Social Media is a Sketch Pad

Witty. Funny. Common words I’ve heard and read so many times from different people who would describe my ideas and how I write. I’m not good at accepting compliments, nor giving one, but it always gives me the needed kick to keep writing whenever I receive such.

Countless times I have encountered writer’s block and I know it will happen again–and make it as an excuse again. Even the most prolific writers dread it. Managing writer’s block is key to overcoming it. Like how you manage your boss–related but it’s another story.

Churning out ideas forming inside our head requires turning individual words into one that makes sense. One that is fluid, harmonized, or at least structured. (While I type at this moment I struggle already so bear with me.)

Sometimes the intent to impress by being verbose is the culprit, a trap leading to a draft that won’t be published ever. So writing something brief but catchy does the trick in keeping that writing brain running. Let loose and type away.

Many people online appreciate news digests. It’s become the trend since information technology overloaded the world wide web of anything under the sun. I don’t have the exact stats but I am quite sure I’m not the only one who would do a quick glance and scroll to the next that interests me. Nobody nowadays likes spending too much time on one article. Agree?

This is why I now treat social media as a sketch pad or a writing testing ground. I love the challenge of writing something short but interesting that I was among those who hated the day when Twitter decided to go let go of its 180 characters limit. Twitter was more fun back then.

Then there’s Facebook. Its “What’s on your mind?” is always a come-on to express something in the form of words or images or a combo of both regardless of quality of context. Done properly, however, posts could solicit the desired impact, reactions, or interactions. The challenge lies in knowing who your readers or friends are, how they would respond. So far my recent activities prove that being creative, clean, and having rant-free posts mean more likes, love, and laughter.

Sometimes one like is more than enough.

I also realized that posting beyond my circle of friends is also a good test of how my ideas and insights would be received. I once shunned commenting on news on Facebook as it exposes me open to the public, specifically to the trolls and grammar Nazis–karma sucks, I know. But I discovered that posting comments or opinions is one way of getting timely feedback about my writing style. So what works based on recent personal experience? Staying relevant to the topic, respecting the opinion of others, and infusing some wit (or sarcasm) do get good reception.

Practice, practice, practice they say. So whether perfection comes–if and when–or not I will try to write, write, write, and write more. It’s not going to be always easy but it would be a shame if I don’t even try to let my ideas see the light of day at least for fun or for a paid job. Which reminds me to check if there are job orders already…

***

Mood: 2/10 Honks! (All boys day today! Wifey’s day out.)

Should We Take Our Playlist When We Run?

To plug in or not to plug in, that is the question. Everyone would agree that music does affect the way we do things. While we have individual genres, whatever that is in our playlist influences our behavior whether we’re up for a long night of school work, crunch numbers at the office, finish a writing deadline, or when we want to get in the zone during a workout.

I have this wired Phillips earphones for about 10 years already.

Whenever we want extra focus we shut the rest of world out and enter our invisible cocoon, we play our favorite song. Others seal themselves completely, almost air tight, thanks to headphones. Introverts know this better.

Back in my younger days I was a fan of earphones or headsets. Yes, those Walkman days and then MP3 players. I don’t know when I stopped but I believe it was when I realized I need to talk to people. When I became mature–let’s say that’s true.

Safety was also an issue which is why I use less of the earphones especially when I’m mobile. When I started running more and read more about this sport, it seems that the number of cons against running while plugged in outnumbers the pros. There are so much road hazards that runners need to be aware of so being able hear a wayward driver coming from behind, for one, is a big advantage.

My opinion against wearing another set of technology in the form of the earphones remained until the day I sought that extra push to hit the steep Baguio terrain. That cold early morning I took my phone, plugged my very old but trusty wired Phillips earphones and ran. That was my first time running with Arnel Pineda, Big Fat Joe, Depeche Mode, and the rest of my Napster tracks (oopps) playing along. It made the trip on the undulating road to Burnham Park and back less tiring and stressful. Music saved the day.

