Tuesday, October 27, 2009

My (so-far) Adventures in a Blogging Wonderland

"They've got nothing on blogging." (Thanks to Julitofranco for donating this to the public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil...BLOG! I hesitantly enter this anything-goes world of instant publication.


I’m a pack rat. It has to be said. I have a binder full of papers I hope might one day be ‘useful’ – bits of information on how to save money on X by substituting Y or trying Z. I also have numerous other papers stuck to my refrigerator and pinned to a cork board. And I have books and magazines, also full of great tips. But is any of it in a location/position to help me or anyone else? Not really.


Enter first-year P.R. class in Creative Communications at Red River College. Write a blog, says instructor extraordinaire Melanie Lee Lockhart. Pick a topic that interests you and might interest others, and update it at least once a week with posts of varying length.

No problem, I thought. I have years’ worth of material on how you can save yourself from huge dry-cleaning bills, carpet stains, expensive cleaning chemicals, and culinary disasters. Why not package it as a ‘thrift’ blog? The theme of saving money is always popular! Not to mention that a blog is a nice cost-free way to organize all these scraps and book hints lying around. Pick a ‘subject of the day’, ‘research’ through all my material, hit “Publish” and – VOILA! Organization at its finest.


It’s really not that simple. I have tons of ideas for what to do with the blog, but some are far more complex than can be dealt with in a week – hence they get pushed to the back of the pile in favour of faster posts that can meet the weekly deadlines. Suddenly I feel I can’t deliver on topics I think are important: which stores offer student discounts, how to get the best deals on laptops, the wonders that are secondhand clothing stores. And another thing, just as important as content, is AUDIENCE.


Originally I thought to myself – here I am, just another blogger, why would anyone care? How do I generate more interest? I can have the most relevant information ever, but if I can’t interest people in it, I am lost. Once I started envisioning this blog, it became a sort of forum where people could exchange helpful tips, coupons, and garage sale announcements. It still can be, right? I just need the people.


Step 1: Tell people. Shout to your classmates and instructors and other students in the hallways “I have a BLOG! About thriftiness!” Maybe practice “thriftiness” in the mirror a few times before you attempt this step. Add classmates’ blogs to your blog. Once you show up as a follower of their blogs, they’ll want to know who the weird girl in the ‘Story of the Year’ shirt is, and maybe they’ll like what they read once they arrive at your blog.

Step 2: Show people. Paste the link to your blog into all your chat room names so that either accidentally or on purpose, people will be encouraged to click on it. Add the link to your email signature so that everyone you contact via email gets a dose of your blog. Mention all your blog posts on Twitter and feature a link to the blog on Facebook (which I will do once I get around to joining these sites, Scout’s honour!).

Step 3: Tell more people. Mention to clerks at discount stores that you want to feature their location on your blog, and write down the link for them. People will take interest in your blog if they know the information is connected to them in some way. Let your relatives know what you’re blogging about and encourage them to contact you if they have relevant information – make the blog work for them and they’ll be more interested in it.

Step 4: This one’s still in the works for me, but it’s also important. Find other bloggers who share an interest in thriftiness and link to them. Hopefully, they’ll link back, eventually growing that forum I so naively hoped for when I began to blog.

When I feel uninspired to write in the blog, it’s usually because there’s a topic I feel passionate about, but it doesn’t relate to the subject of ‘Thrift.’ I’ll attempt to find some connection between the two, but if I can’t, often I’ll scribble down my ideas somewhere else and neglect the blog. Such is the way of a narrow focus – cluttering the blog with too many “Off-topic” posts will look unfocused and unprofessional. One possible solution might be to have TWO blogs, but then my blogging focus would always be divided. Better to stick with the one blog and keep the off-topic posts to a minimum.


The solution to my blog confusion is to PLAN. Make a list of topics to put in the blog, put them all in a hat, and draw them out one by one, assigning each one to a particular week. This way an entire month’s worth of blog posts can be planned out ahead of time. Longer topics can be re-arranged to the end of months to allow for advance research. And along with the ‘marketing’ strategies – PRESTO! You have a happy, organized, forum-style blog.

Well…we’ll see how it goes. =D

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Avon Bubble Bath: Get Your Money's Worth

Some uses I've found for Avon's bubble bath (after this, do you really want to use it in your bathwater?):

* clean light fixtures, glass, and china

*wash appliances

* wash plants (?), use as plant fertilizer

* remove grease stains from clothes or upholstery

* clean eyeglasses

* clean jewelry

* wash your pets

* wash clothes/cars/drapes

* wash walls/ceilings/cupboards

Wow! Just one purchase can do that many things....almost too good to be true. I might need to order some and try it...but there are so many different kinds...

Saturday, October 17, 2009

ATTENTION STUDENTS! The Textbook Comfort Index

My friend Bryan McIntosh and I came up with this important textbook rating system when we were both undergrad students at the University of Winnipeg (I was an English student, he a Physics student). I'm reposting it here to help you all estimate the TRUE value of our Photoshop CS4 textbook (haha! kidding), as well as any other textbooks you may have encountered.


