Thursday, February 28, 2019

The power of yet

In one of the classrooms I'm in, there's a beautifully-done, homemade wall display called, "The Power of Yet." Here's a visual similar to the display in the classroom that I picked out from Google Images:

The power of yet

What a powerful, inspiring message! Simple, yet profound. It's something that all of us need to remember. With persistence, patience, and an open mind, we really can learn, accomplish, improve on, and master anything we'd like to!

If you enjoyed this post, I also recommend checking out, "How to get better at anything."

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

How to get better at anything

Recently, our school's principal shared with the staff an article from the Harvard Business Review. The article is entitled, "If You Want to Get Better at Something, Ask Yourself These Two Questions," and it's written by Peter Bregman, leadership expert, best-selling author, and CEO.

Our principal thought the article was worth sharing, and I, in turn, definitely think it's worth sharing with all of you. He told us the article reminds him of conversations he recently had with several students regarding the ACT test. These students expressed to him how they wished they had better prepared and studied for the test.

Here are the two questions posed by Mr. Bregman, but I encourage you to read the full article for some awesome context and examples, which you can read by clicking here:

1) Do you want to do better?

2) Are you willing to feel the discomfort of putting in more effort and trying new things that will feel weird and different and won’t work right away?

These are questions that anyone who truly wants to get better at anything needs to really wrestle with. And if you can, after having that internal discussion and debate with yourself, genuinely answer "yes" to both of them, especially to that second one, then you're on your way to some serious improvement.

Being open to trying new approaches and to being accepting of occasional short-term challenges, setbacks, and failures in exchange for the long-term win, is absolutely critical. If you're not open-minded, patient, and willing to put in the work and feel the occasional pain, then success will not come your way.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Blues Story: A Documentary

Came across this 2003 documentary on the blues this morning while browsing music on YouTube. It's called, Blues Story: A Documentary, and I thought it was worth sharing. A lot of great music, interviews, and history here. Hope you enjoy!

High school students and stress

Those of you in high school have it tough. We know. We get it. We were once in your shoes, too, and we made it.

There's a lot going on at your age. You're growing at a rapid pace - physically, mentally, emotionally, perhaps even spiritually. Within these few short but jam-packed years, in no particular order, you're learning how to take on more personal responsibility and greater academic challenges in your classes; learning how to drive; getting more serious about relationships of all kinds - family, friendships, dating - and learning how to juggle and navigate them; and, at the same time you're getting your first jobs, the pressure is already on you to start thinking about and exploring careers and any relevant higher education and training you may need for these careers after high school. These are just a few examples of what's going on in your life during these critical years, let alone sports, band, and other clubs and activities you may be involved in.

No doubt, there's a lot being thrown at you all at once.

Following are some tips and strategies, in no particular order, to help you manage these many good - and sometimes not so good - stressors in your life right now.

Sleep, Diet, & Exercise. As I point out in a previous post, How to properly prepare for tests and exams, "It's absolutely critical to get regular rest, especially at your age, when you're still developing. Go for that 7-8 hour range every night, and try to make your sleeping hours consistently the same each night (like 9pm-5am or 10pm-6pm)...Good nutrition is always important. I'm not saying you always have to avoid candy, chips, ice cream, fried and other junk foods. I'm far from being the perfect example when it comes to diet. But try to keep these kinds of foods to a minimum, and work in an adequate amount of the healthy stuff on a consistent basis - your vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, good dairy, etc."

Make sure to get some regular exercise in, as well, even if it's just walking.

Unplug from the phone and social media from time to time. Constantly being on your phone for social media and texting greatly increases your chances of getting into arguments with friends, boyfriends or girlfriends, and other classmates/schoolmates. Trust me. I've seen it happen. Plenty of times. The problem is that, because you're not having an in-person discussion or an actual phone conversation with those on the other end, it becomes all too easy for misunderstandings to sneak in. Elements like tone of voice and facial expression get lost in translation. You may have the best of intentions and still end up being misunderstood. A while back, I advised a student who always seemed to be getting into texting arguments with her boyfriend throughout the day (he attends another school) to suggest to him that they agree to ditch the texting during the day and instead catch up with an actual phone conversation after the school day. They'll have more to chat about, and there's a lot less risk for things to get lost in translation. Nothing beats a real conversation.

Besides all of this, constant texting and social media is simply unproductive. You can be spending this time taking in new knowledge and developing new skills. You can use this time to improve your grades. If it's after the school day or on the weekend, you can even be using this time to earn money by working.

If you haven't already seen it, I suggest checking out the Brain Hacking episode from 60 Minutes, which explores how tech companies are programming phones, phone apps, and social media platforms to be increasingly addicting. It's mind-blowing. Plenty of food for thought.

Take time for yourself. It's important to do this. Do you have a favorite hobby or activity that brings you joy? Is there a particular place that you like to go off to to collect your thoughts, decompress, and just relax?

