Thursday, April 29, 2010

I'm Tired

It's been an energy-sapping, emotions-draining, mind-numbing kind of week. I've been dealing with the plagiarism issue I wrote about on Monday. That's taken care of for me, but a number of my colleagues at Suite 101 are still dealing with it.

The church parking lot project just drags on and on. The contractor who is supposed to do the paving has said every day he would be there first thing in the morning, finish the last little grading, and then schedule asphalt deliveries. He didn't show at all Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday his grader operator came. He worked an hour or so, left the site in marginally better condition but not even close to ready to lay asphalt on, and went off to smoke crack, or whatever it is he does the other 23 hours in the day. Today I called his boss at 10:00, and he said he had a crew en route and had just been waiting on the asphalt plants to "fire-up today". I told him the site was not ready for asphalt. He said he'd come by, which he did, and between him and the crack-head they got the site ready for asphalt. Of course, rain is forecast for tomorrow, so that means most likely we'll have another Sunday with the lot unfinished. And my credibility in the tank.

The labyrinth weir project drags on and on. We got something done on it today (around 6:00 PM), and I can see the end in sight, but there a many conference calls to go before I sleep. Meanwhile, our transportation department head is leaving for a foreign missions trip next Thursday, and I'll have to do his work for 12 days. Oh, and the man who is volunteering his time watching my parking lot job is gone for 10 days beginning tomorrow. Then there's my two flood studies I really need to get finished, and another one I'm supposed to start.

Of course, this is the peak season for yard work right now. If it doesn't rain Saturday, I've got a couple of wheelbarrows full of oak pollen to pick up and remove, gutters of pollen to clean, and two right-of-way strips to mow--oh, and weeds to pull from the rock yard. Or maybe I'll just spray, and say to heck with environmentalism for a weekend.

I sure don't see time to write for the next two weeks, except whatever I can sneak in here.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Dealing with Internet Plagiarism

Today I spent considerable free time (and in truth some employer time) dealing with plagiarism of one of my articles. On March 25, 2010 I posted Environmental Progress in the 1960s - the Courts to Around April 16 I did a check for plagiarism, selecting five articles at random. I do this by selecting a phrase or sentence somewhere in the middle of the article, and search for it using Google. Well, actually, before that I search for the article title through Google.

On this day I found my article posted at It had the full article, including attribution to me, the links included in my article, some links to Suite 101 internal pages (daily posts and writer's bio), even the Google ads embedded in the middle of the article, and even the Suite 101 contest code I put at the bottom of the article. The scraper didn't even bother to clean up the article or disguise it before he stole it.

I couldn't find a "contact us" link on the site. A whois search revealed the site owner's address, phone number, and e-mail, so I sent him an e-mail request that he remove my copyrighted material from his site. It bounced. I called the number of the owner, in Metarie LA. It wasn't his phone no. I didn't particularly want to spend 44 cents plus the cost of an envelope on a printed Digital Millennium Copyright Act notice, so I sent Google a complaint, hoping they would pull their ads from the rogue site. I received an auto-responder e-mail, saying my complaint would be investigated, but it might take some time.

I visited the site every couple of days only to find my article still there. In searching a little deeper I found the article of another Suite 101 writer there, also apparently stolen, and e-mailed that author. I also posted an alert to the Suite 101 forums.

Today I went back to the site for the first time in about a week and saw my article still there. I checked whois again--same wrong info. At the site I saw a link I'd missed before--the site's privacy policy page. I clicked it and saw it had a different e-mail address. So I sent off an e-mail asking that the stolen material be withdrawn. Within fifteen minutes I had a response: he pulled the work he stole from me, and I confirmed it was so.

In digging deeper I found articles from eight other Suite 101 writers, all verbatim. I e-mailed a number of those, and updated my thread at the Suite 101 forums. My intent was, once he pulled my article, I would cancel the Google complaint. However, having found nine articles there, and with other Suite writers finding copyrighted photos and some of their articles at other web sites he runs, I think I'll just leave the Google complaint in place.

This kind of operation is called "scraping"--pulling copyrighted material, posting it on your own site, hoping the original authors don't see it, and hoping you make enough from Google ads and/or page views to make it all worthwhile. The DMCA was written to prevent this sort of thing, but it takes the authors whose copyright is being infringed to police it. So we Suitees (as we call ourselves) have banded together in a posse to either put this guy out of business or severely inhibit his ability to make money: no Google ads, no easy income.

