My New Cooking Blog

cucumbers_dressing

Hey! Check out Rook’s Bad Cookbook to see my recipes all in one place. The theme of my cooking may have come across before now, but I feel like a very amateur cook exploring the wide realm of cooking possibilities (which is what my blog is about: cooking, food, and food-related thoughts). I got tired of posting them sporadically, so made a separate blog for it—if you like food, and you like the blog, please Follow it!—so you can use and comment and share your thoughts with me. So come, fellow foodies! Come play with food with me!

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Fact-checking: Assuring validity, relevance, and credibility

For good reason, such as the Amelia Bedelia Wikipedia hoax, professional writers (or writers’ editors) are required to fact-check sources. There are “good” and “bad” sources, and different ways to check validity, relevance, and credibility.

  • An easy online indicator that the source might not be as professional as it could or should be would be to check if it is a .com as opposed to .edu, .org, or .gov. The difference in website type may indicate the type of support the writing had when it was developed.
  • Check the source’s sources. Are those cited works from professional-quality journals? Journals just starting out do not have professional presence unless they are new publications by a well-known source. Journals gain reputation over time, which also influences credibility.
  • Consider the author. Is the author well-known and trusted, or has the author appeared in the news with dings to credibility? Obviously, don’t cite authors that are not supported in the research… unless you have reason to be supporting the research on the other side of the fence, too.
  • Check the publication date. If the piece is older than 3 to 5 years, then the information might not be current. Currency applies to most subjects, but I would especially emphasize its applicability to scientific, technological, and health topics.
  • An easy way to cross-reference information is to put in a few phrases in a search engine (i.e., Google) and see what matches. Matches indicate higher probabilities of the work being plagiarized. Putting phrases into Google is an easy way to get to websites and other documents that feature the official names of things if, for example, the spelling for a place or monument is in question.
  • You can cross-reference cited works by putting the author name and title into a search engine (i.e., Google Scholar). Whatever results come up is where that author or title has been used. If the cite has only appeared once, then that appearance better be in an original study, or there is the chance it is unsupported information.
  • If a piece has been cited directly, then check the source for correctness (that it is written as it appeared), and that the cited information is correct (author, title, date, etc.). If a piece is paraphrased, cited in part, etc., make sure the cite meets those standards, instead. Basically, the original source information is important for checking relevancy, and you also need to be sure that the piece cited is done the way it should be for that citation type.
  • Extensive knowledge of a topic helps separate less relevant information from the information you need. Content recognition helps process of elimination.

I’m sure there are more ways to check sources and information, but these are ones off the top of my head that I use as needed.

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How to write a basic cover letter

I have gone through a lot of version of my cover letter since December 2012 when I was laid off. One thing I wish I could have taken in college but did not have time for was the resume writing class, which was supposed to have had tips on the application process. Still, here I am all the same, and I hope you can learn from my mistakes, although I’m sure there is a better way to write them than my best version. I’m always trying to improve.

Before I got into professional writing I used to not write cover letters, but I learned it is rude not to. A lot of applications platforms do not require a cover letter, but you should make sure to include one. It is a quiet way to show professional courtesy. At the very least, they will make your resume stand out from those that do not include them. Any resume can be submitted alone, but ones with cover letters are more interesting, even if they are not ultimately read (keep it simple, though, and they are more likely to be).

I have not really noticed any other reason for including a cover letter. Many are too long. They are very easy to make too complicated. They are a breeding ground for TMI that doesn’t belong, and wording them can easily become defensive. They raise questions you may not want to answer, or can’t, or put you into an assumptive role. There’s a ton that can go wrong with a cover letter.

Pardon my shorthand (I replaced all specifics with summary phrases to protect my own application history), but go ahead and follow along. I have included my worst, next best, and current best versions of my cover letter.

Old Version

It was easy to write these before I left college, because explaining that you need help with an internship to pass an internship is a whole lot easier than convincing a company they need you.

The old version of my cover letter looked like this:

Date:               24 December 2013
Subject:          Job query for Job Title
To:                   Hiring manager

I would like to apply for the Job Title position in City, STATE.

