Monday, April 20, 2015

What I Learned From 5 Years of Blogging

I starting blogging a little over 5 years ago as an experiment to try out for fun. I didn't have any expectations or clear goal but it was something I wanted to try out. Over the years my writing has improved and I have learned how to make better articles and attract more readers. Here are some of the things I have learned from blogging over the past 5 years.

1. You never know what is going to be popular.
This is one of the most interesting things I learn from blogging and that is, you never really know for sure which articles are going to be popular. There will be times when I write what I think is an amazing article and it will get very little traffic while other times I will write some random article that might be not much longer than a paragraph and it will get lots of traffic.

2. Which articles tend to do well with traffic.
With unpredictable traffic being said, I have learned a few tips on the kinds of articles that do tend to get more hits. Usually it is articles that are more specific and niche in nature which many people have not written about yet. The trick is to find a high interest topic that has not been widely covered yet. Localized articles tend to do well because they are more specific and do not have as much national and global competition. Also articles that do not get outdated fast tend to do better in the long run (ex. a how-to article) vs articles that might only draw interest for a week or so (ex. a current event).

3. Optimize your articles with tags, images, and good titles.
I'm no expert in search engine optimization but I have found it is wise to add tags to your articles to help them get found in searches. Also adding images helps make them more visually appealing. For titles, make sure is is something that describes your article well and is something that people would search for.

4. Don't expect to get rich quick.
Making money from blogging is hard. Usually it is done from putting ads on your site, but this only brings in a small amount especially if you do not have a lot of visitors. If your site becomes very popular then you may be able to start making a steady stream of income from ads. Start with a goal to write good content that will attract readers. Once you have an audience, then you can look into ads and ways to monetize your blog.

5. Be careful what you put online.
This is one of the most important lessons I learned and that is to be careful what you put online. This can be anything from text to images to links. For text, obviously be cautious about putting too much personal information online. Also be careful what you write about other people or companies especially if it is negative. If you are adding images, be sure those images are ok to use and do not belong to another person or company who does not want their images used. For links, be sure you are linking to trusted content and that the site you are linking to is ok with you sending traffic to their website.

6. Back up your work.
Not only should you back up files and data on your own computer, you should also back up your blog and or website. Just like a computer can crash and lose everything, so can a website. Most blogs are pretty easy to back up with a download that will at least save all the text and articles. Making a blog can be a lot of work and you don't want to lose it in the rare chance that there is a server crash so make sure you are backing it up frequently.

7. Update old articles.
Over time it is inevitable that articles will become outdated. Links to older websites and videos may not work over time as 3rd party content changes. A lot of times you will find your opinion on what you wrote years before has changed and will require an update. Another things is that old articles tend to not get as much traffic, so updating them with new information can help make them fresh and relevant again without writing a brand new article.

8. Blogging is fun!
Making a blog and writing about topics you are interested is fun! You get to express yourself and share your opinion with the world. Others with the same interests will find your blog and comment on your articles. It is great to get the feedback to reinforce that what you are writing is actually getting read and people are taking the time to respond to it. I recommend everyone try blogging as it is free to get started and can be a great way to get your ideas and thoughts out there in the world!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Cross Country Conference Race Story

I had never run competitively in anything more than a quick foot race before I started high school. I was a decent athlete, but I never tried distance running until my mother suggested that I join the cross country team. She wanted me to get involved in extra-curricular activities and she heard good things about this team. Someone I knew was going to join also so I thought I would give it a try.

I showed up on the first day, nervous, in my new shorts, shirt, and running shoes. Most of the kids looked older, but I found a few kids I knew from jr. high and hung around them. The coach introduced himself and talked a little bit about the sport.

Next thing I know, we are running a mile warm up. A mile for warm up? As far as I was concerned, a mile was a long way to run. I was in good shape, so I was able to do it and finished somewhere in the middle of the pack, but it wasn't easy. After that, we stretched and then did our workout which consisted of running various distances at various speeds. Overall I thought it was ok, but not something I wanted to do on a daily basis.

