Make Money Selling Photos

May 20, 2010

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This guest post is by The Digerati Life, a site dedicated to a wide range of personal finance topics, from online banking and investing to credit card use and debt management. You can check out the site’s OptionsHouse review or their TradeKing review for a taste.

[Editor’s note: I’d like to welcome the visitors from  While there are a handful of finance-related articles on The Soap Boxers, the site is very broad based and includes sports, fiction, politics and more.  Find out more about us and check out some of the other 500+ articles on the site.]

Could you really make money by snapping off a few pictures and uploading them to some website or another? I have been looking into this possibility lately and one thing is clear –- not just anyone can make money in this way because you need to have some degree of skill. If you take a blurred photo with someone’s head cut off, the chances are you can expect to make zero sales.

But with that said, there are possibilities for you if you can take reasonable photos. There are lots of websites that allow you to sell your photos through their platform, and they take a small cut of each sale to keep going. Some of them are very well known and are best left to the professional photographers, but others are not so intimidating and can be good for the more casual crowd.

One thing I have noticed is that most people are known for favoring a particular style of photography. For instance, some folks are known for shooting landscapes. Others are known for taking unusual angles and snapshots of mundane and everyday subjects. And there are those who concentrate solely on taking photos of people. The possibilities are endless but it certainly seems to pay to be recognized as a photographer who specializes on a particular style of photography.

I’ve also noticed that when it comes to sales, the people who’ve had the most success with selling their images are those with the most images and photos up for sale online. Well, this makes sense since it’s a simple numbers game, for sure: the fewer photos you have available, the less chances you’ll have of someone coming across your work and appreciating what you’ve done. If you have a thousand photos available for sale though, you’ll get some pretty good benefits as a result:

  • You stand more chance of your photos coming up in search results.
  • Once people find your work, they will probably spend more time looking through what you have to sell.
  • The more photos you have on sale, the greater your chances of having a buyer come back as repeat business.
  • With a bigger portfolio, you have a greater opportunity to make more sales and income on an ongoing basis.

Most sites will let you sell different rights to your photos. For instance I went on the Fotolia site the other day and they have three different types of rights you can sell. For many sites, the simplest one you can charge is a one use only fee. This is a cheaper option that allows you to retain the main rights to your photo so that you can sell it repeatedly. Just imagine -– one good photo could earn you a lot of money if you never sell it outright.

Another type of fee is one that permits the buyer to buy the photo outright. In this situation, you no longer retain the rights as the photographer. You may or may not want to do this, depending on how popular the photo is with other buyers. But if you do let these rights go, you can do so at a much higher price.

This seems to be a great way for hobbyist photographers to enter this market. You could be making some nice additional cash by selling your photos online if you have a talent for taking them.


If you like this post, check out The Digerati Life.

NaNoWriMo Wrapup

December 1, 2009

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Guest writer Martin Kelly races toward the NaNoWriMo deadline – will he get to 50,000 words by November 30?

This is the third NaNoWriMo writing diary from Martin.  You may also want to read part 1 and part 2.

11/20 – Chapter 23 and 24. I was flying home today. Writing on an airplane is difficult. The guy in front of me was reclined, and I am kind of heavy, so the laptop screen was not at a good angle. I spent most of my hour on the ground in Chicago correcting typing errors from three hours on the air.

In the story, the main character has learned to do something that is very hard for men, he is asking for help. We will have to see how well he accepts the help. At this point, the idea of having him watch like a little kid actually seems quite natural. His mother in law is being nice, on orders from her daughter and husband. The main character is doing his best to be nice to her as well. He of course does not know she is his Nemesis. They are having Thanksgiving. He is complimenting her cooking at every opportunity, and he honestly means it. This is her weak spot, and it is having an effect. She can’t help but enjoy being told how good of a cook she is. His wife also tells her mother that he seems ok with having kids now, that is just one more step to making her like him.

The day following Thanksgiving, black Friday, all of the female characters head off to the city to shop, in this case it is Saint Louis. The main character meets up with his childhood friend. This is a development chapter where you get to learn more about how he grew up. Several of the truths about him, his father and his mother are debunked. He breaks down and empties is heart to his friend; all of his fears, his concerns and what has happened to him. The friend does not believe at first but their common background pulls them together.

11/21 – Chapters 25 and 26. I hit 40,000 words today. It is good to be home, but I had to plan my writing time. Both chapters are rather short. More development and a return of the religious men. I am attempting to get the people who are trying to help the main character all working together. With the men it is easy, mostly because I am a man, and with men, good food and a little mutual razzing results in cooperation. I do not know how I am going to incorporate the women. His wife is going to be supportive separate from the men. She understands more than he does that a marriage is a partnership. I have developed her into the smartest person in the book.

11/22 – Chapter 27. Writing on Sunday again, just to keep going. I am so close to the NaNoWriMo goal that I don’t want to stop. I also think I can actually finish this book, with a conclusion! I dreamed up a final scene, now I just have to get there. Right now, the women have returned and the best friends are expecting their first child. This is a good nudge for the main character towards the responsibility of fatherhood. Now he just has to show his wife that he has ‘changed’ enough to take it on. Another short chapter. I may have to reorganize the chapters to make them flow better, but that can wait. I still haven’t had anyone else review it yet, I am kind of nervous about that. My wife will be the first with Kosmo having the second look, then it should be ready for the Casually Observing community.

11/23 – Chapter 28. Lots going on at home to get in the way of writing. The eldest son is back from college for the break and in laws are coming in for the holiday as well. This is my family, not the story. Matching up the time line to real life has helped but can be confusing in a blog. Back to the story. The main character and his wife have a day alone. Some more revelations about their childhood. The main character has always had a learning disability, specifically reading. In school, even though she was younger than him, she had been assigned as his ready buddy, to help him out.

