How to Find Your “How To” Topic

Geek!This is Evan Brammer’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

As I was mulling over the possibilities for my entry, while tossing ideas back and forth with my wife, I realized that I just could not think of anything. What should I teach everyone “how to” do? I don’t know. I suppose it would be good if someone were to post something on “how to” come up with a “how to” topic? That would be good. WAIT! That’s what I can do. I’ll do a “how to” on “how to” discover exactly what your “how to” is.

Step One: Just Start Typing (Free Write)

If you are unsure, as I was, of what to write about – just start writing. Put your fingers to the keyboard or pen to the paper, and let the words fly out from beneath your fingertips. It doesn’t matter what you write about. You are free. Just keep writing, no matter what. If you cannot think of anything to write, then write that: “I cannot think of anything to write. I cannot think of anything to write.” Not incredibly useful, but…

As your fingers move, so will your thoughts. You’ll discover that when you write just anything, you can write anything! Next, you have to focus that “anything” into “something”.

Step Two: Focus that Anything into Something (Focused Free Write)

With your fingers blazing, begin to let you thoughts drift away from the aimlessness and onto a specific course. Just like a kayak on a big river, you can go in any direction you want – but if you want to reach your destination, than you have to chart your course. By allowing your mind to start in the river of aimlessness and then traverse into the bay of specificity, you open yourself to the wideness of possibility and are able to settle on what works best.

To focus your mind, ask yourself a few directing questions, such as: “What do I enjoy?” or “What am I good at?” Use these questions, and others, to bring your free-write into a more purpose-built writing exercise. If something doesn’t immediately come to mind, keep free writing until something does. As your ideas become more focused, the possible topic for your “how to” will emerge.

From there, you will need to refocus your focused thought.

Step Three: Refocusing your Focused Thought (From Broad to Exact)

Now that you have a general idea of what your “how to” could be, figure out if your topic needs to be refocused. Sometimes, the topic at which we initially arrive is entirely too general or broad. To continue on that course to actually writing the article on such a topic would be disastrous, as we cannot write about everything successfully in equal terms.

Think about making your “how to” topic more specific. Your original thought might be, “how to take over the world.” Now, can that topic really be covered in appropriate detail in such an article? Most likely not. So determine one aspect of the general topic and use that. Instead of focusing on “how to take over the world,” try just one part, such as: “how to harness the communicative tools currently available on an Internet that is transitioning from a static web of hyperlinks into a more social 2.0 conversation to bring the world under total domination.” Now that is an article that can be written and enjoyed, I am sure. Just… pick a better title.

With that, we have discovered the three basic steps to discovering what needs to be discovered. From here, we can all learn “how to” write a “how to” for anyone that might need to know “how to.”

How to Save Money and Still Eat Well

Geek!This is Rogue Puppet’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

Today, everyone is looking for ways to stretch a dollar further. Here are some ways you can get more for less – right at home, in your kitchen.

(1) USE your kitchen.

If you are in the habit of eating out for dinner 2, 3, 5 or even 7 times a week, it’s time to cut back. Those drive-by meals from Burger King or Subway while you are running the kids from one place to another? Those count as eating out as well. Dining out can be fun, but that gets expensive quickly. Modify that pattern to accommodate a special social event to be shared with friends or family instead. Think you are too tired, too busy or too clueless to cook? I say: Balderdash! With a little planning, you can choose and make meals that are easy (or even ones that cook while you are gone at work). Clueless? The Internet is a vast resource of recipes and how-tos, including step-by-step video guides. You can even get a Nintendo game that will teach you how to shop and cook. There is no excuse not to try.

(2) Share in the family love.

Most stores (and even some butchers) offer items in bulk or “family-sized” packaging at lower costs. While it may be difficult for you to make good use of a three gallon jar of mayonnaise (does ANY family use that much?!), there are some such items that you can use – no matter what your family size is. Buy the family pack of meat, break it down at home, and freeze it in individual packets that fit your family’s size. Lots of other items freeze well that you might not have considered, too. Try re-sizing and freezing things like spaghetti sauce, baked goods (bread), or even cheese.

