 2014 - by Helen Smith

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I am reading a new book by Tom Panaggio entitled The Risk Advantage: Embracing the Entrepreneur’s Unexpected Edge. Panaggio is and entrepreneur and was a race car driver who:

… has learned that you cannot avoid risk if you want to be a winner. In The Risk Advantage, Panaggio tells the story of how he and his business partners built two thriving companies: Direct Mail Express (which now employs more than 400 people and is a leading direct marketing company) and Response Mail Express (which was eventually sold to equity fund Huron Capital Partners). The book is designed as a guide for those who are contemplating an entrepreneurial pursuit, are already engaged in building a business, or are currently working for someone else and want to inject their entrepreneurial ideas and attitude.

As I read through the book about the rewards of taking risks in building a business, one point jumped out at me. The author says that risk must be embraced in order to be successful; yet people are afraid of risk. “Risk means having to face an uncertain outcome.”

In terms of the differences between men and women, what does this mean? If women are more risk averse in business, they will be less successful. In our risk averse society, where everyone must be covered from cradle to grave and have the hand of a “benevolent” government guiding them, what does this mean for the entrepreneurial spirit? Add to this the punishing taxes and regulations on small business and it is a recipe for less economic growth.

Will men become more risk averse as time goes on due to the social conditioning that risk is bad? Or, even if willing to take business risks, will men decide it is not worth the trouble due to the restraints of the government? Or will they become more risk-takers by going to the underground economy and staying below the radar? I suspect that the latter option will become more popular for men while women will flock to safer jobs and opportunities funded by the government.

****

Cross-posted from Dr. Helen

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How To Write A Proposal

Saturday, January 11th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt
You want to write a novel?  For me?

You want to write a novel? For me?

If you’re going to go through traditional publishing (which might still be feasible at times) or even if you’re submitting to one of the new micro presses, there will come a time, after you’ve done a pitch for the book or after you met an editor at a convention, or even after you sent in a query asking if they wanted to see your idea, where someone will say, “Sure, send me a proposal and three chapters.”

There was a time when these words struck terror in me.  This is because I had clue zero how one wrote “a proposal” or a synopsis, or any of that stuff.  (Technically the “proposal” is three chapters and a synopsis, but half the time the editor asks for a “proposal and three chapters.”  Don’t stress, she really means a synopsis.  Well, sort of. Calm down, all will be revealed.)

Then while I was sitting at a writer’s group meeting, I told the lady next to me I had no idea how to do this, and she sketched it for me in the back of an envelope.  This was not QUITE all that was needed.  The subtleties of the different types of proposal and developing the art of a “selling” proposal took a little longer.

I can’t in a single article propose to teach you all the details of writing a selling proposal, but I can perhaps help you along.

First, remember that a proposal/synopsis is a selling tool.  Unless you’re asked to do a chapter by chapter synopsis, don’t do that.  I thought that was the only form of proposal for the longest time, but if you read a proposal that is written that way, your eyes quickly glaze over.  Yes, it might be a complete picture of your plot, but a book is more than a plot.  First, the person must know why they would care about what your characters are doing.  This is often a mistake of newbie writers, too, when you ask “tell me about your novel.”  They don’t give us what is neat about their novel, or the overarching reason I should care, but (using Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice because even if you haven’t read it – philistine! – you can look up the plot or watch a mini-series – but not the movie, because it sucks) they’ll tell you something like this,

“There’s this family, and they have all these girls see, and then there’s this assembly in town, and then the older one meets this guy and he’s rich and they like each other, but then the younger one meets his friend who is even richer, but he’s all like stuck up and proud.”

A chapter by chapter synopsis is often like that, but at greater length and even more boring.

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Selling Your Writing in 13 Weeks, Week 13: Bringing It All Together

Saturday, January 4th, 2014 - by Sarah Hoyt
Take notes.  There will be a quiz... only not by me.

Take notes. There will be a quiz… only not by me.

No, this is not actually the last posting, since I still owe you a post on covers and a – long delayed – post on proposals (to traditional publishing houses.)

I do apologize for the delays on those, but I was doing my very best not to die through what might have been the worst health-season I’ve had in a long time.

But, for now, this is my post trying to bring together everything I tried to cover on selling your book in thirteen weeks.  Sort of a summarized version of the entire thing with easy bullet points.  A “selling your writing in thirteen weeks for people who only discovered the series halfway through and are having trouble finding the previous posts (as I did when I tried to direct someone to them.)

So, as briefly as I can make it, here is your “lessons learned” recap.  Get our your number two pencil and a notebook.  There will be a test.  (Actually there will, but not administered by me, but by the world/publishing.  Though my way isn’t the only way and though things change constantly, this will get you some ways towards actually successfully publishing, in whichever mode you choose.)

