August 2007 Archives

August 27, 2007

Search Engine Optimization: Consulting!

I have been teaching a search engine optimization class through Continuing Education for a year now, and I have to say that as much as I had learned at eBay while I was there, I have learned three times more. The concept seems pretty simple: increasing your chances of being in the top ten within a specific search engine. Seems simple, doesn't it? But with the multiple ways it is possible to increase your footprint, it becomes more complex to do it the 'white hat' style.

Currently, I have been working with a rafting company, Colorado River and Trail Expeditions, who asked me to do some consulting work for them. I've never really done any paid consulting work before, though I have been rather eager to get into the consulting field. Last Thursday I had a presentation at Cyprus Credit Union, and since I would be off the clock at the U anyway, I made an appointment and headed down to their office.

I was first impressed with their site code. They hired a consultant to assist them with that as well, and he did an excellent job with their code. It was clean, concise, and a joy to look at. It made identifying locations to add keywords simple and easy.

Next, their traffic has been great overall, even without their increased Google standing. That being said, they are coming to their slow season (expected when the water is running low and Autumn is coming), so traffic will continue to dwindle because of the seasonal nature of the business. It also means that this is the perfect time to make the change.

There were a number of other marketing suggestions that I had made that will increase their back links for free, and still remain very optimal. It will be interesting to see how their footprint continues to grow during the next few months. I'll be monitoring the website for a while, and may (with the permission of the company) use their website as an example in my class.

This, of course, all comes back to the class itself. We are going to be focusing on Search Engine Marketing a bit more, which from my past students has become the real interest. It seems that people have finally come to the realization that the search engine isn't the only goal in marketing, but rather increased traffic. The class will still focus on techniques to optimize for search engines, but will now include some information on quantifying your return from search engine marketing overall.

*end shameless plug here* ^_^

August 20, 2007

Weekend Adventure: Watermelon Sorbet

This weekend my parents went to a local farmer's market and bought some Green River Watermelon for a crafting party my sister-in-law was throwing. No one came, so we had plenty of watermelon, and my son could only eat so much. ^_^ So I thought I would try to make a sorbet out of it.

Now, I have tried to make sorbet in the past, using just the juice. The sorbet was tasty, flavorful, but very much like shaved ice. There wasn't a lot of smooth body to it, and really turned me off. So, I thought I would try something new, based off of Joseph's ice cream recipe. He uses tapioca starch for his stabilizer to provide a smooth creamy texture to his ice cream. Well, I thought the same thing could be done with sorbet. right?

Here is the recipe:

3 Cups pureed watermelon
1 tablespoon lime juice
3/4 cup sugar (optional, if you don't mind a little tart sorbet)
3 teaspoons tapioca starch

I started with using the blender for the watermelon, as I don't have a proper food processor (I'm working on it!). It worked beautifully, so I added the lime juice. Then I moved the liquid to a pot and heated it up. While it was heating, I added the sugar and the tapioca starch, whisking them in. I warmed it until it seemed to thicken (I should have let it come to a boil, I think), and then refrigerated the mixture to cool it down. Once cool, I moved it to my trusty ice cream maker. Within 20 minutes, I had a thick and wonderful smelling sorbet. I quickly scooped it out into a container and placed it back in the fridge.

The sorbet tasted great, except for a strong flavor of tapioca. With milk based mixtures, the tapioca doesn't overpower the flavor, but it seemed to overpower the watermelon's mild flavor. Other than that, it was almost like tasting the watermelon all over again without the familiar crunch.

I think next time I will use less tapioca starch (or perhaps corn starch), and bring the mixture to a boil. Luckily there is plenty of watermelon left over, so I can try it again! ^_^

If anyone has any suggestions, (like you, Joseph!), please let me know!

August 16, 2007

History in the (re)Making: Chavez and the End to Term Limits

It was announced today in the news that Hugo Chavez is requesting an end to term limits, and eliminating central bank autonomy in Venezuela. I'm sure the US Government is already labeling this move as a precursor to dictatorship, which it is in essence, but let's look at it again. Here is a man who is trying to make serious change in his country, and finds the constitutional limits on his power to be a problem. So, he asks the checks and balances in his way to grant him the right to ignore those limits in order to achieve his goal.