And it's too bad, because some of the articles he has posted make a lot of sense. I would like to read some of the material he has posted, but I don't particularly want to support his site.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Logs Loosened, Logs Added, the Jam is Still

Well, the reference book about labyrinth weirs I've been waiting for arrived today, just a half-hour before the third conference call in four days about the problem. A quick review of the most critical chapter in the book confirms that our weir is under-designed, and won't pass the flow intended. At the conference call, everyone seemed pleased with the progress. But tomorrow I will have to tackle the book in earnest, and work on some solutions.

The big negative for the day was my Centerton Little Osage Creek flood study. As I reported Monday I figured out the mistake in the printing and got the reports printed correctly. That was good. Unfortunately, when I checked the spread of the flood in the model it did not match what we show on the mapping. That's bad. That means I've got to figure out if the model is wrong, or if the mapping is wrong. But I'm supposed to have the exact same topography in the model as is on the maps. So how the heck can the spread of the flood be 50 percent different? More logs added to the pile.

The church parking lot continues to progress nicely. Of course, I'm getting queries about it from all quarters, along with some advice. Still, it's not bad. I'll have to go to the site early tomorrow (more time away from my job) and make a couple of decisions. But either tomorrow or Friday we should have asphalt down, if the rain is not too bad.

Writing goes well. I continue to read in Poets and Writers, finally getting past the features into the regular columns, several of which include advice for writers. I'll get through at least one of those tonight. My actual writing has been confined to passage notes for the Harmony of the gospels. I've written seven sets of passage notes since Sunday. I'll get two more done tonight, then may pull off for a while and work on my next Life Group lesson series.

I'm back in a routine, getting stuff done. I'm not writing creatively, nor reading for pleasure, but it's still a routine, still a good groove.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Couple of More Logs Loosened Today

The rains held off, which means the contractor for our church parking lot project was able to get some good work done. Which means he is working towards laying asphalt on Thursday. Which means the project might be finished by the end of next week. Today I helped him layout the new entrance to be cut in. Tomorrow I'll give him sketches on the rain gardens to be added. A log loosened from the logjam. Oh, and I called the second contractor, the one who is to demolish an old house across the street where we hope to add some overflow parking. A small log loosened.

Today I was able to figure out why the floodplain modeling results were not displaying correctly on the Little Osage Creek project in Centerton. FEMA had given me comments concerning this, thinking the results were wrong. I was pretty sure that the results were correct, but that for some reason the output tables were not displaying properly. I made little progress on it last week. Today I took more than an hour to go through some program manuals and some sample projects, and figured it out. By 5:00 PM I had printed a very nice looking encroachment table, with the right results. Tomorrow I should be able to get it turned in again. A log loosened from the logjam.

This evening I brought some work home, the printouts of the outside peer review of the labyrinth weirs on the project I'm not supposed to talk about--some kind of confidentiality agreement they failed to mention to me until the last couple of days. I worked on the calculations the peer reviewer presented. The calcs were correct, but his presentation of the key equation had a typo in it, repeated in two places. In the morning I'll inform him of his error, with gladness in my heart. Unfortunately, if when the reference I ordered arrives I learn that he rightly applied the equation and variables and adjusting constants, it will show that our design won't work as intended. Still, this is another log loosened.

This evening I found time to read a couple of articles in Poet and Writer, working my way slowly through the issue. The next one has come, so I need to get on it. Then I came downstairs and completed two sets of passage notes for the Harmony of the gospels, and began a third before breaking to write this post. This makes two nights in a row I returned to my routine from before tax time. Two days doesn't make a pattern, but I came close to that pattern on Saturday. This isn't writing that is likely to ever lead to publishing, but it's writing, it's enjoyable, it's Bible study, and it feels good. Another log loosened.

I'm not sure when I can declare the logjam broken apart and floating downstream, but it's getting closer. Probably not till the parking lot project is finished and I fully make up the time I've been siphoning off from my employer's expectations. I worked three hours at home the last two days. I probably have another 6 to 8 to go before I'm back even. When I finish this mag there's many more to go. Plus the m-i-l's taxes. I think once I get back on those, probably in a week, and get them done, I will declare the jam broken and the river running free.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Logjam is Almost Broken

Taxes are done--except for my mother-in-law's. She still hasn't given me all her documents, so I just filed an extension for her. I'll look into it in a month or so.

Sara, Richard and Ephraim have gone back to Oklahoma City. They were here Wednesday through yesterday. Thus after the taxes were done I had Ephraim to play with and read to, Richard to discuss theology and church polity/ministry with, and Sara to discuss business. I wasn't about to write much during that time. I enjoy them being here, but there's something to be said for a quiet house and the ability to be anti-social without guilt.