First –  Traditional or Indie? How should you publish? (For the purpose of this article, indie refers to self publishing or publishing through a micro company in which you have a controlling interest.)

I know the decision I made for me, but I can’t make it for you. Depending on the field you’re working in, the book you’re working on, and your own personal preference, the answer could vary.

If you are writing the sort of book that will need a big-publisher sendoff to do well, and you’re fairly sure that you can get it, then by all means go with a traditional publisher.

If on the other hand you are writing what the publishers would consider a midlist book – your typical genre book: a romance in the style of those already out, or a cozy mystery, a quest fantasy, or a space opera – and you have the resources to self-promote, and you know or can learn your way around a cover you’re probably better off self-publishing/indie publishing.

The truth is that the traditional publishers have been taking resources away from the midlist for some years now, and now are less inclined than ever to spend promotion dollars on “this is also an enjoyable book.”  Also, some of the contracts being written don’t “guarantee” paper publication.

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Know When to Hold It

Saturday, December 21st, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
You're in it for the long haul.  Time your game.

You’re in it for the long haul. Time your game.

Selling Your Writing In 13 Weeks, Week 11

I’m not recommending any of you give up on indie publishing because you think you hold a bad hand.  This is more a matter of “you’ve got to learn to pace it.”

Look, when I was young, before I got married, I used to run. I was about to say I used to run marathons, but I only ran a few formal ones. Mostly what I did was go for a good run to shake out the stress (as I was going to college, tutoring, writing, and had an active social life, there was a time interning in a newspaper and… well… things got stressful.  Oh, yeah, also I was politically involved.)  But I ran long distances.  I sucked as a sprinter, but I was really good long distance, even in competition, because I knew how to pace myself. I wasn’t that fast over any stretch of road, but I kept going and going and going so that as other people fell (panting) by the wayside, I would be one of the first if not the first across the finish line.

Writing indie is not a sprint – it’s a marathon.

One of my friends who is an indie writer and doing fairly well is accruing her own cluster of “starting out writers looking for advice.”  This is normal. This way of publishing is so new that each of us that goes a little way out of the starting gate will become a “guru” in no time.  It reminds me a lot of computer programing back in the eighties (my husband was a programmer at the time) or even of aviation in World War I or – further back – of “established settlers” in the West.

What all of these have in common is that they are fast-changing landscapes filled with adventure and peril (of a sort.  No.  Really.  No one is going to shoot you for publishing indie.  I hope.  But you can make a fool of yourself very easily.)

And in all of these the space between “newbie” and old man is incredibly short.  If you’ve been around the scene for even a little while, you become one of the “old, trusted ones.”

My friend Cedar Sanderson – two books out, a lot of mistakes made, a lot learned, and her second book selling shockingly well – found herself the guru of a small, starting out group.

Because I’ve been her mentor for about 11 years (during most of which she wasn’t writing, but dealing with life issues – but wanting to write eventually) she comes to me when she doesn’t know QUITE what to do.

One of the problems she brought me was one of her own fledglings, who is just starting out, and who – with a few short stories out – intends to make a living out of this in a couple of years.

She didn’t know how to explain to him that while this can happen, it’s not the most likely way for things to shake out.  (I didn’t either.  I mean, I can say things, but if people aren’t going to believe me…)

So, for those of you who are willing to believe me, before you get the idea that indie publishing (or any publishing) is the fast way to fame and fortune: writing is a business.  More importantly, writing is a craft and a profession.

We all know rich lawyers, rich doctors, rich artists, for that matter (well, I know a few who are very well off.)  However, no one sane has ever made a life plan that consists of the following: week one – graduate law school.  Week two – get a million dollar check.

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3 Reasons Why Our Teenagers Can’t Find Jobs

Monday, December 9th, 2013 - by Bonnie Ramthun

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The employment rate among teenagers is incredibly dismal. I know this firsthand, since I have teens at home and teenage nieces and nephews who cannot find work. There’s an irritating theme that runs through family conversations about our unemployed teens, and the words I hear most often are “lazy” and “entitled.”

“I had a paper route when I was their age,” one of the older members of the family will tell me every time we get together. “They need to get out and hustle. Walk the neighborhood, mow lawns, weed gardens. There’s lots of jobs out there for teens.”

“They should get roofing jobs,” another family member exclaimed. “When I was a teenager in high school, the dreamiest guys were the summertime roofers since they had the most gorgeous tans. And they had the best bodies, too!”