Most reviewers out there rate textbooks based on criteria such as completeness of information, supplementary materials, organization, readability, and all that other boring stuff. We've decided to create a new way of reviewing textbooks based on what students REALLY care about: how comfortable the damn thing is when you're so bored and exhausted you pass out on it.
We present:

THE CONOLLY/McINTOSH TEXTBOOK COMFORT INDEX (TCI for all you abbrev. fanatics out there)

We rank textbooks from 1-5 on the following essential variables:

--when push comes to shove and your head hits the book, you're gonna get a rude awakening you don't deserve unless your text performs well here.

A score of 5: The cover is padded.
A score of 1: The cover feels like a spike-studded cement brick.

--forget Bounty: the quicker picker-upper, your text should be able to withstand anything from the pen you dropped to the glass of coffee you knocked over.

A score of 5: It stops floodwaters.
A score of 1: It leaked when you removed its packaging.

--a thicker book decreases the angle of the neck to make for a more comfortable "study break."

A score of 5: IT'S OMG XBOX HUGE!!11!
A score of 1: It disappears if turned sideways.

--Textbooks can be used as weapons by the clever student...if they're dangerous enough.

A score of 5: It requires a permit and government certification.
A score of 1: It won't even give you a papercut.

--it's one thing if the cover's all cushy, but what if you're bored to sleep while the book's open?

A score of 5: The paper is aloe-infused.
A score of 1: It can be used to sand your deck.

--if it's this comfy, you're gonna wanna take it everywhere to...ah...study hard. But
can you?

A score of 5: So easy to carry, you forget it's there.
A score of 1: It digs into your spine like an alien parasite while being carried.

--because you can't study what you can't look at...

A score of 5: It stops traffic...AND gets more dates than you do.
A score of 1: It's gaudier than Cher.

So how do your textbooks rate? Let us know, chances are you might see us in one of your classes if your book rates really well...and if you don't, we're probably in the library, fast asleep on top of it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Buyer Beware...of flimsy coffee tumblers!

A newspaper will take two months to decompose in a landfill. A paper coffee cup? will take 20 years. Add to that a report from Reuters' website that about 28 billion paper cups are discarded every year in the U.S. alone...that cup-a-day sure adds up fast. So what's a student to do?

Students looking for a more durable and/or environmentally friendly solution can turn to a coffee tumbler, but some tumblers don't perform all that much better than the paper counterpart. In a random sampling of 10 students carrying coffee mugs, 70% said they’d like a tumbler that doesn’t leak and keeps coffee hot for a longer period of time. So which tumblers can keep up with the rigours of student life? Erika, Sara, Greg, Mike, and I decided we had to know.

Each group member purchased a coffee tumbler from one of five different locations: Starbucks (Starbucks brand, $21.99), Tim Hortons (Tim Hortons brand, $4.69), Sears (Arcosteel brand, $9.99), Superstore (Home Presence brand. $14.99), and Dollarama (no brand/Dollarama brand, $1.25). We did secondary research to find similar experiments, and designed a series of primary research tests that we thought would mimic the 'everyday life' of a student's coffee tumbler.
The tumblers first went through a series of leak tests, being shaken from side-to-side, upside down, and then in every direction in a "crazy shake" test. This was to simulate what might happen to a tumbler that was put in a backpack, or the water-bottle holder of a bike, or just held while someone was running up stairs or for the bus. The results? Dollarama didn't have a cover for the mouthpiece and leaked; Sears had a cover but was still pretty leaky; Tim Hortons, Superstore, and Starbucks did pretty well, with Superstore the winner (we thought we saw a few drops for the Starbucks and Tim Hortons tumblers).

Second were the temperature tests: freshly boiled water was poured into the tumblers, which were left standing at room temperature. Then the tumblers were emptied, more freshly boiled water was added, and the tumblers were placed in a freezer at a constant temperature of -17 C (-1 F). At the end of each of these tests, only two tumblers remained in Starbucks' acceptable temperature range (150-170 F): the Starbucks tumbler and the Superstore tumbler. We judged the Superstore tumbler to be the winner because a thin layer of ice formed on the Starbucks tumbler - probably not too comfy for cold hands in the winter. (The "safe temperature range" is for health reasons - any lower and bacteria could start to grow if milk products were added; any higher, and the coffee might be too hot to drink safely)

Third were the 'drop' tests - to simulate what would happen to the tumblers if someone slipped on the ice or tripped on the stairs. The first test, from standing height, had surprising results. The Sears tumbler lost its plastic bottom piece and lid; Dollarama lost its lid; Tim Hortons didn't lose its lid but cracked down the side; Superstore's lid partially came off though it lost no water; Starbucks was fine. After the stair test, Dollarama and Sears had the same results, except that Sears' bottom piece cracked in two; Starbucks and Superstore were fine.

The final recommendation? Starbucks keeps the coffee slightly warmer (difference of about 9 degrees), but for $7 less, the Superstore tumbler's results were just as acceptable, and so this is the tumbler we declared the winner. Here is a picture of the winning tumbler, the "Eclipse Travel Mug" from Superstore.

