Tuesday, December 30, 2008

YouTube: Benjamin Netanyahu Uses This Website to Present Israel's Position

The Twisted Sisterhood Offers a New Interactive Site for Women

Duchess O’Blunt – Brenda Stone (Brown) – found me on LinkedIn and sent me a message about her website TheTwistedSisterhood.com. I checked out the site and was impressed. So I asked her to write a guest post about the genesis of the site. And at the end of the blog post is a little bio I also asked her to write.

Building castles, wet t-shirt contests, dealing with scorpions, eating worms, murder mysteries, and much more – these are some of the things The Twisted Sisterhood will tell you about in the new interactive website for women. Some of these things may not SOUND like fun, but come and see for yourself the Twist we have given them.

We are a group of women who have been “Twisting it Up!” since early 2000. Our vision is to inspire clean simple fun with women all over the world – to create an online community where woman can feel free to be creative, relax and rejuvenate. We have shared some of our million dollar memories. Yours can be made with just a bit of imagination, a touch of ingenuity and a little of your time.

For seven years we talked about how together the six of us would make the perfect woman. We had everything we needed between us to start our own business. In October 2007, at our yearly B&B weekend away together, we made the decision to go for it. The website is the result. It is a far cry from the kits we were going to make and sell, but it is ultimately a much better product. Along the way we had a lot of help and encouragement.

We want women to learn to give themselves permission to have fun. The Twisted Sisterhood can help you with that in a unique way. We also want to provide as much opportunity for networking as we can in the spirit of Sisterhood. We have married those two objectives into one distinctive website with boundless opportunities. We currently have over 220 members across the globe and continue to see a steady growth. With more members, more opportunities are created.

As business women we tend to focus on growing our businesses and often neglect the one thing that makes us unique – the connections and bonds we have with our girlfriends. The vision of The Twisted Sisterhood is to inspire women to reclaim those connections. It’s vital to allow space for new friendships and maintaining those we have developed over the years (but may be neglecting). If you are up for some fun, we have just the thing for you!

The Twisted Sisterhood offers many unique opportunities. Here are some of the benefits:
• It’s free!
• It’s fun!
• It’s user-friendly

We provide an opportunity to:
• Build on your friendships with imaginative events that require little or no money
• Think outside your “circle” or “bubble” and expand the possibilities
• Share the positive, help encourage others
• Message, chat, and create new connections with other members
• Blog to your heart’s content!
• “Hold Court” (come see us to find out how)

We might not be able to transform the world, but we hope to encourage some good changes in those whose lives we touch. Join us as we share our passion for “The Twisted Sisterhood," where we take individual strands of friendship and Twist them into Sisterhood. It’s a simple concept with some big ideas initiated with little money and resulting in LOTS OF FUN. This is our way of “giving back” a bit of what we have found with each other.

My given name is Brenda meaning sword, but with The Twisted Sisterhood my persona is The Duchess O’Blunt. I am a mother of two wonderful young men and happily married to my high school sweetheart. I am very proud of all three men in my life, have had a good career in the corporate world, and have now ventured into the unknown (for me anyway) world of the internet. I have volunteered time in teaching seniors how to use computers and the internet. This has been as fulfilling for me as it has been educational for them. I love to learn, I love history, and our seniors have an abundance to teach us.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Gift of a Goat: A Special Needs Boy Celebrates His Bar Mitzvah

I attended the Bar Mitzvah of a special needs boy, and this Bar Mitzvah was a moving testament to the boy, his family and the Jewish community to which his family belongs. The rabbinical student who worked with the Bar Mitzvah boy did an amazing job of starting the service in a way that directly related to the boy and the other special needs children at the Bar Mitzvah.

A young friend of the Bar Mitzvah boy read his speech, in which we learned that he had used his money to buy a goat to help a family in Africa. Later on during the service the Bar Mitzvah boy's father said the boy would have liked to keep the goat in his own backyard. Yet it was destined to make a difference in someone else's life.

I wondered through what project or organization that the goat had been provided to a family in Africa. The Bar Mitzvah boy's mother told me the organization was Heifer International.
In FY2007, Heifer had 867 active projects in 53 countries/provinces and 28 U.S. states. Heifer projects around the world help families achieve self-reliance through the gift of livestock and training. Gifts are passed from recipient to recipient until entire communities are transformed.
Remembering that the overall sentiment of this special Bar Mitzvah was that we can all work towards going beyond our apparent abilities, I thought how appropriate this particular Bar Mitzvah tzedakah (charity) gift was -- the gift of the goat would go beyond being a simple gift to transform the life of a family and perhaps the entire village. Just as this Bar Mitzvah had gone beyond a traditional coming-of-age ritual to transform all of us privileged to witness this day.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Brad Pitt Makes It Right in New Orleans: We Can All Help

The picture of Brad Pitt on the cover of the January 2009 Architectural Digest magazine caught my eye. What was he doing on the cover?

