Friday, December 7, 2012

Having Fun with Clone Pictures

These are pictures I put into my second book, "How to Create Clone Pictures with MS PowerPoint." Note that all of the pictures were edited with PowerPoint, not PhotoShop or any other image editing software.

This one was my first attempt at doing this. My youngest daughter squealed, "there are two daddies in the picture!" When I could hardly see the seam where the pictures joined, I knew this was going to be a new, fun hobby.


This was my second attempt. It was a little more challenging but I got it alright. I gained a lot of confidence after finishing this.


This was a pre-Halloween picture. The photos took about three minutes to set up and take. Editing the pictures took less than ten minutes.


I got a lot of likes for this picture. It gives the term, "multi-tasking" a whole new meaning. I also learned that people call these pictures, "multiplicity pictures," from the movie "Multiplicity." I didn't watch the movie so I had no idea what they were talking about at first.


This next one was more difficult than it looks. I had to balance on one foot to make sure only my head was visible (obviously, I was unsuccessful). I kept bumping into the closet doors and ruining the shot. I almost gave up on finishing this one.


I wanted to be able to tell a story so I combined three clone pictures of me playing, "Rock Paper Scissors." The loser pays the winner with money hence, the downcast posture.


The hotel where I recently stayed provided newspapers everyday so I had a small stack of them in my room. Editing this was a little difficult because the left clone was sitting on the right clone's shadow. I decided to leave it out. Fortunately, no one noticed it.


I got a lot of laughs for this one. I wanted to make it look like the right clone was putting on lipstick but I didn't have one so I used the small bottle of shampoo that was in my hotel room's bathroom. There's an imperfection here. The left clone doesn't seem to be looking directly at the right clone. That's one of the difficulties of setting up these pictures. It's difficult to predict where exactly you should be facing when you take the shot.


Editing isn't difficult. I even taught my niece how to do it via Facebook and, I must say, she did a pretty good job. Here, however, you can see the difficulty of knowing where to cast your eyes on if you're facing your clone.


I'll share my other clone pictures as I make new ones. Wanna try making your own?

Friday, November 30, 2012

My Second Book - How to Create Clone Pictures with MS PowerPoint

My second book is out!

Constant use of MS PowerPoint© led me to the discovery that I can easily make clone pictures that can provide loads of entertainment for my friends and family. The resulting images are so natural that people have been asking me how I do it. This gave me the idea for my next book, How to Create Clone Pictures with MS PowerPoint, published at www.smashwords.com.

Complete with pictures and instructions, you'll be able to see, as well as read, how it's done, and provides some ideas for creating memorable clone pictures. Check it out!

From today until January 9, 2013, you can buy the book at 60% discount! Just use this coupon code NJ22C before completing your check out.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Toastmasters Success Stories


For more than a month now, we've been trying to get our company's Toastmasters club re-established. We had a demo meeting last month which was attended by around 21 people, not counting the guests from other Toastmasters clubs. In that meeting we formed a steering committee that would work towards getting the club on its feet. After that meeting, the club has yet to take off.

I've been a Toastmaster for nine years. I've seen people improve their communication and leadership skills, taking them to heights that would otherwise have been unreachable or difficult to achieve. What would it take for people to put a priority on their self-development?

In my company's previous club, we had a member who had a terrible tendency to say the words, "whatcha call this." In his first speech, he uttered these words in almost every sentence.

It's something we call a "filler" in Toastmasters. When a speaker doesn't know, is unsure, or forgets what the next word is, he inserts a filler. The most common is "ah" though other people use other fillers.

I tend to refer to fillers as "crutches." Just as a real crutch helps lame people walk, a Toastmasters crutch helps the member get by with his speech delivery. Unfortunately, like a real crutch, the person still hobbles around, not improving. The sad thing about this is that they are usually unaware that they're using a crutch. They had gotten so used to it that it becomes a part of how they talk. They need someone to point it out to them.

That someone was our "Ah Counter." He's the person assigned to watch out for people who use fillers or crutches. This can be  ah's, uhm's, repeated words, anything that a speaker uses to prevent him from stopping and making an embarrassing pause in his delivery. Near the end of a Toastmasters meeting, the Ah Counter stands in front and tells people what fillers people used when they spoke and how many times they did it.

Of course, having someone point out your fillers can be embarrassing but if the Ah Counter is careful about how he or she says it and if the recipient is willing to accept it, it can work wonders. In our member's case, he took it to heart. In his next speech, there was not even one "whatcha call this." In fact, he didn't have any fillers at all. The applause at the end of his speech was enthusiastic.

He eventually finished his ten speeches and achieved his Competent Communicator norm. He retired from the company soon after that. About two years ago, I met him at a mall and he said that he had been getting invites to be a keynote speaker, to conduct seminars, and inspirational talks. He's been overseas several times, all expenses paid. He credits his Toastmasters training for it all. Yup, he did more than just eliminate his fillers but that was where he started. Then again, after seeing how he overcame his crutches, I never doubted it.

The next story is about a lady, a member of another club. When I first met her, she was soft-spoken and seemed unsure of herself. We met at a speech contest and she was a contestant, another member who was determined to improve herself.

After some time, she was asked by her club to be the club president. She tried to get out of it saying she wasn't prepared or she didn't know if she could do it. They persuaded her, assuring her that they would support her. At the end of her term, her club received the highest award a club could get. After that, they persuaded her to be the area governor. Again, she pleaded against it but again, accepted. At the end of her term, she was recognized as one of the best area governors of the district. She also became division governor but, this time, she didn't hesitate about accepting. That's leadership training at work.

If you've got reservations about joining Toastmasters, you're not alone.  Lots of Toastmasters went through the same thing. It's the determination to learn and improve that pulled them through.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Word Mastering in Toastmasters

'Came from a demo meeting by Toastmasters last night where I was the Word Master of the evening. This is the text of my presentation (as near as I can remember):

Good evening ladies and gentlemen.

The English language has a lot of borrowed words, words that originated in other countries or other languages and found their way into common use in English. Tonight, I will share with you three words from Italy along with their original meanings.

The first word is:

espresso

Today people are more familiar with this word as a type of coffee drink. The original meaning, however, is, a person of nearly frantic demeanor; a person in a hurry or working at a face pace. The espresso coffee drink, which is a particularly strong type of coffee, probably got its name due to its effect on drinkers in which it energizes them.

The next word is:

quarantine

The word "quarantine" is derived from the Italian word for "forty." In medieval times, sailing ships that came to port with sick passengers or crew were not allowed to disembark from the ship for forty days. Today people understand the word to mean "isolation" to prevent the spread of disease.

The last word is has been in the news these past days, I think you'll agree. The word  is:

sotto voce (soh-toh voh-che)

No, this is not another word for plagiarism (referring to Senator Tito Sotto who has been accused of copying someone else's speech). It actually means, to speak in a whisper or low, soft voice so as not to be overheard. The word is typically used in music and drama.

So, there we have it, ladies and gentlemen, three Italian words that have made it into common usage in the English language. Good evening.