The attitude towards teens today is one of disdain for the luxuries they enjoy and their lack of a good work ethic. Teens are spoiled, lazy, and unwilling to work hard.  Do you believe this?

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Listen up, older people. The world isn’t the same now as it was then, and that’s not good. Not good for our teens and not good for our future. The days of the paper route are gone.  Here are the three reasons why teens can’t get jobs today, and why this is terrible for America.

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How Not To Look Self Published

Saturday, November 16th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
By all means, leap, but look first.

By all means, leap, but look first.

I know sometimes the lot of us who are indie publishing sound like a deranged chorus of school children going “come on in, the water is fine.”

However, as you must have heard once or twice, you shouldn’t jump off a bridge just because all your friends are doing it. Or at least you shouldn’t leap before you look.

Here are a few things I wish I’d known when I started off. Mind you, I didn’t make as many mistakes as I might have, but I still made plenty.

I will give you some resources to check on for indie publishing, in a supplemental post (and I’m sorry I’m behind with those, but I caught the stupid flu) later on, but meanwhile here are some basic things.

While indie publishing lumps together micro presses, some small presses and self-publishing, what we’re going to be talking about here is mostly self-publishing. Or rather, how to not self-publish while self-publishing.

Confused? Don’t be. I’ll explain.

This post will mostly cover forms of self-publishing because the process to submit to micro and small presses is largely the same as to submit to traditional publishers. The advantage versus disadvantage calculations in small vs. large publisher is something you’ll have to do on your own, depending on the self-publisher and what you’re doing. Some small publishers are much better at giving you personal attention, some worse; some are very exacting with their accounting, and some… aren’t. (Then again the same could be said for some larger publishers.)

However, when you self-publish, it doesn’t mean you just throw your work on Amazon under your own name with no publisher.

You can do that of course. The fact that you can do that is one of the beautiful things about the time we live in.

However, even though in publishing circles themselves, and where no one has anything invested in dissuading you from self-publishing (as most traditional publishers do) the stigma associated with self-publishing is mostly a thing of the past – the general public doesn’t necessarily do this.

It is hard for those of us on the inside, seeing how fast the publishing landscape has changed these last four years, and being aware that some people have made fortunes by self-publishing, to realize that most of the reading public isn’t aware of this sea-change.

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Being A Professional, The Traditional Way

Saturday, October 26th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
Who Stole The Mouse's Cookie might be a riveting "true crime" but that's not what the publishers mean by "True Crime Stories."

Who Stole The Mouse’s Cookie might be a riveting “true crime” but that’s not what the publishers mean by “True Crime Stories.”

Selling your Writing in Thirteen Weeks: Week 3

Check out Sarah Hoyt’s previous entries in her new ongoing series chronicling the collision of new media publishing’s possibilities and the opportunities that still remain in traditional publishing:

Introduction, October 5: Payment Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

Week 1, October 12: To Market, To Market With Words to Peddle…

Week 2, October 19: Reasons to Brave the Indie Publishing Jungle

*****

Okay, so you want to try traditional publishing.  This is not a bad idea, if you’re writing short stories.  It’s also not a bad idea if you’re writing science fiction and fantasy novels and want to submit to Baen books.  For all else… well, I wouldn’t do it.  However, it’s your decision.  Just don’t say I told you to.

At any rate, whether you’re submitting short stories or novels, first make sure you’re sending them to the right place.

No, I don’t mean anything as silly as mailing – or emailing – your submission to the wrong address, though heaven knows if you’re sending out a lot of submissions sooner or later you’re going to do just that.  Sooner or later you’re also going to put the story in the wrong envelope.  That’s just one of those fun facts: if you’re human periodically you’re going to do something abysmally stupid, because you’re rushed, sick, or just not feeling yourself. That’s acceptable.  Even if this is a magazine and you have reason to think the editor is tracking you/keeping an hopeful eye on your submission – I’ll go into the reasons to believe that later – don’t imagine that a completely stupid mistake like that will be held against you.  Everyone knows periodically you will make a mistake. That’s fine.

What is not fine, though, is sending a children’s picture book, with hand-drawn pictures to a True Crime publisher.  (Not even if it’s a True Crime children’s picture book called If You Steal A Mouse’s Cookie.)  In the same way, it’s not acceptable to send nonfiction books on making money by flipping real estate to a science fiction publisher.  It’s not acceptable to send short stories to a book publisher and (except in certain circumstances, when the guidelines say they might serialize a novel) it’s not a good idea to send novels to a magazine.