The article’s headline said it all: “Brad Pitt Makes It Right in New Orleans: After Hurricane Katrina, the Actor Breaks New Ground and Helps Rebuild the Lower Ninth Ward.”

The article describes how, in December 2006, Brad Pitt gathered a group of experts in New Orleans to figure out how to build affordable and sustainable housing for victims of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in late August of 2005.

One of the most-devastated areas was the African-American community of the Lower Ninth Ward (northeast of the French Quarter). By the time I toured the Lower Ninth Ward in October of 2007 it looked peaceful – grass grew in open fields and there were almost no buildings. I learned that this peaceful appearance resulted only after the destroyed homes and dead people had been removed.

Now Brad Pitt is leading the effort to build new homes in this area – homes that are eight-feet off the ground and feature rooftop escape hatches so residents won’t be trapped again if the waters rise so quickly. The article features the six houses completed in October 2008, which will be joined by 144 more in this first stage.

The Make It Right organization is seeking donations to help fund its efforts. Check out the organization’s website to learn more about this amazing rebirth story and to help the rebirth effort.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Playing Field Leveled for High School Athletes Applying to College

I was very pleased to read the December 18th Wall Street Journal article “The Do-It-Yourself Athletic Scholarship” by Matthew Futterman:
Coaches and recruiters easily notice top-tier talent in big-name sports. But mid-level high-school athletes or those in lesser-known sports often pay high-priced private consultants to connect them with coaches. With fees ranging from $700 to $5,000, the system has been expensive for students and inefficient for coaches – who get scouting recommendations only on kids who can afford to pay the consultants.

Now, do-it-yourself services have emerged that allow student athletes to showcase their abilities for a fraction of the price. Aside from beRecruited.com, other sites include Prepchamps.com, TRUpreps.com (owned by CBS Corp.’s MaxPreps unit), ActiveRecruiting.com, Collegecoaches.net and SportsWorx.com. There are also numerous sport-specific sites.
This is a wonderful leveling of the playing field for high school athletes. And as a mother who a few years ago had to learn everything on her own about helping a child who wanted to participate in a particular NCAA Division 1 college sport, I can only say that this is a wonderful use of the internet.

And as I’ve said before in another context, don’t assume that the sport a teen plays in high school is not of interest to a college. Do the research to find out what colleges might be interested in that sport, and then use these online showcases to put a teen’s athletic skills in the public eye.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Support Our Troops at Holiday Times and Throughout the Year

The above painting "Coming Home" is by Colonel Charles Waterhouse, the "artist in residence" for the Marine Corps and a veteran of Iwo Jima.

It's a fitting illustration for this post on showing our appreciation and support for our military personnel. Nancy Brown of YourMilitary.com and I just finished interviewing -- on our BlogTalkRadio show YourMilitaryLife -- Janel Landon, who is on the Illinois USO board of directors.

Janel reminded our audience that USO centers in airports and elsewhere are open 24 hours a day 365 days of the year. She talked about how important it is to have USO volunteers greet military personnel returning from deployment. And she reminded us that we are a nation at war.

As Janel spoke about this "welcome home" mission by the USO, I was reminded of the bitterness that a Vietnam veteran recently revealed to me. He told me that no one had greeted and thanked him at the airport when he returned from Vietnam. Instead he had been vilified -- and this wound still hurt after all these years. (Read the whole post.)

Check out USO.org to see how you can help. Or read recent posts at my blog about the needs of wounded soldiers or check out the MRS. LIEUTENANT website for organizations that support military personnel and their families.

In this holiday season and in the coming year, please remember our troops who are in harm's way protecting our country and our freedoms.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tonight We Light the First Hanukkah Candle

Tonight is the first night of the eight-day Jewish festival of Hanukkah. Rabbi Karen L. Fox and I wrote in our Jewish holiday book:
Hanukkah honors an historical event -- the struggle for religious freedom. Hanukkah commemorates a time when the ancient homeland of the Jews -- now known as Israel -- was ruled by the Greeks in the second century before the common era. The Greeks threatened to eliminate the religious faith and customs of the Jewish people.

