Thursday, June 28, 2012

2012 State of the Blog Address

Almost a month ago marked two years since I started blogging.  I tried to begin this post a couple weeks ago, but just couldn't seem to get started.  This will more or less be a look at what the blog has been up to in the past year (since Happy Anniversary Monster Dad re-capped the first year of the blog's existence), as well as an explanation for why I haven't been writing much lately.  I realize this isn't a very interesting topic, but it's something I feel I should do, so here goes...

In March of 2011 I wrote what I consider to be my first "commercial" blog post, Godzilla Attacks Worcester.  It was at a time when I wasn't writing much in general.  In fact, that post was written on March 31st and was the ONLY post for that month.  Including that one I had only posted a total of four blogs over the first three months of 2011.  Godzilla Attacks Worcester generated a small spurt of interest in the blog in the Worcester (MA) area, and the fact that it was about Godzilla seemed to help it out a bit too.

Not long after this I submitted Monster Dad's url to Google and a few other search engines in an attempt to generate more traffic for the blog.  I also discovered the fact that you can look at and keep track of your statistics on Blogger.  Making this discovery was a good and bad thing at the same time.  It was cool to be able to see the numbers (however humble they might have been) generated by my "writing".  Unfortunately, I also became a bit obsessed with these stats and would check them every day--sometimes multiple times a day.  I was still going to the blog regularly, but was checking numbers instead of writing.  Even so, I was still able to post more blogs than I had in the past and enjoyed it when some of these pieces became modest "hits".

All-Time Post Views from March 2012

All-Time Post Views from two months later in May 2012
The latest look at the All-Time Stats for top ten posts
(Note the unreliability of these statistics in that
Anorexic Toy Soldiers actually now has FEWER page views!)

I realize that my little collection of writings generates only a small fraction of the hits and page views that popular blogs would, but I was happy to see my numbers gradually increase and watch as the all-time views for my top ten posts reached triple digits in number (Oooh, a hundred views for Anorexic Toy Soldiers?  I'm hittin' the BIG TIME baby!).  I was also happy with the fact that I was averaging around six or seven posts a month for the rest of the year (2011).  Of course I realize that six or seven posts a month is also a pittance compared to more prolific bloggers, some of whom write (at least) one blog every single day.  But for someone who's not a "writer" by any stretch of the imagination it was a pretty good output.  My posts tended to become longer and longer too, especially with the addition of more and more photos (which I assigned names to that I hoped would increase my search engine hits and overall page views by the way).  I've never been able to simply put up a quick photo with a witty caption or simply write a short paragraph and call it a post.  There's certainly nothing wrong with doing that (there are no hard and fast "rules" for blogging that I'm aware of), it's just not my style.  Speaking of which, I've also done my best to continue writing in my own "style" despite the increased interest I've developed in actually having my stuff seen by a wider audience.  I didn't mind "selling out" as far as writing more blogs that were about specific events I had attended or was planning on attending (like the numerous and lengthy posts I wrote about the 2010 and 2011 Drive-in Super Monster-Rama shows), as long as I was still writing about things I was interested in and felt like writing about.

A couple months back I posted my 100th blog entry on Monster Dad (The Titanic--100 Years Later).  That's not even including the modest ten or eleven posts I've added to sister blog TV Guide Time Machine over the past year.  Once again, I realize that one hundred posts would seem like a drop in the bucket to those more prolific bloggers mentioned above, but to me it was a bit of a surprising and satisfying milestone.

Starting the TV Guide Time Machine in July of 2011 was one of the biggest events for Monster Dad over the past year.  I have a rather large collection of Boston-area TV Guides from the 1970s and 80s that I thought I could mine for tons of writing inspiration.  I still think I can do that, but unfortunately have discovered that by writing two separate blogs at the same time I am spreading  my humble writing talents rather thin.  There's still reason to believe the TVGTM will become more fruitful in the future, but for now it is just crawling along at its own pace.  Don't give up on it just yet...

My biggest "sell out" moment with Monster Dad came around the same time as the stats and search engine stuff a little over a year ago.  I applied to and was approved for Adsense, and ads that (sometimes) were related to my posts began to appear on my blog.  I didn't see anything wrong with this since it was a very common thing to see on many blogs and on YouTube (where my uploaded videos also began sporting Adsense ads).  The fact that these ads were possibly going to generate some cold hard cash for myself certainly seemed like a good thing.  Even though the money wouldn't be much, I could actually say (with some level of truthfulness) that I was "getting paid for my writing".  That's a pretty cool thought!  Once again, I know that my Adsense revenue was nothing compared to the kind of money that big-time blogs generate through Adsense and other means, but it was still something...