(Unfortunately, some coffee tumblers were harmed over the course of this experiment. However, much fun was had by all group members!)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

It's Clothes that Make the Professional? (OFF TOPIC!)

I guess this is off-topic week here at Thrift Odyssey, while I try to do some research on replacing my near-defunct laptop (so that I'll have something to post that's more relevant to the blog theme!). In the meantime, here's a post inspired by a discussion with my brother.

Waiting for a bus one day, I saw a young woman approaching. She wore a pair of those fashionable aviator shades, reasonable heels, run-free hose, a nice black skirt and shirt and a business blazer; her hair was impeccable. As she walked by me I thought, "That is a very professional look."

Until I saw the back of the knee-length skirt, that is. The slit ran nearly the full length of the skirt, threatening to turn into a wardrobe malfunction. She continued along the sidewalk and I was left with a different impression entirely: "Now that just tears down how professional the outfit is."

With outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, people have become used to increased freedom of expression, true. But regardless of how others perceive you based on your online presence, your physical presence still counts for a lot. For example, I know my frizzy hair is a going concern because, just like that skirt, it subconsciously suggests to other people that I do not put a lot of thought into how others assess my appearance. And if I'm not taking care of myself, would a reasonable employer believe that I would take care of their business? For good or ill, first impressions still count for so much, and standards still exist for what constitutes a professional appearance and what does not. Is it shallow? Maybe. Is it fair? Maybe not. Is it a reality? Definitely, and even if no one says anything outright to the lady in the skirt, that skirt is changing the way people think about her.

As students, whether or not we are working while at school, the idea of professionalism is nothing new. In my first few days at Red River College, I was bombarded with messages about my professional career having started on orientation day, and how I should treat my time here as though it is a job. Should I, then, be dressing as though I am showing up to a high-profile job rather than appearing haggard, water bottle in hand, at the door of a classroom, wearing ratty jeans and sneakers?

My brother, a student at the University of Manitoba, disagrees. "I'm for a more relaxed dress code, where you should wear a reasonable amount of clothing and have nothing offensive," he told me. He suggests that comfort and professionalism should be able to meet in the middle, with no one needing to wear a full suit or starched blazer everyday but at the same time understanding that unwashed hair and shirts full of holes are unacceptable. "I don't think a professional style of dress begets a professional attitude or a professional anything else," he said. "Sure, it can encourage such [an] attitude, but it certainly doesn't preclude one."

Some workplaces try for a balance. One of my previous employers permitted jeans and t-shirts (though without words of any kind) to be worn on Fridays; another company I've heard of has a Pyjama Day on which bathrobes, fuzzy slippers, and tasteful flannel duds are permitted. The argument here, as my brother puts it, is that " it keeps the atmosphere light, which [employees] work very well in."

While the issue of dress codes is still up for debate, one thing remains certain - appearance is among the most important things on which a first impression is based.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Attitude (OFF TOPIC)

I think this is important, so I've 'reprinted' it from a personal journal that I keep. It's an issue that's close to my heart, you could say, so I feel it's safe for me to veer a bit off-topic and share it with you.

I have this mug that says "Attitude is a small thing that makes a big difference." I have to agree, especially after one day last week, when I ran into a girl I went to university with. I remember the two of us attending a symposium on the environment when we were in second-year political science courses together. But where she is now successfully working for the government, I am still trying to get an article on the environment published in the campus paper (so far, without success. It really is hard to get published! Well, at least if you're me.)

I'm finding myself a bit discouraged. Here I've quit a full-time job with the idea that "This is where I want to go in life, and where I'm meant to go in life" and there are so many small roadblocks surreptitiously piling into a haystack. And while I'm perfectly well aware that the universe can only bend so far over backwards for any one person, that doesn't mean I'm going to greet every disappointment with an, "Aw shucks, another one? Rejection just makes my day!"

Or should I? How else will I learn? If no one points this stuff out to me now while I'm still on training ground, do I really want to be dismissed for it later on in life? I want to be able to land on the padded stuff a few times before I actually have to skydive out of the plane. But that's the difference, isn't it? Attitude. If my attitude is ruled by fear, I take tiny steps and don't really get anywhere. The attitude of the former classmate I saw is ruled by confidence, and so she happily steps into the unknown, relying on herself and her ability to network in order to get her through the tough spots. And, of course, allowing herself to make mistakes without self-flagellation afterwards.

I guess that's key. I have to admit to myself right now that I cannot and should not take myself so seriously. Inevitably I will screw up, but as long as that screwing up helps me to catch on, I can recover from my falls - if fans can forgive Kanye West and Serena Williams, surely I can be forgiven if/when I hit the wrong button during a board-op session, or stumble out of the gate instead of performing with flying colours on my first journalism assignments. I know it's not the end of the world, I'm not saving babies here. I just need to have a little faith in myself - and apply a LOT of elbow grease.

Comments, criticism, and "stop whining" all accepted!