Tuesday, 22 April 2014

S is for Squidoo

Unusual Angles
Now, in case you are wondering what on earth a squidoo is, I shall tell you! Squidoo is a website for anyone who wants to write an article or multiple articles but doesn't necessarily want to start a whole blog. It's a publishing platform with a vibrant community and a great side effect of this is the ability to earn a bit of pocket money too.

The beauty of Squidoo is how simple it is to build a single page, called a lens, to write about almost anything you want to. There are some subjects to avoid such as anything illegal (d'uh!), medical, diet or health products, adult content and copyright fraught areas too but for most ordinary people, these won't be attractive topics anyway!

I've enjoyed making lenses over at Squidoo, mainly for my photography topics (10 Tips for Great Flower Photos or How to Shoot The Moon) that don't really fit here or over on Auction House Addict (my WoW gold making blog) but there are a few 'written to order' lenses too.

Craft or home making lenses do really well over there and if you enjoy browsing Pinterest you may have seen some of the great recipe lenses already. My How to Make an Ice Bowl lens did really well last summer and I'm hoping it will bounce back up the ranks again for this summer!  

Connecting my love of travel with photography and writing has proven to be a successful topic for me too - I have won some on-site awards for a few of my travel lenses, including my favorite Places to Visit in Thailand! I just pulled together some of my Thai holiday photos and threw some words in as it was a weekly topic challenge with a deadline but it turned out so well.

Topiary Elephants in Thailand
Squidoo run a club called Rocket Squids which I highly recommend for beginners. It's designed around a weekly challenge topic for a lens with hints and tips to make the best lenses you can. There's a separate area of the forum with more experienced Squids designated as helpers, to answer any questions you may have.

The site has been through some drastic changes and tough times over the last year or two and with my measly 29 lenses, I have seen a drop in my earnings but I also decided to back off a bit and to let the dust settle. Another great thing about Squidoo is the residual income - now I'm not saying you don't have to work at it, you most definitely do need to work if you want to make cash but the work you do now will probably still be paying you a bit next year.

If you do your maths and work it for a year or two, how much could still be dribbling in to your paypal account in 3 years time? The potential is definitely there for those willing to learn and work it. Personally I've been a bit distracted for the last two years so I haven't made the most of it.

Squidoo also has an agreement with Amazon so if you are one of the unlucky Americans who can't become an Amazon affiliate because of the State you live in, Squidoo might be a partial answer for you. Each lens is allowed up to 20 related Amazon products although that is overkill for most lenses. You sadly don't get the full Amazon commission (Squidoo has to make some profit!) but the more you sell via your lens, the higher ranking you get on the site and therefore the higher payout from the text ads system.

Would I recommend Squidoo solely as a way to make money? Honestly? Not really, it's about so much more than that but if it clicks with you and you enjoy writing  and the community aspect, the potential for extra cash is most definitely there! It's not a get-rich-quick scheme and it will take time and effort but from some of the earnings articles I've seen from other lensmasters, it could have quite a nice effect on your paypal balance!


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Monday, 21 April 2014

R is for Reading


English was the bane of my school career - I hated writing essays with a passion and although I read everything under the sun, I had no inclination to make up my own stories. My fantastical excuses for handing in essay homework late should have gained me some points for creativity though!

Reading is and probably always will be, my first love when it comes to quiet time occupation. My Aunt was a librarian, with an office next to the children's section of the library. I used to spend 2-3 weeks every summer at my Grandmothers house and the days my Aunt took me to work to babysit me, were some of the happiest days of my young life. If I misbehaved, my Gran only had to threaten to keep me away from the library and I'd immediately behave!

By the time I was 10 years old, I'd finished almost every interesting book there and moved on to the fledgling Teenagers fiction. I say fledgling because there really wasn't much for teens in those days and my Aunt used to give me new books to read and ask me what I thought. I'd even read Lord of the Flies before I was 11 which astonished my teacher in senior school! (not sure what grade that would be, sorry!)

I read about 3-5 books a week in those days - all the way up to falling in love with World of Warcraft. At one point, I had over a 1000 paperbacks in my bookshelves, piled up alongside them and in boxes in the attic. It took over 50 carrier bags full to take most of them to the charity shops - what a sad day that was!

I'm an indiscriminate reader too - everything from women's fiction, horror and fantasy to historical murder mysteries, spy thrillers and macho adventure stories too. Just about the only thing I don't read very much of is non-fiction! Oh, I have some wonderful non-fiction books but they tend not to be stories, more technical know-how types or reference books.

