Friday, 28 November 2014

After Having Run For The Hills

There are those of you who, kindly, tell me I'm out of the loop. In fact I am so far from the loop that I need a telescope to see it.

When we gave up television some years ago, we knew we were missing out on some good drama series, of course, but it was no real sacrifice as we could always buy boxed DVD sets of anything that came highly recommended, and we have a few.

The funny thing is, we don't actually buy many. We do other things instead. What you don't have you don't miss, and the idea of plonking in front of a screen and just staring at it has just sort of...gone.

This screen? No, THIS one is interactive. Here I work, study, write, and play. Not just stare. Mattter of choice, obviously, MOST people love to sit and stare. I get bored too quickly. Even if I watch a 90 minute movie on DVD I have to have some knitting or I can't make it all the way through.

Anyway, that's not the issue. The issue is, that since I gave up TV a lot of bright new stars have arrived on the scene. Highly talented actors and actresses (and indeed, because I'm not afraid to show how shallow I am, some incredible eye candy in the actor department) and plenty of them.

So many in fact, that are "new", that I now find myself saying "WHO?" more often than not. Yesterday I read something on FB which included a friend's wish list of ideas for casting in an upcoming production, and I'd only heard of one of them.

I no longer see award shows anyway, obviously, but if I did, I would only be quite certain to recognize the "lifetime achievement" recipients.

In a way this is bad. I'm missing out on some talent, without a doubt, but it does reflect on the entire concept of celebrity. To put it bluntly, you could have an oscar AND a golden globe, and I wouldn't know who you were if you knocked on my door.

A similar thing has occurred with music. When I lived in England, I was the one you needed on your Trivial Pursuit team for the music questions. Not any more! Now, you could argue that it was because I was a lot younger, and that young people tend to be more "into" this stuff. But actually that wasn't the whole of it.

Back then if I listened to the radio, no matter whichever popular music station I chose (i.e. current as opposed to oldies or classical), it played a wide variety of music, and I listened to it most of the day, so I became familiar with everything, whether I liked it or not.

Here in Canada you chose your station by genre. This has its pros and cons, but be that as it may, I have always opted for the stations that play rock/alternative/indie, so for the last 20 years I have been OBLIVIOUS to any other music, save that of world music for which I have my own sources. I don't think it gets played on the radio anyway.

THEN, once we stopped receiving satellite TV we also lost the radio stations, and we have no other radio other than in the truck, so I only really listen to new music when out, or when my kids say "Hey Mom, listen to this, you'll love it!"

95%+ of the music I listen to is recorded, and while I have a good selection, I don't add to it that often. I do discover new stuff (I'm a huge fan of the Kings of Leon) then play it over and over, like a small boy with a Thomas the Tank Engine DVD.

So, if you name a current superstar, I frequently don't know what they sound like, and may not even know their face. An example would be Katie Price. I know the name, I don't actually live in a cave you understand. But I can't name any of her songs, I've never heard her sing, and I have no idea what she looks like. I do know what Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus look like, unfortunately, but I've never heard either of them.

And I don't give a rat's arse about it either.


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Self-Employment, By Request

It's a snowy Saturday morning, I've had a toasted bacon sandwich for breakfast, and shortly I'll go to work. I won't move an inch.

I'm a great supporter of women being "traditional" if they choose to be, if finances permit, and staying at home to do domestic stuff. I did it for almost 30 years. I loved it. My kids loved it. My husband loved it. Happy home, tended garden, home cooking, and Martin was especially keen on the not having any domestic jobs to do like most modern men have to. Let's be honest, my family life is a wee bit idyllic.

However, my youngest child is now 18 years old. It became clear a few years ago that despite the entire family enjoying this idyll, it was hard to justify in a modern setting, and extra money would be nice. I had been selling stuff online for many years, but one day I just decided to think of it as a full-time business.

I invested all of $70 into it. (This is important, as you'll see in a bit.) I took it very seriously and devoted at least 8 hours a day to creating jewellery, phographing it, listing it online, and then re-investing the proceeds to purchase more beads and findings, to make more. Rinse and repeat.

