Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ail AB Iraq Flagpole – Picture A Day

Ali_AB_Iraq_flagpole_1Jan

Happy New Year!

This is a picture of the flag pole here at Ali Air Base, Iraq, that I got up and took early this morning. I plan for this to be the first in a series of "pictures of the day".

About a month back, I got a comment on my don't be an invisible blogger post from a young lady who goes by curious illusion. When I went to visit her blog, I saw that she had post some pretty cool picture. Plus, she was doing something called Project 365 ... which, I'll be honest I still need to investigate a bit more, but basically it looks like it revolves around a flickr group, where people take a picture a day, and post it to their site. Even though I don't know everything about it yet, today seems as good a day as any to start ... ready, aim, shoot.

The way I figure it, I went to all the trouble to bring my Canon 20D, and 3 lenses with me here to Iraq, only to have the poor camera sitting on the shelf in my room 95% of the time since I've been here. Now I have an excuse to take my camera out with me every single day. And an additional excuse to make a new blog post ... even when I don't feel like writing (yea, that Never happens ... ugh).

I hope you enjoy.

Todd
18

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Types of travel money belts

The number of travelers increases every year. Don't we love to get to know different culures and visit new landscapes, after all? Although going off the beaten track is oh-so-cool, we still need to focus on traveling safe whenever we visit places we don't know.

The travel industry has become conscious of these problems, developing numerous items to insure our protection. You probably have already seen a travel money belt for purchase at the travel goods area of major malls or airports. The best component is that nowadays there's a wide variety of variations to select from. These will suit most needs of just about all tourists!

Money belts are available with 1, 2 or 3 separate compartments. Most of these are made to be put on around your waist.

You can get additionally travel money belts that are worn around the neck this particular type is popular with females. This particular type has a strap that may be regulated to go around the neck or also go around the shoulder or maybe waist based upon the particular sort of clothes you might be using.

One more style of travel money belt could be put on around the lower leg. Additional models are more straightforward: initially they appear to be a typical leather-based belt, but they hide a zipper on the inside. These types usually just accommodate money, so your docs still might not always be very safe.

Additionally, there is a loop or clip style money belt that connects to a belt and is used beneath your clothes.

Travel vest with numerous inside pockets are usually an ideal means to carry your belongings. The zippered pockets are on the interior of the vest and also on the outside. Most of these can be worn by both males and females, and give you a location for everything. They're light and easily washable.

All of these travel money belts are developed to be used hidden out from view and certainly not exposed in public. You will definitely travel with numerous travel goods, but travel money belts usually are the most important to use when flying.
2

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Todd Shares The Good Stuff - 12/11/09

Wow, I can foresee these weekly link love lists becoming way long at some point :-)

But I promised to spread the "good stuff" I've been reading, so below you will find my list of shared items from google reader for the week ending December 11th, 2009.

First a quick aside ...

One thing I have noticed upon compiling this weeks picks, is that unlike my friend Sire, I actually do still read and share quite a bit of stuff from so called "A Listers". That being said, Sire's post last week about why he No Longer Links to Problogger and John Chow was a great example of the "rule" that apparently the easiest way to get the attention of "big name bloggers" is to write a controversial post about them. Honestly though, I don't even think that was Sire's intention ... none the less, his little rant definitely generated links, traffic, and even several visits to the wassup blog comment section by Darren Rowse himself.

Definitely interesting. Ok now on to the good stuff ...


  • The very first section in my google reader is labeled "A1 - Daily Reads"; and no daily reads section would be complete without Seth Godin's blog. This week I actually shared 3 of Seth's posts. Here are my thoughts (lol, as if I could actually "add value") ...

    1. The Magic of Dynamic Pricing - I know with my own buying habits, especially online, I purchase quite a bit of stuff when it "on sale". One of these days when I get around to selling my own stuff, I definitely do Not plan on using the one price for all model.


    2. How to Protect your Ideas in the Digital Age - Not to give the plot away or anything, but the gist of it is: "Don't". The winners in the digital age will be those who figure our how to profit from the free spreading of their ideas ... rather than those who figure out how restrict their thoughts only to "paying customers".


    3. What's it like? (The sad story of the hot pepper) - How do you describe your product or service?




  • Another blog right there near the top in my daily reads is Blog Maverick (aka Mark Cuban). If this isn't already a "rule of life", I propose we make it one ... if a self-made Billionaire is sharing his thoughts on success and business, it's probably a wise idea to listen in. I shared two of Mark's posts this week ...

    1. The Sport of Business - Is business the ultimate game? Are you competetive enough to come out on top?


    2. Success & Motivation: What Will You Remember When You are 90? - Hmmm, ok so what I'm getting out of this is that for each decision I make now, I should imagine how "old Todd" would look back and feel about the opportunities that I chose to pursue (or not pursue).




  • I've been reading CopyBlogger for a couple of years now. One of these days I may actually start applying more of what I've learned. In the mean time, maybe you'll appreciate 10 Secrets to More Magnetic Copy. Seriously though, this post contains some advice that I've acutally been trying to follow latey. lol, especially the part about writing "informally".


  • I just started reading Blogussion pretty recently. Early in the week they put out a summary post that tied together a series they'd been doing on How to Blog with your Users in Mind. This is subject I've been thinking about a lot myself lately; and looking back, this post probably somewhat influenced/inspired my little rant about Why Do You Blog?.


  • Speaking of subjects I've been thinking about lately. Sy over at Hospitalera's Blog shared her ideas on The Best Use of Blog Ad Space. I won't speak for her, but my impression is that she's of pretty much the same mind as me when it comes to advertising ... "less" can actually be "more" if you do it right.


  • Ok, so an SEO Wizz writes a post about how Social Media is Overrated, and how your time could be spent more productively on other activities. Think it might be worth investigating?


  • Sticking with the Social Media theme, Make Money Dyanamo shares some universal Thruths about Twitter Marketing that you you can learn without having to pay $27 for some "gurus" ebook.


  • The easy winner for this week's most interesting blog post title (even though apparently it was rejected by Facebook as "too offensive:) is definitely Erica Douglass with Top 10 Signs You May Be a Social Media Douchebag. The title says it all ... don't be "that guy" (or girl).


  • This looks like a good place to slip in a couple of links not about blogs or marketing. The first is my friend Lin from Tellin it Like it Is who recently quit smoking and has shared several recent posts that may help others who are looking to kick the habit. The latest entry is What Happens To Your Body When You Quit Smoking Cigarettes.


  • Why go to Google and do a search the next time you need a cute little picture to use in your sidebar, when Vandelay Design has a whole gallery of free and premium icons called Icon Fever where you seek out the perfect twitter bird or RSS button.


  • Sire's post actually brought to my attention a blogger I'd never heard of (even though he's apparently pretty successful) ... David Risely. This appears to something of a hybrid teaching/personal blog (kind of the vision I actually have for this site in the future). There are plenty of useful "how to" type articles, as well as pictures and stories about David's family (cute little girl). The post that I shared this week was written by one of David's students about how he blogged his way to 1000 visitors on his Daily Shot of Coffee site.


  • If we follow Mike's advice above, and get those thousand visitors, what are we going to do with them? Josh comes to the rescue with a post about how toIncrease Your Marketing ROI by Building a Community.


  • And then Naomi reminds us about the importance of Loving Our Customers ... of course in the form of an entertaining story, sprinkled with the obligatory couple of F bombs, I've come to expect when reading anything on IttyBiz.


  • Finally, last but not least, for the past week or so, I've been having comment discussions with Sire, Mitch, Heather and a few others, about the "best" way to monetize. An explanation about what I consider to be the "best" long-term solution to this problem, came from somewhere that I might not have expected (but shouldn't have been surprised about). Darren Rowse from Problogger wrote about The Importance of Having Your Own Product to Sell.


  • ... and as coincidental as it may seem, my friend Josh Spaulding (who must be a pretty persuasive marketer, because I've bought every ebook he's ever written), just came out with a new one called Info Product Success Formula <<<---- Affiliate Link Alert !!! (should you choose to purchase the product through this link, I will earn a commission).





Ok, that's what I've got for this week. Hope you enjoy.

Til next post ... Keep havin FuN!
Todd
14

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why Do You Blog?