So, first thing you do is you go to Ralan.com or to any other listing for the type of market you’re looking for (in the last resort the Writer’s Market book) and you look for markets that might be interested in your work. And, because this is now the internet, use your favorite search engine to look up the potential markets. Visit their sites, if they have them.

Make absolutely sure that you’re sending something this magazine/book publisher will buy.  Look, sometimes we all take desperate gambles.  If your short story is a little bit science fiction and a lot fantasy, and you’re out of fantasy markets, you might try a science fiction market.

But…

Well, take me for instance.  I’ve told you that I made every possible mistake coming up, right?  Well, my idea was that if my story/book was good enough, people would buy it even if it was completely inappropriate.  Look, I was 22 and had been raised on the myth of the genius.

So I sent a horror short story to a fantasy magazine.  They sent me back a personal rejection and a free copy of their magazine, told me how much they loved my story, but that it was totally inappropriate.  Could I please read the magazine and try again?

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Wikipedia Stunned That Companies Pay Users to Write Favorable Articles

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013 - by Bridget Johnson

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Wikipedia announced today that it’s investigating “as many as several hundred” users who may have been paid to promote organizations or products on the massive online encyclopedia.

“Our readers know Wikipedia’s not perfect, but they also know that it has their best interests at heart, and is never trying to sell them a product or propagandize them in any way. Our goal is to provide neutral, reliable information for our readers, and anything that threatens that is a serious problem. We are actively examining this situation and exploring our options,” Sue Gardner, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation, said in a statement.

Wikipedia said it has already blocked or banned more than 250 user accounts for “non-neutral editing.”

Available in 287 languages, Wikipedia contains more than 29 million articles contributed by a global volunteer community of roughly 80,000 people.

“Editing-for-pay has been a divisive topic inside Wikipedia for many years, particularly when the edits to articles are promotional in nature. Unlike a university professor editing Wikipedia articles in their area of expertise, paid editing for promotional purposes, or paid advocacy editing as we call it, is extremely problematic. We consider it a ‘black hat’ practice. Paid advocacy editing violates the core principles that have made Wikipedia so valuable for so many people,” Gardner said.

“What is clear to everyone is that all material on Wikipedia needs to adhere to Wikipedia’s editorial policies, including those on neutrality and verifiability. It is also clear that companies that engage in unethical practices on Wikipedia risk seriously damaging their own reputations. In general, companies engaging in self-promotional activities on Wikipedia have come under heavy criticism from the press and the general public, with their actions widely viewed as inconsistent with Wikipedia’s educational mission.”

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After an Upset in Your Routine Catching Up Is Hard to Do

Saturday, August 31st, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt

Organizing your Creative Life in 13 Weeks: Week 9

Like an upended turtle, it's not easy to get your creative life right side up after being upended.  But it can be done.

Like an upended turtle, it’s not easy to get your creative life right side up after being upended. But it can be done.

Prolific science fiction novelist Sarah Hoyt follows up her “Your Novel in 13 Weeks” PJ Lifestyle series with a new weekly experiment each Saturday to figure out the best way for all creative types working from home to better organize their efforts.

Week Zero, Introduction: Organizing Your Creative Life In 13 Weeks

Week 1/2, Preparation: The Case For Making Lots of Lists

Week One: How to Make Your Mind Like Water

Week Two: What Are the Best Apps For Artists and Writers Desperate To Get Work Done? 

Week Three: The Lone Writer Against The Time Masters

Week Four: How to Tame Your Subconscious

Week Five: How Separating When and Where You Do Tasks Improves Both Productivity and Quality of Work!

Week Six: Organizing your Life is Like Learning to Juggle Eggs and Chainsaws

Week Seven: 4 Tips So You Don’t Organize Yourself to Death

Week Eight: Organizing your Writing Life When Words Fail You

****

After the chaos that was last week, due to illness in what can only be called extended family – our friend is doing better, thank you – all I can say is that catching up is hard to do.

Yes, I had the techniques from combining Getting Things Done and The Pomodoro Technique.

The problem is as follows: I faced both a boatload of things not done, and the chaos of the week in which my sons returned to college, (with attendant difficulties in finding a given book, issues with parking permits, etc.) combined with this weird lassitude and inability to concentrate which I think is the aftermath of an emotional shock.

The combination made me forget to do the page proofs for a short story and the back-of-book text for the Omnibus of the first two of my shifter books Draw One In the Dark and Gentleman Takes a Chance.

Part of the reason these didn’t get done is that – because of the turmoil of the previous week – I never wrote them down on the index cards.  Mind you, I have the short story sitting right here on my desk, but I forgot to look at it.