What his real goals are is completely immaterial for the discussion that I want to bring up, it's the fact that he is asking for these powers outside of a critical national crisis, i.e. a war. We are seeing, my friends, is the rise of a dictator due to social considerations.

First, I want to dispel the stigma that surrounds the idea of a dictatorship. Not all dictators are evil, as many throughout history were placed in order to achieve their ends, and most have . For those of you who would argue that point, I would like to point out that Abraham Lincoln was effectively a dictator during the Civil War (along with just about every other president during a war). Dictators, as defined by the Romans, had unlimited power (as in extent of exercise) for a limited space of time (usually a year). Exceptions would be Sulla, Marius, and Caesar who all managed to become dictators for as long as they wished, finally ending in the Empire when Augustus passed it on to his heir.

So my fundamental question is, why would the people want to have a dictator in place, and lose their voice in the government? There are a couple reasons that I can think of, and would appreciate any feedback from those that have additional perspectives.

Social Trust in the Dictator
Believe it or not, people can trust a dictator if they trust that he will act in their interest. Generally this is achieved when a high majority of the people governed desire the policies of the potential dictator. In Chavez's case, it is his popular socialist movement that appeals to the people who are essentially poor and need some way out of their poverty. One such way is by allowing the government to help them through given social reforms and programs.

Another is through religious devotion to the leader. Many leaders of religious states instill trust based on the leader's devotion to their religion. This can be dangerous, because if the leader deviates from the perceived "righteous" course, he can and will be quickly replaced. Unfortunately, politics doesn't mix well with religion, and many leaders of religious states quickly find their end.

Economic Need for Quick Action
As was quoted in Men In Black, "A person is smart, people are dumb stupid panicky animals..." As such, a person will realize that the economy is so badly run by "people" (i.e., generally committees and officials) that a serious change needs to be taken immediately before complete collapse and chaos reigns. At that point, usually the Executive will try to assume, whether legally or illegally, powers that will allow them to act. Generally these periods of dictatorship need only be fleeting, and the executive should generally step down once the goal is met.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Once someone gets the taste of power, they begin to feel entitled to it. One such example was the economic need that drove Adolf Hitler into dictatorship to save Germany from bankruptcy, but ended in the effective end of Germany (being divided between four countries). Once they feel it is their right to rule over people, they do not relinquish their power without a show of force by another powerful entity that is not loyal to the executive (usually through the Military). Hence, military coups.

Basic Needs are Not Met
The most serious, and often most compelling, reason for a dictatorship is the lack of basic needs for the people. This goes far beyond the economic need, because people are not getting a specific need, whether it be food, water, shelter, warmth, or safety. At these periods, people are quick to relinquish their sovereign rights over themselves to another person in order to acquire that right.

Such conditions are the aims of terrorists seeking power over the majority. They try to instill that basic need for safety in order to bend the will of the people in their direction. In some cases it can work and has been very effective. The problem is once the terrorists are in power, the safety is not given but rather becomes a part of life. That may keep the people in line for a small period, but there will always be a plot to oust such a government.

The Security of the Community is in Peril
Slightly different is the need of the security of the community. This is when legitimately selected executives are generally granted dictatorial powers during their term in office to direct the military forces in the best direction possible to protect the nation. Abraham Lincoln had such powers while during the Civil War. James Madison had the same during the War of 1812, though ousted from Washington D.C. at the time.

This is generally rare, and only placed when there is a constant, direct threat against the community to the point that people feel there is no other option but to give up their sovereign powers to a single authority.

So, why is Chavez trying to gain these powers? From what is reported, it's because of economic needs within his country, and he is counting on the popularity of his social reforms to achieve his goal of dictatorship. This is because he feels that the period of his legitimate term is unable to generate enough of a change in the direction he wishes to take the country.

Now the right will be issued based on the sovereign will of Venezuela, but I would like to point out the process that is being taken to reach the dictatorship, and how it is possible for a people in a republic to allow their say in the government to be voided. It's a fascinating process for those who study history, because it tells us how dictators can even be considered within a political environment that gives people the right to participate in their government.