(Note: I failed to mention it during the meeting—bad of me—but these three words came from an email from DailyWritingTips.com)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Wanting to be Prolific

It's been raining in the afternoon for several days and I haven't been able to get my daily walking exercise in. For once, it didn't rain this afternoon so I got into my walking shoes and stepped out for a brisk 30 minute walk. As my feet pounded the street, I reflected on what my future might be.

Writing was a new love and I'm still determined to have a go at it full time. Can I support my family with my writing? I don't know. I've read about a lot of authors who have to work full time and squeeze a little time into writing. Obviously, they are struggling. I guess it's important to focus what little time you have into doing what you want. For us, it's the only way.

I sometimes wonder how other authors do it. They entered into writing about the same time I did and they're churning out three, four, five, or more novels per year. That's astounding creativity! And what's more is that they're actually selling lots of books. Most of them, I found, are full time authors and they keep writing...non-stop.

How do they do it?

I've discovered two types of these prolific authors:

Type One - is organized; he/she prepares a storyline or outline of the story and uses that as a guide to keep typing.

Type Two - is a make-it-up-as-you-go type of author. A master of converting thoughts into typed words.

I happen to sort of lean toward Type Two though I'm hardly a master. If those other authors are making four or five novels a year, they've got to be typing non-stop for hours on end. Sometimes I envy their ability to think while typing.

Some time ago, I read about an author (who's name I can't remember) who rented out a hotel room, somewhere only his wife knew (with instructions that she was not to call him unless it was a matter of life or death), and brought along his typewriter. For the next week or so, he kept typing away, used up about  two reams of typing paper and produced a novel. That's quite a feat considering that he'd been using a manual typewriter. Evidently, he needed a quiet place where he could work in private, without any distractions and interruptions.

At this time, I'm probably not at that point. Besides, I'm still working and I don't want to use too much of my precious vacation time. Once I get my own computer though, I'm thinking of spending Saturdays somewhere else rather than home, just to get things done.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Blogger Paragraph Spacing 2

The original Blogger Paragraph Spacing post has been getting a lot of views ever since it appeared and it's still going strong. I guess that shows how irritating the bug is for a lot of bloggers. In the hope of helping those who are looking for solutions, here's something that might work for you.

Take a look at the cropped screen shot below. This is an old post I made where two blank lines appeared between paragraphs after publishing even though I typed only one blank line when I made the post. You can get HTML view by clicking on the button "HTML" (upper left of the window, next to the button "Compose").


This is how it looked after publishing:


In the first picture, notice after the words, "about writing," there's a series of HTML code that separates each paragraph. Take note especially of the code "<br />." That's a break tag. It inserts a line break or starts another line. Everytime you press "Enter" the editor will insert a break tag.

Now, scan the rest of the code and you'll notice two more break tags before the start of the next paragraph, "This type of blog... ." So, having three break tags is like pressing "Enter" three times which means you'll have a double space between paragraphs instead of just one. Now, don't ask me why the editor inserted an extra break tag. I don't know why.

Below is another post I made:


Each paragraph has one break tag and another break tag to insert a blank line between the paragraphs. When I published this post, there was only one line between each paragraph which is what I wanted.


Notice also that the other post is practically empty of HTML code except for the break tag. I don't know how I did that but it didn't seem to affect anything. I guess if you don't change things like font, font size, color, or other such things, your post will be that much simpler.

Seeing how the absence of HTML code doesn't really affect things, I'm going to go back over my old posts and do some editing. I get a little irritated looking at all those spaces.


(late addition 21 October 2012)

I think I've figured out why the recent posts are almost empty of HTML code. In the past, I wrote my entries in MS Word and copy-pasted the text into Blogger. It seems that Blogger's editor is inserting the formatting into the text. I've been typing directly into Blogger lately and that's when the double spaced paragraph spacing disappeared. Note: I inserted a double space to separate this additional entry into this post. It's not the bug.

Also, if you look at my old posts, you'll see that the double spacing has disappeared. I went through every post and deleted the HTML code using the HTML editor. Other than the double space, nothing was affected. I only noticed later that there's a "Remove formatting" button at the top. I haven't tried it.

If anyone is having problems with double spacing of paragraphs, I hope this solution will work for you as well. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

My Book is Free!

From now until July 31, my book, Funny Stories from My Travels, can be downloaded for free at the  Smashwords website. Just visit the link and use the coupon code to be able to download the book at no cost.

The book is a collection of stories about my adventures during my travels to Singapore, India, Switzerland as well as my wanderings in and around the Philippines. It started out as a series of Facebook notes which gained a small following of readers. By the time the series ended, the idea to have the stories published had taken hold. I rewrote the stories, added a few more, proofread it about a dozen times, and finally uploaded it to Smashwords as an ebook.

This is my first attempt at writing and I've got three other books in the works. If you do decide to download the book, all I ask is that you leave a review at the bottom of the book's page. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Book Review - The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success

The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success is a collection of tips on how indie authors can give their books the best chance of success. Success can have several meanings for authors. For some, making tons of ebook sales is what counts. Others may be satisfied just having people read their books. For others, just the act of actually putting a book out there is reward enough. Except for the last type, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success can help you get your book into the hands of more readers.

The author, Mark Coker, is the founder of Smashwords, a website that helps authors publish their works as ebooks. He's been named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the "Eight Stars of Self-publishing" and he's also a contributing columnist for The Huffington Post. An author himself, Mark put together results of research, experiments, and experiences of other successful authors into a 36,000+ word book and offered it to readers for free. Uh huh, you read that right, the book is free. So, is the book any good? Let's find out.

Content-wise, Mark gave 28 "secrets." Some of them are pretty obvious to anyone but a few seem to run counter to common sense. For instance, he advises authors to give some of their books away for free. It would seem strange for anyone who wants to make money selling books to give away a title or two. Experience, however, shows that it can work. If you write a great book (that's another secret, by the way), marking it free makes it easier for readers to discover you. Once they know you're a good writer, there's a better chance they will pay to get your next books.

The book is written in a conversational style and it's easy to understand and digest. Personally though, I think 28 secrets is too many. I'm not saying that some of the secrets aren't valid. I just think some of them could have been lumped together. When I was  learning public speaking, one of the lessons we were taught was to limit your discussion points to between three and five. The reason was that most people won't remember more than those numbers. Maybe that "rule" doesn't apply to the written word but I still believe the book could have been simpler.

Is there anything wrong about the book? Not anymore, at least none that I can see. When I first downloaded the book, it had a lot of errors. I got the impression the book had been pushed into publication without proper or not enough proofreading. It seemed Mark had slipped with one of his own pieces of advice.

However, one of the nice things about publishing your work as an ebook is that you can make corrections easily. I downloaded Mark's book again recently and found that a lot of the errors have been corrected. You can't afford to do that with a traditionally published book. If you make an error in printing or editing, you may need to reprint them. If the error's really bad, you may have to recall the books from the bookstores and that is going to be very expensive. With ebooks, you just upload a new version.

In conclusion, The Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success is a good resource for indie authors. It's a great adjunct to another of Mark's free books, the Smashwords Book Marketing Guide. No matter what success means to you, you can't go wrong with following these "secrets."

