How much are you making per word?

A customer that offers ten cents a word is twice as good as one that offers five cents a word, right? Not necessarily.

You get the per-word rate only if your article is accepted. If you’ve got a 90% chance of acceptance by the five-cent customer and a 25% chance the ten-center will accept you, the odds are you’ll make more money from the nickel customer.
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Web searching for the researcher, part 2

This is the second part of a two-part article on getting the most out of DuckDuckGo for research. Start here.

Narrowing the search

Excluding a search term can improve results. Let’s say you want to find out about trumps in card games and not about the president. Try this:

trump card -donald -president

That doesn’t get rid of all the irrelevant results; I got a headline that says “China plays Trump card brilliantly.” But most of the results are about cards rather than politics. DuckDuckGo is honest enough to say that the minus sign gives you “less” with the search term, not none.
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Web searching for the researcher

Writers of every kind need to do research. Even if you’re writing pure fantasy, you occasionally need to check on human physiology right or cultural allusions. This often means using the search engines — but they make it hard. They give you popular results instead of accurate matches. They give you recent stuff while ignoring older pages. With some work, though, you can force useful results out of them.

I’ll be focusing here on DuckDuckGo. Google annoys me in too many ways to mention, and I get tired of people giving it free advertising by telling me to “google” something. DuckDuckGo has its own problems, but it least it doesn’t second-guess you based on your earlier Web activity. They’re similar in a lot of ways, so a lot of this advice will work with other search engines as well.
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Border Patrol targets polling place in Maine

The Border Patrol set up a “border checkpoint” at the polling place in Houlton, Maine on Election Day 2017. Agents stole an undisclosed amount of marijuana that was being legally handed out.

It’s hard to unpack all the lies in this:

“No state law can override a federal law,” Hiebert said. “That is just the way it works. Both medical and recreational marijuana are illegal at the federal level. Users of medical marijuana are not shielded from federal prosecution.”

Hiebert said that while Border Patrol agents do not typically conduct operations away from the border, they do have the authority to stop and search anyone within 25 miles of the international boundary to question the individual’s right to be in the United States. Checkpoints, where all vehicles travelling through are similarly pulled over for immigration checks, can be conducted within 100 miles of the border. In the past, for instance, Border Patrol agents have conducted checkpoints on Interstate 95 and have checked the credentials of passengers on buses in Bangor.

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Website flippers and the freelance writer

Doing research on an assignment brought my attention to a type of business called “website flipping.” It’s something like “flipping” a house for resale. A buyer acquires a site which seems to be underperforming and improves it to increase its revenue. The goal is to sell it at a profit after it demonstrates its value.

This is a legitimate practice, and it opens opportunities for the freelancer who understands it. Content is central to increasing a site’s value. Let’s say the site is about tree farming. The flipper isn’t in the tree farming business and may not know anything about it. When you need content about tree farming, who ya gonna call? Ghostwriters!
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Writing

With this post, I’m starting to revive my posting on this blog by talking more about my work as a freelance writer. I’ve been writing full-time for about a year and a half and making good progress in reaching better markets. My technical posts will continue to be in Mad File Format Science.

One of the first things I discovered is that writing on spec isn’t a good way to make a living. For a while I was writing for the Foundation for Economic Education, which accepted most of my submissions. They still list me as being on their Faculty Network, but I’ve stopped writing for them because they’ve stopped paying for articles. I’ve submitted some proposals to Reason, but without luck so far. Maybe I’ll get in eventually, but it’s not an easy way to get a regular income.

Fortunately, I have ample skills for writing about tech topics, and I’ve found a lot of work by request. Read the rest of this entry »

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Review: Hanging by a Hair — Playing Rapunzel

It’s been a long time since I really loved a filk album. “Hanging by a Hair” broke the drought. Mich Sampson and Marilisa Valtazanou, performing as Playing Rapunzel, put the emphasis where it counts: on the songs. The topics are fascinating, the lyrics clear, and the musicianship aimed at bringing out the songs.

album cover, Hanging by a Hair“Hanging by a Hair” has a mix of popular oldies, filk oldies, and new songs. Picking a favorite is hard. I think I’d go with “Lizukha,” for its storytelling, fitting the words to the rhythm, and its frame structure. I could also mention the very distinctive setting of Jodi Krangle’s “The Lady” or the old favorite “Starship and Haiku.” “Ophelia” had me puzzled till I noticed the title; it takes an oblique approach, and I think I’ll have to listen a few times to grok it completely. Mich and Marilisa use a lot of different instruments without overwhelming the vocal lines.

According to the website, it’s available as a download or CD purchase from Bandcamp, but shipping to the US isn’t available yet. (I got the CD at the release party in Germany. I paid for it like anyone else; there aren’t many review copies in filk.)

If I have a complaint, it’s that there are only ten songs on the album. But which is better: a ten-track album with at least eight tracks I’ll want to listen to repeatedly, or a sixteen-track one with four really memorable songs?

Update: There’s a carefully concealed lyrics booklet in the package. It was over a month before I noticed it. Like many such booklets, it puts prettiness over readability, with black lyrics on a mottled blue background. I don’t know why anyone does this. Black text on white paper is not only more readable, it’s cheaper.

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A short history of “Yankee Doodle”

One of my current projects is a book called Yesterday’s Songs Transformed, a history of how songs have been rewritten, repurposed, and parodied through the ages. It’s a lot of fun to research, if nothing else. Here’s a section of my draft on “Yankee Doodle” and some of the changes it went through.

Undoubtedly the most rewritten and transformed song of the American Revolution was “Yankee Doodle.” Its origins are uncertain, but its earliest versions mocked Americans as country bumpkins. The tune is older than any form of the words. A British Army surgeon, Dr. Richard Shuckburgh, is credited with writing one of the mocking versions, though the song has gone through so many changes that it isn’t clear which words are his. These may have been his words:

Brother Ephraim sold his Cow
And bought him a Commission,
And then he went to Canada
To Fight for the Nation;
But when Ephraim he came home
He prov’d an arrant Coward,
He wouldn’t fight the Frenchmen there
For fear of being devour ‘d.

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On the Mises Institute

It’s been a long time since I posted here, but this is the best place for me to make statements of permanent public record, and I want to make it clear I don’t support the Mises Institute.

Decades ago, I gave it money pretty generously, based on what I could afford. Once I even got personal thanks from Margit von Mises. That puts it before 1993. It once did good work promoting Ludwig von Mises’ economics. The sad thing is it still sometimes does. But I became concerned when it started defending the Confederacy. The first time I figured it was pointing out, correctly, that not all the faults lay with the South. The northern states supported protectionist policies which helped their industries at the South’s expense.
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USA Today’s pro-censorship reporting

Progressive hostility to free speech is turning up in more and more places. USA today has produced a piece of highly biased reporting on a new British censorship measure.

According to the article, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority has issued a “ban on gender stereotypes” in broadcast ads. Broadcasters that fail to comply can have their licenses revoked. Examples of prohibited material include “commercials featuring hapless fathers struggling to look after kids and women left to do housework.” The headline refers to these as “sexist ads.”

The article declares that “British anti-discrimination laws protect citizens.” It complains that the ASA has “failed to act” against some ads. It doesn’t have a single word from anyone objecting to censorship. It doesn’t question what value there is in banning the depiction of situations people commonly encounter. If people never see fathers struggling to look after kids, will all fathers suddenly be free of the struggle?
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