In the days to follow, my mom really had to push to get me to stick with it. I was sore and didn't want to keep running, but for whatever reason, I stuck with it. After a few weeks it got easier. I started meeting new people and it actually became fun. I kept training with the team each day and got better each week.

By the end of the season, I was one of the top runners on the freshman team. The problem was, I had become injured. I could run, but it was painful, and I really needed time to heal. This was unfortunate because the conference race was upon us and it was the most important race of the season. All the teams would be there.

I told my coach I was injured, but he really wanted me to run because it would help the team. I thought to my self, I could run, but it might make the injury worse. Then I thought, well, it was the last race so even if I was injured more, I would have plenty of time to heal after the season was over.

So, after weighing the options, I decided to run. On race day I prepared myself mentally as best I could. When the gun went off, I sprinted out fast, but at the same time, tried to be relaxed and conserve energy. It was a 2 mile run. Throughout the race I kept advancing and passing people slowly, one by one. Up until this point in the season, I was getting good, but I was not the best on my team, or the conference for that matter.

As we got to the last 400 meters, in the open field, I realized that I was at the front with just 2 other people. I couldn't believe it. Even with the injury, this was my best race yet. Now I was not the best sprinter, so I knew if I was neck and neck at the end, I might get passed. So at that moment, with about 300 meters left, I just took off.

I pulled into first and didn't look back. I went all out and just focused on the finish line. It was a blur, but the next thing I knew I was across the finish line and there was no one in front of me. I heard other runners pile in behind me huffing and puffing.

I was in shock. I had just won the freshman conference race! I was actually a bit frightened because this was the first time anything like this had happened to me and I didn't know what to expect. Then my teammates and the spectators started crowding me and congratulating me. I was exhausted, but relieved and happy at the same time. It was one of my greatest accomplishments growing up.

I still look back in disbelief on how I started out having never done any kind of distance running and ended up the season winning the freshman conference race. It shows if you are focused and work hard you can achieve goals that may seem impossible at first, but are in fact attainable.

Monday, April 6, 2015

HealthCare.gov Review and Update on US Health Insurance

Last year I signed up for one of the new health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act. I was hesitant but considering you have to pay a fee anyway if you do not have health insurance and the fact that it is just a good idea to be covered are a couple of reasons I decided to sign up for it.  I signed up for a plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield through the healthcare.gov website.  You can read the review of the sign up process and selecting a plan here.  

About a year into it now, overall I have been pleased with the program.  I was able to choose a new doctor close by and set up an appointment.  I had actually been putting it off until they encouraged me to set up an appointment that would be covered at no cost just by having the insurance.  The new doctor and office turned out to be just fine and I would go back again.  I did not even have to pay a co-pay for the appointment which was nice. 

During the first year, the cost per month was manageable but a bit higher than I would have preferred.  It is reduced depending on your income level.  For example if you make under a certain amount, you will qualify for a reduced rate each month.  This is tied into tax credits which we will go over next.

I was curious as to how it would effect the taxes this year.  When filing the taxes, they now have a section to enter in your payment information from the health insurance.  I had not started the insurance until May of last year so I actually did have to pay a fee for the earlier months in the year when I did not have the plan.  But for the remaining months when I was covered, I did receive a credit back which lowered the taxes. I was able to recalculate the health insurance for the new year to bring down the monthly cost a bit.

Overall the new health insurance through healthcare.gov has been pretty good and I would recommend it for anyone who is not covered yet.  They have a wide range of plans for pretty much any budget and they have many different companies to choose from.  Feel free to comment below if you have any questions or comments on the new health care.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

CardCash.com Review - Selling a Gift Card Online

This past holiday season I was given a gift card for $100 at Nordstrom department store. While this is a nice store, it is kind of far away from where I live and it is not a place I usually shop. I looked at their online store and even made my way to the retail store but nothing was really jumping out at me. So I decided to look into options for selling the gift card.