What is the purpose of my blog? ... What am I "selling"?

This is a question that I suspect many of us never really ask ourselves until we've been doing this for quite a while. Yet ironically enough, it's probably THE Question that we should have absolutely known the answer to before we ever even got started.

The good news is, it's not too late ...

Simply "start over".

Before you change your theme again for the 21st time, or write another post about a subject that you're not really all that interested in, but it's the "niche" you've chosen, STOP ...

Think about why you started your blog. What is your goal?

NOW ...

Build your blog around that goal. DON'T get DISTRACTED by other things.

If you've decided that what you're really selling is YOU ...

Then why the heck are you running off to check your adsense statistics every 3 hours? (and btw why do you even have adsense on that type of blog?)

On the flip side, if you've decided that your goal is to make money from ADVERTISING ...

Why are you writing posts about your kids, your dog, and the pretty picture of a flower you took last week?

Different goals, REQUIRE different STYLES of writing.

Real quick and dirty ...

If you're selling "YOU inc", then obviously you want a blog full of posts that inspire people to want to know more. You should be writing posts that invite questions and comments. You should make it EASY for people to EXPLORE other areas of your site. And finally, this is just my own personal opinion, but you SHOULDN'T flash a bunch of ads in front of your readers ... unless of course the image you are trying to sell is "I'm a salesman".

If you're trying to Make Money from your site, here is a description of your IDEAL "READER" ...

Someone who arrives via a SEARCH ENGINE (hopefully after entering a "buying term"), then LEAVES fairly quickly, by clicking on a RELEVANT AD that offers a SOLUTION to their PROBLEM.

IT DOES NOT MATTER whether or not they even READ anything that you wrote !!!!

... and it certainly doesn't matter if they leave a comment or not.

Here's a little "secret" for you ... people who leave comments are generally OTHER BLOGGERS ... and other bloggers generally DON'T CLICK ADS.

Ok, that was my rant for tonight. I'll have more thoughts on this subject "later".

In the mean time, feel free to OPINE away in the comments section
(I'm Not trying to make money withThis blog) ;-)
28

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Google Widget Main Culprit In Slow Load Time

According to the new site performance tab in Google Webmasters Tools, my blog here at tmtips.com loads slower than 92% of the sites on the Internet.

Obviously, there are a few things that I can fix, such as compressing the css, and optimizing some of my images.

With rumors that google may be incorporating page load time in to their search rank algorithm, it's kind of ironic that by far the worst culprit in slowing my site down was that Google Friend Connect widget.

So, I took it down ... for now.

Hopefully the people who" run the internet" can, at some point, figure out how to serve up a widget that doesn't take 5-6 seconds to load.

Todd
6

Friday, December 4, 2009

Todd's Weekly Reader 12-04-09

I recently wrote about how I intend to become a more well known blogger by having greater interaction with my online friends (and soon to be friends) ... mainly thru doing a better job of sharing some of their good stuff ... or pay it forward SEO as SY has called (lol, I wish I had thought of that, much better keyword blog title than my original post).

After making that post, I quickly discovered that I may have given myself a challenge with a few obstacles. You see, I do quite a bit of reading at work. Most blogs and such are blocked by filters. However, I can still browse just about anything via RSS in my google reader (note: if you want me to be able to read your blog regularly, please offer a FULL FEED). The problem is, it makes it a little difficult to comment, when I can't visit the blog itself.

My solution is, to use the "Shared Items" button at the bottom of each post in my reader.

Then, via a plugin called Recommended Reading I can post links to the stories I choose to share, in a widget down there at the bottom right of my footer ... go ahead, scoll down and look ;-)

The thing is, there's only room for about six stories, so depending on how much I'm reading, the link may only be there for a day or two; and sometimes even less. So, what I'm also going to do, it make a nice little weekly post with most permanent links to all the stories I've shared during the previous 6 or 7 days ... along with a short note sharing why liked it.

Just starting out, I don't think I'll ever be quite as organized with this feature as Kristi's Fetching Friday posts ... but I do hope that the sort of articles I find interesting, also prove to be useful to You ... my readers.

Ok, so without further ado, here are some of the stories that I found interesting enough to share during the week (or maybe going back a bit further since this is the first one) that ended December 4th 2009:


  • 6 Things They Mean When They Say They Have No Money - This one is from IttyBiz. If you haven't read Naomi Dunsford's blog yet, you're definitely missing out ... lol, although if you're easily offended by "4-letter language", fair warning that it may not be your cup of tea. This particular post should be of interest to anyone who sells stuff (that would be most of us).


  • 35+ Photo Editing Tutorials for Photoshop - I've been following the Vandelay Design for about 2 years now, and I gotta tell you, this blog has the ultimate in great list posts when it comes to web design, and photography techniques.


  • The Thankful Box - I just started following Mocha Dad as part of my effort to be more sociable ... and one of the first posts I read was his touching Thanksgiving story about a little tradition his family has instituted.


  • The Last Thing You Want to Do is Date Your Wife - And this is the second post I read on (Mocha Dad) Fred's site. Some very good ideas here about how to keep the romance alive, for all of us old married types.


  • Fetching Friday - 90 Links in the Biggest Weekly Resources Mashup - I think the name pretty much says it all there. I always, and I mean always, find something useful and interesting in Kristi's weekly resource posts.


  • My Cyber Cabin in the Woods - Another one of my new friends, Heather, compares blogging to a form of escapism ... while at the same time, offering up some tips on how to keep the foundation of your own little cyber cabin strong.


  • My Blog Epiphany: Is Your Marketing Sticky or Scummy? - Another one of those posts who's title pretty much says it all. JPratt's blog is one where I probably should (and will be making an effort to) share more often, because almost every post is a wealth of good information.


  • Giving Your Blog That Christmas Feel - My buddy Sire has given his blog a nice Christmasy makeover for the holidays. And even better, he offers up some nice, easy to follow tips about how he did it; for those adventurous types who might want to do a little theme hacking on their own sites.


  • Passive Income – Leaving Australia – the Practicalities - Lissie is moving from Australia to New Zealand and offers up some tips keeping your home business running during a move.


  • 5 Bad Reasons to Quit Blogging - Kristi again, with a blog post that really could have been titled "Never give up, never give up, never give up" ... but I suspect hers will play better on stumbleupon, and I'm no expert copywriter ;-)


  • My Little Texas Cheerleader - My daughter Jaiden in the Texas cheerleader outfit that Ana bought her ... lol, and I don't even want to know what she paid for it ... but it is cute.


  • Oes tsetnoc - actually I shared SY's post about Pay It Forward SEO, but since I already wrote about, and linked to that up above, I figured I'd use this slot to put in a plug for SEO Contest spelled backwards - Oes tsetnoc ... check it out, and help spread the word.


  • My Snippets: WordPress Plugin - I just shared this one earlier today. It's a new plugin by Justin Tadlock that takes the widget logic concept, and goes one step further. I haven't had a chance to play with it yet, but I can already imagine that it's going to let me do pretty cool thing ... especially when it comes to optimizing ads on niche sites.




Ok, well that about wraps it up for this week. I know that I missed a few friends, but I'm just getting back in the grove ... rest assured Your post will be showing up this space over the next few weeks.

I hope you find this helpful.

Feedback and suggestions appreciated and encouraged ...
10

Sunday, November 29, 2009

My Diet and Exercise Plan for 2010

fit hiker in the Alps For those who saw my message about rebranding, this particular post might not seem to have much to do with Home Business ... and to some extent, you're probably right ... this is primarily one of those posts that is about me, and for me (ie, I want to be able to refer back to it).

However ...

If you really think about it; isn't it already hard enough to build a successful part-time business when you've got a busy family life, and a challenging full-time career (I would put stay-at-home mom in this category too), along with any other "important" hobbies and interests?

How much tougher do you think we make it on ourselves when we're always tired, because we don't exercise enough, and we eat entirely too much "junk" food?

So with that in mind, I decided that I am going to make my 2010 self-improvement plan "not another New Year's resolution", by starting a whole month early ... on December 1st.

First a bit of background ...