It will be interesting to see how Chavez acts in the next couple of days.

August 13, 2007

Consolidation of Electronics: What I Use and Don't Use

This last weekend I have been evaluating the utilitarian nature of my possessions, and have found that many of my objects are just not being used at all. Take, for instance, my Pocket PC. At one time, I was looking into the possibility of moving all my work to a Pocket PC, and found the platform inadequate for my needs. This was a few years ago, and to this day I still only have a few uses for the Pocket PC that I have quickly replaced by using many of the free internet tools, and a good note pad.

So, I have decided to sell my Pocket PC and the wireless card I purchased with it on eBay, in the hopes of getting enough funding to purchase some exercise accessories (i.e., my snorkeling equipment). My goal is to sell the package for at least $100.00, which should be sufficient for my needs. If anyone is interested in the device, it is in fine shape. ^_^

I also have found several games and other software that have come with my computers in the past that I no longer need (mostly because I have moved platforms). I will be listing those soon, in hopes of getting more funding for an underwater case for my camera (and if possible, video camera). Those will be posted soon, and I may even post my entire Sid Meier collection, from the original Civilization to Civilization II: Test of Time.

Finally, I am going to be getting rid of one of my antique jeeps. I have a 1942 Willy's Jeep that is in desperate need of a new body and a rebuilt transmission, though the engine is running really well. I hate to get rid of it, but may look to a local junk yard, and see how much they will give me for it. That money, if anything, will go to fixing up my 1953 Willy's jeep (M38A1), which was a command vehicle commissioned during the Korean war. Did it ever make it there? Probably not, but it's a great convertible, and only needs a couple more things done to make it drivable.

There may be some other objects that will either be sold off cheap, or trashed, based on their usability. If you are looking for some random bits of software for your Windows machine, looking for a new Pocket PC to experiment with, or perhaps know of someone looking for a real fixer-upper in a classic Jeep, let me know!

August 8, 2007

Exciting New Announcement: iWork '08

I've been using Macs for quite a while now, on and off, and I have noticed that there is just one thing that has made Apple dependent on Microsoft: Excel. Sure, you can install Open Office and use it, but it doesn't have Apple's flare for the dramatic, the sleek, the sexy. Instead, it has been very, very functional (hopefully that has covered both sides of the argument).

I have long thought that the best thing Apple could do is create a rival to Excel that was easy to use. When Office 2007 came out, I noticed that Microsoft had the same idea. So they decided to make a suite that was easy to use, and I still took 2 weeks with a manual to read up on how to use the blasted thing.

Well, with the announcement of the new iMacs (which I have been expecting for some time), Apple also announced a new addition to iWork: Numbers. Yes, Apple finally has their spreadsheet program, and by all accounts it looks and sounds really nice. It's supposed to make manipulating numbers as fun as using iPhoto or iMovie.

I say supposed to, because that's what Keynote and Pages were supposed to do. I've used both, and still use them for design, but as their tools are not familiar to me, I don't use them exclusively. Instead, I use the Microsoft Suite for Powerpoint, and I just started using Google Docs and Spreadsheets for everything else.

Will I try Numbers? You bet! It's something that I have been waiting for since iWork was announced. But will I use it exclusively? That all depends on just how easy it is to use. I'm not, in spite of some accusations from friends, a Mac snob. I'm quite happy to use any other application out there that is useful, or any other platform that meets my needs. After all, I bought Parallels to run Ubuntu and Windows XP. It all comes down to need. But I would rather stick with one platform for simplicity's sake.

Anyway, if you want more information about iWork 2008, there is a press release article here. Also, while you are in the neighborhood, check out the new iMacs. They look really sweet. ^_^

August 6, 2007

Snorkeling in Utah? The Bonneville Sea Base

Recently, I have been very close to convincing my wife how much fun it would be to go snorkeling. I've used a snorkel underwater in a very controlled environment (i.e., a swimming pool), and have been fascinated with the concept of being able to enjoy life under the water for extended periods. As such, I have been constantly trying to convince my wife that it would be easy, simple to accomplish, and fun for everyone.