Ask for help. Never be afraid to seek assistance. Period. There are so many wonderful people and resources around you. Whether you're struggling with homework and keeping up in class, going through some difficult times at home, stuck on which direction to go after high school, etc., etc., plenty of help awaits you. Teachers, guidance counselors, school social workers and psychologists, and coaches are just a few examples of the many caring people you can turn to for a compassionate ear and meaningful advice.

Prioritize. There's only so many hours in a day, and so many years in high school. Learning how to prioritize early on is to your benefit. What do you want to accomplish during your high school years? How will you get there? What habits do you need to develop to help set yourself up for success?

And when it comes to homework and staying organized, a couple of thoughts here ...

Break your homework assignments and larger projects up into smaller pieces

One of the easiest ways to reduce stress is to take whatever task is causing you the stress and break it up into smaller, more manageable pieces. This is a strategy that can certainly be applied to daily homework assignments and larger projects, as well. Don’t think about the assignment or project as a whole. Instead, try to think about it in its smaller parts. Start by picking just one component of the assignment or project – the simpler the better – and get it done. Once that task is completed, pick another. Before you know it, you're on your way to making some serious progress. And where you have work that requires a lot of writing, the easiest thing to do is just start writing. Just get to it. Remember, you can always clean your writing up later on. That's what the editing process is for. All too often, we get stuck on the idea that our writing needs to somehow come out perfect the first time around, and that's why nothing ultimately gets done. I discuss this more in a previous post, Quantity over quality when it comes to idea generation.

So, in short, stop avoiding the daily homework assignment or larger project altogether just because it stresses you out. The longer you avoid it, the more stressed out it’s going to make you feel. Instead of allowing yourself to get stressed out, take a step back and take some time to think about how you can break the assignment or project into smaller, more manageable pieces.

Let's say, for example, you're working on an assignment requiring you to write a detailed comparison of three different products. What are the steps you will need to take in order to complete the assignment? You will need to do some research on each of the products, decide upon their pros and cons, write up a rough draft, and then edit it to perfection. By determining the steps needed to complete the assignment, you can think about which small part you need to complete next instead of stressing over the finished product.

As you can see, breaking things up into a series of smaller tasks will allow you to take a step back from the bigger picture and look at things from a new perspective. By only focusing on a smaller portion at a time, you will feel less stressed out when faced with larger or more difficult tasks. This will make it easier for you to make real progress towards completing the assignment or project at hand. 

Consider choosing a planner to help better manage your time

There are many options when it comes to choosing a planner. Some people prefer electronic planners, while others prefer to use a book or notepad and write their various tasks and appointments in it by hand. Whichever way you choose to go about it, rest assured that using a planner to better manage your time will prove to be a big help if you have a busy schedule.

One of the first things you’ll need to decide when choosing a planner is whether or not you’d prefer to use an electronic one. Electronic planners are available for many devices including smartphones, tablets, and computers, and they often contain features that aren’t available when using a traditional pen-and-paper style planner. Even so, some people still prefer the tangible feel and ease of use provided by a standard book planner.

The other major choice you’ll need to make when choosing a planner is how detailed your schedule will need to be. Will you need one that allows space for hourly plans or will a daily or weekly planner suffice? Also keep in mind that some planners will allow you to write additional notes, while others will not.

As you can see, there are many options when it comes to choosing which planner is right for you. Whether that means managing your time electronically or otherwise, or using an hourly, daily, or weekly planner, the choice is ultimately up to you. By knowing which type best suits your needs, however, you will be able to get the most from your planner, which in turn will allow you to better manage your time.

Tips for buying a used laptop

How to avoid future hassles when buying a used laptop

Buying a used laptop can be an exciting venture, but when things go wrong, it can turn out to be more trouble than first expected. If you're planning on buying a preowned, reconditioned laptop, here are a few suggestions to help you avoid any unforeseen future hassles.

1. Always buy from a reputable and well-known dealer.

The less you know about a seller, the easier it is for them to potentially take advantage of you. Avoid being ripped off by a little-known company by restricting your shopping to well-known businesses who maintain a good reputation with their buyers.

2. If possible, avoid buying your used laptop online.

By purchasing your used laptop from a brick and mortar retailer, you'll be able to check for damage before actually buying the used laptop. This isn’t possible when making your purchase online. Even if pictures of the actual product are available, pictures don't always reveal everything. Nothing beats an in-hand inspection. If you must make an online purchase, it's always a good idea to choose a company with a physical store location near you. It’s a lot easier to resolve future issues if you can personally visit the business through which you made your purchase.

3. Ask about the laptop’s warranty coverage and return policy.

Carefully examine the preowned laptop’s warranty coverage. What problems or defects are covered under the warranty? How long is the coverage period? What is the total dollar amount of the coverage? Also ask about the company’s return policy, as this tends to differ for each business.

4. Beware of “too good to be true” bargains.

Just because a company’s prices are far cheaper than the competition, doesn’t mean they're the best choice for you. Unfortunately, many unscrupulous laptop dealers use these cheap price tactics to sell inferior or broken laptops to unsuspecting buyers. Some even fail to deliver your purchased laptop at all. A deal that looks too good to be true, usually is.