I have a bit of an advantage here, in that I already exercise on a pretty regular basis. But, since I've been here in Iraq, it's no longer organized military pt, so I have to be more self-motivated ... which can be a bit of a challenge for me at times. That being said, I do have easy access to a gym (3 minute walk from my room). And plenty of "free" time every afternoon/evening after work (since I'm away from my family).

On the eating front, it's kind of a mixed bag. I do have access to healthy foods. But, I also have easy access to a ton of temptation. It's funny, a Captain we were having dinner with last week actually described our dining facility as being "like eating at Golden Coral every meal of every day" ... which is pretty much spot on. If you only go there as a treat, that might sound like a good thing. But it does get a bit old after a while. Not only that, but if you are at all susceptible to "all you can eat buffet syndrome", it's quite easy to put away a substantial number of calories every day.



Ok, with that out of the way, here is my plan ...

Workout:



I will exercise 6 days a week ... Sunday-Friday ... no excuses! Saturday will be my day off.

  1. Running - Either on the treadmill, or outside ... 2-4 miles per day.

  2. Strength - Nothing fancy (for now, may add weights later) ... 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups ... every M, W, F



Diet:



Almost signed up online for the Abs Diet site ... but then I realized, I've already read that book, and have a reasonable idea of what I need to do. Like the exercise plan, this will be 6 days a week.

Saturday - my "Free" day, where I can continue to eat pretty much anything I want.

Sunday-Friday:

  • Breakfast - wheat toast or english muffin / 1-3 eggs / small portion lean meat (turkey bacon) / fresh fruit

  • Lunch - lean meat (chicken, turkey) / vegetables / salad / fruit

  • Afternoon Snack - cliff bar / nuts / fruit

  • Dinner - Sandwich / Salad / fruit



Caffeine:



This one will be tough, but I'm going to try to cut down to only having caffeine in the morning. For the rest of the time I'm here, this will be in the form of sugar-free citrus flavor Rip-It (which I can get from the dining hall). I will attempt to only have two a day.

Only so that's my plan ...

I have about 4 1/2 months left here. By the time I get home in April, I would like to have lost 20lbs, and be in habit of (and maybe even enjoy) running six days a week, without having to force myself.

I will be keeping a log of my progress, but I don't plan to bore you with daily, or even weekly posts about it. However, I may throw up an occasional update from time to time ... especially if it's working. ;-)

Catch up with you again soon,
Todd
9

Friday, November 27, 2009

Don’t Be An INVISIBLE Reader

It's not Who you know ... it's who knows You


Since I became a blogger, it sometimes seems like I spend more time sitting in front of my computer reading, than just about anything else.

Over the past couple of years I've "interacted" with a whole bunch of cool people online. Some of them I "know" pretty darn well ... heck we might even make good friends. Except ...

A few probably don't have a clue who I am.

You see, in my thirst for knowledge (hey, I gotta try to put a positive spin on this little self examination), I sometimes (alright, probably too often) forgot to NETWORK. Don't get me wrong, I certainly got something out of the deal. If I wasn't learning and getting good information, I wouldn't have kept going back, and gotten to know more about my blogging "friends". But, in the process, I did deprive some of them of an opportunity ...

The chance to get to know more about ME. :-)

Every time I've read a quality article, then simply moved on without so much as even leaving a comment, I've been guilty of this offense.

And here's the thing, staying invisible just makes no sense, no matter how you slice it.

So here's a challenge for myself (and it can potentially be your mission too, should you choose to accept it):

I have quite a few blogs in my google reader, that I follow regularly. It probably wouldn't be a stretch to say that on some days I may read 100+ articles/stories. Right now, usually all I do is read them. Here's what I propose to change ...

Every Time I read a "good" post I will do at least one of these things:

  1. Blog about/link to it here on Todd's Tips, or one of my other niche sites

  2. Tweet about it

  3. Share it with my FaceBook friends

  4. Submit it to other social networking sites

  5. Leave a thoughtful (and hopefully interesting) comment



If I do any of these things on a consistent basis, the bloggers who I follow will eventually make it their business to know exactly who I am.

And here's the best part ...

It's a Win / Win situation for all involved.

I obviously have some self interest here ... I want to increase my influence by become more well known.

But in pursuit of my goal, with methods I've chosen, I will be giving at least as much as I will eventually get in return.

Seriously, when was the last time you met a blogger who didn't want to be linked to, tweeted about, facebooked, stumbled, or get good quality comments?

Ok, so that's my plan.

And since I'm still (and probably always will be) a world class procrastinator at heart, I shall start this project (along with my new diet and exercise regime) ...

Tomorrow :-D

Honestly, it's 1:30 am here, I can't be up all night, reading, tweeting and commenting.

Oh wait though, I can start this off with a link though ...

In a roundabout way, an inspiration for this post was my buddy Sire, who has a very interesting blog about blogging (among other topics). But what makes Sire really unique is the habit he has of always, and I do mean Always, visiting the blog of every person who comments on his site, and leaving at least one comment of his own. Now that's networking, and it's a great example of how to really connect with your readers ... and not be Invisible.

And on that note, I am outta here ... it's bed time for bonzo.

Catch up again soon,
Todd
37

Monday, November 23, 2009

Todd’s Best Home Business Tips

dayatthelake_smOk, so I decided to do a little bit of "rebranding" here on this blog by adding two words to my title tag. From this day forward, my little "personal" blog will now be known as Todd's blog about Home Business tips.

For all practical intents and purposes, I'm still going to write posts about my family, share pictures that I've taken, and link out to friend's blogs that may have nothing to do with home business. But since I'm actually making an effort to learn about choosing good keywords for my niche blogs, I figured I might look a little silly if the blog where I do most of my writing is just about "everything" (which let's be honest, really means "nothing in particular").

And here's the thing, writing about home business really isn't a stretch for me ... since that's what my original blog that I started 2 1/2 ago was supposed to be about. Over that time span, as I have "grown" and "evolved" I actually moved the content around to 4 different domain names. lol, If I'd just kept writing on parttimenetworker.com the whole time, I guarantee there'd be a lot more of you reading this right now. :-)

Hey wait, there's Todd's Tip #1 for this post: If you start a blog, unless you have a very good reason to change, STICK TO IT! Moving your content is generally a bad, bad idea (unless maybe you're upgrading from blogger to self-hosted wordpress).

But I digress ... ok, back to the topic at hand.

Because I was a dummy, and foolishly never blogged in one place for an extended period of time, quite a bit of my good (in my not so humble opinion) content from the "early days" is pretty well hidden from google (and probably most of my readers). But, there is a bright side ...

Since I have all this underutilized content, I figured the best (and easiest) way to launch my rebranding is take a trip back in time and introduce you to a few articles that offer up some solid advice about building a business, leadership and/or personal growth (all are definitely related).

So without further ado ...


  1. Finding Your Niche - Yikes in re-reading this one, I could have saved myself about a year and a half of "drifting" had I just printed out my own post, and tacked up to the wall next to my desk.


  2. How NOT To Network - This was a fun, short little post from almost 2 year ago. Sometimes using a negative example can be a good way to teach a positive lesson. That being said, I still get sent these type of messages way too often. Seriously, don't be "that guy"


  3. It's All About The Story - I shared this lesson in the context of building a network marketing business. But really, I think it's pretty universal, and can be applied to just about any type of home or internet business ... especially those involving sales (ie., pretty much all of them).


  4. 10 Laws of Leadership - Another one that's a good candidate for printing out and re-reading on a regular basis. I remember doing this exercise way back when I first made this post (which was not Feb of this year ... I think this is one that was pushed up by a plugin I was using called "old post promoter"). I think this is definitely an area to put some additional focus here in the very near future.


  5. 3 Reasons Why Failure Is Good - I don't know about you, but I actually don't get too bent out of shape when things don't always go exactly as planned. Sometimes, a few bumps in the road are necessary if we're to get to where we are supposed to be.


  6. The Power Of Rewarding Yourself - "Good Stuff" tends to build on itself. Do you think it's possible that if we put forth a little bit of effort looking for the "good stuff" we might just attract even more of it?


  7. If You're Not Having Fun, You're Not Doing It Right - I don't this one needs much explanation. It's my new, old, motto.


  8. Striking The Right Balance Between Family and Business - This one goes hand-in-hand with the article above. No matter how successful you may become with your home business, you MUST keep your priorities straight.