I included a touching scene where she gets to reenact helping him as he tries to share her love of reading. He tries to get her to restart her dream of going to college, more than the community college effort that she is in. Currently she is trying to get basic office skills to have a part time job, her dream had been to become a veterinarian. She is reluctant, mostly because of cost and because he is putting forth too many things for her to hold on to at one time. He has suggested in the last couple of chapters that they get her a new car, that they have children and that she go back to college for her dream. She promises to think about it, then she talks him into taking a course at the community college. It is a farm management course that will be good for him, but he is uncertain, he is not exactly college material.

11/24 – Chapter 29. The main character has to have his checkups scheduled back in chapter 4. He heads into town with his wife. They do some things at the community college before he sees the dentist. His teeth are fine now. I ended the chapter with them at lunch, before he sees his family doctor. His wife is working all of the things she has promised to do, looking into college for the vet degree and checking on the feasibility of getting a new car, or at least a car that is new to them. I allude to her car being on its last legs several times in this chapter. I don’t know what I am going to do in the next chapter yet. He has to see his family doctor and go over his injuries and the affects. His memory problem will have to be discussed eventually and this may be the right place. Oh well, I will see tomorrow.

11/25 – Chapters 30 and 31. My step mother in law is in town. We don’t get along very well so I have been retreating to my room, leaving my kids to deal with her. On the bright side, I did get a lot of writing done. In chapter 30, all is good for the main character. I used the family doctor to fill in a lot of his family history both for him and the reader. His dad wasn’t really a drunk, he had stress and medical issues that drove him away from his wife out of shame. I have tried to temper the character of his mother as well. She isn’t as mean as I portrayed her at the beginning, she had a rough time and her youngest son was disappointing her.

Chapter 31 everything goes down hill for the hero. His old drinking buddies show up and take him into town. He ends up at the same bar that he always goes too. The bar maid is helpful, but assures him that they had not fooled around. She lets him know that he is (was) a jerk and should go back to his wife. Without explaining why, he asks for her help escaping from the guys. The only person he knows to call is his father in law. Although the father in law does come to get him, thing do not go well. The hero is seriously worried about getting his ass kicked by this man. To avoid both a beating and his wife he asks to be turned over to the sheriff, expecting to spend at least the night in jail for going to a bar after being found responsible in a drunk driving accident.

11/26 – Chapters 32 and 33. The relatives are still in town, so more writing. I have passed the 50,000 word mark. NaNoWriMo has declared me a winner. You get icons to put on your email, facebook and myspace. You also get a nice certificate to download. I am going to try to figure out how to include that certificate in my final publication.

In the story, the sheriff’s deputy, who just happens to know the hero, and the father in law figure out how to keep the ‘friends’ away. The hero is an idiot, but that can be overcome. He fesses up to his father in law about not knowing who these friends were, then spills his guts on the whole memory thing. The father in law believes him and takes him home, but makes a side trip to get grain for the animals as an excuse for running into town and the late return to their respective farms

11/27 – Chapters 34 and 35. More good writing. After spending a guilt filled night lying next to his wife, our hero starts confessing to her. His doctor told him back in chapter 30 that the best way to recover was to include his wife and not have secrets. He finally breaks down and follows that advice. He also confesses to the sheriff’s deputy, but he doesn’t come completely clean. He does not admit to his wife, or anyone else, that he doesn’t remember her.

Chapter 35 is a confrontation with the worst of the drinking buddies. An almost fight occurs that is broken up by the resourceful, and armed wife. She insists on taking him to the hospital, just in case he had another head injury. This involves her brother, since he has to come over to take care of the farm. More confessions to include the mother in law and another confrontation with the bad friend, this time in court. Trusting his wife is the best thing our hero has done so far. I told you in an earlier blog, he is an idiot, but that can be helped.

11/28 – Chapters 36 and 37. Some of my relatives are leaving, so this might be my last double chapter night for a while. The story is building up to Christmas. The hero gets his wife a puppy, and convinces her to chase her dream of becoming a vet. Just because I really didn’t like the character, I had the bad friend get hurt in a bar fight. Probably not necessary for the story, but felt good.

11/29 – Chapter 38. All my visitors are gone. Lots of cleaning, not much writing. Got several pep talk emails from NaNoWriMo. I really haven’t used them very much, I just participated in the word count challenge and got the reward. I think it was me not doing much, not them. They seem like really nice people who want to help. The write ins could be a lot of fun if I had the time.

In the story, one of the other drinking buddies tries to straighten out his life. He is heading out of town to pursue his dreams and tells the hero, thanking him for standing up to the bully that they use to drink with. The hero also decides to try to better himself by taking an extension class at the community college, to be a better farmer. For the first time, significant time passes, well a couple of months, instead of a day by day account.

11/30 – NaNoWriMo is officially over. I already made the word count several days ago, to the finish is sort of an anti climax for me. I added to chapter 38 and started chapter 39. I wanted to show a growth in the two main characters’ love lives as well as growth on a personal level. The main character has regained his strength and his wife notices his physique. He also uses his new knowledge to actually work his own farm, not well of course, but still his own sweat and effort. I think I have a good ending planned. I want to finish this book before Christmas. It is a goal that is within reach. Probably six more chapters to get there, then lots of editing. If Kosmo will let me, I will post the book as a Christmas present to the Casually Observing community.

Writer’s Diary (NaNoWriMo)

November 23, 2009

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We pick up where we left off last week, as guest writer Martin Kelly continues in his quest to meet the NaNoWrioMo goal of 50,000 words in a single month!

