Monthly Archives: September 2011

Will a Major University Please Stand Up?

The dryer had stopped. iTunes was blaring. My coffee had gone cold. The phone rang. I was oblivious to it all. I was in “my happy place.” Others call it “being in the zone.” Do you ever get that? I get it when I’m engrossed in a design project. One that offers a bit of a challenge, a bit of creativity, a bit of fun, and a lot of brain power. When I get in this zone, the whole world fades away and it takes a lot to pull me out. Once, when I was in this zone my son came up to me at 11 at night asking if I was going to be cooking dinner that night or if he should just heat up something. I’m telling you, nothing, not even hunger distracts me. But this morning, while I was happily working away. I was yanked out of my happy place by a Sensa infomercial.
Great. That’s all I need! Don’t you find it frustrating that all these companies are making money off our desperate need to look like what other people have told us to look like? Maybe I’m angry because I was pulled out of my zone, but I really think I’m angry with my own weight. I’ve had a weight problem for most of my life. I’ve been on every diet from Jenny Craig, to Lindora, to Ultrametabolism. I have probably spent thousands on attempts to lose weight. Heck, I even tried some inane Celery Soup Diet until I nearly put myself in the hospital. In the end, it all comes down to me paying a lot of money to be told what I already know. Eat less, exercise more.
That’s the solution, easy enough. But nothing works and again I start some silly fad believing the ridiculous claims all over again. So I get mad. Mad at myself for being so stupid, mad at myself for not losing weight, mad at myself for not having the willpower to lose weight, then when I’m tired of being mad at myself I turn in outward. I get mad at Jack LaLane for starting the whole damn health craze; mad at the infomercials; mad at my friends for not telling me how bad I look. I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore! So, I quit. I decide there’s nothing I can do and forget about it. Until, someone takes a picture of me; my mother-in-law asks how my diet’s coming; I catch a glimpse of myself in a full-length mirror or reflection in a window; and the search for a solution begins all over again.
So there goes Sensa, blabbing on about having results from a “major university” to prove their claims. Have you every noticed that all of these programs say the results have been proven by a “major university” study?
Lipozene claims its  been “clinically proven in a recent major university double-blind study.” OptiGen says it developed its program based on a “clinical study conducted by a major university.” Isagenix claims its shakes were part of a “major university study.” Zenadrine says “one major university study…” NuLean says its weight loss cleanse was “tested at a major university.” Hell, even Sublimal Music claims “clinical data from a major university” has proven that their tapes help weight loss.”

Yet, no matter how I search on Google, I’ve never been able to actually read any university study, let alone a “major university” study using a specific product.

In fact, the only published study I could find online was not published by a “major university.” It was in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) and, though fascinating, was conducted by nutritional centers in various countries. Which basically concluded that it didn’t matter how much a woman paid for a weight loss program, its effectiveness was the same.”

Shouldn’t these companies be held accountable for their claims? Uh, isn’t that the Food and Drug Administration’s job? Before you claim anything don’t you have to show where you got the info? Even if you put the information in 3-pt script font. At least there’d be something to actually name the “major university.” Over at Diet Fraud, who has its fingers on the pulse of the diet industry, they have yet to identify the major university studies.

I refuse, I absolutely refuse to plop another dime down on any product that makes such a claim without giving me the documentation to back it up. I’m pleading with my fellow weight-challenged friends to join me and just stop buying this stuff.

For an alternative, you can find a lot of free weight loss advice online. Calorie count is a completely free solution for developing a healthy lifestyle. Run by About.com it is a free solution with a lot of benefits: They have tons of articles about weight loss. Their program also includes an iphone app to record your calorie intake, exercise, and they have a support network program where you can enlist your friends’ help, either through Facebook or on their website.

Surfing to Improve Your Brain

brainImage by TZA via Flickr
Ready to exercise your brain cells? If recent news reports are accurate, I’d say the answer is yes. Apparently, millions of people are taking advantage of free classes online.
According to Apple, its online store’s educational section has hit more than 300 million downloads. Currently, more than 800 universities have iTunes U sites, and almost half of those schools, including Harvard University and Oxford University, offer content through the iTunes Store. Apple said that users can now access “over 350,000 audio and video files” through iTunes U. (Read more)
I’ve been enjoying the free online classes in iTunes for quite some time. So far, I’ve taken classes on astrophysics, algebra, calculus, introduction to music, European art, writing, reasoning, and more. It’s FREE folks, and you all know how I love a good freebie.
But if you’re not a fan of iTunes, fear not! There are many other ways to expand your mind with free online classes.

