Monday, November 27, 2006

2:21 AM - Can't Sleep

Yes, it's the middle of the morning and I'm wide awake. I'm sitting here at the computer, typing through a haze of cigarette smoke, squinting at the bright glare of the screen to my darkness-adjusted eyes, waiting for them to start to want to close on their own. I have been repeating this procedure in varying forms for over an hour now, each with no more success than the other, no matter the myriad of positions I shift to in search of that perfect comfort spot that will sink me into a dreamless sleep.

Most of you are asleep in your beds now, curled around your loved one or your pillow, your cat, or even your own sheets. I think I need water. I'll return in a moment.

I've been thinking of Tripoli lately, remembering snatches of moments of the beauty. That's what happens to people you know? You remember the good things. I know what the weather would be like right now, what the restaurants would be serving, how the taste of the italian cuisine is so much better for being made by real italians with fresh ingredients. I remember the sunrise in the mornings as it climbs lazily over the mediterranean to wake the city in gradual steps from its night of slumber. I remember the sounds of the mosque, heard throughout the city, as I stand downstairs dragging my laptop bah behind me while waiting for my driver to come pick me up. Yes, of course, I'm omitting the nightmare scenarios that plagued my last visit. That's what you do in moments of nostalgia. They only call it nostalgia when you're thinking of good things.

If it wasn't so close to Christmas, I would love to go back. Maybe things will be situated right by January and I can go over again then. Tripoli would be nice in the winter. The climate would be akin to spring here in the states and the city would be free of tourists. It would be me and the locals. I have to say though, that I would much rather visit again and stay in a hotel. My house there is beautiful, but I like being surrounded by the nightlife and the culture you see in the hotels, not to mention that Ahmad, or Mustafa would be only too happy to prepare me a strawberry cocktail at three in the morning, just for the pleasure of watching the funny american stroll through the hotel in slippers and pajama pants. The last time I did that, I'm pretty sure the whole staff had to go to mosque afterwards.

Well, reality is that I'm not there, so I need to start planning my week here in the great US of A. I do have a busy week planned. I'm getting the new company off the ground this month, but at this point I'm keeping it pretty close to the vest until I get my incorporation papers filed. I have clients from the old days begging for work from me to the point that I don't have time to do it all, which is not a bad problem to have. However, I'm always the prudent one and fear of that indomitable lawsuit that "could" be over the horizon makes me hesitant to take on too much until I get incorporated properly.

Well, it's 2:38 in the morning now and I'm no closer to being tired than I was when I started this. This is that nervous kind of energy I get when there is a lot on my mind and it races through my head in loops like runners at a derby, each flashing by in a whiz because I try not to focus on them or I won't ever get any rest. It's not caffiene this time, that's for sure. My evening beverage consisted of water and grape juice. (You'd be proud, Sassenach.) 

I did talk to Dad tonight briefly. He wants me to try to get Hannah and come out sometime around Christmas if I can. I know he wants to see her, and I'm sure she'd like to see him, but as the elder of the paternal units involved in this discussion, you'd think he would have made time to come see her some time in the last ten years. Well, who am I to judge a man on his lauds as a father? I'm not the best one myself. He who lives in a glass house, not withstandint, I guess I'll just stop that rant while I'm ahead.

I think it would be a good idea though. It would give me some bonding time with Hannah and would let her get out to see the rest of her family. I just need to make sure I can afford the trip. Christmas time, especially this year with money as tight as it is, isn't the best time to be planning expensive road-trips to far off places. Now that I think of it, it would really be worth it just to watch her have to drink milk fresh from a cow... That's really gross stuff by the way. If you've managed to suffer this long through life with the terrible FDA burnen of homogenization, I'd suggest you keep it that way. Take it from me; I've had it every way you can take it, and Vitamin D enriched from the cooler section at food lion is the only way to go. I shudder to remember that mess I drank in Libya. Ugh!

While lying in bed, I just finished the latest James Patterson novel, Cross, on audiobook. I was starting Nelson DeMille's "Wildfire" when I decided to get up and totter around the house a little. Cross was a good novel, but I'm not sure where Patterson is heading with the Alex Cross character. He left a blatant invitation for his next novel in the epilogue, so I know the series isn't over yet. So far, for those of you who read James Patterson, Alex Cross has left the NYPD as a detective and has now even left the FBI, in favor and with much pressure from his family, for starting his own practice again as a phychologist. So, I'm assuming this next novel will find Alex Cross taking on his vigilante bad guys from a more personal standpoint, and less of one from the "official" role. We'll see.

I'm not sure what this current novel is about. I know it's a novel, based largely on actual events, that has something to do with a Federal Bureau focused on Anti-terrorism taskforces, specifically iraqi, libyan, and pakistani. I haven't read the paper-book but based on the almost 20 hour unabridged audio book, it seems like I'm in for another long one.

Its 2:51 now and I'm on my third cigarette. I need to stop smoking. Truth is, I enjoy it. Sue me. Actually, don't. Just shut up and know that yes I am aware of all the health reasons, financial reasons, and other reasons why any sane person smokes, however I choose to continue on in my bucking of the system in lieu of going through three months of personal hellish withdrawals where people's lives would be in danger, which would wind me up in jail, which would probably make me start all over again. So see, I'm just saving the judicial system a ride around the wheel with me, that's all.