Unfortunately Google doesn't cut you a check until you hit one hundred dollars of revenue.  Last summer I was about to hit that magic number and get my first check when I got the news that so many bloggers and YouTubers have received.  Due to "suspicious activity" my Adsense account was being disabled.  Subsequently, my "hard-earned" almost-one-hundred-bucks went back to the advertisers (or where ever it originally came from) and I didn't see one red cent (and what is a "red cent" anyway?).  You're able to dispute the cancellation of your Adsens account once, but I heard that they almost never reverse their decision so I didn't bother.  A couple months ago I finally submitted a request for reinstatement (or whatever it would be called).  I thought my increased traffic might be tempting to the folks at Google.  Naturally it was turned down.  It's easy to say that your blog is proudly "Ad Free" once this happens, but to be perfectly honest I kinda liked having the ads on my page--as long as it meant money for me!  Either way, Monster Dad is once again "Ad Free" for your reading pleasure.  Enjoy the short respite from internet ads that you can experience by reading Monster Dad!

Ad-Free!  (though not necessarily by choice)

My one success as far as getting money or free stuff for my writing came last spring when I wrote a blog about a movie series for children that a large theater chain runs.  I had taken The Little Monster to a few of these shows and thought it would be a good topic to write about (and promote).  Word got to the people who put the series on and they sent me a box by FedEx that was filled with DVDs, books and toys that were mostly related to the movie series program.  While there really wasn't anything it it for me specifically the Little Monsters got quite a few gifts (for birthdays and Christmas) from the loot.  Oh, and they also included a little note thanking me for writing the blog too--which I thought was nice.  I know that review sites and blogs receive tons of free DVDs and merchandise to be reviewed, but that's not really what Monster Dad is (at least not at this point), so I was pretty psyched to get that surprise box of goodies.

As far as my recent lack of writing activity goes, there are a few reasons behind it.  For the past few months I have been suffering from a bit of writer's block--or should I say "blogger's block"?  While I'm still writing at least something every month, my output has definitely decreased.  Part of this I blame on the whole stats thing.  For whatever reason some of my recent blogs (namely ones about the Titanic, The Incredible Hulk and Men in Black 3) have managed to generate a LOT of page views in a short period of time (a lot of page views as far as Monster Dad is concerned anyway).  It's been a fun ride watching the numbers pile up over the past two or three months.  Things have cooled down though and are getting back to normal (which means that seeing "normal" numbers of hits and page views now feels very disappointing).  It seems that Monster Dad has finally been around long enough and provides good enough content to have risen closer to the top of Google and other search engine inquiries.  In fact, last week I wrote my only post (until now) for the entire month of June 2012.  It was about last week's Worcester Movies on the Common show.  Obviously this is a pretty localized event, but I was still pretty stoked to hear that my nephew saw it on the first page of results in a Google search for the show. And this was on the SAME DAY that I posted the blog!  I don't really know how all this stuff works, but it's apparent that Monster Dad is moving up somewhat in the world of internet search engines.  and that seems to be a good thing.  The one area where I really feel I'm lagging in is subscribers.  A while back I was pleased to hit twenty subscribers.  But now I've been stuck on twenty-two subs for a couple months.  Those numbers don't seem to increase.  I'm hoping that there are people following the blog, but they are simply using some of the other methods--like e-mail subscriptions and following Monster Dad's Facebook page.  Yes, Monster Dad has his own page on Facebook now.

Two other factors probably have more to do with my "blogger's block" than my stat obsession though.  First off, The Little Monster just recently finished up her first year of school (Kindergarten).  Between all the end-of-year stuff and the fact that she's now around every day (taking up valuable blog-writing time--just kidding) has eaten into my output.  Even more importantly, The Wife started a new job in Boston a few months back.  We currently live in Central Massachusetts, close to Worcester.  This new job was a great opportunity for The Wife, but it also necessitates a move closer to Boston.  We've been spending a lot of time looking for a new place and trying to figure out exactly what we'll do with our soon-to-be-former house.  We've been in that house for nine years.  The Little Monsters were both born and raised in that house (well, they were actually born in the hospital, but you know what I mean).  I kind of thought that it was going to be our home for a long time.  Adjusting to the idea of leasing an apartment close to Boston and either renting or selling our house has been pretty stressful.  I don't know how this will all affect the blog over time, but it's obviously been getting in the way of writing much lately.

