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Just a reprint of something I wrote long ago

5

 

Something to fill the empty space while I’m gone. I’ll be boooock!

 

Silk Flowers May Affect Testosterone Levels in Middle Aged Men.

Ten years ago I would never have thought I’d be writing about silk flowers. It’s amazing what a decade can do to change a person’s focus in life. Well, a decade and a spouse who’s begun her first business creating and selling them to be more accurate. I don’t want anybody thinking I gravitated towards working with silk flowers deliberately or as a natural trend in my life as I grew older. Really, I didn’t.

But it’s not just writing about them that I do. Oh no. You see, in order to be able to write about silk flowers with authority, it’s a good idea to know something about them first. And that usually means doing a bit of research and perhaps talking to a few people knowledgeable about such things. And in my case doing things that would normally be anathema to the average red blooded American male of stereotypical dimensions such as myself.

Yeah, I’m talking about things like shopping at craft stores, discussing color schemes with sales representatives, and sitting for hours trying to figure out how in the heck you’re supposed to know whether the Gerbera daisies are okay to use with the Eucalyptus sprig in the grey ceramic vase with winter colors on it.

 Give me a pair of vise grips, a blow torch and some bailing wire and I’ll make anything you want in an hour. Give me some silk flowers and vases though and I’ll be gone and on an extended coffee break within minutes. I don’t know, but maybe it’s a chromosome thing or genetic. There aren’t any studies yet. Probably because all the male scientists are too busy finding out how to create a light beer that might actually have alcohol in it.

I used to enjoy going to the hardware store, but now I find myself in and out of there in minutes. It’s just not the same trying to explain the proper shade of silk flower tape as it is discussing the merits of carbide tipped skill saw blades. I’m not even going near the bar anymore. I didn’t like the look my buddy gave me when I started talking about the sweet heavy glass bases I found for our Amaryllis selections.

But here I am writing about silk flowers a few times a week because like any good spouse, I want my other half to be happy and do well in whatever she does. If I’m lucky she reads that line and pities me enough to let me out of going to Pottery World next week although that’s doubtful. That doesn’t really bother me nearly as much as the fact that I can’t go to the department store anymore without finding myself comparing our silk flower arrangements to the ones on the shelves and noticing that they didn’t use nearly as nice a stem as we have though. I’ve almost found myself commenting on them to the nice little old ladies browsing next to me on occasion. I’ll have to watch that.

 It is in the end, all my fault really. One of the things that attracted me to her years ago was her style and talent. She has a way of just throwing things together that makes a man such as myself willing to write bad checks. Or was it how she walked? I can’t remember anymore. I remember that I had noticed it within minutes of meeting her, whatever it was. Of course, it could just be that chromosome again, but again, apparently all the male scientists are too busy researching beer and chasing women to figure it out.

Whatever the case I noticed her. It didn’t take long to notice how skilled she was in so many things. I watched her on several occasions with almost no advance notice put together some killer silk flower arrangements for various friends and family. And Holidays? Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, all these and more are an excuse for her to let loose and turn our home into a showcase of color and style. It’s like walking into a photo shoot for Better Homes and Gardens or something.

So being the brilliant guy that I am, I suggested that with all that talent and experience, why not do it for a living? Of course, like the stereotypical male, I couldn’t let it go at that no. In short order I had agreed to handle all the promotional and sales related work as well. And heck, since I would be helping with that, I’d help with actually getting supplies, putting things together and everything else.

 It’s times like that when a guy is letting his errant chromosome and love for a woman get him into trouble, that a small part in his brain tries to make itself known by weakly muttering a few pieces of common sense in the back of his mind. I think it’s the part that helps with self preservation, but being a guy, I guess I ignore it a lot. It whispers things like “Don’t you think that’s too much charcoal fluid?”, or “It might be best if you unplugged that before taking it apart.”  It’s only later that I even realize it was there trying to get my attention. Usually while the bandages are being applied and I’m filling out an insurance form. At any rate, I can at least be thankful that I haven’t suffered any permanent damage as of yet. The burns from the hot glue have healed nicely. You can barely see the scar anymore.

I guess it’s all worth it really. Guys are built to survive doing stupid things so I’ll probably live a bit longer. Heck, another ten years and I might even be skilled enough to put together a silk flower arrangement she won’t want to burn the second I turn my back.

