Lots of Topics

September 21, 2009

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Story Time

The third quarter of the year is winding down.  With it comes the deadline for finishing up the work for volume 2 of “The Fiction of Kosmo”.  Consolidating the short stories into the document isn’t difficult – but writing the longer, capstone story is quite a bit of work.  I strive for a story of at least 10,000 words for this story.  The capstone story for volume one (Key Relationships) took more than a week of work (in various small pieces of spare time) to complete.  Hopefully I can finish the new story in a similar amount of time.  Currently, I have fewer than a thousand words written (just the ending), so I need to buckle down and finish the story.  This might result in me skipping a few article in the course of the next two weeks.  I’ll try to make the story worth the wait.

Rockies Update

Friday night, the Rockies had their wild card lead cut just 2 1/2 games.  With wins on Saturday and Sunday, couple with Dodgers wins over the Giants, the Rockies now stand 4 1/2 games clear of their nearest pursuers.  With just 12 games remaining in the season, this is a solid lead, but not insurmountable, especially with series left against the first place Cardinals and Dodgers.  It feels weird to be a fan of the team that is being chased.  In 2007, the Rockies were behind until the tail end of the season.  The other times my teams have made the playoffs (1984 and 1989 Cubs, 1995 Rockies) are too far in the distant past to remember the race with any clarity.

Shortstop Troy Tulowitzki deserves some MVP consideration.  After a dreadful start to the season, Tulo turned around his season at nearly exactly the same time that the Rockies turned around the season.  It is doubtful that this is a coincidence.  Tulo now stands just one homer short of reaching 30 for the season.

Annie Le

The authorities seem to be keeping a pretty good lid on the information in this case, but theories are being bandied about.  Apparently, suspect Raymond Clark had warned Annie Le that the cages that housed her mice were too dirty.  While I agree that cleanliness is a good thing, is it really possible that Annie Le was killed because there were too much mouse poop in the cages?

The Lost Symbol

The Lost Symbol, the latest book by Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown, hit the shelves on Thursday.  My daughter loves the book.  She wanted me to read from the book.  I complied, and read the dust jacket and a few other short snippets.

Why didn’t I read more of the book to her?  Well, she’s only two, and the material might be a bit too mature for her.  Honestly, I think she likes the cover.

Lazy Man vs MonaVie

Lazy Man of Lazy Man and Money is a friend of The Soap Boxers.  A benefactor, actually, as he is providing free hosting and invaluable technical support and advice.  Lazy has been critical of the MonaVie corporation, questioning whether or not the product actually provides the benefits that the company and MonaVie distributors claim.

Lazy has been sent not one, but two, cease and desist letters.  When The Consumerist questioned MonaVie, they agreed that the first letter was incorrect.  They subsequently sent a second cease and desist later.  The complaint?  That Lazy Man and Money was using the trademarked term (MonaVie) in the meta keywords for Lazy’s article on the company.  Considering how meta keywords are using by search engines (to create the blurb you see listed in the search results, but typically not used to determine the page’s ranking) it seems perfectly natural to use the company name in the meta keywords.  In fact, it would be a bit strange to NOT use it.

Lazy has written about MonaVie on several occasions (see the complete list here).  The original article has attracted a pretty incredible 3300+ comments in the course of the last 18 months (note the comment at the bottom about archived comments).  By comparison, The Soap Boxers sometimes gets 5 comments on an article …

Spam Comments

Lots of porno-spam in the comments lately (all of which have been caught by my spam filter).  I guess I should be proud of the fact that the blog is successful enough to attract spammers?

Political Agenda

September 14, 2009

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I have been kicking around this idea for a while now.  To delve into politics, or not?  Recent developments have resulted in a bit of extra space in the schedule, so I think it’s time to give it a whirl.

And with that, I throw my hat into the ring for the 2012 presidential election.

Oh, sorry.  Wrong announcement.  Pretend that you didn’t hear that one yet.

I will be looking to compile a staff of 3-5 liberals and 3-5 conservative to write about politics.  Each week, I will choose a topic and have one writer from each camp write about the issue (500-1000 words).  The two articles will be published on The Soap Boxers on the same day (Thursday, most likely).  I will alternate which party gets the top spot.

I have put out some feelers, but am still looking for more writers.  What am I looking for, you ask?

  • I am looking for someone with their own opinions on the issues, and not people who simply rehash what the talking heads are saying.  Experience working within a political organization or writing about politics is a plus.
  • The columnist must be thick skinned.  They should expect to see comments from readers who disagree with them.  The columnists should not engage in verbal attacks with commenters, or with columnists from the opposite viewpoint.  Debating the merits of an issue is one thing; hurling insults and baseless accusations is yet another.
  • Writer must be willing and able to write one article each month on an assigned topic.  Since the two opposing views will be published on the same day, it is critical that deadlines are met.
  • There will be no up front pay for this work.  There is the potential for profit sharing if/when The Soap Boxers turns a profit.  For those who are interested, I can share more details.