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Writing Semi-Fiction

Is there such a thing as semi-fiction?

When I first came up with it, I doubted there was such a word. I had never heard of it. Most articles or blurbs just say "based on a true story." Maybe it's just clearer to say that rather than calling it semi-fiction. Or it's a psychological thing. Who'd want to read semi-fiction? It sounds like it's half of something.

Anyway, there is such a word and I'm working on one now. Sorry, 'can't tell you what the story is but it's based on a real historical event. In fact, I've been doing so much research that it's eating into my writing time. That's okay though. Nothing's too good for an author's readers. So what's the lessons for this so far?

If you want to do semi-fiction, it would probably be better if you get every piece of information you can about the event before you write the story. There is a real problem here though. How much research is necessary? How do you know if you have enough information to begin writing?

Right now, there's no definite answer. Other authors may have begun writing with just the basic information they had at hand. Still others probably began writing and just added or revised portions of the story as new information came in. I guess it depends on what's important to them. Just come out with a story that the reader will like or be as faithful to the real story and just hope the reader will like it.

The reason may even be personal.

Have you ever read about a historical event that touched you in some way? Were you so riveted to it that you read it from start to finish in one go? Or maybe you knew about the event but didn't care so much until you read someone's personal account? Someone who was there and gave his story in such a way that you want to rewrite it so that everyone will look at it in a new light?

In my case, it was a little of everything. I had an idea for a story which was going to be fiction. Technically, it's historical fiction but not based on any real event. Then, while doing research on something technical I needed to know, I stumbled on an actual event. It had little in similarity with the original story in my head but I found the story so interesting that I began looking for more information. After several weeks, I decided I'd base my story on this actual event. After several months, I'm ready to start writing.

The additional lesson I obtained from this exercise is how to find information on the internet. The story about the actual event had links to other sources. Some were just repetitions while others gave some additional tidbits. Then I began using the search engines. I googled names, places, and dates. Right now, I've got so much information I could write another book just to recount the actual event. I just might do that too.

A historical event is a time-frame intensive story. Keep extensive notes and make a story outline based on the sequence of events. Get your names and locations right and show connections (how one event in the story affects another event). Don't forget the human element. The story may be about history but the characters were humans with their own thoughts, emotions, memories, and principles.

The most important element, however, is telling the story in such a way as to have the same effect on the reader as it did on you. In the end, a story is only worth reading if the story is interesting to you.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Book Review - Deadend

I've had a bad case of sore eye (conjunctivitis) for almost three weeks now. Only the right eye was affected (hence the singular form) and it's developed a blurriness that creates a circle around points of light. Doc says it'll go away eventually which is a relief. It's difficult to read the computer screen so I've been minimizing my computer time. I make up for the inactivity by reading books but I've read all of them already so I decided I'd download a couple of free ebooks from the internet and read with the bad eye closed. I was in for a disappointment.

I downloaded Robert C. Waggoner's Deadend, which was all of 2,452 words making it a sketch story instead of a short story. There's a Twilight Zone-quality to the story but falls flat on impact, at least for me.

There were a few misspelled words but the book is full of mispunctuations.  I can't claim to be an expert in that field but I'm familiar enough with comma use to know how important they can be. Grammar-wise, it's okay. I didn't find any sentences that tended to paralyze my tongue.

The author has some talent though. The story revolves around a series of strange experiences of a mother and her son. I actually got interested when they arrive home to find someone else living in their house. After that, the story starts to fail in the "believability" department.

I guess that's  my main problem with the book. If you come home and find someone else living in your house, what would you do? Confront him? Call the police perhaps? The mother doesn't do any of those things. She just breaks down and cries. Then she and her son decide to go to their neighbor's house but the familiar faces were not there.  Inside the house were the "strangers." They don't confront them but when they learn who the strangers are, they don't do the normal and sensible thing which is to try and escape. Instead they engages them in conversation! Most unbelievable is her son who seems excited to learn about all about the strangers. The story might have been better if mother and son had tried to escape and the strangers prevent them from doing that to avoid being discovered by other people.

Robert C. Waggoner states his location as being in the Philippines though he also says he is "out of country." I guess that means he's not a Filipino. I can't tell his nationality from his picture but he seems to be an American.

Mr. Waggoner, you've got enough raw talent to be a good storyteller. I suggest you get beta-readers to give an honest opinion before you publish. Good luck.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Software for Writers

yWriter5



I've been alternating my writing with MS Word 2003 and OpenOffice's Writer and, so far, I don't have much to complain about. MS Word opens much faster than OpenOffice (OO) but I like OO's convert-to-pdf feature  which Word 2003 doesn't have. I know Word 2007 has this feature built in already but I haven't  got the finances to upgrade at this time.

One of the things that I had been looking for in both Word and OpenOffice is a continuous word counter. A lot of authors track their progress by counting how many words they've added to their work on a daily basis. With these text editors, you get the word count by selecting a menu item and the word count is displayed for you. There's no way to get a running word count.

When I tried my hand at writing short, 200-word articles for an online company, I was hampered by not knowing how many words I had been typing. Most times, I thought I had completed 200 words but had actually fallen short. Occasionally, I would exceed the target by a huge margin. Less than 200 words is unacceptable by the company but more than 20% over 200 words was unacceptable for me since it meant I was doing more work for the same pay. So, I started looking for another editor that provided a continuous word count.

yEdit2: If you're looking for a simple editor for making simple, specific-length articles, this is a good program. It's small and portable (you can run it from a flashdrive), and simple to set up. You set the target word count and, as you type, you get a running word count as well as a "words-to-go" countdown.

yWriter5: From the same person who created yEdit2, yWriter5 is a novel writing program. It allows you to divide your novel into chapters and scenes which are stored in a folder as separate files. Each scene has tabs where you can input who are characters  present in that scene; the location/s where the scene occurs; items or objects that are present in the scene; and tabs for scene descriptions and notes. There's also a Goals tab that I haven't investigated yet.

After using the program for more than a week, I've come to appreciate the way it had been designed. I had been having problems keeping track of my characters and even had a problem with timing. I had one event happening before a previous event when it should have been the other way around. yWriter5 provides a way for you to keep track of time frames which is really handy when your story gets complicated. One feature I really liked was the simulated sound of a typewriter as you work. For some reason, it helps me keep working. That might not be true for everyone but it does for me.

Both yEdit2 and yWriter5 are available for free downloading at Spacejock. The creator is Simon Haynes, an author as well as a programmer. He doesn't ask for payment but he is willing to take donations which, he says, is used to improve his programs. I am unable to donate at this time, so I'm doing the next best thing. I hope you like it as well as I do.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Case of the Haunted Room


FUNNY STORIESFROM MY TRAVELS

This is an excerpt from my book Funny Stories from My Travels. I have two reasons for posting this:
  • One is to test the paragraph spacing bug I mentioned in an earlier post, Blogger Paragraph Spacing. I sent them a feedback so I will be testing this bug from time to time. 
  • to give you a glimpse of a part of the book that isn't included in the free sample. I hope you enjoy it.
CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Back in 1993, I tried applying for a job at my Dad's former place of work, an oil refinery. It is located in Limay, Bataan and used to be owned by Esso, an American company. Dad left them in 1971 after Petron bought it but several of Dad's old buddies still worked there. I had an uncle living in the next town, Lamao, so it was only natural that I would stay at his place for the two days I would be in Bataan.

