Hiking Trail Temescal Canyon

Archive for July, 2007

Packing List for a Vacation Trip to Peru

Catherine Criolla has provided another helpful entry on the Quixo Peru travel site. Her Peru Vacation Packing List is crafted to help plan for a two week trip to Peru with travel in the highlands and on the coast. The list focuses on travel between April and November with a supplemental list for Peru’s summer, December through March. The list has all you’ll need for you trip, plus luggage recommendations and a Kids packing list. Seems like a good list if you are looking for bon voyage gifts for any adventurers headed to South America.

1 comment July 30th, 2007

Best Toys for Toddlers, Babies and Kids page updated

The new Best Toys for babies, toddlers and kids page has had such a great response so far so we’ve polished it up, added some pictures and added some detail. We list some truly great toys, several extremely trustworthy brands and our experiences with the best tricycles around. If you prefer natural, educational and durable toys over cheap plastic junk, this is the list for you.

AND this Top 10 Toy list is better than all rest — it goes up to 11.

July 30th, 2007

Jonathan Schneider Goes Ape (and Goes to Washington)

Jonathan Schneider is a nice guy. I get the impression he wants to front a bit of a tough guy image, but he can’t help it. He exudes sincerity and, well, maybe not confidence, but definitely persistence and conviction. It isn’t that he is not confident – he’d have to be to travel to Washington DC, meet with top leaders in the campaign finance reform movement and then create an entertaining documentary about it. But he doesn’t exude any cockiness or snotty pretentiousness.

I guess that’s how he convinced me (and all the other folks who pitched in) to get involved with his new documentary Mr. Schneider Goes to Washington.” I just helped him design and launch his website which serves the dual role of helping him promote the movie and work to change the way we finance politics in this country. See movie clips and learn about “Americans Pissed-off Enough” at LetsGoAPE.com.

Jonathan is a textbook in how to get services donated or offered at a good rate for a good cause. I list some tips in a separate post here on How to Get Cheap or Donated Web Design Services.
And it helps to have a good cause. I’ve long been convinced that corporate money in government is the primary corrupting influence in America. So anything that will help spread the news is high on my list. Will this film make a dent? Who knows, but at least we’ll have a good time trying.

Jonathan goes to Washington, again, this week to screen the film for some participants and press. We continue to build up the website as movie buzz develops with plans for a Blog and more. If you have access to a good Email-Your-Representative database system please let us know!

July 24th, 2007

How to get Cheap or Donated Web Design Services

Jonathan Schneider of LetsGoAPE.com and the new film “Mr. Schneider Goes to Washington” is a textbook case in how to get services donated or offered at a good rate for a good cause. If you are looking for a designer or other service provider to help you out, be like Jonathan. In fact, I think this stuff might help you even when you are paying top dollar for the services.

  1. Be nice. Yes, you can be confident, convincing or even brilliant. But really, more importantly, be nice, considerate and personable with the people from whom you are asking help. If you seem like someone who is going to be fun and easy to work with, you are more likely to convince someone to take on the job, and take it at a good rate.
  2. Be persistent, but not pushy. From the start and through your project, keep calling back and touching base in a helpful available way. Hey, you can’t demand anything when you are trying to get something for free. But if you get some commitments for assistance, the person who offers them to you will feel a personal obligation to follow through. Unless you blow it by being an obnoxious terd. Don’t be afraid to clearly say what you need and call with reminders.
  3. Be organized. The most time consuming part of any project is tracking down documents, troubleshooting problems or managing an onslaught of requests sent in different documents or phone calls. Try to deliver everything in one package AFTER it has been finalized. Don’t wait for your designer to mock something before you proof read it. If you are organized when you first approach someone, they’ll feel more comfortable offering to help or will be able to offer a lower bid.
  4. Provide helpful criticism. Designers and other professionals are used to working collaboratively with clients. We use that interaction and feedback to produce a better product. We can handle the criticism. But, boy, compliments are nice too. At the same time, try to stay out of the way a little. Designers can produce some of their best, most inspired work on side projects (and paid ones) when they aren’t being nitpicked on petty stuff. Frequently on web and graphic design jobs, so much time is wasted on picking apart minor aspects of designs that the design no longer works in its entirety. And the designer gets burnt out.
  5. Keep your volunteers up-to-date about the cause. People help because they care. And they care more if they know what you are working on. Personal updates go a lot farther than cheesy mass emails. But don’t waste their valuable time blathering on.
  6. Get funding if you can. Graphic and web designers don’t earn that much these days and we really need to get paid for our work. A nice custom website runs thousands or even tens of dollars and take a lot of time. If you have a good plan in place to use your website to improve you organization, you can get funding for it.

