23 September 2008

Parenting is not a lot of work

Our first child was born last week! A healthy bouncing baby boy. In the time leading up to his birth so many people told us "Having kids is a lot of work, but it's worth it."

Having kids is not a lot of work. Starting a business is a lot of work. Digging your own swimming pool is a lot of work. Having a kid is more of an Herculean Task. There's so much to learn and so many things to do. But I think the pinnacle of it all is that it's a full time job. No wait, working 40 to 80 hours a week is a full time job... having a kid is--what ever 24 x 7 hours a week is--kind of job. Real full time, all the time.

On our first day the nurses told us "rule number 1 is sleep when ever he sleeps." Sounds like fun, I thought. No, it's obligatory. There is no other time

I once took a 53 hour trans-continental flight to Australia from Canada. It had 5 stopovers. I pulled a lot of all-nighters in school. I've been to some pretty crazy all-night parties. But then after each of these tiny explorations of sleep-deprivation, I slept for 10 hours and got back to normal. The point I'm at now is a constant sort of twighlight zone feeling where I'm tired and half brain-dead, but still functioning somehow because I must.

To understand my current sleep pattern you can try this at home:
  • Take a 6-sided die with these numbers on it: 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 60 minutes, 120 minutes
  • Now roll this die and write down the number you rolled. Continue until you have a list that adds up to 24 hours
  • Now randomly write down the following activities beside each rolled number: change diaper, stare at how cute he is, visit doctor, feed him, check diaper but there's nothing there, try to feed him but he's not hungry afterall, wonder if he's still sleeping and go check, feed him, wonder why he's still awake, have people visit, wonder why he won't sleep, feed him, feed yourself, do something to remind yourself that you're still normal like brushing your teeth or having a shower, try to sleep before baby wakes up
  • repeat constantly day and night and day and night and day and night and...
So having a kid is worth it. That's already true in spades. But it's not a lot of work. Some day when he's old enough, we hope he'll spend a weekend with his grand parents so we can take a fantasy vacation: sleep for a whole night and wake up when we're not tired anymore.

15 September 2008

Blogging for money: what is value?

So I've been thinking long and hard for quite some time about how to increase my income. My Landscape Architect Intern salary just isn't cutting it. And the salary of a licenced landscape architect will not cut it either, at least not without another 15 years of experience. And I dont' have 15 years to wait. I really want to kill my student loans long before then, which are currently clinging to me like a cluster of persistent tumors.

I watch my adsense account closely every day, like checking your mailbox in olden times to see if you got that love letter yet. My adsense account has brought in more than zero consistently for three weeks now. But not enough to live off of. Not even in Nairobi.

Clearly I've done something right in gaining enough blog traffic to convert some links into sweet google money. How to do more? Like $50000 a year more. That's $1000 a week, no small amount. At the current level of conversion (less than $1 per 100 pageviews) I'd need 14000 pageviews a day to replace my current salary. And my current salary is below my minimum acceptable ideal salary.

There just isn't enough interest online (or anywhere, really) in Landscape Architecture to generate that kind of traffic. Now if I could transition to gardens and residential garden design, I could get that kind of traffic. But that's a different audience from Landscape Architecture job seekers, interns, and students. Totally different. And a very saturated space. And honestly, I'm much more interested in about 40 decent subjects than in gardening right now: including wine-making, investing, founding businesses, real estate, beer, music, parties, parenting, saving money, paying off debt, clothing, computers, programming, website design, writing, chemisty, history, technology, travel, nutrition, to name a few.

I read a post from Steve Pavlina today, the web guru of self-help articles. He actually has a lot of great stuff, although much of it wreaks of new-age neo-hippy incense. Sorry, you'll have to wade through that.

I like the part near the end where he talks about wealth accumulation as the trade that the world gives you in return for value you've created. It's a very entrepreneurial viewpoint, and one that comes naturally to me. I haven't been capitalizing on it in the last many years because I've been chasing the dream of becoming a designer, but my entrepreneurial instincts are restless and desperately in need of excersice.

It's food for thought, and I am considering re-branding this blog (or basically scrapping it and starting another one in a new vein). It doesn't matter if I re-brand or start over since no one is reading this anyway, so I'll just save the time it takes to re-design it up front and let it evolve. I also need a new name, methinks. I am considering using this blog as a behind the scenes "how I built my other blog" blog. A kind of practical how- to for making a blog that actually gets traffic and creates value (and of course cashes that value out in the form of cold, hard currency). Is this space saturated? Of course. Do I have time for it? Not with my current schedule.

I'm also considering blogging about business ideas. I have shed loads of business ideas. Most people are really scared to talk too loudly at the pub about "their great idea", much less blog about them. But having the idea is the fun easy part that comprises about 0.1% of creating and operating a successful business. So I'm not worried about you steeling my business ideas. On the contrary, if you think any of them are good enough to discuss, let's talk! There's few things I like more than talking about business ideas, strategy, forming a team, and dreaming big.