(3) No Bones about it.

For many, cooking with meat means buying pre-prepped skinless, boneless cuts and using those in recipes. Relying on the meat processing company to do all your meat prep for you adds a lot of cost. You can generally save a lot on meat if you are willing to skin and de-bone it yourself. Even better, for chicken, buy the whole chicken and either cut it up or cook it whole. Being willing to get your hands just a little dirty can save you real dollars on your food bill.

(4) Cook from scratch.

For some, cooking dinner means opening a frozen meal and heating it up. While this is convenient (and sometimes tasty), it is still an expensive proposition. Most dinner recipes involve less than 15 minutes of prep and about 30-45 minutes of cooking time. If you get home late in the day (and are really hungry), consider cooking with a crock pot. For a small investment, you have a countertop appliance that can slow cook marvelous meals that are ready to eat as soon as you get home. Most people think of things like chili or stew in a crock pot, but the possibilities are nearly endless – and include things like pot roast, roasted chicken, pork chops or even vegetable dishes. Do a quick search on “crock pot recipes” and you will get thousands of results. For days, with no time to prep in the morning, freeze leftovers in meal-sized portions for your own version of “frozen dinners.”

(5) Brown Bagging, FTW.

Thus far, we’ve largely covered dinners, but making and taking your lunch to work (instead of buying something while at work) is the next extension for saving money. If you are not lucky enough to work from home, and have to eat lunch far from your own kitchen, take a bit of home with you. Instead of a $7-15 lunch, you can have a meal for a couple of bucks. Tired of bland sandwiches? Use a tortilla and make it a wrap! Fill a thermos with soup or stew – or chili. A tossed salad with the dressing on the side paired with some homemade bread is a winner any day. You think outside the box all the time to solve problems at work, so have fun getting creative with your lunch as well.

Put some (or all) of these steps into action and you will find that your eating expenses will quickly decline, but your eating experiences will grow.

Crime and Punishment in the NFL?

Geek!This is Catherine Forsythe’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

Is there redemption in the National Football League (NFL) for a convicted athlete? That will be a question that the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell will have to answer in the summer of 2009. At the moment, former Atlanta Falcon quarterback Michael Vick is serving a prison term in Leavenworth for his involvement in a dog fighting operation. Michael Vick may be eligible for release in July 2009. He will be twenty nine years old and quite possibly still able to quarterback a professional football team.

The question is ‘will the NFL allow Michael Vick’s return?’. – There is no doubt about Michael Vick’s athletic ability. His football skills could mean that a team contends for a championship and that translates into a huge financial windfall for a franchise.

There will be those who will argue that Michael Vick should be allowed to return to his profession. Football is his craft. It is his livelihood. He has paid the legal penalty and satisfied the legal consequences. He has served his time; and it would be argued that he should be allowed to continue, in his chosen profession, to make a living.

Those opposed to Michael Vick’s return to the NFL may consider that his behaviour was so heinous that he deserves a life-long ban from professional football. That would mean that he would not be allowed to participate in the NFL in any capacity. There would be no affiliation whatsoever. Dog owners and pet people will say that Michael Vick killed dogs, in a cold blooded, calculated manner. And they would be correct. Dog owners and pet people form a powerful demographic.

Is the NFL obligated to its fans to present what appears to be an untainted image? Football, after all, is entertainment and Michael Vick’s former off field activities would continue to follow him, if he resumed his NFL career. Would it be a wise business move for the NFL, in terms of image, to allow Michael Vick to return to professional football?

It is a decision that Commissioner Roger Goodell will have to make. It will set a precedent, not only for Michael Vick but for athletes who will run afoul of the law. And truly, Commissioner Goodell is in a no-win situation. He will be pilloried if he allows Michael Vick’s return. A ban of Michael Vick from the NFL would draw an equally strong reaction. No matter what the decision is, the matter of race will enter the discussion.

If Michael Vick was not a professional athlete, would the decision be any easier? For the sake of argument, if Michael Vick was a day care worker involved with young children and convicted of these crimes, should he be allowed to resume his chosen career with kids? That alone is not a simple decision. The dilemma that confronts Commissioner Goodell is that this decision involved millions of dollars and there is the consideration of protecting the image of a beloved product. Football is a national American institution; and there are matters of image and what the football fans will accept.