For days since then I was back to wondering if these bone conduction earphones I’ve heard of months ago are worth buying. But this morning I got my answer from an unlikely source. A Facebook friend not so known for being minimalist posted a YouTube video about using technology instead of it using us. For me, the video’s message was clear and it takes me away once more from the urge to run with earphones plugged. For how long though, I don’t know.

***

As a frustrated writer, I also appreciate having music in the background. In my freelance days, I’ve finished countless articles, met writing deadlines with the help of the right music. And alcohol. I have likewise composed better blog post when music sets the mood and motivation.

My bluetooth headset we got in the US.

Few days ago I was contacted for a part-time writing job and so it seems that I would need to once again isolate myself for hours (if) when the job orders start coming in. Maybe that bone conduction earphone I see online is worth having after all.

***

How soon before someone becomes a freelancer? I’d say ten. Last week Marcus got his first feel of his mother’s home-based job when she asked him to encode few numbers from PDF to Excel while she took her break and surprisingly, wifey said he got the numbers right. Maybe, he’ll earn his first dollars soon. Haha.

***

Mood: 2/10 Honks! (900-calorie breakfast after a 5K.)

Blog Mileage

Update here, dump there, good posts, bad posts, anything goes. That’s what I’ve been doing regularly lately. There would be days I get stuck correcting or revising archives before I repost and there would be days I just copy and paste the article on its original timeline.

You see I’ve been busy. Running, working out, and writing have been fighting to get their own share of my time. For now I continue to focus on my goal to repost and will just worry about them later, hopefully ahead of grammar Nazis or just before Grammarly starts to force me to get its premium service. I just can’t let years worth of posts stay on my backup Word document which I saved prior to me messing up my site few years back when I wiped out several posts just because I forgot to pay attention to what I was clicking. Lesson learned: back up, back up, back up.

Today I reposted a couple more and I received a prompt from WordPress that I just hit 500 posts. Wow. And to think I’m just about to finish year 2008.

Another WordPress achievement.

***

There are things that just can’t be part of my conscious effort to embrace minimalism. Writing is one as I now have drafts and doodling all over my phone, laptop, paper notebook, and some hang on in my head. This is one of those few cases wherein clutter is probably good.

Then there’s material stuffs. This week I gave wifey the approval to buy the TV she’s been wanting to have and been saving for. The least I could do on Valentine’s week is to give a nod. There’s now a giant Ultra HD Devant TV in the middle of our small house which made me realize 50-inch is the biggest we can get unless we hang the TV across the kitchen and view it from the living room. So far the Call of Duty and Fallout 4 games of our 9-year old son have been more gory.

***

Claimed our free Starbucks cake. Free always tastes better.

Wifey also got me a pair of new jeans while in SM San Pablo last Monday. This one is for the books as the last time I purchased a pair was almost five years ago. My existing pants are either tattered not by design but due to wear and tear and all of them, FYI, are a couple of inches loose already. I need a new belt next.

***

Mood: 2/10 Honks! (Cold Valentine’s Day weather.)

Time to Learn SEO Again

SEO starts to sound exciting once more. It could have been a year or more since I gave up on SEO because I just find it hard to understand. I once believe that knowing keywords and inserting them strategically in an article is SEO already. It was wrong, completely wrong. Keyword density wasn’t enough.

The problem with SEO is that there are so many people who claim to be experts. Tools and tips that these people recommend are either complicated or doesn’t work–at least for me. Some are just downright confusing that eventually made me stop caring much about driving traffic to my site. As long as I can write and post an article then I am already fine with it. Screw traffic.

But we need traffic and SEO drives blog traffic. Just this week I read The Next Web’s article titled SEO Simplified For Short Attention Spans. It is probably the most interesting article I have read about SEO to date. Maybe I have short attention span or maybe the explanations the article presents do make sense for someone who has given up on SEO. Or maybe it has something to do with my recent return to article writing, thanks to oDesk, which made me get interested about it again.

