Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween - and Big Thanks!

Today is October 31, and that means two things:

1.  It's Halloween - and in my town at least, it means I'll spend the early part of the evening handing out candy to little kids...and as a side affect, also keep my dentist girlfriend in business for another calendar year!

2.  It means that another month is over...and that I can celebrate my blog surpassing the 5,000 visitors threshold for a single month!

Between my group break posts, and my somewhat surprising (to me at least) "How to Have a Successful Blog" posts, I've had the single most successful month in my blog's history.  Hopefully I will be able to continue the momentum into November, but the next two months are always a crazy time for me since it is the end of the college semester (which means lots of writing final exams and then grading final exams) plus all the holidays (and travel).

Happy Halloween ya'll, and as always, if anyone wants to trade - I'm going to be working on a Cards for Clunkers post in the near future - hopefully this week!  Stay tuned.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Cooking Recipe: Maple-Kissed Spicy Pork Chops

A couple of weeks ago, I decided I would try to make a recipe that I found in a cookbook called Grillin' With Gas by Fred Thompson called Maple-Kissed Pork Chops.

They sounded like the perfect autumnal meal - and in fact, I'm happy to report that they are (with a few tweaks at least).

As I mentioned, this recipe is based on the one found in the book (which I highly recommend picking up for anyone with a gas grill - I've loved almost everything I've tried from the book)!

Maple-Kissed Spicy Pork Chops
Based on a recipe from Grillin' with Gas: 150 Mouthwatering Recipes for Great Grilled Food.  

8 pork chops, boneless
1 cup apple cider
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons Maple syrup (Grade B if you can find it)
3 tablespoons horseradish
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
Ground Black pepper
Chopped hot peppers (optional)

The recipe takes about 15 minutes max to prepare the marinade, but you'll want to really soak the pork chops for at least 12 hours before grilling.

1.  In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients (except the pork chops).  Mix well.  If you want a spicier pork chop, cut up a hot pepper or two into small pieces mix with the rest of the ingredients.  I used grade B Maple syrup the first time I made the recipe and grade A Maple syrup the second time.  I like my chops with a stronger maple flavor, so I enjoyed the grade B marinade more.
2.  Remove all fat from the pork chops (trust me on this - if you don't, you'll get some burnt edges when grilling, you might be able to see that in my picture I took while grilling at night)!  Place the pork chops in a large Zip-Lock freezer bag and pour the marinade mix over the pork chops.  Stick the entire bag in a large bowl and place in refrigerator for at least 12 hours.

3.  Prior to preheating the grill, remove all the pork chops from the marinade and pat dry.  Don't worry if you think the pork chops stink at this point (and trust me, you probably will think they smell rather disgusting at the moment).  They'll smell delicious once they get cooking on the grill!

4.  Pour the remaining marinade into a sauce pan and bring to a rolling boil for at 3 - 5 minutes.  Be careful you closely monitor the sauce and stir often!  Don't leave the marinade on the heat after the 3-5 minutes are up - I find it helpful to place it on the (cool) side burner of your gas grill (if you have one).

5.  Prepare the grill by oiling the racks and preheating for at least 10 minutes.

6.  Place the pork chops on the grill and cook for 5 minutes.  Turn over, brush liberally with the marinade and grill for another 5 minutes.  Repeat the process another two times (for a total cook time of 20 minutes) brushing plenty of marinade on the pork chops after each flip.

7.  Remove the chops from the grill after insuring they are fully cooked and let sit for 10 minutes and then enjoy!

You can serve the extra sauce at the table for dipping if you'd like!

Friday, October 29, 2010

How to Have a Successful Blog: Holding Contests

It's true that the World Series is in full gear - and as a baseball fan, I should be excited.  However, since my Reds choked as soon as they made the playoffs, and since the teams I definitely wouldn't want to win are already out, I don't have any particular rooting interests.  Compounding that, so far neither game has been exciting - both have been blowouts severely lacking in drama and excitement.  Thus, I've decided to try and run a series of posts where I'll give my suggestions on how to have a successful blog - and please, chime in with your ideas as well, perhaps this series can become a great resource for future bloggers with everyone's help!