Undoubtedly, there will be focus groups to tap into the opinion of football fans. Does the personal off-field conduct of a professional athlete matter? Was football Coach Vince Lombardi correct when he said “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”?

How to Survive Being an Assistant to a Porn Star

Geek!This is Amber93’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

For the past five years, I’ve had a very unusual job. That of scheduling appointments for porn stars so that their fans can meet with them on a one-on-one encounter.

(1) Repeat to yourself, over and over and over again, the following phrase: Escorts do not sell sexual acts for money.

You might be chuckling to yourself and thinking, “Who is she trying to kid?” But no, the truth of it is that (at least if you’re in the USA) prostitution is illegal in most places. And THEY are the ones who sell certain acts for money where you cue up the “Bow-chicka-bow-bow” music. But escorts sell time for money. You know, kind of like how lawyers, therapists, and those kinds of people do? The rates are probably not very different either. This is an extremely important fact to remember when answering the phone to schedule appointments. And that is what leads us to…

(2) Anticipate some of the stupidest questions you never could have thought of yourself.

Let’s face it: what you’re doing is essentially the same as any other customer service job – or you might compare it to Tech Support, in a way. Only techies get people who can’t understand the basic concept of copy and paste. What you’re putting up with most of the time (in my case) is men who are smart in many circumstances, but the moment they are calling you, the blood isn’t flowing into the brain (it’s headed in the other direction, shall we say). These men must be reasonably intelligent to command the salaries they have to spend on this kind of entertainment, right? Well, sometimes you would never know it.

Among my favorites:

  • “Will she do [insert fantasy explicit action here]?” This is one question that can NEVER be answered straight. Otherwise, you’re breaking rule #1. Send ’em to the review boards, that’s what they are THERE for. So, you don’t have to answer any uncomfortable questions about activities where you are supposed to remain ignorant.
  • “Why do I have to give you my personal information? I want this to be discreet.” Although we understand that a lot of men who want to hire someone for companionship are married / engaged / otherwise trying to keep a low profile so no one knows what they are up to, don’t even bother trying to get around this. Why? Because it’s DANGEROUS for a woman to meet a strange man and not know who he really is. I mean, come on!
  • “Can I get a freebie if I let her use me one of her movies?” Go ahead, laugh. I’ll wait. Okay, done? Right. I have honestly received this question a handful of times over the years. Not only does this guy think he’s going to hook up with a woman from adult movies, but he wants to be IN adult movies, and figures he’s doing HER a favor so she should be open to putting out in front of a camera with him (who has NO experience whatsoever in that kind of work) and putting up with him for FREE? Let me just burst the bubble for you right now, gentlemen. Working in adult movies is not just a lot of fun and games – it is actually HARD work, and you’re expected to PERFORM. At least when you hire a companion, what you’ve paid her to do is act worshipful and doting on you for that time. In front of the camera, all bets are off because it’s no longer about you. Sorry to squash your dream of being the next Ron Jeremy.
  • “If all I want to do is talk to her or have her show up at my party can I pay less?” Nope, sorry. According to Rule #1, you’re paying for her time, not what happens during that time.

Anyway, many more stupid questions will come up, but as some are very explicit in nature, I figure this isn’t the best medium to post about them. I do however, sometimes post these under a NSFW filter under my blog at Livejournal.

(3) Be prepared. You will deal with LOTS of drama.

Thankfully, MOST of the time, you will not feel like you’re in some kind of reality series. But there will be days. Being an adult entertainer is a high-stress job. Guess who gets the backwash? Yep, the assistant. And if it isn’t drama from the entertainer who you work for, it will come from the fans / interested parties / spouses of these guys who weren’t careful enough. You will get odd calls at all hours where someone is flipping out trying to remember what time a flight was into the next city where she is touring. You will get calls from men acting like they will flat out DIE if they can’t talk to the person you work for RIGHT AWAY. Or, you’ll get the guys who book an appointment and then call EVERY DAY leading up to that appointment, not quite getting that you’re the only one answering the phone. Oh, and disgusting prank calls left on the voicemail. Occasionally, the wife who calls, very upset about what she found out her husband was doing, and since you were a party to this YOU get to bear her wrath. Nevermind that the guy never told you he was married and you didn’t ask because you’re not supposed to.

