Sunday, November 22, 2009

Help From My Friends


OK blog readers, let me say this straight up front: I'm hitting you up for money in this post. Actually, I'm explaining how I manage to fund my adventures and you might find that interesting but they'll be some "here's how you can help" begging going on lower down on the screen and I thought I should let you know that up front, so you can surf away now if that's not your thing.

I've been called a lot of things over the years, but the term "Financial Genius" has never been applied to me. I've always been one of those fellows who chooses the interesting option over the lucrative one, consistently choosing the small jobs with fun little problems that still leave me time for a life, over the bigger jobs with fascinating problems that somehow manage to suck up every minute of the day. I still get sucked into the big jobs now and then, or into jobs that expand into things that really manage to cut into my day, but I have a caution that some would call laziness that makes me zig when the big money is on the path that zags. And I'm more than OK with that, although I know it baffles my kids.

Years ago a large Redmond-based software company was nice enough to fly me out to the Pacific Northwest and spend all day tossing software and other problems at me. As long as I was in the neighborhood, I also interviewed at a tiny company called Manley & Associates in a town called Issaquah, a place where my friend Camille worked. They needed somebody to help them write games for a Super-Nintendo. "I've never even seen a Super-Nintendo," I told them. "That's OK," Ivan Manley assured me, "Pretty much nobody has seen these yet." The folks in Redmond were real smart and it seemed like they worked all the time. The folks at Manley were really smart too and they only worked 14 hours per day instead of 20. Some of the Manley folks would go mountain biking after work.

Ivan Manley went to the thrift store the day I started at Manley, to pick up a used desk and a chair for me.

A few years later, Manley had grown to about 50 people and somehow I'd gotten sucked into being Director of Development and I wasn't writing any code. Electronic Arts bought the whole company and while I could've zagged into EA, I zigged into a little company doing educational software in Seattle. It was the least I could do to atone for my part in making a new generation of joystick potatoes.

My winding software path took me a variety of places, including a stint I describe as being "as easy as finding sand at the beach". I managed a QA team tasked with writing test cases and finding bugs in the software produced by a large Redmond-based software company. "Let me get this straight," I said in that interview, "We don't fix the bugs, we just find 'em." "Yep," was the reply. "Sign me up," I said.

We managed to not work every minute of the day, but we could have and never run out of bugs. Software, like all art, is never finished, but it does have ship dates. Someone very wise noted that "Shipping is the one feature that your product must have."

Like the original Star Trek, that gig was a five year mission. Other crews are still at work on similar missions in numerous remakes and reboots but I've been content to zig into the bike world and these days I'm mostly solving hardware problems. I make a very modest living (my old software pals are astounded at how modest a living!) but the important thing is that I have time to do cool stuff.

Time and money are often inversely proportional. If you are making the big bucks, you don't have time to do cool things, but it often takes a good chunk of money to do something cool. Here's what Jill Homer, the current women's record holder of the Tour Divide, wrote about the financial aspect of that race:

"For anyone considering entering this race in the future, this is my biggest piece of advice: Get a good credit card. Pretend that you have a million dollars. Pretend money has no value. Buy yourself exactly what you think you need. Take care of yourself first and worry about your financial situation later. This race is hard enough without trying to do it on a tight budget."

Good advice there, advice that's been making me think of returning to the software world, at least for a six month testing gig to pile up some bucks. But this is advice that ultimately I know I will not follow. I have to zig, even though the money is in zagging.

I live frugally and I don't go in debt to the credit card companies. Between Christine's job and mine, we make just enough to keep a small roof over our heads and a decent bit of food on the table. I manage to fund my adventures with a lot of help from my friends.

Here's how my adventure budget works. I tell stories and I give them away. Yeah, some of my works see print in the pages of things like Dirt Rag, but I'll let Cory Doctorow explain the state of professional writing (in his case Science Fiction, but what he says is pretty much universal):

"The compensation for writers is pretty thin on the ground. Amazing Stories, Hugo Gernsback's original science fiction magazine, paid a couple cents a word. Today, science fiction magazines pay...a couple cents a word. The sums involved are so minuscule, they're not even insulting: they're *quaint* and *historical*, like the WHISKEY 5 CENTS sign over the bar at a pioneer village. Some writers do make it big, but they're *rounding errors* as compared to the total population of sf writers earning some of their living at the trade. Almost all of us could be making more money elsewhere (though we may dream of earning a stephenkingload of money, and of course, no one would play the lotto if there were no winners). The primary incentive for writing has to be artistic satisfaction, egoboo, and a desire for posterity. Ebooks get you that. Ebooks become a part of the corpus of human knowledge because they get indexed by search engines and replicated by the hundreds, thousands or millions. They can be googled."