Of course, this is because I violated one of the rules of Getting Things Done, which is that when you get an email you should either do it immediately (which would have been possible with either) or enter it in your system and note the priority on the calendar.  This was, of course, because I was what is technically known as “knocked for an emotional loop.”

Of course this is not new for either creative people nor frankly for mothers.  The world goes on, no matter what private shocks you suffer.  To the extent your private world – and both writing and motherhood can be extremely private in process if not in result – interact with other people’s commercial or personal activities, you’re going to have to learn to function when everything around you is falling apart.

It used to shock me that my mother could turn from, say, a problem with her parents’ health, to dealing with a client, and use her best business voice, and sound perfectly composed.

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How A Ferrari Taught Us All We Need to Know About the American Dream and Philanthropy

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013 - by Becky Graebner
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My usual routine for Thursdays is to write about something automotive—something “techie.”  This week, I wanted to do something different.  I wanted to give a respectful nod to a humble man who is the epitome of the American “rags to riches” story.  This man started out with nothing—not even parents.  In the end, he was a successful businessman and the owner of one of the most desirable Ferraris in the world.  This past weekend, his Ferrari 275 GTB/4 N.A.R.T. Spider went to the auction block.  It sold for $27.5 million.

This is a story of hard work, a Ferrari, and unfettered kindness that has brightened the lives of thousands of people.

The Value of Hard Work

The name of this respected businessman is Eddie Smith.  But before he was well known or successful, he was an orphaned 10-year old trying to get by with three siblings in an orphanage.  For several years, Smith woke early each day and went to work tending farms.  Upon gaining his freedom from the orphanage at age 18, he left for Lexington, North Carolina to build a better life.

In Lexington, Smith worked several odd jobs; cab driver, theater usher, before making his way to a small mail-order hosiery business.  Faced with unemployment after the death of the owner, Smith and some friends decided to start their own hosiery business; National Wholesale Company.

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Organizing your Life is Like Learning to Juggle Eggs and Chainsaws

Saturday, August 10th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt
Don't try this at home.  Not unless you have some spare arms and legs.

Don’t try this at home. Not unless you have some spare arms and legs.

Prolific science fiction novelist Sarah Hoyt follows up her “Your Novel in 13 Weeks” PJ Lifestyle series with a new weekly experiment each Saturday to figure out the best way for all creative types working from home to better organize their efforts.

Week Zero, Introduction: Organizing Your Creative Life In 13 Weeks

Week 1/2, Preparation: The Case For Making Lots of Lists

Week One: How to Make Your Mind Like Water

Week Two: What Are the Best Apps For Artists and Writers Desperate To Get Work Done? 

Week Three: The Lone Writer Against The Time Masters

Week Four: How to Tame Your Subconscious

Week Five: How Separating When and Where You Do Tasks Improves Both Productivity and Quality of Work!

******

How do you juggle chainsaws?  Very carefully, of course.

No, I haven’t gone completely off my rocker and taken up another and completely different hobby/career.  In fact, part of my intent right now is figuring out how to reduce my needed tasks to the essential ones.

However, on the way there, I’ve come across the equivalent situation to when you’re just learning to juggle eggs and someone throws a chainsaw at you.  At best, it’s going to break your rhythm and concentration.  And at worst, it’s going to end up with a bunch of eggs broken, at the very worst, there will also be couple of fingers and a lot of blood on the floor.

Metaphorically, this week, while managing my creative life with Getting Things Done and The Pomodoro Technique, going along fine, working pretty well, ticking penguin by ticking penguin, I got a chainsaw thrown at me.  Worse, you could say I threw a chainsaw at myself, completely forgetting that I’m only a beginner in this time and task juggling thing.

I think I’ve broken a couple of eggs, in the sense that the first three days of the week were lost to a mire of emotional confusion, but I still have all my fingers and I’m getting ready to integrate the chainsaw in the flow – that is, I’m figuring out the difficult things that have to be done, and which will for a while disrupt my life, but which will lead to – hopefully – a much better way of working and perhaps of living.

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Conrad Black, Nixon, and the Red Scare: The Flight of the Eagle Concludes

Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013 - by Kathy Shaidle

imfornixon

 

While serving time for whatever he supposedly did, newspaper baron Conrad Black taught history classes for his fellow prisoners.

Naturally, this prompted predictable “Geneva Convention” jokes among Black’s many detractors.

Even some of the prisoners were probably thinking, “This sure ain’t New Year’s Eve at Folsom.”

But ending up with Lord Black instead of “the Man in Black” isn’t the worst “punishment” I can imagine, although I can’t fathom how inmates without even GEDs coped with the former’s formidable vocabulary.