My strength is This, This, and This. I have worked across different genres including These fields since 2009. I can edit and write at varied levels of complexity including These Types Of Projects.

I gained part-time employment this month Doing This, but I still seek something more suited to my career goals. I meet These requirements for this position, but if it could lead to a permanent position then I would like to be considered. If my talents and your interest matched, I know I would be an excellent candidate.

Thank you for taking the time to review my cover letter and resume. I am excited about expanding my employment opportunities, and thank you for your consideration. I hope to hear from you.

Regards,
Your Name
Your Linked In Public Profile URL (linkedin.com/in/name)

So what was wrong?

  • “Job Query” is too wordy. Just use the Job Title you are applying for. They already know you are applying for it because you sent them this letter and resume.
  • Your cover letter should not be to the “Hiring Manager”, although this is passable. It is better to find the recruiter or hiring manager’s actual name and use that. I like to type “X. Surname:” for my greeting when I do that, if I do. Otherwise, I try to just avoid names.
  • Oh, “would like to”? You do, or you don’t, so don’t say that. “Would like” is future tense, which means you are too unsure of yourself to know whether you really want it.
  • Do not speak too highly of yourself. It shows an inflated ego. So what if you did All Of The Things? The prospective employer will decide for you what you’ll be doing anyway.
  • Do not speak conditionally, and do not tell them when to contact you. You are not hiring you, they are.
  • Do NOT thank the prospective employer “for their consideration”. (I will say why later.)
  • Do not “hope” to hear from them. Like “would like”, that sounds like you aren’t sure you want to hear from them.
  • “Regards” is abrupt and too formal.
  • Not enough contact information. A hiring manager will not look up your super awesome URL that you think looks so nice. Even if it is a professional profile, just including a URL to it is not professional. Include the classics: phone number, email. Address is not really necessary, although you should be sure to include at least your City and State on your actual resume.

Next version.

Middling Version

It was easier to explain why your internship was important, but if you’re trying to crack your way into the world as a new professional, it gets a little more challenging. (For example, you never want to refer to yourself as a “professional” anything. It undermines your credibility.) Most of what I learned, at this point, was that I should not try to make a Company hire me. Do not try to convince them. It doesn’t work.

Date:               9 January 2014
Subject:          Job query for Job Title in City, STATE
To:                   Company Recruiting and Placement Department

Greetings:

I am so glad Company is hiring for Job Title. My professional emphasis is This, I meet the requirements included in the ad on This Website, and I would like the opportunity to interview for the position.

I am currently employed at Company, but Am Including TMI Why I Would Rather Work For You. The positioned mentioned Does This For Me. The ad mentioned that Company specializes in This, and What I Do And Could Do For This greatly interests me. That Company covers simple to complex material is a bonus, as I can work across different writing levels and genres. My hours at Current Company are also part time and flexible; I am sure an acceptable schedule could be accommodated, or I can transition to Company if required since the tasks of this position are better aligned with my professional goals and employment history.

My compensation requirements are for a starting wage between $XX.00 and $XX.00 per hour based on previous experience. My highest salary was $XX.xx per hour for This, I worked for a nonprofit organization in This Field for $XX.00 an hour between 2009 and 2013, and I have These degrees in writing.

If my resume interests you, please email or call me before 9:30 a.m. or after 4:30 p.m., and Friday is open, so I can schedule an interview with you. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,
Your Name

Your Linked In Public Profile URL (linkedin.com/in/name)
Email Address
Phone Number You Actually Use

I almost feel like I cannot begin to explain how bad that cover letter was.

So what was wrong?