A small band of Jews resolved to forfeit their lives if necessary to preserve their heritage. Their successful struggle against overwhelming odds determined that the Jewish people and their unique beliefs and practices would survive.
You can read more about this holiday in our book Seasons for Celebration: A Contemporary Guide to the Joys, Practices and Traditions of the Jewish Holidays.

A Jewish friend who had been raised in foster homes told me how she had mistakenly lit all eight candles the first night when she finally had her own home and could celebrate the holiday. Because of this mistake, Karen and I took pains to ensure that we gave very specific instructions on how to light the Hanukkah menorah, which holds the eight candles plus the shamash (the serving candle used to light the others).

Then one year a non-Jewish friend asked me for a menorah. I gave him the menorah, candles and a copy of SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION. Only Karen and I had forgotten to write one instruction: the candles remain burning until they burn up -- they are NOT blown out. My non-Jewish friend said a blessing after lighting the candles, and promptly blew them out as if they were birthday cake candles. So much for the "complete" instructions Karen and I thought we had written.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I’ve Seen the Future of Banking and (I Hope) It Works

I found the December 17th Wall Street Journal article “Putting Your Money Where Your Mouse Is” by Joseph De Avila very interesting. The article described numerous online financial initiatives, including ones designed to help young people manage their money better.

As someone who wrote a “Money Matters” newspaper column in the ‘70s in Philadelphia, I found these new initiatives incredibly encouraging. I have always thought that basic money management should be a required course in every high school. How else do we expect people to learn about financial matters?

And I particularly enjoyed reading in the article that two of the companies discussed use Twitter to connect with their social media “communities.” I immediately went on my Twitter account and started following @Wachovia and @SmartyPig to watch how well they use Twitter to respond to questions.

Read the article and then check out some of the sites to recommend to people you know who could use this online financial assistance.

Keeping Teens Safe on Social Media Networks

I’m a great supporter of social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook for business connections. Yet I understand that these places can be stalking grounds for cyberbullies who prey on insecure teens.

Sue Shellenbarger’s Work & Family column in the December 17th Wall Street Journal -- "Cyberbully Alert: Web Sites Make It Easier to Flag Trouble” -- is an excellent source of information on this subject for parents and teen educators.

The article explains the different abuse reporting systems on MySpace, Facebook, and YouTube, then concludes with this paragraph, with which I wholeheartedly agree:
Then, join the sites your child uses and learn log-in information and URLs. This will help you flag problems effectively.
Only recently I suggested this to a mother of a teen who wanted to join Facebook. The mother didn’t want to be bothered learning about this site so she told the daughter she couldn’t join Facebook. But what I wonder is whether the mother is making a major error because her daughter will probably join Facebook in secret, and the mother has given up the opportunity to police her daughter’s use of Facebook.

The article also quoted Parry Aftab, the executive director of WiredSafety.org. I hadn’t heard of this organization, so I went on the site and was impressed by the available information. If you need help dealing with cyberbullying, check out this site.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

College Applications: The Paradox of Having to Write Well Even If You're a Math Major

I've been contemplating the paradox of college application essays. Regardless of what your planned college major may be, if you want a good chance of getting into a top college -- besides having high SAT scores and a high GPA you have to be able to write well. Because how well an applicant writes his/her college application essays can have a significant impact on that applicant's acceptances.

Given this paradox, I'm pondering how well high school seniors are prepared to write good college application essays and how prepared they are to write good college course papers. And I'm also pondering whether, a few years from now, college applicants will not be required to write college application essays. Instead they'll submit a YouTube video answering the essay questions. Or provide their own password-protected websites.

As a writer, I find it discouraging that writing skills will become less important in the future. And that said, I'm off to do more social media networking to promote my novel MRS. LIEUTENANT.

(At 9 p.m. Eastern time tonight I'm going to be a guest on the BlogTalkRadio show Urban Literary Review. You'll be able to listen to the interview later if you can't catch the show live.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Lt. Commander Mollie Sanders Comes to Life on the Internet

My husband Mitch and I have written two screenplays about Lt. Commander Mollie Sanders, a Navy officer who has to be smarter and better than the male Navy officers with whom she serves. And because Mollie Sanders is an electronic weapons officer, she finds herself in numerous dangerous situations.

I've been developing our two screenplays and additional story material into a proposed graphic novel series. And I wanted to make this proposed series come alive off the page.

I asked my daughter Yael Miller to create a website to present the project as part of the website solution packages Miller Mosaic LLC offers individuals and small businesses.

Visit Lt. Commander Mollie Sanders to see what a terrific website Yael created to introduce Mollie's world.