Today's topic involves an (almost) surefire way to increase blog views, and hopefully, earning repeated blog visitors.  Holding contests.

Although I never seemed to have anything worth giving away (more on that in a moment), one of the best ways to get a bunch of blog visitors in a hurry is to hold a contest.  The most successful contests (in terms of raw number of visitors) involve some type of simplistic entry mechanism.  Many bloggers do something along the lines of the following:

1.  Comment on the blog post answering some type of question
2.  Follow the blog
3.  Add a link to your own blog advertising the contest

This can be a great way to get your blog "out there" because every entrant has to link to your blog (meaning all of their readers have a chance to discover your blog) AND many of them will also add your blog to their blog roll giving you a much more permanant presences beyond the contest (which should be the real goal).  After a short amount of time, announce the winner on the blog and commence giving away the prize.  It's an easy process, but here are some possible suggestions to get a better "bang for your giveaway buck."

1.  Make sure your prize is worth winning.  Sure, I may value my eighteen copies of a 1989 Topps Barry Larkin card, but most people consider that to be nothing more than junk wax.  Unopened packs, boxes, and/or relics or autographs seem to be the safest bet.
2.  Make sure you don't over complicate the contest.  There's a difference between a crazy code contest like JD's contest and a typical contest designed to increase blog readership.  If no one can figure out how to enter, they won't bother!
3.  Be careful with requirements.  While I understand the impulse to require a blog link (which is a good idea to increase readership), I personally get a bit annoyed when I'm forced to "follow" a blog to enter.  In my view, if someone chooses to "follow" a blog, that's their way of giving their seal of approval to your blog.  Forcing a following feals a bit like cheating to me - but again, that's only my view (and really, what's a blog for if not to share your own views)?!
4.  After the contest, keep up with content.  If the goal of the contest was to gain readers, the larger goal should be to keep readers coming back!  The only way to make sure that happens is to consistently post content that people want to take the time to read.  
5.  Finally, in another instance of good timing, I'll add a link to a contest over at Georgia Mindset where one lucky reader will win a box of Topps Chrome.  If you'll notice, while there is a "follow" requirement in the contest, I've already added (and followed) the blog awhile to me, it's worth your seal of approval as well!

And now, it's your time readers - what other suggestions and/or ideas do you have in regards to contests?  Anything you think I missed?  Anything you disagree with?  Leave it in the comments below!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

How to Have a Successful Blog: Organization Matters!

Yesterday, I tackled the basic notion of when might be an ideal time to post your blog entries.  Today, I want to switch gears a bit and talk about another equally important aspect of blogging (especially card blogging) - organization.

From what I have gathered from reading other people's blogs over the years, there are basically three types of organizers out there.

There's the super organized person - this is the guy/girl with all his/her cards organized in labeled boxes and/or binders.  This person can find a 1990 Topps base card Jim Abbott just as easily as he or she can find a 2008 Upper Deck Star Quest Super Rare insert of Justin Morneau.  This is the type of organizational aptitude that most of us strive for, yet few actually reach.

The second (and seemingly most common type) of organized person is the person with some sense of card order, but still way too many cards all over any and any and all drop leaf tables throughout the house...or maybe at least throughout the basement...  For me, I'm definitely in this group - as I type this post, I'm staring at a small pile of cards that I need to send to Night Owl, a stack of Allen & Ginter cards from a trade that fell through, and a stack of Ginter cards for another trade that I need to package and get into the mail tomorrow morning.  However, as you can see from the side bar on my blog, the majority of my cards are organized - most of my recent set duplicates are fully typed and listed for trade - and most of my older cards are separated by teams in different boxes in order to make trading easier.  ALL of my cards that I'm keeping are safely tucked away in binders...except for the (many) small blaster boxes full of cards that still need to go into binders thanks to recent trades.

The last type of organized person is the person who actually isn't organized at all.  This is the person who has a box full of cards and could just as easily have a Hank Aaron rookie card sitting in there as twenty-seven copies of a 1987 Topps Bip Roberts.  The unorganized blogger is usually the one who is most likely to do "team dumps" on people - and that usually occurs when the unorganized person decides to make drastic moves in order to shift up one spot on the organizational ladder.