  • “Job Query” is too wordy. Just use the Job Title you are applying for. They already know you are applying for it because you sent them this letter and resume.
  • Avoided the name loophole on this cover letter, which let me just avoid names.
  • “So glad” enthusiasm shows desperation. The remainder of the first paragraph is more assertive, but it’s too wordy. Get to the point.
  • While this cover letter was proofread multiple times, a tense issue was missed. The issue did not interfere, and an interview was gained, be careful about tense agreement.
  • Do not speak too highly of yourself. It shows an inflated ego. So what if you did All Of The Things? The prospective employer will decide for you what you’ll be doing anyway.
  • While it is said that finding new employment is easier when you are already employed, do not talk about your current employment. Have an answer ready for why you seek different employment, but do not otherwise compare the two; it is not flattering to the new company, it shows lack of loyalty and pickiness.
  • Do not repeat what the company does unless it’s in passing to make a better point. They already know what they do.
  • Do not speak conditionally, and do not tell them when to contact you. You are not hiring you, they are.
  • The recruiter did ask for compensation requirements. That paragraph is moderately okay. However, the better part of that paragraph that helps it succeed is not the request for a certain amount, but that a range is given. Do not pigeonhole yourself with an exact amount until an offer of employment has been discussed, at which time, exact amounts may be talked over in terms of a “range”. Give them a range before you settle on a number that is slightly higher than you are pretty sure you’d be able to get anyway.
  • Again, do not dictate when they contact you. You are not hiring you, they are.
  • Do not end a cover letter with “Sincerely”—it sounds insincere. It’s the equivalent of saying “To be honest…” when you should already be expressing yourself honestly. In other words, it undermines your credibility, and is an outmoded closing anyway.

And, finally, the best cover letter version.

Best Version

My best version dispensed with a lot of everything. I composed this cover letter at the time that I was beyond giving a snit whether I got what I applied for or not. If I did, then great. If I didn’t, then I should just move on.

The key to this point in the employment seeking process is not not-caring, though, but to detach oneself from the outcome. If they want you, they will select you, simple as that. if they are interested, then they show this by interviewing you.

10 April 2014

Company name
Company address
City, STATE Zip

 

Greetings:

I am putting in my application for the Job Title position (Job ID) with Company in City, STATE.

Previously, I was the Job Tile for What Kind Of company in City, STATE. What I Did, which Helps Others By Doing This. I also Did This Impressive Task (such as coauthoring an article or something else of note), and Did This.

If you have anything to note about the application, such as having relocated since initially submitting the application, were this an update note, write that now.

If my work interests you, I would be pleased to contribute to your (i.e., technical writing) needs.

 

Thank you,
Your Name

Your Linked In Public Profile URL (linkedin.com/in/name)
Email Address
Phone Number You Actually Use

I’ve described two really bad cover letters. What, this time, did I finally do right?

  • Good header: date of resume submission; company and address; it is okay to just say hi with “greetings”, or omit any greeting.
  • “I am putting in my application for…” is direct and to the point. This line makes sure that your application is received and directed to the right people. Stating what you are applying for lets them know you know what you have applied for. Including the location makes sure that the hiring manager does not mistake, and knows you have not mistaken, the location to avoid awkward phone calls about coming in for an interview you didn’t mean.
  • “Previously…” Keep this short and sweet. Short and sweet, cannot emphasize this enough. If your paragraph is more than three lines on the page, then you’re doing it wrong. If it has more than 3 lines on the page, but should still be less than 7, then make those lines count. Keep it upbeat. My own line of work doesn’t much include hard results (e.g., “The grant proposal I wrote returned $XX,000.00”), but it has a very positive effect (“…which Helps Others By Doing This.”), and that is what I emphasize. Feel free to “sugar coat” with positive language, but do not embellish and make it up.
  • The third paragraph is optional. I included that note because this cover letter was one that I used when I resubmitted my materials in a Company’s system during their selection process, which came later than the initial submission, and I needed to update.
  • Keep it classy: “If my work interests you, I would be pleased to contribute to your (i.e., technical writing) needs.” I said I’d explain later: DO NOT SAY “Thank you for your consideration.” The phrase sounds professional, but it puts your application right out of the running, right then. It is passive, PAST-TENSE, and does not expect a return on application submission. As soon as I stopped using that line, I started getting more replies.
  • Do not thank them for their time, either. Not only is the phrase overused, but it implies that taking the time they have to on your application is not worth it. So, don’t say that.
  • The correct time to thank your reader is in the closing. Simply: “Thank you,” and end with your name. It’s polite, and it’s a gentle and positive closing.
  • Good relevant contact information: professional profile URL (electronic/online profiles or portfolios are great) if they happen to want more information, email address, and a phone number I actually use.
  • Also, notice the use of white space on your final cover letter. I single space everything, put an extra space between paragraphs, and a second extra space before and after the main content to set off the primary information. It looks good.