Ok, well there's much, much more. And really, even if no reads any of these articles, I've already considered this post to be a rousing success ... for the simple fact that I NEEDED to have a lot of those concepts reinforced for myself.

Ok, on that note it's bed time.

Catch up with you again real soon,
Todd
9

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Premium WordPress Theme Clubs – Where’s The Best Value?

elegant themes I've been blogging now for about 2 1/2 years, and in that time I could definitely be decribed as something of a wordpress theme junkie. I have over a hundred different wordpress themes in a folder on my hard drive. Most are of the "free" variety, and a few I paid for.

Now I know this might come off as a bit snobbish sounding, but here lately I only use premium wordpress themes ... even on my niche sites.

I like the fact that, for the most part, paid themes come with more features, look good "right out of the box, but are also easier to customize. In addition, most paid licenses give me the choice of what links I can have (or not have) down there in the footer.

Which leads right into one of the ways that "free" themes aren't always really all that free. Those little links down in the footer that you are requested to "leave intact". Most of the time, they're relatively innocuous; simply giving credit to the designer ... even still, it's a site-wide link(s) to a page that you may or may not even want to send your readers (and the googlebot) to visit. The bigger potential problem is that sometimes these free themes contain links that quite possibly "evil" ... as Kristi recently discovered in Free WordPress Themes - with a catch.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not in any way trying to imply that ALL free wordpress themes are "bad". But once you decide that blogging is something you want to do, on more than just a "hey let's try this and see how it works out" basis, paying for a wordpress theme is probably a prudient step.

The good news is, sometimes there seems to be almost as many choices in paid themes, as there are for free ones ...

By far one of the most popular paid themes out there right now is Thesis. I know quite a few people who are using this theme, and are more than happy with it. That being said, not everyone (especially bloggers just starting out) has $77 or $160 to invest in a wordpress template.

For many people who want to make the jump from free designs to premuim blog templates, a theme club may be a good option.

Being the theme junkie that I am, I suspect I'm probably qualified to recommend what I think are possibly the two best values in Premium WordPress Theme Clubs ...


  1. Elegant Themes - For people who want a choice of over a dozen impressive looking themes, that don't require you to know code, but are still reasonably customizable, Elegant Themes is an insanely great value at only $19.95 a year.



    Not only do these themes look real snazzy, but they have one of the most all encompassing, yet still user friendly, options panels that I've ever seen. You can do so many tasks, from changing colors, to managing your ads, to excluding certain pages from showing up in your menu bar ... all without touching a single line of code!



    I'm currently using Elegant Themes on a several of my sites. My favorite theme is called "Basic". You can see it in action on my Earn Extra Income and The Baby Jaiden Blog sites.




  2. Theme Hybrid - Justin Tadlock's Theme Hybrid club actually doesn't cost a penny to download the hybrid framework, or any of the child themes. But have no doubt, these are definitely "premium" wordpress themes. If you are a "tinkerer" (which I am), and you like to play around with code and css in an attempt to "make the theme your own", then Hybrid is definitely for you. Where the premium part comes in, is the support ...



    It costs $25 a year, but is probably easily worth 10x that. It is a Very Active forum, with help provided not only by members, but more often than not Justin himself will answer your questions ... and even provide you with examples of code, when needed. If you're at all interested becoming knowlegable about the "under the hood" aspects of wordpress themes, this is a community you really can't afford to pass up.



    Todd's Tips is currently using a customized version of one of Justin's child themes. It's still not "perfect" (probably never will be), but after trying out a whole bunch of designs over the years, this is the one I keep coming back to .... it's the closest thing I've found to my vision of how my blog "should" look.




Like many other things I write on this blog, everything above is just my opinion. However, if you're one of those people who's at that crossroads, ready to jump into the world of paid wordpress themes, I hope you find my experiences helpful in your own decision making.

Talk to you again soon,
Todd
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Baghdad Tour Baath Party House

As promised, more pictures from my Baghdad Palace Tour.

First, a few more pictures from the roof of the Victory Over America Palace ...
view of Baghdad skyline
View of Baghdad skyline from bombed out window on the palace roof.

Saddam grandchildrens Flintstone Village
This is the "Flintstone Village" that Saddam built for his grandchildren.

Next we stopped at what is purported to be the last remaining mural of Saddam Hussein ... where there was a rare picture taken with me actually in it ;-)
Saddam Hussein Mural

Finally, it was on to the bombed out remains of the Ba'ath Party House:
blown out window of baath house
This building took hits from a couple of JDAMs, and a Tomahawk Missile. According to the tour guide all of those empty windows used to contain beautiful stained glass.

A couple of views from inside the building ...
IMG_3835bh.jpg

IMG_3837s.jpg

And then of course I had to get a couple of "artsy fartsy" type shots ...
IMG_3831c.jpg
Almost like a museum, many things are left almost exactly as they were in 2003 when the bombs fell. I thought this broken chair amongst the rubble really captured the "feel" of the place.

IMG_3843s.jpg
And then last but not least, I don't know what it is with me and stairs lately ... but again, this was one of my favorite shots.

I hope you enjoyed. And if you're interested, you can find more pictures from Baghdad (and elsewhere) on my Flickr page.

Til next time,
Todd

p.s. don't forget that I do still have some pictures of the Ziggurat of Ur coming sometime in the next week or two ... so check back soon if you like that sort of thing.
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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mauritius Holiday Sites To See

Are you planning to take a holiday in the near future? Mauritius holiday packages are a great way to be able to afford your next holiday and have a great time. If you are planning to do a little more than sit on the beach and relax there are several packages that will allow for you to have a great experience and see a lot of sites. If you are planning to take a holiday to Mauritius you will want to make sure that you purchase a package that will allow for you to see all of the things attractions that one should see on their holiday to this popular tourist island.

One attraction you will not want to miss on your holiday is the Natural History Museum in Port Louis, Mauritius which is the capital city. This museum is full of animals that have been stuffed and preserved for your viewing pleasure. You will find exotic and extinct birds such as the Dodo which was made famous by Mauritius.

Another attraction you do not want to miss out on is the Pere Laval statute in Port Louis. This statute is a famous tourist attraction with a lot of history and power. It is said that this statute is responsible for religiously converting over 67,000 people. The local people believe that this statute has special healing powers that will heal them when they touch it. You will want to view this magnificent statue and find out the history behind it.

There are a lot of other sites that you will want to make sure you will be able to see when you are looking through the Mauritius holiday packages that are available. You will find holiday packages that will allow for you to save money on your travel and lodging expenses, and you will find some that will take you on a tour of this popular island. No matter which one you choose you will have a very wonderful holiday in Mauritius for you and your family.
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How Many Of Your Followers Actually Know Like And Trust You?

Ok, so I'm going through my twitter account yesterday, trying to make a list of people who I can honestly say that I'm "friends" with. It's still an ongoing process. But I expect that by the time all is said and done, my "friends" list will encompass well south of 10% of the total amount of people that I follow.

Now maybe, just maybe, this says something about me ...

However, I strongly suspect that my personal experience is well within the norm.

So why does this matter?

Well for one thing, if I'm going to click a link ... and especially if it involves a potential purchase ... guess who's links I am mostly likely to click on?

Ding, Ding, Ding. The correct answer is ... the people who I already Know, Like and Trust.

And especially when it comes to something like twitter, if I'm going to make a list of people who's Tweets that I might actually, you know, READ ... guess who I'm most likely to put on it?

Which brings me full circle ...

I wonder how many of my own "followers", "readers", and even "friends" actually consider me to be someone they Know, Like and Trust?

Follower/Subscriber counts are just numbers, if there is no connection.

I'd rather be followed by 10 people who Know, Like and Trust me (and as a result might actually care what I have to say), than 100 (or even 1000) people who have simply added me to their list (probably in the hope that I'll add them back to mine).

What do you think?

Is it more important to build the list, and worry about the connections later?

Or ... should we focus on the connections, and have confidence that if enough people start to Know, Like and Trust us, the "list building" will pretty much take care of itself?

Just something to ponder on a Wednesday morning.

