Ditch the Banner Ads

I’ve used affiliate programs on my websites for many years. I saw only meager earnings until we signed up with the eBay program and started displaying “dynamic” content. Eventually I started working with product datafeeds, and that’s when it all became worthwhile. We now manage about a dozen datafeeds from various merchants (most through Commission Junction) and earn a decent amount each month.

Banners and buttons are not very effective. If you have the opportunity to earn from displaying banner ads then do so. But don’t expect to earn from pay-per-sale programs using banners. We tried it for years with pretty lame results. I still display banner ads but it’s more for their “aesthetic value” than revenue. Here’s my quick tips for increasing your earnings:

Link Deep send the user right to the page they need- not the front door or a nearby page. How many times have you been frustrated by “Click here for yada yada” only to find that yada yada is still three more clicks away? I usually leave.

Relevant Content generic content or “pretty close” content isn’t good enough. If a visitor was searching for “chrome plated bolts” when they found your page you need to show them exactly that- just “bolts” won’t do.

Use Text Links ad graphics are virtually invisible to the average web surfer nowadays. The common 468 x 60 banner at the top of a page is not even noticed. Look at Google Ad Sense- the most successful campaigns are usually boxes in the middle of the page or lists embedded in the navigation menu.

Learn a Script dynamic content requires some sort of scripting language. No matter whether it’s ASP, PHP, Perl or whatever- learn some basics or find a tool that that coughs it up for you.


See also: Can I Really Make Money with my Web Site?

My Guide to MP3 – Part 1

or A Podcast Primer for People Over Thirty

If you get frightened when you overhear conversations about iPods and MP3 and Podcasts you’re not alone. Portable music players have become so incredibly popular in such a short amount of time it’s easy to feel like we’ve been invaded.

But all is not lost, fellow Boomer. It is possible, even for the curmudgeonly, to understand and possibly enjoy the magic of tiny machines that store a huge amount of music. So shut off the turntable and set your cassettes aside for a moment and read on…

Killing Yourself to Live
Up until about twenty years ago most recorded noise involved mechanical devices to store the sound. Grooves on a record or patterns on a magnetic tape were the most common. The downside to these nostalgic music players is they all rely on physical contact. A needle follows a groove or tape is rolled past magnetic heads. Basically, to enjoy your music collection you must destroy it.

But suddenly the world went digital and now everything is stored as bits and bytes of data. That binary data (that means it’s really just zeros and ones) can still be stored on a magnetic tape, but unlike analog data it can also be stored on many other formats. The compact disk is the most common introduction most people had to digital music storage. And while the CD may appear similar to a vinyl record (they’re round and spin and sorta’ have grooves) the way they store and reproduce sound is very different. The music is bits and bytes on the surface and a laser reads that data using light. Presto… no more physical contact, no more worn out albums!

You might say the CD, by using light waves to read the music, was the first consumer music player that was “non- destructive.” So now we have a virtually indestructible format to play all our favorite tunes. What could possibly be better?

It Always Gets Better
Most portable music players have no moving parts. That’s one of the coolest things about this stuff. Shake it, throw it, bounce it all you want… nothing skips or jumps! If you’ve ever been jogging with a portable CD player you can probably appreciate this aspect.MP3s from Amazon.com
It’s Your Media

You’re probably set up to make MP3s (or the Microsoft equivalent) and didn’t even know it. If your Windows computer has a CD drive you’re ready to get started:

* Drop in your favorite music CD and open Windows Media Player (there’s a good chance that will happen automatically). If you need to open it manually look under Accessories | Entertainment.
* Now click on the File menu and select the item CDs and Devices. Click on “Rip Audio CD” to see a list of the songs. Tick the checkboxes beside the songs you want to convert and click Rip Music.
* Media Player will commence to compress and copy each selected track to you’re My Music folder. From there you can enjoy them from your computer (but without the disk, of course) or copy them to a portable player or e-mail them to a friend!

Notes (there are always notes):
The file created by default will be Windows Media Audio format or WMA.
Earlier versions of Windows Media Player have the menu labeled simply Copy From CD.

There’s another benefit of storing those bits and bytes in a digital format instead of bumps and waves required for the old analog stuff. Without going into way geeky stuff here’s the bottom line: digital audio can be copied or played over and over again without any loss of quality. Imagine the digital data starts out as 001011010110 and we copy it… it’s still 001011010110. So my first generation recording of Gruppo Sportivo’s Greatest Hits sounds exactly the same on my cousin’s twelfth generation dub. Now that might piss off a record company executive– but I call it revenge for all those worn out compact cassettes I bought in the Eighties!