This week I look forward to spending time in front of our desktop and start all over again. The plan is to start looking into META and ALT tags which are the things I have ignored but could actually impact my site’s visibility. Wish me luck.

***

First accomplishment was changing from ugly permalinks to pretty permalinks.  It pose a bit of challenge as the Dashboard is deceiving. It appears that it is a matter of just clicking on the radio button and save changes but it is not. The web.config.xml needs to be updated as well and WordPress.org forum has answers that could confuse further so below are two short steps to cut the chase.

Pretty permalink, ugly permalink, How to make pretty permalink work
How to change from ugly to pretty permalinks.

The original web.config.xml file contains the following below. Use an FTP client to save the file to your desktop.

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<configuration>
<system.webServer>
<rewrite>
<rules/>
</rewrite>
</system.webServer>
</configuration>

To make the permalinks work, what needs to be done is just to change the content to:

<?xml version=”1.0″ encoding=”UTF-8″?>
<configuration>
<system.webServer>
<rewrite>
<rules>
<rule name=”WordPress Rule” stopProcessing=”true”>
<match url=”.*” />
<conditions>
<add input=”{REQUEST_FILENAME}” matchType=”IsFile” negate=”true” />
<add input=”{REQUEST_FILENAME}” matchType=”IsDirectory” negate=”true” />
</conditions>
<action type=”Rewrite” url=”index.php?page_id={R:0}” />
</rule>
</rules>
</rewrite>
</system.webServer>
</configuration>

Overwrite original file by uploading it back to your WordPress directory. Bingo, pretty permalinks!

Source: http://codex.wordpress.org/Using_Permalinks

***

Mood: 2/10 Honks! (Pacman-Algieri fight. And we need to be in Batangas for free cable.)

Write About Writer’s Block

Writing and Driving
Illustration by MIke Kline as posted on Flickr Creative Commons page.

 

A day left before August ends and it’s me – 0, writer’s block – 1. No reason, just excuses. But this tweet from @AdviceToWriters uplifts me:

Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all — CHARLES BUKOWSKI

On a traffic-free day I arrive early at work and when it happens I either read or write in the car. These past few days I drafted some but never had the time to polish my ideas, one of which is again about hitting the dreaded writer’s block. But I didn’t post it for fear that it will soon become the biggest among my tag cloud. So thank you @AdviceToWriters I learned another tip from you. Yes, anything to write about is probably worth writing.

***

Mood: 2/10 Honks! (Had a good run, had good breakfast.)

How to Quickly Align Text From PDF to Word

The afternoon schedule of my kid has given me the time to continue reposting old blog posts that I have saved using Feedfabrik. Without this application I would have lost everything I wrote since 2006 when I made a boo-boo during a WordPress upgrade about two years ago. (It’s a blessing in disguise though as I have discovered a LOT of embarassing grammar lapses.)

Copying and pasting, however, from PDF to Microsoft Word creates an alignment problem which I have been patiently dealing with for weeks already. Realizing that I have barely achieved a significant percentage of repost–my Feedfabrik proof PDF file has more than 1200 articles–I finally turned to the internet for help. Someone out there must have had the same issue. I was right.

Thanks to Superuser.com, I found the answer to my problem. And it’s a very simple one.  Shown below is a screenshot from my MS Word that shows the same set of text from my PDF file.

Don’t mind the excerpts, I’m about to edit it.

Upper half of the picture is how it appears when text is pasted directly from the Feedfabrik proof.pdf file.  Looks easy to align, right? But if there’s a thousand pages to deal with, trust me, it will drain anyone out.

The lower half of the picture is the way to go and it’s done using a neat trick from Superuser.com which I simplified below.

1) Copy text from PDF.

2) Paste text on Google search box (I assume this will work with any other internet browsers).  Do not worry about the length of the text, it doesn’t matter as the next step will get everything back.

3) Use CTRL+A (or CTRL+X) to copy every text you pasted on the search box.

4) Paste text on MS Word.