I naturally assumed I would be sleeping at their house. I had been to Uncle Romy's house lots of times and had no trouble sleeping there. This time, however, I was going with them to sleep at the harbor pilot's lodging house or quarters. Uncle Romy had been hired or appointed as caretaker of the building so they slept there at night.

The building was within walking distance from Uncle Romy’s house and was two stories high. I followed them through a door and entered a large kitchen. We then went up two flights of stairs to the second floor and opened a door to the left. It was a large room that looked like it could accommodate maybe ten beds or more. It was empty at the moment and a mattress had been placed on the floor at the center. This was where Uncle Romy, Auntie Guia and my baby cousin Chellie slept. It was a large mattress and Uncle Romy said we could all fit into it.

I decided to explore the rest of the building and found a door just across the corridor. It opened into a long rectangular room about ten feet wide and about fifty feet long. Three of the walls had windows with flimsy curtains on them and the windows on the long wall looked out over the street in front. The two, smaller windows overlooked the neighbors on either side. The fourth wall was bare with just a single light switch adorning it. It was a bedroom but an unusual one. The door was at one end and the bed at the other. There were no furniture, not even a chair or table. It contained just the bed. I thought about my uncle’s family making room for me on their mattress so I asked Uncle Romy if I could sleep in this one.
This is how the haunted room looked like 
as best as I could draw it. The drawing is 
not included in the book.
He hesitated. “I’m not sure, Eric. A number of people have slept there before and reported hearing footsteps in the room. One had even run out of it in fright.”

Now, I'm not a believer in ghosts. I’ve never seen one and I’ve investigated sounds that go bump in the night and found them to be caused by natural things.

“I’ll be okay, Uncle. You don’t have to worry about me.”

After some more hesitation, he gave his consent. Auntie Guia gave me a pillow, bed sheets and a blanket. After making up the bed, I laid down and appreciated the quality of the mattress as well as the silence. I stood up, walked the length of the room to the switch, turned off the lights and walked back to the bed. It wasn’t dark since a lamppost on the street in front illuminated the room though not so brightly. I laid back down and was soon asleep.

As sometimes happens when I sleep in a new place, I woke up after several hours. I checked my watch and found it was just before twelve midnight. The air was cool and the wind was blowing, causing the curtains to billow into the room. I closed my eyes to get back to sleep.
This photo is similar to the experience in this story.
The curtains were longer than this and reached almost
to the other wall. This is just to give you an idea
about what I saw.
I woke up with a start. I had heard footsteps! They seemed to be coming from the other side of the room. I sat up with my feet on the floor, got my glasses and looked intently. The windblown curtains obscured my view of the far end of the room but I could hear the footsteps very clearly. What's more, they seemed to be inside the room and getting closer to the bed!

I didn't feel any fear. If it had been someone else, I imagine they would have been terrified, more so because the footsteps were coming from the direction of the door. Anyone trying to escape needed to go toward the footsteps.

The sound continued to come closer. I stood up and started walking slowly toward it. The wind blew the curtains and kept me from seeing anything. As if it was avoiding me, the footsteps moved from inside the room to outside the window. I looked out and saw...

A security guard.

He was walking his beat with his shotgun on his shoulder, his shoes clicking on the cement road as he walked at a leisurely pace. I suddenly understood the phenomena.

The room had a bare wall along one side, and windows along the other. The sound of his footsteps entered the room and reverberated around, making it seem that the footsteps were coming from inside the room. Mystery solved. I went back to bed and slept peacefully for the rest of the night.

Next morning, I told Uncle Romy about the source of the mysterious footsteps. He shook his head in amusement and gave a little laugh. The Case of the Haunted Room was closed.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Ebook or Print Book?

Are you still holding on to the dream of getting your book published as a print book? Are publishers ignoring you? Are you just about ready to give up?
You're not the first to have this experience. At this time, you won't be the last either. Countless authors have tried—and given up—getting their work published and quite a few have resorted to self-publishing and selling their books on their own. The expense of going it alone, however, means that only those who have money to spend can get their books out into the hands of readers.
If your purpose in writing a book is to have the satisfaction of seeing your words on a printed page, this post is not for you. If your purpose, however, is to have people read your book, then this post will offer you an alternative to having your book printed on paper.
Perhaps you've heard of ebooks. If you're like me up until about two years ago, you probably never even considered publishing your book as an ebook. Seeing your words on a screen somehow didn't have the same effect as reading it from a printed page. That notion is slowly changing.
Mark Coker of Smashwords.com and Amy Gahran of CNN both posted that more people are reading ebooks than ever before. The reason may be due to the proliferation of ebook readers like the Kindle and tablets like the iPad. Along with the increase in ebook readers comes the increase in ebook publishers and authors. Print books are slowly losing out as more and more authors and readers decide to go digital rather than traditional.
There are several possible reasons for the shift. One is that ebooks are generally cheaper than print books. In fact, some authors are giving away some or all of their books for free. Those that have prices are generally sold for the same price as second hand books even though they've been newly released.
Another possible reason is that ebooks take up practically no physical space. You can have several dozen books on your reader or laptop and your load won't feel any heavier. You can store ebooks on CDs and flashdrives which can have more than a hundred books in them. Even when you're away on vacation, you can bring a whole library of books in your bag or in your pocket.
Where do you buy an ebook? Why, anywhere you can connect to the internet. There are so many sources of ebooks that you can browse several bookstores at a time from the comfort of your chair. You can discover new authors, talented writers who had been rejected by traditional publishers.
For authors, ebooks have the potential to reach more people than print books. There are only so many thousands of brick-and-mortar bookstores and only a few thousand people are in them at any one time. By publishing their books on the internet, they have the potential to reach millions at a time 24 hours a day.
Still for authors, ebook distributors offer higher royalties than print book publishers. There's not much expense in getting your book out into the internet so the returns can be greater though you will still need to market your book. If your passion is just to write books and not really earn from them (yes, some authors do that), then writing ebooks will be the way to go.
I've noticed lately, that brick-and-mortar bookstores seem to have less books today than they did before the digital age. It used to be that I would go to a bookstore and 90% of the space was allotted to books. The rest were for school and office supplies. These days, the books take up about 50% of the floor and, in addition to the school and office supplies, toys and office furniture now vie for the customers attention. Services like photocopying and gift wrapping also take up some of the space once occupied by shelves of books.
Print books are slowly disappearing though the end still seems some distance into the future. You can wait for that day to come before you decide to publish your book as an ebook but, personally, I think it will come sooner than later. The growth of ebook publishing and reading is increasing rapidly. That favorite of traditional publishers, the text book, will one day disappear and reincarnate as bits and bytes in a computer where my son, daughters and grandchildren will be reading them without a thought of what it feels to read something on paper.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Going...?