Yesterday was also our busy grocery and errands day. We arrived home to the quiet house and I had to finish reading a missions book to take back to church today, and read in the Shack and prepare a lesson in case I had to teach. I also found time to read one article from Poets and Writers magazine before dead-tiredness drove me to bed last night.

Today was a wonderful day at church, a missions service and pledges for missions giving for the coming year. Life group was great (I didn't have to teach). The church dinner was great. The missionary's talk was informative and inspiring. On the way home Lynda and I stopped at a trail and walked a mile and a half. Then I read another article in Poets and Writers, dozing as I did. Then I came to the dungeon, and for the last two hours have caught up on some writing forums and written two sets of passage notes for my harmony of the gospels.

I have much reading to do this evening, including an article on labyrinth weirs that I hope to finish and be able to do some calculations on tomorrow. I have some work time to make up due to using work time last week for our church parking lot project. Work looks to be very busy for a couple of weeks, between my regular CEI business and the pro-bono stuff for the church. So I won't say the logjam that prevents me from writing is fully broken--but I can see clear water ahead.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

My Income Taxes...

...are done! Put a fork in them. Finished the Federal last night; will have to pay a small amount. Not too bad considering Lynda's stock trading made a decent profit. Of course, we have to move the maximum into our IRAs to get the taxes as low as possible. Finished the Arkansas state taxes about a hour ago; will get back a nice amount--not as good as last year, but several times over what I have to pay to the Feds. Had to figure it two different ways to determine which way was better. I'm a happy man.

Tomorrow I will copy and mail them. That's actually a challenge, for due to businesses I have lots of attachments.

I'd like to get back to this blog with some kind of regularity, but alas a number of things have dropped while I was working on taxes, also due to having to work on my church's parking lot rehab. For the rest of tonight I'll simply say I have to spend some quality time with my checkbook, and make sure all is well there. Then there's the kids and grandkid coming tomorrow, so there's some prep work there. So I can't spend much time here tonight, and probably not again till Friday night or even Saturday.

Oh, I will say that, after a significant drop over the Easter weekend, my page views are climbing nicely at Suite 101. The last three days have all been well above average with revenue as well. Maybe my stock trading tax articles and my Earth Day 40th anniversary articles are pulling their weight and more-so.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Best Laid Plans

I planned on writing today. From the moment I got up and prepared for church--no, actually from last night when I got home from a adult Life teachers' meeting and our weekly pilgrimage to Wal-Mart--I had writing on my mind. When we got home from church I grabbed Poets and Writers magazine, took it to the sun porch, and read until I fell asleep. This was all according to plan. I woke up from my nap, had a light lunch, and came down to the Dungeon to begin my writing.

What to write? Perhaps an article for Suite101, the second in my series on rain gardens? Maybe a couple of passage notes for the harmony of the gospels. Maybe even 500 or 1000 words on my novel. Or perhaps begin the writing on my next Sunday School series, on the sacraments. The latter, I thought. I had my study book, I had my lesson series outline, and looked at the computer.

There, showing on the bottom bar (the task bar?), was the Excel logo with four files active. What were all those files, I wondered. A simple click showed they were tax spreadsheet. Oh, shoot, I was supposed to finish the Federal taxes today, so I could hopefully do the State tomorrow and then my mother-in-law's Tuesday/Wednesday.

So, I'm afraid writing is out the window for a few more days. The good news is my Federal taxes are done, except for figuring out the IRA contribution so I don't have to write a check to the evil IRS, and proof-reading, math checking, printing, etc. So I'll sign off and look to that. Writing, see you another time.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

April Goals.

Late. Sparse. Not all writing related.

1. Replace my failing router. Do it tomorrow before rebellion occurs. Figure out how to install/configure/whatevertheheck ones does with a router.

2. Finish income taxes. Getting real close on the Federal haven't started the state.

3. Do my mother-in-law's taxes. Haven't started.

4. Blog 10 times.

5. Write/publish 5 articles at Suite 101.

6. Work ten days on the Harmony of the gospels.

7. Somehow keep the dream alive.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The March Report

Good grief! I missed checking in on my March goals, and setting April goals. Here it is the 4th of April already. Okay, so here is the March report.

1. Blog 12 or more times. This seems a comfortable pace. I'd like to bump this up to about 16 posts a month, but will wait to make that a goal. >>> I bloggd exactly 12 times. Should have done more, but at least I made my goal.