(4) Also be prepared to be treated like you are a Phone Sex Operator

Chances are, he called up the number he saw on the ad, thinking that it was a direct line to the woman who will be doing the actual meet and greet, not the assistant who does all the work involved in arranging said meet and greet. But it doesn’t matter – he’s already got his hand busy and any voice will do at this point. Lucky you. The best thing to do, I’ve found out, is get very direct. “Look, did you want to schedule an appointment?” — if he didn’t, he’ll just hang up on you. Or if he’s STILL trying to see if you’ll use your naughty bedroom words over the phone with him he’ll say “Yes, I do, I just need some questions answered first.” (Yeah, those would be the ones I didn’t list in #2). HANG UP. This will go nowhere good and you’re not getting paid for this kind of work.

(5) While we’re at it, be prepared to be asked all the time, “What about you? Are you available? What are your rates?”

Yeah, I know, I should have listed this under #2, but it really deserves a category on its own because it will be asked more than any other question. And it’s not really a stupid question emper se/em, because sometimes professional companions travel together or work all under one girl who is also a professional companion but does the bookings. So, instead, it’s best to just state very plainly that no, you only work for the lady he called about seeing, you take care of the business part, and she takes care of the fun part. Of course, this can very easily lead into the questions I mentioned in #2, when for some reason that’s not enough of an answer and the person on the phone thinks if he throws enough money at you or keeps asking, you’ll change your mind. I have had a few callers get so hostile on this particular subject that it led to me hanging up on them, realizing they were not at ALL someone I could schedule for ANYONE if they were that angry that one woman said “No” and so he saw it as some kind of personal rejection.

(6) Learn to be a master (or mistress) of damage control

Remember rule #3? Yeah, that leads to this. Flights are missed, schedules are changed at the drop of a hat, emails get sent to the wrong people, deposits are “not received”, oh – and if someone is having an exceptionally bad day, then you might just be the whipping post for it. And throughout all of this, you have to keep your head on your shoulders and notify any concerned parties if there are schedule changes or cancellations as a result. And put up with the fallout that could result when if someone really had their hopes up, only to be dashed because you are the bearer of bad news.

(7) Try to stay on top of whatever the latest technology is that you have to use in your work

This could be anything from knowing what the latest app is that the webmaster is using on the site with all the info (you know, where people SHOULD be reading instead of calling you and asking you all the questions and wasting your time?)… so you can walk people through using it – to keeping up with the best way to catalogue your contacts and your records of who you’ve booked in the past. It saves a lot of time and effort if you just keep up with it as you go along rather than having to backdate things every now and then (believe me on this one because I’m guilty of breaking this rule, A LOT.)

To wrap this up, I just want to state that the people I’ve worked for in the past 5 years have been wonderful. None of them are the stereotypical coked up, air-headed drama queen b*tches who you would think they might be. They’ve been some of the most beautiful, intelligent, funny, and down-to-earth women I’ve ever been blessed to know. Many of them care about their fans and go out of their way to make pubic appearances at trade shows and charity events so they can meet their fans. But they are also great businesswomen and have realized what their time is worth and just how to make a man feel special when he decides to spend the required funds to have that sort of time. I’ve really enjoyed this job so far and I’ve met a lot of wonderful people through it. It’s definitely been a different kind of learning experience!

I also realize that while this might not be your run-of-the-mill geeky sort of post on how to do something, I figured it might throw some clues to people should they ever consider seeking out a companion as to what the lowly assistant has to put up with. So don’t be “that guy” who gets himself in a hall of fame for posing a question that should go under rule #2. Also, I composed this to share a little humor about my work as well. Hopefully you found it entertaining and amusing.