A couple of days ago, my boss informed me that I was going to be sent to Switzerland for a workshop. I've been trying to decide if I want to go or not.
I can almost hear the cries, “BUT WHY?” Why am I even thinking of not going?
Main reason: I'm fifty and by March next year, I'll have reached the “Rule-of-Seventy.” The Rule-of-Seventy is the number-of-years-of-service plus the age of the employee. In short, by March next year, I'll be eligible for early retirement.
“BUT YOU'RE STILL YOUNG!”
Thank you, but staying young is exactly why I'm contemplating retirement. The pay's not bad and the benefits are nothing to laugh about. If all I cared about was money, I'd be happy to stay. The pressures of the job, however, keep building with no signs of letting up. Worse is when you know that there are solutions but the company is not willing or is unable to do anything for one reason or another.
So I think about retirement, and think about a future where I make my own decisions and work the way I want, doing what I want, doing what I do best.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Urge to Write

When people learn that I've written a book, their eyes widen in amazement. Quite a few of them say, "I wish I could write a book too!"
A lot of people seem to have a dream to one day write a book. Note that this is different from dreaming to be a writer. They just want to write one book. So, if it's just one book, what's holding them back? Ask that question and the top two answers are: time and ability.
If you have a hankering to write one book, time is not a problem. You can take as much time as you want. Write a thousand or so words at a time, on weekends; 200-300 hundred words when you have time or when you feel like it; just keep at it until you finish. If it takes you five years to finish your book, that's fine. It's just one book. You're after the satisfaction of seeing your work in print or on the screen. Take the time to make it as perfect as you can make it. It's a one time thing so do it right.
To someone who really wants to write a book, ability would not be a problem either. Your spelling skills probably doesn't qualify you for the spelling bee or your writing style is something only your mother can understand but these shouldn't be a hindrance. You have two options to solve this:
  1. Hire someone to proofread or edit your book
    If someone is willing to do it for free then, good for you. If not then just be ready with your checkbook. There are lots of professionals out there so take the time to look and ask. Some authors hire beta-readers or people who give your book an initial read and comment about how it might be improved. Be careful about using family and close friends for this. Family members can be very supportive but tend to overlook your imperfections. Worst is when all the comment you get is, "nice book."
  2. Collaborate with someone
    You could ask someone to write the book for you. You could write and he would rewrite to improve. Eventually, when the book goes out, you include his name in the book or, at the very least, mention his valuable help in completing the book.
When the book is completed, you have a choice of going the traditional, print book, way or the eBook way. The decision is up to you. Having a printed book gives most people a really huge sense of achievement. Unfortunately, it is much more difficult to get a book printed and distributed than just uploading it to an internet-based eBook distributor. You might want to read my earlier posts about publishing (Publish in Print or on the Net? Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5).
Publishing an eBook is a fast and simple way to get your book out and, potentially, it'll reach more people than via the brick and mortar bookstores. If your intention is to just get the book out there and into people's hands with no thought of earning from it, you can give your book away for free. I don't know of a brick and mortar bookstore who would be willing to put your book on their shelves and tag it as "free."
'Got a book idea in your head? Let it out and share it. You won't regret it! (",)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

From Public Speaking to Writing


I joined Toastmasters International back in 2003 and grew a lot as a public speaker. I've joined contests--and won a few of them--, made numerous presentations, conducted seminars, and been sought after as a speech trainer and adviser. So, what is a Toastmaster doing trying to develop himself as a writer?
Looking back in history, the idea that I may make it as a writer actually started early in my years as a Toastmaster. After delivering one of my basic speeches, my evaluator commented that I had the makings of a good storyteller. Of course, the thought of becoming a writer had not occurred to me back then. I was totally focused on developing as a speaker and even thought of becoming a paid speaker by conducting seminars and training others in public speaking. In retrospect, continuing with Toastmasters was the right thing to do for my future as a writer and here's why:
Some of what I've learned in Toastmasters actually apply to writing. The very first thing new Toastmasters learn about public speaking is that your speech must have an opening, a body, and a conclusion. In your first speech, that's all they really tell you. As you progress through your training, you learn techniques on how to create good, attention-getting openings; how to make transitions between points in the body of your speech; and make memorable, motivating, and inspiring conclusions. The same can also apply to writing. In fact, if you think about it, a speech usually starts in written form before it is delivered orally.
Another learning is that you should avoid using jargon. Jargon is a language used by a group or profession. So, doctors have a jargon all their own, as do lawyers. If you're speaking in front of office-mates, you can get away with using your company's jargon. But if you're delivering a speech to a mixed group, use common or simple words. The same advice works for writing.
Staying with words, one of the best advice I've ever received is to try to experiment with using different words from the one you originally thought of using. In one speech, I used the word “audacious” instead of “brave” and made the speech that one little bit better. Be careful, however, of using too many uncommon words else your audience or readers will focus on wondering what the words mean instead of understanding the message or hearing the story.
Speaking styles vary widely. Some people like to speak in an oratorical manner, while others prefer to use a more conversational tone. Both styles have their place. Most writers use the conversational tone but even oratorical writing can be a good read. The Gettysburg Address is an inspiring speech whether you hear it or read it.
So, in terms of writing skills, I'd say Toastmasters gave a lot to me. But skills alone don't make a writer. You have to want-to-be a writer. So, what was it that got me into this thing?
I would have to say that it's the reach. When I'm talking to a roomful of people or an auditorium or function room filled with 200 to 400 people, that's how many people I'm reaching with my words. With writing, it's potentially a lot more, much more if I do it right. Of course, you can reach a lot of people with public speaking too, if you're always on the speaking circuit.
I haven't quite given up on public speaking. Speaking and writing are two different things but they both give me a different kind of lift and they can even complement each other. I've tasted public speaking so I guess, I need to give my writing a chance to grow as well.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Blogger Paragraph Spacing

Blogger's editor has an annoying bug.

I prefer to have a space in between paragraphs so I press "Enter" twice to insert an extra line break. In the editor, the space looks fine but when you look at it after publishing, there's at least two lines in between paragraphs instead of just one. It's driving me a little crazy.

I couldn't find anything about it in Blogger's Help but I did find a lot of complaints about the same bug when I used Google Search. It's strange that Blogger's programmers haven't solved it.

I'm making this post to make an experiment. I'm going to try copying and pasting this post in MS Word and OpenOffice Writer and format it before copying and pasting it back into Blogger's editor, just to see if it'll fix it. I read one hit in my search that  he had tried the same thing and the post had become completely messed up. I'm still willing to try in case I do something differently.

WITH MS WORD 2003:

Okay, I've copy-pasted this same post to MS Word 2003. I've configured the "paragraph" setting to add a 12 point space after each paragraph. Then, I'm going to copy-paste this back to Blogger. Now I need to add a couple of paragraphs.
I'm doing this because I'm a bit annoyed at having such a large expanse in between paragraphs. I find it strange that Blogger hasn't fixed it. It's so obvious to anyone. It shouldn't be difficult to fix right?
Or does it only happen in Google Chrome? I abandoned Internet Explorer a looong time ago. I tried out Firefox for a while but settled on Chrome eventually.
Okay, time to see if this works

-----
Well, you can see the results. Blogger's editor has removed the paragraph spacings.

