There Is No Such Thing As A Non-Marketable Skill

Punch Me In The Face

Having majored in theatre in college, I know a thing or two about “useless degrees” and “unmarketable skills,” and I will tell you two things right now that everybody needs to hear:

1. Every single kind of degree is useless.

2. There is no such thing as a non-marketable skill.

The first thing, I know because I’ve met lawyers and doctors and PhDs of all sorts, and some of them – some who make zillions of dollars a year – have absolutely no common sense, let alone any decent skill at running their own business. They have teams of people who help them make money, and without these people, they’d be lost. They’d be working part-time at coffee shops hoping for a big break. Your JD or MD or BS or whatever degree you hold means absolutely nothing. You make your way. Your degree doesn’t make your way for you.

The second thing, I know because I have been working for so many years in various aspects of marketing. Every skill set is valuable, and the more you refine it, the more valuable it becomes.

Here’s the catch: it’s on you to make money from it. If you’re really good at painting, then sell your paintings for money. Don’t give your paintings away for free. If you’re really good at acting, then don’t act for free.

I know it sounds like a catch-22 (“How will they know I’m good at acting if they don’t see me starring in a play?”), but trust me: there’s always a way to make money. So many of us are so unwilling to become our own advocates, so unwilling to sell our services for what they are worth like Capitalist sales-pigs, that we stick our heads in the sand and pretend that if we just work for free long enough, then some generous billionaire will fall in love and sponsor us and we can quit our day jobs and live happily ever after.

YOU ARE A STUPID HEAD IF YOU THINK THAT IS TRUE.

I’m sorry to get all harsh-truth on you, but that’s the way it is.

I actually hate those bumper stickers that say, “Pay artists!” I resent them. Artists, make them pay you. Agree in advance to get paid, and then demand payment when it is due. It’s not greed, it’s self-worth. It’s not rampant corporatization of your passions, it’s ensuring that you don’t have to waste your time at a temp job when you could be using your time to make more art.

Get some business sense. It’ll make you a better artist, I swear. Take a business class if you have to. Contact me if you want. Just find a way to make money, because I guarantee this much: if you have a degree in something, then you have a marketable skill set. Use it right.

60% Happy

Bil Gaines Happy Emotion

Recently I’ve learned that in the world of professional design, you have be 60% satisfied with your work and then force yourself to send it out into the world, because if you avoid sending it out into the world until you’re 100% satisfied with it, then it will NEVER GO OUT INTO THE WORLD.

With that in mind, I would like to introduce you to the all-new redesigned 2014 BilGaines.com.

Questions? Comments? Errors? Feedback? Leave it in the comments. I need to know if something’s not working for you, the stranger, the reader, the other, because in my mind, everything here is 60% perfect.

Artists & Money: A Follow-Up

Artist & MoneyLately I’ve been thinking a lot about artists and their money woes. It’s a stereotype that artists choose poverty – or else simply don’t understand how money works – and it’s a stereotype for a reason. My previous post reacting to Amanda Palmer’s TED Talk was intended to be my way of working that little demon out of my ears, but I’ve only been thinking about it more and more since having written it. And I suspect that one follow-up post will not satisfy my brain either, so instead of this being the follow-up, this is simply a follow-up. Everything else around me notwithstanding, my thoughts go like this:

One of AFP’s most important points is about connection and understanding. Her work is widely accessible, despite being described as a post-punk cabaret act (which sounds like it wouldn’t be widely accessible), and her work stands on its own, meaning a fan can sit in their room alone, holding the CD case and listening to AFP’s songs, and the audience is moved. However, the studio recordings played back by a machine are not the same as a live performance, or meeting her in person.

She has two things going really strongly for her: her live performance and her accessible songwriting. As an artist and as a human being, AFP connects with people. This is one core aspect that comprises her ask-don’t-force payment philosophy.

So the question now is how does this translate to bands? Or theatre companies? Or artist collectives? Or, really, any group of more than one artist contributing to the same work of art? Is every single member required to connect on a human level the way AFP does?

Not necessarily. I want to believe that the art is what sells itself, and all it takes then is one person to hold out one hand. But unity is important. Each individual really ought to be on the same page for this philosophy to work in actual real-world practice. Not every musician in the band needs to ask for money, but every musician needs to know where their money is coming from, because any disagreement on this spells automatic discord and possibly doom for the band.