But the best part of this revolution is the way digital information can be tweaked and tuned to cram more information into a smaller space. Just as computers have continued to outperform previous models, software engineers and programmers work on new ways to manage and store data. One way of storing audio and video data is a format known as MPEG.

MPEG is what geeks call a “codec” because it compresses and decompresses digital information. You may have seen video on your computer that was stored as an MPEG file. You’ve no doubt heard of MP3, which is simply the third variation of the MPEG codec. Guess they didn’t get it quite right the first time?

The prime directive for any codec is to squeeze a huge file as much as possible without screwing up the quality of the sound or image. Video on the Internet would not be possible without these codecs and the much smaller files they create. The MPEG codec is particularly good at this. In fact, it’s so good at it that MPEG-2 is used for the video on DVDs. It didn’t take long for some nerd to apply the same idea to the audio, and MPEG-3 was born.

“MP3, MP4… whatever it takes.”
Before anyone had heard of an MP3 player there were MP3 files. About 1995 someone noticed that a CD full of music required about 650 million bits of data to store. However, by compressing it with the MPEG-3 codec it suddenly became about 70 million bits and still sounded killer. “Killer!” someone exclaimed. So now instead of listening to a CD with only ten songs, we can burn a homemade CD that holds a hundred.

But burning CDs and changing disks is such a drag at parties. Plus you had to have a CD player that supported this new MP3 format or listen to them on a computer CD drive. Bummer, dude. Eventually these audio files (that’s code for copyrighted material) created using the MPEG-3 codec were shared with others (strictly for educational purposes I’m sure) over the Internet. That’s how that whole Napster thing happened, but that’s another story. More importantly….

This is where MP3 players come in.

To be continued

alt.storage

I don’t remember who the comedian was– but he was doing a schtick about people without a pot to pee in buying brand new cars. The old welfare Cadillac bit. The punch line went something like:

Youse can live in yo car, but you can’t drives yo house.

I guess whoever owns this Bronco is a firm believer. It’s completely packed with crap except for the driver’s seat and a small peephole in front of the steering wheel. Scary.

T-Shirts for the Masses

Since sixth grade I’ve been putting stuff on T-shirts. Back then I used a magic marker. That was fun, not just for the creativity. Back in the Sixties a magic marker smelled like an auto body shop and would get you high as a kite! Today I doodle mostly with Photoshop and a digital camera, although I still sketch by hand occasionally. And instead of drawing on spare tees from the underwear drawer I let Cafe Press print them for me.

Buy or Create Hilarious T-shirts and moreCafe Pressis a unique marketplace that makes all sorts of stuff– shirts, postcards, mugs, panties, posters, etc. The neat thing is none of the stuff they make is their stuff. It’s your stuff!

You create a design or take a photo, then create a product with your image. They take care of all the fussy stuff like making it, packing it, shipping it and taking money for it. The best part is you decide how much you want to make and set the markup– if any.

A similar scheme is offered by Zazzle. They promise 24-hour-turnaround on orders and claim superior printing quality to Cafe Press. Either offer a quick way for you to start up for free.

Another unique approach to embellished clothing is Threadless. Think of it as My Space meets Cafe Press. The idea here is to rate submissions then produce those with the highest approval. Site visitors create designs or create slogans and post them on the site. Other users rate them on a scale of 1 to 5 and can also post their comments. If the design garners sufficient interest Threadless prints the design and offers it in their catalog.

Here’s a few of the designs I’ve dreamed up and posted on Cafe Press:

Maduko SpA
Ever since Quasi Maduccino invented the Space Tube they’ve been exploring the cutting edge of the unnecessary at Maduko. It’s been my lifelong goal to document it.

Oklahoma Centennial Blackout Mother never let me out of the mainframe. Air Racing Team featuring a Caproni Ca.133

Radio Milan
Back in the Eighties I played in a band originally called The Insects, later the name became Radio Milan. You can buy recreations of the band T-shirt as well as a compilation CD online.

Audio CD of Insects and radio Milan recordings. The classic Radio Milan tee. Wake up to coffee with the Insects!

Places 2 Ride
These are shirts promoting my motorcycle web site. It’s basically a list, as the name implies, of places to ride your motorcycle.

The Green Tee I get to ride home. The HANG UP AND DRIVE sweatshirt.

