Father Sez

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Archive for December, 2007

My M.A.G. for 2008 – Part 2

Monday, December 31st, 2007

Yesterday we talked about Part 1 of my Most Audacious Goal for 2008, which is :- 

Bringing this blog to a readership of 15,000 page views a day.  

We covered the areas of:- 

a)  Knowledge Gathering  

b)  Content

c)   Traffic and

d)  Technical Stuff 

Today let’s follow up on the rest of landmarks in my journey to meet my MAG for 2008. 

a)  Advertising / Business Model 

I have not put much thought on this. Right now, this blog is not seen as a money source.  If I look at the improvements in my own personal life that my foray into blogging has resulted in, this investment has already paid itself over many, many times. By far, the best investment I have ever made in the area of self improvement.  

Still, stories like “I made $3,828.72 in March” does have a ring of excitement. So I intend to embark on this someday soon. 

Maybe I should consider this model ……. And this idea, which is consistent with the message D4L is promoting also looks attractive. 

And of course, there are many graciously given guides like:- 

-   Single Ma’s 7 ways I can earn money while blogging,  

I am sure that with the generosity of the senior bloggers, there will be lots and lots of guidance on this. 

b)  Blog Design  

First, my sense of style and design is something that even my wife is not proud of. And she is a really tolerant woman. Second, I am technologically challenged.   

So when I read seemingly nonchalant statements like ….”I have just tweaked my design..”, I just go green with envy.  

I like The Digerati Life’s bright, cheery and welcoming style. I hope to model my new blog on this. 

From the designs of the other blogs that I read, certain aspects appear appealing. I have noted some of these, and have asked a web designer to create a new design for me.   

I should also have some widgets and whatchamacallits.   

The new design is scheduled to come online by the 8th February 08. 

c) Blog or Blogger Branding 

This has also not been figured out yet. Most of the blogs I read give me the impression that the bloggers are very passionate and driven people. And mostly serious.  

Maybe Brip Blap and Punny Money give me the impression that they are a little laid back guys, though no less serious in the articles they produce.  

The blogger who stands out, in my mind, with a brand, is the Fabulous Single Ma. When I read her posts, I get the feeling that she is smiling, has a gleam in her eye and is humming something catchy as she writes her posts. That is how she seems to have positioned herself.  

I have no idea what image my blog or posts create in the minds of my readers. I hope it’s that of sincerity with a dash of humor.   

d) Blogging Etiquette 

I have not done any searches in Problogger on this specific matter. Most blogs give the universal advice that we should be polite. For example, MMND’s 12 success tips for newbies. 

Frugal though she may be, cultured and well versed in the social graces is the Duchess. She took the trouble to welcome readers of the Simple Dollar and Consumerism Commentary who dropped by due to the Duchess being mentioned in the former and her guest post in the latter. 

I, too, had a spike in readership, when Zen Habits made a mention of my blog as a Blogger of Kindness. Being a little dense, I did nothing other than feeling pleased as punch. 

Now that I have learnt a little social grace, I hope Zen Habits will accept my belated thanks and so would his readers who dropped by. Please be assured that you were most welcome. And that you are equally most welcome to visit again. 

I am preparing a file under the various headings mentioned, where I’ll make a note of something I pick up from all the reading and learning. Then I have to steadily and ploddingly work on this list. I expect this list to be dynamic and ongoing.

So too, shall be my journey in blogging.  

I think the target will be tough, but not impossible. (I am saying so, only because others have done it before). Whatever the outcome, I am sure I’ll enjoy myself and improve myself at the same time. So there is no downside for me at all.  

It looks to me that my MAG for 2008, is a goal and a plan has been developed to meet the goal.  Nevertheless, it would be great if my MAG could be scrutinized by an independent party. 

I would be grateful if Patrick of Cash Money Life would have a look and see if my Most Audacious Goal for 2008 meets his SMART guidelines and also if Mike of Quest for Four Pillars can confirm that my MAG is not just a wish.

Thanks in advance, guys.  

And the day, I feel brave enough to apply to host a Carnival, I’ll feel that I have arrived! 

My M.A.G. for 2008 – Part 1

Sunday, December 30th, 2007

This is not about my magazine subscriptions for 2008 but about my Most Audacious Goal for 2008. 

