Archive for April, 2012

New Mandatory Two-question Test for Our Leaders in Washington

Posted in Blather  by John Brown on April 18th, 2012

This is not a Democrat thing. This is not a Republican thing. This is a Budgeting for Morons 101 thing. I think anyone who is sent to Washington needs to pass a test. The test will have two questions.

Can you pass it?

Big Hairy Test

Question 1. Fill in the blank. Use your incredible subtraction skills to solve this equation: 2 – 5 = ?

Question 2. Short answer. Let’s say you don’t have enough money to purchase everything you want; what do you do?

Answers to Big Hairy Test

Question 1.

The answer would be -3 (yes with the little dash thingy in front of it). If you fail this, your name is taken off the ballot. I know it’s harsh. You’re a good person, but you’re just too dumb to be trusted with my money. Please repeat the first grade and run for office again later.

Question 2.

If you say borrow the money, your head gets painted orange so everyone knows you have brains that operate on the same wattage as a citrus fruit.

If you say print the extra money, your head gets painted orange and then you go to jail for plotting to steal everyone else’s money by devaluing it.

If you say, “Contact the Russians, they’ve got a source,” we send you to Russia to work in Siberia digging rocks.

If you say, “But I had to spend more than I had because everyone else was doing it and they might be mean to me and not vote for my proposals,” then we assign you to follow a colony of lemmings in the Norwegian tundra for seven years. It’s okay. Lemmings are very cute.

Awwww!

The correct answer is you either (1) reprioritize, spending less on something else so you can spend more on the thing you really want, (2) eliminate waste in your operations so you have more to spend, or (3) go without, especially when it’s not your money to begin with.  

A possible fourth answer is to go to the American people and make a business case for a new tax. The tax cannot be voted on until it has been presented to the American people, and they’ve been given 18 months to review the pros and cons.  You cannot use government funds for your dog and pony show to sell the tax. Then the people, NOT you or your cronies, vote on it. It must receive 70% of the popular vote in each state to pass. If it passes, the funds collected by that tax cannot be used for any other purpose than the one stated when it was passed.

Is this really that hard?

No, it’s not hard, but it actually kind of is because the numbers that are reported are so big they don’t mean anything. And the words are sometimes all mixed up. For example, is “deficit” the same as “debt”? When Congress says they’re passing a bill to reduce the deficit, does that mean we’re actually starting to pay down the debt?

The Romney people recently created a chart that makes the numbers immediately understandable. I love this chart. It’s simple and straight to the point. Anyone can see what the current numbers show our very smart representatives in Washington are doing.

Our leaders have a MORAL responsibility not to spend more than they take in. I don’t care what party they belong to–if they don’t have the brains or the morals to use our money wisely, then they should not be able to play with it.

A Shocking Proposal: think like an accountant (horrors!)

Our leaders should not have the ability to raise tax rates or create new taxes. They have abused the priviledge of raising taxes on our behalf. They now should lose that priviledge completely. But the fact is they never should have had that duty in the first place.

Business learned this long ago. This is why it’s standard procedure to separate duties. It is always a VASTLY DUMB idea to have the same person collect the money, deposit it, authorize payments, and make the payments. It INVITES fraud, abuse, and error.

It’s clear that it’s also an equally dumb idea to have the same people in government levy taxes and then spend that tax money.  But we knew that. The founders used the idea of separation of duties when they set up our government in the first place. They just called it “separation of powers” instead. The problem is we didn’t separate the duties enough.

Our leaders should NOT have the power to levy taxes on us AND spend our money. We need to separate the duties, reserving the duty of establishing taxes to the people. If our representatives have a really nifty idea they want a tax for, they need to take the business case to the American people as described in answer four to question two in the Big Hairy Test above. And the American people can then vote on it.

And now I’m off to Lowe’s to purchase some orange paint.

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Best Buy, Samsung, and Sony

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever  by John Brown on April 17th, 2012
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I am not an early adopter. I do not rush out to buy the latest and greatest of anything. If I have something that works, then I keep using it until it absolutely won’t work anymore.

For example, Nellie and I bought a Honda Accord when we were first married. Fourteen years later, we had put almost 300,000 miles on that car and would have tried to put on another 300,000. Unfortunately, it met an early demise when it encountered a herd of black Angus cattle on a very dark country road at one a.m. in the morning. So long, brave companion.