Now, what does all of that have to do with a successful blog?  Well, in my view, my blog has been (moderately) successful almost entirely thanks to my trading ethic and organization.  I have plenty of cards available, I keep my wants/haves up-to-date, and for the most part, I'm fairly quick at sending out packages (though occassionally I get bogged down with my "real" job).

My question for you:  Do you consider yourself to be organized?  If so, what do you do to maintain the organization as trades pour in and packs get busted?  If you aren't organized, why not?  Finally, is there another classification of "organized" that I didn't address?

One last note:  You may have noticed my one link in this post to another page on CSN stores - they have contacted me once again to host a product review so I was able to "cleverly" disguise the link to their store within a post I already had written and ready to go.  It's amusing that I've had Google's Ad Sense on my blog since its inception and have now officially "earned" $15.54 but CSN likes my blog enough to reward me with the chance to review (and keep) a product of my choosing from their family of websites for free - and that product will (probably) have a much higher value than the lousy $15 and change that Google says I'm worth.  With that, a true thank you to CSN...and unless someone can tell me what I'm doing wrong with AdSense, it might be time to say adios to Google!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How to Have a Successful Blog: When is the Best Time to Publish Your Blog Entry?

In the last few weeks, I've received quite a few emails from new (or hopeful) bloggers asking for ideas to help their blogs succeed.  One of the most common questions has been "When should I schedule my blog posts?"  As I thought about it, I realized that I didn't have a good answer - and in fact, I don't usually follow a set pattern of time stamp posting (except with the recent group break because it would have been chaos without it).  So what does any intrepid reporter (or blogger in this case) do to answer the question?

A little experiment.

You may recall that a week ago from yesterday I did a 24 packs in 24 hours marathon session.  The intentions for that were two-fold, one:  Plow through a bunch of packs quickly in order to speed up the group break process, and two:  see if I could figure out any type of "viewer habits" based on the incredibly small sample size. At 11:57 PM EST I logged into my SiteMeter account and took a screen shot of the day's visits and page views which you can see below.

As you can see, each hour is represented by a stacked bar (specifying hits and page views).  There is also the numerical hour by hour breakdown on the far right for those that would rather look at lists of numbers (all times EST remember).

What did I learn from this admittedly small sample size?

I'm not sure - but here are some observations:

First, I have to consider each post equal in reader interest to any other post for the day - obviously if one is titled "my lunch at McDonalds" and another is titled "Free cards plus a winning lottery ticket for a lucky reader" it's pretty easy to tell that one blog entry isn't equal in reader interest to the other.  In my case, the group break was far enough along in the process that the "novelty" had worn off - and probably any one pack was no more or less exciting than any other.

Second, it's fairly obvious that there aren't many readers up in the wee morning hours (Night Owl excepted apparently).  From 2 AM until 6 AM, I only averaged 4.5 visitors an hour.  Surprising to me, the 7 AM hour was one of the least read hours of the day - only 4 visitors.  However, after 7 AM blog traffic increased quite a bit - culminating during the evening hours (especially 8:00 PM EST).

Third, we have to remember that this little experiment was done on a Tuesday.  I would guess that the results would be quite a bit different on a Friday for instance - there probably aren't a lot of people sitting on their computers Friday night looking at baseball card blogs...but I could be wrong about that I suppose!

Thus, I think it is safe to say that while interesting, there aren't any conclusive findings (especially since it was only one day...and only on my blog which certainly isn't as popular as many other blogs out there)...  However, if I had to make some broad generalizations, here they are:

1.  If you only post one blog per day, maximum readership would suggest making it go "live"sometime in the early evening eastern standard time.
2.  If you want to do a bit of reverse psychology and avoid the "posting boom" of early evening (where new blog entries can quickly become buried on the various blog rolls), the next best time to post is either right after lunch (1 - 2 PM) OR late at night (close to midnight).