What counts is that my spouse is doing really well and her store is growing strongly. Alicia’s, which is what we have named her business, climbs the rankings and she makes sales and new friends as she networks and promotes herself. I continue to learn and write about our newfound career while finding innovative ways to draw blood with pliers and in a few years who knows. I could very well still have enough testosterone and fingers left to do some fishing when we’re rich and sitting atop our silk flower empire.

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Maybe You Should Unplug That First?

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So, it’s been over two weeks since I last posted, which pretty well sends all my intentions of practicing some consistency up in clouds of guilt ridden smoke. Not much to be done for it, and the guy running the place doesn’t pay me for this anyways, so Iet’s just practice a little of my favorite standby, Denial, and move along as if nothing ever happened shall we?

The last two weeks have been something of a blur. I’m fairly certain I got a lot of work done and somewhere in there I became a year older. There was an unfortunate incident recently with a broken Christmas light which resulted in an impromptu Benjamin Franklin style experiment in electricity, which in turn may explain the weeks’ blurriness. While I’m no fan of electrocution, I’m certainly happy to say that this time I was on terra firma and not a ladder.

The last time I got a good jolt was while putting up the last section of a gutter. Although it was a relatively simple job, the combination of aluminum ladder, late evening thunderstorms and Florida (lightening capital of the world) conspired to put a permanent 1970’s style wave in my hair. All I remember of that incident was holding onto the last two sections of gutter as I was about to put the last screw into place, an incredibly brief white flash, then wondering why I was lying on the front lawn in the rain clutching a handful of torn and muddy sod. I’m fairly convinced that’s the type of event responsible for “going into the light” becoming associated with near death experiences. While I may not have seen God, I certainly know his handiwork intimately.

 Speaking of Christmas lights…..

After resetting the breaker and about 12 hours of playing switch the light bulbs we finally managed to get the tree lights up. This is no mean feat as my better half is not one to take holidays lightly. An entire section of our garage is dedicated to a ceiling high stack of boxes containing enough holiday decorations to make the Macy’s parade planners hang their heads in shame. This is a collection that has apparently been growing since 1804 and which I suspect is responsible for the shortened lifespan of more than one husband in her familys’ history. No less than 3,000 lights grace our tree each year, and each year despite the extreme care and foresight put into carefully packing them away, they emerge from their boxes in a state of utter higgledy piggledy. Near as I can tell, we have an entire colony of ferrets living in our garage who apparently use these boxes of lights as a nesting ground in the offseason.

Strings that were carefully checked for operation and lovingly wound into neatly arranged spirals emerge from their boxes with at least 5 burnt out bulbs and a cats cradle of knots in them. There are always no less than two bulb sockets per strand that after performing flawlessly for four weeks out of the year, somehow become faulty once packed away for storage and defy any and all attempts at identification and repair. Worse, after personally removing each and every bulb, examining each bulb and socket with an eight inch magnifying glass under the bright glare of a 16 volt flashlight, and still not finding the one single socket responsible for half the strand remaining dark, throwing the entire string on the floor in disgust results in the darkened section lighting up. Of course, these lights only remain lit as long as you do not touch them. Picking them back up off the floor only results in half the strand again going dark and it is then back to square one.

 Hanging ornaments is somewhat less nerve wracking, but carries with it its own unique set of trials and tribulations. Ornaments that have been in a family for several generations have two inherent qualities that spell nothing but danger for men. One, they carry an inordinate amount of sentimental value, which even the most unenlightened of the men among us know is a naturally hardwired hot button for women. Two, these ornaments have a tendency to crumble into dust the moment a man approaches and peels the tape off of the boxes they are packed in. No matter how careful a man is, there are going to be casualties among the ornaments and a new addition to the arsenal of guilt his better half uses to facilitate the completion of unpleasant projects that fall within the realm of the man’s responsibilities. Our family has a tradition of purchasing at least two new ornaments each year. Although the stated purpose is to build memories, I suspect the real reason is more practical and simply a way to prevent any slowdowns in the accumulation of decorations due to the unavoidable presence of men.