More Various and Sundry T-Shirt Information

Incidentally, my Threadless design didn’t make the cut, but it was fun just participating in the process. Here’s a thumbnail:

My design for Threadless called They Keep Making Them Smaller

True Beauty

Over the last several years I’ve noticed an odd evolution in photos of scantily clad women.

Where once were curves and soft mounds of erotica I see hip bones. The body shapes you see today are more akin to a 14-year-old boy than a woman (the bags of saline known as “boobs” are being ignored for the purpose of this comparison). Models that look like real women are forced to work for “plus size” catalogs.

Dove, the soap people, have launched a campaign of sorts to challenge our current perception of what a women is supposed to look like. This short film is part of their Campaign for Real Beauty. It shows, in compressed time, the evolution of a normal woman into a fashion magazine tart.

I thought their film was excellent. Their goal is to expose our current perception of beauty for the heavily retouched photo it really is. They seek to showcase true beauty. Raise self-esteem. Exalt curves.

I applaud them.

UPDATE: March 3, 2017— The video above is more than 10 years old, but its message still rings true. Dove has produced a new portfolio of photographs by Mario Testino that depict #RealBeauty

60 Years of Real Beauty

Pennytech: My Five Dollar Teleprompter

This article was originally posted June 2005 on the Red Dirt Roundup TV show website. Since then the original images have been lost. I will be improving the design and will be sure to post photos when I do.
— Rex

The need for a teleprompter becomes pretty obvious the minute you start doing any sort of video. After some research I discovered that there were two options:

a) spend a buttload of money

b) make one myself

After a little research I discovered several homemade examples of teleprompters and tons of advice on using a teleprompter. The most helpful articles I found were Brian Lawler’s Forget Cue Cards, Make a Teleprompter! and the Plasti-Prompter devised by video blogger Max Rottersman. The latter was especially helpful because I was under the impression that a one-way mirror was required. After seeing what Max had done with nothing more than a lid from a CD jewel case I realized this was not rocket science.

No Rockets, Some Science
Here’s the basic idea of my teleprompter made from a wine box, packing tape and a $5 piece of glass. A piece of glass held at a 45° angle to our laptop screen reflects the image toward our talented viewer. On the other side of the glass is a camera to take it all in. But for some magical reason the camera doesn’t see that reflected image on the glass. Maybe this is some rocket science after all?

My first challenge was to determine the optimum size for the piece of glass. I wanted it as large as possible to show the entire display of my laptop. The 15″ display on my Dell Inspiron 5500 was about 12 inches wide and 9 inches tall. So the width was easy- about 12.25 inches would be great. That would allow my “frame” to be about 12.5 inches wide, which would fit perfectly on the bezel surrounding the laptop’s display. But the height was another matter.

The glass needs to be set at 45° to the display. So I drew a right triangle with a base of 9.5 inches (the laptop display) and a leg of 9.5 inches (distance to the glass) which left the size of the glass a mystery. I knew the answer involved calculating the length of the hypotenuse and the Pythagorean theorem was involved. After a search on Google all that math fun came rolling back: A² + B² = C² That calculation gave me 13.435 which I rounded to 13 7/16 inches and called the glass shop. $4.68 later I was rummaging around for something to mount the glass in.

A wine box for 6 of the 1.5 liter bottles happened to be almost exactly 12.5 inches across. The top flap was already cut off, as is the custom at most fine liquor stores. So I cut the front and back out which leaves us 3 sides of the wine box. Then I cut a couple of thin strips from the scrap to make a pair of supports. These are taped inside the box at the magical 45° angle, then the glass rests on them. A couple more pieces of tape keep the glass from bouncing out of place.

After about 15 minutes of slicing and taping we had the laptop fired up and made some final adjustments. To get it just right I ended up trimming a couple of inches off the box, giving it a final overall height of 11 inches. You’ll notice I used Priority Mail tape, and since the wine box was also free I’m actually under budget. So my teleprompter actually cost less than $5, but I allowed a little leeway for those of you that splurge for packing tape.

For displaying our script we use Prompt! on the PC and Mac. It runs the script mirrored with one click and allows the operator to adjust the speed easily via mouse or keyboard. The basic version is free and the only drawback is a 2500 character limit. If you plan to do War and Peace you’ll need to pay, but even so it’s quite reasonable. Once you learn about 4 of the hotkey combinations you can easily operate the camera and the `prompter from behind the laptop.