Due to the sheer number of people necessary to get this off the ground, I don’t expect to have The Political Observers operational until at least the end of the month.

While I intend to make every attempt to make The Political Observers a balanced forum, this does not mean that the entirety of the content of The Soap Boxers will be balanced.

Although we will be focusing on politics once a week, The Soap Boxers will not become a political blog and will continue to focus on a broad variety of topics.

Want to learn more about this opportunity?  Send me an email at kosmo@ObservingCasually.com

What did you miss over the weekend?

May recap

June 3, 2009

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Another month in the books – where do we stand?

Number of readers

Slow and steady wins the race, right?  We haven’t seen a monstrous explosion in traffic, but we are seeing slow growth in number of regular visitors.  If you have a friend who would like the site, have them swing by for a visit.  I’ll try to set a pitcher of lemonade and some chocolate chip cookies on the back porch.


For the first time the blog featured at least one post on every single day of the month!  I missed a couple of days in April, but with the full team in place for May, we had 100% coverage.

We were able to stick much closer to the schedule than we had in past month.  Our goal is to stick as close to the schedule as possible, so that our loyal readers will know what to expect each day of the week.   Obviously, life will throw a monkey wrench into the plans from time to time.

We’ve rebranded The Soap Boxers as a “web magazine” as opposed to a “blog”.  What’s the difference?  Many blogs tend to be focused on a specific niche.  Clearly, this does not deascribe us, as our content covers a broad range of topics.  Nothing has actually changed in regards to the type of content we are delivering; we’re simply choosing to use a different term to describe ourselves.  Is it much ado about nothing?  Almost certainly.

We have been talking with a number of potential guest writers, from a variety of backgrounds.  Hopefully at least 1 or 2 of these folks will produce articles that will be ready in June.  I think they all have interesting stories to tell.

Site design

You may have noticed  a few minor changes to the sites as we try to improve the experience for our readers.  First, you might notice the “Browse The Archives” link at the top.  This links to a page that will show every article in the history of The Soap Boxers.

The “share” bar at the bottom of each article (right above the box that contains “categories” and “tags”) allows you to share articles with friends via email or by using a variety of social networking sites.  Previously, we were using a different method for this functionality, but we like the bar much better.  If you like one of the articles, share it with others!  If I’m ignoring a particular social networking site, let me know – I might be able to add it.

We live in an electronic world, and hopefully many of you refrain from printing most of the time.  However, when you do print articles, they will look much nicer than they have in the past.  Blogs typically look pretty lousy when printed, because of some of the gobbledygook that prints along with the main text.  I’ve worked to de-goobledygook things so that only the good stuff prints.

What’s next?

We’re excited about a giveaway what we’ll be doing at some point in the neat future – hopefully July.  We’re still keeping things under wraps, but if you like The Soap Boxers, you should enjoy the freebie.

We’re also actively soliciting ideas for Fiction Friday stories.  Leave a suggestion in the comments section (or drop me an email).  Bear in mind that I try to keep the stories around 800ish words, so a couple of sentences would be a sufficiently long suggestion.

Focus group

May 25, 2009

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Per some good advice from Darren at Problogger, I am forming a focus group.  The focus group would essentially serve as a sounding board for ideas related to direction and content, as well as providing input on what they would like to see.  Here are a couple samples of the types of questions the focus group might see:

  • Do children’s story such as “Bob The Turtle” provide entertainment value for the audience, or should they be excluded in the future?
  • Would you like to see more or less political news?
  • Are we providing enough content on international issues?  If not, what issues deserve more attention?

If you are one of the daily readers, consider joining the focus group.  You can respond or ignore question as you wish, so it should not take a large amount of your time.  I would like to get at least one person from outside the US to ensure that we are serving the international audience.  Perhaps my loyal reader in Belgium would be a good fit for this?  I’m looking for about a half dozen members at this point.

If you are interested in becoming a focus group member, send me an email at kosmo@ObservingCasually.com

In your email, tell me some basics about you – where you live and some basic demographic information (age, gender, occupation, interests).  You can be vague on the age, if you wish – I’m just want to make sure we have a reasonably diverse group (instead of having six 25 year old computer programmers from Salem, Oregon).

Even if you don’t want to be in the focus group, feel free to make comments on specific articles, either via the “comments” function, or by sending me an email.



April recap

May 2, 2009

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Another month is in the books.  We surpassed 100 all-time posts, and there were 35 articles during the month of April.  We’re not getting a ton of traffic, but we do have a handful of regular visitors and a few others who drop by after seeing my comments in other folks’ blogs (notably LazyManAndMoney, ManVsDebt, FinancialNut, MasterYourCard, Purple Row, and SheInChina).  If you’re  a regular reader, leave a comment to introduce yourself.  I know who some of you are (howdy, Mandy and Mary), but I have no idea as to the indentity of others.  I’m intrigued by some of the regulars from other countries.  If you’re multi-lingual, it would be cool to see you introduce yourself in your first language and then provide a translation in English.