11/13 – Chapter 15, my main character learned how to milk a cow.  Almost everything in this chapter came from listening to my father in law talk to my kids about growing up on a farm.  I was actually using the story to encourage them to go to college.  He escaped and didn’t want them to have to work that hard.  I am trying to be as faithful to the stories I have heard as possible.  On word count, I have passed 23k.  This is good, since I continue to re-edit earlier work, mostly with deletions.  I have found lots of spelling/typing errors and just can’t help myself, I have to fix them

11/14 – I’m at the half way point!!  More than 25,000 words.  Chapters 16 and 17, my main character is left alone in his house for the first time.  He snoops around.  Mostly he finds embarrassing things.  His wife has a lot of lingerie, some of it pretty slutty.  This is stuff he got for her before his ‘change’.  He also finds his box of adult videos.  He starts lifting weights to get back his strength.  Since he is only recently out of the hospital, he gets worn down and fall asleep at the end of chapter 16.

When he wakes up at the beginning of chapter 17, the weather has turned bad.  He has to move quickly to take care of the animals.  By the time he is done, his wife is home.  He is starting to do the little things to make her believe he has actually changed.  He is performing the farm chores, he is setting and clearing the table for every meal.  He hasn’t become a perfect husband, but he is trying and she is noticing.

11/15 – Chapter 18 Okay, this was the big sex scene.  I like the way it turned out.  Not too sophomoric and not to pornographic.  I gave enough details to leave no doubts as to what went on.  I tried to think about scenes from movies and books I have read and seen with out plagiarizing.  I tried to avoid anything that would reflect on my real life experiences, to avoid embarrassing my wife.  When I am done, I will make the whole novel available to Kosmo and the rest of the casually observing community.  You can judge my success or failure.

11/16 – Chapter 19, the morning after.  The main character and his wife are still in the glow of the previous evening.  They are preparing for a day at her parents house.  They have another romp before doing all the things that have to be done around a farm.  I have included a lot of homey details to make the characters more full.  This was a short chapter, but I am close to 30,000 words.  Being on travel has given me a lot of idle time to write.  No kids, chores or anything else to distract me.  I am on the west coast, so even the television shows that I watch are over early.  Hopefully I can keep this pace up.  If I do, I might hit 60,000 words before the end of November.  I am not really aiming for a specific word count, I want to get to a good ending point for the story.  I think I have come up with a good stopping point, now I just have to get there.

11/17 – Chapter 20 The main character spends the day with his in-laws.  I must be lonely for home, I spent a lot of time describing the food.  There is also another sex scene.  I may really have to tone this down before publication.  I avoided the intimate scenes for days, now three in a row.  Another short chapter, but I passed the 30,000 word count mark  I am still ahead of plan for NaNoWriMo.  I actually have a lot of time for writing when I get to the hotel each night.  Tonight I had dinner with several co-workers, so less time and fewer words.  The key is writing every night, even if it is stuff you will have to delete later.


What did you miss over the weekend?

Diary of a Writer

November 16, 2009

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Guest writer Martin Kelly is participating in National Novel Writing Month.  NaNoWriMo pushes writers to write a fully contained 50,000 word novel (this equates to about 175 pages) in the course of just a month.  This is quite an aggressive goal – a bit too aggressive for Kosmo!  Martin shares his writing diary with us:

11/1 – calculated the word count that I will have to achieve 50,000 words by 11/30: 1667 words a day if I work every day, 1352 on weekdays and 4054 on Saturdays if I take Sundays off. Today is Sunday, and I’m taking it off.

11/2 – signed up for NaNoWriMo. Easy enough to sign up. You have to declare a genre. I chose general fiction. I may have to change to Romance later, but I am trying to stay away from that. Got to work on first chapter. I want to complete a chapter each night, about 2.5 pages in MS Word at 11pt Calibri. 1313 words by MS Word (-39 words for the day), 1316 by the web site counter. You can copy your text into a box on the web site and it will calculate your word count so far. It is considered “beta” until the end when the official counts are made. I’m going to stick with the MS Word tool for now. Introduced the main character and his wife, a couple of nurses and a doctor. Dialog is hard, description is easy, I will have to work on that. Having just been in the hospital recently helped the descriptions. Having a doctor and several nurses in the family helps too (all on my wife’s side).

11/3 – Chapter 2 was 1407 words, so I caught up from yesterday (+55 today, +16 over all). We will have to see if I can keep this pace up. Started the interaction of the main character and his wife. Since he is still in the hospital and weak, I was able to avoid dialog for a while longer. I have to stop reading what I have already written and editing. I can clean it up after 11/30. My wife is worried that I am staying up too late working on this. There are lots of support options on the web page, but I haven’t figured out how to use them yet. I am more concerned about writing right now. If I hit a block, I will probably spend some time diving into the site to get help. Everyone else who is trying, KEEP WRITING!

11/4 – Chapter 3 was 1723 words, anther good day (+329 today, +355 over all). Tried dialog today, Mother-Daughter. I will ask my wife to read it over to make sure it is realistic. I reread the first two chapters again and probably deleted more than I added. Introduced the wife’s mother and father. Started the conflict of the main character and his mother in law. It is all one sided for now, until I build up the main character. A lot of this book is going to include farming commentary. I will be depending on my father in law to make sure I do it right. He grew up on a farm in western Iowa. I am a townee.

11/5 – Chapter 4 was only 1310 words (-42 today, +313 over all). My overall count over/under count is not accurate any more as I continue to edit the earlier chapters. I think I have stopped deleting more than I am adding, but I am spending too much time editing instead of composing. I added in two more characters today and I think I am doing better with dialog. Two older men (like myself) so a little easier to think of what they would say and how they would react. Tried to capture some future chapter stuff at the suggestion of Kosmo, but can’t do it. I can revise stuff I have already written, but writing ahead poses the challenge of merging. I am writing almost like a soap opera. It all flows nicely, but I do not know where it is going.