Materials Needed:

Glass, plain old window pane, thinner the better, cut to 12 1/4″ x 13 7/16″

Wine Box

Packing Tape

Originally published at www.reddirtroundup.com/2005/06/my-five-dollar-teleprompter.htm

Lyra Wireless a Happy Surprise

How many times have you been burned by techie gadgets? I lost count a long time ago. Probably sometime around the 8 track-to-cassette adapter I hoped would make my AMC Hornet a cool ride.

So imagine my amazement when I bought a wireless music gadget that works great and is…
a) relatively inexpensive
b) easy to use
c) made by RCA

Yes, that last one is truly amazing. Despite a glorious history RCA has become better known for cheap stereos that fall apart. But their Lyra Wireless RD900W Transmitter/Receiver is a very cool thing. I was surfing around on Buy.com shopping for Wi-Fi hardware when I browsed over to their deals page. I’m not usually an impulse buyer- but this time I fell for it.

This rig involves two boxes and a remote that allows you to beam sound from your PC up to 100 feet to your stereo. It’s a 900mHz signal so the quality is better than the more common FM transponder thingy. It’s bundled with Musicmatch Jukebox, although you don’t have to use it to get MP3s from your workstation to your home thee-ah-tray.

It only took me about 15 minutes to hook it all up and start grooving. Playing a CD was no big deal so I tried something a little trickier- online radio from Live 365. I was impressed that Musicmatch had no complaints about playing the stream from Generation 80s (since they also have an online radio product I thought they might block it). Pretty soon I was downloading my faves from Emusic in the office and rocking out at full volume in the living room.

The universal remote it comes with is very nice and hefty. It allows you to launch tunes from afar. It also can control your TV, cable box, DVD, VCR and audio gear. I haven’t programmed it for all of our other equipment yet, but it appears to be compatible with jillions of electronics.

And the best part is it all costs less than $4o bucks!

RCA RD900W Lyra Wireless Transmitter/ Receiver
RCA RD900W Lyra Wireless

Now you can listen to all your PC based MP3’s and Internet Audio from the comfort of your living room. The new RCA Lyra Wireless transmitter and receiver send crystal clear digital audio from your PC to your stereo. Included is a Universal Remote Control so you can surf your collection from the other room. The RCA Lyra Wireless is the simply best way to listen to your digital music selection away from your PC!

Motorcycle Consolidation


Last week I purged the inventory to make way for my latest mechanical acquisition. My trials bike went to a good home locally and the Transalp took a road trip to Colorado with its new owner. All this effort was to make way for a new motorcycle that is comfortable two-up and more capable on the highway.

It’s a 1995 BMW R1100 GS.

I found it on eBay and hauled it home from Hot Springs, Arkansas. It has high mileage (for a bike, not for a BMW I’m told) and some loose bolts here and there. But it’s getting sorted out and promises to be a fun bike. Most importantly, it has met with the approval of My Passenger.

Sold by Weight…
Pound for pound I’ve made a pretty good swap. My observed trials bike was a 170 pound Beta and the Honda Transalp was around 400 lbs. The towering Bimmer is a 500 pounder but easily hauls another couple of hundred if you fill up the topbox and pannier cases. So far I have no plans to re-create the Long Way Round, but I am hoping to get back on the road and take some longer trips.

Can I Really Make Money with My Web Site?

If you have a web site or blog, even though you may not know it, you are a publisher. And your “publication” has the potential to refer or inform somebody’s potential customer.

The answer is yes.
About ten years ago I began experimenting with what was then a fledgling industry: affiliate marketing. The concept is simple and predates the New World of cyberspace: I’ll pay you to send me a customer.

The basic idea falls into three main categories:
Pay per Click paid when someone clicks the link
Pay per Action paid when someone clicks link and does something
Pay per View (or impression) paid when the ad is viewed or displayed
You’ll sometimes see acronyms like CPA, this describes “cost per action” which is the same thing as “pay per action” but from the merchant or advertiser’s point of view. In other words, to pay you it will cost him. These all relate back to the basic concept of paying you to send someone a customer.

Worthy Links to Revenue
Here is a list of the most reputable affiliate providers and my less-than-scientific observations on each.