My favorite genre is fiction fantasy/sci-fi though - this blog is named for my love of Anne MacCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series but I've read all her books, including the one or two non-fantasy ones. David Eddings, Raymond E Feist, Janny Wurtz, Terry Brooks and of course Tolkein all feature high on my list. My name comes from Nevyn, a main character in the Deverry series by Katherine Kerr although he is male and I'm not! It means no-one and as I liked to keep my bank alt under wraps in World of Warcraft, it was kind of appropriate and stuck!

I've actually started reading again recently - mainly on long flights and hanging around at airports but I have a few new books to read that I picked up secondhand. Part of my idea for getting better is to get some sunshine so I'll take a book and go sit in the park area behind my apartment building - once the sun actually shows it's face around here of course!


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Sunday, 20 April 2014

One Minute Gaming 07 - ARC Squadron



Hello and welcome back - this week, I've been playing a game called ARC Squadron, recommended by Mike Sherretz on Twitter. You're controlling a spaceship racing thru asteroid ridden areas to shoot down bad guys, dodge rocks & pick up health boosts. The graphics are pretty good & with 6 ship upgrades and 8 weapons to unlock, the potential to play for hours is definitely there!

Control is as simple as swiping around the screen with your finger and the pace is pretty good - not too slow to start with but not too fast either - it took a few practice tries for me but I got the hang of it fairly quickly. There are quite a few levels of difficulty and some different zones to zoom through as well as end of level mini boss fights - all designed to hone your reflexes and earn you the in-game currency for your upgrades.


I'm enjoying this game and oh boy does it get my adrenaline pumping!!! One thing I've found since I recorded the segment was the music! I automatically turn off most sounds and all music as I tend to play in the lunchroom at work! But the ARC Squadron soundtrack is great and really adds to the adrenaline rush too!

I'd give it an 8.5 out of 10 and I've been playing this regularly for the last couple of weeks. Thanks Mike!

If you have any games you'd like to suggest for me to try, you can contact me on Twitter @ Nev AH Addict



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Saturday, 19 April 2014

Q is for Quotes!

If you've spent any time on Facebook, Tumblr or Twitter, the Q word for today will be very familiar! You just can't get away from Quotes on those platforms and any time I go looking for images on Google, I usually get a face full of quote images there too. So what better than to do a whole post on some of my favorite quotes?

Some of these resonate with me, others make me smile and some are just downright beautiful - many are designed to be useful in self-improvement journeys but they become cliches if over-used. That's a shame though, if they speak to you, keep them handy - it could be your subconscious telling you something :)








I could go on forever, adding in these picture quotes. I'm definitely a bit of a Quote Junkie! I know it's a very girlie thing but you know what? If a friend posts one of these for me, it's usually because they thought it suited me or would help me or perhaps amuse me but whichever option it is, they thought of me and that reminds me I do have people out there.

We all need little reminders sometimes and for me, these 'silly' quote pics are my way of telling those closest to me that I'm thinking of them or it expresses something I don't have the words for.

How about you? Do you like these quote images? Do you send them to your loved one or receive them? I'd love to know I'm not the only soppy sap out here :)



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Friday, 18 April 2014

P is for Podcasts & Podcasting


I've been listening to World of Warcraft podcasts since about 2010 when I first got interested in gold making and started widening my horizons by joining Twitter. I'd never even heard of podcasts until then but there they were, enticing links plopped down into my Twitter feed which I just had to go and check out! I have a small list of my favorites on the left hand side of this blog but there are loads of others to check out.

My consumption of podcasts is sporadic and my tastes have definitely changed over the years. Initially I listened to general WoW ones like Twisted Nether and All Things Azeroth which were already established at that time but I stumbled over Girls Gone Wow, Auction House Junkies and Rep Grind Radio fairly early too. They were very different in style with explicit tags and I soon found that their irreverent comments and humour suited me better.

Sadly Rep Grind Radio and Auction House Junkies are no longer produced but Rez (RGR) teamed up with Cold (AHJ) and later Nonmail to become Eviscerated Gaming Podcast. Now I know I'm biased but I love EGP and was very excited to become involved further by producing my One Minute Gaming segment for them.

I love guesting on shows and have been lucky enough to be invited to quite a few shows now too - most recently, Eviscerated, Girls Gone WoW, Behind The Avatar, The Chaos Portal and the Journal of Marcus Ty. In fact, Marcus and I hit it off so well, I kind of invited myself to be a co-host!

