Archive for January, 2011

Pithy First Sentences – The Essence of Sizzling Good Writing

Pack great content into your first sentence and first paragraph.   Foreplay is great for sex.  But with writing:  Plunge right in.

The opposite —  first sentences and first paragraphs that are vapid and content-free — is sadly the norm with amateur writers.   My dad used to call this “clearing your throat.”   You should not waste the top of your article clearing your throat.  

The standard journalism-class term is “burying your lead.”   (Rhymes with “weed.”)   Don’t bury your most exciting, informative sentence in paragraph 3 or 7.   

If you can’t train yourself to give away your main point in the first sentence and summarize your whole article in the first paragraph upon first writing, go ahead and write your old way for the first draft.   Then the first editing step should be to unbury your lead and strike out your throat-clearing paragraph.  

 If you read your first draft with an eye toward finding, somewhere within it, a sentence that grabs the attention and drives straight to your main point, you’ll often find it.   When you do,  cut and paste it right to the top. 

“No, no, no” I can hear some of you moaning.   “That will be too abrupt!”    Or, “If I give away my whole idea in the first paragraph, my article will be too short!”

Nonsense.  Would this article have been better if I had started like this?

“Everyone likes good writing that informs them and doesn’t waste their time.   But what is the secret to good writing?   How can you improve everything you write so people will want to keep reading?   Well, in this article I’m going to tell you how.   We’ll talk mostly about how to begin articles in a way that really gets them off to a good bang-up start.” 

Sound typical ?    But you learned absolutely nothing from that alternative first paragraph.   It didn’t inform.  It didn’t provoke.   It didn’t grab your attention.   It didn’t summarize what was to come.   It’s  like those styrofoam peanuts inside  shipping boxes.  Pure packing material.   If you have paragraphs like that anywhere, throw them away. 

Compare that to my actual first paragraph.  It gave away as much as possible.

So:   Don’t use your first paragraph to sharpen your pencil.   Start your articles with an already-sharp pencil.  Your readers will thank you.

And don’t worry about your articles being too short.  When you’ve said what you came to say,  restate it once briefly and then stop.   Short is good.

[The author made his living for 7 years in journalism.  Then kept using what he learned there in several subsequent careers in other fields over a 40-year span (so far).  He recommends Art of Readable Writing (Click)
by Rudolph Flesch, a book his writer dad once recommended to him.  Flesch has written many books on writing and the easiest way to browse them is to click the link  and when you get to Amazon look for more books by the same author].

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Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by jimluckett - January 7, 2011 at 9:12 am

Categories: How to   Tags: , , , ,

Pancakes Shouldn’t Sign Snow Tires (or, is your new website Googleable)

Let’s say you’ve got a new website or blog and you are all excited about the prospect of strangers finding your pages through ?Google.    How can you have your first tiny success in that endeavor, very early?

Once you’ve done the obvious first two steps of (a)  putting up some good content on your site and (b) registering the URL with Google so that you have invited Googles spider bots to crawl your site, how do you know when you’ve been found?

If you look for your content using reasonable search terms, you probably won’t find it.   If your site is there at all in the search results, it’s probably buried on page 1 zillion at first.     So — and here’s the essence of this little article — create an unreasonable search string that is tailored in quirky ways to exactly what is on your site.    Then you have can the thrill of seeing your new website on page 1 of the Google free search results, just as soon as Google’s magic spider bots have paid their first visit. 

Assuming the information the spiders bring home to the mother ship pleases the Google wizards and they consider your site worthy to index, your site will come up on page 1 if you stack the deck sufficiently to make your site overwhelmingly relevant to the weird search string you enter to perform this test.    And that’s all we’re talking about here:  A way to testwhether you are on Google’s radar screen at all yet, and give yourself a little thrill if you are.

Example:    When this site was new, among our first articles were:   (a)  A pancake recipe, (b) why you shouldn’t buy snow tires and  (c) why you should teach your baby sign language.    Thus,  I entered into Google:   “Pancakes shouldn’t sign snowtires” (without quotes)   and BOOM there was our newborn baby on Page 1 of Google!    

pancakesNaturally, I emailed all my co-authors “QuickReference.Info is arleady on page 1 of Google!”  and it was a great morale booster.  Nevermind that we were still so unimportant in Google calculations that the only way we were going to get on page one was to concoct a scenario like that to boost our relevance score through the roof.    We were on page 1!