Buying a preowned, reconditioned laptop can be serious business. Though cheaper than new laptops, they're still certainly a large investment for most people. Because of this, it's important to do your research and know what you're getting yourself into. By learning a few helpful tips beforehand, you can increase your chances of having a satisfactory buying experience, while preventing future laptop hassles.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Miles Davis Kind of Blue album

Starting the morning off right here with a little jazz to go with my morning coffee. Here are a couple of tunes from Miles Davis, one of my favorite jazz artists. We have "Freddie Freeloader" and "So What" here, from Davis' album, Kind of Blue.

Hope you're all doing well. Let's make it a great day!

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Brain Hacking episode from 60 Minutes

I recently saw this video in an intro to psychology course at the high school I work at, and thought it was definitely worth sharing here. It's an episode called "Brain Hacking" from the television show, 60 Minutes. The episode explores how tech companies are programming phones, phone apps, and social media platforms to be increasingly addicting.

The video pairs well, I think, with a previous post that you'll want to check out if you haven't already, "The double-edged sword of technology."

Model United Nations

When I learned that our high school has a Model UN club, I was overcome with joy and excitement (seriously, no kidding), much like when I learned that all of our juniors are required to take personal finance and civics.

See, I was a total slacker in high school. I wasn't involved in anything. But I'd like to think that I made up for it in college, and then some. And one of the many clubs and co-curricular activities I was involved in during my college years at Cardinal Stritch University was Model UN. I absolutely loved it.

Model UN, at least when I took it at the college level, had two components to it - it was a club, but it also doubled as a course that you could take for anywhere from one to three credits at a time. There was a "lifetime" max of credits you could earn for the class - I believe that number was capped at four.

I was a political science major, and many of my fellow students involved in Model UN were political science or history majors. Once in a while, we would have a few students from other majors join us, which I highly encourage - so much of what you can learn by participating in a Model UN program is easily transferable to other majors, careers, and life situations. We'll come back to this more later.

Anyway, the general gist of how Model UN works is this: Your school's club members/classmates work together as a team to research a country - current political and economic trends, its overall history and culture, any current disputes with other countries, any internal strife going on, its current form of government and its leaders, any noteworthy trade deals, etc., etc. - and then represent that country at an interactive simulation with other schools representing their own countries. In some cases, where the club/class is really large, your school may represent two or even three or more countries.

Now, the real United Nations has many different committees, and so the Model UN simulation mirrors that fact in order to deliver an experience that is as authentic as possible. What this means is that, while your club/class is all working to represent the same country, you're not going to be with all of your schoolmates during the simulation. You'll be broken up into your own specific committee assignments. Formal dress attire, at least for us when we took it, is required.

My Model UN club/class at Cardinal Stritch participated in the Midwest Model United Nations (MMUN) conference, held in St. Louis every February. I was an undergraduate student for a total of six years, from 2001-2007, and I was involved in Model UN for five of those years.

The conference took place over several days at the St. Louis Union Station. What a great opportunity for learning outside the classroom, networking (I still keep in contact from time to time with both my Stritch classmates and a few others that attended other schools), and even a little fun and sightseeing! The Union Station in St. Louis houses a hotel, conference center, and multi-level shopping mall all in one. The famous St. Louis Arch is nearby, and plenty of beautiful scenery and things to do surround the area.

To add even more fun and variety to the simulation, there would be one night during conference when "emergency" sessions would be called in the middle of the night for certain committees and councils. We always knew in advance that this would happen at some point during the conference, but we would never know which night! Our hotel room phones would be called in the middle of the night, and we would be expected to get dressed and head down to our assigned conference rooms as soon as possible to deal with a crisis of some sort.

Now, I was saying earlier how I really encourage all students to participate in Model UN, regardless of major. So much is transferable to other majors, careers, and situations that are bound to come up in life and work.

In closing, here are some of the skills and dispositions you're learning or building on by participating in Model UN:

Research - How to identify and utilize quality sources when seeking information and preparing to make decisions.

Negotiation, diplomacy, and compromise - Necessary skills for success in the business world, for building trust and relationships with co-workers and superiors in any work environment.

Communication - Also a vital skill for success in just about every work and life situation possible. The need to communicate clearly, effectively, and confidently cannot be overstated.

Learning more about the world and current affairs - Great for fields like business, economics, law, sociology, to name a few.

Public speaking - You'll have plenty of opportunities to work on this classic fear.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

New milestones for this blog

I'm excited to announce that we reached 40 blog posts and 50,000 page views! Thank you so very much for your continued support and encouragement! I'm really working hard to make this blog a valuable resource for high school students. It's so important to supplement your education outside of the classroom, and I sincerely hope that you're finding this blog to be just one good avenue out of many for accomplishing that supplemental learning. Here's to your success!

Choosing the right college program for you

Okay, so you know that you want to attend either a college or a university. That’s great, but now what? Well, from here we must decide upon the kinds of courses you’d like to take once you get there.