How to Speak with a CSR / Customer Service Representative

Geek!This is Kate Rawlins’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

I think I’ve grown wiser as I’ve grown older. Not that I’m old, because we all know that 60 is the new 40! But, as a Baby Boomer, I’d like to pass along some pearls of wisdom I’ve learned along the way. I’ll try not to lecture or rant but you’ll notice I’m not without fault, so please bear with me.

We’re not all perfect (you’ve heard that before), but tolerating life’s annoyances is one of those lessons you should learn. You can skip over this pearl – but you may not be able to skip over the CSR person you’re speaking with when trying to straighten out an issue with a bill, a dispute with the cable service, or anything having to do with a utility company.

Yelling, speaking faster, speaking over the person, cursing, or threatening may help, but both you and the CSR will undoubtedly have high-blood-pressure-headaches at the end of the conversation.

My advice? When, after you’ve chosen what language you’ll be speaking, you’ve punched in all the numbers asked of you, and you’ve waited for 27 minutes or they’ve responded so quickly you’re unprepared and still gathering up the paperwork you need, you finally do reach a human, do not speak first, wait – wait until the rep acknowledges you. Jumping down the rep’s throat will not help. You should have been taking advance of the wait time by doing your taxes – duh.

Do not utter a word to the CSR until they ask you for information.

Right here, right now, you’re allowing them to bring up the right account, giving them a breather so they can collect themselves from the previous obnoxious caller, providing them with the time they need to focus on your call and on your account – which is what you want, after all.

After a few more formalities, the rep will finally ask, “How may I help you?” This is what you’ve been waiting for: your opportunity to “bear with them.” Immediately ask the rep what they need to know from you about your issue, wait for their response, and then, this is the hardest part of all:

Continue to allow them to run the show.

Yeah, I know it’s giving up control when you’re the one with the problem, but keep in mind, that the rep is probably sitting in a boiler room with a million other reps, staring at a blank template on a computer screen, and all the rep is doing is asking the questions to get answers to fill in those blanks. While at the same time, wondering why you can’t give just them the info they need, in the precise and prompt manner they’re requesting it, so they can process the form, sort out the problem, and then move along to the next caller who has been on hold for that 5 to 9 minutes of wait time.

Now, if none of this works to your satisfaction, just ask to speak to a supervisor and start the entire process over again, and do not even think of contacting me. Fill in the blanks correctly and you’ll pass Go. Incorrectly and – take it from an East Coaster – you’ll be put on hold quicker than a New York minute.

Learn to bear it – and I never used the word GRIN!

How to Make a GOOD Top 5 List

Geek!This is Jack Brolly’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

  1. Choose a topic that you are knowledgeable on. There is no point in getting all of your information from somewhere like “Wikipedia” and then making a list. Lack of knowledge shows. Also try to have experience in your chosen topic. It would be stupid to choose a topic that you know nothing about. You would be trying to advise people on something that you don’t even know about and that is never going to work. Knowledge is power.
  2. Be Original. Being original is very important! If it is a list that can be easily found by “googling” it then it is not an original topic. Being original also allows you to get more readers as they would have never seen a list on your chosen topic before. Before I chose this topic I googled it and I got no results that match this title, thus this is an original top 5 list. There is a lot of almost “Clichéd ” lists. Keep away from these. An example is “Top 5 tips for losing weight”. There are whole websites devoted to topics like that so it is therefore unoriginal and decreases the chances of your list getting hits. At the end of the day the success of your list will be judged on how many views or hits your list gets. Another part of being original is making sure the list is made up of your own content and your content only; this means do not plagiarize.
  3. Plan your top 5 list before you type it. Don’t rush into it, there is no race. By not rushing you might think of better points to put into your list. Type out 2 or 3 drafts until you are happy with the finished product. When you see a list that hasn’t been planned to tends to go off topic, points tend to be strewn about and it is very repetitive. So planning is another aspect of list making. The plan also helps give it a good structure which makes the points easier to follow.
  4. Spelling, grammar, punctuation and a varied vocabulary are important. If you want people to take your list seriously try to type full words and sentences. So instead of writing “u shud” write “you should”. It makes the whole list clearer. Good grammar also gives the impression of intelligence. It’s hard to take list seriously when someone is misspelling every second word. Punctuation also makes the whole list clearer. If you don’t punctuate then every paragraph would be a sentence. It is important that full stops and commas are there to give the reader a break to take in a point at once rather than a full paragraph. When varying your vocabulary there is no need to overuse big words. Try to keep the language intelligent and accessible at the same time.
  5. Don’t ramble, but don’t be too vague. Keep your sentences short and to the point. Don’t feel the need to go into a huge amount of detail. If you ramble on and go into a huge amount of detail when you don’t need to then you are possible boring the reader. Don’t be too vague. That way you are not effectively getting your point across. There is a delicate balance that you must find.