You probably think of Youtube as the place to watch stupid videos of cats playing the piano, but there are actually a lot of opportunities to expand your mind. A lot of professors are recording their lectures and making them available on the site. For instance, Professor Marc Davis, UC Berkley, gives an excellent course on Introduction to Astronomy.
Many of the colleges have sites that let you participate in complete courses by linking the lectures to a choice of mediums. You can select whether you want to subscribe to the broadcast on itunes, youtube, or in some cased just download the entire series. Wanna brag that you took a class at Yale? One really cool one for the geeks out there is Game Theory with Yale professor Ben Polak. This course is an introduction to game theory and strategic thinking. Ideas such as dominance, backward induction, Nash equilibrium, evolutionary stability, commitment, credibility, asymmetric information, adverse selection, and signaling are discussed and applied to games played in class and to examples drawn from economics, politics, the movies, and elsewhere. The course is taught on the Yale campus twice a week, but you don’t have to go there to enjoy it. You don’t even have to download the video to benefit from the class. If you’re taking a long trip, you can just save the audio casts to your cell and learn something on the long drive.
If you have a hobby, a great way to learn more about your subject or hear what others are doing is to subscribe to podcasts. One of my absolute favorites is “The Genealogy Guys” podcast, which covers a vast range of topics of interest to genealogists. However, with the huge number of podcasts, it would be more helpful to send you to their website at genealogyguys.com, so you can pick among the specific podcast titles by using their handy search tool.
You don’t have to take online courses to expand your mind. Experts say that keeping our minds active can greatly improve the quality of life in later years. You can do that by playing mind games. No, I’m not talking about playing some mean trick on someone. I’m talking about brain teasers, puzzles, quizzes and other online games that exercise your brain muscles. There are tons of brain-expanding sites to help you. A few of my favorites are:

And, believe-it-or-not, you can exercise your brain at Facebook. Challenge your friends to a game of Scrabble with Words with Friends. OK. I know, it know. Its by the dreaded folks at Zynga. But, the great thing about the game is that you can play it anywhere. On FB or on your iphone or Droid. Or, if you prefer Chess, there’s also Chess with Friends. Believe me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how intelligent your Facebook friends really are.
You can also exercise your brain and benefit your overall health by learning a new activity, such as a new dance. My friends over at Thrill Visalia! are planning a group Thriller dance in October. In it, they give free lessons on learning the 3-minute version of Michael Jackson’s famous Thriller video. Their event is part of the world-wide Thrill the World event, so even if you’re not in the area, you can find participating groups near you or just view their videos and learn at home.
I hope that this post gave you some food for thought, but I don’t want to leave you feeling frustrated with brain overload. While it’s important to exercise our brains, it is also very important to learn to relax them. Our world is so full of stress these days so it’s more important than ever to take a little time to relax. There are a number of ways to do this and if you go to mind-energy, you can learn specific techniques to quickly calm over-tired brain muscles.

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The greatest blog post ever written

I’m really bummed. Yesterday, I was away from my computer so I used the new Blogger app and wrote the best post ever written by anyone on the world wide web to date. 

Image representing Blogger as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase

Seriously! I’d show you, but apparently it disappeared. Or, perhaps it appeared on somebody else’s blog. I’ll never know. I was just double checking my blogger log, and it’s not there. It’s as if the post never existed at all. 
I was able to successfully post from the app one other time, so I know it was working correctly. Blogger has, however, recently been making changes to their website. The new features include a sleek look, an improved editor, access to analytics, and many more widgets. They have been slowly rolling out changes with something new every time I log in,  so perhaps I just happened to hit the publish button at the wrong time. I’m crossing my fingers that this was the case and it was a temporary glitch. Still, being leery now, I’ll probably use the Evernote app or MacJournal app and write my blogs on there from now on. Both of those allow you to save your post as well as synch it with your computer.
Another reason I’m bummed is because I’d made a commitment to myself and to NaBloPoMo that I would post once a day for the month of September and have made it through all the way until now. I’m still going to count it as if I’d posted, using this post in place of the one that disappeared.
So? What was the greatest blog post ever written? Alas, that seems to have disappeared.
Note: This is the 17th post toward my commitment to writing a post a day. Have you joined NaBloPoMo yet?

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Stumbleupon: ‘You Have Reached the End of the Internet’

Yesterday, I was informed by Stumbleupon that I had reached the end of the internet. I backed away to reread it. My eyes not being what they used to be I was sure I was mistaken. Apparently I had already gone through all the links in my interests list and there were no more interests to select from. 
I looked at the URL. Being a savvy websurfer, I’d heard about the trick of adding  .ro.ro at the end of any link to get you to the end of the internet. For instance if I changed my website url from pastisenterprises.com to pastisenterprises.ro.ro/ I would end up at the end of the internet — but it didn’t have that suffix. It wasn’t a joke. 
Restaurant at the End of the Universe
I paused for a much needed drink at a hip hotspot called The Restaurant at the End of The Universe with a couple of old friends who always happen to be there. Arthur, Ford, Zaphod, and Trillian were working on some math problem. “How can it be 42?!” Arthur was yelling over the roar of the band.  As they droned on, my mind went over my options:
  • I could start over
  • I could start recommending more sites to Stumbleupon. 
  • I could look at the Stubleupon alternatives.