Take note though that if there are multiple paragraphs being copy and pasted, each paragraph has to be manually separated from the other. But this is something I can handle unless there is another trick to solve this.

Now where was I? Ah, December 22, 2006. Hmmm, bad grammars.

***

Mood: 3/10 Honks! (Still with runny nose after four days. I hope I’d be better tomorrow.)

Easter Bani

Trying to collect himself and checking his location, Bani feels the unmistakable warmth of the bed. It’s still dark but he knows very well that he just woke up neither from a leather-clad, double deck bed nor from a Lazy Boy, both of which where he has perfected 5-minute naps in almost a year; more so in the recent weeks when his sleeping pattern has been abnormal. Well, more than just his sleeping pattern, actually.

Few minutes more of staring blankly at the Discovery program on the wall- mounted TV, he fumbles for his phone, placed alongside the TV’s and air conditioner’s remote control, and an empty liquor glass. “It’s 5 AM,” Bani silently reads from the blinding glare of his Nokia.

Bani soon realized that the cheap gin from his Black Saturday night cap has dried up where it spilled just barely a foot away from where his little boy, Raffy, lies. Just like last week, he has decided to return home from a planned sleepover with the family Bani has jokingly called ‘The Wilsons,’ Raffy being Dennis the Menace.

“Once again, he wants back,” the puzzled ‘Mrs. Wilson’ who lives just a couple of houses away, tells of Raffy who used to enjoy spending the night with them.

An hour more and Raffy remains static, his left thumb in his mouth, eyes partially shut. “His eyes look a lot like you,” he remembers the usual line his wife would tell him, referring to the partially opened eyes. Friends have told him it also means that he distrust people. Bani would agree.


Why I Now Care More About Plagiarism

What a surprising way to welcome myself back to the online world after my self-imposed (trying to still be a good Catholic somehow) 3-day internet hiatus. As I slowly back-read tweets I began to see the a pattern of striking news from several tweeps I follow—tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan has offered to retire as ADMU’s chairman of the board of trustees after someone exposed his recent speech to the school’s graduates as having been copied from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Conan O’Brien and J. K. Rowling. In short MVP was guilty of plagiarism. So what really is plagiarism?

Basically, plagiarism is a word commonly defined as copying someone else’s literary work and trying to pass it off as one’s own. Literary works among other things like movies, technical drawings and music become copyrighted as soon as its original author makes it; which means that the author assumes immediate ownership and thus when his writings (or any other work) are plagiarized by another person, makes the act alone technically, a form of stealing. The topic of plagiarism has been actually a topic of discussion and argument among authors and scholars for a very long time, and as a matter of fact, according to Answers.com plagiarism dates back from the 17th century. The site’s definition states that the word plagiarism has its roots from the Greek word plagion which means to ‘kidnap.’ Furthermore, Plagiarism.org has a list of things that constitutes plagiarism. Here are some of them: 

Changing words but copying the sentence structure of a source without giving credit.” This may occur when someone paraphrases, or reword, a thought but still ending up with almost the same as what the original document contains. This is either a product of poor reconstruction OR a purposeful intent to deceive its readers.

Copying so many words or ideas from a source that it makes up the majority of your work, whether you give credit or not.” This instance would normally arise if one comes to a point when he wrongly decides to get as much facts as he can in order to support an argument, an analysis or a conclusion.

Failing to put a quotation in quotation marks.” Many of today’s technology applications probably make everyone guilty of this no matter how well the intent. Case in point, one can easily find in social networking sites, such as Facebook, sharing of inspiring stories or quotes which without the mere quotation marks (and worse, the quote’s author) may make someone who is not aware of the quote think that it actually is his/her friend’s own thought. There’s also Twitter (and SMS) where limits in the allowable characters makes it easy for one to plagiarize.

So is plagiarism bad? Yes. But like any other wrongdoing, it would be ethical to listen and know why someone did it in the first place. Again, Plagiarism.org sums up two general reasons why the act.