And if you know any graphic novel publishers who might be interested in this project, send them the link to this website. They might just thank you for this.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Help Bring Holiday Cheer to Residents of a Nursing Home

My friend Nancy Sutherland has given me the opportunity to cheer up a lonely senior citizen who may have no family visiting during the holiday season.

This is the fifth year that Nancy has brought holiday cheer through a Mary Kay community service project. This year's "Adopt-a-Grandparent" is to cheer residents of a nursing home in West Chester, Pennsylvania. I bought one of the 275 custom gift baskets she is putting together so that no one will be disappointed -- and you can buy one too.

Help Nancy bring cheer to these senior citizens by donating now.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Join Xerox in Thanking the Troops

Xerox has partnered with other organizations for an innovative "thanks to the troops" email postcard program. See my MRS. LIEUTENANT blog to read about this. Then click through to send an email postcard of thanks.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE: A New Film About Mumbai That Should Be Seen

The Fox Searchlight film SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE has an excellent chance of being nominated for Best Picture when Oscar time rolls around. And, having seen the movie, I believe the movie is deserving of such recognition.

The price of admission is well worth it for the unraveling of the mystery of how an uneducated boy living on the streets knew the answers to the questions on the television show "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" -- and that's before the other compelling elements of the story are added to the mix.

Yet. as a December 12th Entertainment Weekly article points out, someone watching the movie can experience a major jolt. Suddenly on screen in the movie are scenes in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) that bring to mind similar scenes seen on the recent news coverage of the attacks in Mumbai. In fact, I found myself momentarily taken out of the movie when viewing scenes at Victoria Terminus train station or buildings that looked like they could have been the Taj Hotel.

I waited a week before seeing the movie so as to have some distance from reality before seeing this enchanting fantasy. (Be warned: While the movie has an upper ending, including an invigorating dance scene during the credits, there are also some very brutal and some very disturbing scenes. Some of these scenes unintentionally explain some of the background of what happened now in Mumbai.)

You can read the story about the disconnect between reality and the movie in Entertainment Weekly. But don't let my blog post warning or the Entertainment Weekly article stop you from seeing this movie. If you don't see this movie, you'll miss out on one of the best movies of the year -- or perhaps one of the best movies of the past few years.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Send Holiday Cards for Military Personnel, Veterans, Wounded Soldiers and Their Families

Today is Sunday, December 7th. Sixty-seven years ago on Sunday, December 7, 1941, Japanese warplanes attacked Pearl Harbor, killing and wounding thousands of American troops.

Thus this is a very appropriate day for me to post about participating in a program to send holiday greeting cards to military personnel, veterans, wounded soldiers, and their families.

I learned about this program through comments on LinkedIn, a professional social media site. Some of the comments indicated that we should show support for the troops all year round, which of course I agree with. Yet today I want to share the link at Snopes.com that explains this particular program because I've just signed 20 holiday cards.

This may not be a big deal for many people, but for me it is. I don't send holiday cards, personally feeling that the money and paper spent on this can be better spent. Yet I bought a box of 20 cards and signed them all because I do feel that we need to show our appreciation for our troops and their families.

Even if you're like me and usually don't send holiday greeting cards, consider sending before December 10th HOLIDAY CARDS TO OUR TROOPS.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Twitter: Using This Social Media Platform for Business

Someone whom I met on LinkedIn asked me how I use Twitter for business. I answered her in an email, and then she and I both realized I'd written a blog post.

Below is my answer to her. And I hope that, if you haven't signed up for Twitter before, you will now. And if you do, be sure to follow me -- I'm @ZimblerMiller on Twitter -- and let me know you signed up for Twitter after reading this blog post.

The trick on Twitter is two-fold:

To follow people who can help you learn more for your own business.

To follow people with whom you can have a conversation about services you offer (but not blatantly).

I use Tweetbeep.com but there are other similar aps -- it's like Google Alerts for Twitter. I get every tweet about book marketing -- then I check out the people, see who they are, and if I think that I can learn from them or they can learn from me, I follow them. (I don't automatically follow back people who follow me.)

Because of my interests, I've become joint venture partners with people on Twitter who have similar interests. @MailOurMilitary and @NancyMK and I did a fundraising campaign this summer for Operation Soldier Care on Twitter, Facebook and our three blogs plus some other sites.

You start engaging -- giving valuable info and links to valuable info (not necessarily your own) plus you can use Twitterfeed.com as I do to automatically have links to my new blog posts go on my Twitter account. I also post articles on Ezinearticles.com, which now has an automatic option that posts links to these new articles on my Twitter account when the articles are approved.

