My WordPress + Amazon Associates System is Starting To Work!

Over the last few months, I’ve been working on building a template system to quickly build wordpress sites that integrate directly with Amazon Associates to make it easy to build niche blogs that showcase products for sale on Amazon.

I have about 6 of these sites up and running at this point.  Only one is making money, but its making enough to easily pay for hosting fees and costs associated with all of the others.  My thought is that as the domains age and I continue to tweak the templates, I can improve organic ranking for key search terms and drive enough traffic to these pages to bring in some good income when multiplied by 10 or 100 copies of the site.

The one site that is doing great brought in $18 in October 2009, $25 in November 2009 and $35 in December 09.  This month is shaping up to bring in $30hich seems reasonable given its post-Christmas and I think folks are naturally being a big more frugal after spending for the holidays.  You may think $30/month isn’t worth the effort, and that may be true.  The point of the system is to make it simple to set up and run tens or hundreds of these sites.  Thirty dollars per month per site is great if that is 1% of your website portfolio and it runs without maintenance.

If you’re interested in trying out the templating system, let me know by leaving a comment with your email (I won’t publish your email addresses).  I don’t have it totally packaged up at this point, but I can walk you through it easily enough. You don’t need to be a techie, but you will have to edit a few files to get things working.  Once its set up, its a breeze to add new content via wordpress pages and posts, each integrating with your amazon associates account to pull in relevant products offered at a discount in your niche.

The house is almost finished!

My dad has been working on a beautiful home up in Glacier Springs (Glacier, WA) for the last few years.  I partnered up to help with the financing part way through the build out and the house is finally near completion so now we’re on to the next phase, what to do with it.

It was built as a custom home on a lot my parents have owned for 20 years.   Just 30 minutes from Mt. Baker (the most snowfall anywhere in the United States) means this awesome home is a dream for skiiers and snowboarders.

If you’re looking for a vacation home in Mt. Baker or a Glacier vacation rental, take a look at the property’s website and contact us through the email address provided and we’ll get in touch with you as soon as possible!

Saving a few bucks by cooking at home – 3 recipes to get started

My girlfriend and I tend to eat out at a lot of restaurants. Often times, its not much more expensive than buying all the ingredients and cooking for just two, but there are a few great meals that consistently save big bucks and taste awesome. Our favorites so far this summer:

1) Homemade bean soup – We made this last weekend, it was awesome. Recipe is easy. Take a bag of pinto beans (16 oz), a cup or two of ham chunks (ham hocks if you want, or just cubed ham), a chopped onion, a diced jalapeno, a couple cloves of diced garlic and a couple teaspoons of salt. Throw it all in a crock pot. Put it on high for 1.5 hours. Turn it down to low and let it cook for 2-3 hours. The beans will be tender when its ready to eat. Its awesome. Eat with cornbread and you’ve got a full meal for two for $10 with leftovers.

2) Homemade pizza – We’ve made this several times this summer. A trader joes opened up nearby that sells pizza dough in a bag (thawed, not frozen) for $1.20 a bag. Its enough to make a whole pizza, plenty for two with leftovers depending on the toppings. Our choice: Buy a jar of pizza sauce for $2, buy some pancetta for $4, buy some fresh tomatoes for $2 and a log of fresh mozzarella for $3 and you have an excellent pizza from start to finish in 30 minutes for $12 (with leftover pancetta and cheese for omelettes on the weekend). We just push the dough out into a regular 9×13 baking sheet and go that route for a doughy but good crust.  I’m thinking about buying a pizza stone next.  It looks like they are about $30, but the consistent and high heat is supposed to give your pizza that excellent crispyness on the bottom.

3) Breakfast for Dinner – I’m a sucker for sweet stuff so pancakes with syrup are pretty much heaven for me.  My girlfriend goes for savory stuff so omelettes are her favorite but, either way, breakfast for dinner is super cheap and quick to make.  Its hard to go wrong with pancakes, eggs and bacon anytime of the day as far as I’m concerned.

Pay your customers to not use your product

I was listening to NPR this morning and heard an awesome story. Local utility Puget Sound Energy has found its cheaper to offer customers rebates than to build new equipment to keep up with demand. This caught my ear due to the novelty of the idea. The idea of paying your customers to not use as much of your product as they used to seems backwards but, if your product is critical, it may offer you the ability to increase prices and improve margins and margins can make or break you as a company.

Would you rather have 100 plants that you have to build, maintain and rebuild that make a 1% profit or 10 plants that you have to build, maintain, and rebuild but you can make a 10% profit? The same overall income, but far less risk and far fewer headaches.

I can’t think of any other immediate parallels to this great concept of paying your customers to use less of your product so you can build margins, but the idea seems fantastic to me. PSE is very generous with their rebates, I’ve taken advantage of them myself when I bought my new water heater. I don’t know if they do this to increase profits down the road or just to provide a great public utility service but, the point is, it doesn’t really matter. If they can provide rebates that allow me to reduce my power consumption by 50%, I’d happily pay 2x for my energy. Its neutral to me from a money standpoint and it makes me feel better because I’m doing what I can to save the environment.