StumbleUponImage via WikipediaStumbleupon is a website surfer’s dream. You click on the Stumbleupon add-on icon in your browser’s toolbar and it whisks you away to a random website. The more you click “like” the more options it has to take you to the next time. And, if you find a really cool site, you can click on Stumbleupon’s share button to show others your great new find. When I’m having a stressful moment, or need to take a break from a project I’m working on, I use Stumbleupon to change my mood, lighten up, or just to distract me. Unfortunately, Stumbleupon had decided that I was done. That’s ok, maybe I do need a change. There are tons (hundreds) of other sites that allow you to bring up random websites. Here are a couple:

First. there’s always Google’s Feeling Lucky button. I say, first, because Google is set to be my home page on all of the browsers I use. You put in a topic and click on the “I’m feeling lucky” button, instead of getting a selection of search results, Google pulls up the top rated website that has to do with that search. Usually the top rated website tends to be someone who paid for that spot. So, I’ve never been a big fan.
Spinsnap describes itself as a channel surfing tool for the internet. You pick your favorite channels and when you click “spin again” you are taken to a website involving a completely different topic. Spinsnap offers some very small niches that others don’t offer, including genealogy. Need a little more structure? That’s there too. Spinsnap has a lit of the most “liked” sites in each category.
If you join Yoono you won’t ever miss one of your friends’ shared links again. Yonoo allows you to view all the tweets and status updates while you continue to browse the web. Share and view links among the friends in your various social networking accounts including Twitter, Facebook, Linked in, and some others. It doesn’t, however, have google plus yet.  A word of warning though. It can be quite distracting. If you use the Firefox plugin, unless you collapse it, it takes up about one-quarter of your browser. I usually surf on my 14-inch MacBook pro and need all the viewing space I can get. So I usually collapse the sidebar. The sidebar contains all your connected friends posts and a popup appears on the right corner every time one of your friends updates their “status” either by tweeting, or posting on Facebook. It also notifies you of any new posts with this annoying “boing” sound. One of the first things I did, was try to figure out how to stop all the Farmville posts from appearing in the links without eliminating Facebook posts all together. I couldn’t find a way to apply filters to the Facebook feed. What I really like about Youno, though, is they have a lot of different ways to use it. You can use it in with addons in Firefox or Chrome browsers; you can use it on a mobile app; or there’s the desktop app for PC and Mac.  When I first used it, they only allowed one account for each of the social networks, but I believe they’ve extended it to other accounts. When I click on share, it tells me what account I’m sharing it with, so I’m assuming that means that you can add other accounts. Its easy to setup accounts, just by going to the website and clicking on “connections” but that’s another item on my to-do list. 

Open Share IconImage by Si1very via Flickr

This isn’t really like Stumbleupon, in that you don’t click on something and it takes you to a random place, but it does allow you to share your links on Stumbleupon, as well as a gazillion other social networking sites. You connect your accounts and click on the icon in browser toolbar (you have to install the add-on first) and it shares it to the site(s) you select. What’s great is you can see what your friends are sharing and so in that way you can find some new sites that you would have never thought to go to.
If you’re a fan of wikipedia, then you’ll love this one. Paste this link in your browser bar and get a random topic: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random You can also add it as a button in your browser toolbar and the next time you’re bored click on it and be taken away to a whole new world. I usually end up on some topic I never would have gotten to on my own. For instance, I was just taken to a page John Garrison Marks, a retired hockey player. I have never had a repeat, so this can go on for a long time.
Delicious is a social bookmarking service, which means you can save all your bookmarks online, share them with other people, and see what other people are bookmarking. But, did you also know you can find some great random websites? The best way of finding random links is to go to the most popular bookmarks being saved at any given moment. Because there are a lot of people using delicious, it tends to change from minute to minute. So, just refresh your browser and get a whole new list. It’s a great way to stay in the loop because it lets you know what people are doing this very second.
In the mood for a little less reading and more viewing? See random Twitter Pics being shared by going to http://twicsy.com/top/hour. There are some very funny, really inspiring, and/or really disturbing photographs being shared on Twitter. Twicsy lets you see the top retreeted images. And, when breaking news is happening this is the place to be as you see photos being taken of the event as its occurring, rather than what’s shown on the 6 o’clock news.

42, The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Lif...Image via Wikipedia

There are so many more random website servers that I’d like to share with you but right now, my friends at Milliways have finished their argument and agreed that the answer is indeed 42, and Zaphod has offered me a lift back home in his Infinite Improbability Drive, so I gotta run.
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How Not to Run a Webinar

I attended a webinar this morning and I learned a lot. I learned how NOT to run a webinar.

It was obvious that the presenter was familiar with the topic of his presentation. In fact, all things considered the topic was interesting, the graphics were fine, and the guest list was superb. It wasn’t one of those snoozinars I’ve attended one time or another. I’d say that it would have been a great success, if only…

If only… the presenters had been familiar with the webinar interface. This webinar was put on by a marketing partnership who used the Webex server. For those not familiar with webex.com, it’s the software that lets people hold virtual meetings all over the world. There are other webinar servers such as gotomeeting.com, glance.net and freeconference.com. It’s a great idea, in theory. But, webex meetings always leave me with a distaste in my mouth. It was the first time that they’d ever tried webex.com Gee, thank you for letting me be your guinea pig. I really learned a lot.

If only…the promoters who sent out the invitation for the webinar had correct information on the invitation. I have a feeling that the less technically inclined just gave up after the third try. But give me a challenge and I’m going to figure out how to solve it, or die trying. This information said to “follow the prompts” which in the end, turned out to be incorrect. You either didn’t have audio or didn’t have visual, its supposed to be both. Finally, I got the correct information to put in so that I could have both audio and visual connection and passed that number on to as many people as I could reach through the chat side bar as I could so that they could also get in.