Furthermore, “sales” in general is something that doesn’t just happen. Art doesn’t sell itself. You can convince an audience that your art is worth paying for, but the actual process of transferring money from audience to artist is, for some reason, avoided by artists. Sales also requires human interaction, especially if, like Amanda Palmer, you are literally accepting cash into the palm of your hand. Or into your hat. Or a credit card into that little slider device that plugs into your iPhone. Or anything. Sales is a tricky pickle, and it requires time and presence. And, like art, most of us are not instantly good at it. It’s a skill that takes time and practice, and the more you do it, the better you get.

There’s this amazing blog post from artofhustle.com, and I strongly recommend every single artist in the world to read it. It’s extremely important, and it hits the nail on the head.

http://www.artofhustle.com/2013/03/a-must-read-for-every-artist/

The biggest takeaway is that artists need to realize their worth, and they need to not just understand their craft, but they also need to understand real-world finances.

I think coupling this punch-in-the-face message of “artists need to know they should get paid” with Amanda Palmer’s message of “allow your audience pay for the art they enjoy” will bring the happy medium artists need to stay artists in the long term. If this can be adopted on a large scale, it’s possible that as audiences, our society will place ever-higher value on art, both with money and with emotional connection.

Is it too soon to whisper, “Utopia?”

I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script (Village Voice)

Here is a daunting reality: professional screenwriters don’t like being treated as life coaches for free. Take a read. The title says it all.

To note: I’m on the receiving end of this advice. I’d love to be able to reach out to industry professionals and solicit professional-quality feedback, but I know better now. Instead, I guess I’ll…just…produce my own work and hope it works out? I dunno. There’s a better path, I’m sure. Anyway, it never does me any good to meet working professionals whom I admire. I have a history of awkwardness.

Just read the article.

I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script – New York – News – Runnin’ Scared.

 

Infographic: Everything I’ve Learned About Google AdWords

Infographic - Google AdWords

Back in December, I was offered a hundred-dollar credit for Google AdWords and I took it, mainly to see how it works & how well I was able to navigate the tools, but partly also to see if I could make a few bucks with it. My plan was to use the $100 credit to see if I made any money selling a book of poetry – since it was just the $100 credit, and no money from my own pocket, it would have been nothing but profit.

Did I make any money? No, I did not. Zeros all the way.

Did I learn a little bit about Google AdWords? Sure, a little bit. And now, for the benefit of the people, here’s everything I’ve learned about Google Adwords in one convenient infographic:

Infographic - Google AdWords

 

As you can see from the infographic, my usual traffic numbers are among the most pathetic of any blogger out there, and AdWords gave me a boost of like 600%. The trouble is, all of it went to a page that needed to sell my poetry book, and that didn’t happen once. So, while I didn’t make any money off of my free hundred bucks of Google AdWords cash, I did learn the important lesson of how much my landing page sucks for my book. Expect a redesign in the near future…

Of course, I could have saved time and fake money by reading this OMI article on landing page effectiveness:

10 Expert Tips for Increasing Landing Page Conversions

 

Also: final call to action, for good measure. Buy my poetry book, The Moving Sidewalk To Mars!

Seriously, Jen Rosenstein, You Can Use This As Your Logo

Goodtimesaurus - For Partying Dino Style

Jen Rosenstein, you can use this Nintendo-playing Goodtimesaurus as your logo if you want. No offense taken if you would rather pass. No money need change hands. It’s not even copyrighted.

I drew it for Draw A Dinosaur Day last month, and I was going to do something interesting with it, but giving it to you for a logo is much more interesting than anything I would have done.

Let me know if you want it. If not, I’ll give it away to starving children in a developing nation somewhere. Maybe Bangladesh?

 

Cheerleading November 2012: Stephanie Hammer

Stephanie HammerStephanie Hammer is a professor of mine from way, way back in my days at UC Riverside. Devon & I recently met up with her again in Hollywood and got all caught up on kids, books, kids’ books, and film noir from the 90’s. We also briefly touched on NaNoWriMo, and let me tell you all: when Stephanie Hammer says she is going to do something, she does not mean she is going to just kind of do that thing. She means she is going to DO THAT THING. With gusto. With applomb. With verve. She does it all the way and then some.

She is currently rocking a word count that most people would be happy with having written in a whole year, and we’re barely halfway through the month. But you know what? That’s no reason to start coasting. Now is the time for the slow clap.

Clap…

Clap…

Clap clap…

Clap clap clap clap clap clap *HOOOORAAAAAAY!!*

DO IT, STEPHANIE HAMMER! DO IT ALL THE WAY TO THE END OF THE MONTH! YOU GOT THIS!

Whoo!

Lessons From Instagram: Hashtags and Likes

The Vogue Indoor Swapmeet in Downtown Oxnard, CA.Sometimes you just have to pull up Microsoft Excel and hand-type some data sets for no good reason whatsoever. This is one of those times.