Todd
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Friday, November 6, 2009

Baghdad Palace Tour

[caption id="attachment_772" align="left" width="450" caption="Ornate Ceiling of Saddams Victory Over America palace"]Ornate Ceiling of Saddam's "Victory Over America" palace[/caption] A couple of weeks ago, right after I got to Iraq this time, I had to go up to Baghdad for a conference, and change of command. While I was there, we got to play tourist for a couple of hours. A couple of times a week, the Army public affairs conducts tours of some of Saddam Hussien's palaces. We got to see a couple of examples of the aftermath of American Military firepower, during our walks through the "Victory Over America" palace, and the Baath Party House.

IMG_3674p.jpg We took buses to the palace, then probably about 200 people made our way up the hill and inside for the tour. All told, we were probably in (what was left of) the palace for about 90 minutes.

I was actually surprised we were even able to walk through the place, as the destruction was pretty impressive:

IMG_3720p.jpg
This is the main ballroom of the palace ... or at least what was left of it.

IMG_3728w.jpg
And this is over along a wall, where one of the bombs actually hit.

After walking around for a while trying not to trip over any boards, we were able to stop for a bit of fun taking pictures of ourselves.IMG_3689f.jpg These two guys in the picture to the left are people that I used to work with in Hawaii ... so in addition to seeing some sights, I also had a bit of a reunion in Baghdad.

Then it was finally time to head up the stairs to the roof ...

IMG_3706w.jpg
This is one of my favorite pictures from the day.

I took a few more nice pictures from up on the roof. However, I think this post starting to run a bit long, so I'll just plan to do another one tomorrow with pictures from the roof overlooking Baghdad. And possibly even one more the next day for the Baath Party House.

If you like the pictures, be sure to come back again this weekend.

See you then,
Todd

p.s. I also have quite a few pictures from the Ziggeraut of Ur (which is right outside my base). I haven't had the chance to finish the post-processing on all of those yet, so it may be another week or so before I can get those pics up.
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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Long Travel Day

Ok, so I'm about to turn off my computer and pack it up. I leave tomorrow morning.

I'm very much looking forward to 24+ hours of travel time. 8-)

This is just a short post to let the "couple" of people regularly read my little blog know that I'll probably be offline for the next 5-6 days. However, once I get settled in, I expect to have an Internet connection in my room.

So ... I'll definitely be "chatting" with you again soon,
Todd
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Friday, September 25, 2009

The IRS Is Not As Scary As You May Think

First an admission ...

Due to circumstances that were largely NOT beyond my control (even though I'd love to use that excuse), I just recently filed several years of back taxes. I won't go too far into the mucky details; but basically I had one tax year where I either owed a bit, or was due a refund; depending on whether or not someone was legally considered a dependent. The problem was, I was missing a key piece of information that would help make that determination.

And that's where my "stupid" started ...

Instead of just sucking it up, and paying the high 3 figure amount (really not significant in the big scheme of things) for that tax year, I decided to wait for the documentation, that I expected would allow me to get a refund instead.

Then I got even "stupider" ...

While waiting (and waiting, and waiting, and waiting) for said documentation, I subsequently ass-u-me(d) that it wouldn't be a good idea to file current year returns, since I still had an earlier one I didn't file ... so I "missed" a couple more years.

And here's the really, really, dumb thing. For a few of those years that I skipped, I was due some pretty substantial refunds. (although, I didn't realize it at the time).

I'm not sure why I was so dumb, why I let myself get paralyzed into inaction on a such an important matter.

Part of it is probably just basic human nature ... once you screw up, and you know you've screwed up, it's much easier to simply try to avoid the situation, than to deal with the consequences.

... and speaking of consequences, we're talking about the I. R. frickin S. here. I think I was always probably "just a little" scared of what was going to happen when it all caught up with me.

Anyhow, earlier this summer, I bit the bullet, and took care of the problem by filing "several years" of back tax returns all at one time.

As expected, I owed money for the original year ... + penalties and interest (although not nearly as bad as I thought it might be). For every other year, I was due a refund.

Note: Before I started this process, I called one of those tax trouble businesses who does a lot of advertising on radio and tv. (I won't name them, but you can probably figure out who I'm talking about). They offered to guide me though the whole process ... right after I gave them a credit card #, so that they could charge me about $3,000 !!!

The sad part is, I was so scared of the IRS, that I almost paid it.

Not paying the "no vowels, just savings" people , was about the only Smart decision I made when it comes to this whole ordeal. (although, had I actually owed 10s of thousands of dollars, I do suspect that their services may have been very much worthwhile to me)

Here's the really IRONIC thing though ...

Today was the day that everything is finally wrapped up (my returns are all current, my debts are paid, and a refund is coming my way). I actually just got off the phone with the IRS a little while ago, before deciding to write this post. And I have to tell you ...

Throughout the entire process; from finding the right forms, to getting phone numbers and addresses, and even answering quite a few questions that I had; the people I dealt with on the phone at the IRS were nothing but Friendly, Understanding, and quite honestly (from my perspective) Very Helpful.

In hindsight, what the heck was I so scared of ???

So, that brings me to Todd's Tip for today ...

If you find yourself having tax difficulties, (unless you really have done something questionable or wrong); before you either go into debt paying someone to "help" you, and/or let fear paralyze you into inaction (which could end up being even more costly); pick up the silly phone and call the IRS.

... you might just find yourself pleasantly surprised by the outcome. (and I assure you, even if not "pleasant", the result will most likely be much better than if you wait for them to call you first).

Todd

p.s. I'm not terribly sure about the wisdom of sharing this story so publicly. But ultimately, I figured that the potential benefits someone (in a similar situation) may gain from reading about my "stupidness", probably outweigh any possible additional consequences I may be subjecting myself to by sharing (especially since the situation is already resolved).



thumbnail credit:on flickr
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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Why Do You Comment?

A couple of Simple questions ...


  • What is your goal when you leave a comment on someone else's blog or website?


  • Do you have an actual "commenting strategy"? In other words, do you plan time for commenting? Do you "target" specific types of blogs?


  • What are some of the actual benefits you're realized as a result of commenting on other people's blogs?




I'm planning to do a "commenting tips" type post here in the next week or so. These are just a few of the questions that I was curious about. So I figured, rather than doing all my research out on the interwebs, I might as well ask here first.

So what's your take?

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I Really Did Meet My Wife On Match.com

I've been remarried for almost 3 years now.

We sometimes tell people we met in Walmart (not exactly sure how that's "better"), but in reality, we are an online dating success story. I met Ana on match.com.

Todd and Ana

I can't remember who initiated the conversation, but I do remember that her profile name was something like "latinmommy", and was all about her and her kids (now my step-kids; Johnathan and Jasmine). Ana say that her sister actually made the profile for her ... she obviously did a good job. Which ever one of us it was who "winked" at the other first, eventually it was mutual, and we started chatting ... first by email, then more "real time" on yahoo, and on the phone.

Finally on the morning of the 4th of July, I happened to catch Ana on yahoo chat. We talked for a few minutes, then she said she had to get offline, so she could go shopping for school supplies at Walmart. Since two of my kids (Justin and Jordan) had come to live with me that summer, I also needed school supplies, so offered to meet her there ...

We got all the school stuff, and I picked up a tv for the kids room. During the hour or so we were there, we had a nice conversation, and Ana (unintentionally on my part) got to see my scatter brained side. When I paid for the TV with my debit card, in the electronics department, I asked for $40 cash back ... and then promptly walked away without the money! Fortunately, I discovered it in the parking lot, and had time to run back in. The poor cashier had to count her drawer and check it against the printout, but eventually I got my money; and Ana got a good laugh at my expense (the first of many times to come).

A few minutes later, I got a phone call from Justin. His mom had called wanting to talk to Jordan. The one little problem ... Jordan had gone outside to play, and Justin wasn't sure exactly where she was ... I needed to get home ASAP.

Before I left, I did a very smart thing ...

During our conversation, Ana had told me that her kids would be spending the evening with her dad, so she didn't know what she was doing that night. Well, since I lived just a 10 minute walk from the beach, and had a great view of 3 different fireworks displays, I decided to invite her to come watch the show with us. (I was just being nice)

I won't bore you with the rest of the details. The long story short version ... at the end of the evening, I walked her to her car; we kissed; saw fireworks of our own; got married about 6 months later. My 3 kids, her 2, and when Jaiden was born in August 2008 ... that's the way we all became the Brady Bunch ... (come on everyone sing along)

Seriously though, so that this isn't just a story about me, there is a Todd's Tip here ...