If only...the presenters did a run-through with people who weren’t their clients or potential clients before holding a webinar . Get to know the software. I knew the presenter had never used the software before as he said so and because he had to load it onto a different computer because it wouldn’t even work on his computer. That tells you something right there. If the presenter couldn’t even get it working, doesn’t that tell you that the rest of us were going to have trouble?

If only…they opened up the “room” at least 15 minutes before a session began so that the participants could familiarize themselves with the interface, introduce themselves and resolve any problems if there were any. The session started exactly at the time that the “room” opened and that left those of us who were still pounding on the virtual door feeling left behind.

If only… the presenter contacted each person to make sure everyone was on board before he started his presentation. For some reason there was a group of us on the outside of the meeting that could talk amongst each other but could not hear the presenter.

If only…there weren’t so many distractions. Every time someone came and went there were beeps. There was also a lot of back ground noise. If only they’d turned off the alerts and muted everyone during the main presentation. One person disrupted the whole conference when they answered another phone call and didn’t realize it was being broadcast live. The presenter didn’t realize, again not familiar with the software, that all he had to do was hit the mute button, but instead we were treated to a five minute conversation from one of her unhappy customers about some order that never arrived.

If only…the attendees had been told in advance how to ask a question. Likewise, the presenter should also know how to answer a question. I saw about 10 virtual hands up and the presenter never recognized them so I think he didn’t realize it.

If only…the webinar presenters had read Flyte President Rich Brooks’ blog post on planning, promoting and producing effective webinars.

I Think Accordions Are Following Me!

Al YankovicImage via Wikipedia
We’ve all been there. You’re sitting at the traffic light waiting patiently for it to change and someone decides that the song on their radio is so good they want to share it with everyone around them by increasing the decibel volume until your fingers tickle as they grasp the vibrating steering wheel.
This morning, I couldn’t appreciate the fellow motorist’s gift and it wasn’t because the lyrics were in Spanish. No. All apologies to Weird Al, but I have to admit it. I don’t care for accordions. OK, OK, the truth? I HATE accordions. There I said it.
Come closer, I’ve got a secret to share. I think the accordion hates me too. Call me paranoid if you want, but the accordion shows up in random places just to piss me off.
I mean, my son comes asks me to play some Katy Perry tune he just heard so I search Youtube and instead of some great video, bam, there’s a band of accordion players knocking out her latest hit on the street…
I decide I wanna read a good book, so I go to the Kindle Store, and there on the front page is Annie Prouix’s bestseller, “Accordion Crimes.” At least there’s a happy ending. According to the review, the instrument is flattened by a truck.
I go on Facebook, and “The Creepy Accordion Woman on Buchanan Street” even has her own business page.
The driver this morning was playing a Mexican radio station that features a healthy dose of Tejano music which widely uses the accordion. Tejano music is huge here. It was popularized by Selena and more recently Elida Reyna and A.J. Castillo who’ve transformed it into its own genre. They even have their own awards show.
The history of Tejano music is strange enough. Sometime in the late 1800s, Germans and Poles exited Europe and ended up in Mexico bringing with them the dreaded accordion to play their waltzes and polkas. Then during the Mexican Revolution, many of these immigrants fled to Texas. Most of these immigrants were typical of the day, ranchers and farmers and their musical instruments were similar to others. Why couldn’t they leave their accordions behind? They are heavy after all. Some weighing in as much as 25 pounds. Not to mention all the air it takes to fill the reeds. The accordion is an exhausting instrument. Why couldn’t they leave it on the side of the road and get back in their wagons? An accordion graveyard, now that’s something I’d go see.
If you like folk music, Tejano music is in itself of very high quality. But, every time the accordion blows its ugly tune, my ears shut down. Seriously. It makes me shudder. I have no idea why. Maybe its cause its so Laurence Welk? Maybe because visions of “The Chicken Dance” pop into my head.
In Far Side, even cartoonist Gary Larson agrees:



“Welcome to Heaven, here’s your harp. Welcome to Hell, here’s your accordion.”

Looking at the bright side, I guess its good that I’m not of Polish descent where the accordion is the center of the music played at every wedding, Christmas, Easter, birthday and graduation event. I’m Scotts-Irish, and we have our own dreaded instrument. The accordion is a screeching bag of hot air with piano keys stuck to it and sounds almost as bad as bagpipes. Bagpipes! Don’t get me started. The shrill and penetrating notes of the bagpipes were used because, even with the roar of the battle, they could be heard 10 miles away. Bagpipes was a call to war by the Scottish and Irish fighters and NOT romantic in any way. Read your history folks or at least watch the Highlanders and then tell me you still think you want to start your married life with the bagpipes at your wedding. If you’re going to have bagpipes or accordions at your wedding, please don’t invite me.
I don’t find accordions sexy, either. In Squeezebox, The Who seems to imply that they’re somehow sexy. Believe me, its not a double-meaning. Its not because they are having a great time in the sack. It’s cause the accordion sucks! If you’re not familiar with The Who’s tune, its about a woman who’s so moved by the music that she can’t sleep at night. They even write, “the music’s alright” but follow it with “daddy doesn’t sleep at night.” Actually, I don’t even hear the accordion on the song. Is it there? Perhaps the band didn’t care for the sound either. Love the song though.
If you hate accordions too meet me over at the I Hate Accordions Facebook Fan page, of which I’m not affiliated, but I’m heading there right now to join.