And it is:- 

Bringing this blog to a readership of 15,000 page views a day.  

Why 15,000? Well, FMF has said he can guide me to 100,000 a day, but when I saw that JD of Grow Rich Slowly had 9,000 unique visitors a day (not sure exactly when, but I think some time after he started his blog), I thought, well, let me try for 15,000. 

(Actually, as at time of writing, I am not quite sure if FMF’s 100,000 and JD’s 9,000 refer to the same metric…but 15,000 sounds good.) 

So how do I intend to go about doing this?  I made 7 sub headings, and listed everything and anything that I felt would help me along, under these headings. Especially links that I thought would be useful. 

a)  Knowledge Gathering  

These would be my resources for understanding about blogging and learning tips about building a successful blog. The blogosphere is incredibly generous when it comes to sharing knowledge, so this list grew quickly. The main ones, not in any particular order are: 

i)                  Simple Dollar’s “Building a better blog for 2007”,  

ii)                Steve Pavlina’s “How to build a high traffic blog”,  

iii)             FMF’s “How to get your blog to 100,000 visitors”, 

iv)              Dumb Little Man’s “Blogging for Beginners”, 

v)                Blueprint for Financial Prosperity’s “25 steps to a wildly successful PF Blog”,   

vi)              Problogger’s “31 days to a better blog”, 

vii)           Clever Dude’s “50 tips for new personal finance bloggers”,  

viii)         Yaro Starak’s “Blog Profit Blueprint”. I managed to download this great E Book from his site, but can’t seem to find a link to it now.    

Some of these were in the form of a series, so I copied and pasted them into a form of one long article each.  I shall read all these carefully, make notes of the steps they suggest and follow the steps.  After all, the steps have worked for them. And hopefully should also work for me.   

b)  Content 

To quote, Yaro Starak, content is what makes people read our blog. So content is king! And everyone agrees. Write compelling content!  

(To be honest, I have always thought that I was writing compelling content…..don’t we all think our contents are compelling?)

Anyway, exactly what is compelling content? This was a little more difficult to figure out. But this question was answered in the form of a post from Skelliewag’s “How to avoid fool’s gold and create value packed content.” 

Her blog is just overflowing with guidance and tips on this. 

How do we keep churning out the ideas? How do we keep writing  compelling posts daily?

Problogger gave a helping hand in the form of using mind maps in this and also this way. 

Yaro Starak, too, gives his advice. In his E-Book, Blog Profit Blueprint, he makes the very logical suggestion that Content + Marketing = Traffic.  He suggests that we should have pillar contents. By pillar articles he has listed :-  

-         How to articles on what we have learnt, 

-         Definitions, 

-         Theory or an argument – a fresh view, 

-         A resource, like an E-Book, 

-         List article, eg 7 ways to skin a cat….(the example is mine, by the way), 

-         Technical Blueprints 

And can you feel JHS’s thoughts and feelings as she reads the most powerful, thought provoking and moving post she has read in a long, long time?  

What do we do when we have to go off on an extended vacation, or are unable to post for an extended period? 

The Simple Dollar suggests that we should have posts on standby all the time. Preprogrammed to go online like clockwork, so as never to leave the readers hanging.   

Another great suggestion that I bookmarked just recently was JD’s guest post on Problogger on how his blog grew whilst he was on a 3 week vacation  

c)   Traffic 

How to increase traffic is included in most of the posts listed as my foundation resources under knowledge gathering.  Not to mention the tons of advise and suggestions available at Problogger. 

As Yaro says, traffic is content + marketing. In his Blog Profit Blueprint, he says that it is through marketing, people find our good content. On marketing he gives a comprehensive list of communication channels (which are, as he says pathways and lures to bring people to our site).  

Again, I have to come up with a list of tasks based on all the guides and shall set about doing them in a methodical fashion.  

d) Technical Stuff 

Shudder! Shudder! 

I am technologically challenged, so this will be an area where I’ll have some fear. I thought I had it all figured out with “pings”, and now it looks like I have to get used to link aggregators, tags, social bookmarks etc. 

I have bought the book, WordPress for Dummies by Lisa Sabin-Wilson and shall have to somehow wade my way through it. (The title is very reassuring.) 

And I just have to grit my teeth and step into the world of “slashes and backslashes”. I believe some people call it “html”. 