Should you find yourself single, online dating really isn't a bad thing. Sure there are some weirdos and freaks out there. But, for the most part there are also a whole bunch of nice normal people, who are looking to connect with other nice normal people. Don't be scared, take a chance !

Til next time ...
Todd
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Sunday, September 20, 2009

A Dream Board In Your Pocket

I'm a fan of using a dream board as part of an overall goal setting strategy. In fact, I've previously written about how to make your own online dream board.

But what if you don't always have access to your computer?

Or what if you're like many of us, and you already spend Too Much Time sitting in front of this silly box?

Is there anything wrong with going totally low tech?

16:00

Here's an idea ...

Next time you're down at Wally World, stop by the stationary section, and pick up one of those little pocket sized notebooks. Not the little tiny flip-up ones. One of the one that opens from the side like a regular notebook, but is small enough to fit in a cargo pocket or purse ... I think it's 4x6.

Use it just like you would your online dream board:

Put the date at the top of each page. Then divide your daily entries into 3 sections:

  1. Today I am Thankful for …
  2. Things I like about myself today …
  3. My Goals and Intentions …


Make a new "post" every morning. Then, since you're carrying your "dream board" with you, you'll have the opportunity to review it as many times as you want throughout the day.

And if you wanted to get "fancy", you could even use the inside front and back covers to paste pictures (from books or magazines) of your goals.

This is just an idea ...

The important thing is, no matter how you go about goal setting, you MUST write them down !!!

I hope you find this helpful.

Todd
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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hilton Hawaiian Village Friday Night Fireworks




When my kids were younger, one of our favorite Friday night activities was to go down to Waikiki beach to watch the Hilton Hawaiian Village fireworks show. We wouldn't actually go to the Hilton though. The military hotel, the Hale Koa, is right next door. And with an ID card, it's totally free to swim in the pool all day long.

Usually what we'd do, is when the kids got home from school, we'd load the car up with towels, swim suits, and maybe a cooler full of drinks. Then we'd get on H-1 and head for Honolulu. It usually took us between 1/2 hour and 45 minutes to get there; depending on how much that wonderful Hawaii traffic decided to cooperate on that particular day. Since, as I mentioned, the Hilton Hawaiian Village is right next to the Hale Koa, parking was never a problem either. We just parked in the military lot, where I think the price was less than a buck an hour ... cheap fun in paradise ;-)

Some times we'd hit the beach for a little bit. That part of Waikiki is really good for kids, as the water is very calm due to a break wall a couple hundred feet out. But most of the time, the kids just wanted to play in the sand any way. As for mom and dad, we were quite happy to just take in the scenery. Then it was time for swimming in the pool.

Hilton Hawaiian Village Church (Hale Koa)



The fireworks usually started at either 7pm in the winter, or 8pm in the summer. Which means we almost always had as at least a couple of hours to swim before the entertainment started. Which wasn't a bad thing at all ... the Hale Koa has a really nice pool. And the best part is, since the fireworks were shot off right over the beach, we often didn't even have to leave the watch to watch the show. I'll tell you, there aren't too many things more pleasant than floating along in a pool, watching an awesome fireworks show on a cool Hawaiian night.

We usually followed the fireworks up with a burger, and if the kids were good, maybe a shave ice.

Memories are good, but I sure do miss living in paradise.

Til next time ..
Todd
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Thursday, September 17, 2009

How To Prepare For A Military Deployment

[caption id="attachment_590" align="alignleft" width="250" caption="Dust storm in Iraq"]Dust storm in Iraq[/caption] So what are some of the steps that a military guy (or girl) should take when they find out they'll be going on an "overseas adventure"?

And I'm not talking about your military training, or the endless checklists and appointments that your unit will surely have for you. I'm thinking more along the lines of how to make sure that your personal stuff ... and your family's, is squared away, so that you don't have to worry about it while you're over there. (depending on your job, you'll probably have enough other stuff to worry about)

Ok, let's start with the important stuff ...

A Visit to the Legal Office



Ok, first area, and I already lied when I said I wouldn't write about things that are on your unit checklist ... I'm sure this is. That said, I do have a few insights to add when it comes to things you need to do at your base/post legal office.


  1. Update your Will - If you don't already have a will, you need one. And if you do have one, it almost certainly needs to be updated ... depending on how long it's been since your last deployment. For instance, it's been two years since I deployed last time, and I've had another daughter since then. Obviously, the lawyer will be able to give you advice on what to put ... but if in doubt, you want to be as specific as possible. If the worst happens to you, the last thing in the world your love ones will need to deal with is having to go to court to sort out your affairs, because your will was ambiguous in some important area.


  2. Review/Update/Get your Living Will - If you're on life support, what measures do you want the doctors to take to try to keep you alive? Do you have someone specific that you want to make decisions about your care, if you're unable to? ... does this person know you want them to do this? Spelling your wishes out in a legal document will, again, make things much easier on your loved ones should they be put in the terrible situation of having to make these type of decisions.


  3. Powers of Attorney - With all the things you can take care of on the Internet these days, it's a little easier to take care of your own affairs, even while deployed. That being said, it's still a good idea to empower at least one person back home, with the ability (and legal right) to handle those situations that you can't. What you want, is a Special Power of Attorney for each specific task that may need to be accomplished. Some people may only need 1 or 2, but it's also quite possible to have to get as many as a dozen (if you have a very complicated life). If you're married, and/or you have someone that you trust implicitly, you can also consider a General Power of Attorney . Two reasons why this might not be the best idea though ...

    • A general power of attorney gives someone absolute control of your affairs ... they are authorized to act as if they were you. Just something to think about.

    • On the flip side, because general power of attorneys have at times been abused, some institutions such as banks may (at their discretion) refuse to accept a general power of attorney ... this is a situation where you'll probably need a special power of attorney.


    Bottom line, as backwards as it may sound, Specials are what you want, with a General as a potential backup. In either case, make sure that the power of attorney is in effect throughout the duration of your deployment ... you want it to end about a month after you get back (in case you get delayed). Note: please don't take any of the above paragraphs as "legal advice" ... as I am not a lawyer ... see the legal office for that.



Pay Attention to your Finances



Depending on your home situation, and where you're going, deploying can potentially add a few dollars to your bank account while you're gone. But if you're not careful, there are also some "opportunities" to get yourself in trouble.


  1. Set up Automatic Payments - This is especially important for single people, but even if you're married, if you're the one who pays the bills, it might be a good idea to ensure that they are paid automatically ... in case you can't get to a computer, and so that your spouse doesn't have to worry about it. Just contact your bank, utility or credit card company, explain your situation, and get the procedures for signing up.


  2. Service Members Civil Relief Act - There are a lot of provisions to this act, and if you have any legal issues, you definitely want to contact your base/post legal office to see how this act may affect your situation. There are at least two areas of of this bill that allow almost all of us to benefit though ...
    • Reduce Interest Rates - Once you have your orders, you can simply write a letter to your creditors, and request that under the provisions of the Service member's civil relief act, your interest rate be lowered to no more than 6% for the duration of your deployment. In my experience, most companies are fairly cooperative ... and some, such as USAA will even extend that lower rate for up to a year after you return from deployment.

    • Suspend your Cell Phone - Unless you have a quad-band phone, and you're prepared to pay some relatively outrageous per minute rates, you're probably not going to use your cell phone while you're deployed ... and there's no reason you should have to pay for something you're not going to use. You have the right to suspend your account while you're gone. And in some cases, it may even be possible to get out of your contract altogether.



  3. Tax Free Pay - During the time that you're deployed to a combat zone, your basic pay will Not be taxed. Depending on how much you make, and how many dependents you have, this could save you several hundred dollars a month. In addition, and even better, if you're in a career field that's eligible for a reenlistment bonus, if you can manage to do the deed while you're deployed, the entire bonus amount is also tax free.