Working with Marcus is always fun and when I started writing this, I had to go back & check - I started on Episode 8 and we are up to episode 26 already! We're a fortnightly gold making show which is just as well because Real Life is kicking our butts timewise at the moment. I'm not sure we'd manage a weekly show.

We cover any news that relates to gold making and try to find gold making angles to other news as well. Then we go back and chat about various established gold making ideas and methods - we both feel strongly about helping or teaching newer gold makers rather than being cutting edge experimental types!

I even had an idea for my own show but the timing wasn't right for me and like all good ideas, someone else came up with it too and actually got it going. I'm still kicking myself over that but I felt I wouldn't have been able to maintain it properly and with hindsight, it turns out my gut instinct at that time was correct.

Medical and financial constraints hit hard just after I had my idea - I didn't have a decent headset for starters and my PC was too old to handle audio file editing. I know I would have wanted a proper recording set-up, including a suitable microphone like the Blue Snowball everyone seems to use. I still only have a headset but I've upgraded it from the grocery store one I had before! I bought the Creative Fata1ity headset as it had good reviews and was much more in my price range. I like it and can wear it for 5 hours at a time without getting uncomfortable.

I'm still toying with the idea of doing my own show (Podcasting for Dummies anyone?) but I need a good idea first! In the meantime, I've been asked to do a couple of bumpers - it seems my American friends love my British accent! I'm also thinking about joining Fiverr and doing some voice work! I might as well try & earn a few dollars whilst I'm learning, right? I'm definitely continuing my One Minute Gaming segment and learning more about editing and producing decent audio too. Will I ever do my own show? I really don't know but I think I'd like to, maybe, one day!




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Thursday, 17 April 2014

O is for The Oddbods


Today is a big day for me - I wrote this story a little while ago and only one person has seen it so far! I've had this idea bugging me for a long while though so one day in February, I just sat down and wrote it. It's a little raw and totally unedited but I'd like to get some honest opinions. I'm too close to it to tell if it's any good and I have no children around me to test it on either! It's probably a little long for a blog post but hey ho!