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How to create an online community that will survive

My genealogical community, Heycuz, has been around since 1998. That’s way back when you had to use a telephone to get online. Today, there are between 900 and 1500 people on it right now. I mean this very second. You can check by the “Who’s Online” widget on the front page. I’ve received lots of comments from administrators of other genealogical communities saying they “wish” they had the group participation that we have on Heycuz. In other words, Heycuz has not only survived but is has thrived!

A virtual community is expensive to launch, difficult to attract visitors (participants), and poorly planned execution will make even a promising start fizzle into thin air. I’m saddened that many worthwhile groups’ and organizations’ websites die out so quickly. I want to help you by telling you how we did it. Being deliberate in your planning and construction of your new community website will minimize the chances of your visitors becoming frustrated with a poorly working or confusing roll-out and leaving your site forever.

KISS your members, don’t knock them over.

Bells and whistles are so tempting. There are so many great toys for web communities available: forums, blogs, galleries, private messaging, video chat rooms, and surveys to name a few. But, I’m telling you now KISS (keep it simple stupid) your members don’t knock them over. The “throw everything up at once and hope something sticks” is a recipe for disaster.
At Heycuz, we started out with a very simple newsgroup format. We used Yahoo groups where members could post and reply to group emails. Since most people know how to use email (in the early days we still had to teach people how to attach files), the resulting conversation was lively. Within a few months, even though we didn’t seek new members, we grew from less than a dozen core members to a couple hundred. As we grew, we began to add features to our group including a website which included the family histories and descendant trees.

Drop What Doesn’t Work, Build on What Does.

One of the first new features we tried was a weekly chat room. The sound of crickets was deafening. We tried different times; we tried different topics; we tried different chat systems; but never more than three or four people showed up. I’m not saying don’t try chat rooms, there are lots of successful ones. But, since my members didn’t enjoy it, we dropped it and no one brought it up again. On the other hand, if you find that a large group of your members are doing something you didn’t expect then build upon it. For instance, say your members enjoy posting their links to videos that they created. Take advantage of that by dedicating a whole area of the site to showcasing your members’ videos. There are lots of open-source solutions to host videos or you can even allow them to embed youtube videos.  If you find many of your members posting links to their blog posts, then give them a reason to stick around by offering them a blog feature right on your group’s website. Not only will they enjoy it, but they’ll help add to your site’s content.

Give Yourself Room To Grow.

Being a genealogy group, documents are important, very important. Unfortunately, the servers that I chose didn’t see eye to eye with us. Can you believe they actually told us we had too many files? When we started I thought that we could NEVER use more than 10 gigs of space. The first time I had to pack up and move the entire site it took me three days AND nights. Talk about zombies. I slept by my computer, jumping up when my computer beeped the warning that I’d been knocked offline again. Now, there are much easier backup systems (which I will talk about later).
Also make sure that the software that you use for your site has the ability to grow. As I stated before, we started with Yahoo groups, so we were (and in some ways still are) at the mercy of Yahoo. About five years ago, Yahoo decided it would no longer save “attachments” sent along with the newsgroups posts. Another set of sleepless nights ensued as I frantically went post by post to download our precious files before they deleted them all. Remember, as I said, in genealogy documents are very important. I already had a backup system, but I didn’t want to take the chance that I had missed anything, so I saved everything again. So, learn from my mistakes, don’t use a system where you have little or no control. These days there are several newsserver systems that can be installed directly on your own server. Since my members are comfortable with Yahoo, having spent more than 13 years on it, I’ve left the newsgroup there, writing a script to send the posts to the website’s forum. It is an awkward work-around, but I stay with it because its working for now. I’m not saying don’t go with Yahoo Groups, some people are very happy with it, but if I was starting out today I wouldn’t go that route. It’s like having a landlord controlling your company.

Ask for donations or finance your site by selling advertising space.

Heycuz is a labor of love, so I never expected to make money with it. In fact, I find it laughable when going through my spam box deleting all the emails I get telling me how I can make money on my website. I know it’s just bots sending out spam, because one look at the site and you know we’re not a profit organization. For years, I was footing the bill for the hosting and cost of the extra software, and never thought to ask for donations. I just chalked it up to be an expense to feed my genealogy addiction. From time to time I would get a prospective member asking how much it cost to join the site because they couldn’t believe that they got all that they got for free. From day one we had always said that our research would be free to all who joined and I couldn’t go back on my word. Plus, I get so much more out of the website. Just think, every day I go to my website and someone has uploaded a never-before-seen family photograph, or someone else just added a complete branch that we’d never knew existed, or another member remembered it was my anniversary and sent me a dancing cow! I have even received beautiful, leather-bound family histories and credit on the dedication page to boot! For those who don’t know, family history books can be very expensive. How can you set a price on that? However, one day one of our members questioned why no one had thought of donating to the website and without even one guilt trip, I received enough money to pay for the entire year within a couple of days (by snail mail, too!) People were happy to give. So, we’ve put a donation thermometer on our site and when the goal is achieved we post it. However, don’t be annoying with your donation buttons. Don’t make your members mad. Don’t put popups that detract your visitors from enjoying and contributing to the site. My response to those sites is to just close the tab. They don’t work folks.
Since the Heycuz site is non-profit, we never had to sell advertising. But, if you’re interested in making money for your group, there are a number of ways to do it. The most obvious is to sell advertising space. There are tons of how-to sites and books that can give much better advice than I so I won’t post it here. But, you should also consider selling membership subscriptions to your site. There are some sites that give some information for free and charge you to get more information or to be able to post information. You can also have eCommerce on your site and offer group memorabilia. If people would proudly wear a T-shirt with your organization’s logo on it, for instance, you can use a site like CafePress that handles the orders, manufactures the items, and ships the product so you don’t have any overhead. When we had a reunion the ability to purchase coffee cups and other Heycuz paraphernalia was very popular amongst our members.