(Note: this is not an open call for anyone else who wants free design services. I already get flooded with requests and am very busy. If I can offer some advice I’m glad to help. But I would love to talk to you about interesting paid projects. :) I also can provide consulting services to help you organize your project so that you can properly bid it out and push it through to completion. )

1 comment July 24th, 2007

Ceramics in Construction, Remodeling and Design

Jennifer Joyce Potter Studio WindowI take weekly classes with Jennifer Joyce in her Santa Monica ceramics studio. It is not easy being a traditional potter in Los Angeles. Amazed at the variety of work she produces I thought I’d share her work through a little interview. Jennifer creates all kinds of amazing sculpture and functional items in here studio. She hosts wine and clay parties and even helps Girls Scouts get their badges in pottery. But some of her most intriguing projects are larger scale works she produces for home construction and interior design. Check out this interview with Jennifer Joyce to learn a little more about the difference between creating small ceramic forms and large pieces for architectural use.

If you have any comments or questions, this is a good place for em.

July 23rd, 2007

Will Google Earnings Plummet on Made-for-Adsense Ban?

With all the speculation about Yahoo’s woes and Google’s recent climbs in the stock market, I wonder if investors are aware Google’s recent crack down on Made-for-Adsense websites. I absolutely support June 1 ban on spammy sites that that exist only to trick people into clicking on their Pay-per-Click ads. But the big news is that Google has turned a blind eye to these sites and finally started cracking down on June 1.
I am a big Google booster – I greatly respect their services and their philosophy and I have a bit of Google stock in my retirement account. I also follow search engine news pretty closely. There has been a lot of reporting on this issue among web publishers, and a lot of annoying whining. Though I’m far from an insider, I think most who pay attention to these issues know Google is going to take an earnings hit by banning these sites.

Everyone has seen and despises these Made-for-AdSense websites. They are the bane of the Internet. In a word: Evil. You are searching for some product or service and, instead of getting a vendor or some helpful recommendations, you get a page full of ads. They are a complete waste of time and are often carefully disguised to look like a helpful site. These sites are very profitable for their owners because they don’t supply anything of value to the web surfer. A searcher’s only choice is to click one of the many AdSense links that appear more helpful or click the back button. Good sites with quality content don’t earn as much money because people find what they are looking for and often ignore the ads.

So knowing that these sites are one of the most evil annoying things on the web, wasting many hours of searchers’ time, you would have assumed that Google had banned them a long time ago. I always figured they just had a hard time policing all those tricky scammers. I would even submit complaints against the worst violators to Google to help them track down all the scofflaws.

The real news is that Google was allowing these sites to thrive and just finally banned them on June 1. Moreover, prior to the ban, they issued warnings so that these sites could prepare, and, I assume, get ads from another source. And Google is paying out all revenues earned in this deceptive manner. Instead of just outright banning the sites, they send warnings and give the sites time to comply. It is outrageous. By supporting and encouraging the creation of these sites, Google has created this entire annoying phenomenon, profited from it, and are reluctant to stop it. If this ban is not heavy handed enough to have an impact on Google’s profits, then it is not actually broad enough to stop the spread of spammy sites.
It is not like Google has any problem banning people from their AdSense program. Webmaster boards are filled with people who have had their AdSense accounts disabled and earnings confiscated. I myself have a site that tried AdSense during the first months of the program. I worked at a web design company where everyone was intrigued and loved the program. Based on that experience we recommended it to our clients. And suddenly my site was banned for click fraud. I have no idea why – maybe a co-worker innocently clicked on ads in a way that was connected to my account. I don’t know. I do know there was nothing systematic or malicious. Google won’t give information and the ban is permanent. I was incredibly frustrated by this but always took it as a sign that Google has extremely high quality standards and anything that looks remotely fraudulent would be banned. For some reason Google finds the notion of click-fraud to be a larger threat to their advertising program.

Again, I’m a Google supporter and hate it when I hear people complaining about how Google is solely profit driven. I generally think that Google strives to focus on users and tries to avoid profit chasing and marketing gimmicks. So there are only two reasons I can see that Google has taken so long to ban these sites. 1) It is going to greatly impact their revenue. Search and content ads are THE engine that has fed Google’s growth. It is Google’s main, if not only, revenue source. Or 2) Maybe someone has finally found a way to legally challenge Google on these site bans and they are afraid they’ll be slammed in the courts, especially after they allowed MFA sites to fester for so long.