I was hoping to get a decent return on the card and hopefully have it be as simple as possible. By simple, I was looking for a company that would let you enter in the card information and then give you a credit by Pay Pal. I did not expect to get much for the card, but I figured it was worth investigating just in case.

A quick search for "sell gift cards" brings up a lot of results. I was surprised at how many companies are offering this service. I started comparing some of the top sites. Each lets you enter in your amount on your gift card and they let you know how much they will buy it for. The percentages vary by store but overall they were higher than I was expecting. I found most of them were giving about 85% of the value for the card.

I started comparing features. Some of them want you to mail the card in and they often pay a bit more for the physical card, but of course this process takes longer. Also some offer to pay by check which again takes longer. Some require your credit card information for security purposes if you want to be paid electronically.

After comparing a bunch of the different sites I decided to go with CardCash.com because they offered a good return and you can enter your card information online and get a payment through PayPal. Also the processing time looked to be one of the fastest available at 1-2 days. Reviews looked to be pretty good and their BBB rating was ok so I figured I would give it a go. 

I started entering my information. They actually asked for the gift card number and pin before even signing up for an account which I was a bit wary about. I decided to make an account first before entering in the information. They ask for basic information such as name, address, and phone number. Nothing too personal like social security or credit card numbers.

To be paid through Pay Pal, you have to verify your account and this is done by sending them 1 cent via Pay Pal. Overall it was pretty quick but a couple things were confusing. For example, at the end when it asks you to review your information, it had the name in the spot of the address field even though I had filled it in correctly. Also after the order had been processed, at the bottom it had information about printing out a form to send with your card in the mail. I had selected to enter the card information digitally so I was confused why they were asking me to mail in the card now. I think it was just in case you had selected the mail option, but it was confusing none the less.

I received an email confirmation that payment should arrive within 1-2 day. Overall I would be getting $80 instead of $85 because I chose the digital method vs mailing in the physical card. You could get the higher amount if you don't mind waiting longer for the physical card to be sent out and processed. Fingers crossed, I hoped everything would turn out ok.

The next day I received the payment via Pay Pal for $80! I was very pleased with the speed of the transaction considering how other sites had a longer processing time. Also I was expecting a Pay Pal fee of 2.9% + $.30 to be deducted but there was no fee charged which was nice!

To sum up the experience, I got 80% of the value of the card within about 1 day. There were a few parts that were a little confusing along the way, but overall I am very pleased and would use this service again if I have any more gift cards to sell in the future.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Last Man On Earth Review

When I saw the previews for The Last Man On Earth, I knew I had to check it out. Just the idea alone of being the last person on Earth is incredible thought provoking when you try to imagine what it would be like and what you could do. This is the idea behind the new show staring Will Forte. With so many shows these days recycling the same ideas and themes over an over again, it is nice to see a show stepping outside the box with an ambitious and interesting idea.

Note: Spoilers for first 2 episodes ahead.

The show takes place in the near future in a time when it seems all of mankind has vanished except for one man. He travels around looking for others but finds he is the only one left. In the first episode, it shows how he lives, the problems he deals with, and how he keeps himself entertained. He gets to do a lot of fun activities now that there are no rules and he can do pretty much anything he wants, but it is not all fun an games when he comes to the realization that there are no other people left. He gets to the point where he has just about had enough when he runs into another person!

When I first heard he would not be the only one left on Earth, I was kind of disappointed, but in actuality, it does enhance the show. In the 2nd episode he find a woman (Kristen Schaal). They are surprised to see each other and relieved to find they are not the only one left, but soon realize they do not really get along very well. He is kind of rough around the edges and has no regard for rules anymore while she is still more civilized and insists on following the rules even if they do not really apply anymore. This makes for a very interesting dynamic as they begrudgingly begin to work together. Even though they do not get along, in the back of their mind, they know the future of mankind may depend on them!