Protect Your Members, Protect Your Data, Protect Yourself.

When someone joins your community and adds personal information its because they trust you. Work very hard to keep that trust. Be honest with your members. Let them know your policy right off the bat and don’t change the policy without having a full discussion with your members. Also, protect your members’ privacy. Don’t sell your members’ list. Let me qualify that. It depends on what your user expects. If you’ve asked for permission or sent out a notification of your intent to allow companies to send out information, that’s between you and your members.
You should also have an email cloaking system on your forums to make sure that bots don’t comb the site and start spamming your members. We protect our members by requiring registration to access many of the features.
Building a community website takes a lot of time and it would be a disaster if all the data was lost because the site got hacked. So, have some kind of security system in place and, just in case the worst happens, have a full-site backup. Ask your web server for the services they have available before you put down your cash. If you’re already on a server that doesn’t offer a backup, which these days I find unbelievable, you can find automated backup systems easily by just searching on the web. Two of the most popular ones are Site-Vault and Handy Backup. You should be able to set up the backup to run automatically on a timely basis.
Finally, protect yourself. Running a website, especially a large community site can be exhausting. Don’t run yourself ragged. Ask for help. Give your members the opportunity to volunteer. Tell them what you need, divide it into specific tasks, and let them know how long each task should take. Not only will it relieve you of a lot of work, but it will also strengthen your community. We all want to contribute in a some way. That’s why we join a community and if we feel vital to the group, we’ll stick around. We all need to be needed.
Protect yourself legally. Heycuz is a family website, meaning we are all related in some fashion, but being related doesn’t mean you should let your guard down. No matter how much you trust your members, you need to have a few legal statements on your site. If you can’t get a lawyer to write a Terms and Conditions statement, you can find some available online. All you do is replace the generic name in the document with your own. Make sure that you include a copyright statement. Plagiarism is rampant on the web because many people are unaware of copyright laws. If you have a copyright on there, you have recourse if your valuable content that you and your members have built up, is taken.
One final word about protecting yourself–it makes me very uncomfortable to even bring it up–but some times things get out of hand. According to Ittybiz.com death threats and hate crimes on women bloggers is escalating.
Unfortunately, I’ve been the recipient of threats, so I feel for you. The advice of one workshop held recently at the Blogher ’11 conference is to document the threats and make an official report to your local police department. I advise you to read the transcript before you find yourself in this unfortunate situation.

Do you love it? Do You Really, Really, Really, REALLY love it?

Love ? I love love love you.Image by doug88888 via FlickrFinally, take a long, hard look at yourself. Go on. Pick up a mirror and do a thorough examination. Remember how you look cause you’ll never be the same. Now, look at the premise of your community just as thoroughly. Is this community one you want to hang-out in yourself? Do you want to hang out there for hours? Days? Weeks? Years? Do you see yourself hanging out there 10 years from now? Still feel as giddy as a school boy? Then go for it! But before you go, please drop me a line and tell me about your community. After all, if you’re still excited about it I might want to join too!

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How to Survive The Football Season