Intentional

According to plagiarism.org, those considered to be intentional are reasons like ”everyone’s doing it”—so why can’t I? ”But there words are better”—and why the need to waste time thinking about when in fact there’s already one that has been done by one who’s an expert. And there’s of course, the need to ”make the grade” which may be arise from cramming after realizing that schedules cannot be met. 

Unintentional

There are of course who despite their best effort to avoid plagiarism still fall to the trap of making the mistake of plagiarizing someone else’s work.

And also listed on Plagiarism.org are the following reasons students plagiarize:

There is “citation confusion.” According to this site, this is perhaps the most common reason students are caught plagiarizing. The question now is, “How should one make a citation?” Wikipedia.org has the answer. It says, ”While you should try to write citations correctly, what matters is that you add your source—provide enough information to identify the source, and others will improve the formatting if needed.” This simply implies that there is really no rule on how to cite a source as long as what is written to acknowledge it is correct and updated. Such rule may prove useful if a document or presentation will be for an informal setting (or if one is just preparing a draft) or if one is citing an online source as copying exactly the URL (or link) may be enough. Of course such isn’t always the case. Wikipedia.org explains further, ”Each article should use the same citation method throughout. If an article already has citations, adopt the method in use or seek consensus before changing it.” These statements refer to formal research, like in the Academe, where appropriate formats of citation are to be observed. Examples of recognized formats are the APA style, MLA style and The Chicago Manual of Style. For students and some individuals picking the choice of which citation format should be followed is just as confusing as the research itself. But at the end of the day, what counts the most is whether he recognized and acknowledged where he got his reference and giving credit to whom credit is due is very important to avoid or repeat such mistake.

Belief that “facts shouldn’t be quoted.” The availability of the internet and the thinking that what is being presented is common knowledge is one of the reasons  many think that it is not necessary to cite what they have extracted. In order to avoid plagiarizing, the website suggests a short yet foolproof tip, ”when in doubt, cite sources.”

The existence of “cultural relativism.” It is quite noteworthy that not every culture actually recognizes the need to acknowledge literary works. It is not therefore surprising if expat students who come from different cultural backgrounds commit plagiarism as their awareness to giving credit to literary works may be different compared with the other local students.

Interestingly another site, Irving Hexham’s Homepage discusses specifically about Academic Plagiarism and defines it as ”the deliberate attempt to deceive the reader through the appropriation and representation as one’s own the work and words of others. Academic plagiarism occurs when a writer repeatedly uses more than four words from a printed source without the use of quotation marks and a precise reference to the original source in a work presented as the author’s own research and scholarship. Continuous paraphrasing without serious interaction with another person’s views, by way or argument or the addition of new material and insights is a form of plagiarism in academic work.

“Deliberate attempt.” These two words from Irving Hexham’s definition is probably the best summary on how to identify whether one is really guilty of plagiarism or not. This definition complements the “unintentional” classification of plagiarism according to plagiarism.org.

After knowing why someone might commit plagiarism despite the best of intentions, the question that lingers is: How can we avoid plagiarism?

Personally, here are my 2 cents:

  1. Follow the ”when in doubt, cite the sources” rule.
  2. Check and re-check research paper if it follows proper citation.
  3. Consult an expert or someone more knowledgeable, if needed.
  4. Be more aware about how others expect their works to be cited.
  5. If possible, as permission directly from the original owner of the material.
  6. Understand Fair Use.
  7. Make use of CC or CreativeCommons.org.

Now, after this lengthy blog, you readers might wonder why I waste precious Easter Sunday time explaining what plagiarism is all about. That’s because just months ago I was into this same embarrassing situation of being accused as plagiarizing a school paper. It was one unbelievable experience because for years after I presented my college thesis–and more especially when I started blogging–I always make sure that I never copy anyone’s work without proper citation. Unfortunately, due to technicalities of this complex subject matter, my stock knowledge of it eventually caught up on me. Since then, I learned from the hard lesson and became more sensitive of how to properly attribute back someone else’s work than before.