Now, we have the hard work (or I should say, great fun) of  building up the quality and quantity of content on our site and getting legitimate links from relevant other websites that will point back to our site.  Your ranking in a given set of search results is a function of relevance (how much does your site talk about the stuff entered in the search window) and importance (how famous does Google estimate your site to be based largely on the quantity and quality of links from other sites to yours).

Tips:   

  • Don’t do reciprocal linking.  That means, when the owners of site XYZ  (that probably has little to do with your content) ask you to post a link to their site in return for them posting a link to yours, say no.    Google is on to that and it (continued next page)

1 comment - What do you think?  Posted by jimluckett - January 6, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Categories: The World Wide Web   Tags: , , , , , ,

Investing Rule #1 – Get the Parasites Off Your Portfolio!

By Jim Luckett, Ph.D., Economics

It amazes me that people will clip coupons to save 35 cents on a roll of toilet paper and then waste hundreds or even thousands of dollars on fees and commissions when they invest.  Why?  Could be:

(a) they don’t see these costs, and/or
(b) they believe the myth that you get what you pay for (not true in investing) and/or
(c) they see the fee but since it’s expressed as a tiny percentage like 1.5% they think it’s trivial.

Look for the fees: Before you buy a mutual fund, for example, find out the “load” and the annual operating expense.   These have tobe prominently disclosed.   The load is a sales charge.   It should be zero (see next paragraph), but often it is not.   The load may take a slice of your money going into the fund, or a slice when you

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by jimluckett - at 10:41 am

Categories: Finance, investing   Tags:

Fin’s Wheat-free Gingerbread Cookies

Fin’s Wheat Free Gingerbread Cookies

I created this recipe for my grandson’s first Christmas as he had not yet started eating wheat.

I mix this entirely by hand but you can use a hand mixer to start.

Beat until creamy:
1/4 cup margarine
½ cup brown sugar

Beat in:
½ cup molasses

Sift together:
½ cup corn starch
3 cups oat flour (I made this by running large flake oats through the blender)
Sift again with:
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
½ tsp salt
(Increase ginger and cinnamon by up to 50% if you like a spicier cookies.  My grandchildren love them this way.)

Add the sifted ingredients to the margarine mixture in about 3 parts alternately with :
1/4 cup water (It may take much less water depending upon moisture in margarine.  You’ll want a dryer dough if you are going to roll it out than if you are going to shape the cookies by modelling).

Use corn starch or arrowroot flour to dust the rolling pin and surface.  Roll out and cut with cookie cutters.  I use a straw to make a holes for yarn to hang the cookies on the Christmas tree. For a sparkling effect, sprinkle the cookies with granulated white sugar before baking.  You or the children can also mold figures by hand right on a greased cookie sheet.  Increase cooking time for thicker molded cookies.

Bake on a greased sheet at 350 degrees for 8 minutes or until surface springs back when lightly pressed by fingertip.

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by arleighluckett - January 5, 2011 at 10:24 pm

Categories: Cakes and Cookies, Recipes   Tags: , ,

H. P.’s ‘Squirrel’ Stew (Beef Stew With Hearty Red Wine Flavor)

This is my father’s recipe. To the best of my knowledge he ALWAYS used beef instead of squirrel; but he bestowed the frontierish name on the dish when it was part of a camping trip menu. The flavor is greatly enhanced by cooking it at least a day ahead and squirrelling it away in the fridge overnight before reheating and serving.  So that’s another reason to call it “squirrel stew.”  Your enjoyment is further enhanced by being able to smugly go about other activities knowing that a brilliant dinner needs only to be heated up. Serve with french or Italian bread and a good sturdy dry red wine. Gallo Hearty Burgundy does just fine if you’ve spent so much on the beef that you can’t afford a Chianti or a Bordeaux.