I decided to answer some burning questions I had about Instagram – namely, what’s the deal with likes and followers?

More specifically: how does one optimize one’s Instagram feed for likes and followers?

How a company can use Instagram to improve their business is something that will vary from company to company, so I thought I’d stick to general but universal advice.

What Instagram data was used?

When I created my data set, I used the first three hundred photos I posted on Instagram. I broke out the photo content by category, so I had subjects like cats, books, coffee, wine, nature, Aliena (my adorable baby) and so on. I also marked how many hashtags were used, and I broke down the hashtags by category as well. Finally, I marked how many likes and comments I received on those photos, and I broke those down by real-life friends who follow me vs. strangers who follow me on Instagram vs. people who liked my photo but don’t follow me at all.

Once I had this data set, it was relatively easy and relatively fun to create charts and averages and all kinds of crazy insights based on the data at hand.

Wait, back up – who the hell are you, anyway, and why do this?

I’m just some guy. I have less than 80 followers on Instagram at the time of this blog post, so I’m relatively inconsequential, and more importantly, I’m hardly an indication of what can be accomplished on Instagram. So, as a case study, my own Instagram feed may not be very useful, but the data is pure and accurate. This data is entirely centered on me and my followers and likes and my photo feed alone.

It’s completely narcissistic, but the better reason for doing this was that the insights gained from this little project will still have value because they’ll be as universal as I can present them. We’ll get to those momentarily, just keep reading.

Okay, so…Do More Hashtags Yield More Likes?

The short answer is yes. I didn’t want to bore everyone with Excel’s lame-ass data charts, so I drew my own on my clunky iPad in order to achieve “more character.” See below.

The longer answer is not necessarily, but pretty much, yeah.

Hashtags on Instagram are like hashtags on Twitter. They provide groupings of different posts from different users’ feeds into one easy-to-see stream. It’s genius.

So then, the point of leaving hashtags on your own photos is to get those photos into different groups. On Instagram, you can have up to thirty (30) hashtags per photo. Each unique hashtag creates its own unique grouping, so singular and plural forms of the same root word will yield two separate groups.

Ergo, the more hashtags you use, the more opportunities your photos have to be seen by others. If they see your photos and like them, they may choose to “like” your photo on your feed. Furthermore, there’s no real penalty for using as many hashtags as you can think of. So theoretically, more hashtags should provide more opportunities for likes.

Is this the case in reality?

Again: yes.

According to data from my Instagram feed, more hashtags tends to yield more likes.
Hand-drawn for country charm.

The data shows that higher counts of hashtags on the photos gets a higher average of likes. This data set is somewhat incomplete, in that I didn’t really get into the hashtags game until close to the 300 mark, so most of this data comes from my early days of Instagram when I wasn’t curious about the data.

Here, I removed clear outliers and worked with averages, meaning six hashtags tends to average the same amount of likes as the photos with nine hashtags. These are averages, and the general tendency is an upward slope from one to ten. Except that I’m so awesome that this graph goes to eleven.

The tendency shows a confirmation of the idea that more hashtags gets more likes. I am confident that if we experimented with even more hashtags and photos, and then zoomed out, we’d see a nice, upward slant on that graph.

Of course, what I expected was that it would be more directly upward with no dips, but the reality is that in my averages, dips are there.

Reality is close to the expectations for hashtags and likes on Instagram.
The green line is green because…I dunno.

The dips in average likes – for example, two hashtags yielding fewer average likes than one and six yielding fewer than five – can be explained by a lot of things that I don’t have any data for. Primarily, timing and photo quality. I don’t have data for timing because Instagram doesn’t show me exactly what time of what day of the week I made those posts, so I can’t speak to the exact science of timing for optimum likes. I also don’t have any data on photo quality, because that’s an intangible. I also didn’t record my subjective opinion of those three hundred photos, because I’m not getting paid to do any of this, so the hell with that.

But there’s something that needs to be said: quality matters. It’s nearly impossible to quantify how good one’s photos are, but if you appreciate photography, then you know what’s good and what’s bad. It’s not hard.

Something that’s trickier is hashtag quality. There are so many factors involved there that I couldn’t even contemplate investigating the various factors for three hundred photos and typing in numbers. So we all miss out, but I’m okay with that.

I’ve been noticing since the initial gathering of the data that timing DOES affect the likes each photo gets. I’ve also noticed that hashtags are good in quantity, but you have to be smart with what hashtags you use. Without actual data, insights have still been made that would be extremely difficult to refute using data, so I will happily record the insights here.