As I’ve stated before when talking about his latest book, Flight of the Eagle: The Grand Strategies That Brought America From Colonial Dependence to World Leadership, most of us could do far worse than have Conrad Black as a history teacher.

His enthusiasm is contagious, his erudition bracing, and his breadth of knowledge impressive.

(Maybe too impressive: While it purports to be a history of the United States, Flight… actually covers plenty of European ground, especially the continent’s martial and monarchical history from the eighteenth century onward. This isn’t a bonus if, like me, the very words “Habsburg” and “Crimea” can knock you into REM sleep faster than any hypnotist.)

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Roger L. Simon’s New Film Project: The Future of Now

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013 - by Dave Swindle

But as of Feb 14, 2013, I am ending my tenure as CEO. Roger Simon, the novelist-screenwriter, is calling to me. After more than seven years, he is feeling extremely neglected. I am going to return to my creative writing while I still, to be honest, have some ability to do it.

Roger L. Simon, back in February, hanging up his editor’s hat and putting back on the artist’s…

The Hollywood Reporter today offered a sneak preview of what our old boss does with his time when he’s not writing must-read articles on the newest disturbing developments in the Benghazi scandal, ”Cannes: Roger L. Simon to Pen ‘The Future of Now‘”:

Oscar-nominated screenwriter Roger L. Simon will pen the script for The Future of Now, the second feature from newly launched Primeridian Entertainment.

Arcadiy Golubovich, a principal of Primeridian, will make his directorial debut with the dystopian drama. His Primeridian partner, Tim O’Hair, will produce.

Primeridian is full financing the Washington, D.C.-set pic, with casting slated for June and shooting aiming for fall.

Read the whole write-up here.

Breitbart.Com also reported on Stoning of Soraya M director Cyrus Nowrasteh’s new project from Primeridian, a biopic of Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Looks like I should add The Gulag Archipelago to my reading list

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Walt Disney’s Fascinating Political Journey

Friday, May 3rd, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Walt & Lillian Disney with Richard Nixon and his family at Disneyland, 1959

We tend to think of Hollywood as a bastion of leftism, and rightly so. Books like Ron Radosh’s Red Star Over Hollywood demonstrate the deep-seated left-wing dominance of the entertainment industry. Even with the leftism prevalent in Hollywood’s Golden Age, many unabashed conservatives found success without compromising their principles, including one of the most creative minds in the business — Walt Disney.

Several biographers and writers that I’ve read have tried to declare that Walt Disney was apolitical, but I find this conclusion not to be true. Diane Disney Miller once said that her father was “kind of a strange figure” politically, and Walt admitted his own political naiveté:

A long time ago, I found out that I knew nothing whatsoever about this game of politics and since then I’ve preferred to keep silent about the entire matter rather than see my name attached to any statement that was not my own.

But plenty of people surrounding Walt Disney knew the truth: that he was conservative to his core. Ward Kimball, one of Disney’s “Nine Old Men,” said that Walt’s right-leaning politics made him uncomfortable and that politics drove a rift in their friendship in Disney’s later years. Radical writer Maurice Rapf, who worked on several Disney films, including Song of the South, said, “He was very conservative except in one particular — he was a very strong environmentalist.” However, Walt Disney’s conservatism did not manifest itself until after he had been a businessman for several years.

Walt Disney’s early exposure to politics came from his father, Elias, who was a Socialist — in particular, he followed the philosophy of J. A. Wayland. Wayland created a unique strain of Prairie Socialism in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Daniel J. Flynn, in his book A Conservative History of the American Left, tells of how Wayland “reached Americans with the message [of Socialism] that had been heretofore explained in a German, Yiddish, or Russian accent, but never with a Bible-belt twang.”

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Iron Man 3 Treats Islamist Terror Like a Joke

Friday, May 3rd, 2013 - by John Boot

There’s nothing that makes Hollywood more nervous than portraying Islamist terror. As far back as 1994, James Cameron’s True Lies was denounced as racially insensitive for imagining a chillingly plausible Islamist terror threat involving nuclear weapons. Cameron, anticipating accusations of unfairly linking terrorism with Islam and Arabs, took care to try for “balance” by placing an Arab-American character on the good guys’ side (the actor who played him, Grant Heslov, this year won an Oscar as one of the producers of Argo). Yet the advocacy group the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) slammed the film anyway. The hysterical 1998 movie The Siege imagined that, in an overreaction to a terrorist attack, Brooklyn would be placed under martial law and all young Muslim men would be interned in Yankee Stadium. Ridiculous.