13 September 2008

Blogging: it's starting to work

It was a few years ago that I was hanging with a friend of mine (basically the only one who reads this blog, props, Edge) and he was introducing me to the blogosphere and related technologies. He said that "because of google adsense, anyone who can write will never have to work another day in their lives", or something like that, and I got starry-eyed. Freedom! I love writing about as much as I love beer. But I had to acquire a taste for beer, whereas playing with words is hard-wired in me. This should illustrate the power of my passion for writng. If not, lets go for pints and I'll explain demonstrate.

So here I am: a wage-slave, prostitute, employee, worker bee--however you want to say it, it's all the same. I must work because I have massive student debts, and because I must eat, drink, and live. So I need cash. I love to write. Can those two things solve each other some way? Blogging! So I quickly set up 3 different blogs: one on Landscape Architecture  (my current profession), one on Stained Glass  (my parents profession), and this one on... whatever. So I wrote. I spent saturdays tweaking layouts and colours, and dreaming up ideas for posts. I scoured the blogosphere for articles and advice. I was glued to my rrs reader keeping my finger on the pulse of tech and the web two point oh. And then, like most other blogs, the money did not roll in, I got busy with other interesting webby things, and the blogs sat fallow.

But since then, I've been reading a lot of marketing books (esp. Seth Godin) and blogs, business, SEO, and generally learning about the internet and various web technologies. After many months of doing almost no blogging at all, I suddenly found a renewed interest. I'm still in it for the money, but have come to understand why content is king, and that having a blog is not the same as having a blog that actually gets read.

In the beginning, I naiviely thought family and friends would react with, "he's writing a blog now, cool I can't wait to read it." Ha ha! I dont' know where I got that idea from, but to all you bloggers out there, people don't really care.  People generally fall into three categories:

  • other bloggers who understand your blogging hobby and share your interests. They might actually visit your site, leave a comment now and then, and even subscribe in a reader
  • friends and family who might discover your blog and lurk it once during a slow day at the office
  • people who have no idea what a blog is, couldn't care less about the internet except once in a while remembering they can "ask the google", and think RRS feed is something used to fatten cattle
So it's an uphill battle since many people fall into the latter category, and even your best blog post is lucky to get a finger-painting's fridge treatment from your dearly beloved who don't understand that the internet is a part of the "real world". Which totally makes sense. We're all strapped for time. Really. Who's got time to read your creative writing projects?

After reading Seth Godin's 'The Dip', I realized that the trouble was lack of focus. A blog about everything is the same as a blog about nothing, but not in a good Seinfeld way. The internet is so vast that what people really need when they arrive at a page is an instantly clear idea of what it is they are looking at (note: this blog is still a dear failure in that respect, which I might address someday). If the subject matter isn't directed right to a reader, or isn't something they can relate too, they don't care. They will click 'back' and regret visiting. It's just the way the web works.

People need filters and guides. In other media these filters and guides are the radio dj, the newspaper editor, the waiter, the purchaser of fashions for a clothing store, the journalist, etc. It's actually very rare that we are ever confronted with an un-filtered array of choice.

So, I re-focused my Landscape Architecture blog. And with a better understanding of SEO, linking, and pagerank, it worked. At least it's starting to work! I now get an average of almost 100 pageviews a day at The Landscape Architecture Resource. It's not much, but a good start.

The other obstacle to your blog being appreciated, is that many people find it hard to comprehend what a blog really is. We have historically been so immersed in a one-way, non-interactive, push media, that most people have trouble grasping the concept that a blog is a conversation. "You mean the editor would allow me to publish a comment on his writing? I'm not a 'writer'. Why would they listen to me?" Dudes. That's so 1996 that I get nostalgic for Curt Cobain interviews on television. It's not just a bunch of drunken rambling typed into a laptop. It's a manuscript posted globally for all to see, use, and reply to. It usually feels like screaming silently from a mountain top. But every now and then... it screams back.

10 September 2008

Talking about money isn't easy

I love talking about money. It was not something that was ever appreciated at my house growing up. For a long time I was angry at my parents for not teaching me the value of money and how to handle it. Especially since they run their own business, it would seem like fertile grounds for learning about finances. But my current theory is that they've basically taught me all they know, it's just not that much. I don't think my parents have ever been comfortable talking about money, so it was never a subject that came up unless it really, really had to. And even then the basic premise of the conversation was always: "things are tough all over, what can you do? Life is tough and money is hard to find. That's just the way it is."

It's a strange and complex subject, similar to talking about sex I suppose. It's deeply personal but also universal and important. I'm endlessly intrigued by how people react when the subject of money comes up. The most common reaction is a blank stare into the distance and no comment.

The trouble with talking about money, is that unless the other person shares a stake in your situation (room-mates, spouse, business partner, co-investor) it's really hard to relate. People who are worse off, or think they are worse off, can only react with "what are you complaining about, you've got it good" and those who are in a better financial situation can't understand why you would sweat over $100. Not that I complain about money a lot, it's just a subject that intrigues me and often comes up, as a related subject of investing, real estate, and business. And there are a few people who share my scarred-for-life student-debt situation, so every now and then we do commiserate over a beer.

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