Until recently, she has been very against the whole idea. We then began to watch Shark Week videos (purchased the DVD release from Costco for $19.00!), and she finally came over. The thing is, she loves sharks. Probably because she is so afraid of them (she still leaps into my lap when I get her to watch Jaws). Regardless, she is interested in seeing them in the "wild", or at least as close as she can get to it.

Then, just for fun, I started to price snorkeling gear on the internet. Costco has a kit with a bag that was released by US Divers for $29.99. This means that of all the extreme sports that I am trying to get her interested in, it seems to be the least expensive. This is great, because it fits into some future dreams of mine.

Anyway, while I was checking it out, I was trying to think of places we could go in order to learn how to snorkel. In essence, as long as you can swim, you can snorkel. My wife isn't the best of swimmers, but she is willing to work at it. Also, I hope to have our son started in swimming lessons this next year, just in case (i.e, he would love it too). So, the first step is to go swimming, and try to teach her how to swim properly. That shouldn't take too long, perhaps the rest of the summer, and then we will be ready to go snorkeling.

But where to go? We could go on vacation and snorkel there, but Mexico is fairly far away, and it takes months to get a Passport (for my wife at least, I just need to update mine which takes less time). So, I started checking out local alternatives.

Freshwater Snorkeling
Very popular in the Great Lakes area back East, freshwater snorkeling can be fun and challenging. The fish are not as brightly colored, but you can see trout and bass up close, as well as bluegill and catfish. In the area, there are small freshwater ponds that surround the Great Salt Lake, all of which have fish stocks that can make for really interesting viewing. One can also watch the Crayfish populations, such as those in the Grantsville reservoir. I started planning trips in my head to little ponds and lakes in the area that would provide a good place to snorkel.

Seawater Snorkeling in Utah?
Then I saw an advertisement for the Bonneville Sea Base. I thought it was just another freshwater pond, but it turns out that they have marine life there, and you can swim among them. Marine Life, in Utah? Granted, we have the Great Salt Lake, but it's way too salty for any marine life to survive, let alone too cold.

Well, it appears that there are some hot springs that average 80 degrees throughout the year (70 degrees in winter), and are fed by both salt water and freshwater. The result is a tiny marine oasis in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. it's deep enough (62 feet) for deep dives, as well as several shallow areas perfect for snorkeling. They even have sharks, that is nurse sharks. My guess is that the bait fish necessary for the ecosystem to survive is being fed from the brine shrimp that tend to get into the groundwater, probably from the salt water spring.

Anyway, if you live in Utah, and want to experience real coral snorkeling, then I would highly recommend the Bonneville Sea Base. They even have equipment rental and scuba certification classes. I can't wait until we get the chance to head out there. After all, who would have thought the ocean could be so close?

August 3, 2007

Getting Published: The Goal and Process

In my last post, I mentioned that I was working on a book, using Google Docs to write it from various locations. The book is coming along fairly well, and is about a third of the way through the first revision. But, because I'm the geek that I am, I wanted to know how I could get the darn thing published when I got it done.

Well, it seems that there are a number of steps that one needs to take to get published within the world of fiction and non-fiction. From what I've researched, it's a difficult process being handled by several people that remove the writer from the publisher. Here are the steps that are recommended by those in the publishing world:

Write the Book
The first step is to write the blasted thing first. Finish the manuscript, and revise it as much as you can. The idea here is to make it look as sellable as possible at first look. Also, be sure you format the book correctly. The most common font used is Courier, the font size is 12 pt. You also want to double space the pages, to make it easier for the agent and publisher to read and review.

Next, determine how long your book is going to be, by number of words. There are two schools of thought here as to how to count the number of words, but if you use the word processor word count, you should be fine. If you are writing a novel, you want to be between 60,000 to 120,000 words for a first book. This isn't a set rule, but a general rule of thumb. At 4,000 words per chapter, and 20 chapters, you would be doing well at just about the middle ground. If you find your book is too short, you could submit it as a novella, or a short story. Otherwise, you may want to look into the story again, add some sub-plots, develop the sub-plots a little more, etc. That can add more depth to your story, and more words to your word count. ^_^

The Query Letter
Now that you have written your book, have a good story, nice word count, and formatted the manuscript, it's time to look for reputation. This means finding an agent. Why an agent you ask? Because it's their job to pitch books to publishers, which can be a lengthy process for a writer to try themselves, and they are more likely to get the book published than a writer trying to get it out there.