And now, the list…

Important insights:

  1. Hashtags provide the opportunity for people to see and like your photos, and potentially follow your feed. Whether your business is more interested in likes than followers (or something else entirely) is up to you. Followers show brand loyalty, but likes show human engagement. The important thing is that using more hashtags will tend to yield more likes.
  2. Timing matters. I’ve found that around laying out hashtags at around 7:45 PM local time is pretty effective. Further experimentation might reveal a more optimal time to post those hashtags, but further experimentation might also detract from my quality of life.
  3. Hashtags can be added later. You can post your photos any time, and whether you add the hashtags immediately or much later doesn’t matter. The photo gets added to the top of the hashtag grouping when you add the hashtag, plain and simple. It doesn’t automatically get pushed down the feed just because you added the photo hours (or days) prior. So, because timing matters, and especially because of the new “maps” feature, I’ve taken to adding the photo where I take it and waiting till about a quarter to eight to tag it. More on this in a later blog post.
  4. The quality of hashtags matters. Some of the most likeable hashtags I’ve found are #cloudporn and #skyporn – photos of clouds in the sky, or clear skies, or whatever. People LOVE those shots. Other hashtags like #instafood are incredibly popular but don’t automatically produce a bunch of likes. Likes for food shots are incredibly competitive. However, in fairness, food shots are regularly taken in dark restaurants, so higher-quality food photos are rarer than high-quality sky shots. Sky shots look great on smartphones. And this leads me to the most important takeaway of all…
  5. The quality of photos matters. This is the primary lesson of Instagram at work: post high-quality photos. If your photos are crappy, hashtags may get you SOME likes, but if your photos are seriously kick-ass – and if your hashtags are appropriate and well-timed – then yeah, you’ll get plenty of likes.

This feels like kind of a long blog post just to confirm the obvious with half-assed data, but if you read the list above, I’m happy. There will be a few more posts about this data, and if you don’t like my drivel, just look for the list of important insights. When it’s all done, I’ll have one final post of nothing but a list of all the insights together. Then…I guess I’ll move on. Right? Probably.

Maybe. We’ll see.

@BilGaines on Instagram – Follow my feed! See these insights put into practice!
Don’t have a smartphone? Desktop Instagram here.

The Log Cabin Florist van has one bitchin' paint job.
Log Cabin Florist – modern-day flower power!

This Is The End, Sharkblog, The End (Kind Of)

ANNOUNCEMENT


Earlier this year I announced that BilGaines.com would be dedicated primarily to Sharkblog.

I was wrong.

I wasn’t wrong at the time. I really meant it. But through the course of events in the largest break between blog posts in BilGaines.com’s history, the only real objective Sharkblog ever had was achieved. I have started a career as in the glorious field of search engine optimization. That was what Sharkblog really was. The fun surface skin of shark hybrid monster studies was, as I mentioned repeatedly, nothing more than a veiled attempt at self-education. I simply chose shark monsters as a subject for consistency and control for the course of various experiments in monitoring traffic, garnering traffic from strangers across the web, putting things I read into practice, and so on.

And now here’s the thing. I have the job I wanted Sharkblog to get me. The job I have is like a crash course in hands-on optimization tools and techniques. I already know more in just a few months than I was able to teach myself in over a year on my own, because I’m using real tools to help real businesses. I also have actual humans teaching me things. It’s like grad school, where the things you publish get seen by real people who matter. Except they’re paying me, not the other way around.

And there is SO much I want to use BilGaines.com for that I had to make some tough decisions about Sharkblog. I really did enjoy it, and I am still planning to write those Orsonsharktopus screenplays at some point. But I am revoking all urgency and importance of Sharkblog as far as BilGaines.com is concerned. This doesn’t mean it’s going away entirely, it just means I won’t really be pretending to be shark-focused anymore, and any time I blog about SEO, it won’t necessarily involve shark hybrids.

I had wanted to give one final post about exactly what I’d learned from Sharkblog, but I’ve actually been away from it for so long and I’ve learned so much SINCE the last Sharkblog post that I don’t remember where the self-education ends and where the professional education begins.

However, I’d definitely like to thank each and every reader who followed Sharkblog with even the smallest interest. One thing I know that Sharkblog taught me was optimization, shmoptimization – if you don’t write posts that people enjoy reading, you’re wasting everyone’s time. So, thanks, all of you. This is the end. I’m breaking up with Sharkblog.

We’ll still be friends.

…Here’s the good news: the Hideous Hybrid Menagerie is officially up and running. This is a lovely little part of BilGaines.om where I send visitors far, far away. It’s not good business, but hey, I’m just some guy, not a business, so it’s okay. The Menagerie is a benevolent hub of links where you can read much, much more about your favorite shark monsters. And it will remain open for ever and ever. I can add to it over time as I receive information and requests for information. I am not anticipating many requests, so I don’t think this will be a great time hinderance.