I REALLY want to take up a hobby here in the states while I have time. I've narrowed it down to something physical; boxing or dancing. I can't decide which. Yes I know they are opposite ends of the spectrum, but what can I say? I'm eclectic. I've always wanted to box, but I'm not sure if I have the desire to learn a skill which really does me no use outside of a fist fight or the ring, and since I dont' intend to contend, then what's the point? Dancing, however is another story. I've always wanted to learn to dance "correctly." I've been considering salsa/merengue lessons, ballroom, swing, or a little of all of them. I've certainly got inordinate amounts of free time, though they're never predictable moments of spatial quantity, but I'm sure I could figure out something if I applied myself to the task.

Well, before I divulge more immasculine thoughts here to the world, I think I'll try to call it a night... again. Hope to see you all tomorrow, or I guess some of you at least.

Bye for now.

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Big News

Tommy and April reminded me that I have not posted my big news on the blog so here goes...On the night of Tuesday November 21st Mark proposed to me at the pond by the hospital. He took me on the bridge and turned my body towards the water fountain and asked me to marry him. I am so happy. We have not set a date yet but we are thinking of the summer of 2008 at Ocracoke. Then we are planning to go to Lake Tahoe for our honeymoon. We do not want to rush our planning so that we can make sure that our wedding is well planned and something that will be memorable and we will cherish forever. So there is my big news (as if all of yall didn't already know from the screaming phone call yall received that night). So what is everyone else up to?

PPP: Indian Hotels

Review Of Indian Hotels

Inasra has asked for an open and honest review of their "Indian" hotel site. To be specific, they are referring to hotel reservations in the states of India, not an American Indian hotel reservation site.

The site is still in Beta, as advertised on their header logo, so I'm sure there will be updates to come in the future. Right now, they want to know what's "good" and what needs help to make the site better.

From the positive standpoint, the web site is extremely quick. The php backend means they're using something like a  MySQL database to add and edit listings, which typically lends itself to a fast interface. For the visitor, this means fast search results. So far they have avoided what I call "over-junking" the site, which many sites have fallen prey to. If I'm coming here to book a hotel, that's what I want to do. I'm sure they will eventually add advertising support somewhere in their design, but if it's not too much on the visitor, then I think they will do fine.

I very much like the fact that you are immediately taken to a search page, right from the moment you arrive, not bogged down with unrelated links that make the search capabilities hard to find.

Since I travel overseas regularly, I can tell you from experience that there are lots of things you don't consider when traveling outside the united states, things that you take for granted here such as transportation, airport access, internet access, restaurant acccess, etc. They have taken the extra step to insure you have all these things at your disposal, which is very nice. I know immediately from my first search that the "Hotel Rajshri" is 400 km from the airport, very close to a train station, and the names of the bus station and airport are provided, making it easy to google them and find out how to get there. This is a very nice feature.

 

Suggestions:

  1. If you plan to attract americans to this site as a primary source of customer revenue, remember to add an option in either the customer profile or in the search profile that will allow them to see distances in kilometers or miles, and what will allow them to see currency in multiple formats such as USD, Euros, or the local currency. Most other countries teach their people to perform these conversions on the fly, because most other countries have to deal regularly with american currency. Americans, however, are a spoiled people. ( I can say that because I am one!) They might leave the site because they dont understand the figures being displayed to them. (Picture my example, where my secretary would be the one doing the booking. She's not college educated and wouldn't understand some of the results on the search page when she's trying to make my reservation.)
  2. Include google map information for the airports, bus stations, rail stations, etc. I would love to be able to pop-up a map of the hotel to see it's visual proximity to other transportation methods since I know I won't be able to drive in this country as a visitor.
  3. Include the things that other people forget to: This will increase your search engine relevancy and will dramatically increase loyalty to your site. You don't know the problems you experience overseas unti you've done it before, and they can be numerous. You have a great amenity listed for one of your hotels, called "Doctor-On-Call"  which I think is fabulous! Somewhere on your main page you might should have a link about "things to know" before going overseas. In this area you could include details about how a visitor can get around town, ( I was astonished to discover that I couldn't drive when I went to Africa... I was going to be there for three months! How do I get around town?) Things like this will increase your viewable traffic, increase the length of page visits, which in turn would also increase the amount of ad-traffic displayed if you ever choose to incorporate paid sponsors on the site.
  4. Make the "Booking Panel" automatically visible, with an option to hide it, instead of vice-versa.
  5. In the search panel on the front page, have the "To" date field auto adjust to accomodate the settings entered in the "from" field. For example, since I want to book a time in March 2007, I have to choose March, choose 15, then choose 2007 from the "From" field. At that point, it would be nice if the "To" field automatically adjusted to set my automatic date for departure to sometime after that initial date, such as March 16, 2007. When performing multiple searches, this would save me a lot of mouse-time.
  6. When I choose "USD" as my rate, I still get my search results in the local currency, not in US Dollars. Alternatively, you might want to include a rate calculator for any currency fields, where I can click on the "Rs 5000" and have it displayed in a pop-up window as either euros or USD, etc, depending on my preference. To facilitate this, you could ask the visitor on the front page "What country are you from?" and have this feature automatically adjust all future currencies and distance measurements to local variants. (Ex: Visitors from london would automatically see "Euros" and "kilometers" while visitors from the USA  would automatically  see "miles" and "USD."
  7. On the Booking Panel, the number of rooms should probably automatically select at least 1 room. When I hit the continue button, it carried me to a page where my estimated charge was 0.00 because I forgot to choose "1 room" from the prior screen.
  8. Completely Optional Idea: Since you want to increase traffic to these hotels, you might could include an option to "leave a review" of a hotel they have booked through your site. If a customer books a room on your site, you could have an email automatically generated to the customer one week after the date of their departure, as determined by their booking dates. That email could offer them a 5% discount or maybe $25.00 off their next booking through  inasra.com if they would leave a review on the site about their stay. Then, other visitors could read the reviews left by prior viewers, which could assist in making the decision for the prospective visitor.
  9. Rather than having a list of amenities for each hotel, entered in text as you do now, make those amenities database fields in your PHP scripting. Then I could search for "money changer" as an optional amenity to my hotel preference. I've learned the hard way that this amenity is very important to me and now I ask at every hotel I stay at overseas if they have a bank inside. Setting these fields up as database fields would be to cumbersome for the simple travelling visitor, but might be a nice feature for the "advanced search" page. Then I could search for ALL hotels that are x kilometers from Airport 123, and DO have a money changer, DO have a local car service, and DO have a doctor-on-call. These three features would quickly allow me to recieve a list of places acceptable to me for a long-terms stay. (And I'm the kind of traveler who has to stay in a place for a month at a time, so you would be catering to the business professionals as well as the extended-tourist customer, both of which spend more money than the short-term tourist anyway.