I'm visible -- trying to help people as they try to help me. It's a wonderful exchange of business ideas.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Online Novels: Susan Crealock Creates a Website Listing Books Available in Their Entirety for Free on the Internet

I recently had the pleasure of coming upon the website Online Novels, which provides the titles and links of almost 500 books that can be read in their entirety online for free. The books are listed by category with brief descriptions.

I wanted to know how the creator of this website, Susan Crealock, came up with this idea, which I think is terrific. Susan very graciously agreed to tell her story of the creation of her site. Here’s Susan’s story:

I put my Online Novels site on the web just over two months ago but, in a way, its genesis dates from 1978 – long before personal computers, blogs and browsers – when I started writing a story (the words "novel" or "book" are too pretentious to describe this modest effort) for my own amusement.

Because I didn't own a typewriter, I transcribed the text longhand in a series of notebooks. And when my employer installed computer terminals in its programmers' cubicles, I started inputting the text on the company's mainframe. Certain of my anonymity, I printed copies of the chapters as I progressed, until one day when I received a printout of chapter five covered with exclamation marks and comments.

Years later one of the computer room operators confessed to me that the staff used to rip my chapters off the printer and pass them around for everyone to read! With my cover blown, it was back to writing in longhand.

When the story was close to completion, I got busy with other projects, put the manuscript in a cardboard box, and forgot about it. In 1996 my husband, two cats and I moved aboard our boat. And the box went into storage, where it remained while we wound down our data processing careers, sailed to Mexico and eventually moved to Europe.

Last year we shipped our household goods to Italy and the box caught up with me. In this past March I dug out the manuscript, went into a frenzy of rewriting and committed the text to my PC.

Anyone who works with computers knows the necessity of backing up essential data, and I'm somewhat obsessive in this respect. I printed the story, committed it to a CD, put it on a Palm PDA, and copied the text to a secondary hard drive.

One day when perusing Google I realized I could create a blog from the story, not for others to read but as the ultimate backup. Feeling like a cuckoo laying her eggs in another bird's nest, I created a private blog some time in April.

Several months later, wondering if anyone else would read it, I selected the option to make the blog available on the internet and waited for readers. And waited. With more than 100 million blogs available on the World Wide Web, it's hardly surprising mine went undetected. I needed a strategy. A bit of research turned up a number of sites that list novels available on the internet. I submitted my blog to them, and readers started trickling in.

After this preamble, I'm finally getting to the point. However grateful I was at being included in someone else's list, I didn't want to depend on others. So I decided to create a site of my own – Online Novels – and embed my story within it as one of the offerings.

Initially I felt that 75 novels was a minimum number to be credible. I wanted descriptions for the books, and the novels had to be free and complete. Since the start of the project, Online Novels – now with almost 500 entries – has taken on a life of its own, and the inclusion of my story is merely an afterthought.

The techie stuff: I use two types of tracking software, Sitemeter and Google Analytics, which complement each other. Google Analytics allows one to parse data in countless ways – it's a statistics junkie's dream – while Sitemeter provides detailed information about individual visits. The data for the blog entries themselves reside in several tables of an Access database.

Broken links are a common and annoying feature on many novel sites. I check the links of 60-80 books a day and eliminate those that are M.I.A. or no longer free. Lulu, the self-publishing company, has given me permission to link to their books as well as to use their descriptions and novel covers. This is a great source of material, but since there's no category called "free novels," ferreting out the freebies is very time consuming. Other sources are requests from authors for inclusion and queries that I send out.

Just over half of the traffic to Online Novels comes from search engines while 11 percent is direct, presumably from people bookmarking the blog, and the remainder comes from links on other sites. I can't overemphasize the importance of links, first as sources of traffic in their own right and second because Google uses a link count in determining a website's ranking. You can have the most wonderful site in the world, but if it's languishing on Google page 245 after a search, it might as well not exist.

The most enjoyable aspect of maintaining Online Novels is corresponding with many of the authors whose books are listed in my blog. Their humor and support make even the drudgery of link-checking worthwhile.

Where do I go to find a good free book on the internet? To Project Gutenberg, a priceless collection of classics. I download a book to my Palm, prop myself up in bed, set the screen to autoscroll and watch the immortal words of Conrad, Austen and Thackeray roll by. Now that is bliss!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Perry Belcher Explains Social Media for Business Purposes

Christina Hills' Shopping Cart Queen blog had a great YouTube video by Perry Belcher explaining social media such as Twitter and Facebook in the context of business opportunities. The video is a deceptively simple explanation -- and one that's definitely worth the 10 minutes' running time. Enjoy!