Choosing some interesting subjects is an important first step in the process of deciding just what area of study you’d like to take up in college or university. Without thinking this one over carefully, you could find yourself in a course or program that you really don’t care for, and for obvious reasons you probably won’t do so well in.

To give yourself a better chance at selecting the right courses for yourself, there are a few things you should consider when it comes time to apply:
  • What are your likes?
  • What are your dislikes?
  • What were, or are, your favorite subjects in high school?
  • Were there ones you’d rather avoid?
  • What can you see yourself enjoying five years from now?
What are your likes?

So, you are stuck when it comes to deciding what kind of degree or other program you want to pursue, huh? Don’t worry about it. You certainly aren’t alone. This is a common challenge for many high school students, and even adults, trying to decide upon a new career.

Where should you look to for inspiration when it comes to what you might want to do in your future? Well, a good place to start is with your own hobbies, interests, and volunteer work. Think about something that you already do now. Something that you enjoy enough that you don’t even think about getting paid for it. Take a few moments out now and reflect on that.

Now, just imagine if you could do that same thing (or something very similar) and make a living at it. Wouldn’t that be perfect? You like cooking? Why not consider a path in the food service/hospitality/culinary arts arena? You like writing? Why not look into some courses in journalism and/or creative writing? What about helping people with their challenges? If you do, think about a career in social work.

Obviously, the choices are going to be very different for everyone. The most important thing to remember is that if you like it, and you like it enough to be doing it already, or you’ve always had a passion for it and wanted to do it in the future, that could be a good subject to look into for yourself.

What are your dislikes?

So, you haven’t been able to narrow down your choices enough just yet? That’s okay. We’ll just take a different approach to the subject and see what comes of it.

This time, instead of things you enjoy doing already, I now want you to think of things that you can’t stand. This way, you’ll know what kind of career paths you might rather avoid.

Now, if it’s the thing you dislike that is keeping you away from the subject you were thinking about enrolling in, is there a way that you can change the circumstances slightly, so that you can still do what you enjoy without doing the part that you’d dislike?

For instance, let’s say you really enjoy helping people learn new things, but you're not a fan of having to go to the front of the class where you are the center of attention. So, becoming a teacher is probably not for you, but how about something with fewer people? What about becoming a tutor or trainer? Now all you have to do is decide what subjects you’d like to help people in. Those subjects would then fall into a specific course or courses that you could apply for in college or university.

Again, everyone’s opinion as to what they like and dislike is going to be very different, so you are going to have to sit down for a while and really think about it before you come up with some answers.

What are (were) your favorite subjects in high school?

If you’re still stuck as to which courses to apply for in college or university, that’s certainly okay. I’m not giving up on you yet. I know you can do it! How about this - do you have any of your old report cards still kicking around somewhere? Better yet, can you remember how you did on them? I’m hoping you were able to answer, "Yes!" to at least one of those questions, because otherwise this next reflection exercise might not help you out too much.

Anyway, which subjects did you excel in? Could you be a history genius in the making? You never know, you could be. If you are enjoying (or did enjoy) it in high school, and didn’t do half-badly at it, perhaps a BA in History has your name written all over it. What about math, or auto shop, or computers? What was your "thing"? Chances are they have something along the same lines in college or university that will pique your interest.

What are the subjects you’d rather avoid?

Another approach to think about would be figuring out what you want to do, what you think you can do, and what you think you can’t do. Knowing the subjects that you just aren’t good at, or you would just rather avoid for whatever reason, is just as important as the ones that you do like and want to pursue. That way, if you have too many possibilities, utilizing this strategy can help to narrow down the list a little more.

Tip - If you are still stuck, a good place to look is to a college’s or university’s course calendar - many of these can be found online. Just search for institutions in your area and take a look at what they are offering. You can usually also find lists of all the courses offered and often the subjects that are required as prerequisites, if any.

What can you see yourself enjoying five years from now?

So, with all the choices you have before you - the old ones you thought up on your own, and the new ones you read about in either a course calendar or online at a college's or university's Web site, you may be wondering about some ways to narrow them down.

If that is the case, ask yourself this question - Can you see yourself in five years still liking the career path you’ve chosen? How about in ten years?

It’s certainly not the end of the world if you choose the wrong course/program for you your first time around. Many people do it. The only problem with that is tuition can be expensive, so making the best decision early on is always the ideal route to take, if possible. So if you really can't see yourself in a certain career five or ten years down the road, you might as well scratch it off the list now, instead of paying out thousands of dollars to decide halfway through the school term that the path really isn’t right for you.

You also have to take into account that the schooling itself for certain career paths runs the gamut when it comes to time frames to completion. While some degrees and programs may take as little as a year, other professions (for instance, law or medicine) can take quite a few years. So, if you really aren’t in it for the long haul, then perhaps it’s also best to think about other options.

How to be successful at blogging

In this post, I offer some advice about blogging for anyone who enjoys writing, photography, and/or producing videos and is looking to build a readership and following around their content. Enjoy!