I hope you find my review helpful. The site is very nice, very fast, and includes lots of "real-world" touches that seem lost on the bigger national travel sites. It seems to have a very personal touch, which I find appealing. All my suggestions are ideas for improvement. Some of them won't appeal to you and some of them you may have already considered, but chosen not to implement for reasons that I am not aware of. All in all, I look forward to seeing the site again in the coming months.

 

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Floodwaters: Seine Beach

While driving to inspect a job site this past week for future work, I drove through old Grimesland Bridge road on the way to Washington. For those of you who haven't seen, I figured I'd share a picture or two. This is the tar river 3 days after all the rains settled.

As you can guess, all that you see above should be parking lot. The water line usually starts about fifteen feet past those bushes you see in the background.

This (above) is usually grass and extra parking, all currently underwater.

And this shows the supply store down at the beach. High tide huh?

Personally, this is my favorite time of year to be in a boat. When the river is high like this the river is much more open and free flowing, but you have to be very careful about trash that's floated out from people's yards. Submerged 66 gallon oil drums can be a bane to your boating experience.. trust I me I know from experience.

Anyone got a boat? I REALLY want a boat. I've been wanting one for the past year and the more I think about it, the more I think it's the most efficient "I want to go do something" remedy I can think of. I can't think of a day ever that I wouldn't be happy to be out on the water, drinking cokes out of a can, sucking down .99 cent honeybuns, fishing off the back and listening to the radio.

If anyone knows anyone who's got one for sale at a decent price, let me know.

Ok.. back to my christmas music now.

April and I are going to take the thanksgiving supplies back to the storage shed and gather all the christmas supplies to put up in the house this evening... ugh. I love christmas, but I hate that first day of putting everything up and cleaning up, chasing ornament hooks all across the carpet, etc.

Anyway, I'm sure it will be an adventure. I know April's looking forward to it. This will be our second year that we've got to put up the christmas tree together. Ok.. see you all soon.

Culture Clash

 Ok.. so I was bored on Saturday night. April went out to get her nails filled in and get a pedicure, so I chose to do what all men to in times like that when there is nothing else to do; I went to a hardware store to buy more tools. lol.  Well, later on I decided to walk around Wal-Mart to kill some time until she got done. We had talked on the phone throughout the evening and decided that there wasn't anything going on in town last night, so we would sit home together and play computer games until we exhausted ourselves. Somewhere amidst my wanderings through wal-mart, I decided to try to find some new liquid-diet ideas to get off all the coffee and coke I drink all day and night.

I couldn't decide between Chai, Earl Grey English Tea, and Sparkling Grape Cider... so I got all three.

So what, did I do on Saturday night? This:

Yep.. I sat around the house drinking earl grey tea, and drinking ice-cold grape cider. lol. I REALLY need to get out more!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Success

Well, it's over for another year. Everyone has gone back to their respective homes and the dishwasher is humming happily away, removing the last traces of this year's Thanksgiving festivities at the Jordan Ranch.

It was a great day! I got up early and spent the morning cooking happily in the kitchen while I rocked and rolled to my new "old country" playlist on my iPod. I believe, technically, I was "rockin to the rhythm of the rain", according to Wynona and Naomi, who kept me company through my tribulations in the kitchen.

The cooking came off without a hitch. The casserole turned out wonderful (thank you again Allison) and the ham was good this year too. Originally, we had planned for Cathy, Frankie, and Rhonda from April's family and for Mom and Raymond from my family to join us for lunch. Considering the bustle of the year, we were thinking it was going to be very small. As you can see from the photo, everyone brought at least one more dish than we had planned for, but nothing was repeated and everything tasted wonderful!

I went to the storage shed earlier in the day to break out the extra table and chairs I had been waiting to use all year, and that too proved to be the perfect fit for the need, so all in all, we had great company, great food, and a great time. I'm glad for everyone that could come and I thank all of you for spending Thanksgiving with us.