  4. Savings Deposit Program - In addition to any special rates or programs that your own bank may offer while you're deployed (ask them), the military also has a program that will allow you to deposit up to $10,000 and earn 10% on that money while you're deployed. This is a particularly good idea if you'll be getting one of those bonuses mentioned in the paragraph above. But even if you're not getting a bonus, you may qualify for a couple of hundred dollars a month in special allowances (ie, imminent danger pay, family separation allowance, etc.,) Unless your family at home needs the extra money while you're gone, it just make sense to earn some interest on this money, and come home to a nice little nest egg.



Take Care of your Family



Heading off to a combat zone is obviously not an easy thing for any service member. But a pretty convincing argument can be made that it might actually be even harder for those you leave behind. Probably the most important step in your pre-deployment preparations is making sure that your family is prepared, and taken care of.


  1. Contact with your Unit - Make sure that your spouse, girl/boy friend, parents, etc., have good contact information for someone in your unit, in case they need help while you're gone. In addition, you should seek out the civilian support structure within your unit ... usually the commanders spouse will head up some sort of club/group ... make sure they also know that you'll be gone, and have good contact information for your loved ones. Encourage your loved ones to participate.


  2. Plan to Communicate - Most overseas locations now have at least some form of Internet access. This makes communication easier than it may have been in the past, but you still need a plan. Will you talk on Skype, Yahoo Chat, Google Talk, etc,. ? If so, you need to make sure both you and your loved ones have accounts, and your computers are properly configured. If you plan to talk by phone, have you budgeted for phone cards? Have you made a chart of the time differences, so you don't accidentally call your spouse in the middle of the night? Have you told your loved ones that there may be occasions when you can't call (even for days at a time), but this probably shouldn't make them worry. These are just a few things to consider.

  3. On-post Services - Different locations have their own unique programs, but pretty much all military installations have special services for the dependents of deployed members. For instance, here at Fort Hood, a couple of things we're definitely going to take advantage of are having the housing office mow our grass for free, and the fees are waived for MWR/Youth Center programs that the kids sign up for while I'm gone. That's just a few examples though, check with your base's Family Support Center (or equivalent) for all the details of what's offered at your location.


  4. Off-post Services - Many businesses in your local community will have special discounts and promotions specifically for military families. These are often advertised in the local newspaper, but even if they're not, make sure your loved ones take the attitude that "it never hurts to ask". In addition, a great resource for your family member is the website www.MilitaryOneSource.com. They offer a variety of services, but one in particular that my family has experience with is the Free Counseling . While I was in Iraq last time, my parents, my kids, and my new wife/step kids (Ana and I had just gotten married) were all in the same house. As you might expect, there were some occasional issues. My mom call military one source, and was able to arrange Free weekly sessions with a family counselor ... which proved to be very helpful, and definitely lowered my stress level as well (there's no more helpless feeling, than knowing there's a problem at home, but not being able to do anything to help make it better because you're thousands of miles away, trying to do your job).


  5. Talk about the "bad" stuff - This is an area that most of us don't even want to think about. However, it is important that you have a conversation with your family about what to do if you're captured (or even worse, killed) while you're overseas. If you need help figuring out how to initiate this discussion, you might even want to refer to one of those resources in the paragraphs above (ie; a counselor, chaplain, etc.,).



Enjoy Time with your Loved Ones



Last but certainly not least, make sure before you go that you take advantage of any opportunity you may get to spend some quality time with your loved ones. Most military organizations have a pretty liberal leave policy, ones you've completed all of your required checklists. Definitely take some time off if you can !!!

Note: You may have noticed that I haven't done a whole lot of linking out in this post. That's because I'm never sure how much you can trust what you read on the Internet (even on my site). I strongly suggest that if you want additional details on anything mentioned in this article that you contact the appropriate office (ie: legal, finance, support etc,.) at your local installation to get the answers "straight from the horse's mouth". That being said, I hope that reading this may inspire you do some research, or ask some questions, that you hadn't previously been aware of or considered.

Til next time ...
Todd

p.s. I leave in a little less than 2 weeks myself. I used writing this article as something of a personal checklist. Hopefully I haven't left anything important out, but just in case, I do plan to continue blogging while I'm in Iraq, so keep on the lookout for follow-up posts.

p.p.s. if you have any relevant experiences or tips, please free to share in the comments section below ...
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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How To Save Money By Getting A New Car

... well, a van actually.

[caption id="attachment_598" align="alignnone" width="450" caption="Our new Kia van "]Our new Kia van [/caption]

With a growing family, it was time to get something with a bit more room. For the past couple of years, we've had two cars. Ana drove a Kia Sorento SUV, and I had a Saturn Ion. This arrangement worked for getting us where we needed to go ... but, both cars had monthly payments.

One upside of my heading for Iraq soon, is that at least for the next 6 months, we have the opportunity to be a one-car family. (and that's where the money savings come)

We'd been considering getting a van for a while. But now seemed like a perfect time to do it. In addition to my deployment giving us the chance to just have one car; the credit market is better, so we got a good interest rate, and with the car companies trying to build their business back up, there are a whole bunch of rebates and credits out there ... even with Cash for Clunkers having ended last month.



To make this work, we had to trade in both cars. This wasn't exactly an easy task, as the Saturn was blue booking for about what we owed on it, but the Sorento was a few K upside down. Knowing this, I went shopping with the mindset that I was looking for a deal.

... and more importantly, Ana and I had decided that getting a van right now would be treated as something we'd Like to do; not necessarily something that we Need to do.

We browsed around online, and actually found that we liked the Kia (we were very happy with Ana's Sorento, so we have a history of good feeling about Kia). I filled out their little form, and got a call from salesman Mark the next day ...

When we went to the dealership that after noon, I was very clear with Mark on a couple of points, right off the bat:


  1. We already knew we liked the van ... that part probably wouldn't take a whole lot of selling

  2. We didn't intend to spend any cash right now.

  3. Because we weren't putting any money down, we needed a good deal on our trade-ins ... ie, enough to pay them off; with the help of the rebates we would be getting on the new van.

  4. Last but not least, I told Mark that if things couldn't be worked out, it was cool, we'd be back to see him in the spring when I get home from deployment. I wasn't playing him or anything, I honestly wouldn't have been disappointed if we would of had to wait 7 more months to get a van.



The initial deal that they offered us, wasn't the greatest. The trade-in offers were pretty much right at blue book. This left us financing more than the the sticker price of the van ... even after account for $2500 in rebates. Which meant the monthly payment was going to be a bit higher than I would have liked. Despite this, they did offer to let me continue to drive my Saturn for the next two weeks until I leave, if we would commit to a deal right then ... subject to approved financing.

I'm not sure exactly why, but I decided to say yes, and we drove off in the van that afternoon. This turned out to be a good decision ...

When I went back on Monday to finalize the deal, the finance manager told me she has some good news, some great news, and some bad news for me. Obviously I took the bad news first. There was a bit of problems with the financing. This would turn out to be the bad and the great news ...

The bad news was, they wanted me to put down $200 (I can live with that).

The good news was, my monthly payments were going to be lower than what I'd been quoted.

The great news was, apparently the bank didn't want to finance the extra amount above the price of the van. So, rather than risk losing the deal altogether (remember I told them I could wait til April), the dealership somehow found a way to give me a couple thousand more on my trade-ins.

Win-win for everybody.

So basically, we came out of this with a brand new Van, (with a 10 year 100,000 mile warranty) ... which will be quite useful with all the kids. While lowering our monthly expenses (between car payments and insurance) by almost $300 a month.

The only downside is, I will still have to get some form of transportation when I get back in the spring. But since it's only a 6 mile trip to work, I don't necessarily have to be too picky ... I'm thinking one of those $99 a month specials might end up being right up my alley.

Anyhow ... bottom line ... there are some great deals to be had out there right now. If you've been thinking about getting a new or different car, this is a very good time to head to the dealership and explore your options.

Til next time ...
Todd



















Ana will drive the van, and then when I get back, I'm going hopefully have saved a bit of cash while deployed ... enabling me to pick up a little runner, that will get me back and forth to work every day.
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Can You Get Rich Blogging About Making Money?