– Dan Luckett

Cook at least 1 day ahead and re-heat

2 1/2 lbs. beef cut in 1 1/2″ cubes
1 large or 2 small onions cut up
1 clove garlic
1 1/2 cup dry red wine
2 beef bouillon cubes dissolved in 2 cups water or 2 cans of beef stock
8 oz. can of tomato sauce
4 potatoes cut up in chunks
5 carrots, scraped and sliced
4 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
ground pepper to taste
flour
5 Tablespoons oil

Flour the beef (I shake the beef and flour in a bag) and brown in oil in your largest iron skillet. Remove beef from skillet and cook onion until clear. Return meat to skillet or (better yet) a large electric crockpot), add garlic, bouillon with water, and wine and simmer 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add tomato sauce, vegetables, spices and Worcester sauce and simmer covered another 3 hours. During the cooking add water to maintain the volume – if your lid is not tight you may need a couple of cups. Test the potatoes with a fork. Maintaining the water is essential to avoid having the meat stick to the pan and to ensure plenty of juice (which may be the best part).

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Cast-Iron Cooking: From Johnnycakes to Blackened Redfish (A. D. Livingston Cookbook)

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by danluckett - at 10:11 pm

Categories: Recipes, Soups and Stews   Tags: , , , , , ,

Martha’s* Butter Tarts

Pie-crust pastry – enough for 4 pie-crusts
3 Eggs
3 Cups (1 Lb. box) light brown sugar
3 Tablespoons vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ Cup melted butter
1 ¾ Cup raisins or currants – smaller raisins work better

Roll out pastry and cut with a 3 inch cookie cutter. Place individual shells in a shallow muffin pan, preferably with rounded bottom.

Beat eggs only until well blended — do not over-beat. Stir in sugar and when fully combined add vinegar and vanilla. Stir in melted butter and fruit. Fill shells ½ to 2/3 full – do not overfill as mixture will rise.

Bake at 380o to 400o F (experiment, as ovens vary) for 12 – 14 minutes. Monitor closely as time between under-cooked and over-cooked is short. When pastry starts to brown they are done. Cool before serving.

*Martha Postlethwaite – Noreen’s mother, Jennifer and Elizabeth’s grandmother

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by danluckett - at 9:21 pm

Categories: Cakes and Cookies, Recipes   Tags:

REIT Preferred Stocks: Odd Duck Income Investments You Should Consider

by Ralph Block

[Note: The following essay, written some time ago, has been modified and updated for QuickReference.Info as of January 2011. Ralph Block is an expert REIT investor and author of several books on the subject.]

A couple of years ago Andrew Bary wrote an article in Barron’s about preferred stocks – specifically those issued by financial institutions, e.g., Bank of American, Citigroup and others. The essence of his article, entitled “It Only Looks Like a Wipeout,” (Barron’s, February 9, 2009), was that many banks’ preferred stocks, while not without risk, “appear to offer an attractive alternative to the banks’ common shares, owing to super-high yields and a higher standing in their capital structures.”

Mr. Bary has written about REITs on occasion. But they are not his specialty, and he made no mention of REIT preferreds in his article. I, on the other hand, spend many of my waking hours – perhaps too many – on REITs and the REIT industry. Furthermore, commencing several years ago, I became a big fan of REIT preferreds. At a time when many chastened investors are looking for yield, perhaps a brief discussion of these income stocks might be of interest.

REIT common stocks have long been odd ducks. Are they equities or real estate? Are they owned for income, or for total returns? Should their investors look at GAAP net income, or supplemental measures such as “FFO,” “AFFO,” and “CAD?” How do we value them – like other equities, or on the basis of their net asset values? Are they interest-rate sensitive, or economy-sensitive?

In many ways REIT preferred stocks are even odder ducks. They are not debt obligations of a REIT, and thus are junior to REIT debt, but are senior to REIT common stock (with respect to dividends and liquidation preferences). At times their prices are interest rate-sensitive, but not at others. As there is no maturity date, unlike bonds, there is no “date certain” at which our investments must be repaid to us. They are quite illiquid, and must be bought with the care that Sammy, my Golden Retriever, uses when walking near the neighborhood pit bull. They bear high dividend yields, but have little capital appreciation potential. (continued below the link)

Many REIT preferreds today are intriguing investments, due to their substantial current dividend yields, ranging from 7% to 8%. These yields are higher than all but the junkiest of junk bonds. Some lesser quality preferred issues yield even more. There is a yield for every risk appetite. These current returns are very competitive with the total returns we should reasonably expect from REIT common shares or, indeed, from large- and small-cap equities. And they offer greater protection from deteriorating cash flows if space markets weaken again. They are also less volatile than REIT commons, making for a good investment soporific when markets are volatile.