For those I didn't see today, know that you were thought of as always, and there are PLENTY of leftovers so please come eat some of this food! Thanks Ms. Cathy, Frankie, Miss Rhonda, Mom, and you too Bro, for coming up and seeing us today. The only that could have been perfect would be to have Hannah here today, but it was all very short notice and I'm sure she had thanksgiving plans with her Mom and Dad too, so I know she had a good day. (Even though I'm sure she gave Michelle a hard time all day!). Anyway, love you all and miss you all and hope to see all of you soon. (Agent M, you're overdue lady...)

 

Dude, I make an awesome ham!

And I don't even like ham... its too.... "ham" tasting for me... for lack of a better word.

Allison, thanks again for an awesome recipe. Mom asked for your recipe for Pineapple casserole today. I blackmailed her for her Sweet Potato Casserole before I would give it up though!

Ms. Cathy's turkey was wonderful as always (although it didn't have the awesome prize bag it had in it last year!) Franky left out the prize bag!

The dining room wasn't quite large enough, so some temporary reconstruction was in order!

And now, it's done. And it's only 7 PM!

Next, I believe we have a two-hour show of Grey's Anatomy to watch, so that's my plan for the evening! I hope you all had a wonderful thanksgiving, and I mean it when I say PLEASE come eat some of these leftovers. I'll never finish this much food on my own!

This kid takes after me!

 

A man after my own heart! Cause you KNOW that by 85, I'm gonna be walking around the nursing home dressed just like this!

Things I Don't Want For Christmas

 A Cat: You see, here's how it all happened...

You see, the UPS guy showed up a few weeks ago, bearing a special package. You know how I love getting stuff in the mail, so I just opened it. (Not until later did I notice the return address was "Hell"). (Kidding.. she's really sweet.)

So, in a fit of anticipation, I ripped open the box to see what cool new surprise had arrived today. Amazingly, what did I find?

(A "crack in the box"... how thoughtful!)

Wow.. a cat. Ok! How cool is this? Does it require batteries, are they included? Where will I put such a cool gift? Well, the answer to these and other questions were revealed to me in short order.

 

Where to put it?

On the bookcase of course. It nicely fills in that open spot I had been meaning to fill.

It's even like one of those dolls kids have nowadays.. when you get near it, it opens it's eyes! How neat!

What other uses does this cool new thing have? Well, it didn't take me long to discover it's also good for keeping warm with.

Well now, multipurpose. I always like things that have more than one purpose. Cool, what else?

Oh.. neat. It also serves as a deterrent to keep frolilcsome pets out of my clean laundry!

With the proper practice, it even improves your hand-eye coordination, so it's therapeutic as well!

(Insert three week interlude here)

Well, I've discovered, it doesn't take batteries. However, just because it doesn't "need" them doesn't mean it won't bat them all over the house, which is just as bad on my battery consumption. It does, however, take food, which is ok because it costs less than batteries.

However, this week I discovered a malfunction in it's cuddle programming. When trying to cuddle with the toy, it didn't seem to realize cuddle time was over and chose instead to remain in cuddle mode even after it was quite obvious we were NOT into cuddling any more!

No.. DOWN! Cuddle time is over! Stop it.. Ack!

So, now I know what you're thinking: "How ever did you deal with this?" Simple enough. I found another use for it. It also serves as a clone for a "husband" (see below).

(If you didn't get that joke, you're single aren't you?)

 

Just thought I'd share some of what life is like with this little critter around!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just wanted to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving! I cannot begin to say how thankful I am to have all the wonderful friends and family that love me..... I love y'all! :) 'myspace

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Thought for the day: Wine Coolers are not cool at age 29

Which is exactly why I'm drinking all the ones in my fridge while I cook dinner tonight, so no one will come over and say "Dude.. whose are THOSE?" Don't want people think I have drunk 14 year-olds running around the house.

Another Recipe From This Week's Collecton: Stuffed Green Peppers

You know, I've been wanting stuffed bell peppers for about two years now and haven't had them until this week. This is the recipe I got online for them, and it was pretty good. The main reason I've never made them is because basically they are meatloaf stuffed into peppers, and I can't make meatloaf. Well, can't is suck a confining word; let's just say that I've never taken the time to try.

Anyway, for those of you who don't like the traditional ketchup base of Meatloaf, this recipe should do you well. Personally, I'm going to try to modify it a little to get the flavor I think is missing. It's very good, but lacks that zing I was craving. Anyone make a good meatloaf that can give me a suggestion?

 

Disclaimer
I'd like to mention this all credit for this recipe goes to allrecipes.com. I have no copyright or other claims this information. I'm just sharing it here for whomever might want to try it.

Recipe: Apple Pork Chop Casserole

I'm on a cooking kick today, so you'll have to bear with me this week. I'm prepping  my thanksgiving menu, so I've spent the day online playing with new ideas for dishes, although I'm pretty sure I'm gonna stick to my ham recipe that I always do.. it's SOOOO good.

I had a few people ask about this recipe that I tried last week, so I thought I'd post it online. (Might as well be doing something productive with my time.) This was a really unique approach to Pork Chops that I'd never heard of. Long story short, it was an amazing success. I'm not a big fan of sour apples, nor of raisins, but I'd suggest giving it a shot before you knock it. It's really good and you can make it in about 15 minutes of prep-time, even though the recipe says half an hour. Just start browning your pork chops at the same time you start cutting the apples and it goes pretty quick. Give it a try and let me know if you like it.