About 18 months ago I noticed that when I sold beads and findings as is, they sold very fast. The profit was also higher, as I spent less time on these sales, just counting things into bags. So I also opened a supply shop on Etsy. It's doing very well. Between the higher priced jewellery sales, and the high volume supply sales, it really IS a full-time business these days. Looked at as an hourly rate for a 40 hour week (I actually work about double that!), I'm now earning more than most of my friends, and I don't have to go anywhere to do it. I'm still investing most of what I earn back into my business, but there are all sorts of treats coming out of it too.

I have expansion plans, and how. I can no longer do it all by myself, and Tom is my able assistant. If/when he pootles off to college I'll need a replacement, but Rhiannon is also heavily involved, she just needs to move closer. It's all in the plans.

The person who asked me to write this did so, because of one comment I made privately, which was "OK, I'm going to do my favourite morning thing now, see how much money I made as I was sleeping". She came right out with it and said TELL ME HOW! So here I am. Here's how.

First find something you love. LOVE. Passionately. You'll be spending an awful lot of time doing it. If it's something you MAKE, get really good at it. Study hard. Know it inside out. Practice. Be an expert. If it's something you simply buy and sell, then know your product intimately. Study its history. Find reliable and economical suppliers. Study the mail service. Learn about customs. Find good local packaging resources.

Then buy one chicken. No, don't, but follow the principle.

Buy one chicken, sell it, buy two chickens. Sell them, buy four chickens. Eat one, sell 3, buy 6 chickens. Eat one, sell 5, buy 10 chickens. And so on. That's the principle.

When I do my taxes in 2015 I have to declare my business assets. My conservative estimate in beads alone is $10,000. I'm still trying to calculate the rest. Remember, I started with $70.

Yes, of course, there has been a few hundred thrown in now and again since then that was not business income, but there's also been plenty paid out, so it waaaaaay more than covers it. It certainly cancels it out.

It didn't happen overnight, and it was a lot of work. And? Patience, diligence, and hard work never hurt anyone.

In return I have NO BOSS, my co-worker is my cherished child, my hours I pick and choose, the weather can bite me, I'm doing what I love, while multi-tasking on and offline (soup, anyone?), and listening to my choice of music. It's a dream job.

Is it secure income? HELL NO! There are many factors that could screw it up for me in an instant, but life's like that anyway. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Need more details? I'm right here, I'll share. Can you have a franchise? Not a fucking chance, LOL.

Friday, 21 November 2014

A Few Facts

1. I do not, never have, and never shall support terrorism.

2. My definition of terrorism may well be different to yours.

3. I do not believe that Muslim and Islamist have the same definition, and if you care to look it up you'll find that I'm far from alone in this view.

4. If I were a poor, young man living in the Middle East, I might just join ISIS.

I hope that last one shocks you, because it should. I hope you have enough imagination to ask yourself if you would too, but I think it's very hard for people to put their virtual feet in those shoes.

Perhaps I ask too much. We spend so much time being sure of who we are and what we do that we don't spend any time imagining what it's like to be somebody else.

We live in a very different society. When things aren't going well in our society, first we moan about it, and then (sometimes) we vote. Despite our certainty that our votes make no difference, politicians spend a fortune trying to get them. And in the end, despite the corruption, ineptitude, and inertia of our politicians, our countries rumble on. Most of us are doing OK.

The middle east is not like that. If you study its history you will find it's very different to ours. Borders were drawn up in an arbitrary manner by colonialists with not-so-secret agendas about exploiting the wealth of the area, and nationalism was foisted on people who historically had only tribal identities, if they had any at all. And after colonialism there was still poverty, and plenty of it. Poverty that we can't even imagine. Poverty that we never even noticed.

Flash forward to a world where that poverty is still endemic, affecting infrastructure at its most basic level (if the 40 year old jeep can't navigate the rocks on the mountain pass, nobody is going anywhere) and yet a new understanding of how it is elsewhere has reached these people, and a grudge develops.

Who do they blame? Well, that depends. Just like westerners, they often look backwards to a fantasy time where everything was working better. Just like westerners this fantasy time often involves very conservative ideals and the role of religion. It is normal, throughout human history for marginalized people to seek stability anywhere they can find it. Their options are often limited, when they discover that the elite don't give a crap about them. This is why local paramilitaty organizations seem appealing. Just like kids in the west with no stability at home join gangs. People naturally seek some sort of authority that promises to provide a future for them.

Before you look at politics, you have to look at human needs. What does politics mean anyway? It means governing. What does governing mean? It is both crowd control and feeding the masses. When the national government don't or can't provide, somebody else will. Anywhere. At any time. Your choices are generally the church, or some sort of rebel organization.