WITH OPENOFFICE WRITER:

Okay, I've copy-pasted this same post to OpenOffice Writer . I've configured the "paragraph" setting to add a 12 point space after each paragraph. Then, I'm going to copy-paste this back to Blogger. Now I need to add a couple of paragraphs.
I'm doing this because I'm a bit annoyed at having such a large expanse in between paragraphs. I find it strange that Blogger hasn't fixed it. It's so obvious to anyone. It shouldn't be difficult to fix right?
Or does it only happen in Google Chrome? I abandoned Internet Explorer a looong time ago. I tried out Firefox for a while but settled on Chrome eventually.
Okay, time to see if this works
-----
Final verdict: Blogger's editor preserves the spacing when you paste from OpenOffice Writer. From here on, I'm going to write my posts in OpenOffice and copy-paste to Blogger when I'm finished.

UPDATE:

I've made a new post about the same topic with a possible solution. Read it here:
Blogger Paragraph Spacing 2

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Blogger Stats

I'm trying to understand what these blogger stats are. This is the stats overview page. Obviously, I haven't been promoting my blog too much. I'll fix that but I find the stats a bit interesting.

This one's the traffic sources stats. Curiously, the referring site with the most traffic is a medical drugs website. It tried finding where in that site I could see my blog but I couldn't find it. How does this work?


This one's interesting as well. More people from Russia have read my blog than the US. And there's only one from the Philippines! The stats are not complete however. I've got 93 pageviews total but the states only show 18. I guess that's just the amount that the stats can handle.


I've been going back over my posts and I can see where I need to improve a little. I've recently been repeating myself in several posts and that means I'm not offering new content. I need better marketing too.

More on Working from Home

If you hope to earn a living by working on the internet from home, there are a few things you're going to need:
  • You need your own computer
  • You need to devote a lot of time to any part-time or full-time jobs you take in (initially)
  • You'll need a quiet place where there will be few disturbances, if any
The first probably won't be too difficult. Computers are much cheaper than they've ever been and they're getting cheaper still. Which one you buy will depend on what type of work you want to do. If you just want to write, a not-too-high-end notebook will probably do. I'm only giving this advise if you can't afford a high-speed, high-memory and high-priced computer. If you have the funds, don't skimp. I'm actually thinking of getting a cheap notebook with WiFi, Bluetooth, at least 2GB of on board memory and at least 250GB of disk space for writing and a desktop for the more complicated stuff.

If you plan to work at home part-time, you'll have to spend at least four hours a day working on your part-time job. Note the word, "initially," at the end of Item 2. Depending on the job you've taken up, four hours may be the minimum. There may be jobs out there that you can spend less hours on, but I haven't found any at this time.

I once tried taking a job as a content writer. I enjoyed the work but I could only complete one to three 200 word articles per day instead of the required 10. It wasn't that I couldn't type fast enough (I can type fairly fast) but I only gave myself two hours per day to write. I would research the topics and write and rewrite until I was satisfied with the story before submitting it. There was also the problem with Item 3.

Writing is a job that requires concentration. It's difficult to work in a noisy environment and nearly impossible if there are interruptions every now and then. This is probably one of the pitfalls of working at home. Kids playing around you, kids asking you for help with homework, your wife wants to discuss what she's going to cook for dinner, neighbors coming around for a chat, it's worse than being at the office. If you don't have a quiet, private space for working at home, you can rent a small apartment or office space somewhere just to get work done. Else, you can wield an iron hand and tell everyone, "no one makes any noise while I'm working!"

I'm going to be eligible for early retirement in two years. I've got two desktops and one laptop. My daughter, who's studying in another city about 90 kms away, is using the laptop. I'm using one very old desktop (sharing it with my kids, 12 and 8 years old). I have another desktop but it doesn't have a monitor and a mouse yet. I'm planning to send that to my college-age daughter and donate the laptop to her cousin. I still get to use this clunker of a desktop. I hope to earn enough from my part time writing to buy a small notebook for my personal use.

I don't have much choice with time, unfortunately. I've got a full time job and need to share computer time with my kids. Homework takes priority over my writing.

Privacy is the big problem. Our house is small so there isn't much I can do about having some peace and quiet. The computer is up against the wall near the dining table and I get an occasional bump as people pass by. I'm thinking of using the garage as an office but my wife wants it for another bedroom. I may have to rent an apartment or office somewhere.

It's challenging but there's not much to do about it for now. Keep on keeping on. (",)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Update on Daughter's Condition

I'm back in Cagayan de Oro. 'Went home yesterday because my wife wanted to see our daughter. Since our son had dance practice in school, I had to return to be with him while Loida and Erin took my place in Iligan. They left yesterday morning.

Before she left yesterday, my wife told me that Dr. Estrada had diagnosed dengue as the reason for Erika's fever and rashes. With the fever gone and her platelet count above the minimum, Erika's on the mend so I can rest easy somewhat. However, I am starting to worry about myself.

I've been feeling feverish and cold all day. This has been coming on and off all week and I hope it's nothing but I remember there being a lot of mosquitoes in my sister-in-law's house and I felt their bites several times. I'm not psychosomatic but a case of dengue in the house is a bad sign. So, here I am, trying to make a sensible post and failing somewhat.

I signed up with oDesk a few days ago. I'm still building my profile and I haven't taken their tests yet. I'm not feeling up to it. Feeling the way I do, I might make a mess of the tests and lower my chances of getting  jobs.

My Daughter's Condition

Erika first went to the doctor last Monday and his diagnosis was stomach flu. He prescribed antibiotics, Paracetamol for pain and fever and one other pill. The last one was to be taken only when she felt stomach pain. So far, she hasn't needed the last pill.

Last Thursday, she started breaking out in rashes. My first thought was dengue so I rushed here to Iligan to check on her. She seemed fine when I arrived. Her fever had gone down and she was eating an apple with her cousin. She complained of pain during urination, however, so I decided we'd take her back to the doctor for another checkup.

The lab test showed her bacterial count as "abundant" but the doctor said that the antibiotic should take care of that. He advised that we continue with the medication. Then we mentioned the rashes.

At the time of our visit to the doctor, there was no electricity so it was a bit dark in the clinic. The doctor stood her by the window to check the rashes. I noted a look of concern on his face and I kind of worried what he'd say next. We had suspected measles since her fever had not returned but the doctor asked us to get a platelet count just to make sure. The rashes didn't look like measles to him. It looked like dengue. He told us to get a blood test and return with the results.

We had to go to the Mindanao Sanitarium and Hospital because that part of the city had electricity at that time. It's about 15 to 20 minutes away. After her blood was extracted, we waited one-and-a-half hours before getting the results. We went back to the doctor's clinic but he had left. It was already 6:30pm and there was still no electricity. He had probably forgotten that he had asked us to return.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Watching Over My Daughter

I'm in Iligan City right now, watching over my daughter.