Check it out!

Sharkblog’s The Hideous Hybrid Menagerie

At some point, I may add more images to really spruce the Menagerie up, but currently, I’m sans-Photoshop, so it’s pretty much all text. This may or may not be a temporary situation. Whatever.

Hopefully this music video will help us all move past this difficult grieving phase:

Once again, thanks for reading. Please enjoy the rest of BilGaines.com, and come back often!

SEO Has Taken Over My Life And It’s Rad

I wanted an image to accurately portray the mood, so I did a Google Image search for “Barren Wasteland” and this is what I got.

Here I am, in the future! You’ve all aged about five months, but not a single second seems to have gone by for me…

Just kidding. I know this blog has been sorely neglected for five months, or at least it would seem that way. I don’t apologize for not blogging. If anyone needed an apology, chances are someone would have said within the last five months, “Hey, why haven’t you posted on your blog lately?” So the hell with apologies. The hell with excuses, too.

But interesting things have indeed been happening, and they have indeed been time-consuming. I suspect no one’s noticed that BilGaines.com has not been updated for five months because we had, you know, the Olympics and the whole election thing to distract us. I hadn’t even noticed myself until just now.

In brief: In February I was hired part-time as an SEO specialist for a very cool company called Intrapromote. This meant that in addition to commuting 50 miles each way from Oxnard to Santa Monica and back every single day to work at Edmunds.com as an account manager, I was also donating eight hours of time and energy to a second gig. That was nine hours in Santa Monica, three hours total on the road, and two hours of SEO after putting the baby to sleep. That was my typical workday. I don’t remember what I did on weekends during that period.

In May, I started full-time for Intrapromote, which meant that although I loved my Edmunds co-workers dearly, I left them behind to work at home and adopt new, seemingly robotic co-workers. They only seemed robotic, though, because I “met” them all over the internet. Mostly over Yammer, but some IM me and I do hear a few voices on the occasional phone call. I know our HR director from our mutual time spent in the Chicago theatre scene and I met the president in person when he flew out to L.A. to give some presentations to a Southern California-based client. We ate at the best pizza joint in Hollywood and he remembered the bartender from, like, four years ago. And the bartender remembered him, too, because they were both from Indiana and people from Indiana never forget each other.

Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of parenting, travelling, and exploring the area I actually live in, i.e. Ventura County. I’ve seen very few people I know, but I’ve seen a lot of them, and it’s been great.

Also, as it turns out, my new remote coworkers are amazingly hip and groovy and cool and all kinds of other positive adjectives. And my new job is super-sweet. I’m doing something that keeps me interested ALL DAY LONG (usually) and I get to work from home. This means more time with my daughter Alie and my wife Devon.

With this new job, I actually HAVE been blogging, just not on BilGaines.com. I blog regularly for Intrapromote and I do a good amount of ghost blogging for clients. It’s awesome. This makes me a professional blogger, technically, but I will never describe myself to another as “professional blogger,” because every time I see someone call themselves a “professional blogger,” I instantly lose respect for them. I don’t know why, it just happens.

So, why start up again with BilGaines.com?

Many reasons, but mainly:

  • You should always warm up. This self-re-introductory post is a warm-up.
  • Small changes have been made – not important enough to call attention to, but a fresh blog post gets better PageRank on Google, and I want the new changes to be seen by strangers.
  • This is a teaser. Consider yourself teased. I am (again) changing course regarding SharkBlog (major DEmotion this time) and will probably meander a bit until I find a proper focus for the site, but know this: I have a small series planned regarding Instagram optimization. I will have data that I pulled myself on my very own Excel spreadsheet, and I will have my very own hand-drawn infographics.
  • I aim to sell you something.

Stay tuned. I will go ahead and publish this article right now, on Sunday night, the WORST TIME TO PUBLISH A BLOG, because I frankly don’t care about this particular article. This is not the one I want everybody to read. (If you are reading it, thanks! You’re awesome.)

But it’s good to be blogging on my own little website once again. I can say “fuck” as much as I want to.

A Peaceful, But Very Interesting Pursuit – The Rumpus.net

As a follow-up to my recent announcement, I’d like to point out this most excellent read about T.S. Elliot working a day job he actually enjoyed, and at a bank, no less.

A Peaceful, But Very Interesting Pursuit – The Rumpus.net.

…So too do I find the art and science of search engine optimization equally enjoyable and intriguing, and in fact have made strides to make money doing it.  Do what you love, they say.  Check.