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, lived a young girl called Lizzie. She had dark chestnut hair and big brown eyes and her nose was covered in freckles. By the end of most days, her hair looked like a birds nest and her fingernails were usually dirty and you could almost be sure that somewhere she would have a sticking plaster covering her latest cut or graze. Yup, Lizzie was a total tomboy and her favorite thing to do was to explore the fields and hedges behind her house at the edge of the village with her two best friends, Richard and Gareth.
Gareth was a year older than Lizzie and Richard, with bright new penny colored hair and almost as many freckles as Lizzie. He was quite tall for his age but chunky - good rugby player potential as Lizzie's Dad always said. Richard was the complete opposite of Gareth - a little short for his age and skinny as anything. With tight blonde curls and bright blue eyes, all the Mums said he looked like an angel but they didn't know him very well. If the happy trio ever got in big trouble, it was usually Richard's bright ideas that got them there!
On this particular day, the three had been out to the tiny piece of woodland about 2 fields away from home but for some reason, Richard and Gareth were in a mean mood and had run away from Lizzie, leaving her annoyed and alone in the woods. She wasn't scared though - these woods were one of her favorite places but she got bored on her own so she started to run home. It was nearly teatime anyway. 
Lizzie loved to run but today, she was a bit angry too so she was running hard and fast and not really watching where she was going when she slipped. She'd forgotten about the little stream at the edge of the woods and slid, bottom first, straight down the little riverbank into the icy cold water and landed with a thud and a huge splash! At first, she just sat there - kind of shocked by the fall & the icy cold splash, then she realised she'd caught her leg on a small branch and given herself a really bad scratch that was bleeding and staining her socks.
Crying a lot now, she got herself up the other side of the riverbank, looked around to check if there was anyone around and took her soaking wet shorts and socks off. She took her cardigan and did the buttons up and climbed into it so it was like a funny skirt then tied the arms around her waist to get them out of the way. Sitting down on a fallen tree, she tried to use a wet sock to clean the blood off her leg but it wouldn't stop. Totally fed up, she laid her head on her knees and cried. This day was supposed to be a fun day but the boys had spoilt everything, she thought to herself. 
Eventually her leg stopped bleeding and as it did, slowly her tears dried up too. She stayed there a bit longer, thinking what a horrible day it was and how nobody liked her, when she felt a little 'tap, tap, tap' on her arm. Startled, she looked up quickly but there was no-one there! She looked all around and just as she turned back, she caught a glimpse of movement near a big tree just ahead of her.
Now Lizzie had lived in the countryside all her life and she loved reading books about the birds and animals that lived there. What she was looking at was a bright green face with spiky green hair like grass and green eyes. She'd never seen any creatures like that in her book but she was certain it wasn't a human in fancy dress or anything, not by the speed at which it had disappeared after tapping her arm! 
Tired and fed up, she still started talking to it in the way that you would try to coax a strange cat to come and see you. Calmly and gently, she just kept talking, not really making much sense but she hoped the creature, whatever it was, would understand that she wouldn't hurt it.
After a few minutes, the creature came out from behind the tree and stood, just listening to Lizzie's voice, as if it was trying to understand. It cocked its head to one side, shrugged its big pointy shoulders and slowly crept forward. As it came nearer, Lizzie could see that it was holding something out to her. It was a big patch of fresh green moss. Puzzled, Lizzie asked the creature what that was for, shrugging and trying to act confused.
As she continued to talk to the creature, it moved more confidently toward her, still holding out the moss. Once it was close enough, this strange little being gently placed the moss on her scratched leg, took one of her hands and gestured for her to hold it there. As she did so, it took a giant leap and seemed to disappear away from her. Startled, she gave a little cry of 'oh!' but almost immediately, the creature was back, this time with some thin, supple reeds. Lizzie was a clever girl and realised the reeds were to tie the moss to her leg and gave the creature a big smile. Even though she was a total tomboy, her Mum had always told her she still had to be polite so she said thank you too.
The creature seemed to understand her gratitude and made a funny little head-bobbing movement - almost like a nod of 'yes'. She patted the tree trunk next to her, inviting the creature to come and sit down. It made that funny little movement again and jumped up onto the tree trunk. Even standing where she was sitting, it only just came up to her eye level. Now that it was closer, she could see that its skin was a bit shiny and its hair really did look like grass, all spiky and pointing in lots of different directions. 
It had weird shoulders, almost pointy as if the bones were protecting the sides of its head and she noticed that it only had two fingers and a thumb on each hand. As she was noticing these things, she realised the creature was looking at her in the same way. It seemed confused by how many fingers she had and where were her pointy shoulders?
She pointed to herself and said 'Lizzie' then pointed at the creature and then pointed at the creature and asked 'you?'. She repeated this a few times, not even sure the creature could talk but something made her think that it could. Maybe it was the way it was watching her so carefully as she spoke but it definitely seemed to understand some of her meaning. 
After a few minutes of asking, the creature finally opened its mouth and quietly but quite clearly said 'Benset'. Lizzie was overjoyed and clapped her hands excitedly! Benset did one of his amazing leaps and disappeared! Oops! She'd startled him away. She called his name and apologised, hoping that he did indeed understand her. Suddenly, there he was, right in front of her again. This time he startled her and as she jumped with surprise, she lost her balance and fell off the back of the tree trunk!
As she lay there, giggling to herself about how funny she must look wearing a cardigan as a skirt with her legs sticking up in the air and how weird this day was, Benset stood by her and reached out a hand to help her up. He was making a funny sound too and she realised that he was laughing as well. 
Once they were both sitting on the tree trunk again, Benset put his hand on hers and started talking. It was hard to understand him at first, he had such a quiet deep voice that she really had to listen hard. He explained that his people lived in these woods but hid whenever they heard human voices because humans were so loud and big. He'd been collecting fresh leaves for food for his family when he'd seen her fall and hurt herself so he'd gone to get moss to help her.
Lizzie asked why he wasn't afraid of her, she was human and very loud sometimes and Benset explained that he'd seen her and her friends here a lot and could see that they meant no harm. He'd always hidden though, just in case but he couldn't leave her hurt and alone, crying in the woods, so he'd decided to take a risk & approach her. 
Lizzie really was a nice young lady even under her tomboy shell and she knew that what he had done was way beyond risky for him. She was only 6 herself but she was already two times his size and could easily hurt him if she tried. She thanked him again and asked if he would come and say hello another time when she & her friends were in the woods.
Benset shook his head sadly - he couldn't take the risk - both boys were bigger than Lizzie and he had a family to protect. What if they did something silly and someone got hurt or even worse, what if human grown-ups found out and came to investigate? No, it was better that they keep this a secret and she not tell anyone. He explained that if grown ups came looking for him and his family, he would have to leave the woods and find a new home for them, away from humans and he liked it here. 
Slowly, Lizzie nodded and agreed - she was sure her father wouldn't hurt Benset or his family but it wasn't her place to decide to give away his secret. She also didn't think her Dad would believe her if she told him about the two foot tall, bright green creature with spiky grass hair that she had spent the afternoon talking to! 
Suddenly, Lizzie heard a noise in the distance - it was her Dad and when she heard barking, she realised how late in the day it was. Dad was walking their dog, Butch and was calling her name too. He must have been really worried when she hadn't come home with Richard and Gareth and it was just starting to get dark too! She turned to tell Benset that she had to go but he'd disappeared already. She called out quietly 'Benset, don't worry, I won't tell your secret and I'll come back to see you soon. Thank you again, my new friend'. 
She picked up her wet shorts and socks, slipped her cold feet into her wet shoes and started limping towards the sound of her Dad's voice. What an amazing afternoon, she thought to herself, smiling at the fresh memories of her new friend. When her Dad saw her at the edge of the woods, limping, carrying her clothes and wearing her cardigan like a funny skirt, he started to run toward her. She could tell he was worried, not angry as she called out that she was ok. His run slowed a little but not much. As he came close, he pulled her into his arms tightly and gave her such a big hug she thought her lungs would pop!
Butch was running around them like crazy, barking excitedly and tying them up in tangles in his leash. Laughing now that she was found, Dad leaned over to let Butch off his leash - Lizzie said sharply 'no, don't Dad' because she knew that the dog would be able to smell Benset & would chase him down like a rabbit. Dad looked at her quizzically but when she explained that she was tired, hurting and hungry & just wanted to go home, Dad nodded, swung her up onto his shoulders and turned away from the woods toward home. 
Just before they turned the corner, Lizzie twisted slightly to look back and wave, just in case Benset was watching. She promised herself that she would come back alone soon and maybe bring a little present for him. She hoped she would meet him again - it would be wonderful to find out more about this strange little creature with the odd body, she had so many questions to ask him! 
And that dear reader, is the story of how Lizzie met Benset and their adventures together began.