Despite these pitfalls, guys like me have our own fortuitous qualities that allow us to enjoy the holidays as much as anyone else; namely our natural capacity for surviving repeated trauma and an ability to forget it happened as long as we achieved our goal. Getting hit with 120 volts AC is nothing compared to look on her face when in spite of all the insanity, everything turns out just right come Christmas Morning.

 

Merry Christmas folks.

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Posted in: General Entries

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Updating Themes and Site Improvements

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After a week of work the dust is finally settling and some semblance of order is being restored here on Writingfourmylife*. Although I’m not quite ready to lift martial law just yet, I’ve determined that it is safe to once again post and allow visitors to peruse through the rubble. Please make sure your tetanus shots are up to date and avoid the rest rooms if possible. The footer area is still in flux and there may be some exposed wiring in the sidebar, so keep an eye on those areas if you choose to enter. Oh, and there are a couple empty rooms like the Samples page; I’m still getting all the furniture moved in you see.

As you can probably tell, I’ve done some restructuring and a complete theme change. While some of the purists may find it annoying, I’ve decided to include advertizing spots. Nothing serious, just some banners, and I’ve no intention of selling out and turning every post into a promotion for the latest and greatest money making ploy. Besides, in order to be a sellout I’d have to be getting paid, and at this point in time getting paid is a rare animal indeed. No,my status as paid shill is still relegated to writing honest copy so you can relax.

With all the changes I’ve been making it occurred to me that there’s a post to be had from all this confusion. Most of us see only the pretty face put on the blogs we visit and rarely get to glimpse the greasy machinery and rusty gears churning in the background making everything grind along so smoothly. With that in mind, I’ve decided to shill, er, reveal some of the plugins I’ve been using for the past 6 months or so that I think you readers may find of use on your own blogs. I’m sticking with listing what has been working and demonstrating effectiveness, so if you decide to give any of them a try it’s a fairly safe bet you’ll get the desired results if you’ve done everything correctly.

Perhaps one of the best and least obvious plugins I have been using is the All in One SEO Pack. This nifty little gadget is great for the blogger who isn’t interested in a lot of manual SEO work and would like an edge they don’t have to think too much about. With this plugin you can easily set your blog title to hold your blog name and a few important keywords with it, just don’t be silly and load it with gibberish.

You can also set your blogs meta description which although not a lot of help with SEO per se, is good for enticing those finding your site in the search results to click on your link. It also has some features that can keep things like archives and categories from appearing to search engines as duplicate content which although arguable in importance, is probably at the least a sensible idea. You can also set it to automatically generate keywords from post content and existing tags, a plus when you’re pressed for time.

Here is one serious All In One Pack tip for those less familiar with manipulating your content for SEO purposes. This plugin has an option at the bottom of each add/edit post page in your admin area for adding keywords and titles. This can be quite effective for getting the pages you really want to push to rank well for specific keywords. The All in One SEO Pack is a very good plugin, but it does require you to change a few of its settings to get the most benefit from it. An excellent tutorial can be found here and I highly recommend reading it before making any changes to the plugin’s settings.

The Easy Contact plugin does pretty much what it says with a minimum of hassle, which if you’re like me and easily hassled due to having only one heavily frayed nerve left, is a blessing. Some of you are loathe to put your e-mail address on your site thanks to spammers (see above and “frayed nerve”) and others of us believe that it simply cannot hurt to have as many forms of contact on our site as possible. Easy Contact simply adds a very clean form to your site that allows visitors to contact you without the need to send e-mail or leave the site. All you need to do is download the plugin, create a new page called “Contact”, add the easy-contact short-code to the page and then any text you want to include below it. Voila, instant contact form. You can see it in action here on my site if you’d like.

One last plugin I use that some of you may like is WP-Ban. This nifty little gadget is great for those days when the poopheads just can’t seem to have anything nice to say to you and you’re tired of that one spammer who insists on leaving 125 spam comments every day. Simply install the plugin and activate it, go to your dashboard and record the ip numbers of the offending or offensive parties to be kicked out of the party, then go to the plugin settings and add their ip# to the ban list and update. In addition to being of some help in reducing spam, it also provides some feeling of satisfaction in knowing that you’ve managed to slam the virtual door shut in the face of those who have maligned you for the last time. BTW, if you’re feeling really frisky this plugin allows you to create a custom message for the banned party to read when they try leaving their usual offal at your blogs door. Just sayin is all.