Since 2001, of course, Hollywood has almost completely avoided showing any Muslim involved in terror, changing the bad guys in 2002’s The Sum of All Fears from Palestinians to neo-Nazis. The 2005 Jodie Foster movie Flightplan, about an abduction on an airplane, used a hint that Arabs might be responsible as a red herring. The actual villain: an all-American air marshal played by Peter Sarsgaard. Several Middle East themed movies like Ridley Scott’s Body of Lies essentially saw a moral equivalence between the U.S. and the Islamists, saying both sides were up to comparably nasty stuff in the War on Terror.

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Jobs Are for Suckers: How to Be the Boss of You

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013 - by Kathy Shaidle

At the risk of sounding pretentious, cynical, or both:

I don’t shock easily.

Zombie cannibal killers? What, again?

Another new “ism” added to the “hate speech” list? So last Tuesday.

So when I made my daily visit to the blog SmallDeadAnimals.com, I figured I was staring at a typo:

[I]t costs $84k a year to go to Columbia Journalism School…

“Surely that should read ‘$8,400 a year,’” I thought.

“Or maybe that $84,000 is the entire cost of a three-year degree.

“Ha! Pretty funny that there’s a typo in an article about journalism school…”

Except there wasn’t.

That’s the correct figure.

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The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013 - by Dave Swindle

Today I am joining Charlie Martin and Sarah Hoyt in attempting a 13 Weeks Blogging Self-Improvement Program. I invite others to join me and assist in the continued development of what we should call The Charlie Martin 13 Weeks Method. (Has a nice alliterative ring to it, methinks.) Back in February Charlie laid out his approach:

By accident, however, I’d noticed a process, or pattern.

  1. Decide there’s something you want to change.
  2. Find ways to measure your progress.
  3. Decide on some small unthreatening things you can do that should affect those measures.
  4. Track the results for 13 weeks and see what happens. It helps to pick appropriate tools and techniques for that tracking, but something as simple as a Seinfeld calendar, where you just draw an X on a calendar for every day you do something can be very powerful.

So here’s my 1-2-3-4 for The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen:

1. The problem that I’d like to change is the one that Sarah identified in her PJ Lifestyle article yesterday: being buried in books for research. Over the past year I’ve tried to figure out how to organize the various subjects that I want to study in order to best make sense of them and find the connections across the disciplines. I want to read more books and do a better job of staying organized with the ideas and research that I find in them for my future writing and editing projects. I want to continue to explore connections across disciplines, reading both novels and a wide variety of nonfiction, both very serious philosophy and absurd satire.

2. I will continue to share the most interesting nuggets of my research in one daily PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf post that features an excerpt. Additional snapshots from my research will appear at my Instagram and Twitter accounts which can be followed here and here.

3. I will only create seven piles of books, one for each day, and then base each day’s reading on the titles from that pile. I won’t have to think about which books I’ll read each day. I’ll just draw from each pile. Each day will be based on 1-3 authors and 1-4 related subjects that I want to juxtapose together. This will not be a hard rule that I can only read from that day’s pile. If a book on another subject has caught my enthusiasm then I can still read it after dong the day’s necessary reading.

But I need to find at least two excerpts worth Instagramming and at least one of them should appear as a PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf selection to inspire debate and discussion. (That’s the purpose of those posts — for the regular readers who have complained, asking why I don’t take a few paragraphs to spell out my opinion of each excerpt offered. They appear because I am more interested in hearing reader feedback on them than pontificating my own ideas.) These seven piles will then flow into the six categories that I created in my original Counterculture Conservative book list from back in October. The seventh (and last) category I plan to add will be based on my list of the The 15 Best Books for Understanding Barack Obama’s Mysterious Political Theology. (This will be the basis for Friday’s  systematic exploration of evil ideas.)

4. I will create a calendar on a page of my journal broken up into 13 weeks and at the beginning of each day I will notate which page I am on in the books that I am reading associated with that day. I will photograph this calendar and blog about it each week, noting and analyzing my results on Tuesdays (the PJ Lifestyle day focused on writing, media, and technology). At the end of the 13 weeks I will see the progress I made on each author and subject. Then I will decide how to adjust each day’s reading focus, maybe taking a break from an author for a bit or adding another writer whose ideas are worth juxtaposing with the other thinkers of the day.

So what will the reading subjects be for the seven days of this “first season,” as Charlie calls it, of the The 13 Weeks Radical Reading Regimen? I’m doubling down on the authors and subjects of previous self-improvement plans, but focusing some plans and expanding others. As always, your recommendations for additional books and authors that I need to read are sincerely appreciated. Please leave suggestions in the comments or email me.

And publishers, authors and publicists: any and all paperback/hardback books received by mail will be photographed and blogged about. (And e-books that are especially interesting may also be featured. But actual books are of course more photogenic.)