 

Disclaimer

I'd like to mention this all credit for this recipe goes to allrecipes.com. I have no copyright or other claims this information. I'm just sharing it here for whomever might want to try it.

Another Beautiful Day Dawns...

Ok, maybe that's a stretch. It's 7:30 in the morning and it's not even light yet. What gloom does that foretell for today? However, it is definitely cold! 44 degrees with a wind chill of 38, b-b-brrrrr.

 

Would You Gross Out The World?

While looking up information about accessorizing my new handgun this morning, I came across this little Quiz online, designed to see what you know about eating in other countries. Considering I HAVE dined in other countries, I thought I'd do ok. Try it. I hope your luck is better than mine. At the end, I was told to stay in my country! (click the link above)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Nope.. still bored

Ok... that didn't work. I loaded the program, found all my old site files, and then felt like I was being forced to do homework, so I quit. Argh! I'm SO bored sitting around the house. The sad thing is, I'm still getting paid. I'm bored off my mind, with nothing to do, and still drawing a pay-check!

In the long run, I can't complain. However, the last week just about absorbed all the "Tommy enjoys his free time" time.... now I'm down to scrounging for errands to do. The weather is beautiful, if somewhat cold, and I'd love to be out in it. It's like a weekend for me, but everyone I know is working all day, so it's like a weekend where you're the only human being on earth... the twilight zone kind of weekend.

I think I'm gonna go get Tim's lazy butt from his house and watch Pirates of the Carribean II, or something equally as mind numbing.

Stir Crazy

Ok. I'm going bonkers. It's 9:03 AM and I have nothing on the slate to do today, nothing at all. This is driving me crazy. Every day I get up sometime between 6 and 7 to stumble, one eye half squinted in sleep, to the coffee pot and from there directly to my chair to get on the Internet. The daily routine involves cleaning out my my outlook mail from the day before, my gmail from the day before, checking Yahoo messages, MSN messages, ICQ messages, chatting with Meredith who has just usually put her children on the bus to school, reading the news headlines pertaining to my industry, and then comes the interminable wait...

Things with the GECOL project are proceeding smoothly with little to no help from me at this point. I hired Gregg to fill that role as PM so I could be freed to work on the other projects, and he's doing a fine job overseas even as we speak. In the meantime, I handle the customer issues from my own clients, and provide support to the guys overseas. However, lately, the local work has been tough to schedule, since I'm paying for it all out of pocket. I have to to one or two jobs at a time, wait for them to pay me, then use that money to purchase the necessary materials to do the next job. This makes it a slow process. I've got so much energy and nowhere to focus it between gigs... argh. I even went to practice my guitar the other day, only to be sadly disappointed at the mess of broken strings that greeted me when I opened the case. I haven't played since before I went overseas and the string tension popped three of my strings... so I can't even focus on THAT this morning.

You know what? I just realized I'm whining about having nothing to do.. lol. What the hell is wrong with me? Yes, I'm bored out of my mind, but I just need to find something to focus my energies on; something productive. Oh! Crap! I know. I'll work on my web site. I just got a new version of my dev platform... I'll go play with that! Be back soon if it drives me up a wall...

Can't Sleep

Ok. It's 2:01 in the morning and I've been at this screen clicking the "next blog" button for about the last 30 minutes. First, I've had too much caffiene (Yes, April, you told me so.. grrr. hush! Don't say it.) Second, I was hungry. Now, two bowls of fruity pebbles later...  what? WHAT? Stop staring at me like that! So I like fruity pebbles... shut up!

Anyway, I found a neat little thing online I might try out. You know I like to write, which is no big conclusion considering how much I like the sound of my own voice I know... come to think of it, I can quite happily pontificate away in text format just as proliferously as in real life... another boon for all of you quiet people who never know what to say in a given moment. lol.

Anyhow, the point of this is, I found a website called payperpost.com that might provide me a venue for my creative marketing ideas and my desire to write, all at the same time.

Basically, it's an interesting business design concept. They are paid by sponsors, and therefore in turn pay authors (bloggers) to write opinions on a variety of categories that they have open at any given moment. Basically, it's like being paid to work in an advertising firm. They ask that you do not write for anything you can't endorse, always keep your posts honest, and if the company who's paying them likes what you wrote, they pay you a few bucks for each post.
Pretty decent idea I think... especially since I'm so opinionated anyway!

Bonus: I have something to do at 6 in the morning every day when no one else I know is awake! The only question I have is this: Would something like drive the "personal" traffic away from my site? I don't know. I'm the kind of guy who does this already anyway. You all know when I find somethign that catches my interest, I blog about it anyhow. Now, I'd just be getting paid for it from time to time. Anyway, if you have any interesting comments about the idea, I'd like to hear them.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Grr.. arrg. Computer Crashed

 Well, I just wrote this nice long post about how I was having a great day... then my computer crashed when I was adding two pictures to it! Grrr!

Anyway, the point of the story was that I had a really nice afternoon. I went out with Chris to Marcus' place and we shot off a couple hundred rounds from my new 22 ruger and my mom's 22 revolver. Blowing stuff up is a great way to relieve pent-up stress.