Top 5 Intel Processors

Geek!This is Aidan Allen’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

  1. Intel Core i7 Extreme – A good choice if you are a hardcore gamer and want the best graphics and performance processor. The clear graphics will leave you wondering which reality is and which is not. This all comes at an incredible speed, of 3.46GHz, for each of the 4 cores, which all comes at £899.99 or $1,495.99.
  2. Intel Core i7 – The next choice down for serious gamers. It provides you with HD Graphics and great responsiveness which is perfect for Gaming, Video editing, and Web browsing – all with the performance you need. All at around 2.93GHz and again the adding feature of 4 cores giving you the edge for all your needs, but it does come at a price of £259.36 or $565.99.
  3. Intel Core 2 Quad – With 4 cores again to offer high end graphics and speeds of up to 2.93GHz, this is perfect for HD encoding photo editing and even HD gaming; it has 50% faster graphics than the old Intel Core 2 Quad HD Processor. All of this adds up to bring you the best overall performance for your PC, all at around £184.00 or $317.50.
  4. Intel Core 2 Duo – This is the processor for an average home computer. This is a good choice if you are not into gaming and just want the basic all around processor. With only 2 cores it is the most energy efficient processor made by Intel. It does support HD video and has some good solid performance. This runs around £159.99 or $210.99, but amazingly for that price you have 2 Cores both running at an incredible 3.16GHz helping you make the most of your PC.
  5. Intel Centrino 2 – This is a notebook processor but you are able to be the most productive you ever be. With integrated wireless technology with a speed of 2.8GHz in both two Core. This processor is designed to have longer battery life when you are away from your power supply. The integrated Wi-Fi manages two times better range and five times more internet performance. This processor can’t just be bought off of the internet – you have to buy a laptop that has the processor included. No fuss and bother in installing it.
  6. That is my top 5 list of the best processors that you can buy. I hope this will help you and kept you up to date with all the processors that have just come out from Intel including the “i7 Extreme” and the “i7” itself, along with the other processors mentioned in this article. I hoped this helps you if you are building a PC, and gives you the advice and choices about processors you may be looking for.

The Best Christmas Music CDs You Need to Buy

Geek!This is Scott Crews’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

(1) Sufjan Stevens – Songs for Christmas

  • Why You Aren’t Listening to It: Sufjan Stevens hasn’t had any mainstream attention (no matter how much his fans think he should).
  • Why You Should Listen to It: If you’ve never heard of Sufjan Stevens, it’s almost impossible to compare him to anyone else. “Sufjan Stevens: Songs for Christmas” is full of creative instrumentation, laid back tempos, and vocal harmonies, but it doesn’t have a lot of “over-production” that most albums suffer from these days. There are a few traditional Christmas songs on the disc. And it gives a lot of bang for your buck: he made the album into 5 CDs (over two hours of continuous music), and he doesn’t just do Christmas songs. It is a fantastic collection of music to get you in the Christmas spirit.

(2) MercyMe – The Christmas Sessions

  • Why You Aren’t Listening to It: Because when your top 40 radio station got done playing “I Can Only Imagine,” you were okay with it.
  • Why You Should Be Listening to It: Because what made “I Can Only Imagine” a hit makes MercyMe a great band, and it isn’t their fault that your radio station played that song into the ground. The Christmas Sessions contains all the Christmas classics with new arrangements and amazing vocals. Tracks to check out: “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” and “Joesph’s Lullaby.”