This post has gotten a little longer than I expected. Though we are advised not to worry about the length of our posts, I think we shall stop here for the day. 

And tomorrow we shall look at the concluding part of my MAG for 2008. 

My 8 year old daughter’s 2008 SMART financial goal

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

Ain’s Financial GoalsAin’s “ME” Diagram

Pls click to enlarge 

Since 2005, my 3 younger children and I have sat together and written some “things to do” as their goals for the year. This has been a simple exercise. About 3 times a year, during their school holidays, we would review the goals and the children will, as usual, promise to try harder to achieve their goals.  

In 2007, we started a project to improve the children’s English. This was done by the kids writing up a page or so from a book and then reading it to me. Words that they did not understand were looked up in a dictionary. (I used newspaper articles at first, but later decided to switch to self improvement books, so that the little ones would end up actually having to read a SI book……a lot like killing 2 birds with one stone.

The youngest, Ain, uses an Enid Blyton story book.) 

Nana, 12, used “Your 1 Week Way to Personal Success”, by John O’Keeffe. In one chapter, O’Keeffe suggests doing what he calls a “ME” diagram, to arrive at one’s life picture. This seemed to be something that was quite easy to understand. Nana explained the concept to Ain and they did their 2008 goals based on this concept.  

Their mother and I are very happy with the results and this are my thoughts expressed as a letter to my youngest girl, Ain, 8.  

Dear Ain, 

Papa has seen your goals for 2008 and am very happy that you have chosen goals which are very important. Mama is also very happy. 

You have done your “ME” drawing very well. Papa is sure that as you grow older you will make changes in this drawing. This is a very good start.

Your elder sisters, Along and Azah do not show Papa their goals, because they say they want to keep their goals private. They say they write them down, but I am not sure. Please remind them to write their goals down.

This is very important.  It is good to share your goals with someone you like and trust. They can help you to meet your goals. 

I am going to present one of your goals at a Carnival that is being put up by Ms. Lynnae at Being Frugal. The Carnival will have people from all over the world showing the financial goals they have made for 2008. A Carnival is like an exhibition, so we if we visit the Carnival, we can see a lot of other people’s goals and learn from them.  

This Carnival is on the 2 January 2008. Papa knows you start school on the 2nd, but we can see the Carnival on the Internet. Papa will show you. 

The goal that I want to present is your financial goal.  

Don’t worry about your use of Bahasa Malaysia. Everyone knows that “Kewangan” means Finance, “tabung” means piggy bank and that “tambah” means add. 

There are some rules to be followed if we want to show our goals in the Carnival. Let us check if your goal meets Ms. Lynnae’s rules. She calls the rules “SMART”. 

Rule 1   Your goal is very specific. So you have met the “S” of SMART. 

Rule 2  Your goal can be measured, which means you must be able to count and check if your goals are met. Yes, you must save RM30. You have met the “M” of SMART. 

Rule 3 Your goal must be achievable, which means that it must not be so very difficult to do. Yes, you can do it. You can save this money from the money that Mama gives you for school and from the money your Uncles and Aunties give you for Hari Raya. You have met the “A” of SMART. 

Rule 4 Your goal must be realistic. So your goal cannot be something that you just bluff. Yes, you also have met the “R” rule. 

And the last rule is that your goal must have a time limit. You cannot  say, that you want to save RM30, but don’t say by when. Since you have already said you will save the money by 31 December 2008, you have also met the “T” of SMART. 

Well, Ain, I think you have met all of Ms. Lynnae’s rules.

Now let us send your goal in and ask her to check. 

Your Mama and Papa are very happy and proud that you have done your goals for 2008. We know that you will try your best to achieve them.  

Love,  

Papa

Koottus, Tontines, Arisans and Peer to Peer Lending

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

My Deals Blog wrote a story on him joining the Lending Club, where he mentions his reason for signing up as the $25 bonus the LC gives when you sign up.

  

Get Rich Slowly has also written about what is it like to borrow money with  Prosper. JD’s reasons appear to be more substantial. He was looking for lenders to finance his credit card debt at a rate lower than that of the credit card company. This he got, and as an additional bonus, he had his lending club encouraging him on as he worked to repay the loan.