30 miles out, zero bars

I’ve spent some time over the last few weeks up near Mt. Baker, in a rural part of Washington. Isolated, but near a ski resort, this area caters to fast-driving college kids from nearby Bellingham and Vancouver. The two lane twisty road gets icy and it isn’t uncommon to see cars in the ditch, precariously close to the 30-50 foot drops to the icy river below. If you get in an accident up here, you better hope someone stops because your trusty blackberry isn’t going to help you here. There is no cell service.

My question is, why? Why isn’t there cell service in these spots? This is a state highway, 30 miles from a town of 70,000 people and there is no cell reception? Is this level of service really cost prohibitive? How far do cell towers broadcast in rural areas where signals have trees and mountains to contend with and, roughly, how much does a cell tower cost the carrier on average?

The truth is, cell phones aren’t just a luxury anymore. For many, a cell phone is their only means of calling 911 or reaching family in the case of an emergency.

Is this a problem of being cost prohibitive for any single carrier to build out their proprietary networks? Could the rural cell towers create some sort of generic network so all carriers can use the same hardware, then the equipment could be subsided by government for rural locations?

It’s time for government and the cell carriers to come together to increase cell coverage in rural locations, landline use is declining and the telecom industry needs to wake up and smell the 3G.

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The Netbook revolution – the death of …anything?

The web is all-a-twitter with netbook commentary and reviews lately.  Personally, I’ve had the pleasure of playing around with a few different netbooks lately.  First, the Hot Pink MSI Wind U100 that my significant other won via the MSI Wind Valentines Day promotion (that’s me, the guy in the first picture!), then my coworker’s HP Mini 1010NR.  I like both of them to be honest, the netbook form factor has won me over. The MSI Wind is super light and has a great battery life, the HP wins in the style department with its slick looking design, but I’m poised to buy and I think I’m going to go with the ASUS Eee PC 1000HE

The ASUS seems like a breakthrough to me.  Its $375 over at Amazon and has roughly the same features as all the other netbooks in the same price range with one huge difference. It boasts a 9.5 hour battery.  Even with the standard battery-life-puffery that goes on with the laptop manufacturers, the 1000HE’s battery is  likely to last a full day with WiFi enabled and normal usage.  My feelings are bittersweet when I realize that the possibility of 8 hours of constant usage is better than my iPhone.  I use my iPhone for browsing a couple hours a day between bus commuting, lunch hours, twittering in the evening, etc and if I don’t recharge it over night, it won’t make it through the next day.

What will I use the Asus 1000HE for?  Everything.  Sure the size of this netbook is small, but it is adequate enough to do work on and its 160GB hard drive will suffice for everything but large amounts of media, something I gave up obsessively collecting long ago.  For those media hungry folks out there, you can always pick up a 1TB external USB drive for just over $100, and you can use it on multiple PC’s if you want, always a nice bonus.  These days, I do most of my work on the web and portability is key. Take it to work, use it on the bus, take it travelling, etc…these netbooks seem like they’ll be capable of doing 95% of of what I need to do on the computer. 

I’ve spent the last few weeks thinking about the impact of these new netbook PCs.  What will they replace, what type of form factor is going to suffer?  Desktop PCs are already struggling to stay relevant in the average household, but they are the only reasonable solution for businesses where redundancy and speed is key (think RAID, massive memory support, fast graphics cards, etc).  Full size laptops have replaced desktops for many home users, but they’re a bit too clunky to carry around day-in, day-out.  I think the netbook market is going to take a chunk out of both desktops and laptops but, just like the laptop revolution over the last few years, it’ll take a few years to have full impact due to the upgrade cycle.

I think the best targets for these netbooks are service personnel, sales people and students.  Service people can bring these netbooks on site with them.  They’ll have full internet connectivity, making troubleshooting and diagnostics a breeze.  Sales people can take these on the road with them easily and output to a regular projector/monitor for client presentations.  With USB support and bluetooth, they can use pointers, full size keyboards and any other standard PC accessories they’d need for their sales pitches.  Students will love netbooks because they are stylish (many colors, designs, etc) and cheap.  Spending $400 will get you a low quality, heavy, ugly standard laptop or a top of the line netbook that weighs half as much and looks twice as good. 

For the first time in a while, I’m excited about the future of the personal computer industry. These netbooks seem like a breakthrough and, because they entered the market at $300-$400, they may be candidates for getting ridiculously cheap over the next 12-18 months as manufacturers and vendors start to optimize for this platform.

Washington’s new E-Cycle Program, could do more for local small businesses

The Seattle newspapers have been reporting on an interesting and unfortunate side effect of Washington State’s new “E-Cycle Washington” program.  The program is a new way to deal with the pricey electronic recycling predicament.  Washington’s program is entirely funded by the electronics manufacturers, allowing consumers to drop off many electronic devices (Monitors, TVs, computers, etc) at any of 200 collection sites in Washington state for free.