(3) Mariah Carey – Merry Christmas

  • Why You Aren’t Listening to It: Because geeky guys don’t listen to Mariah Carey.
  • Why You Should Be Listening to It: Because there’s a reason it’s a top selling Christmas CD every year. It’s really, really good. It is important to realize that “Merry Christmas” is from back in the day when Mariah Carey was still making REAL music, and not the booty-pop garbage that her producers are pumping out now. It is possible to like this CD and completely preserve one’s manliness. Tracks to check out: “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World” NOTE: On iTunes, there are two editions of this CD – one is 7.99 and one is 9.90. From what I can tell, there is no difference… so save two bucks if you can!

(4) Andy Williams – The Andy Williams Christmas Album

  • Why You Aren’t Listening to It: Because if you’re under 30 years old, you’ve probably never heard of him.
  • Why You Should Be Listening to It: Because Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra are good… and Andy Williams is just as good (or probably even better). Sure, listen to Frank the rest of the year when you want big, smooth, classic vocals. But for Christmas, Andy Williams hits a home run. Check out “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of The Year” and “The Christmas Song.”

(5) Relient K – Let It Snow Baby… Let it Reindeer

  • Why You Aren’t Listening to It: Because either you’ve never heard of them or you don’t like pop/punk at Christmas.
  • Why You Should Be Listening to It: There are two reasons to listen. The first is if you like pop/punk music (surging drum beats, driving guitars, vocal harmony). The second is if you like phenomenal Christmas music. If that is you, don’t go buy the entire CD. But DO go buy the two tracks “I Celebrate the Day” and “Silent Night / Away In A Manger.” They sound nothing like the rest of the CD, and “I Celebrate the Day” is a beautiful Jimmy Eat World-esque piano ballad… and literally the greatest song ever written about Christmas. Don’t go another Christmas without this song – you’re only doing yourself a disservice.

Okay, there you go. What do you think? What albums did I leave off? Remember: it’s the music that we AREN’T listening to… so, “Now That’s What I Call Christmas” is NOT eligible!

Things to Consider When Building Your Own PC

Geek!This is Calvin’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

These days, more people are building their own computers rather than buying them from a retailer. I built myself a new computer back in August. My experience was mostly flawless, and those minor problems I did have were quickly fixed. Perhaps you’re looking at getting a new computer, and giving thought to building your own? Here are five tips that I believe will help you.

  1. Know what you need. Generally, when you’re building your own computer, you’ll need a motherboard, processor, RAM, video card, optical drive, hard drive, power supply, and a case. You may also need a keyboard, mouse, or monitor, depending on what peripherals you’ve got laying around. There are also extras like TV tuners, media card readers, and dedicated sound cards, which all can improve your PC experience, but you don’t need them – and not buying them can lower your purchase price.
  2. Don’t forget the operating system! While buying components, it’s very easy to forget to pick up an OS. Unless you’re going with Linux, it’s usually easier to buy the OS from the same place you’re getting the parts from, at the same time (so you don’t forget). You’ll probably want a copy of Windows Vista, which is Microsoft’s latest operating system. You can go with 32-bit or 64-bit versions, but unless you’re truly using more than 2GB of RAM, you should go with the 32-bit edition.
  3. Don’t put all of your money into one component. You can easily spend ~$500 on a graphics card. Unless you’re doing extreme gaming, you probably won’t need a top-of-the-line graphics card. The same goes for processors — even though the price-per-gigahertz is getting lower by the day, you still probably don’t need the high-end model. Remember: you don’t HAVE to buy the best out there to have a great computer.
  4. Don’t spend more than $100 on a motherboard. Unless you’re going to overclock (which you probably aren’t), you don’t really need all the special features that the more expensive boards sport. In many cases, the cheaper ones will perform just as good as their pricier counterparts – and they should give you all the options you might need. When buying a motherboard, make sure that the socket is the same as your processor, the RAM speed is compatible, it has at least two SATA ports (for the hard disk and optical drive), and that it has at least one PCI-Express x16 slot (the long one) for your graphics card.
  5. Shop around. If you stay patient and persistent, you can find some pretty great deals on the hardware you’re buying. Online retailers through TagJag.com provide regular discounts on their products, and coupons.lockergnome.com offers coupon codes to lower the price even more. Buying online will generally be cheaper than buying in-store, and you usually won’t have to pay taxes on what you buy. Some products also have manufacturer rebates on them, so be sure to print those out and send those in to save even more money!