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Your Novel In 13 Weeks, Part 4: How to Find the Time for Writing

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt

Time And Writing Wait For No Man (Or Woman)

Believe it or not, when you’re a freelance writer, even if you’re working for someone else, you’re still expected to manage your time.

So let’s start by admitting we’re not going to have a novel ready in 13 weeks, since most of you – I presume – haven’t started.

The reason for this is that I was going along and doing preliminaries to the “13 weeks” posts when my editor – wisely – thought perhaps you guys needed to know when to expect the posts. Ahem. Being a writer, this had never occurred to me. One sometimes forgets that not everyone lives in one’s head.

So… we are still in the preliminary posts. I think I have two more, unless questions arise. And then we’ll start the countdown of 13 actual weeks, from beginning page of novel to end.

By then you should have a notion of whether you want to plot or fly by the seat of your pants, what your projected novel length is, and how to plan how much you need to write each week.

See, when we talk about planning your timing, in writing, it means two things: the timing of events in the novel, and the timing of your writing so you can deliver on deadline.

And yes, I’m aware that just like a lot of you will have different preferences when it comes to how a novel is timed – slow and languorous, or a mad cavalcade from beginning to finish – a lot of you will have this idea that you don’t time when you write, it just sort of happens when the muse descends from heaven and sits on your shoulder to whisper sweet nothings in your ear.

For the record, I’ve never met a professional, working writer who works on the muse-installment plan. There are some who will tell you they do in public. This is part of what we call keeping up the mystique, also known as “baffling the mundanes.”

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Free Market Vs Big Government: Who Can Better Invest $10 Million Toward Space Colonization?

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013 - by PJ Lifestyle Bookshelf

Click to submit book suggestions for the new daily feature at PJ Lifestyle. Tuesday selections focus on technology, media, communication, capitalism, writing, self-improvement and entrepreneurship.

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Your Novel in 13 Weeks, Part 2: First You Catch Your Idea

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt

Writing A Novel In Thirteen Weeks:

If you’re going to write a novel, you have, of course, to start with an idea. Just like if you’re going to make a shepherd’s pie, first you have to catch your shepherd.

One of the questions I always get — in every panel, in every interview, at every con — is: “How do you get your ideas?”

The normal answer is: “I get them from [insert random, remote/small town].”  I use: “Hays, Kansas. But it will cost you a dime, and you have to send a SASE.”

The sad thing is that I could possibly sell ideas and never reach a point where I have none to sell. Like with everything else, ideas are something you train yourself to have, and once you start having them, you have them all the time. You’ll be Standing On the Corner, Minding your  Own Business (the infamous SOCMOB that guarantees you’ll be jumped by “two bad dudes”) when an idea will jump out of  a nearby dumpster, and there you have it.

For instance, the other day in my blog comments, commenter CACS mistyped “High School Cemetery” instead of “High School Chemistry,” and there was immediately a boarding school for vampires (children with special needs) in my head.

So, was that idea enough to write a novel?

Probably not, because it doesn’t interest me enough – but what you also have to understand is that the boarding school for vampires is not an idea for a story. It is an idea for a setting. I still don’t have an idea – and it is the idea that determines whether it’s a novel, a short story, or just a passing, throw-away detail in another story.

Let me explain: What you have there has no characters, no conflict, no… story. It’s at best a spark of a story, even if for a fantasy reader (or writer) it comes freighted with all sorts of implied problems like “do they have classes at night?”  “What do they do for the cafeteria — a blood bank?”  etc.

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3 Questions To Ask Before You Write Your Novel In 13 Weeks

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013 - by Sarah Hoyt

The Run Up

Or, In Which Things Have Already Gone Wrong

What happens very often when one decides to write a novel is: everything goes wrong.

It is a well-known fact to those who participate in National Novel Writing Month in November* every year that it seems to attract bad luck. One year, I had a pet die, a relative die, the roof over my office leak, and the printer develop a fatal short. I haven’t participated since because I’m afraid my livestock will die — I don’t have livestock.

The last two weeks haven’t been quite so bad, but I’ve got a lot of unexpected work, ranging from short stories to blogs to promoting my new book A Few Good Men, at the same time as one of my sons brought home something “interesting” from school that made 15 hours of sleep per day irresistible.

So — and this is part of successfully writing a novel or completing any project — we’re adapting to changed circumstances and carrying on.

Let’s start with frequently asked questions which, hopefully, will lay out what you need to know before tomorrow, when I will explain my method and schedule. And then we’ll have a post on ideas and how to work an idea.

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