If you're interested, these are my new toys.  Left, my new Ruger .22/45 semi-automatic, single action pistol. On the right is my Mom's .22 long revolver. Yeah, my Mom's, you heard right. This was the gun given to my grandmother by the sheriff of Bertie County the year my grandfather died. The sheriff wanted my grandmother to have something around the house to protect herself with if she needed it. That would have been sometime in the mid 1960's. Years later, my grandmother left it to my mother, who's never shot it yet. so, I took it home, cleaned it up, and put a few rounds through the barrel just for old-time's sake!

 

Now, I get to sit around the house and do nothing for the rest of the evening. April is trying her hand at a recipe for chicken-n-pastry, so I'm just waiting on that to get done and we're gonna veg out a little tonight. (Of course, April just got on me for tracking mud through the house, so I guess I'll be doing a little pre-veg vacuuming! Apparently, I tracked mud from the cotton field all through the nice clean house when I got home.. oops. Sometimes we're SO Married!)

Welcome to the Blog!

Hey Ms. Cathy and Mr. Frankie. I just wanted to say congratulations. You got on the team finally, so now you're ready to post. If  you have any questions on how to do something, let me know and I'll help as best I can. Glad to have you on here! (Scoobies, say hi to the newest members of the board. Frankie and Cathy are April's parents.)

Opinions Needed: Blog Design

I'm sure some of you know me well enough to know that I can't leave anything alone for too long. I have this internal need to fix things even when they dont' need fixing. I'm toying around with the idea of re-theming this blog again and I want your opinions. The main thing I want to to is change the design from a 2-column design to a 3 column design.  For those of you who don't know the difference, look at this page now. All the posts are on the left side if the screen, and the menu items are all on the far right side of the screen. This is an OK look I think, but have this unquenchable desire to do more!

 

I was thinking of keeping the "people" on the right, the bios, links about the Scoobs, and other stuff. Then I'd keep the content in the middle, kind of like it is now. However, on the left I want to add some more menu functionality. Most everyone has a MySpace page now, Yahoo 360 page now, etc. Plus, I think I'd like to do some more "how-to" posts and keep those in separate categories. The new blogger beta format supports some really advanced tricks I could do that would make it simple to actually list categories of posts and make them dynamically searchable. Anyway, what do you think?

Anyone opposed to the idea? Like the idea? Think I need to find other hobbies to occupy my time? What?

 

Anyway, I'm playing with the design on a new blog that I made just to test out the ideas. You can check it out and see what you think. Coments are welcome. It's located at http://carolinaregionii.blogspot.com

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Back on the blog-o-sphere.

     

Ok. After Lee and Tom gave me an eternal hard time on behalf of all those who had their pictures removed from the blog, I wanted to issue you all fair notice that you've all had your pictures reinstated. Some of you confused not having pictures with not being a member on the blog. Your memberships were never altered; you're still allowed and even strongly encouraged to post to your hearts content! I'm sure that blogspace would much rather hear something from someone besides just me once in awhile!

While I was overseas in Africa, I had to slim down the blog interface because our internet connection was so slow we couldn't even load the page, much less actually post anything.

Anyway, you're all back in action, and Shak, I got the picture you sent while you were overseas and added that as your profile pic. I hope you'll take some time and upload some photos for us to see from your trip. I'll likely never get to visit the places you do, so I'll have to live vicariously through you!

See you all again soon!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

How to Post Photos Online Using Picasa and Blogger (Lesson 1)

OK. Let's see if I'm any good at this. Before we get started with the "how" part, we need to make sure you have the appropriate tools. Relax, all the tools are Free, so you don't need to buy anything.

 

Things you will need:

  1. Google Account (If you already use gmail, blogger, blogger beta, or any of the other google services, you'll already have one of these, but let's assume for a moment that you don't. The first thing you'll need to get it a google account.
  2. Picasa (This is the program that Google offers for free. It's a photo program that lets you edit, sort, and manipulate your photos. Considering it's free, it's a very very nice program. The only thing you can't do yet is add captions to your photos, but you can do that online now, so that's not necessarily a problem either.
  3. A membership to a blog account, or your own blog account on blogger.(If you don't want to run your own blog, I can make you a "team member" on this one. Right now, you're a visitor, so you can make replies [comments] to other posts, but can't make your own. If you're a team member, you can write your own posts and add photos, hyperlinks, conversations, etc.

That's really about all you need to get started. The good news is that you can do all three of these through google.com. This way, you get one account that can handle all your needs. Now, you can't just sign up for gmail.com accounts. You need to be invited by a member. That's not too hard to do. Each of us get 100 invitations that we can send out to others, so just make a comment to this post and let me know what email address to send you an invite to, and I'll invite you.

 

Getting Started: Creating Your Accounts

Let's assume you already have gotten your invite from me, or someone elese, or already have your gmail.com account. That's the one thing I can't easily "show" you how to do on here. We'll proceed to the Picasa part of the program.

Download Picasa:

Go to http://picasa.google.com and click on the "Free Download" link on the right side of the page.

 

When you click on the link, you'll go to the automatic download page. You MIGHT get a pop-up on your screen that says "internet explorer has blocked this site from downloading a file to your computer.. blah blah blah. If you do, Right-Click that bar you see and choose "download file."

When you do, you'll have the option to "Run, Save, or Cancel." Choose Save.

When it asks you where to save the file, choose the "desktop" button on the left side (for Windows XP Users) and press "save."