I hope this basic primer helps others get more replies to their application submissions. It’s taken more than 18 months of spotty unemployment for me to get the best version figured out.

I don’t know what better cover letters there are than that polite expression of interest in the position; I think the point of a cover letter is more to serve as a kind of file marker to keep the hiring manager’s brain straight so it’s easier to find a good candidate.

A cover letter sells itself. It is not for selling you… that’s for the resume to do.

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Customizing NPC base classes into playable characters

I have a Player who is just smarter than me, and at first level managed to get 5k from his Tibbit family. I learned a few lessons, since I am still looking to resurrect my DM skillz.

  1. Be sure that nonPHB races are a good fit for your game. This isn’t to say that a race isn’t good for my game, since I always said that “anything goes, and you will meet every critter in the MMs at least once each.” In my ripe old age, 12 years since the day I began to play when I was 15, I’ve developed a curved model of available PCs. For playable races, my developments have led to my latest guideline: those in the Player’s Handbook (PHB), the Faerun Campaign Setting (FRC), Touched races (such as Fey-Touched, Fiend Folio), and Bloodlines (Unearthed Arcana).
  2. Confirm your PC’s backgrounds. I have never required backgrounds before Level 5 since many PCs do not agree with the Player/game when their “Character personality” becomes apparent. Some concepts are just not playable, which spoils the character. However, especially if your PCs have wealthy families, be sure that works with your plans; wealth is one of the ways that I found helps to curb crazy campaigns since money does help the world go round. It could very well be that, again in my old age, I got too cocky and stopped minding this aspect for a long while simply because I could. I just don’t like to micromanage Players.
  3. “You can’t fix stupid,” said Ron White in his most excellent Tater Salad skit. I don’t mean to be stupid, but some Players I just can’t keep up with. Simply, they outpace my wit. I try to remember that I can actually curb craziness in-game if I simply let the world respond in a more proactive way; many times, I have let PCs walk over me because I don’t want to “deprive” them. But what’s better for the campaign? In this way, I decide instead to work with Players to make more playable PCs.

On this note, we come to the crux of our topic. Having a very smart Player prompted me to see if it is possible to use base NPC classes and build onto them within limits that work with the game in mind. That is, while I know PHB classes and UA variant classes are balanced, I need something better balanced for my game.

So, I did the jerk thing: underpowered the PC. Yeah, I did. He now operates a Warrior class, and I will continue to use the MMI/3.5 as usual.

I did more, though. Class underpowered. Race can be as expected; with Bloodline variants per the UA. We then decided on PC Class Features- we chose two majors from among the PHB classes. To accompany his Warrior base, he chose Sneak Attack (Rog feature) and Unarmed Strike (Monk feature). We also selected a personal ability feature to experiment with, since he wanted a mage-y slant, so he has magical tattoos.

We shall see how this works out. If it’s overpowered, we will take away. If underpowered, somebody there will probably be a sudden boost. (“Hey, I feel smarter!” said the Fighter.)

Posted in GM Perspective 3.0 & 3.5 | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Dark, Part 5 (Fin)

The following is the last of what I wrote of Darq. It was one of my favorite projects. I just wish it hadn’t seemed like such a ripoff. I can only think that I somehow remembered it subconsciously. Or something. It was good stuff, though.

*

Isabelle stalked the dingy room. A walkie talkie on the nightstand made static and then clicked out, “Meek hasn’t gone nowhere, Iz.”

Isabelle sneered. “Don’t call me ‘Iz’,” she snarled at the talkie.