As many REIT preferreds today trade at prices close to, and some even in excess of, their call prices (normally $25/share), we need to be aware that they may be called away from us and extinguishing our dividend streams at inopportune times. On the other hand, they also trade at healthy spreads and risk premiums over the yields on US Treasury notes and bonds; this is (continued on page 2)

4 comments - What do you think?  Posted by jimluckett - at 9:02 pm

Categories: Finance   Tags: , , , , , , ,

Why Teach Sign Language to Your Hearing Child

Why sign with your infant?

Babies crawl before they can walk and sign before they can talk. It’s simply easier for them to control their hands than to co-ordinate all the processes involved in producing speech. Babies may begin to sign at eight months of age or even younger but it’s never too late to start. A basic sign language vocabulary allows baby to tell you what she needs without all the fussing and guessing. As a grandmother who has experienced it I can tell you, this early communication creates a special bond between the infant and her care givers.

You and your infant/toddler can take Baby Sign Language Made Easy via live group video call on your home computer. For more information visit Signing As We Grow.

Why sign with your toddler? Read more…

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by arleighluckett - at 5:00 pm

Categories: Baby Sign Language, Child Development   Tags: , , , , , ,

Itching Relief: Use Hot Water For Poison Ivy and Bug Bites

You could have avoided touching those triads of leaves; or once you realized you had come in contact with them you could have scrubbed the skin that came in contact (with strong soap or detergent) before the 20 minute time limit for avoiding a reaction. But you didn’t do those things, and now you have an itchy rash. It’s driving you nuts, distracting you from work and preventing you from sleeping. You claw at the rash and risk breaking the skin –or even infection – and the relief from scratching lasts only a few seconds. There are over-the-counter ointments, prescription cortisone-based treatments and hosts of elaborate folk remedies such as oatmeal baths. But since you have found this article you can easily get immediate relief from the itching without spending any money, exposing yourself to “wonder drugs” (i.e. “I wonder what the side-effects will be) or staining your clothing with messy greasy ointments.

Here’s how:

1. Gently scrub the affected area with a wash cloth or brush and soapy water. Rinse. This is to remove lingering traces of the toxin. The toxin is not visible but very persistent and reports of the rash “spreading” are most likely simply continued or spreading exposure to the toxin.

2. Apply hot water. If you can get the affected area under the tap, that’s the easiest. Otherwise use a washcloth as a compress. How hot? Well, don’t scald yourself. The water should be pretty hot but definitely not painful. The hot water application should last for about 10 seconds. You will know you are doing it right if the affected area itches like crazy with the hot water applied. Think of this as compressing 4 hours of itching into a 10 second period.

3. Dry off and wait a few minutes before allowing clothing or anything else to contact the affected area. Meanwhile, distract yourself by doing something else that will hold your attention for a few minutes. Just as a “watched pot never boils” an itch won’t stop while you are focused on it.

My experience has been that this procedure provides about 4 hours of complete relief – at which time you can repeat steps 2 and 3 . Approximately 86.3% of the people I have interviewed after they used this procedure report that it works. I wish I could patent it and bottle it. It also works on mosquito bites.

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knife sharpener from cabelas

Click Here For More Info On This Electric Knife Sharpener

Be the first to comment - What do you think?  Posted by jimluckett - at 4:54 pm

Categories: Health, Home Remedies   Tags:

Why I Buy Tires Online and You Should Too

I buy my tires online in order to conveniently get the exact size and model I want. Saving money is secondary and maybe I’m not even saving. Let me explain why it’s so important to get the exact model you want and how to pick a model to buy:
Read more…

1 comment - What do you think?  Posted by jimluckett - at 11:54 am

Categories: Automotive, Tires   Tags:

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