If you’re someone who dropped by from another blog, try us out for a week.  We don’t scratch a niche like most blogs, but have a mixture of topics during the week.  Be sure to check out Fiction Friday – I will post an original short story (written by me for this sole purpose) on Fridays.


It’s a good thing that I write for the pleasure of writing, instead of money.  Ad revenue for the month was $11.50 – or about 30 cents for each article we posted.  I won’t bother to calculate the hourly rate on that – needless to say, it’s rather low.  Hopefully traffic will pick up a bit in the coming months and cause upward movement on the financial side as well.  It would be nice to be able to buy a Pepsi or two with the ad revenue 🙂

Guest writers

I’ve had the pleasure of having a few guest writers during the month.  One of the guests became a staff writer for us (more about that later) and another is likely to have other articles appear on the site in the future.  I have actively pursued a few other people to write articles for the “a day in the life” series, which I personally enjoy reading.  I have received positive responses from several people, although I do not yet have any new segments in my hand.  I believe we’ll see a few of them in May, though.  I’m looking forward to a guest article that a fellow blogger is going to write.

The future

So, what does the future hold?  Well, it is likely that we will have at least one article on every single day from this point forward!  When I was the sole writer, it was sometimes difficult to write 7+ articles while balancing the blog with work and family life.  However, I am getting some help in this regard.  Johnny Goodman will be joining us as the weekly sports writer and Bob Inferapels will be writing a weekly entertainment column.  Note – although these are pen names, they do correspond to actual real people – they are not simply other factions of my mind.  The article’s byline will identify the author.

RSS and Twitter

Some of you have no doubt seen the  “subscribe via RSS” at the top left of the screen and wondered what on earth it is.  I won’t go into the technical details of RSS.  From a user perspective, RSS gives you a “one stop shop” to get updates for sites that are updated periodically (blogs, news sites, etc).  Think of this as a bulletin board – you tell people you want to know that they are doing (by subscribing to their RSS feed).  The next time you go to the bulletin board (RSS reader) you see all of the new articles.  Click on the subscribe via RSS link to get more information.  I’m not an RSS expert, but Google’s reader seem to do a good job.  If you follow several blogs, RSS is a great way to keep on top of them.

You can also get blog notifications on Twitter.  The Twitter updates will simply contain the title of the new article and a link to the article.  That is all.  No tweets about what I ate for breakfast or mini-rants about the moron who cut me off in traffic 🙁  Honestly, RSS is probably a better option for most people, but I decide to set up Twitter in case anyone wanted it.

Random factoid for the month

Baseball writer/analyst/god Bill James, who was largely responsible for a dramatic shift in the way that baseball players are analyzed, has a second passion – true crime.  This probably seems like an odd combination, but the weird thing is that I also have a deep interest in true crime.  If I am ever able to slip past Mr. James’ security staff (probably filled with ex Navy Seals and former CIA agents) and get a private chat with him, it will be nice to know that we can have a nice chat about serial killers if we run out of baseball topics.

Thanks, Luv, and Follow

I would like to thank everyone for their assistance with the blog.  This includes guest writers, staff writers, folks who write comments, the readers, folks who provide web hosting and technical assistance (Lazy Man), and people who have critiqued the blog for me (notably, Phil Ossifer).  We look forward to improving the reader experience in the future.  You can always email me at Kosmo@ObservingCasually.com with any questions or comments you might have.

In an effort to reward our commenters, we have implement the CommentLuv and Do-Follow plug-ins.  CommentLuv allows you to select a recent post from your own blog to be linked at the bottom of your comment.  This is why readers see link to the blogs of commenters such as Baker of ManVsDebt.

Do-Follow removes the “no-follow” tag that is typically affixed to links within the comment section of blogs.  The gist is that implementing “do-follow” will boost your your site’s Google ranking.  You don’t need to do anything to take advantage of this; it’s all under the hood, so to speak.

Neither of these plug-ins do anything for me (at least directly); I implemented them to reward the commenters who help make the blog more fun to read.

Thank you, Lazy Man

April 6, 2009

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Note: this is the second post of Monday.  Scroll down to see the sports update post.

Some of you may be wonder about the identity of the benevolent soul who is allowing me to use some of his server space.  It is none other than Lazy Man of LazyManAndMoney.com.  If you haven’t been to his site, check it out.  He blogs about personal finance (and his beloved Red Sox and Patriots) from his own unique perspective.  There’s a good bit of humor, which is always a good thing.