Why do people start blogs, and what are some of the big benefits of blogging?

People launch blogs for quite a variety of different reasons, or maybe a combination of reasons.

For example, someone may start a blog to showcase his or her expertise in a particular field or subject area. In this sense, the blog might become a nice resume enhancer for the writer. The blogger, in this case, is looking to establish him or herself as a credible expert on something, and so just having the blog itself can potentially open up a wealth of different opportunities - for networking, for speaking engagements and presentations, for job offers, etc., etc. The expertise can literally be in anything. Maybe the blogger is a long-time collector of something - coins, stamps, dolls, old baseball cards, art, antiques - and is therefore very familiar with monetary values, rarity of particular items, and so on. Or perhaps the blogger has been in a particular industry or career field for 15-20 years. It could be anything - retail, food service, manufacturing, Information Technology (IT), Human Resources (HR), banking, whatever. The purpose of the blog, then, could be for sharing advice, strategies, and resources pertaining to that particular type of work. 

Others launch blogs to share reviews, recommendations, tutorials and lessons, and original creative works like photography and video. Maybe the blogger travels frequently, or is into fashion or gardening, or loves to check out new restaurants in his or her city, or plays an instrument.

You get the point. Blogs can be started for virtually any reason, and the variety of blogs out there on the Internet really runs the gamut of the imagination.

Can I make money from a blog?

Yes! Although, this can take time, and maybe a lot of time, to accomplish. There are a variety of ways to generate revenue from a blog, both directly and indirectly.

On the direct side of things, you can install an ad program on your blog, like Google Adsense. That's a really popular advertising platform, but there are many others out there, as well. Depending on the overall quality of your blog and its content, and particularly if you're focusing in a specific niche, you may eventually attract some businesses that are willing to pay you in money and/or in free products and services for sponsored advertising, as well.

Indirectly, your blog may help you land a future job or career opportunity, or lead to one or more smaller paid gigs. As I mentioned earlier, many people look to start blogs in order to establish themselves as a credible source on something. If you can show that you really know what you're talking about through any relevant experience, education, and training that you've had, your blog can potentially pave the way to a plethora of professional opportunities.

What makes for good blog content?

Before you sit down and start to write, it’s important to note that writing for a blog is different than writing for other mediums such as academia or the press. That being said, what type of content works well with blogs? Where academic papers and press releases lean toward the more formal side of the spectrum, blog content tends to be more informal and sometimes even personal in nature.

This does not mean that blog content should be badly written, however, because poorly thought-out or grammatically-incorrect posts can have a negative impact on your visitors. Blogs with well-thought-out and easy-to-read content tend to have more followers than ones that do not.

To increase your readership, you’ll want to write informative and engaging posts that will encourage your visitors to leave comments and share your blog with their family and friends. The more engaging your blog’s content is, the more people will hear about it. The more people who hear about your blog, the more traffic it will eventually attract.

Now, obviously, blogs are very diverse in scope and overall objectives, so what works well on one blog may not necessarily work on the next. If you are unsure about how you want to go about writing for your blog, feel free to test out different writing styles or levels of formality and see what works best for you and your visitors.

When blogging, write about your passions

Too many people try to find the highest paying niche before starting a blog. They figure that by blogging about the highest paying keywords they can find, they will somehow strike it rich. Of course, there is always the rare chance of finding success using this method, but another method tends to be more reliable.

Instead of writing about a random topic you know little about but happened to discover at the top of a high paying keywords list, you should choose to write about a topic for which you are passionate. By writing about what you know and love, you will be better able to create interesting and informative content. After all, you already know about the topic, now you just simply need to organize what you know into a series of blog postings.

It is interesting and informative content that sets one blog ahead of the others. Interesting content draws in more visitors and encourages those visitors to share the content with others. The more people who share your blog’s content, the higher it will start ranking in major search engines like Bing, Google, and Yahoo. By ranking higher in the popular search engines, more people will begin finding your site naturally when they're conducting searches. In search engine optimization (SEO) parlance, we call it organic traffic - people start naturally stumbling across your blog or Web site during their searches instead of you or others having to share the link to your site with them.

The other benefit of writing about your passions is that you will be more eager to add new posts. It can be a real struggle to write about a topic you know little about and care even less for, but when you are writing about a topic you enjoy, it becomes much easier to create new content. If you plan to regularly add content to your blog, then writing about a topic that you love will definitely make the process less painful.

In the end, it’s up to you to decide on which topic you want to write about when starting up a new blog. Just be sure to avoid scanning the top paying keyword lists for ideas and instead look to your passions when making the decision. By doing so, you will be well on your way to creating a great blog.

Great titles bring in more blog visitors

If you are like most bloggers, you are probably looking for new ways to get more traffic to your blog. Although there are several ways to bring in more visitors, one of the most overlooked methods is to improve on your blog post titles. After all, the title is often the deciding factor for whether or not a person chooses to click through to your post.