  • Share a Sale
    Combined payments and easy access to product datafeeds are a big plus for this up-and-comer. Don’t expect to find the Fortune 500 here, their specialty is smaller retailers that can’t afford the huge up-front costs of the larger services. If you’re looking for niche markets this is great place to start.
  • Link Share
    Ever-improving network of advertisers make this provider a must see. A wide variety of companies in all sizes work with Link Share. Linking interface is a little clumsy and doesn’t allow for much flexibility. Datafeeds are only available if you pay for them. WTF?!?
  • Clix Galore
    These folks are heavy on the Aussie merchants, although U.S. companies are also players. They combine payments too which is nice. Managing links is a little clunky but the reporting interface is good.
  • Commission Junction
    The biggest player in the affiliate marketing game. CJ combines payments and offers one of the most elite advertiser lists out there. Their “Smart Zone” feature is still the best in the biz and works with advertiser’s product datafeeds.
  • Google Ad Sense
    As usual Google is a new arrival on the scene and has taken a novel approach. It’s basically a pay-per-click program but with a twist. The ads displayed on your site are based on the content of your page. Advertisers bid on keywords and Google shares the revenue with you if a visitor clicks the link.
  • Valueclick
    If you have a high-traffic site you should consider visiting these folks. They are biggies in the pay-per-impression and pay-per-click advertising. Their advanced user interface allows you setup defaults and alternate network ads as you see fit.
  • Burst Media
    Burst is another CPM network and they specialize in working with niche publishers. This is a good fit if you have a forum or blog.

This is only a partial list of course, and it’s growing all the time.

How it WorksSpeaking of Pixels
The size of computer monitors vary greatly. Measurements on the web aren’t stated in inches because computer monitors, like most of the world, doesn’t know what an inch is. While I surf along with a 15″ CRT you may be staring at a 30″ plasma flat panel, and then you have the guy who looks at a web page using a cell phone. All three of these screens have different ideas of what an “inch” is. However, they all have pixels.

That’s why you see banner ads described as 468 x 60 as opposed to something you’d find on a ruler. The dimension is always width first, then height. Common sizes of web site ads these days include 468×60, 728×90, 120×60, 120×600, 160×600, 300×250, 125×125 and 250×250.

Whew.
You join an affiliate program and they provide you a blob of script or a special code. You paste this special link on your web site– it may take the form of a graphic or plain text. The important thing is when someone clicks on this link it identifies you to the advertiser or merchant as the source or referrer. Sort of a 21st century version of, “Who sent ya’?” Then, depending on the payment terms, you get credited for sending the visitor.

In the early days affiliate marketing was more or less based on the venerable banner ad. Most any site worth a GIF sprouted advertising across the top of the page in the form of the now familiar rectangle measuring 468 pixels wide and 60 pixels tall. Today affiliate marketing includes rotating banners, product datafeeds, contextual text ads, keyword searches and search engine marketing.

Getting Beyond Basics
Before you can make any money you’ll need to sign up with an affiliate program. These come in many different shapes and sizes, but fall into two main categories: program providers and merchant program.

Providers are companies that offer merchants/advertisers a way to manage their affiliate program without actually having to “manage” it. The provider handles all the record-keeping, serving up the links and paying the affiliates. You’ll find a list of the most popular affiliate program providers below.

Merchant programs are simply affiliate systems that are not managed by a third party. In other words, the advertiser themselves take care of the bookkeeping and link management. Most of the time this method is used by smaller organizations, but not always.

Affiliate network providers offer you one-stop access to many advertisers. They usually have the horsepower to serve up links and banner ads without a glitch. Some of them combine payments, which can speed things up and reduce the chance of small amounts being trapped in limbo. On the other hand, most self-managed programs offer higher commissions. This is simply because they don’t have to pay a third party.

I hope this article was helpful for those of you considering the possibilities.

Radio Milan CD Now Available

In a former life I was a musical artist.

If anyone remembers Tulsa’s new wave scene back in the early `80s they will remember Radio Milan. If you never inhaled you might also recall The Insects. That was the first name of this musical experiment, the name was changed to Radio Milan in 1982. We disbanded in 1987 after a terrible performance as the opening act for Wang Chung.

Radio Milan T-Shirt DesignRecordings from this golden age of punk are now available to the world through the miracle of the Internet!

Radio Milan: The Jim Anthology

The first tracks are Radio Milan recordings that were released in 1986 as a cassette tape titled Musica la Dolce. Next up is the recording of “Mille Miglia” we offered up for the Explosive Sampler. This CD also features live recordings from a rare television appearance and the Crystal Pistol.

There are a total of 20 tracks on the CD and you can listen to samples of all of them at CD Freedom

Update:

June 29, 2008- Digital downloads are now available of selected Radio Milan and Insects music. The first batch are the six songs from the Musica La Dolcé cassette, originally released in 1986. Watch for more classic hits from the Eighties to be added soon.

www.nimbitmusic.com/radiomilan