***

Mood: 2/10 Honks (F1 Sepang about to start)

How To Generate Ideas

I recently experienced hard times in filling my urge to write and to satisfy my blog readers and subscribers—assuming that they do exist—need to read fresh post. It has become more difficult lately as I don’t only have time to kill but it seems that from the moment I wake up, go to work and come back home, time itself appears to be staring right at me almost saying, “I’m here Cris, what’s next?”

Once again the reminder: Be careful what you wish for, came in late to be retracted. I’ve wished for blogging time, now it’s all I’ve got. The sad thing about it is that my idea bank may be now reaching saturation point. I think I’ve already reached my writing plateau.

Fortunately, the absence of work at work—the irony—had me exploit some available resources that kept me busy while still maintaining our internet usage policy (wink wink). I previously mentioned in one of my blog posts about SkillSoft Books24X7  and right now I just can’t get enough of it. SkillSoft is one of those brilliant things made available for employee skills development.

Now that I’m done with my explanation and defense, let me go on with some of the things I learned about the writing process.

What I find funny when I saw this material is how I got to it. While trying to keep myself busy one day, I typed MBA on the search field of SkillSoft. A few seconds later I was staring at several ebooks with the word MBA high- lighted. Suddenly feeling overwhelmed by the selection, I scrolled further down and it was then that I saw the most interesting thing I’ve seen so far on that lazy day—Methods of Generating Ideas. Despite wondering why this article can only be found under the MBA topic, I was all eyes on my laptop in no time.

The materials showed the following categories and its suggested methods:

Reading and writing. Obviously, reading and writing are the methods. These after all are why most of us learned about things.  This idea-generating category encourages one to take notes by free writing and making an outline of the desired topic. One tip I find very helpful is that the outline need not even be perfect at the start which I always try to do and most likely the reason why I end up with anything but perfect. The material even suggests forgetting about grammar, composition and correct flow of ideas while still of course at the drafting stage. Correction, it adds, comes during editing and proofreading which contrary to my belief are actually two different things. The former is the term applied to the first phase of refining. The latter on the other hand is applied on the final phase or the read-through.

Graphic.  Not all people work well with words.  Others prefer doodling and I was surprised when I read about it because I avoid doodling as I find it a waste of time. This category employs drawing and sketching of one’s ideas that  could be converted to text later on. I tried applying it and it works as lately my ideas don’t have an immediate word equivalent to it especially if my vocabulary lags for whatever reason.

Spoken.  Besides reading and writing, this is what usually works for me. I like talking especially to those who can converse very well and have so many perspectives of different things. It is during such discussion when my light bulb moments happen. I realize that being one of the most talkative pupil in grade school works for me. I now forgive my teachers and classmates for that frequent demeaning tick mark next to my name for talking in class.

Group. Two heads are better than one, there’s no question about it. In fact, group discussions always generate more ideas…well, especially compared to talking to your own self. It is in this context why brainstorming usually works. Such sessions make everyone feel that their presence in the meeting is important and that their ideas are needed and will be welcomed. This in effect creates a continuous flow of ideas wherein some of it may even be totally out of this world. But then again, remember the familiar phrase “Think out of the box”?

Thinking. Now this last category may sound ridiculous as obviously the writing process does need to be start with a thought – at the very least. Duh! But what made me smile was when I reached the line “think about the subject during unstructured time (such as taking a shower, standing in line and taking a walk).” It didn’t clearly encourage thinking while driving though. Nevertheless, despite being amusing to be considered as a method, I still got some tips out of it.

I now have new methods to come up with more ideas. It is therefore worth remembering and applying the other methods other than mere thinking and just taking notes out of my wild mind. I also now recognize that oftentimes the need to read (stress: read, read, read) or interact with one or more people may be what it takes to have fresh ideas whether I like it or not. At the end of the day what matters most is when all of these are consolidated, selected, refined and written in finality hoping that it will fit the main purpose why the idea was formed in the first place.

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Mood: 3/10 Honks!