If those COMBINE, it's irresistible to maginalized people. It looks safe. Well, what else is there anyway?

Who else is attracted to this? Bad people. I mean actual psychopaths. Always. They seek positions of power within such organizations. They're not usually going to get power any other way, and they need it, they crave it, and they're good at it. They are born leaders but also born unethical, damaged to the core. A bad combination, but one type of human being. Catch them if you can.

Who else? Idealistic young people from "outside" who need a way to express their dissatisfaction with the status quo. Something of the organization appeals to them, and like any individual who "joins" anything, even if he only supports a small aspect of it initially, once inside he is required to take on the whole thing. He must prove himself. He must toe the line. No matter what his doubts and fears are at 2am, now he's expected to perform acts that he would never have done as a private individual. And he does it. He has no choice.

Who else? Those with a debt to repay. They say Guantanamo is full of terrorists, but it's no secret that many of them were created in there. If you were falsely imprisoned you'd come out resentful too. And if your family, or maybe your whole village was killed, you may have an axe to grind.

And who else? The desperate. You can always find recruits among the desperate. The most dangerous man is one with nothing left to lose.

Again, I say, unless you've walked in any of their shoes, you have no idea how you would respond to it. That doesn't make it right. None of this is ever right. Generational vendettas aren't right either, but they can always be explained. You want a man who is 3rd generation "victim" to ignore all of that and be a nice guy? So do I, but good luck with that. You go tell him to just get over it. I dare you.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Bad Influence

You've heard that term, I'm certain. It suggests that somebody is behaving in a way that others copy, and that it's really not something they should be copying. If you have a kid who has been hanging out with "bad kids" you may be afraid that they are a "bad influence" for example. It further suggests that your kid is unable to decide for himself how he should behave.

There is an idea that young people, generally speaking, are easily drawn to such bad influences, and perhaps some of them are. This is one reason, of course, why there is so much fear of Islamic extremists recruiting the young.

But it's not as simple as that. For a start, it's not just the young who are influenced. People of all ages are heavily influenced by those around them, by the media they read or watch, and by those who make a living "preaching", and I don't just mean priests, or even politicians. Advertising executives, for example, are some of the most powerful preachers of our time.

The next issue then, is what defines "bad", in these influences. That is often going to be a matter of opinion; it's really not always cut and dried. Going back to your teen, if the influences got him into trouble resulting in imprisonment, or bodily harm, it's easy to label it bad, but sometimes it's just an influence that leads him away from his parents' preferences. Perhaps towards a career in art instead of medicine. People with Bohemian lifestyles are frequently seen as bad influences by the more conservative.

Some years ago I was deemed a bad influence on a female friend by her husband. Having seen the far more relaxed and jolly way that I ran my home and family, she started making changes in hers, and it was noticed. Despite the fact she was personally happier, he was insecure, and concerned as to where it might lead.

The fact is, like anything else, "bad" is always relative.

But how do you know if you are being influenced? That's the tricky part! It's also worth asking, do you want to be?

Apparently people do. Go into any bookstore and look at the size of the "self-help" book section. There are THOUSANDS of books written by people who believe they know what would make other people happier. And people who want to be happier, but aren't quite sure how, part with large sums of money to be told.

But it works the other way round, mostly. Writing these books, providing you can get them published, is a very good way to get happier, in fact, if money buys happiness (it certainly doesn't hurt). They do conferences and seminars too. People pay to listen to them speak in person. It's a bloody good scam.

"Are you saying they are a bad influence Melanie?" You tell me. They are the ones fleecing you for advice easily available for free.

Whatever, they are doing well on it. Enough people are willing to pay. Wanting to read or hear it. Seeking influence.

Lately I have noticed, far too often, people repeating almost verbatim, ideas that I know have come from others. You know what it reminds me of?





I blame social media. No, I don't really. I was just waiting for somebody else to say it. Long before there was such a thing, people got "ideas" from gossiping to neighbours. That's how culture arises. Charismatic people share their views and other people pick up on them. Without any kind of authority, these ideas become cultural norms, almost as powerful as law. In some cases more powerful than law.

(I'm not going to touch how culture becomes law, as it has in traditional religion, I'll save that for another day)

Are they good ideas? Well, clearly some are, and they've stuck around. But sometimes they really are not. The funny part is how one set of people can pick up idea A, while another set, in the same location, can pick up idea B, and these ideas are mutually exclusive.