11/6 – Chapters 5 and 6 are in the bag. I started an Excel sheet to keep track of just my totals. I was right about hosing up the count earlier in the week. My total is now 8447 words or just 100 words ahead of schedule. I really developed the characters of the main character’s minister (Methodist) and his wife’s priest (Roman Catholic). I really like both of them. That probably sound strange as I created them. I added a list of characters at the front to help me remember who everyone is, I will not include that in my word count. I brought in the news reporter who covered the accident for the local TV station. I don’t know if I will use her again, but she could be useful.

11/7 – Chapters 7 and 8 are good. I am falling behind on the word count. I got the main character out of the hospital. He is meeting his wife’s family, father in law first. Before he got out, the priest and minister set up a video of him in high school. He had been a football starter, so they had gotten footage from the TV reporter. It is all part of their effort to help him heal. I realized that in this blog, I haven’t given a summary of the story plot, so here it goes.

The basic story is that a young man (about 22 years old) is in a major accident. He was drunk and the other driver died. When he wakes up in the hospital he cannot remember anything. He spends the first few days awake listening to everyone to try to piece together what happened. His wife visits every day, that helps him a lot but also presents a problem, he doesn’t remember her. He had been a pretty lousy husband up to this point, drinking and carousing with his friends instead of taking care of their farm which he inherited from his grandfather. Her mother asks her priest and his minister to help them with their marriage. The young man confesses his problem to his minister. The minister and priest are good friends and decide to try to help the young couple together, including trying to help the young man recover his memories. The video in these chapters is supposed to give him some positive commentary on his life to this point, since he has only learned about the bad parts so far.

The plot goal is to get him to overcome his memory loss, not recover it. Finally admit to his wife what has happened. Reform his life in general, and face down the bad influences he has been hanging out with. The romance part of this story is the two main characters restarting their love life together.

11/8 – I had to keep working to stay on schedule even though it is Sunday. Chapter 9 introduced the main character’s brother in law. I needed someone to teach him what to do on his farm. Basically, his brother in law is a guide both for the main character and the reader. He tours the farm, the house, the chores and introduces some more characters for later. I am getting close to having the main character and his wife in bed. I don’t know why, but I am nervous about that.

11/9 – I was on an airplane all day traveling for business. This turned out to be a good thing. I got most of chapters 10 and 11 done. I am well ahead in word count now, about 2000 words ahead. I was uncomfortable writing a sex scene sitting next so a stranger on an airplane, so I had my characters avoid it to. I will be in a hotel room the next 11 nights so I should get a lot of writing done. I joined a writing group on NaNoWriMo today. They have “write-ins” where local groups get together at coffee shops and such to sit, talk and write. I don’t know if I will join it, but it seems friendly. There are also dedicated people in each group who have completed the event in the past who are on call to help. Help could mean explanation of the rules or help on plot. They also have a tracking graph to let you see if you are on schedule. I will have to copy my effort in every day. There is a distinct plateau and jump up on my graph.

11/10 – Chapter 12 was all description. Also started the main character taking on responsibility. I explained why only his in laws are part of the story. Dad is dead, mother move off to be with one of his older brothers. He came from a very cold family, but the farm house suggests that his mother came from a very warm and loving home. She was an only child but our character had lots of brothers and sisters. Again I don’t know what I am going to do with that, but it is an interesting branch if I need it.

11/11 – Chapter 13 the main character finds out that he was kind of a pervert. He had a rather tall stack of adult magazines that his bother in law stumbles across causing great embarrassment. Then the minister drops by to check on him. He confesses that he feels like a creep because he want to have sex with his wife, but he doesn’t know her. That is just me avoiding the sex chapter again. I am getting more comfortable with dialog. Others will have to decide if I am actually good at it. This was a short chapter so I have lost some of my advantage in words. I am right at 20,000 words now, which is still good. I have to have at least 25000 words by Sunday.

11/12 – Chapter 14 and a lot of editing of the earlier stuff. I had the time passage all messed up. I am about 3000 words ahead of my plan, which is great. In the story, the main character’s wife is having problems believing that he has changed his ways. It is hard to believe that a drunk can change quickly, even if the drying out is forced by a hospital stay. He still hasn’t told her that he has lost his memory. He is worried that he is doing everything wrong, what just about every man in the world worries about when his woman is upset.

Rockies vs. Phillies – The Philly Perspective

October 13, 2009

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40 Tech, a site that claims to be “Tech for those over 40, but not yet over the hill.”  In actuality, though, it’s a good tech site, regardless of your age.]

What a game. What a series. Fans of the Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies have a concoction of NoDoz and Maalox coursing through their bloodstreams today, following the 2:15 a.m. finish on the East Coast for game three, and the tension of three of the four games of the series. Like two heavyweight prizefighters, the two teams traded near-knockout punches in the eighth and ninth inning of game four, with the Rockies climbing off the deck to take the lead in the 8th, before the Phillies rallied to take the lead for good with two outs in the ninth. In the process, the Phillies took the series, three games to one. So, what is the take on the series in Philadelphia?

Evenly Matched
It might seem odd to call two teams evenly matched when a series only goes four games, but the last three games of this series were close, tense, and exciting. You had the feeling that the results of each game would have been different if they played one more inning in each game. The talk in Philadelphia is that the experience the Phillies gained in last year’s World Series’ run made the difference, helping them to remain patient and never panic.

Carlos Gonzalez is a Stud
Manny Ramirez may have seemed unstoppable in the National League Championship series last year, but Gonzalez topped that. Phillies fans are glad they won’t see him again during this postseason. Baseball doesn’t hand out a Most Valuable Player award during the Division Series, but if it did, Gonzalez might be one of the rare players who wins a series MVP award while playing for the losing team.