“Of course, Iz.”

I had that one coming. “Have you any real news? What’s he doing?”

“Eat’n.”

“And you can’t tell me a little more than that?”

“Nah.”

Isabelle rolled her eyes. “Well, find out something, you good for noth—”

“He’s talk’n ta’ some gal.”

“A girl? Is that it? What are they doing?”

“Yeah. Talk’n.”

Isabelle clenched her jaw. “Oh, for the love of Pete—”

“They’re leav’n.”

“Don’t interrupt—”

“They just got in a car.”

“Follow them. And don’t interrupt—”

“We’re on’t.”

“—me.” One of these days, I am going to staple their stupid mouths shut.

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Keeping it classy (making fun of brain cancer)

What’s fantastic? SELF magazine made fun of a cancer survivor’s tutu (article by Greg Bledsoe, 5 NBC Chicago). Likely an accident, but one born of judging another for an innocuous thing.

After reading the article, I was somewhere between “Wow, what moron thought that was a good idea to feature?” — like, they thought she did it for no reason? Runners typically just wear running gear: shorts; tee-shirt, tank top, or sports bra; and sneakers. The person in charge of finding material for the feature must not have asked, considering the manner in which the feature ran and resulting backlash.

Even if she wore the tutu for “no reason”, wearing it for fun is enough reason. Laughs don’t need to be at others’ expense to be humorous. But putting tutus under a “BS Meter”? Again, srsly, just no. Children have worn superhero costumes to feel better. Do these outfits really much differ from choosing baldness as a compassionate gesture of solidarity?

According to the article, Allen, a San Diego runner and cancer survivor, said

the photo was “really offensive for a couple of reasons.” The marathon came right in the middle of chemotherapy, and she says the outfit gave her motivation.

“The reason we were wearing those outfits is because this was my first marathon running with brain cancer,” Allen explained.

Another reason was that she made the tutu herself. Her company Glam Runners makes them and donates the money to Girls on the Run, a charity that sponsors exercise and confidence-building programs for young girls. She said she’s raised about $5,600 for the nonprofit by making about 2,000 tutus over the past three years.

But hey, the magazine really shed some light on why she wore it. Knowing is half the battle, which should help the charity, and that’s at least something good that came of it.

If wearing a tutu, Spandex, or cape makes you smile and you feel better, then do it. Creativity is one way people who face what seems like impossible odds triumph.

Visit the Glam Runners charity page. Make a donation to Glam Runners.

Posted in Current Events: My 2 Cents | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Darq, Part 4

* * *

Since it was so dim, a small window letting in a sparse rectangle of light told me it was now night. Can’t believe they had the audacity to get me in plain view of dayCan’t believe I got kidnapped by them, by chimpsBy my own artworkas if I shouldn’t have anticipated this.

The door on the other side of the room that I was brought through opened. Isabelle looked in, her eyes flashing.

“I know what I’m going to do with you, Toonwolde.”

My lips tightened. I remained where I was, not that I had much of a choice. Would it have been a little less than dignified if I tried to slither away with wrists and ankles bound?

She smiled. “I’m going to let you go.”

“Really,” I drawled, quirking an eyebrow to hide my amazement. I thought she had a little more complicated an end for me than this.

“Release him.”

*

I found myself outside of a run-down motel. The parking lot was empty and I had no ride. I knew that whatever I did next would tip her hand and make her do whatever it was she planned to do. Maybe she didn’t know. I sure didn’t.

I supposed I could return home, but that was more than likely already being watched. For that matter, I would surely be tailed wherever I went from here on. Really, a quandary, but I’ve always been good at solving problems. I just needed time to think.

First thing, lose the tail.

I looked around. The parking lot I was in not only belonged to a run-down Holiday Inn, but it was empty, of people and cars. The parking lot wasn’t wide so as much as it was long, spanning the backside of the hotel, around corners I couldn’t see. An overflowing dumpster rested straight across the lot from me.