As if on queue, the weather has turned to fall, perfect weather for the first Sunday of the NFL.  It’s an official holiday at my house. As I write this, my husband is doing a touchdown dance behind a wall of minuscule helmets each representing his team picks.
In my exuberance for the start of this wonderful season, I posted on Facebook the old cliché “Are You Ready for some F-O-O-T-B-A-L-L?” I was taken aback by some of the replies I got. Get this: some people don’t like the game. Huh? Let me repeat that. Some people don’t like football. It’s hard to remember a time when football wasn’t a part of my life. Sure, my parents never gave it a thought one way or another, so I wasn’t raised in a pigskin atmosphere.
It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that I was exposed to the game. I was hooked from day one. There’s something about the whole season! There’s the smell of victory in the air! There’s gathering with your friends and family, needling each other about their picks. Some are surprised that a geeky woman such as myself goes gaga over the game. They think of football as a man-thang.
Oh, there are plenty of women who love the sport as much as I do, but I’m talking to the women who dread the approach of the first kickoff.  First, let me explain why men love the game. To men, football is like a soap opera. It’s filled with intrigue, drama, violence, cheap shots, and cutthroat strategy. It’s the one-thing he can talk about with the guy he doesn’t even like but has to work with. It’s the only time when its OK to exhibit manly characteristics without offending everyone on the planet. It lets men be, well, men.
Here’s an idea, instead of “tuning out” when he starts talking about football, listen. When he’s droning on about the subject, is the word “football” preceded with the word “Fantasy?” If so, you can become his favorite cheerleader if you head on over to App Guides and get him the fantasy football app for his specific cell phone. Personally, fantasy football just looks like a bunch of numbers to me, but I can’t ignore the studies that have shown that businesses that participate in fantasy football leagues have an increase in company morale and, therefore, output.
If you’re into cooking, why not bowl your man over by packing a tailgate party for him and his friends as they head off for the game? Don’t make anything, “girly.” Make him proud to put it out for his pals. Tailgate foods are very similar to backyard barbecue menus except that they have to pass the asphalt test (they have to be portable and not easily ruined by excessive heat). You don’t, after all, want to make your football loving’ man ill. You don’t have to go overboard. A single perfect-dish will make more of an impression than a host of second-string entrees and, hopefully, will leave his football buddies drooling with envy. Second, don’t forget the drinks. Beer is essential, but also make sure you add plenty of water. You don’t want him to get dehydrated. For some great ideas, go to The Food Network’s tailgate section at Tailgate Party. Check out Rachel Ray’s Super Nacho’s, its one of my favorites.
If you’re artistic you can help out your football fanatic by making him the envy of the cheese heads, or what ever team he’s nuts about, by picking up some body paints. You can find “Face Painting Kits” at Target and Wal-Mart. If you’ve got a little time and want to order the perfect colors go over to the Halloween store.
Can’t stand the thought of your guy painted up like that? Or if he’s, thankfully not into that, you can incorporate his team-colors into your living room decor. Not sure what the colors are for your football fan’s favorite team? Go to ColorWerks for a list of each team’s color including primary colors and a full palette of complementary colors. Or, if you really want your guy to worship your toes, give him his own man-cave and paint the room in his team colors with Glidden’s “Team Colors.”  Home Depot has provided an online worksheet for planning your fan’s man cave. It includes the measurements, team colors, and a checklist of items you’ll need. You can get it at the store or download it here.
Still not swayed to come over to the “dark side?” There’s still hope. Why not throw an Anti-Football Party? If you’re football-lovin’-man ditches you every Sunday to watch the game with his pals, organize a gathering for their significant others that feel the same way you do? Plan a hookup with them to do something you love. Take some time to do something for yourself. Maybe you’re a book-lover? Start a book club. Love movies? Go out and see the films you’ve been dying to see. Or, if the football fans are at your house, why not offer non-football activities at your home. Have a separate room for those who have no interest in the game. Have a “Sex In The City” movie marathon, or a book club meeting, or just gather to chat. At the same time, you can have your own anti-football pool. Have your guests guess which one of the football fans will get drunkest the fastest, or who gets the most upset during the game. The guys won’t know why you’re all laughing, they’ll just be happy that all of you seem to be having as much fun as they are.

It’s been one of those days.

Ever had one of those days where you just know you should’ve stayed in bed?

Unfortunately, I had one of those days all week. To add insult to injury, I had a hard time getting online today. So I spent my time playing around with my blog’s design.

I’m still not quite happy with it. Something just doesn’t look right. But it is a lot cleaner so I’m leaving it like this for now until I find the right look.

I used the Artisteer app again. I am really liking their software. Artisteer is a web developer’s dream. It lets you create templates for a variety of web formats including WordPress, Drupal, Blogger, DotNetNuke and Joomla. You can customize everything and then export it and tweak it some more. I love to tweak. 🙂 But, keeping with the theme of the week, I found out that Blogger.com had stopped accepting the Artisteer imports and had to be manually loaded onto the site. Then, it didn’t like the menu so I had to delete that. Just another “anything that could go wrong will go wrong,” I guess.

Anyway, it is now nearly 10 p.m. and I can finally update my blog. But now I’m too tired to write. Like I said, it’s been a very long week. I started to write all the things that went wrong and it sounded all very depressing. It’s best forgotten.

Note: You may have noticed that I didn’t write anything about 911. I’m sure you’re aware of that dreadful day as much as I am. I am sure you don’t need another blogger bringing it up. I leave you to remember it in your own way as I have.

Genealogists You Should Have in Your Circle

Google+ is a great asset if you’re interested in technology with a steady stream of posts day or night, but what if you’re interested in genealogy? Not so much.
What is Google + (or Google Plus)? – Well, its everything! Its like a blog, its like Twitter, it’s like Facebook, its like Google Buzz, its like a photo gallery, its like Instant Messaging, its like video messaging; Its all of those things rolled into one fantastic gathering place. It’s a tool to use to connect to your “circle of friends” and share posts to those in specific “circles” about specific topics. You add your friends into circles and then choose what to share with that circle. Sound intriguing? If you need an invite, just let me know and I’ll send you one.
Without much work at all, I’ve added some great people to my circles. I’ve named my circles: Business Contacts, Family, Following (bloggers who I follow), Humor (people who always make me laugh), Mensans, Friends and Genealogists. You can name your circles anything that you find most helpful.
Every morning, when I startup my browser & Let me rephrase that because In truth I never turn off my browser. So, every morning with I click on my open-all-at-once button that I’ve labeled “DAILY” in my browser bar, the first site to pop up is my Google+ Stream. That way, while I’m waiting for the coffee to brew, I can see what people are up to, read some news, and maybe get a laugh or two.
But yesterday morning, my stream was a little too long to read through it quickly, so I clicked on my circles one at a time until I clicked on my genealogy circle and hit a wall. There was just one post. It was by Marian Pierre-Louis, who writes two of my favorite blogs: Marian’s Roots and The New England House Historian.