Last Friday, she said she was feeling feverish but still attended her church's youth activity. She attended her classes on Saturday and Sunday. Finally, she felt bad enough to go to the doctor who diagnosed intestinal bacteria. Yesterday, my wife called to tell me that our daughter's fever had spiked again so left work around 12 noon and took the bus to Iligan. Normally a two hour trip, it took me more than three hours to get here because of all the road repairs being done on the highway.

By the time I arrived, she was feeling better, joking with her cousin, Kristine. She hasn't had a fever since last night but this morning complained of pain while urinating. We took her to the laboratory to have some tests. We'll be taking her to the doctor around three o'clock.

It's so difficult having a child away from home. She's living with her aunt but you can't help but worry at a time like this. I would like to have her study in Cagayan de Oro just so we can keep watch but the school here is one of the best in the region. She also likes it here.

Another difficulty is that we are a bit financially challenged right now. I took out a loan from the company but it has yet to appear in my bank account. I wonder how I'll manage if we need to admit her to hospital. Thank God for relatives.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Trying to Work from Home

I'm on a one-day vacation right now. I always put my vacations on Mondays or Fridays so I can have an extended weekend. I also took this opportunity to find out if I could make a living out of working from home.

I've taken a part-time job writing short (150, 200, and 300 word) articles. I'm supposed to write 10 articles per day from Monday to Friday. It's been almost two weeks since but I haven't been able to meet my quota. I tried to see if I could finish at least 10 in one whole day so I had a go at it last Saturday. I wasn't successful. I only got five articles in.

What are the issues?

We have one computer at home. My kids sometimes need to do some research for their homework and they also like to play computer games or watch movies. It's a constant competition for computer time. As the father, I've laid down the law. "When I'm at home, I get to use the computer. If you have some research, I'll let you use it but, otherwise, it's mine to use." The DVDs have started to gather dust since I said that.

Major issue for me was the article topics. They're not really topics but keywords. I choose a keyword from a database and write an article using that keyword in the article. It's not a problem if the keyword was for a topic I'm familiar with. Most of the time, I need to do some research before I write anything. That slows me down considerably.

I also have a bad streak of perfectionist in me. I tend to write, stop, consider, delete and start over. While that means that I turn out well-written articles, it also means it takes me a long time to finish. I've read that the proper way to write is to keep going, not minding spelling or grammar or flow of ideas. When you finish, that's when you go back and edit. I've been trying to do that but the old habits are a little deeply engraved. I've had some success though I still tend to stop for a bit.

Lastly, since I'm at home, I'm expected to help around the house. I've spun-dried five loads of clothes and hung them out to dry. I've had to refill the water dispenser, drive my wife to the highway, and refill the water container in the bathroom. I'm not counting the interruption for lunch. Also, when my wife wants to tell me something, I have to stop and listen...and reply.

I'm going to stop here and think of solutions for awhile. Dinner's calling.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Using a Planner Part 4

I haven't actually used this technique since I'm still formulating it. I just want to describe the idea and maybe, by putting it down in words, I might come up with something.

When I receive a long term goal, I need to track my progress. That's because my boss wants to be informed of how far along I am in achieving the goal. When we talk about the goal, he's always asking what I've done so far, what I still need to do and, the really vague part, how many percent complete is the job.

How can I say, with some certainty, how many percent along I am in completing the job? In my case, it's always been a guess and my boss has usually accepted my guesses at face value. Sometimes, however, after saying it's 75% complete, I get a thrashing of sorts when the job takes several months to actually complete. It's kinda difficult to answer the question, "How could it take three months to finish the last 25% of the job?"

So, I needed to come up with a progress tracking method. Outlook's Task List has a feature where you can choose the percent complete. It's just an drop-down box where you can choose the percentage. That's' nice but it doesn't help you determine what number to choose. So, here's how I'm planning to do it:

I plan to cut up each task into five to ten steps or mini-tasks. In our office, we call these "milestones."

Let's say you have a task that says, "Organize a meeting for the team at the Neville Hotel on March 22, 2012."

You breakdown the task into a list of steps or mini-tasks. One such list might be:
  1. Obtain the list of people who need to be a the meeting.
  2. Call/Visit the Neville Hotel and ask for a reservation for a function room.
  3. Inform all attendees about the meeting.
  4. Two days before the meeting, remind everyone about the meeting.
  5. Attend the meeting.
Since I have five steps, I can allot each step a 20% value. When I finish Step 1, I put 20% on the % Complete box. When I finish Step 2, I increase the % Complete to 40% and so on. When Step 5 is finished, I put 100%. Don't mind the Status box. As soon as you put a value more than 0% into the % Complete, the Status will be updated to "In Progress." When the value is 100%, it automatically becomes "Completed."

You don't have to evenly divide 100% into your number of steps. In the example above, you can put 10% for Step 1, 50% for Step 2, 70% for Step 3, 90% for Step 4, and 100% for Step 5. It depends on you if you want to assign a bigger or smaller percentage to a step.

Well, I guess that's it for this series. I hope someone finds something useful for themselves here. Let's keep those tasks rolling.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Using a Planner Part 3

At work, we have a system wherein my boss would give me a list of goals or jobs that he wants me to achieve or finish by the end of the year. This is how our performance is rated and determines how much our bonus will be as well as our increases and chances for promotion. These goals usually number between three to five depending on complexity and/or quantity of work.

Previously, I'd allot time each day to attend to these goals and, hopefully, finish them by the end of the year. I'd work on one of them for about one, two or three hours and move to the next one. Sometimes, I'd work on one of them for less than an hour.

This method has not been very efficient or effective. Every time I stopped working on one job, I have to reorient myself when I go back to it. Since I do this to all of my jobs, I kept trying to remember where I left off and what I should do next. This is the way my boss insisted I do things and I happen to be a very obedient employee.

In addition to these year-long goals, I also get numerous little jobs that need to get done. Everyday is a struggle to allot time to all these little things and the big important things. Include all the meetings I have to be in and you get an idea of how frustrated I feel with all the things that need to get done. In the final months of the year, I'm always working double-time to finish the year-long goals and still do all the other jobs required of me.

This year, I decided I'd change tactics. The way I thought about it goes like this:
Let's say I have five jobs I need to complete in five days. I could go about it in two ways:

  1. Allot about one hour and 36 minutes for each job per day.
  2. Work and complete one job per day.
Note that all five jobs will be finished within those five days using any of the two methods. So, working on all five jobs everyday is the same as working on one job per day. Potentially, at least in my case, working on one job per day may actually be faster since I won't have to re-orient my self.

Next, let's say that I have six jobs to do in five days. Let's also say that, in reality, these six jobs will need six days to complete. If I allot equal time per day to each job, I will finish none of them after five days. Not good, not good at all. However, if I work on one job per day, in five days, I will finish five of them. Five out of six is much better than zero out of six.

All this thinking has drawn me to the conclusion that working on one job at a time is the way to go. This year, therefore, I've scheduled my goals one after the other instead of trying to do them all at the same time.