Then, you should see the "saving file" screen that lets you know you're downloading the file.

When it's finished, you MIGHT see this screen:

If you do, just press Run. If you don't see this screen, go to your desktop and double click on the file to get it launched. This will begin the installation Process.

Install Picasa:

Now, we perform the install. I'm not going to walk through all of this on here, because it's really very self-explanatory. Click on the file you downloaded to start the installation and keep pressing "next" until you're done.

Since I already have it installed, I'm going to go on to the next step.

Run Picasa:

The first time you run picasa, especially if you're like me and have alot of pictures, I'm going to suggest that you open the program and walk away from your computer for about 15 mintues. Picasa will start by automatically finding EVERY picture on your hard drive. This will take a few minutes. You will see a small scree on the lower right-hand corder that will flash images pretty quickly. This tells you that Picass is finding more files and adding them to your library for you. It will do this every time you open it, but it should only take a few seconds usually and it will run while you're doing other things. The first time is always slow though. You have a lot of crap on that computer it has to sort and search through.

NOTE ABOUT THIS: The one thing I do NOT like about Picasa is that it finds all kinds of files you "think" are junk. Be careful here. There are lots of images that are associated with other programs. For Example, Adobe Acrobat has images located in the adobe directory that are useful when you use the Help function in adobe. They use these images to show you how to do things. If you start randomly deleting things you don't think are important, you might find out that you have some programs that no longer work. So, unless you know what it is, don't delete it.

Let's "tweak" Picasa a Little Bit.

Personally, I don't like the view that picasa gives you on the left side of the screen. Since I know where all my photos are, I'd like to be able to work with the folders in a more convenient fashion. If you find that Picasa's default layout is ok for you, don't bother with this step. However, here's what you do:

Go to the top of the Picasa Screen and click the "view" button on the top title bar. Then put your mouse over the "folder view" button on the bottom of the menu. Then choose "Tree View". Do this again, and make sure you choose "Sort By Name." (Doing this will let you see the directories your pictures are in on the left side of your screen. You might want to move them around to other folders, and this menu style helps out with that.

Now, my first suggestion is to go spend half an hour playing with the program. You can brighten, rotate, sharpen, auto-color, and do tons of other things to your photos.

NEAT NOTE: There is one important thing to remember. Picasa does not change your original photos. When you make changes inside Picasa, it leaves your originals alone and makes copies for you when you decide to put them online, email them, blog them, or whatever else. That's important to someone like me who has 5000 photos in high-resolution digital quality and doesn't want to lose those originals. This feature is what first turned me on to the program.

Next: Doing Something With Your Photos

Now that you have the photos, it's time to do something with them. Those of you on dial-up or on slower connections (bridget) will like this part. Let's say you have a picture from your digital camera but it's too big to email to your mom. Well, you don't want to spend an hour trying to send one email, or make her spend an hour trying to download it from you. So, here's where Picasa comes in handy.

I'm going to send my mom a HUGE photo, but I want her to get it quickly. So here's what we do:

  1. Choose the photo you want to work with on the right side of the screen: Just double-click the photo to make it larger.
  2. Now it looks like this:
  3. Let's recolor this a little. Press the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button on the left side of the screen. This will automatically try make the picture look as good as the computer thinks it can, based on color information stored in the picture. In this case it made the picture a little darker and more sharp. See below.
     
    See the difference between the two pictures?
  4. Take out the extra stuff you don't want. Press the Crop Button on the left and use your mouse to make a box, leaving out the excess parts of the picture you don't want to see:

    Now choose "Apply" on the left menu.

    Now, I have a brighter, zoomed-in picture.
  5. Let's email this. (Alternatively, you could choose to blog this photo, put it on a web album, export it for other purposes, etc, but we're gonna use email since that's the easiest thing for anyone to know how to do.)
  6. Simply Press the "email" button on the bottom of the page. This takes a second, so don't rush it. When it's done, you should most likely have a screen that looks like this: (I'm using Microsoft Outlook/Outlook Express, so if you're using a different email program, get with the program and quit that yahoo/aol crap!)

    You can see in the attachment line of the email, my picture is now only 28kb. That's very very small and easy to email to anyone. The original photo is actually over 2000 KB, which would take up to ten minutes to email, depending on your internet speed.
  7. Ok.. now we've covered some of the ways to work with a picture, email a pictures, etc. Il'l take a second and show you some of the other things you can do with the same picture, using Picasa:

    Sepia Tone

    Black and White

    Recropped the photo to zoom in on Mom.

There are a hundred things you can do, but you can play with the photo on your own.
NOTE: If you decide tomorrow or next week that you want to go back to your original, Picasa hasn't changed your original photo, so you can click on the photo at any time and choose "undo crop" "undo tuning", etc.

To go back to your list of photos, you can press "Back To Library" or press the ESC key at any time while you're working on one particular photo.

Now, the goal is to show you how to blog your photos here on Scooby Central, or on your own blog, so let's get to that part next. You've figured out the photos, now you just need to figure out how to get them online. Well, we'll make it as easy as possible for you.

Create a Google Photo Account:

Let's do this the way I tried it, which did all of it in one step for me.

Go to your library and select a few photos. Let's work with 5 Photos for now. To Select 5 photos, here's the easy way to do it.