2. Write and post 10 articles at I think I can do this. >>> I fell one short on this, posting 9 articles at Suite101.

3. Write 1,000 words on In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People. Almost made it in February; might as well try it in March. >>>Well, I did nothing on my novel this month. My attention was pulled to working on the Harmony of the Gospels, and much time that I could have put into the novel, or into Suite articles, instead went to the Harmony. And I'm okay with that. I really got a lot done on it.

4. Work on a new Bible study, about the sacraments. I may have an outline somewhere. I'll be teaching it in about two months. Time to get to work. >>>I completed quite a bit of work on this. The outline of the lesson series is done; I have a good idea of what it is I want to accomplish; and I'm reading a book for research. I could be much farther along, but I feel good about this.

5. Make three freelance submissions. This is pretty minimal, but I'm working a lot on work stuff still, and will be making a presentation on the 31st and two or three brown bags during the month. I find the time needed to research freelance markets and actually make the submittals tedious, and for some reason if I'm heavy into work stuff, including taking stuff home, I can't concentrate on freelance. Of course, a couple of the work things I'm working on could make good freelance articles about engineering. Hmmm. >>>Not quite sure how to count this. I made two freelance submissions--or I could count it as five, if I count the articles I submitted to a Suite101 contest as separate submissions. It's really not as much as I hoped to accomplish.

6. Read 40 pages in writer helps, not including blogs. That's forty solid pages, books or magazines (not including ads). I would say I read maybe 20 pages, not 40. The research into the Bible study took up much of my reading. That and working logically through my magazine and newsletters pile. The first issue of my subscription to Poets and Writers magazine is next on the pile; I should get to it tomorrow. So this will be an easy thing to do in April.

So, all in all a month with a fair amount of accomplishment, but not as much as I hoped for. Taxes got in the way (as they will in April), as did the church parking lot project (as it will in April also. I'll come back in a few hours with April goals.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Thinking out loud: Is Suite worth it—for me?

The Suite mantra:
- Average $3.90 per 1000 PVs
- Average $1.00 to $2.00 per article per month
- Page views go up over time

If those are averages, then someone must be below that. It appears to be me in the extreme.

I just did an analysis on my page view statistics for articles I posted in June through October of last year, 57 articles. They are all evergreen, except perhaps for one article somewhat related to the US Independence Day that I posted July 2, 2009. I checked to see if my page views were going up over time. See the attached graph.

The only month that, in March 2010, had the most page views was my June 2009 articles, and that barely so. All the others peaked in October 2009, and have declined ever since. July articles are down 33 percent from their peak in October. Aug-Sep-Oct articles are down 50 percent since their peak in October. The graph shows a slight uptrend in 2010, but a very flat uptrend. So, as of right now, I conclude that I’m somehow not able to achieve the Suite mantra concerning rising page views over time. And, despite posting 36 more articles since the end of October, I’ve not come even close to the October highs with all articles counted.

Now, if revenue were good, I might ignore falling page views. But my present rate of $/article/per month is $0.13. Yes, a mere 13 cents per article per month. That’s my average for the last 30 days. In 2010 it’s been as high as $0.20 and as low as $0.08, but for the last month it’s been pretty stable at $0.13.

So, if I don’t post any more articles, and page views and revenues stay the same (i.e. the trend of declining page views stops), I can expect to earn $12.09 a month in residual income. My articles take about 2 hours to write, between research, writing, and the nuisance of finding, documenting, uploading, and captioning images. It would be nice to earn $15 per hour for this work. That’s kind of low, but it beats what I could earn delivering pizzas. For 93 articles published, and 2 hours per article, and $15 per hour, that would be $2,790. Based on what I’ve earned so far, including the $101 I earned for a contest, it will take me 216 months to get up to $15 per hour. 18 years. That doesn’t account for the time value of money. If I figured that in, I’ve no doubt it would be 40 years. If page views were increasing, I could perhaps ignore current revenue in favor of future prospects. But page views are going down.

Am I crazy doing this, writing for Suite, writing for Internet content? A Suite writer once wrote in the Suite forums that some people can’t or won’t write in topics that are lucrative enough to be successful at this. That seems to describe me. I can’t write about something about which I know nothing. Another wrote in the Suite forums that Suite 101 is not for everyone. I’m starting to think that includes me.

So, it seems this is the time to back off Suite and think about it. I'm going to write just the minimum, ten articles per quarter, and see if something turns around. If it doesn't, I may drop out all together and just take the $12.09 a month and fill up the pick-up three times a year.