I have been working only a couple days now on my first professional SEO assignment, and already I find I’m writing more fiction.  During my last couple of lunch hours at Edmunds.com, I’ve written a sizable chunk of a short story I’d started and stopped.  After several months of writing small pieces here and there, and another month and a half of not writing anything at all in this story, I’ve resumed with a fervor and a straight line to the finish.  This new output may have everything to do with the new gig, or it may have nothing to do with it, but I like to think that this is a good sign of things to come.

When your professional life keeps you inspired and thinking and moving, the rest of your life has a tendency to follow.

Of course, working two jobs comes at the expense of writing more for this blog.  But no one has complained yet.

At any rate: I encourage anyone with a passion in a field that makes no money (such as theatre or poetry) to read this article.  You may find justification for your life.  You may find inspiration to change it.  Whatever — read up.  This is important.

New Gig: SEO Specialist (For Realsies)

Extremely good news, ladies and gentlemen!

I have landed a part-time gig as a Search Engine Optimization Specialist.  The words are capitalized because that’s the official title.  I’ll give plenty of detail, I’m sure, on the company itself and all the amazing goings on that occur on a daily basis just as soon as full-time work is written in stone with these folks.  We’re expecting sometime in the spring.  But for now, I’ll just let the world know I’ve got  up to eight hours a week of SEO work, and that is what I’ve been after.

To become really good at something (such as SEO), one needs not only theory but also practice and mentorship.  With Sharkblog, I’ve been giving myself a very small amount of practice, and there has been no mentorship.  This SEO gig should cover all three areas, and I aim to improve my skills dramatically in a short time.  The more SEO work I produce, the more powerful I shall become.

It’ll be rough until I can do it full-time.  In the meantime, I’ll still be working at Edmunds.com in Santa Monica, a 50-mile commute each way from my place in Oxnard.  So this new work will be on top of that.

But it will be worth it, because if I can prove I don’t suck at life and actually get hired on with this company, I will transition from working 50 miles away to working at home.  My commute will be upstairs.

Even better than the non-commute, however, will be the work itself.  I’ve got no particular complaints with being an account manager for an automotive advertising & lead company, but account-managing has never been a passion of mine.  And the life-after-account-management career path is both vague and uninteresting.  The places I can go after being an SEO peon are way more attractive to a personality like mine.

What’s more, there’ll be more time at home to spend with my super-awesome baby girl Aliena.  I can’t even describe what a relief that is for the Parenting Department.  I can’t.  Even.  Describe.  (See: Harry Chapin – Cat’s in the Cradle)

I’m also anticipating a slight increase in productivity as far as personal writing projects goes.  In my current situation, I have very little time and even less energy to devote to the pile of StuffIAmWorkingOn.  By telecommuting, I open up about three hours each day.  And by not wearing myself down with driving those three hours, my brain, I expect, will be more useful.  So maybe I can finally complete 1) the adaptation of a play I’ve written into a screenplay, 2) a short story I started that gets longer and longer the more I write it, 3) a refresh of the novel I completed a draft for last year, 4) that book of poetry with those sketches I’ve been drawing, and 5) everything else that I’ve been planning to start but haven’t because of the previous four.

And the wonderful thing here, the truly wonderful thing here, is that I’ll be happy with my day job.  It won’t be just a day job.  It’ll be a day career.  It’ll actually be an inspiration to the personal projects instead of a hindrance.  I’ll be happy to do the work, I’ll aspire to go further, I’ll be proud to describe what I do.  More on this topic later.  As I write this, I’m actually at the office in Santa Monica.  I should get back to work.

Have a lovely long weekend!

Yours truly,

Bil
SEO Specialist

P.S. Awesome.

SHARKBLOG: Focus

Sharkblog - it is on

Just in time for the Detroit Auto Show, I am ready to unveil the all-new 2012 BilGaines.com – now with more Sharkblog!

Sharkblog is not only here permanently, but is now a much bigger priority, largely thanks to my friendly wife who occasionally reminds me that I lack focus and really shouldn’t bounce from project to project when I haven’t fully exhausted the potential of the first one I started.

Hence: rather than start a new project involving all the things I left out of Sharkblog last year, I’ll instead keep on Sharkblogging and go ahead & implement the things. All the things. And I’ll track it all using both Google Analytics and the new site stats that come with installing Jetpack for WordPress. (Tracking things is very important.)

The very nature of Sharkblog displays my natural tendency to split focus. It’s a two-fold project: blog about shark monsters, mainly shark hybrid beasts, and also blog about the SEO results of the blog about shark hybrids and monsters. It’s like having a two-person play where the other person is the actor’s reflection in a mirror.