I said to my self, “Self? Where are all the posts from all the genealogy blogs you follow?” Popping up to my genealogy circle, I realized that I hadn’t added those bloggers to my circles yet. Thus began my quest. I went to each of the genealogy blogs that I follow so that I could add the authors to my genealogy circle.
I was very disappointed when i found very few of them, exactly two, had any link to their Google profiles. See, they have to have a profile or you can’t add them to your circle. If you’re a fan of genealogy, you know there are thousands of genealogy bloggers on the internet. Genealogists do take their time incorporating newer technologies into their toolbox for some reason or another, but once they find out how the tool will benefit them, watch out. I’ve learned so many research tricks thanks to a genealogist. Take, for example, Twitter, a year or so ago it was difficult to find genealogists actively using the site, but like all bloggers they’ve come to appreciate Twitter for its ability to attract more followers and broadcast their content to a much larger audience.
Here are some of the ways I have found using Google+ beneficial as a genealogist:

Get news of a new blog post immediately (No more missing your favorite genealogist’s words of wisdom)
Let blog followers know about new posts
Get more readers and along with that get more interraction
Ask a research question and get a lot of viewpoints. Most of the time responses are very quick
Share family research news
Coordinate reunions (or research trips)
Private video chatrooms to work on a specific project

Perhaps these bloggers don’t know yet how easy it is to add a Google+ button to their blogs. Whether you’re using blogger, WordPress or any of the other blogging software, it’s very, very easy.

Head on over to your Google+ profile. In the URL bar there’s a number, that’s your profile ID.
Copy that number.
Then, go to WidgetPlus and paste that number in the Google Profile ID box.
Fiddle with any appearance settings you’d like to change and then click “Get Code.”
Copy the code in the text box that appears.
Go to your blog’s design area to add a new widget, paste the widget code and save.

That’s it.

Don’t get me wrong. There are genealogists on Google+, it just takes a little elbow grease to find them. I’ve created a list of the ones who I consider worth adding to your circles. The criteria I used was very simplistic:
Are they actively using Google+?
That knocked off a few immediately including the author of the very popular genealogy blog Dear Myrtle. Although she has a Google profile, none of her posts on Google+ are public so I assumed she was not using it to communicate with her readers.
I made no judgements about the quality of their posts. If your favorite Genealogical blogger isn’t there, you’ll have to find them. Two ways to find people on Google + are to search for their names in the search bar at the top of your Google+ page or go to the Google + directory where you can search for people by tags (keywords).
If you find any genealogists who are actively using Google+, please let me know so I can add them to this list:

Put These Genealogists In Your Circle

Jeffrey BockmanJeffrey Bockman

Genealogical Lecturer and Writer, was a contributing editor for the Everton’s Genealogical Helper.


Tamara JonesTamura Jones

Author of Modern Software Experience


Leslie LawsonLeslie Lawson

Forensic genealogist and guest speaker


Lisa Wallen LogsdonLisa Wallen Logsdon

Author of the Genealojournal and Old Stones Undeciphered


Joan MillerJoan Miller

Author of Luxegen Genealogy and Family History


Chris PatonChris Paton

Author of Scottish Genes Blog and Scotland’s Greatest Story


Susi PenticoSusi Pentico

Genealogy Instructor, Historian and Educational Assistant, Genealogical Research and Educational Chairperson CVGS Conejo Valley Genealogy Society.


Marian Pierre-LouisMarian Pierre-Louis

Author of Marian’s Roots and The New England House Historian


Caroline PointerCaroline Pointer
Professional Genealogist & In2Genealogy Columnist for Shades of the Departed, & Texas Aggie. She also writes 4YourFamilyStory.com


Lorine McGinnis SchulzeLorine McGinnis Schulze

Author of Olive Tree Genealogy Blog


Randy SeaverRandy Seaver
Author of GenamusinsSouth San Diego County Graveyard Rabbit and Geneaholic


Drew SmithDrew Smith

Author of the book Social Networking for Genealogists


Megan SmolenyakMegan Smolenyak

Author of Who Do You Think You Are?: The Essential Guide to Tracing Your Family History, companion guide to the NBC series. She also
writes Smolenyak’s Roots World


Kirsty F. WilkinsonKirsty F. Wilkinson

Author of The Professional Descendant


April Heath Pastis April Heath Pastis
You are also very welcome to add me to your genealogy circles. I am the founder of the Heycuz genealogical newsgroup.

NOTE: This is day No. 11 toward keeping my commitment to NaBloPoMo to post once a day. Have you joined yet?

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