Of course, it's nearly impossible to work on one job per day. Some jobs need to be set aside because it needs to wait for something else to happen or for someone to provide input which is not available right away. When that happens, I open the task in Outlook and type the date and what I did and what I need to do next. No more guessing or trying to remember. Then I move on to the next job on the list.<

I also used to dread receiving other, smaller jobs that my boss assigns to me. Lots of times, these jobs are urgent and need to be acted upon immediately. Not a problem anymore. Open the Task List, enter the details of the new task, update the task that I was doing before being interrupted and start on the new one. When I finish the new task, I update its status and click "Complete." It disappears from my active list and automatically goes into my list of completed jobs. Then I go back to the previous job.

That's one of the wonderful things about Outlook's Task List. I use the list of completed tasks to show my boss that I've been busy and actually done some work. It gives him an idea of how effective I am. It also tells him if I'm being assigned too many extra jobs. Last year I completed only four out of five goals I was given at the beginning of the year. Normally that would have initiated a lecture on being efficient or how it would affect my bonus or promotion. Seeing the long list of extra jobs, however, made my boss consider that I had been assigned a little too much.

Next up...tracking your progress.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Using a Planner Part 2

I'm going to Cebu with my daughter this weekend so I decided I'd write something now so I can stick to my promise. I don't have an IPad, laptop or notebook with which to make my entries while I'm away. That's one of my goals for this year, getting a laptop or notebook or even a netbook just for staying in touch through the internet.

In my last post, I described how I did things before and how my methods didn't really work. I needed something to improve my efficiency somehow.

In the article, "Using Daily Planners Effectively - How to use the most important time management tool," they described how a planner can be used to manage your time and jobs. One of the first tips is this: When you receive a job request or you come up with one, schedule it for tomorrow or on some future date. The jobs you already have today, you do today. If a new job comes in today, you do it tomorrow. This isn't procrastination. It's practical.

If you just keep a list, like I did, and have the whole list in front of you, you'll wonder how you'll get to all of them. If you schedule your jobs, you'll have only the list for today in front of you. It looks manageable and relieves some of the stress.

How many should you have on your list per day? You're the best person to answer that question. It depends on the complexity of the jobs and how fast you do your work. Some jobs will be quick and some will take longer to finish. For now, you'll probably schedule too much or too little. As you go on, you'll be better at estimating how much a particular job needs in terms of time.

What if you don't finish the jobs for today or an urgent job comes along? Just reschedule the jobs that you didn't finish to tomorrow. For urgent jobs, you put them on the list (just to record at least) and do them now. You may have to move one or more jobs to another day but that's assuming that the job you deferred is less important than the one displacing it.

When I first did this, I developed two lists: one for today and another for tomorrow. The one for tomorrow had everything less the six to eight jobs that I put for today. Not the right way to do it. I discovered that some jobs could be done several days, even months, later. Almost magically, I found that the list had seemingly shrunk and I suddenly felt a sense of relief. It had not shrunk, of course, but seeing a small list everyday is less stressful than seeing a long line of jobs everyday.

This was where Outlook helped. When you add a task to the Task List, you specify the Due Date (when you need to finish it). There's also a space for Start Date. In this space, I put the date when i received the job or task. Next, there's a space for putting a reminder. In the reminder, I put the date when I intend to do the job. When you do this, Outlook will generate a reminder list box that will pop up on your screen on the same date as the reminder. All tasks that have a reminder for a particular date will appear in the list for that day.

Here's an example of how I use Outlooks Task List to plan my work.

Let's say I need to order a part. I open a blank task and on the Due Date, I put the date when I need to have the part in my hands which can be up to three months later. On the Start Date, I put the date today. Then, on the reminder space, I put the date tomorrow. When I save and close the task, the job won't appear on my list until tomorrow. I can then concentrate on doing those jobs that I scheduled today.

The next day, I fill out an order form, get my manager to sign it and send it off to Purchasing. Purchasing will take my order form, create a Request for Quotation and fax it off to several suppliers. The quotations may take several days to arrive so I change the reminder date to the next week to follow up with Purchasing.

Let's say the quotations arrive and I review them and decide on which supplier will get the order. I make my choice and send it back to Purchasing who will convert it into a Purchase Order. This can take another week so I change the reminder date again to the next week. The task again disappears from my list and I can go on without thinking of it for another seven days.

When my reminder comes up again, I call Purchasing and ask them if the Purchase Order has been sent out. Let's assume that it has. The supplier promised that the item will be delivered, say, in six weeks. I change the reminder again to six weeks later. Hopefully, the item will be delivered before the six weeks is over and I can change the status of the task to "completed." Otherwise, I will get a reminder six weeks later to follow up with the supplier.

That's essentially how it works. It's easy and simple and I don't feel so hassled everyday.

More next week.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Using a Planner Part 1

Almost didn't get to make my scheduled entry. My eight-year old daughter had been asking to use the computer for some time but I kept putting her off. She quietly sat beside me, waiting patiently, watching what I was doing. Then she put her head on my shoulder and that's when I caved in. I let her play her Tetris for an hour or so.

What I wanted to share this week was on using a planner. At the office, I use Microsoft Outlook's Task List and Calendar. When I first used the Task List, it was just a list of jobs. It quickly became such a long list that I despaired of ever finishing anything. Add a boss who insisted on my doing multiple things at the same time and you'd have a formula for stress. I either needed a lesson in time management or organizing my work.

I thought of using the internet to find a planner that I could load into my cellphone and use to organize things. Thus far, I have been unsuccessful. In my search, however, I found several articles on time management. One in particular gave me such a clear idea of what to do that I decided to use it. The webpage is http://www.time-management-success.com/daily-planners.html and after about a week, I finally got the hang of it.

The essence of using a planner is to put a buffer on your jobs. They mentioned a book, "Do It Tomorrow" by Mark Forster. Unfortunately, I'm a little cash-strapped so I am unable to buy the book for now. The article did, however, describe the essentials.

Before I get to the essence, I think I'll describe how I did things before.

I mentioned that I had a list of jobs in Outlook's Task List. When someone asked me to do something or I thought of something that needed to be done, I put it on the list. Unfortunately, that's all I did. I just put it on the list.

Everyday, I'd choose an item from the list and work on it. If I finished it, I marked the task as complete and it would disappear from the active list. If I didn't, the task would stay on the list, unchanged. I didn't use reminders, I didn't write anything about status or even when I expected or intended to finish the job. It was just a list.

A lot of times, I didn't even put a job on the list. When I received a job to do and it was urgent, I did it right away without putting it on the list. If I finished it, I'd have no record of it. If I didn't finish it and still didn't put it on the list, it's almost a sure thing that I'd forget it.

Another problem was choosing which job to do first. I'd pick one at random or if I thought it was easy or can be finished quickly. If someone follow up on a job, I'd drop what I was doing and pick up his request. No attempt at negotiation or anything. It was all haphazard and confusing. It was also driving me crazy.

So here came the article and I decided to try it out.

Next week, I'll tell you how it it went. Furthermore, by next week, I'd have learned a few more things and I can add those too.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Wrong post date

I just went through my posts and found that the last post was dated November 28. Actually, I started writing it on that date and only posted it last week. When you're in the job I'm in, December is a very busy time.

Anyway, I'm putting a reminder in my cellphone to make posts every week. Saturday would be a good time. It's not Saturday so I guess I'd better close this hehe