Lazy Man also helped with several technical issues related to the setup.  Meaning that he did the setup and then troubleshot anything weird that happened.  Lazy has also provided a lot of useful information over the past few months.  To be honest, I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog if it wasn’t for him.  I had pretty much abandoned my writing for a decade.  It was his encouragement – and his own success – that caused me to launch the blog.

There is some news stuff on the blog:

In order to leave comments, you will need to put in a name and email address.  No, I am not collecting the addresses for anything (ugh, I would NEVER do that), and they will not be displayed along with your comments.  If you want a cool picture displayed with your comments, register at Gravatar.com.  You register your email address and then choose a picture to use as your avatar.  Then, any time you leave comments at a Gravatar-enabled site (and there are plenty) your image will be displayed.  (Note – the avatar is tied to your email address, not your name).

One more new thing.  You will start seeing “related websites” at the bottom of each article.  This is the result of a “plug-in” I am using that searches other blogs for related content.  I don’t have any control over the sites that are displayed, but I hope you enjoy the sites that are displayed.  Some of them might provide further evidence of a point I am making; others might completely contradict me.  For those of you who are WordPress bloggers, the plug-in is “Blog Traffic Exchange” and can be downloaded from http://www.blogtrafficexchange.com/related-websites/

We’re moving

April 5, 2009

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A friend offered to host my blog on his server space. That means that I will be jumping ship from blogger and landing on my own domain at www.ObservingCasually.com Note: I have posted the same article in the old and new locations. If you are currently reading this, you are in the NEW location.

Please update your bookmarks/favorites accordingly. If you are currently subscribing via RSS (and very few of you are), you will have to resubscribe from the new site.

I have also decided on a schedule for the blog:

Monday: Sports
Tuesday: News
Wednesday: Wildcard (anything goes)
Thursday: People, places, historical events
Friday: Fiction Friday
Weekend: Wildcard

I will certainly miss a few days along the way, but this should give you a better idea of what to expect.

I do appreciate Blogger getting me off the ground with this blog. Blogger has a pretty easy learning curve, and it is definitely a good tool for beginners.

State of the blog

March 29, 2009

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I really started getting serious about my writing about six weeks ago. At the time, I set goals for my word counts in future months (I’m somewhat obsessive about that). At the time, I expected to start with 8500 combined words in February for the blog and a few other writing projects. By August, I hoped to build up to 17,000 combined words per month for all of the projects.

Well, it’s March, and the other projects have been shelved for now – but I have managed to hit the 17,000 word mark, well ahead of schedule. Considering how little free time I seem to have most of the time, I’m pretty happy with that. I hadn’t written consistently in about a decade and was worried that I would quickly run out of things to say – but my head still seems to be full of words (probably because of all the games of Wordscraper I play on Facebook). Overall, I’m happy with the writing aspect of the blog.

I have a handful of loyal visitors and a bunch of other folks who drop in from time to time. I’m not quite where I hoped to be in terms of numbers of readers, but I’m not overly disappointed. Quality over quantity, right? ☺

February’s posts skewed toward sports a bit more than I would have liked. To be certain, there will always be a large chunk of the blog devoted to sports, simply because I am a sports nut. However, I will try to mix in a few more topics on a regular basis.

During the next month of two, the blog will be gaining a bit more structure. I will try to set aside certain days of the week of month for specific topics. I have already begun this with Fiction Fridays. I will attempt to write a new short story to be published on the blog every Friday. This might be overly aggressive, but I’ll give it a shot. Sports will probably take up residence on Mondays (and probably one other day a week) because this is a topic where freshness is important, and weekends tend to be a bit better for writing. I’m sure you are stunned to find out that some of the content (the fiction, for example) is written several days in advance! It is also quite possible that I might need to scale back to 5-6 articles per week. I have a full time job and family obligations, and can’t always set aside time to write.

I will also try to add a few more fun things for the readers. In April, three well known personal finance bloggers will swing by TCO to participate in a contest. I’ll keep the details minimal, just to keep you curious.

As the future direction becomes clearer, I’ll provide more information. There will not be drastic changes – for the most part, I’ll simply be realigning the schedule. If you have any suggestions, feel free to drop me a line at Kosmo@ObservingCasually.com

Sunday update: I have added a “share” button at the bottom of each post that will allow you to give my article a “thumbs up” with Stumble, Digg, etc.  I’ll admit that I’m a novice when it comes to these, but if you like an article, please submit it via whichever of these services you typically use.

Schedule of posts for the new year

January 2, 2009

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Schedule of posts
Starting in January 2009, I will attempt to stick to this schedule each month. However, life may alter these plans at any time.

Day 1-5: Consumer experiences

Day 6-10: Book review (this will run heavilty toward mysteries and baseball books)

Day 11-15: A general news topic

Day 16-20: Sports – very likely to be heavy on baseball

Day 21 – end of the month: one or two posts on a variety of subjects