Overall the first 2 episodes were quite entertaining and I look forward to watching it next week to see what happens and how they progress in this world where they are the last man and woman on Earth! The Last Man On Earth airs Sunday nights at 9:30pm/8:30pm central on Fox.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tuna in a Pouch Comparison - StarKist vs Bumble Bee vs Chicken of the Sea

I am not a big meat eater and I rarely eat fish, but recently I started trying out tuna in pouches which is becoming available in many stores. These are individual packets that are easy to open by tearing off the top and the tuna is ready to eat. You don't have to drain it or do any kind of preparation so it is very quick and convenient. They also do not need to be refrigerated and have a long shelf life and do not take up a lot of room which are all positive qualities.

These tuna pouches are very affordable at about $1-$2 each for a single serving and are a great source of protein. I have been trying a few different brands from different stores and here we will be reviewing 3 of the top brands: StarKist, Bumble Bee, and Chicken of the Sea.

3. StarKist
StarKist is the most common brands I have been able to find based on experience. They have several varieties of the tuna in the pouches so I tried out many of the different options from water based to oil based, to different flavors. Overall taste was ok, but I was not impressed with the quality in terms of appearance of the tuna. I am picky especially when it comes to meat or fish in that I want it to have a consistent look and texture. In all the StarKist varieties, I found there to be many different colors of pieces found within the tuna. There may not be anything wrong with this, but visually, it is not appetizing in my opinion. I ended up trying to eat around these different colored pieces and overall did not get much out of each packet. Because of this, I would rate StarKist tuna pouches in 3rd place of the 3 brands.

 2. Chicken of the Sea
Chicken of the Sea is also a pretty common brand. In terms of visual quality, this one comes in 2nd place. It had more of a consistency compared to StarKist, but still had a few discolored pieces within. The tuna tended to have a pinkish color to it. I found it to have a pretty strong tuna flavor which is good if you are seeking out the taste, but may be a bit too much if you prefer a more mild flavor. Overall not bad, but good enough for 2nd place.

1. Bumble Bee
I found Bumble Bee to be the least widely available of the major brands, but overall the best quality. The Bumble Bee tuna packets have light colored tuna with a consistent texture with very few discolored pieces. It also has a good taste which is not overpowering with tuna flavor. The high quality combined with good taste bring Bumble Bee tuna in at the number 1 spot.

Overall the nutrition and cost of each of these 3 brands is very comparable. It you can find Bumble Bee tuna packets at your local store, I would highly recommend them. If they do not have Bumblebee, Chicken of the Sea is a good 2nd choice. If they do not have either of those, StarKist is ok if you are not picky about the look or texture of the tuna. You will be able to find the tuna pouches near the canned tuna section in your local supermarket.

Burning Smell from Vacuum - How to Fix

Recently I discovered there was a burning smell whenever I would vacuum the floor. I started trouble shooting the basics such as changing the bag, cleaning the filters and making sure there was nothing caught in the rollers. I even took apart the bottom and gave it a good cleaning making sure to get out all the dust that was inside. Still the vacuum continued to make a burning smell.

Some suggested that it could be the motor overheating but I never run the vacuum for a long period of time and it would begin to make the burning smell and even start to smoke after just 1 minute of use. I did some more research and came to the conclusion that is needed a new belt for the roller on the bottom.

I looked on the vacuum and in the manual to find the item number of the belt and went searching for it online. They were pretty cheap, just a few dollars, and available at hardware stores as well as Amazon and eBay. I found the best price from a reliable seller on eBay so I ordered it to be delivered.

About a week later, the belt arrived. I disassembled the bottom of the vacuum to get to the belt. While it was apart, I made sure everything was cleaned out inside. The old belt looked ok, but I decided to switch in the new belt to see if it would fix the problem. The new belt looked to be a lot smaller, but it was the correct item number and I was able to stretch it to fit the rollers.

Next, I reassembled the bottom of the vacuum and gave it a try. Thankfully it ran perfectly with no more burning smell! Overall it was a pretty easy and inexpensive fix and sure beat buying a whole new vacuum cleaner. So if your vacuum is making a burning smell, chances are it needs a new belt for the roller on the bottom. Make sure to order the right belt and align it evenly so it runs smoothly and does not rub against the sides. Hope this article helps! Good luck!