This is what leads to partisan politics of course, but I'm not going there today either.

My objective today is to try to convince you that some of your ideas are not your own. Things you "believe" were taught to you, deliberately or otherwise, by other people. You may be quite happy with these opinions, and far be it for me to sway you from them (that would make me just as bad as those who brainwashed you gently in the first place), but you will find, if you take the time to examine your views, that some of them are second-hand.

Moreover, when you "change your mind", it's usually due to outside influence.

Now, there's nothing wrong with that, especially if it comes in the form of new data. For example, until recently I shared the opposition of neonic pesticides due to the harm I believed they were causing bees. However, having researched it very carefully, I have learned that banning these pesticides is a mistake. Banning ALL pesticides would be fine. But if you take away the neonics, farmers resort to older pesticides which do MORE harm.

My mind was not changed by the mere opinion of others, but by solid, independent, scientific studies. It took time, unfortunately, as these studies do. The ban was knee-jerk, and I don't blame anyone for supporting it, as it seemed like an emergency at the time. But now we know better.

This happens a lot. You may have noticed.

Unfortunately when you are infected by the ideas of others without new (or any) data, and especially without real research, your change of mind is potentially just as bad as inertia. That's why I spend so much time teaching my kids to look carefully at everything they learn, check facts, ask questions, and dig deeper. But today I'm asking you to do the same.

Preferably before you spread the contagion further.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Laugh You Buggers, Laugh.

Today boys and girls (and everyone else, this is an inclusive blog) I want to talk to you about attitude.

I was woken this morning before dawn by the rumble of snowploughs. Did I think "OH NO! More snow!"?

No.

Did I think "ARGH! Too early!"?

No.

So, what did I think ? I thought "Oh cool, I'm up early enough to play my game for a bit and do some writing."

OK.

So, playing my game (yes, just the one, don't have the time or inclination for more) my Sim was given an opportunity.....The mailbox went all sparkly, so I clicked and it said "Send a gift to a friend". Well, as she'd just found a yellow sapphire in the front garden I thought, that might do, so I clicked on the mailbox. And I got the message:

"You must have friends to send gifts"

And I laughed out loud. You know, LOL, but for real. A belly laugh. The cat looked at me askew, but she's used to me. (I wonder what cats think laughter is?)

Anyway, that inspired me. When things don't go as planned, provided it's not truly tragic, I tend to laugh. I was born that way. My mother was the same. When she was dreadfully ill in hospital she was still cracking jokes. It really disturbed one of her other visitors, but I knew her better. Life is funny, and the more absurd it gets, the more I laugh.

Recently I have been listening to the same music almost every day. My boys complain about it all the time, but Tom has started to whistle the tunes, and I've even caught him singing to himself.

This:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornology

It's very, very silly, and I love it.

If you've never heard of the Bonzos, then you've probably only ever come across Vivian Stanshall as the voice on Tubular Bells. But there was oh so much more to him than that. He was a tortured genius, he suffered mental and physical illness for most of his life, and then died in fire at far too young an age. But he was funny. Very funny. As often happens, deeply damaged people often provide humour and - let's face it - joy, for others.

Another funny man is Billy Connolly, who had a pretty rough start (I read a lot of biographies) but whose attitude is brilliant. Then there'd Eddie Izzard, and I could go on.

My point is that all these very silly people are in fact teachers of life. They make points, through their humour, that are far more memorable, far deeper, far more meaningful than anything imparted in a serious tone.

Even Monty Python, which is about as silly as it gets, was educational material, and when it came out I was a very impressionable age. It helped me see the absurdity in "normal" British society, so that I was never sucked into believing it was real. What was real then, as now, is the silliness of it all.

So, I suppose right along with that I developed my attitude, which is to laugh when those around me are moaning and wringing their hands in angst. I restrict my seriousness for things that call for it, and I'm not even averse to jokes about those if they work.

Life is short. Nobody gets out of here alive. Have fun. Laugh you buggers, laugh.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Snake Oil

So, having probably pissed an awful lot of young women off by posting this on a Mom's group this morning...

http://www.mommyish.com/2014/11/04/amber-teething-necklaces-do-not-work/

I'd like to have a go specifically at those of you in the metaphysical community who waste money on homeopathic "remedies". First, go here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Placebo

So, it doesn't matter that this stuff is water, you say, it contains the essence of the thing.