The Query letter needs to be formatted a specific way, much like a business pitch to your boss. No one is going to read the full 80 pages of research done to support change, unless your boss literally has nothing else to do. The same with an agent. They get hundreds of submissions a day, and often judge the book by the query letter. Nathan Bransford has a really good description of how to write a query letter that he considers amazing. Check out his blog, and you will see why he will be the agent of choice once my manuscript is ready for review. ^_^

The Partial and the Manuscript
If your agent likes the query, they will often ask for a partial. THis is usually the first 30 pages or so of the book. If you have already provided the first couple pages on a website somewhere, you can mention that in the Query letter, and bypass the partial request. Once they read the partial, like what they see, then they move on and ask for the manuscript.

Once the manuscript is at the agents, they will read through it and do some preliminary editing. This is pretty much at the discretion of the agent, and at no time is the agent entitled to give you any feedback on your work. Please remember that before you threaten their lives, or the lives of their family when they just tell you that they can't or won't publish your work.

To the Publisher
If everything is ready, then they will send it on to a publisher, and try to get the interest there to publish the book. There are a number of months involved in this process, so don't be surprised if you have heard nothing for months on end. That generally means that the agent is busy trying to get it pitched correctly, and get the manuscript printed. Now would be a good time to start another writing project, if you have nothing else to do.

On the Shelves!
If the stars are in alignment, and the planets are favorable, then the book is then published. At that point, you can relax, right? Wrong! If you have a good agent, they will most likely be asking you about your next book, and what other projects you have planned for.

Anyway, I thought I would add these little gems of wisdom that I have gleaned since I started writing my book for publication. Hopefully they will be of help to any other new writer, particularly if you are looking to start for the first time. For my credits, I would like to thank Nathan Bransford for having such an informative blog, and the good writers at the Absolute Write Forums for providing a lot of this information. It really takes the mystique out of the writing and publishing business.

August 1, 2007

Google Docs: A Review

In my move to eventually be platform independent, and be able to work from any location at any time with any device, I have been looking for one of the most basic tools to accomplish this: a universal document creator and repository. I've thought about network drives, standardized document tools that can handle the same document type though have different features across the board, and even limiting the hardware I would use, just to be sure I would be able to accomplish this goal.

But then I started to play with Google Docs. I have to admit, at first I didn't want anything to do with it, because I didn't think that it could be functional enough as a web application to make it worth while. I was wrong.

The first rule you need to know about documents, or indeed any office software, is that no matter how many bells and whistles that are on it, most people use just the basic features. This is because, in a sense, the business world in general doesn't needed anything more than a typewriter for their documents and email. As such, pretty much any word processor program can handle about 90% of all office needs, regardless of the amount of bells and whistles that are added. That being said, there are some people that need fancy tools, imbedded graphs, etc. For those people, I would not recommend something like Google Docs, but rather a more robust word processor.

But for the rest of us, Google Docs works great! I started by importing some documents, both Word and Open Office documents to them, and they work great. Formatting remains pretty much the same, and everything else looks great. I then uploaded a spreadsheet, and even though Safari isn't technically supported (Curse you!), it still works great in Safari 3.0 Beta.

So what's the real benefit? Storage space and accessibility. You can store your documents on Google's servers, and then download them and print them in any format you like, even PDF. You also can organize them within folders, to be sure you know where all your documents are. It also means that your documents are not located on your computer, but rather on the web, where you can access them from any location with an internet connection.

Currently, I am using it to write a long-standing project that I have been meaning to finish for years. I'm writing a book, and can write each chapter as a separate document, work on it from any location or any device, and still be able to download and print it from a location with a printer. I still haven't tried testing Google Docs from the iPhone, but if it works, that's just one more utility that I would have wanted on a mobile internet device that is resolved. Now, if they would just release an iPhone version of iChat, I might consider purchasing one.
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