So, while Dirt Rag pays me for "The Way of the Mountain Turtle" it turns out I actually make more from giving away the story. Believe it or not, people do click on that little donate button. Not everybody, not most. But some of you do, probably because you like something I wrote and want me to write more things like that.

Kevin Kelly explains the concept of 1000 True Fans at: http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/03/1000_true_fans.php

I don't aspire to having 1000 True Fans but I've somehow stumbled onto a way of making my interests fund my adventures. As a character in Cory Doctorow's latest novel, Makers, notes, "When you do cool stuff, you end up making money." By the way, if you want to read Makers (and I totally recommend it!), Cory is giving the ebook version of it away at:

http://craphound.com/makers/download/

You can buy it in good old-fashioned book form at your local bookstore or, if you wish, clicking on any of the Makers links in this post will let you order it from Amazon.

Amazon links are one of the many ways readers like you support my adventures and my writing. I always try to be very straight-up about this. When you click on an Amazon link here and then buy anything on Amazon within the next 24 hours, I get a commission. It doesn't cost you any more but Amazon does pay me. The rate is usually about 6%. And that money counts up.

Let me tell you a story. (Hey, if you've stuck with this post this long, you're probably used to my rambling stories. Thanks for sticking around.)

Back in issue #122 of Dirt Rag, I reviewed Redline's 925. This involved Redline sending me the bike, my riding it for a couple of months, a week or so of my actually writing the review and all the back and forth emails of the edit and so forth. Fun stuff, but time consuming. You can read the review here:

http://www.dirtragmag.com/print/article.php?ID=778&category=stuff_reviews

I got paid what Dirt Rag pays writers, which wound up being something like $100 as I recall.

Around the same time, I'd started this blog and I got a helmet light, a Princeton Tec EOS. I spent about 20 minutes writing this review:

http://kentsbike.blogspot.com/2006/01/my-new-helmet-light.html

The review was the first thing I did that had one of those Amazon Associates links in it.

Some of you bought the light. Some of you might have followed that link and bought other things, but I know some of you bought the light. I get reports from Amazon. I don't see who buys what, but Amazon tells me what sells. And that EOS sells. And sells. And sells.

In the four years since that post went up, 103 people have bought an EOS from Amazon after following a link from my blog. Six percent of the price of an EOS is a couple of bucks. A couple of bucks times 103 is twice what I took home from the 925 review.

Hmm. I'm not getting rich off this, but little things add up. There really is something to the long tail of the Internet.

So I write this blog. I don't think you come here for the reviews, I think you come here for the stories and I try to tell a straight story. I review things I use and mostly things I like (with a few notable exceptions). I try to keep the ads to a minimum but I do link to stuff when I talk about it and I do run this kind of the same way Public Radio works (give stuff away most of the time and beg now and then).

It's a model that works for Public Radio and it works for me. My son said to me once "$75 is a lot of money for a mug with Carl Kasell's picture on it" but we all know the money isn't for the mug, it's for what's behind it. I took a page from Public Radio and created a Cafe Press Store with t-shirts, caps, a messenger bag and a mug. Proceeds from the store go to fund my adventures.

And I want to make it clear that my adventures are not some noble cause. I've raised money for good causes like fighting cancer or helping Dave Nice after his bike was stolen, but I'm not one of these people who rides for a cause. I have adventures because I like having adventures. If you support me, do it because you feel you're getting value from what you read here.

I really didn't mean for this to be a begging thing. What I really wanted to say is "Thanks." Thanks for all the amazing support. Hundreds of people helped me ride the GDR in 2005 and that support continues in all kinds of ways. Robert updated my Mountain Turtle logo for free and Kurt used the logo to make a bunch of "Hasten Slowly" buttons. My pal Joe set the whole deal in motion and delivered me a big stash of these cool buttons. Click on the picture at the top of this blog post to get a closer look at the buttons. I'm using them as thank-you tokens. 

Thanks for your continued support and for putting up with this rambling note. Back to ride reports and stories from the road and trail now. If you've made it this far and want a cool button, send your snail-mail address to me at kentsbike (at) gmail (dot) com. Or if you're one of the folks I cross paths with in the real world, ask me if I've got a button for you tucked into a pocket of my pack. I try to carry a few with me.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent






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