  1. Click on the first Photo you want to add to your online test album.
  2. Hold the "CTRL" key and click on the second one. Repeat this until you have selected 5, or 10 or however many you want to test with. I'll test with 5. So, I hold the control key and click on the other 4 I want to work with. (you shoudl be able to see below that a little blue box surrounds the ones I've selected to work with.)
     
  3. Go to the bottom of the screen and press the "Web Album" button. (This is going to open a new screen for you). It will look like this:
  4. Press the "New User? Sign up!" button. (This will open a new internet browser window on your PC)
  5. You'll be taken to this page you see below:
  6. If you do NOT have a google account, press the link under NO, which should take you to this location. (Click here to go there now.)
  7. Now, since I already have a google account, I'm not going to go through the whole sign-up process, but I feel certain you can figure this out. Once you complete the sign up process and have your username and password, you'll be ready for the next step.

UPLOADING YOUR WEB ALBUM

I'm assuming by now you have created your own account on the site, so let's go back to picasa and work with that a little.

  1. If you need to, click on your photos again to select the ones you want to upload. If they're still selected, great.
  2. Press the Web Album button on the bottom of the screen again.
  3. Log in to the account using the username and password you just registered for when you see this screen:  (HINT: Your username is going to be in the format of username@gmail.com , so be sure to use the full email address, not just the "name" portion.
     
  4. Now you will be presented with some options. Do you want to Create a new album? Add photos to an existing album? What do you want to do? Well, since this is your first album, you simply choose "create a new album."
  5. It's going to name the album the same thing as the folder name your pictures are in, so you can change this if you want to.
  6. Enter a description so those of us who visit your album will know what its about.
  7. HINT: You might want to choose "Medium Size" on the "Upload Settings" option. This will make your pictures a little smaller and will make them faster for other people to see. We arent' ALL on a blazing internet connection, ya know!
  8. Select Public under the "visibility" section at the bottom if you want people to be able to see them. Otherwise, no one but you will be able to see your pictures.
  9. Press "OK"
  10. When you press the ok button, you'll see a progress indicator (shown below)
     
  11. When it's completed, you'll see the following screen:
  12. Press the "View Online" button on the top. This is the quickest way to get back to your photos online to make sure they're all looking the way you want them to. This will also take you to the options page, so you can blog your photos if you want to. (If you can't remember where your photos are online, simply to go http://picasaweb.google.com/home and log in. That will take you to your photos any time.)
  13.  Now.... how to we share the photos? Well, we can see them, so we know they're online. You can either click on the "share album" button on the top right, or you can click on the "Embed in Blog/Myspace" link on the left. Let's cover both options.
    1. Share Album: This takes you to a screen that allows you to easily type the email addresses of friends you wantto send the photos to. Simple enough huh? Type--> Click --> Done!
    2. Click the "Embed in blog/myspace" option.
      Oh crap.. what's all that code I see? Oh no! Web Geek Code! What am I gonna do?
      1. Relax.
      2. Listen while I explain.
      3. Google is trying to make it simple for you. As soon as you clicked that link, it opened a small box on-screen and highlighted a bunch of code you'll need to copy. You dont need to be a web programmer to figure this part out. It's really simple. If the text still looks highlighted, press CTRL and "C" at the same time. (that's the shortcut for "copy" on your computer.) You're not going to see anything happen, so don't expect it to. If you accidentally clicked away from that part of the screen and the text isn't still highlighted, you'll need to highlight it again. That's easy too. Click anywhere inside that little box, once. Press CTRL and "A" at the same time. (That means Select All). NOW press CTRL and "C" (which means copy). Now you've got your code copied to your computer's temporary memory.
      4. (the code should have looked something like this:)
      5. It's called Raw HTML code, so don't worry about it. Now, we go to your blog site and make a post. (You have to be on the team to post a new post of your own, but let's assume you already are a member.)

Paste the Code Into A Blog Message

Open your web browser to your blog, or in this case, my blog. (I almost typed the address, but then I remembered you're already here if you're reading this screen.. duh.)

      1. Scroll down the screen on the right side until you see the link titled "Add New Post To This Blog". (Hint: It's the first link under my picture on the right side)
      2. You should see this:
      3. Enter a title for your post. I'm going to use Test Album.
      4. Leave the Link field blank, unless you want me to link to a web page somewhere, which you don't want in this instance.
      5. In the message body section,type whatever message you want to then press "enter" to make a new line.
      6. Now, click your mouse once in the empty area and press "Ctrl" and "V" (that means Paste) This will place that code you copied earlier into the message.
      7. It should look something like this: (it's going to have a lot of that raw code you saw earlier. That's ok. It's supposed to have that.)
      8. Press Publish Post. Now you're done! You should see a screen that looks like this:
      9. Go back to the blog site and inspect your work to see if it worked.
      10. Now... if you have comments or questions, leave them in the comments area of this post and I'll reply to them. 

Whomever you are reading this, I hope you have found it informative. I tend to speak a little over people's heads sometimes, so if anything doesn't seem very clear, let me know and I'll explain the step differently to make it easier to understand. Since I spent the time to write this, I expect to see posts from at least a few of you so I know it worked. Otherwise, I've just lost an hour and a half of my life that I'll never get back! lol.

Have fun!

Post some pics soon!

Note to family:

Cathy & Frankie and My Mom. I'll email you team membership invitations this morning so you wont have to go through that part of the process to join this blog. Then you will be able to post messages on here any time you want to.