Hopefully these tips will help you with your new machine. Also remember to have fun. It can be quite an enjoyable experience – to put together your own machine, and then see it run for the first time. If you do experience a problem, there are tons of hardware and PC-building forums out there that would be happy to help you. And of course, if you have any questions, ask! Good luck!

Five Tips in Making a Visually Accessible Website

Geek!This is C.S. McClendon’s submission for the HP Magic Giveaway. Feel free to leave comments for this article as you see fit – your feedback is certainly welcomed! If you’d like to submit your own how-to, what-is, or top-five list, you can send it to me. Views and opinions of this writer are not necessarily my own:

We live in an ever changing world; a world that is becoming increasingly entangled in the web, and for the majority of the populous that is not such a bad development. In fact I would be willing to say that there is something good on the web for everyone so long as you know where and how to find it. For those people with certain visual disabilities however, the internet can be a very difficult place to navigate.

I have decided to put together this list of the top five things you as a web designer can do to make your site easier on those of your visitors who might otherwise have a difficult time. Please take the time to read this article and you might just find that with a few simple steps you can open your site up to whole new lanes of traffic.

  1. Contrary to popular belief, size is important. Now I’m not talking about the amount of content you include in your site; rather text size and the like. For instance, with a few clicks of your mouse or extra key strokes you can make the text size of your website larger; therefore much more easily read by the elderly and otherwise visually impaired. I recommend that you don’t stop there with only the text elements of your site; with the right program and a little digital manipulation you can also enlarge such things as pictures and diagrams.
  2. Roam the wide open spaces. Now I know this goes against convention, but you might want to give more than just a passing thought to double spacing your pages. You remember those – pages like your professors used to insist on for your research papers and such in high school and college? Take it from someone with more than a little experience in this particular area – a little space goes a long way toward making a crowded page a lot easier to read.
  3. Think contrary in contrast. Remember art class in school where you got to play with the color wheel? See if you can find one still hiding in a drawer somewhere – if not you can use the one at http://www.northlite.net/ps/images/color_wheel.gif. Now that you have a working color wheel, take a close look at it. See how those colors closest together tend to blend into one another? Now, if we were talking about painting your house that might be a good thing – but when your trying to make your web page easier to read for those in need, you will want to steer yourself closer to the opposite ends of the wheel. Remember the old adage; good fences make good neighbors.

  4. In the world of style, options are kings. Modern browsers such as Firefox or Internet Explorer use a nifty feature called style sheets. They also allow the enterprising designer to create multiple style sheets for a single page. These style sheets can be used to change the color scheme, the text size, and even the layout of the pages; giving the visitor the opportunity to choose the options that work best for them. The more options you as the designer provide, the more likely there is to be one that suits the visually challenged user.
  5. KISS. Keep it simple… sir (after all there is no reason to be impolite). The bells and whistles of modern technology may indeed make for a more visually stimulating site, but this creates a problem for those with visual difficulties, effectively making your site difficult to navigate. Coding your site for copyright protection may keep the disreputable from stealing your content and making it their own, but it will also make it impossible for most screen readers and other text-to-speech programs to work in favor of your viewers, as a good many of such programs rely on the ability to copy and paste the text that needs to be read.

If you are feeling ambitious, there is certainly a lot you can do to code your site so it can be accessible to those who are visually impaired. You can create the ability for it to read itself to your viewer, provide vocal cues for every link, event, or menu. There are several software options such as MASH (Microsoft Agent Scripting Helper) that will help you do such things – but the things I mention here are some of the simplest and often quickest options that will make your site as easy as possible for the visually impaired viewer – who could stumble into or come looking for the content that you have to offer.

Yes, I wrote this article and offered this advice with those like myself in mind; but hopefully in doing so I will have helped more than a few of you – on both sides of the page.