Maybe instead of running, I’d get something to eat first. I already knew there was a main road on the other side of the Inn, so I went around. Bingo. There was a Starbucks just across the street, lucky me. Isabel sure wasn’t inventive when she told those apes to bring me here. I waited for the intersection light on the other side of the street to turn green, then jogged across. How anticlimactic events had become after being set free by my runaway comic.

I opened the door and let myself in, found a wall clock. It was only just past eight thirty. I was even sure it was still Tuesday, though I imagined I looked more than a bit dishelved. I made for the bathroom.

As I stepped out of the stall, I looked in the mirror as I washed my hands.

The man in the mirror reflected the tell-tale signs of age, straight salt-and-pepper hair, lines at the corners of his dark green eyes and thinning lips. I’m not incredibly tall, only five-feet-eight, but I had taken care with my weight. I washed my face, of cool water running into my short beard. I needed to shave.

I checked my wallet. Good for me, they didn’t take it all. My spare ten was still in the second sleeve behind my Staples card. I went to the front counter and ordered my favorite drink, frozen turtle latte, then found the most reclusive booth in the place.

I almost immediately noticed that I wasn’t alone. Some woman about five booths away was looking at me above her newspaper. How translucent a cover could a person get?  She wasn’t even trying. Unsurprised, she glided on over when I gave her a tentative wave.

She was fairly tall and wore tight, dark blue jeans. Boots protruded from the bottom of her jeans, and under a long, black leather coat, she had on a Pink Floyd tee and a silver ankh. The Dark Side of the Moon, my ass. I finally recognized her. She was a coworker from the comic agency I used to work for, the punk copy editor. I hadn’t seen her in a couple months, but we’d been fast friends during the time I was there.

“Hello, Shaula.”

“Hey, Toons. Fancy seein’ you here.”

“For sure.”

Shaula had left behind her paper. It hadn’t kept me from seeing her, not that she tried hard to hide. Her eyes were blue, her brown hair fairly unremarkable, draping past her round face. She was a couple inches taller than me. Now, she glared at me past a pair of fashionable, wire-rim glasses.

“Stop staring, dammit.”

“Well, ah… I have to say, it’s good to see you.” I cleared my throat.

Shaula laughed heartily. Her smile had always been generous, with straight, white teeth. “Thankies, Toons. I always knew you were a flirt.”

“Can’t say I’d describe myself as such.”

“Well, y’are.”

*

“So what are you gonna’ do?”

I looked back at her across the table. My tea was long empty and it was two forty-five in the a.m. We’d taken more than a few hours catching up. It had been wonderful.

“I have absolutely no clue. All I know is that they’re after me, and that I have to find the damn pen. That chimp at my house took it from me. And my sandwich.” I frowned.

“Well, let me buy ya’ a new sammich, Toons.”

“Nah, I’ve had more than enough tea to make up for it. I just need to figure out a game plan.”

“A game plan. How about avoiding the whack-jobs until you get a handle on things?”

“Can’t. I have to hit them hard and fast, in the root of all this.”

“You be meaning to face Izzy?”

“Not directly, no. But yes.”

“How’r you gonna’ get close to her if she’s havin’ you watched and knows your every move?”

“Consider this. The pen was taken from me, but Izzy—I mean, Isabelle—can’t find the Book—”

“What book?”

“Sorry, thought I already told you.”

“Well, ya’ didn’t.” Shaula stuck out her bottom lip.

“The Book is a comic conglomeration I made up in DarQ—”

“What’s ‘Dark’?”

“Dark—with a big ‘Q’ on the end instead of a ‘k’—is a comic I made up with a very pretty…” Cough. “It has chimps—no. It’s a chimp mafia, to be blunt. The Mafia answers to Slick, a squat man in rain clothes. Little does he know, however, his Mistress—”

“Izzy?”

“—Yeah, Isabelle—is about to double-cross Slick for the power he seeks.”

“Now, how would she do that if he has the pen?”

“I never said he has the pen.”

“You did say that th’ Mafia answers to th’ Slick-man.”

My mouth forms a brief “o” shape. “You may be onto something, Shaula.”

“Of course I am.”

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