This isn’t the Last We’ve Seen of the Rockies
The Rockies have a young core that any team would love to have. Troy Tulowitzki had some rough spots in clutch moments, but is one of the better shortstops in the game. Despite his implosions in games three and four, Huston Street was one of the premiere closers in the game this year. I also don’t think I’ve seen so many live arms in the bullpen as I saw in this series.

Most Clutch Philly Team Ever
This team is the most clutch team in Philadelphia sports history. You have to understand the pessimism of Philadelphia sports fans, beaten into us by years of our teams finding new ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. This Phillies team is an abberation, coming up big time and time again. From the record-breaking sprint to overtake the Mets for the Division Title in 2007, to the epic ninth inning last night, this team exhibits resilience not often seen in these parts.

The 9th Inning of Game 4 Will Go Down in Philadelphia Sports Lore
If the Phillies manage to repeat as World Series Champions this year, the ninth inning of Game 4 will go down in Philadelphia Sports lore, alongside Matt Stairs’ home run in the NLCS last year, the infamous “Black Friday” game I attended in the 1977 NLCS, and the legendary comeback against Nolan Ryan in the 1980 NLCS to cap off four straight extra inning games. I’m sure the 9th inning was just as frustrating to Rockies’ fans as the 8th was to Phillies’ fans. Regardless of where your allegiances rest, cherish this series. We were treated to three close, exciting games, capped off by a heart-stopping finish. Now bring on the Dodgers.

Getcha Goin’

May 30, 2009

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Do you need to get something done? Maybe something that seems scary or difficult to accomplish?

I don’t have a magic bullet, but I do have a bit of energy for you. I keep this one posted at my desk, referring to it occasionally in tough times:

[read in the cave in “Dead Poet’s Society”]


…Come, my friends,
`Tis not too late to seek a newer world…
for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset,…
and tho’ we are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven,
That which we are, we are —
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find — and not to yield.
– Alfred Lord Tennyson

A day in the life of a chef

April 30, 2009

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Guest writer Phil Ossifer was formerly employed as a chef.  Today, he gives us a view of a day in the life of a chef.

Phil is also the author of the Stop the Auto Bailout article and a participant in the  Casual Observer Stock Market Contest (coincidentally, today is the deadline for submitting a prediction in the contest).

My Reoccurring Nightmare

aka – A Day in the Life of a Professional Chef

It happens about every two weeks. Eleven years after leaving the industry, I still have the panicky dreams. Everything exploding around me…confusion, smoke, sweat. Wait a minute, I never served in the military, did I?

No, of course not. This is one of the hotel’s kitchens into which I’ve been thrust. Employees struggle to serve two busy restaurants, room service, lounge food, and I’m apparently in charge. Looking down, I find to my great discomfort that I only have a white t-shirt on — no chef’s coat and no pants. Worse, I suddenly realize that I do not know any of the menus, nor any of the employees that I must have personally hired and trained. Why do I still work here; didn’t I quit years ago? Don’t I have another high-paying job — or, or did I get fired? Even though this dream invariably wakes me up, I’m always grateful for the end.

The real nightmare isn’t quite as bad. I know the menus, people, and have a pressed uniform. I know the job, and I know that the salary is pretty good, even if the 70-ish weekly hours makes for a sufficiently pathetic hourly wage. I also know that I will work nearly every day, excepting about three Mondays a month, and will work every night, weekend, and holiday. I do miss having Thanksgiving with my family for the last nine years, but that is part of the price.

The “normal” weekday runs from 9 am to 8 pm, unless a breakfast cook calls in sick, in which case I rush to make the 5:30 am opening. Thankfully, this occurs only about once monthly.

The day starts by greeting those on duty, then as quickly as possible retreating to the office to get a handle on events of the day. Seven hooks each hold a clipboard of the days BEO’s (Banquet Event Orders) and associated prep lists. Today is a normal weekday…4 lunch events and 2 dinners. The lunches are for various sizes of groups (25, 30, 180, 90), and are of routine composition. For example, the party of 25 Kiwani’s women will have a tossed salad, Chicken Piccata, fresh steamed veggies, Linguini, garlic bread, and a slice of pecan pie. Two of the other three parties also have tossed salads, so one cook will plate all of the salads at once, rolling the finished cart into the walk-in coolers for holding. The 180 is having a pork loin buffet, which is a great relief since plating 180 additional meals is rather taxing. Of course, all four events serve precisely noon, which coincides with the restaurant rush, so I may have to pull in a few draftees from outside the kitchen to get us through plate-up.

At 9:15, I take the elevator to the banquet kitchen, and meet the lead banquet cook for our daily catch-up, where he informs me of the status of “prep” for all of today’s banquets. By this point, he and his crew are done with prep for lunches, and are working on dinner prep. By 2 pm, they will be well into prep for the following day. I write all of the prep lists on Sunday for the week- one sheet for each day’s banquets that details all food items, quantities, procedures, and assignments for the day. The banquet lead works from this sheet. Prep includes any thawing needed, so that on Tuesday, the banquet lead is ensuring that Friday’s 400 chicken breasts are placed into a thaw area of the cooler. At about this time, a dishwasher delivers an electric warming cart containing a few hundred clean plates and lids. Hot plates = no cold food.

By 10:00, I am back in my office, working on the purchasing orders for the week. I spend several hours over two days, preparing to place orders with all five of our major vendors, and a few of about 10 specialty vendors (the fresh herbs guy, the coffee company, the specialty cheese/chocolate company). I meet with most of the vendors at the hotel to place orders and field sales pitches for new products. Each Wednesday and Friday, cooks take time to receive the deliveries into the walk-in coolers and freezers.

11:30, and the lunch rush comes…I jet up to a banquet dining room to inspect the buffet food which has been delivered to the chafing dishes and tables. There are mirror displays with fruit, cheese, vegetables, dips, and small fruit and vegetable sculptures. There are hot pans of sliced, roast pork with port wine chanterelle mushroom sauce, twice-baked potatoes, and more. The dessert table looks good, but there are only three varieties of desserts (instead of the requested five), so I jump back to the banquet kitchen to yell at the lead. Of course, extras are always on hand, so it’s only a 10-minute affair to correct this error.