I hope you like it. I'd really, really like some opinions though - good or bad doesn't matter, I'd just like to hear what people think. Thank you in advance :)

Nev

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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

N is for Naughty But Nice!


Bit of a cheat post today as I've been flying solo at work this week but when you see the 'cheat', I'm sure you won't mind!

As if the photo above doesn't give the game away, today, I'm going to share my family recipe for scrummy chocolate brownies! It's a fairly easy method without too many ingredients but there are loads of ways to tweak it to your taste. I'll add some suggestions at the end.

Ingredients

200g (7oz) good quality plain/dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids is a good guide)
250g (9oz) butter (unsalted is best but not vital)
80g (3oz) cocoa powder
65g (2.5 oz) plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
360g (13oz) caster sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2-3 drops vanilla essence

Method

Preheat oven to 180C / 350F / Gas 4 and grease a 24cm (9inch) square baking tin (or line it with greaseproof or baking parchment - whichever is your preferred method).

Next, heat a pan of water, put a heatproof bowl over it and melt the chocolate slowly with the butter. Make sure the water isn't touching the bottom of the bowl or it may overheat & split the chocolate. Also be careful not to get any water in the chocolate mixture.

Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into another bowl then add the sugar and mix slightly. Once the chocolate and butter mixture is melted through, stir them to mix and then stir them gently into the flour mixture. Add the vanilla essence and eggs at this point and stir all ingredients together until you have a smooth, fairly liquid mixture. Pour into the prepared baking tin and pop in the oven.

Unlike an ordinary cake, we don't want this one to cook all the way through - brownies should still be slightly gooey on the inside so take them out of the oven at about 25 minutes cook time. Set on a wire rack to cool in the tin.

Once cooled, turn out the whole cake and cut into generous squares or slices, you can sift a little icing sugar (confectioners sugar) over the top if you want or leave them plain.

Optional Extras or Variations

Pecan & White Chocolate - add the chopped pecans and white chocolate chips to the mixed batter before pouring into tin - about 100g (4oz) of each.

Chocolate Orange - replace the dark chocolate with orange flavored chocolate - there are some good dark chocolate orange bars available now too. Also replace the vanilla essence with 1/2 teaspoon orange oil.

Cherry & Chopped Nuts - 75g (3oz) dried sour cherries and 50g (2oz) chopped mixed nuts - just stir them into the mixture before pouring into baking tin.

I love one of these brownies served warm with a scoop of vanilla icecream or a dollop of creme fraiche. This recipe makes between 15-20 servings, depending of course on how big your slices are. The brownies should keep well for up to 4 days in an airtight container but I bet that won't be a problem!




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