Each one of these plug ins has been a great addition to my WP based blog and proven its worth. All In One SEO in particular I highly recommend, especially if you’re not that well versed in SEO and need all the help you can get. I hope they prove as useful on your own blogs as well.

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Improving Alexa Rank: Should You and How

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Improve Alexa ranking

As a writer who produces text intended mainly for use on the web, I am always trying to learn more about how I can improve my work’s web effectiveness. Since text is content, and an obviously content related concern is SEO and everything that has to do with how well a site performs, I spend a deliberately undocumented amount of time figuring out how to gauge overall performance itself. I say deliberately undocumented because to tell the truth, I’m too scared to actually set down in hours how much time I’ve spent doing anything besides actual paying work.

 While most of us are concerned with how well our sites perform in the search engines, and rightly so, there are other indicators of site performance that also carry some degree of weight. One of the most well known of these indicators is Alexa rank, and that is the bear I am going to grab by the tail here tonight and hope doesn’t eat me when all is said and done.

To start, Alexa ranking is simply the ranking of a site compared to all the other sites on the internet as determined by Alexa.com.  The lower your site’s ranking number on Alexa, the better it is performing compared to other Alexa ranked sites. If your site is ranked at 1 million, then it means your site is the 1 millionth most popular site according to Alexa’s ranking algorithm.

The first thing to realize about Alexa ranking is that it is not determined simply by the amount of traffic your site is bringing in. Alexa rank is based on the traffic to all sites, and sites are then ranked relative to each other. This means that even if your site experiences a significant increase in traffic, there is no guarantee it will also experience an improvement in Alexa ranking. If the sites above or below you also experience an increase in traffic, since Alexa ranking is determined by ratio of traffic between sites, your own site could experience a drop in Alexa ranking despite showing an increase in overall traffic.

Alexa ranking also has very little to do with how well your site ranks in the search engines, how many links are flowing in to your site, or how much content you have spread around. Alexa is geared primarily towards reflecting site popularity based on Alexa’s own data, and so is based for the most part on how often the site is visited by users who have the Alexa toolbar installed along with other undisclosed measures of traffic and unique views. In 2008 Alexa changed its ranking parameters to include more indices outside of the Alexa toolbar data so it is important to understand it is no longer true that the Alex toolbar is the only source providing data.

Now, at this point you might be wondering why Alexa rank even matters if it has nothing to do with search rank and is a poor indicator of overall traffic. That’s a good question, and one that stopped my jumping around like Steve Martin in The Jerk when the new phonebooks arrived after I noticed my Alexa ranking finally dropping below 1 million.

Well, how important Alexa ranking is really depends on what your goals are. Probably the most common reason for trying to improve Alexa rank is the fact that many pay per review or ad sites like ReviewMe, Text Link Ads, and Sponsored Reviews decide how much you’ll be paid according to your Alexa rank. Some of these sites also use Alexa rank to determine how much a link will cost you, or how much one to your site is worth. There are also many companies and businesses that use Alexa rank to determine if purchasing advertising or promotional space on your site is worthwhile or not. Although it’s a poor way to gauge the true value of a site, many places still insist on using Alexa ranking in this manner so it’s not a bad idea to keep this in mind when trying to sell some virtual real estate.

As you can imagine, because Alexa ranking is used this way, it is popular with Marketers, Webmasters, Bloggers, and those people leaning more towards the monetary aspect of the internet. So, if you are a Marketer or a Blogger, develop or manage websites, or in some other way depend on the perceived value of web real estate, improving your Alexa ranking is probably a very worthwhile endeavor.

 You’ll notice that I say “perceived” value and not simply value. Well, although Alexa is used by some as a tool to determine and assign monetary values, the reality is that it is not very accurate when it comes to how effectively a site reaches an audience or how large that audience really is. Since Alexa draws data from what can only be described as a limited cross section of internet users, and this cross section is heavily skewed towards those who have the Alexa Toolbar installed, Alexa doesn’t really represent the true reach a site has or its traffic volumes. If you are looking for real performance from your marketing or advertising programs Alexa is not the way to go. If you are looking to market your site or services however, Alexa can be very helpful indeed.