I stay to work the assembly-line plate-up lunches, then head back to the restaurants to check in. Runners would have notified me if there were problems while I was gone. I grab a rueben and fries, and choke this down in five minutes.

This afternoon, I interview several applicants for a lunch-cook position. Having several applicants at one time is quite lucky, and I already know that at least one of them will have a job at the end of the day. In between appointments, I spend some time training a newer line cook for the tablecloth (aka fancy) restaurant, and help two new hires complete their paperwork. Why doesn’t HR do this? Uh…I dunno. Never took the time to find out.

By 4 pm, I am writing the nightly specials for the tablecloth restaurant, and may even prepare a sauce for it. This might be the only cooking I do today, depending on how the restaurant does tonight. The evening sparks up another round of banquet plate-ups (one is a filet mignon dinner for 220 – big bucks!), and checking over the 90-or-so meals that will be produced in the tablecloth restaurant tonight. I stand at the exit window for nearly two hours to ensure each order is correct – hot, cooked right, well-presented, timed with appetizers, etc. The family café restaurant is also in full swing, and will serve upwards of 150 – 200 meals tonight. The café is running pretty well at present, so I may only stop in for one minute tonight to greet the cooks, and while en route, will probably snag an extra filet mignon dinner from the banquet kitchen. We always prepare for 5% over estimated head count.

By 7:30, the main rush is over, and I begin to wrap up for the day – checking personnel schedules for the next day (making needed changes), checking the BEO’s for red flags, cleaning up the office a bit, then heading out by 8 pm if all’s well. If it was Saturday, I would be here until about 10 pm, then back in at 6:00 am Sunday for preparation of the Sunday brunch. Sunday night, I usually get off early (6 pm), as this is the slowest night of the week for the tablecloth restaurant.

I am keeping an eye on this weekend, as we have two concurrent wedding reception dinners, which tend to be a lot of work. Most Saturdays include one wedding reception, but two are not uncommon. This Saturday, I also have to do an ice sculpture for one of the weddings. Thursday, I will pull the ice out to temper it for several hours, then carve the sculpture Thursday night in the parking lot. This will take about 1 ½ hours, after which time I’ll cart the finished, fragile sculpture into the walk-in freezer, ready for the banquet in two days. Once in a while, the sculptures crack or shatter, thus I leave two days for margin of safety.

I get home, peel off the greasy, smelly clothes, take a shower, gulp a beer, and soon am asleep.

It was a day.

A Day in the Life of an Air Traffic Controller

April 16, 2009

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Air route traffic controllers at work at the W...

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This is the first in the “A day in the Life” series. The series will pop up periodically on Thursdays. Most of the articles will be shorter than this. However, I did not feel that I can edit very much out of this tale without losing value for the reader.

Walrus served as an air traffic controller in Chicago from 1971 – 1981. Today, he shares a slice of that life with us.

A night day in the life of Air Traffic Control Specialist (ATCS), Chicago’s Enroute Control Center, Iowa City and Joliet High Sectors.

The ATCS responsibilities: Safe, orderly and Expeditious flow of air traffic into and out of controlled airspace.

Your day begins again Sunday at 9 pm; you prepare for work, eat breakfast, kiss the wife and kids good-bye and drive to your day job. This is the second time you’ve been to work today, as you worked the Sunday day shift, and as you pass through the lighted guard gate you realize that it’s only been 8 hours since your last shift ended. But, then this is the last day in your normal workweek.

The job has its pros and cons. Pros – the cafeteria’s open 7x24x365 so there’s always hot food and beverages. There’s a Marine at the gate so no one can repossess the Corvette and the local cops can’t chase you in to the compound. When you fly the ARTCC clubs plane, your brothers provide the best radar traffic service money can buy. Cons- well the night cooks don’t get 5 stars. The accommodations look and feel real old at night, like the inside of a Denny’s restaurant at midnight on their 20th anniversary. And most controller smoke like chimneys.

This is a real 7x24x365 job, and your work week’s normally 2 swing shifts, 2 day shifts and a midnight shift with your day off rotating every week. These rotating days make it difficult to have a social life outside the Air Traffic community. Most normal folks work M-F and have their nights and weekends off, that’s all of your family and most pre-ATC friends.

You’ll sync up with your real life about 4 times a year. 2 weekends, back to back, every 8 weeks and you Never Never Never answer the home phone on your scheduled weekends off. The guy with the most influence in your life is the supervisor who manages the work schedule. Thank god, that’s your boss because he gets your team most of the national holidays off. How – black magic, bribery, blackmail, murder? I don’t know, but I love that man.

The shift starts at 11 pm, normally Sunday midnights are easy work unless weather makes it a fright, the biggest concern will be that Monday morning rush starts before the end of this shift when the team will be the most tired. The flying public likes to get a jump on the workweek, and O’Hare, Midway, Milwaukee and a host of small airports will all start having departures around 5am. Fortunately most of the arrivals that support those departing flights come in before 3 am. Maybe we’ll do some On The Job training and let the Aside try his hand on that rush.

Proper etiquette requires you to relieve the position your assigned before the 11 pm shift start. You grab your first cup of coffee, get the Flight Service weather briefing and head to the boards. An ATC specialist cannot leave his position until relieved and if manning a position that doesn’t have relief, OT is mandatory and someone stays until you have 10 operational hours logged, your relief arrives or someone takes over your sector. Whiners go to the watch commander, who’ll remind them that OT is mandatory and he’ll tell you when your 10 hours are up. Being reliable and on time is the key to keeping your work partners happy, that’s the team that you always relieve. The team relieving you is never the team that you always relieve.