Really?

Let me tell you what else it contains the essence of. Ready?

Everything.

Every drop of water you drink has been part of the water cycle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_cycle) of this planet for billions of years. And quite possible elsewhere prior to that:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2814676/Oceans-old-Earth-New-study-finds-meteorites-brought-water-planet-forming-meaning-life-begun-earlier-previously-thought.html

In other words, your homeopathic remedy contains, among other things, the essence of the piss of billions upon billions of people and animals.

You can't define what this essence is, because it's a metaphysical concept (and a vague one at that) and therefore I say to you, it has as much essence of piss as it does "remedy" and undoubtably far more. Water is essentially highly diluted urine.

(One reason why our ancestors tended to drink mostly beer.)

But that's just one aspect of this.

The other aspect is the next level of metaphysical. "Why Melanie," you say, "it's simply magic."

OK, let's assume that's correct. Let's assume that people can be cured by supernatural means.

Why do they need a bottle of water for this purpose? If the magic is everywhere, or coming from the healer, or whatever, why do you need to drink something? Think that one through for a moment and hopefully you'll see my point.

I'll tell you what homeopathy IS. It's a multi-million dollar industry. That's industry spelled S-C-A-M.

It is also the roundworld equivalent of headology.

http://www.bps.org.uk/news/its-all-about-headology-terry-pratchett-and-discworld-novels

Oh, and before anyone asks if I've tried it, of course I have. I NEVER sound off about things I am ignorant of. "Did it work?" Silly question. NO.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Sims 3

It's the world's worst kept secret that I'm no gamer. I don't "get" the appeal of the vast majority of games. I can count on my fingers the games I've enjoyed IN MY LIFE. Besides which, I really don't have time (actually that's why I never get skilled enough to enjoy anything. 30 minutes of Lego Indiana Jones on XBox and I was so frustrated I threw the controller across the room never to touch it again). So a gamer, I am not. But according to my boys, I am. Because there's ONE game I love, and that's Sims.

Sims 3 is the best of the bunch (won't be buying Sims 4, thank you) and gives me great entertainment in all the wrong ways, because it allows me to be completely warped and cause mayhem.


I hope you can click on that to see a larger version, as it's a bit dark. But essentially what happened there was that I had a neighbour who was dressed like Marilyn Manson (despite being a bedpan cleaner by profession, he's in his pink scrubs there) and thought he was all that and a bit more, so I set fire to his gazebo.

I know you shoot aliens and blow up far more, but you're SUPPOSED to be doing that, so it doesn't count.

The world is divided between those who love Sims and those who wouldn't play it if it were the last game on Earth, and that's fine, I'm not trying to recruit anyone *rolls eyes at FB game proselytizers* but I needed somewhere public to list my wishlist.

There are some things that bug me.

1. Sims should be capable of carrying more than one newspaper at a time. They can drive cars, paint portraits, repair computers, and some can even FLY. But if there are two old newspapers lying on the ground, they take two trips to the garbage.

2. It would much funnier if they fell off things, such as balconies, if there were no railings around them. Even crawling babies balk at the edge.

3. EA Games dropped the ball with its multi-cultural Sims. It IS possible to create Sims who are obviously of African or Asian origin, but none of the automatic/in-game Sims look authentic to their race. They are just dark-skinned Europeans. It's almost offensive.

4. Talking of faces, when amateur creators submit "celebrity" Sims to sites like The Sims Resource, they should not be allowed to name them. If you can't recognize them, they're no damn good and that's the end of it. Thankfully somebody made a convincing Johnny Depp. I have him chained up in my basement.

5. This list is unfinished and will be edited as I think of things.

Anyway, my main reason for posting this today is that I just found some really interesting creations on an urban decay theme, e.g. broken down old factories, railway arches etc., by an incredibly talented artist, all available for free at TSR. If you are a fan and this sounds appealing, you can find it all here:

http://www.thesimsresource.com/artists/Cyclonesue/

(You'll need to register but it's all free)

Oh, by the way. I'm getting my own back on my ISP. As they've throttled me to KB/sec, I am downloading the next Sims expansion pack. It's taken 36 hours so far and I'm only at 70%, but at least it's not coming off next month's bandwidth.........