Unfortunately, it sounds like the program has well-intentioned but unfortunate downside.  According to the Seattle PI article, the state’s rules for “Collectors” prevents the collection sites from dismantling any of the dropped off items.  While this makes sense for some items (opening at CRT could unleash toxic substances), computers themselves have lots of great parts that can be safely removed and ‘recycled’ locally by the collection site.  If someone drops off a computer that works fine or just has a bad hard drive or something, the collection site ought to be able to open up the computer and put in a new hard drive so they can sell the computer to someone else or take out the ram, video card, CD drive, etc and sell those parts to local consumers.

Allowing the collection sites to dismantle computers would be a boon for local computer stores.  Let’s face it, local computer stores are facing an uphill battle these days with dirt cheap computers offered by Amazon, Dell, WalMart, etc.  Allowing consumers to drop off monitors, desktops and laptops for free at local computer retailers for recycle then letting those retailers dismantle and resell components out of those devices would be a great boost for the retailers and it would allow consumers to get really cheap local components to upgrade their computers instead of having to constantly buy new stuff online or from the big box stores like Best Buy, Circuit City, etc.

I hope Washington state listens to the feedback on the program, its not too late to modify the rules slightly to at least allow collection sites to dismantle desktops to recycle and resell the components locally.  The intention is to prevent toxic chemicals from leaking into local soil and water supplies from large-scale initiatives to strip the valuable metals and components out of these devices but we should prevent THAT practice specifically with this legislation through pollution laws and not prevent local businesses from profiting from this great program to allow free recycling for consumers.

Protect your home – prevent pipes from freezing!

Eugene, Oregon television station KVAL posted a great little story back on December 15th. “Two tasks in two minutes to prevent frozen pipes“.

Tip 1: Open cabinets to allow warm air to get under your sink to warm your pipes.

Tip 2: Turn on your faucets to get a trickle of water moving. Running water through the pipes makes freezing less likely (think a river freezing vs. a lake).

See the article for all the details.

Thanks for the tips KVAL! Its getting cold outside, 8 inches of snow and its still coming down!

RadioShack – There’s something happenin’ here, what it is ain’t exactly clear

I wrote a post about radio shack two years ago, wondering how they could compete long-term and being skeptical of their prospects.  Their stock was trading at $17, on a high after Julian Day took over the reigns and was promising a turnaround.  Now, 23 months later, the stock is at $11 and, to be honest, I’m still just as skeptical about the likelihood RadioShack will be around 5 years from now.  Despite trouble with their business model, there is something going on at RadioShack stores and its a good thing for the Consumer.

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Radio Shack seems to be deeply discounting many items in their store, bringing local prices down to match some of the best online prices.  This is great for consumers if they happen to discount the item you are looking for.  I’ve been to my local RadioShack twice in the last week, browsing for Christmas items.  I found a 10.4″ SmartParts digital picture frame for $99, the same price as Amazon.com and steeply off the $248 list price.

In addition to the picture frame (which they had just sold out of), most of their radio controlled toys (great gifts for kids) were 50% off.  GPS device prices rivaled those that I saw as promo sales on Black Friday.  I even saw a brand new 17″ flat panel LCD for $109.99, at least $50 less than a similar unit at Staples or OfficeMax.

I can’t imagine RadioShack is going to make any significant profit on these items which means I still don’t think they can stick around for very much longer, but its a great way to get people into the store and an even better way to rebuild their brand as a great, super-local alternative to Best Buy, Target and Costco.

If you haven’t stopped by your local RadioShack lately, it might be worth swinging in.  Let me know your opinion on Radio Shack,  think they have a sound future ahead of them?

QoS for your H2O

Those familiar with IP telephony, IP-TV and internet connectivity in general know about Quality of Service (QoS) functionality to ensure the highest priority devices on the network get access to bandwidth first. This ensures that, if your office uses VoIP for phone calls, that the phone conversation will have priority over standard internet traffic in your network to prevent choppy calls when you experience a high load on your network.

I thought up an idea this morning that seems like it would great potential. An engineer and a plumber could get together and make this happen fairly quickly I suspect. I want QoS for my H2O.

Households, especially old ones, have long had issues with hot water availability.  Sometimes its due to low pressure, sometimes its due to small water heater capacity, etc, but it can have a large impact on the functioning of a household.  You can’t start the dishwasher in the morning because it’ll pull hot water from the shower and we’ve all been burned by scalding water in the shower because someone flushed the toilet upstairs.  This is nonsense.  We send people to the moon and build electric cars, we can fix this.

We need a basic device that sits on the outlet of the cold water from the street and the hot water from the water heater and gives priority to certain devices on the plumbing network.  I suspect this would require you to run pipe from each room in the home to terminate to this device, much like a circuit breaker for electrical but man, wouldn’t that be nice?  You could give the bathrooms high priority to never have the pesky shower incidents, give the dishwasher low priority so it doesn’t impact other water usage in the house.  It’d basically just be a regulator for temperature and pressure across the various devices.  You could even control it remotely by running a small onboard web server connected to wifi in your home.  Pipe burst in your upstairs bathroom?  Shut it off with a button or over the web, no more climbing around in the basement or crawlspace to find that water shutoff and have to shut off water to the whole house!