The team doesn’t like working with strangers (non-team members) and I don’t either, so while at the briefing desk, you find out who’s on the shift with you and pray it’s mostly your teammates. My alias is Walrus (aka GI) and tonight I’m working with Hotrod and Flipper, I see EZ’s here and so is White Ryno, Whiffer and FanMan. Popeye’s got the con and the watch commander is, well let’s hope it doesn’t matter.

There are 13 ARTCC centers spanning the entire US. Toronto, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Kansas City and Denver surround Chicago center. Chicago ARTCC controls air traffic from Canada to Tennessee from Detroit, Michigan to Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s divided geographically East and West and stratified Hi-Alt and Low Alt. (@ 24,000 feet), with a specialized sector (Chicago Terminal) feeding inbound traffic to Chicago O’Hare.

Normally there’s a supervisor in each of these 5 areas but on mid’s usually only 1 supervisor is staffed and one (HMFIC) watch commander is on duty. Each of the areas is broken into sectors of airspace, usually with an inbound or outbound specialty.

There are 4 staffed positions to a sector (about 100,000 sq miles of airspace). The primary position is the Radar controller, he owns the responsibility for one sector (normally) and its operations, The second is the boom Coordinator, always another journeyman position who works between the adjacent Radar sectors and controllers doing handoffs and helping to maintain order during heavy traffic periods. This is a Sunday midnight so the boom position will not be manned until the day shift starts at 6am. The sector second in command is the manual controller; this often is not a journeyman controller and he may not be certified on radar. Its better when he is, because he’s your break relief. The lowliest position on the team is your Aside (assistant controller). This is always a trainee and they can be as helpful as a spilled cup of coffee. Under some conditions (i.e. computer is down) they’re far more useful. But they’re energetic and trusting as a new puppy and they miraculously stay awake all night. You are responsible for their actions and are their OJT instructor for this shift. But Never Never Never trust an Aside.

Back to this shift change and control take-over, if there’s a new face you do introductions and establish their abilities and capabilities because you’re taking responsibility for them, too. If you are not sure, you relieve them first. This is an insult but then they have no recourse. You look over the adjacent sectors to see who you are working with tonight. If you see something out of order you point it out, if it isn’t resolved to your liking you get the watch commander. Then you do as he orders PERIOD, you’re now riding on his responsibility, one does this rarely and a trainee who does this is unlikely to get certified.

The current radar controller provides a briefing on the live traffic already in the sector; any traffic scheduled is loaded in plastic strips and stacked in the manual man’s bays (the next 30 minutes). He points out any known conflicts that he’s approved (i.e. Descending / crossing traffic), aircraft assigned the same altitude, special military traffic or radar vectors being given to targets. He gives you heads up on any mechanical issues with the gear, radio, radar, known issues with local weather, airports etc. He’ll advise if the manual man or the Aside are/were competent (especially if you’ve just insulted his teammates) and also lets you know if some condition(s) will impact you in the next few hours (i.e. weather).

You look over his situation determine that there are no air traffic conflicts or emergencies, and you accept responsibility for control and then take his seat. This is expressed verbally and you don’t make any wisecracks knowing that every word is being recorded. The relieved controller watches your boards for the next 5 minutes, making sure you have the picture before he leaves. The hotshots make wise cracks about breathing down their necks and that’s a cue to leave immediately!

However, when stating you’ve got it, it becomes your ticket and your ass on the line. You make sure you can contact all aircraft under your control. (i.e. UA282_Chicago_ Radio Check/ Chicago_ UA282_Read U 5by5) A stuck mike or mis-tuned frequency can ruin a perfectly good day. You punch on the communications access lines (row of instant communication buttons overhead) and announce the change in controller on this sector. You communicate with the sectors on both sides and above or below you. You also do the same thing with the adjacent center(s) that feeds you traffic or whose traffic you feed and any major TRACONs (Airport Approach Controls) . Remember you don’t like working with strangers and that means voices and operating initials you don’t recognize.

You read, check and recheck all the strips on the board, check weather at the airports serviced by your sector. Make sure the radar, radio and the con-rack are all functional. You’ve checked all the communications line and by now you’ve also checked the computer system. You say the controller’s prayer (Serenity) under your breath and hope the computer stays up all shift.

So now you have the radar scope and you worry through the manual controller and his relief and the Assistant controller and his relief. Once that completes and all the shrimp boats are made (little plastic boats used to track targets), all the strips are stacked and prioritized, with all conflicts identified you’ll find the first half hour has flown by.

You now settle into your normal routine, it’s about 11:15 pm, the first coffee is depleted and you send the midnight Aside for more coffee and maybe something to snack on. (Testing his ingenuity, you never offer money) Then you and the manual man work out a break rotation and someone starts that rotation. To heck with the Aside he makes his own breaks and had better never leave your sector unmanned. The unspoken code, rudeness is for Asides and respect to all Radar-men.

Tonight’s weather at ORD 20000 O/20/220/10/30.10 so there’s a 20,000 foot ceiling with visual operational conditions at the airport, 20 miles visibility light winds out of the southwest favoring Runway 22, the normal primary at O’Hare, and the barometric pressure indicates high pressure and it’s rising. You see that the Asides are being humorous, having entered the current weather in Nebraska as “Lincoln is Dead”.