So my New Year’s resolution this year is not a list of benchmarks to check off. It is one word: focus.

And I’ve decided that Sharkblog is worth my time and energy, so BilGaines.com is now more devoted to high-quality shark monster hybrid content than ever before. The site has been redesigned to be more Sharkblog-centric.

On a related note, I’m also more devoted to getting a better day career than “account manager,” so I’m going to really boost the efforts to bring in more high-quality traffic with Sharkblog. I’m going to do one thing at a time, and do it well, and make sure I can show measurable improvements. I’m going to establish a definable Sharkblog universe. I’m going to track the progress and analyze every single little move. I’m going to focus the hell out of this portion of the website.

And I’ll still post about other random shit from time to time. Don’t you worry about that, no sir.

And luckily for everyone out there, I’ve made the switch from creating a new blog post from every tweet to simply having a Twitter sidebar widget (to your left), so you can subscribe by email & your inbox won’t get blasted with constant nonsense. You’ll just get the solid and the polished.

To sum up: a brand new direction for BilGaines.com, and a bigger and brighter future for Sharkblog. More focus. More sharks. More better.

Onward!

SHARKBLOG: Orsonsharktopus In Love

Dunkleosteus was the largest fish the world had ever known. And she was beautiful.

I read about this giant thing from the early days of the world courtesy of the Discovery Channel and suddenly it dawned on me how to make the original tale of Orsonsharktopus make sense. I hadn’t nailed down the first of four films, I had only described it as “general mayhem.” But now all the exposition fits right into place.

Dunkleosteus was the love interest for Orsonsharktopus once upon a time, see, but Dunkleosteus was a beast of the planet Earth, whereas Orsonsharktopus is immortal.

They were lovers in the Devonian Period, and when Dunkleosteus went extinct along with the rest of her species, Orsonsharktopus lost the greatest love he would ever know. His heart was broken beyond repair. Over the eons, he grew bitter and cynical, but maintained a low profile so he could stew in his misery for all time without being bothered.

Skip ahead to present day. The Santa Bertha Aquarium (yes, our fictional town is called Santa Bertha, and it is located on the southern-central coast of California) has received some fossils to display as a new attraction: Dunkleosteus…

I can totally see this working. The first portion of the first Orsonsharktopus film can be like the first part of “Up,” where we feel all sad for Orsonsharktopus after Dunkleosteus goes extinct, and we sort of sympathize as he roams the oceans for eons, getting progressively lonelier and meaner.

And then he sees the advertisements for the Dunkleosteus fossils at the Santa Bertha Aquarium, and goes to find her. And when he finds out the love of his life has NOT returned to him, but in fact is being used as some cheap tourism gimmick, he is even more pissed off than ever.

I’m sure you can guess what comes next. General mayhem. Only now it’s personal, and much more passionate. It all turns into a monster action flick, with screaming crowds and mindlessly large quantities of human deaths. And in the end, our scientist heroes save the town and freeze him in carbonite.

And there, frozen in carbonite, and placed alongside his eternal love inside the aquarium, is our final image of Orsonsharktopus.

…Until the sequel.

Yes.

 

Baby Steps

WordPress recently came out with a new update, bringing us all up to 3.3 – “Sonny.” The difference isn’t noticeable on my outward-facing website, but my dashboard and navigation menus for updates are all cleaner, and there are several other convenient little updates. It’s not a huge redesign or anything, but it feels like slightly more than a baby step.

…Which is interesting timing. I have been thinking about necessary updates to my website in terms of design and navigation. After thinking long and hard about advantages & disadvantages to a whole redesign (including a whole new WordPress theme), I’ve concluded that baby steps are what I need to stick to. But baby steps are hard to stick to when you have available tools to make giant leaps. So I’m trying to self-discipline and stick to small, trackable changes, and I’m trying to give it all time to monitor the differences.

It’s hard. There’s so much out there to fiddle around with, and it only gets easier and more tempting. It’s like not playing with a jetpack that you find on your doorstep when you know you have to stay inside and do the proper research on how to fly.

So then imagine my eyebrows when I see on my newly-refreshed dashboard a link to a newly updated WordPress plugin, previously only available to WordPress.com-hosted sites. Mine is hosted on TierraNet, so this is indeed new to me.

The plugin is called Jetpack.

If you don’t want to read up on this boring old WordPress plugin, let me break down what interests me about it…
– WordPress.com stats.
– Consolidated sharing functionality.
– Enhanced distribution to search engines.
– Twitter sidebar widget.
– Math.

There’s plenty more that comes with the plugin, but these four items are what are drawing me to it.