When considering titles, remember that less is more. Shorter titles are easier for people to scan, while longer titles often get cut short by the popular search engines. By keeping your titles reasonably short, you can ensure that they are fully visible each time your blog appears within a search engine’s results.

It can also be a good idea to do a little research as you are coming up with the specific wording for your titles. Try typing some words relating to your blog post into a search engine, and see what comes up. This will give you a good idea about the search terms people are using for the topic you have written about. Including popular phrasing into your titles can entice more people to click on your link and open your blog.

Another important part of any great blog title is its ability to grab the reader’s attention. There are many phrases that can be used to gain attention, with some of the more popular choices being, “The Secret of…” and, “Little Known Ways to…”. By adding attention grabbing words to your titles, more people will choose to click through the link and read your blog post.

While it is always a good idea to consider each new title carefully as you add content to your blog, it’s never too late to improve the titles of posts that have already been published. Any improved titles will be updated in the search engine results the next time your blog post is spidered.

Yes, it can be a little time-consuming to come up with creative and attention-grabbing blog titles, especially if you are going back and updating the titles of your old posts. It is worth the effort, however, because with these new and improved titles, you are bound to see an increase in the number of people visiting your blog.


In closing, blogging has the potential to be a very rewarding activity on many levels, both personally and professionally. You can even generate revenue from a blog. Blog about subjects you know and are passionate about. Doing so will help make the work of blogging more fun and meaningful for you while also helping make the content you produce more interesting and engaging for your readers. Finally, work to ensure you have creative yet short titles for your blog posts, as they will help in driving traffic to your blog.   

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Frank Sinatra

I'd like to pay tribute to Frank Sinatra for my "Exploring the world of music" series today.

While I heard some of Ol' Blue Eyes' crooning around the holidays and in the many mob movies I grew up watching as a kid, it wasn't until high school that I really started exploring his music and learning about his life and career. I think it all began when I picked up a biography of Sinatra written by Kitty Kelley one day, and I was hooked. It's entitled, His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra, and it was originally published in 1986. Read it cover to cover - twice. I remember his passing. It was 1998, and I was still in high school. I remember being pretty bummed out about it.

Anyway, the first recording is a fun one called, "Luck Be A Lady," performed live. The next one is called, "Summer Wind." For me, this song invokes memories and images of carefree summer days and evenings - baseball games, barbecues, walking the beach, enjoying the State Fair, outdoor dining, and lounging in the backyard. The song features prominently in one of my favorite films of all time, The Pope of Greenwich Village.

The last two recordings get a little more philosophical. "That's Life" talks about the ups and downs, the joys and challenges, of daily life. "My Way" looks back on the narrator's life, which is presumably coming to an end. It's all about originality - standing out as an individual, being one's true self, no regrets worth mentioning.


Tuesday, February 12, 2019

What is marketing?

I'd like to devote this post to the subject of marketing. Among other roles I've held over the years, I've done a lot of marketing work, in both paid and volunteer capacities, including having my own clients. I really enjoy it, and I like sharing stories and advice about the subject. Additionally, one of the students I work with occasionally is currently taking a marketing class, so this post is dedicated to him. I hope he, along with all of you, find this post to be of some value. There are a lot of neat skills and cool opportunities that marketing can open up. Let's explore further.

Defining marketing

I like this definition of marketing that I recently came across on a blog called The Balance Small Business. In a post entitled, "An Explanation of Marketing in Business," Susan Ward opens by noting:
Marketing is the process of interesting potential customers and clients in your products and/or services. The key word in this marketing definition is "process"; marketing involves researching, promoting, selling, and distributing your products or services.

It's a huge topic, which is why there are tomes written on marketing, and why you can take a four-year marketing degree. But essentially marketing involves everything you do to get your potential customers and your product or service together.
Marketing vs. advertising

Often, many confuse marketing with advertising, and vice-versa. The two can certainly go hand-in-hand. Advertising can be a part of a robust, well-rounded marketing campaign, but it's just that - one part. Marketing itself encompasses a lot, lot more than just advertising. Caroline Forsey explains it well in her post, "What Is Marketing? [FAQ]," on the HubSpot blog:
If marketing is a wheel, advertising is one spoke of that wheel.

Marketing entails product development, market research, product distribution, sales strategy, public relations, and customer support. Marketing is necessary in all stages of a business's selling journey, and it can use numerous platforms, social media channels, and teams within their organization to identify their audience, communicate to it, amplify its voice, and build brand loyalty over time.

On the other hand, advertising is just one component of marketing. It's a strategic effort, usually paid for, to spread awareness of a product or service as a part of the more holistic goals outlined above. Put simply, it's not the only method used by marketers to sell a product.
Different types of marketing

One broad type of marketing, which is my particular specialty, is online marketing, or Internet marketing. With so many people having mobile devices, social media accounts, shopping online, and using the Internet to seek out information of all kinds and to look for fun things to do in their area, it makes perfect sense for businesses, organizations, and charities to harness the power of the Web. It's a gold mine for reaching new customers, donors, fans, and so on. Strategies that are typically utilized in online marketing include company Web sites, social media pages, search engine optimization (SEO), blogs, articles, slide presentations, press releases, news and opinion sites, and video and photography.