Rather than continue into all the nuances of Alexa ranking and how it works, let’s go instead with assuming it fits in with our goals and that we want to improve how our site is performing.

There really doesn’t appear to be many proven ways to improve your Alexa rank. Although there are quite a few shady tactics involving script and bogus traffic generators geared towards artificially improving the numbers, I strongly recommend against these. Some are only temporary at best, and there are some instances where users have claimed to have experienced serious negative results after an initial boost. Just like with SEO, if it’s shady, don’t do it. So, what can we do then?

Install the Alexa Toolbar

For starters, install the Alexa Toolbar. All you need are the basics. If you don’t want any extras or add-ons, simply choose not to include them in your installation. I’ve had the toolbar for several weeks now and can tell you that I have not experienced any problems whatsoever with its incorporation into my browser. In fact, it’s one of the least obtrusive toolbars I’ve ever used and there is no hidden adware.

 By installing the toolbar you are doing a couple things.

You will get credit for your own visits to your own site. The toolbar will also automatically show you the Alexa rank of every site you visit and makes easily available all the info Alexa has compiled, which is great when comparing your own performance to that of your competitors. However, ignore the yahoos who try to tell you to install it on a group of networked systems in the office or at home, and then to set them all to your site as the homepage or any such tomfoolery. Alexa only counts one visit per day, and multiple hits from the same location will add up to zilch. Also avoid advice to use redirects or buy visits. Neither results in honest numbers, and redirects can cost you greatly when it comes to SEO.

Encourage Others to Use the Toolbar

The next thing to do, and perhaps the most effective and important way to dramatically improve your Alexa rank, is to get your friends, visitors, forum members, group members, and any other network you belong to that adds to your site traffic to install the Alexa Toolbar as well. This is probably the only thing that is guaranteed to produce an immediate improvement in your Alexa rank. The more regular visitors you can get to install the toolbar the better, and they will benefit as well with improvements in their own Alexa rank.

Invite reviews

Alexa has an option for viewers of your site’s stats to write reviews of your page. Now, I have to be honest and tell you that I really can’t say if reviews will do much to help your site or not, but, I do believe there is a lot of potential for reviews in conjunction with improved Alexa rank to increase your actual traffic. Some of the sources I’ve come across suggest reviews do help improve your rank, but in my own opinion based on what I understand of Alexa’s workings, there would have to a somewhat arbitrary index included by Alexa for that to be the case. Alexa does state that they include other indicators so it is entirely possible that reviews can help, I just can’t promise you they will. At any rate, I would get the review widget like the one in my lower left footer and begin inviting reviews from your visitors in order to at the least give it a chance. Yes, that’s a hint dear reader. Also, when you copy the widget code or use your own, modify it to open in a new window to keep visitors on your site since it doesn’t have that option by default.

Target Alexa Toolbar Users

One other tip that I find makes sense is to frequent Webmaster, Tech, Marketing, and SEO related forums and begin including your link in signatures and posts where appropriate. Since the bulk of Alexa’s toolbar users are in these areas, it makes sense to have some presence there as well. You can get started with sites like Warrior Forums, Digital Point, Webmaster World, and Sitepoint. If you handle the nuts and bolts of your own site or are engaged in serious marketing you should be a member of these forums anyways as the knowledge and resources they offer are oftentimes invaluable.

Post About Alexa

One last way to improve Alexa Rank would be to write about it just as I have done here. Those interested in Alexa will be using the toolbar and looking for any good solid information about Alexa they can use, and if you can add something of benefit then you stand to gain both Alexa rank and organic traffic from their visits.

This pretty well concludes what I have to offer on improving your Alexa rank. I’ve tried to stick with only those methods I can reasonably endorse as effective while still answering some of the usual questions that come with discussing the subject. 

I’ve deliberately ignored a lot of suggestions I’ve come across because they simply aren’t practical or ethical. For instance; if you write about Marketing Strategies, it would make little sense to suggest you write about webmaster tools. Nor would it be ethical to suggest you pay people to promote your link in tech forums or write reviews.

 I would really like to hear any suggestions you folks might have, and even better, some summaries of your results after trying what I’ve suggested. As always, thanks for stopping in and good luck.

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