To me, the LC and Prosper look a lot like “mini banks”.

If I could simplify their business model, they collect money from people, and they lend it to others. There are people at the centre to coordinate / facilitate all these, and they get a small cut somewhere along the line. Effort is made in trying to match the lenders and borrowers, hence causing a peer-peer relationship.

The key drivers are that people who have extra cash lying around and earning bank/ CD interest get a better return, whilst the borrowers get   loans with interest rates lower than what they would otherwise pay.

These two examples are from the US.

Let’s look at what people in our part of the world do.

We have koottus, tontines and arisans.

All the three have the same basic modus operandi, though different from the US model.

Someone (“the leader”) forms a group of between 5 – 20 people. All are known to each other, possibly even relatives, hence a real peer group. The leader is someone everyone in the group acknowledges as being a person of integrity.

They each contribute an agreed amount say, $50, $100 or $1,000 a week or month. The group draws lots to decide the order of receiving. The leader always gets the first draw (no expenses are charged to the pool). The 2nd onwards will be decided by lots.

The advantages to the koottu pool members are that:-

-         The weekly or monthly payment ensures forced savings. The peer pressure makes sure of this.

-         They get a lump sum when their turn comes. These are used to meet expected big expenses like weddings, birth of a child etc.

Some people call the koottus tontines, though the Wikipedia definition seems to be a lot more ominous, and does not seem reflective of a koottu.

A variation to this koottu formula is the auctioning of turns. The leader as usual gets the first turn. The right for the second, third turns etc. are auctioned. The winner will receive the amount reduced by the amount he/she is willing to forsake for the right to the said turn. This amount is shared amongst all the other members.

In some parts of Indonesia they call these schemes “arisans”. Sometimes, an entire village takes part, hence the rotation may be over a couple or more years. Local “shamans or bomohs” are consulted by people to help assist in their turns being amongst the earlier ones. Also children draw the lots, as they are “less susceptible” to manipulate the draws.

These informal arrangements have existed for years. Many a wedding, purchase of house, children education etc. has been financed by the “koottu” draw.

Shopkeepers also have their own koottus. Textile shop merchants have their pool, restaurant owners have their pool and so on. Like a shopkeeper told me, “How else can we get a big lump sum?”

Integrity being such a scarce commodity these days, there have been cases of the pool money posing too much of a temptation to the leaders, and they run away, with the money of course.

And the Malaysian Government has long banned such schemes.

But the koottus live on. And I think they do serve a useful purpose.

I am not sure of the sustainability of a system of Peer to Peer Lending, when you personally do not know the members and know them well. Having a central team to coordinate / facilitate the whole system, will give rise to overheads that have a strange way of steadily increasing. Then straining either the borrower or lender, or both.

Koottus, despite their warts, have existed for centuries and still flourish today.

I am not sure if such systems exist in the West. If they don’t, it maybe

worth considering.

The 132nd Carnival of Personal Finance – Whimsical Christmas Edition

Wednesday, December 26th, 2007

Whilst the general public are celebrating or getting ready to celebrate, Ms. SVB of The Digerati Life has worked hard to put up the Carnival of Personal Finance – Whimsical Christmas Edition.  

Some of the entries which caught my fancy are:  

Brip Blap makes an excellent point on getting our focus correct, i.e. on seeking to earn more than we spend rather than a focus on spending less than we earn. They are the same, but the focus is different. 

You know, something like the woman saying, “Woman, without her, man is nothing.” And the man saying, “Woman, without her man is nothing.” 

But I guess I have let Steve down somewhat. I have used the excuse of wanting to earn more, and have so far only ended up spending more.  

Ms. Ana of Debt Free Revolution has a major aversion to debt and credit cards and is not thrilled with her father in law saying that we supposedly NEED credit to function in today’s American society.  She is quite pleased with the way her financial future is headed…and that future does not really include credit! 

Let’s hope that Ana does not run into Ms. Madison of My Dollar Plan during this festive season. Madison has a completely opposite view. For Madison of My Dollar Plan has a $1,020,270 credit limit on her 89 cards and has an action plan to apply for new cards and an additional credit limit if $42,100.

I agree with the Investors Journal that we should have our own rules to invest by. Rules that can properly reflect our investment philosophies and strategies. He also has some guides on how to set up these rules.