Here's a sample press release I recently wrote and distributed about ACA Music and Entertainment in Waukesha under new ownership.

Another general strand of marketing is what I'll just refer to as traditional print. This type of marketing encapsulates anything and everything in printed form, from brochures and simple fliers on up to newspaper ads, signage and banners, and pieces delivered by mail, with a lot more in between.

Finally, there are, of course, other tools and strategies for marketing, including television and radio. Commercials, infomercials, talk shows, sponsorships, celebrity product endorsements, and partnerships are just a few examples for reaching potential customers, donors, and fans.

Some examples of my own work in marketing

A lot of my marketing expertise, as I said, is in the realm of online marketing, although I've certainly done work with print. In both cases, the end goal is the same - to reach new audiences with whatever the product, service, idea, or event is.

In the case of my online marketing work, I've helped businesses and organizations show up more in searches (a strategy called search engine optimization, or SEO); stay in front of customers and prospects through engaging social media posts, articles, and blog posts; create slogans and taglines; and gain local news attention through the creation and distribution of press releases and the pitching of story ideas to media contacts.

My interest in marketing began with a curiosity over search engines and how search results work. It was around 2005. I was in college at the time, majoring in political science and minoring in sociology and philosophy. A friend of mine, who was majoring in writing and absolutely loved political and social commentary and debate, had just launched a blog and discussion forums for that very purpose - political and social commentary and debate. He enlisted my help with promoting the site and writing for it from time to time. I joke that while I probably should have been focusing more on homework, or at least something school-related, I instead spent countless hours in our computer labs on campus learning all I could about search engines - but what an education! Why were certain Web sites coming up in search results and others were not? How can you improve a site's chances at coming up for certain search terms? These were just a couple of the many questions I was asking and researching as I was looking for ways to drive traffic to my friend's site. He ended the site a long time ago, but what a great experience.

Prior to starting my work as an instructional aide at a public high school here in the metro-Milwaukee area, I worked for a Milwaukee remodeling contractor called Don Reidy's Estate Services. I served as the company's office manager. Among many other duties that came with the role, I handled the marketing, which included an extensive variety of online work. I redesigned the firm's Web site, replacing the version that was there before my arrival, with the help of a GoDaddy design team; implemented all the behind-the-scenes SEO strategies myself; rebooted the company Facebook page after it had sat idle for quite a while before my arrival; and utilized sites like, LinkedIn, and Twitter, along with other groups and pages on Facebook, to get the word out about our business. Certainly, photography and video slideshows made up a lot of what I did, as well. I also did some print work, including teaming up with graphic designers and printers to produce a brochure and a couple of large banners for trade show booths.

My latest major project, which I'm really excited about, is promoting a weekend-long festival held every summer in my hometown of Muskego called Muskego Fest.

I recently joined the committee that runs the festival, also known as the Muskego Community Festival, and I'll not only be heading up the festival's marketing efforts, but I'll also have a role in booking live music and other entertainment, as well. If you've been following my "Exploring the world of music" series here, you know how much I love music, so I'm really excited about this endeavor. And combine it with marketing, and I'm in Heaven!

Promoting the festival will be a unique and rewarding challenge for me. It will require me to draw from all of my knowledge and experiences in marketing up to this point, while learning new strategies and gaining new insights, as well. There will certainly be a lot of online marketing involved, particularly social media. And there will have to be some print, too.

Some key skills needed for marketing

Now that we've defined marketing and discussed a few examples of marketing work in action, what are some of the skills needed for this type of work?

Writing - The ability to write clearly and effectively is essential. You're trying to share an engaging story, and get others to buy into that story. You're making a case to give you and whatever it is you're offering a chance. What are you offering? Why should we spend our hard-earned money on your product, service, or event? How is it better than xyz's brand? How will it make life easier or more fun? How will it save time or money? 

Verbal communication - Goes hand-in-hand with writing skills. You may need to get in front of others and give a convincing presentation of some sort from time to time.  

Creativity - The ability to think outside the box, think inside the box, and just plain think, period. Absolutely critical. A big part of marketing is using your imagination to see around the corners, spot all the angles, and identify new opportunities.

Networking - The art of building and maintaining relationships with a variety of business professionals who can help you achieve your goals. Knowing printers, graphic and Web designers, photographers, videographers, people in radio, other writers and editors, journalists, etc. will play a big role in your success. Always remember that networking is a two-way street.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Paying homage to the slide guitar

In this latest installment of the "Exploring the world of music" series, we're recognizing the beauty and wonder of the slide guitar.

If I had to guess, I probably came across the sounds of the slide guitar for the first time when I was in late middle school or early high school while diving deeper into the blues and blues-rock genres and going further and further back in time tracing roots and influences.

The eight videos/recordings I've assembled here are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this amazing style of guitar playing.