We have a computer we purchased thirteen years ago which is still running Windows 98. Computers evolve about as quickly as fruit flies, which means that in human years our computer is like 450 years old. This is like going to war with first-generation muskets while everyone else is using Predator drones. And we’re okay with that, even though it appears we’re going to have to retire the old fellow this year.  Alas.

I have these fine olive green dress pants that are fifteen years old. When the rise finally wore out, I had Nellie fix it.  She put in a bright Kermit-The-Frog green patch, which draws a lot of attention to an area that’s been down-played ever since the codpiece went out of fashion in the late 1500’s. Was this sweet revenge for eating her stash of chocolate? Or a cleverly planned source of constant enjoyment? I do not know. But as a result, I do not wear these pants to church and important business meetings. I wear them hiking. They protect me from bushes and mosquitoes, yet breathe with perfection. Why would I ever get rid of them?

As you can see, I’m not a buy buy buy guy. Which means that when I get something it better darn well be a fine product because I know I’m likely to be using it for a very long time. And this brings me to our recent television and blu-ray player purchase. Two years ago some friends who had just purchased a big flat screen TV saw that we were still using our twenty-three year old 15″ RCA, took pity on us and gave us the 21″ TV they were replacing. It is one of those big suckers that weighs 475 pounds, but still a fine TV, and we watched it with joy.

However, a few weeks ago our antenna converter box broke. Our church’s semi-annual worldwide conference was coming up, which is a feast we love to watch, and so we were faced with choice: buy another converter box or pay a few more dollars and move into the twenty-first century with a flat screen. Now, while it’s true I’m not a buy buy buy guy, it is also true that I have been longing for a manly TV lo these many years. This was my chance. When Nellie agreed we should look for a new TV, I went into immediate action.

We started our search at Best Buy. The sales guys there were incredibly helpful. But we wanted to shop a bit more. So we went to a discount club, and thinking we’d save thirty bucks, purchased our TV there. We took it home, and I did not like it. I looked up the reviews on Consumer Reports and liked it even less. So I took it back. Sam’s has a great return policy, and gave us a full refund. Good bye, piece of crap.

I went to Best Buy again. After talking with the floor guy there for some time, I purchased a 32″ Samsung LN32D Series 4. No, it’s not 60 inches of gorilla manliness, but a 32″ TV does have a bit of hair on its chest. And it was bigger than what we’d been using. And it was only a few hundred bucks. I found this TV’s picture much better. Excellent, in fact, with the TV stations. However, my DVDs didn’t play so well on it.

I took it back to Best Buy. The folks there spent an hour testing other TVs and demonstrating that the issue was not the TV but my old Sony DVD player which could only use RCA cables. I needed a new player with the new HDMI cable, which is able to deliver much better quality. So I purchased one, a blu-ray player, brought it home, and found that the picture was indeed much better, but I hated the player’s remote controls. For example, I want to push one button to bring up the disc menu. I do not want to click options, over, down, down, down to do this each time.

I took it back. The folks at Best Buy were as friendly and helpful as ever. There was no hassle returning it. We spent another thirty minutes test driving different players and their remotes. I finally settled on a Sony BDP-5390 which is fabulous, not only because the remote and on-screen controls were helpful and it remembers where I was with movies I don’t finish, but also because it has a number of apps that allow me to connect to my wi-fi and watch things like YouTube, listen to internet radio, and pipe music all through my house.  There are so many cool features that I’m going to be enjoying discovering them all for a number of weeks. In all of this, the folks at Best Buy were cheerful, helpful, knowledgeable, and willing to work with someone who was very particular in what he wanted. I am now a Best Buy believer. If you want excellent customer service and good prices, go to Best Buy. I’ll be going back there for my next TV . . . when this one has racked up two gajillion viewing hours and at last gives up the ghost.

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Mitt Romney’s Body Man

Posted in Zing  by John Brown on April 10th, 2012
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There’s going to be a novel and movie about a presidential candidate’s Body Man. I can feel it. The topic is too rich.

I’m not talking about his body guard. Or some wardrobe guy. Or, please, some sexual thing (good grief, people). I’m talking about the dude whose task it is to free up the candidate so he can focus on meeting, talking, etc. instead of rousting about for a pen or cell phone.

Check out this NY Times video on Romney’s body man.