Dividends 4 Life has a very practical and a very workable approach for income. Seek dividend paying stocks and invest in them. He has previously written about his strict rules for the stocks to remain in his portfolio.

In this Carnival he talks about Dynamic Dividend Investing. The title of the post may seem a little rocket scientist-ish….but the suggested investment strategy appears to be quite straight forward. Worth our while to look it up.

There are a lot more articles presented at the Carnival. Check it out.

And a big hand of applause to Ms. SVB for this excellent job in hosting.   

My first outing to the Carnival of Family Life

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

My article on the 5 stages of a child’s life was featured in my first participation in the Carnival of Family Life – Christmas Edition hosted by JHS in Colloquium. (Amongst other things the name means “an informal meeting for the exchange of views”.)  

It took me a while to go through the articles I liked, getting sidetracked by interesting links along the way. You know what I mean. 

I particularly enjoyed:- 

Money Making Mamas’ take on giving the gift that will give back to you. She has chronicled the life story of her grandfather, spending time and energy typing out his story as he talked about his life. Not only did she learn so much more about her granddad, but has also made sure that her children and grandchildren will not lose out on this priceless resource of a generational story. She urges us to think about doing this for the seniors in our families.  

David B. Bohl of Slow Down Fast’s story of Luck: Helping each other and paying it forward. He has highlighted a great saying of an ancient Greek, “If we always helped each other, no one will need luck.”   

Edith Yeung of Dream Think Act asking us “Would you do what you are planning to do today, should today be the last day of your life?”.  Questions like this really make us think deep about the issues that form our central core.  

One of The Digerati Life’s guest writers, Mikael, wrote about the 3 great money lessons he learnt from his old man. Mikael has clearly thought deeply about the 3 lessons as he also provides us the extrapolations that make the lessons so relevant to his and our current lives. 

True to its title, the Carnival also features some stories on family humor.

You just have to read Mommin It Up’s Dirty Phonics on the Bathroom Wall. 

These are but, just some of the great articles available. Pop over and have a look for yourself.  

Thank you, JHS for the warm welcome you have given me. 

My best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to you, your family, your readers and all your friends.  

Cool skills to learn/Habits to form for personal development – Basic Car Maintenance

Monday, December 24th, 2007

It may be a little stretchy to say that learning this skill may make us more productive personally.  

However, most of us will agree that reducing the probability of our car breaking down on us; will be good for peace of mind. And anything that improves our peace of mind should be good for personal development. Shouldn’t it? 

I worked in a company in Ghana, West Africa for about 3 years. During that time, our company had 17 cars with most of these driven by my Ghanaian colleagues. And most of them did not have their own vehicles and neither had they ever owned vehicles.   

We had horrendous vehicle maintenance bills. Diesel vehicles were filled with petrol, cars were run with no water in their radiator, and tires would have been semi deflated…… 

The list was long. Some of the cars were driven until they came to a complete stop. It would have been so much cheaper had the problem been arrested earlier.  

Reputable workshops were also few and far in between.  

I really wished then, that I had learned basic car maintenance, and could send my colleagues for such courses.  

We solved this problem or rather mitigated it by:- 

a)    Assigning Musah Swallah, (who knew more about cars than the rest of us) to a department we set up for Vehicle Maintenance. 

b)    Opened Car Maintenance Cards for each vehicle, where we recorded the maintenance record, the items being changed, total costs etc. Cars whose costs of maintenance were high were subject to query and more often than not sold off.  

c)     A checklist of basic things to do, like checking the oil, water/coolant, tire pressure etc. was drawn up by Swallah for all drivers to follow.  

This helped to control the costs.  

The YMCA in my country’s capital used to give lessons in Basic Car Maintenance. This course would not, exactly enable you to repair a Ferrari, but it did teach you at least some basics about all the various lights and levers on your dashboard and the steering, how to change tires, oil checking, etc. 

Now there also seem to be a number of online resources, like here and also here.  

I believe many car owners are just like me. They take the car into the workshop at the prescribed intervals and just let the mechanic do his job. And we have no idea what he is doing, or not doing.  

And there are some who may be a little worse. They see a light blinking on their dashboard and they do nothing. The car continues to move so they just ignore the light. Until the car comes to a dead stop, and if Murphy’s Law has any credence, at the most inconvenient of times. 