So you know you need more income. There's always too much month at the end of your paycheck. You need to find a viable way to increase your cash flow. Well, you've got a computer ... you could start a blog ... but what should you write about? It rarely fails, when someone gets on the Internet and decides they'd like earn extra income, one of the first ideas that pops into their head is to start a new blog about making money.

I mean heck, if I'm interested in it, then other people must be too right? I'll just go copy some PLR articles, slap about 25 or 30 bright flashing 125x125 ads in my side bars, then sit back and wait for the huge checks to start rolling in. Sounds like a good plan huh?

Unfortunately, for the vast majority of people ...

Earning a Significant Income writing about Making Money Online is about as likely as Winning the Lottery



The biggest problem ... probably 99% of the people who are (attempting to) write about making money online, are NOT cashing big checks themselves ... never have ... and sadly, most likely Never will. In fact, I'd almost be willing to bet that the majority of "make money" bloggers aren't even using most of the "sounds too good to be true" programs that they so proudly display in the "check out our sponsors", above the fold, section of their website. (note: for most, it's probably a good thing they didn't actually buy into these schemes ... but it sucks that they think it's ok to hope that other suckers will)

Speaking of Ads ...

How many times have you visited a website or blog, and almost immediately noticed that there are multiple types of advertising ... adsense, banners, chitika, fake blog rolls, and of course the obligatory posts about the latest and greatest "hot" affiliate deals? Or what about those sites you sometimes land on, where there literally appears to be more advertising than actual content? Here's a dirty little (not so) Secret for you ...

The More ads you see, the LESS likely it is the blog is Making Money



Now obviously, there are exceptions. But for the most part, this is a pretty tried and true "rule" ... especially in the MMO niche. And webmasters who break this rule, pretty much betray a lack of basic salesmanship knowledge. Don't get me wrong, it sounds perfectly logical to someone who doesn't know any better, that the more choices you give someone, the more likely they are to make a "good" decision ... in this case clicking on an ad, and/or making a purchase. However, those who have experience in sales, and/or have studied human nature will know all too well that the Exact Opposite is more often true. Faced with an over abundance of choices, most people will simply choose Not to act at all.

If you're reading the above paragraph, and it sounds like your blog/website, it's might just be a good explanation for why the click thru rate on your adsense always seems to hover around .07%, and the clicks you do get tend to pay a whopping 3 or 4 cents each. Heck with the 10-15 visitors you get (on a good) day, you might just make enough money each month to buy a soda or a cup of coffee (McDonalds not Starbucks).

Oh, that reminds me, let's talk about traffic for a minute ...

Competition for traffic in the MMO niche is TOUGH



Did you realize that just in Google, there are over 180 MILLION websites trying to rank for the keyword "Make Money Online" ? Don't let that number daunt you too much ... It's not terribly hard to get a post/site indexed for those keywords. But if you're not in the first 10 results for that search string, the chances of getting any significant traffic for that term are about ... not bloody likely.

And, one other thing to consider; I guarantee you, those sites that are on first page of Google, did not get there by accident. They've been doing this for a Long Time, and they know probably more than you or I ever will about How to make money online. Why in the world would someone who's either brand new, or has never been successful want to try to compete with that?

Being the sharp mind that you obviously are (since you've read this far into the article), you've probably already begun to ask yourself ... Wait a Minute !!! ... if writing about making money online is such a bad idea, why is Todd writing a post about Can You Get Rich Blogging ????

I'm glad you asked ...

If I'm Not going to Get Rich writing about Making Money, WHY would I start a blog/write articles about Earning Extra Income?



I think my friend Allyn actually explains the answer pretty well in his video blog post about How Natural Links, and Online Friends help us get by. The bottom line is, while having a blog about blogging, making money, affiliate programs, etc, is unlikely to ever turn into a true Cash Cow, it can definitely be a great way to NETWORK with other likely minded people.

... and (pay attention because this is Important) those RELATIONSHIPS that you take the time to form, are exactly what (over the long run) are likely to make a difference in how successful you are in your efforts to earn more than just a "few extra bucks" with your computer.

In the mean time (while you're still building your empire), having the right friends can even be used for "fun" ... such as calling out alleged scammers , and actually getting enough traffic/high enough SERP ranking that they notice you.

Plus, and more importantly, having online friends can be a great way to LEARN from other's blogging mistakes ... while at the same time helping get links/drive traffic to your sites that actually do allow you to make money from home ... putting money in your bank account today.

BUT .... here's the part of this equation that some people tend to forget (and it can be "fatal" to your success) ...

When it come to building Online Relationships, you have to be Willing to GIVE, if you Expect to Receive



Read that again ... and again if you need to ... be willing to give first.

One of Zig Ziggler's more famous quote is probably quite apt here:

"You can have everything in life that you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want."

Who have you helped today?

Til next time ...
Todd

p.s. this article was originally written for a different blog. unfortunately, that site gets very little traffic. it seemed a shame to write a 1000 word article, with links to some of my friends, and then post it someplace where very few people are likely to read it. so I moved it here. hope you like it.
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Monday, September 7, 2009

Is It Wrong To Use My Daughter As A Prop?

Ok, so I've been on a bit of a blog redesign kick this weekend (for those who know me, I bet you're shocked, shocked, shocked). Btw, I am seriously impressed with Elegant Themes. Not only do they look good on the outside, but back-end options panel is probably the best I've seen ... easy to change colors and layout right from the control panel; without editing any code. But I digress, sorry back to the story ...

So as I was re-doing the make money from home page on the CandleMonkey blog, I realized that I didn't have any good, no cheesy, pictures of money.

So I grabbed a $20 bill and my camera, and went to the living room where Jaiden was on the couch watching Sesame Street. Here's the result:
[caption id="attachment_575" align="alignnone" width="400" caption="You\'re never to young to appreciate Andrew Jackson"]You're never to young to appreciate Andrew Jackson[/caption]

Jaiden thought it was great fun ... until she tried to eat my money and I had to take it away from her. Ana also thought it was cute.

My only "worry" ... if I keep doing this sort of thing, is she going to eventually grow up into a teenager who resents her dad's "exploitive" ways? ;-)

Keep havin FuN!
Todd

p.s. I'm not really worried ... but I needed a good excuse to write a post where I could show everyone this picture. (proud dad thing, don't you know)
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Monday, August 24, 2009

My T-Mobile Sidekick Died



Sidekick id My cell phone died the other day. I plugged it into the charger and left it on the shelf. A couple of hours later, I noticed that it only had one bar, and wasn't recharging. I tried plugging the charger into another wall jack; no dice. Then I tried putting the sidekick on my car charger; still no luck. That phone is D.E.D. dead.

Actually, it's not quite the tragedy that it might sound. The phone itself is about 2 years old. And more importantly, since I'm going to Iraq again next month I was only going to be using the sidekick for a short time anyway (hoping the next version of the "myTouch" will be out by the time I get back next spring).



Anyway, it's obviously not worth fixing the sidekick. And the warranty has long since expired ... although I am technically still eligible to use the warranty since I have (stupidly) been paying for insurance since I've had the phone (I'll do another post soon about what a dumb idea cell phone insurance is ... hint: they don't tell you that the deductible is usually about as much as the phone is worth anyway). This was a possible solution for about 5 minutes, until I discovered that the little pad underneath where the screen flips up is bright pink instead of white. This indicates that my phone has been exposed to water at some point. Which means, the warranty is void.

So, what I ended up with is a cheap phone to get me by for the next week or so.

And with that solution come my Todd's Tip for this post:

If you ever need a cheap phone, to replace either another cheap phone, or an expensive one you can't afford to replace; you DO NOT have to go to the t-mobile store. You don't even have to go to ebay or craigslist (although that is an option). Instead, just head over to BestBuy or Walmart, or any other store that sells t-mobile prepaid cell phones.

These phones cost around 1/2 to 1/3 as much as the exact same phone in the t-mobile store at the "without contract" price. (I was actually given this hint by a very nice guy who works in the t-mobile store in Florida when I was getting a new phone for my son to replace the blackberry he lost last year).

So for the next month, I'll have to get by without internet access on my phone. And when I want to text message, I'll have to use the number pad, instead of the cool little keyboard that I've become an expert thumb typist on over the years. But hey, at least I only paid $29.95, and I didn't extend my contract any more. ;-)

Til next time,
Todd
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