In the first one, we'll hear Sylvester Weaver playing "Guitar Blues." Recorded in 1923, Weaver is credited for not only the first known recordings of slide guitar, but also the first recordings of country blues.

From there, we'll listen to the legendary Robert Johnson's "Come On in My Kitchen," recorded in 1936. In a previous post, I discussed the legacy of another one of Johnson's songs, "Crossroads," also known by its original name, "Cross Road Blues," which became a big hit and popular cover on the rock circuit starting in the 1960s.

Next up is Elmore James' 1951 electrified rendition of "Dust My Broom," which is a cover of Robert Johnson's original "I Believe I'll Dust My Broom."

After that is "One Way Out," recorded live in 1971 by the original full lineup of The Allman Brothers Band. The song's writing credit is a little fuzzy. It's often attributed to both Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson II, who both recorded it around the same time. On the slide guitar in this Allman Brothers version is Duane Allman. Listen to that fun, lively, fiery solo of his. Awesome stuff. One of my favorite tunes of all time. Tragically, Duane passed away later that year (1971) in a horrible motorcycle accident. A year and some days later, in November 1972, original Allman Brothers bassist Berry Oakley met the same fate, just three blocks away from where Duane had his crash.

"Love in Vain," performed live by The Rolling Stones in 1972, is up next. Another Robert Johnson original, Mick Taylor launches into a slow yet riveting slide solo aching in the blues around the 2:50 mark. He comes back later around the 5:08 mark with a conventional (regular playing) solo.

Stevie Ray Vaughn plays a fun and upbeat instrumental jam called "Slide Thing" next. It was recorded live in 1980 at an Austin, Texas club.

Finally, we'll hear two versions of "The Sky is Crying," an Elmore James original that's been covered over the years by many in both blues and rock. Very popular song. Both of these versions here are performed live by The Allman Brothers Band. The first one up is from 2009, and the second is from 2011. In the 2009 performance, Derek Trucks begins his slide solo around the 1:20 mark, and things really start to heat up around 2:50. In the 2011 rendition, he starts around 6:40, and really opens up on fire around 8:00. To use the words powerful and moving would be an understatement.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Crossroads by Robert Johnson

I'd like to devote this second installment of my "Exploring the world of music" series to another single song, "Crossroads," also known by its original title, "Cross Road Blues." The song has been influential in both blues and rock circles for decades.

In the first clip here, we'll hear the original version by Robert Johnson, recorded in 1936. Johnson, master of a style of blues known as the Delta blues, lived from 1911-1938. Though it was only his soulful, blues-filled voice and brilliant acoustic guitar playing on his recordings, he ended up becoming a major influence on some of the biggest bands and musicians to ever come out of rock, including The Rolling Stones, Cream, Led Zepplin, The Allman Brothers Band, Eric Clapton, ZZ Top, and Bob Dylan, among many others.  

So great is Johnson's influence on rock that, according to this Wikipedia article on Johnson, he, "...was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its first induction ceremony, in 1986, as an early influence on rock and roll. In 2003, David Fricke ranked Johnson fifth in Rolling Stone magazine's '100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time'".

I'm a big fan of Robert Johnson and his works. I first discovered his music when I was in high school myself, back in the late 1990s (I graduated in 2001). I grew up on quite a variety of music, and I always enjoyed researching it. I liked trying to go back in time as far as I could, looking for original versions and tracing roots and influences. One of these days, I'll have to devote a standalone post to just him in my series here. He'll definitely require a post all to himself, but until then, here's a little intrigue:

Dying at the age of just 27, so many details about him - his life, death, and even final resting place - are shrouded in mystery and controversy. Only two confirmed photos are known to exist of him - a studio portrait in which he's sporting a pinstriped suit and top hat and posing with his guitar, and a picture taken in a photo booth with cigarette in mouth and guitar in hand. There's a heavily disputed third photo. According to popular legend, though also disputed, Johnson sold his soul to the Devil at a crossroads in rural Mississippi in exchange for his talent. The cause of his death is unknown, and the events and circumstances leading up to it are also questionable. One popular story suggests he was offered a poisoned bottle of whiskey by the angry husband of a woman he'd been flirting with while performing at a dance. Finally, the location of his grave is not known - three different church cemeteries all claim to house his remains, and they could all be wrong.

Anyway, here's the song. First up is Robert Johnson's original "Cross Road Blues," followed by Cream covering the song live in 1968 under the title "Crossroads." From there, we'll hear Cream's studio recording of it, and then close with Rush performing it live in 2004.

Cream definitely needs to be a future post here, as well. A power trio, the band existed from 1966-1968 and consisted of Eric Clapton on guitar and vocals, Jack Bruce on bass and vocals, and Ginger Baker on drums, all three legends in their own rights. They reunited for a brief performance in 1993 to celebrate the band's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and had a more extensive reunion in 2005. I was in the process of trying to secure an interview with bassist Jack Bruce some years ago when it was suddenly announced that he had passed away. What a story that would have been.