Now many insurance companies and car dealers offer toll free numbers to call in event of an emergency. The AA also provides this service.  

Nevertheless, basic car maintenance is a skill worth learning.

These days a car is almost a necessity. For many of us, the car is about the most expensive thing we own after our homes.

A little regular maintenance done by ourselves will help lowering costs as well as lengthen the life of the car. 

I have to admit, that I am still amongst the uneducated when it come to vehicle maintenance.  

However, we do keep vehicle records, where we note the mileage at the beginning and end of the day and the cost of fuel put in.

And we follow the maintenance schedules quite religiously.  

For the two elder girls, my wife and I shall make sure they attend basic car maintenance classes before they get their own cars.  

Should parents ask their friends to employ their children?

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

This will be a question that my wife and I will be asking ourselves quite soon. 

Our two elder girls should be graduating next May, and will be looking to join the rat race. 

We have friends who run businesses or are senior level executives in some of the bigger companies in town.  

Should we let our children go through the process of writing a proper resume, apply for jobs, practice selling themselves at the interview and find their first job by themselves?  

Or as parents, should we lend a “helping hand”? 

My wife and I have decided that our helping hand will be limited to helping the children pick up (in necessary, through additional formal education) non academic skills that may assist them in their careers. 

After that, Along and Aja have to do their best to sort themselves out. 

My wife and I, believe that in asking a “friend” to employ our children, we may in some way, compromise our relationships. Our friends, just like any other employer, would have to screen all applicants and chose whom they think are best suited. 

My wife and I just have to focus on guiding and preparing our children as best as we can, so that they fall within the “best suited” or at least “better suited” category

A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year !

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

christmas-snoopy-lights-tree.jpg

Image Credit:  Google Images

This morning I read an article by Ms. Norma Alias in our local daily newspaper, on sharing a verse she once read on what would be the “Best gifts.” 

It is a beautiful verse, and in the Christmas spirit, I thought it would be fitting to repeat it here.

The Best Gifts 

To your enemy, forgiveness;  

To an opponent, tolerance;  

To a friend, your heart;  

To a customer, service;  

To mankind, love;  

To every child, a good example;

To yourself, respect;

To God, yourself 

Here’s to wishing all my Christian readers a very Merry Christmas! 

And to all of us a very Happy New Year! 

May we all be showered with the best of what is good for us and be protected from what is not good for us.   

Tagged for the first time

Friday, December 21st, 2007

Kate of Experiments in Living, tagged me as a blogger of kindness. (Is this is a great way to be known, or what? Thanks, Kate.)

She has a goal to set up a home business for financial freedom and is working on saving the planet, cooking, yoga and knitting. Perhaps she’ll come up with a home business built around her interests.

This meme is a continuation of that started by Laura in her 25 Days to Make a Difference.  

Here goes.

1. In your opinion, what does it mean to make a difference?

This means “changing anyone’s feelings or thoughts at any one time.” A simple word of encouragement, a smile, a little help when they need it, a little help when they least expect it. All these are actions that would make a difference.

2. What is an example of a unique way to make a difference?

The major ones would be those life changing events that can be likened to “Teaching a man to fish and feeding him for the rest of his life.”

I particularly like cases of providing employment opportunities to the underprivileged. This uplifts their self esteem, and gives them a confidence that has to be seen and felt to be appreciated. I had opportunities to do this, whilst working in Ghana and in India.  

3. Who has made a difference in YOUR life this week?

This week, I started a ‘gratitude journal”, where I write daily 3 things to be grateful for. This is an idea I gleaned from a post by Lazy Man. Sorry, I could not track back the post.  So the vote for this week will be for Lazy Man.

4. If I didn’t have a blog, would you still be making a difference?

Yes, I would. The blog helps in one aspect of making a difference. Sharing one’s experiences with others is usually good. Some of these may come at just the right time for someone. The best way to learn would be from the mistakes made by others, don’t you think?

The other ways of making a difference like offering a “no strings attached smile”, a kind word, etc. are something I hope to practice for the rest of my life.

5. What is your favourite thing about the internet?

My favourite thing about the Internet is the ease of seeking information and the tremendous resources we can find on “good”, like Laura’s post on BookCrossing.com. 

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