One of my favorite stories of all time featured two characters in just such a relationship. That would be Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien writes in his letters that he based their relationship on his observations during his military service in World War 1 of the relationship between a batman and his officer.  “Batman” being, not a Bruce Wayne wannabe with a utility belt, but a Soldier-Servant assigned to an officer in the British army of the time.

I want a story about a body man. Or a body woman. It feels so delicious.

The average American reads 17 books per year

Posted in John's Reviews - books, movies, whatever, On Writing  by John Brown on April 5th, 2012
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Americans and Reading

The Pew Research Center has just published their findings on reading in America. It’s called “The Rise of E-reading“. There’s a LOT of fascinating information in the report. Here’s a taste:

  1. Americans 18 and older read on average 17 books each year. 19% say they don’t read any books at all. Only 5% say they read more than 50.
  2. Fewer Americans are reading books now than in 1978.
  3. 64% of respondents said they find the books they read from recommendations from family members, friends, or co-workers.
  4. The average reader of e-books read 24 books (the mean number) in the past 12 months; the average non-e-book consumer read an average of 15.

Building an Audience

I also want to recommend this week’s post by Kris Rusch on Audience. She has a number of interesting things to say about the dream of being a best seller and building an audience. The money quote comes as she refers to a post by Tracy Hickman:

“The point here is that you do not have to feel as though you are in competition with the entire world. You don’t NEED the entire world to be a successful writer. What you need is an audience—just enough of an audience, mind you—who reads your words, is changed by them and wants to come back for more.”

An audience. More importantly, an audience that reads and “is changed by” your words. Not an audience who loves them, not even an audience who likes them. An audience who is changed by them, and because of that experience, “wants to come back for more.”

Simple. Important. Usually forgotten.

She talks about lots more. Read the whole thing.

My thoughts?

First, there’s no need for authors or readers to worry about wading through “crap.”

According to Pew, readers only read 15 or 24 books a year on average.  That’s not a lot of books.

More importantly, it takes about 3 seconds to get a lead for a good book.  You hear something from a friend or family member, you look at the USA Today best sellers list, you browse a few books at a store or online, you read a blog and suddenly you’ve found a book. 

Readers fill up their book reading slots much more quickly than they can ever empty them.  That’s why we all have years of reading in our queues.

It doesn’t matter that there are millions of other books out there, a good majority of which might have been written by monkeys. There’s no need for authors to worry that readers will have to wade through a mountain of crap to find a good book. They don’t need to because they have leads for good books coming out their ears.

Second, people purchase books that friends, family, and co-workers love.

Which means that when you deliver a great experience to one person, it’s going to ripple out. It’s probably not going to be linear. It’s probably going to ripple out like viruses do into different population pockets. Or seeds do into different environments. It will run through one pocket, make a jump to one or more others, or it may not jump at all. Some pockets are big, some are small.

The way to keep a virus going is to release it in a lot of places where it’s likely to thrive or in places that a lot of people travel through. And as Kris points out, writing is all about repeat business–making sure you have a stream of good product (something I hope to rectify with my own writing this year).

Bottom line: the best way to build your writing business is to simply write the best book you can, and keep them coming.

Third, the market is BIG. 

If you read Rusch’s and Hickman’s articles, you’ll see that even the mega sellers only reach a fraction of those who read. This is reinforced by the statement made by Thomas McCormack, former CEO of St. Martin’s that you can read here. So just because 100,000 people read one book doesn’t mean 100,000 others won’t read mine.  

Moreover, e-books and online shopping are broadening distribution. Brick and mortar stores only have so many slots for books. Every 8-12 weeks they rotate the old books out (like 12 weeks is old) and replace them with the new ones, unless, of course, your book is selling very well and gets “modeled” at the store.  The point is: when you only display a few books at a time, those books will get bigger sales numbers. This happens because there isn’t anything else to purchase.

But you don’t have that limitation with e-books and online shopping. Nothing rotates out of the store. Sure, things rotate on and off the best seller lists. But the books are always there. With an ever growing selection, there won’t be as many mega sellers.  Publishers Weekly discusses this trend in their 2011 Facts & Figures articles, which list best-seller numbers (make sure you click through to the Trade Paperback article as well). The same thing has happened with TV station viewership with the explosion of channels, DVDs, and online streaming. Same thing happened with music.

What this means is each author has a better chance of getting his or her books to those who will love them. We’ll still have best-sellers. But we’ll also have a lot more medium sellers as well. And that’s great for authors everywhere.

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