The WordPress.com stats will undoubtedly bring more insight than Google Analytics alone; I am really curious to see what data they show differently, and what different data the WP stats offer. Speaking of updates, Google Analytics recently launched a redesign, and the tool is much more useful to me personally now than it was before, so I say, bring on the games! Let the battle of the analytics tools begin.

The sharing functionality might be nice in terms of clean-up for me on the backend. I have more than one sharing plugin operating right now, and more than one is (x-1) too many. This’ll help me get rid of the clutter.

I always like the sound of enhanced distribution to search engines. I know the Feed Me Seymore theme I have rolling right now claims to offer this type of function, though to what extent I do not know. But I figure, if there is no additional burden to me, the webmaster, then there is no downside to distributing new content to search engines. NOT distributing means I have to wait for spiders to find their way back to this site, re-crawl it, and have it fit into their algorithms. That can take up to six months. I want search engine rankings now, dammit.

The Twitter sidebar widget – I’m sure I could have gotten one previously, but it would have been redundant since I decided to activate a feature from another plugin to create new blog posts of all my tweets. This is good for SEO, but it clutters up the homepage, which I don’t like. And the organic traffic it generates, I have noticed, has 100% bounce rate and an average of less than 10 seconds on the site. So I think I’ll drop that feature and go with Jetpack’s sidebar widget.

And the math. Well. Math is beautiful. Math is art. I want that math feature.

It’s getting near the end of the year now, and that’ll be a perfect time to not only consider some site design refreshes, but also reflect on nearly a year of Sharkblogging, what I’ve learned about SEO, so on. And the timing here is nice, since I’ll have all through the holidays to plan any changes to implement after the new year.

Baby steps. Grit my teeth and just take baby steps.

Pigeonslaughter

Driving down PCH at the blackest morning hour is a dangerous and unpredictable commute, but one thing I never thought I would see (let alone be a part of) is a moving lineup of the entire Scion brand.

There I was, casually speeding at a weak seven miles over the limit, when I noticed the headlights behind me were catching up, so I moved over to the right to let the car pass. In the side mirror, I noticed there was another car right on the first car’s heels. As the first car passed me, I couldn’t help but notice it was a fairly new Scion tC.

I gave the passing tC a little wave, like I do for all Scion drivers, even though I knew that a) it was pitch black and there’s no way the driver would see me wave, and b) the wave would probably only confuse the other driver, since my patent-pending “Friendly Scion Driver’s Wave” hasn’t caught on in the mainstream yet.

Then, as I let the second car pass me, I saw it was the delightfully boxy Scion xB.

OH MY GOD, I thought. This is my chance.

I drive a Scion xD. This completes the current lineup, I thought. Just like some pre-dawn, noir-styled brand commercial. How fucking cool is that.

The Scion iQ is not on sale just yet, which leaves Scion with just these three models. I knew the iQ goes on sale starting December first, a little over a month away, so that was probably the last chance I’d ever have to be part of a living car commercial.

So, as the xB passed me, I sped up just a bit to match their speed, turned on my turn signal, and moved into the lane behind the first two, gloriously completing the Scion trilogy.

And then I ran over a pigeon.

I had never run over a bird before. In fact, I’d never killed anything larger than an insect with a car before. It was really fucking awful. The muffled splat of an insect on your windshield is nothing compared to the “thunk” of a substantially-sized object in the road combined with what was surely the sound of tiny bird bones crunching all at once.

I was immediately so overcome with guilt that I fell into some kind of trance. I don’t know what happened to the other Scions, where they went or how long I was behind them. But I didn’t stop the car after it happened. I just kept driving. It happened so fast, I never even took my foot off the accelerator.

Oh, that sound. That sound is still playing on a loop inside my head, like some grim, undying echo.

I wasn’t sure why I felt so bad. In that split second between when I saw the bird in the light of my headlamps and when I lost sight of it below the hood, I could tell that the bird was injured. It was flapping uselessly with one wing, trying to fly in any direction at all, but it was just too wounded to survive. Either that, or it was break dancing in the middle of the road.

It was just a pigeon. I’ve been telling myself all morning that it was just a pigeon. Pigeons are not even close to an endangered species. They are not even popular among environmentalists. I hear vegetarians refer to them as “sky rats.” And this particular pigeon was already mortally wounded (or bad at break dancing), and I just ended its suffering.  It wasn’t vehicular pigeonslaughter, I tell myself, it was assisted suicide.

But I still felt terrible about it.

That was earlier this morning. I’m okay now.

But that sound. I can’t get that sound out of my mind.

There’s only one solution: Disco.