Hopefully that little experiment proves as interesting to you as it did me - and to all my readers out there (no matter what the hour), thanks for stopping by!  If anyone else has some ideas or suggestions that they would like to share, by all means do so in the comment section below (or email me if you'd rather remain anonymous - I can post a blog of all the suggestions at a later date if there is enough interest)!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Group Break Results: Chicago Cubs (plus final thoughts and questions)

A number of people asked me to update the group scoreboard - seeing how there was such interest, I've decided to do one better:  I'm going to show off the best card, worst card, plus any interesting cards (in my eyes at least) of all the group break slots, one at a time.

It is now time to highlight the last claimed team in the group break (I'm not doing a post for any of the teams that I was stuck with)...  It also happens that the Cubs were the best team in the group break - at least in terms of total number of hits!

Chicago Cubs
Claimed by Smedcards

Best card(s):

Easy to pick two best cards.

1.  Fleer EX - Cole Liniak (on card) autograph

2.  Topps Cracker Jack - Kerry Wood jersey (with stripe)

Worst card(s):

Topps Cracker Jack #11, Corey Patterson.  As a Reds fan with bad, bad memories of Patterson that would be enough to deem this the worst card - add in the fact that he appears to be holding some sort of ghost bat (which might not be all that unrealistic given his putrid hitting with the Reds), this card is all kinds of wrong.

Card(s) of interest:

Seriously, the most interesting thing for the Cubs was the fact that they nabbed two of the six hits!  And to think, in my last two group breaks the Cubs went unclaimed!

Final Tally (after all non-insert duplicates removed):
Base:  29
Inserts/Short Prints/Parallels:  4
Relics/Autos:  2

And with that - my third Group Break is officially over!  Let's take one last look at the score board...

Claimed By
Base / Insert/Hit
(After 27 packs)
Base / Insert/Hit
(After 55 packs)
Base / Insert/Hit
(After 140 packs – and doubles removed)
Canadian Beltway
4  / 1  / 0
10 / 1 / 0
24 / 2 / 0
National Expansionists
9  /  1 / 0
20 / 2 / 0
41 / 14 / 0
Heart of Texas
15  /  3  / 0
23 / 7 / 0
52 / 11 / 0
8  / 0 / 0
24 / 2 / 0
42 / 8 / 1
9  / 2  / 0
16 / 4 / 0
34 / 9 / 0
5   /  2  /  0
15 / 2 / 0
28 / 7 / 0
0 /  1  / 0
8 / 3 / 0
24 / 7 / 0
10 / 2/ 1
22 / 5 / 1
41 / 15 / 1
Ike's Cards
6  /  1  / 0
13 / 3 / 0
27 / 7 / 0
California Pride
25  /  3  / 0
34 / 6 / 0
49 / 13 / 0
10   /  1  /  0
24 / 3 / 0
42 / 4 / 0
7  / 0  / 0
15 / 0 / 0
20 / 2 / 0
16 / 2 / 0
24 / 4 / 0
33 / 8 / 0
9  / 0  / 0
15 / 1 / 0
29 / 2 / 0
6  / 1 / 0
8 / 2/ 0
23 / 3 / 0
6  / 0  / 0
12 / 0 / 0
25 / 5 / 0
White Sox
5  / 1 / 0
15 / 3 / 0
32 / 6 / 1
Blue Jays
15 / 0 / 0
24 / 0 / 0
36 / 3 / 0
7  / 1  /  0
14 / 2 / 0
29 / 4 / 2
9  /  3  / 0
22 / 5 / 0
33 / 7 / 1
10  /  1 / 0
16 / 2 / 0
30 / 6 / 0
Red Sox
8  / 3 / 0
15 / 3 / 0
29 / 12 / 0
Nachos Grande
6  /  0 / 0
16 / 0 / 0
32 / 0 / 0
Nachos Grande
4  /  3  / 0
8 / 4 / 0
21 / 8 / 0
Nachos Grande
8  / 2 / 0
13 / 3 / 0
24 / 8 / 0
Nachos Grande
6  /  1 / 0
18 / 3 / 0
29 / 8 / 0

By the time you read this post, all the cards have been mailed out (and most should already be in the participants hands)!  

Now, the question I have for all of you:

1.  Would you be interested in another group break this calendar year or should I wait until sometime after the holidays?

2.  What price point should I shoot for?  

3.  What is more important to you - number of base cards, number of inserts, number of hits, or a chance at all three?