I’m guessing it is financial. That has to be why Google waited so long to ban these sites and why they are doing it in an incremental manner. They also waited to do it until a time when they are diversifying by offering radio and print ads. It is still disgusting that they let this continue for so long.

Though it may hurt me as a stockholder, I have to wonder aloud how this is going to affect Google’s profits. No mistake – even as a stockholder I don’t care if it hurts profits. I would rather they had banned these sites a long time ago. I really wonder if Wall Street is aware of this big change to Google’s revenue source and what impact it could have. I sure hope that I’m missing something here. I recognize that Google is in a tough spot. But they have been earning money through fraud and deceit and I wish they would move more swiftly to change it.

July 18th, 2007

Outdoor Shower Design Book

Outdoor Shower design bookOk, I’m a little obsessed with outdoor showers right now. I mentioned a couple of fine showers you can buy from Amazon in a previous post on showering in your backyard. And now this nice little shower design book has come to my attention to help you design and build your own outdoor shower.

I had no idea that outdoor showers are becoming the hot new luxury item. I just know that my significant-other has a soft spot for them because as a kid she would visit their family’s homestead shack out in the Mojave desert and use an outdoor shower. Years later we visited Costanoa, a luxury fake camping resort where you sleep in tent cabins under electric blankets and use shared camp style deluxe bath facilities. The bath house floors are heated with radiant heat and you can shower (in private stalls) under the open sky. And now we are renovating our decrepit bathroom with that style in mind. Most of all I just remember as a kid, some of my favorite times were coming home covered in dirt, mud or sand so that I needed to be hosed off outside. Now I just need the time and energy to build a shower to make it more fun.

Beware– I’ve found that you may need a permit to build an outdoor shower. My plumber warned me that in Santa Monica (where we have a lot of very good strict building requirements) it is technically illegal to build a shower without proper drainage and permits. I need to find more info, but this action by the City Council points out that outdoor showers are really supposed to be used for recreational purposes like if there is a pool or sauna. But it shouldn’t serve as the primary shower for a granny flat. Who knew it was so complicated to hose off in your own yard? You have to admit though, it is important to keep untreated water out of our ocean! It is contaminated enough. So get your permits!

Anyway, this shower design book has received some nice reviews and I’ve got to order mine.

2 comments July 17th, 2007

Best Books for Toddlers, Babies + Young Kids

One of the best parts about being a parent is reading lots of great books with your kids. (Hey, it is all you get when you don’t have time to read adult books any more). We love getting tons of library books, but when kids are really small, they drool, rip and gum everything to death, so that is really not an option. And some books are so great you really should own them.

So here is a list of the very Best Books for Toddlers, Babies + Young Kids that we enjoyed with our kids. We include board books for babies and young kids and move into a few books that we found helpful when we were starting to introduce our girls to reading. There are quite a few pretty mainstream choices here and a few quirky ones to help your child develop an unusual mind.

July 10th, 2007

Top 10 Toys + Gifts for Toddlers + Young Kids

Raising our twins, we had the opportunity to test out a lot of toys, in the field, in real time and under duress. We also really dislike disposable plastic toys and look for durable natural toys that will be well used. So here is the Quixo list of Top 10 Toys and Gifts for Toddlers and Young Kids.

And boy do I hate Top 10 lists. So I just had to make one. So of course I broke all the rules. Yea, there are 11, maybe more if you really get picky. And rather than pick individual items, I include my favorite toy brands instead of individual toys.

Worse yet, you’ll find trucks recommended for girls and dolls for boys. And rabid almost- sacrilegious criticism of Baby Einstein products. Look out!

(Also check the new Best Books for Toddlers, Babies and Young Kids page.)

1 comment July 10th, 2007

Fun Facts About Global Warming

Carla Wise, a conservation biologist who contributed Who Cares about the Polar Bears has started a new column here at Quixo, Fun Facts about Global Warming. She’ll periodically offer updates with the fruits of her research. Her first entry is a review of an nice new resource, Climate Counts. Their website helps consumers track how well companies are addressing climate change. Hey, even if you are some kind of free market freak, you have to agree that the best way to hold corporations accountable is to stop buying their products when they are irresponsible. Check out Carla’s article here, Climate Change Report Card.
And you can read some of Carla’s latest work here at The Huffington Post.

July 2nd, 2007

Orbitz International Sale: Save $200 on internationalhotels and packages