What looks like an easy night, now gets complicated. They’re shorthanded because every Sunday is sick leave Sunday. So you’ll get the opportunity to operate a combined sector (200,000 sq miles) and have two additional staff. Great, I’ve another manual man and Aside to babysit. Now everyone has rotational relieve but me , the only radar man. Shit, it’s going to be a long night. !@#$%^&*()_

Hey, Aside get me a coffee with cream and sugar right Now! United262 squawk 3200 and ident. , say altitude, then turn right heading 270 climb and maintain FL230 report leaving FL220. NorthCentral412 cleared to Chicago O’Hare via V10 Vains direct descend and maintain 10,000 reduce speed to 350 knots, your traffic is 3 o’clock 28 miles opposite direction at FL220 report leaving FL 200. Learjet 10EC say your altitude, is the governor on board tonight? Hey Denver; who’s that traffic at on my boundary head on with United 262? I need a handoff ASAP otherwise you hold him, let me know if he’s descending /GI! Speedbird 312 Ident., hey, Chicago Approach over Vains direct O’Hare at 15 descending to 10 that’s Speedbird 312 slowed to 320 knots/ GI. Ok Denver I see UA1412@FL410, Branif308@FL390, Northwest686@FL330 all inbound to O’Hare, send them over to me/GI. Naval Airstation Glenview Tower instruct Marine Sledge & Flight cleared to NAS Miramar via 29 Palms direct Iowa City direct Tuba City direct, climb and maintain FL450 report out of FL200 ASAP, combat climb approved, and launch him immediately/GI! Denver did you say you saw United262, Ok here he comes/GI. United262 contact Denver center 185.25 goodnight. Hey Flipper (Aside) ask Denver about that flight of F16’s just off Glenview direct Tuba City at FL450. And do you have a strips for a departure off Dubuque to Midway? So did you like controlling air traffic for a while, Flipper?

Gotta love this adrenaline.

Aside, why is my coffee cold?

Monday morning you’d planned to work your ass off when the rush started at 5am, but your team leader shows up an hour early for his day shift and relives you as the flight plans build in the departure bays. So by 5:45 am you head to the cafeteria and have dinner. The rest of the team gathers one at a time over the next hour and at 7am it’s agreed to go to Chicago to breakfast club. That’s just 7 am beers after work. Whew what a week and now you have the next two days off. Heck the wife won’t be home from work until 5 pm tonight, bartender I’ll buy that next round.

So today was another great 16 hour day in the life of an ATCS, no hits, no errors and no one left on base, but it could be worse. At least tonight international tensions didn’t trigger a DEFCON5, locking the blast doors and cutting everyone off the coffee supply. Tomorrow you could be assigned a crash scene and be knee deep in the mess of an accident investigation. The cause, some circumstance within the scope of your Air Traffic Control Center. Or maybe you’ll have to transcribe recoding tapes for a team member who’s had a Near Mid Air. It could cost him his job, and you’ll provide the expert testimony at his hearing. He’s likely one of your best friends. Never tell them you want to be a watch commander when you grow up someday?

Yes, tonight today was a good day.

For your viewing pleasure I’d suggest the movie Pushing Tin. It was pretty accurate ATCS representation through about 1981. However, that was when Mr. Reagan and PATCO disagreed on the matter of my financial compensation and we parted ways. I understand they’ve made several improvements since I last put on a headset.

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Stop the auto bailout

April 1, 2009

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Today’s guest post is from Phil Ossifer (not his real name), writer of the blog Chunga goes wild. Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Soap Boxers.

Phil works in IT, but his journey to the world of Information Technology was interrupted by a jaunt as a chef that involved training at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and a successful career as a chef / ice sculptor. After mastering the world of food, Phil turned his talents to computers. In the process, he logged classroom time toward his Bachelor’s degree in four different decades. Last year, he gave the university an ultimatum – grant him tenure or give him his degree.

Without further ado … “Stop the auto bailout” by Phil Ossifer.

The U.S. Government is making a big mistake by providing additional $billions in another attempt to bail out major players in our failing automotive industry.

Why do we think a few more $billion will help? These companies were losing money even during the economic boom (GM and Chrysler are over $100 billion in debt at the end of 2008, and it has gotten much worse). All of this after already supplying them with $15 billion in 2008.

We should not continue to throw good money after bad in attempts to keep the industry afloat longer, since this will ultimately make our situation worse. It adds billions to our debt, extending the depth and length of the current recession/depression. Hey! National debt is not limitless – eventually, other countries would be unwilling to buy our debt. There are indications that China is already shying away from taking on new U.S. debt. Played out, this is similar to a large auto company failing – only this time it’s a nation.

I realize that there is much pain and gnashing of teeth that will result from a failure of GM or Chrysler, but unfortunately, I think our automakers are destined to fail in the face of superior competition. That’s not an anti-American slam; it’s my objective assessment.

This is not the first time we’ve had a painful parting with a traditional industry that we needed at one time. Over the decades, we’ve had many changes (e.g. outsourcing of manufacturing, toy-making, etc) that have led to job loss and other trickle-down effects. Example: The Japanese beat us at consumer electronics manufacturing and we ended up turning away from that industry. It would have been foolish to try to keep it afloat by adding to taxpayer debt. We had to change, and we have to continue to change to compete in the global economy.

What the U.S. is good at – and has to keep doing to survive – is innovation. We invent something new, lead the pack, then inevitably a competing country beats us at our game, and we re-invent again. Doing this starts with solid education. This process is not something to be feared, because 1) it is inescapable, as more developing countries get in the game, and 2) there is a lot of good in this process – quality improves, choices improve, and prices drop.

I realize that this does not provide any help for the many autoworkers, supporting sub-industries – and trickle-down effects like adding to the mortgage default rate, reduced spending, etc, etc.and I do not have an answer for that.

But let’s not delay the inevitable. The loss of our automakers is pain that we must go through, because our alternatives are either 1) go through the pain now, or 2) go through the pain a little later, but with of billions in new debt. These continued bailouts can hasten the pace towards financial insolvency, and I for one don’t feel like learning the Mandarin language just yet.

I admit that this may be easier for me to say this since I’m more removed from the direct effects of the failing auto industry. I don’t like it, but I think that it is our reality.