The good news (for me at least) is that the reason I haven't been writing isn't due to a lack of ideas and material.  There are a number of blogs floating around in my mind that I simply haven't been able to sit down and write out.  In fact, there are still quite a few ideas that I have had waiting to be written since before I even started this blog a little over two years ago.  One of them was something that I felt was very interesting (possibly even to the general public in addition to myself).  Unfortunately I waited too long to write this piece and it has now been covered by someone else.  A couple weeks ago I saw a similar story posted in Yahoo! News when I signed out of my e-mail account.  I'll probably still write that post at some point (it already has a name and has been in draft form for the last year-and-a-half or so).  Hopefully I'll start writing again soon.  We are moving in September and The Little Monster will be starting first grade in a new school then too.  With any luck I'll settle into a new routine and get back to the business of being Monster Dad.  Stay tuned...

One final update...  Last year I laboriously went through a process that required using a program in a PC at the Worcester Library to create a new title banner for Monster Dad that I then uploaded to the site on my Mac.  It was a very complicated method to create something that someone who knows better could have easily whipped up in a few moments.  I was pretty happy with the results though and decided to re-design the look of Monster Dad for the first and only time (to date).  Around a month ago I received a comment on a post.  The comment contained a link to a new and improved version of the header that the commenter made up for me (obviously someone who is more well-versed in technology than I am).  After ensuring that I wasn't clicking on Spam or a virus launcher I saw that the header looked great and replaced my cobbled together one with it.  That's really the only tweak to Monster Dad over the past year--other than the addition of a new widget (called Feedjit) that shows the past ten visitors to the site, where they are from and what they looked at.  It's been pretty cool to see that people all over the world are finding (or stumbling upon) my little part of the blogosphere!

Original Monster Dad header photo, circa 2010
(found in a Google Images search for "Oscilloscope")

Old Monster Dad header logo

New and improved Monster Dad header logo

Feedjit widget
(see right side of blog)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Worcester Movies on the Common 2012!

Last year I wrote about a series of movie screenings on the Worcester (MA) Common put on by the group Worcester Film Works.  Over the course of the summer of 2011 they showed one movie each month: "Grease" (1978), "Back to the Future" (1985) and "Spaceballs" (1987).  Starting with the second show they began to add live music before the movies.  There were also some vendors set up selling food, drinks and ice cream.  It was a great series and I was happy to be able to attend each show.  At the conclusion of the third show in August 2011 it wasn't clear if Worcester Film Works would be bringing the series back for 2012.  I talked to some of the group's members and it was obvious that they were very happy with how the series performed and were hoping to be able to do it again.

Well it's now Summer 2012 and I'm pleased to say that Worcester Movies on the Common is Back!  In fact, I've been a little slow in reporting this great news.  The first show is scheduled for tonight!  For this show there will be TWO musical acts playing before the movie.  At 5:00 James Keyes will be the first act, followed by the band The Luxury.  Unfortunately I won't be able to get to the show in time for the opening, but should be there sometime before the movie starts (which is as soon as it becomes dark enough).  Tonight's movie is going to be "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1985)!  We're in the middle of a bit of a heat wave in New England at the moment.  I was originally planning on taking my two Little Monsters with me, but because of the heat it seemed like a better idea to let them sit this one out.  I will try to report back in soon to comment on the show.

And now for some general information about the series.  The shows take place on the third Thursday night of each summer month (June, July, August).  The festivities begin at 5:00 with the bands.  After the music the stage is transformed into a movie screen and the evening's film begins when it becomes dark enough to see it on the screen (which will become earlier throughout the series as the sun begins so set earlier).  Last year Sweet Sister Ice Cream brought their ice cream truck and The Theatre Cafe sold sandwiches, hot dogs and other goodies at each of the shows.  The plan is to have vendors at this year's series as well.  It appears from the latest post by Worcester Film Works that The Theatre Cafe is confirmed for tonight's first show.

Sweet Sister's ice cream truck set up at the show
The Theatre Cafe's table

And I should also mention that Worcester Film Works had a popcorn machine set up at their table at each of the shows last year.  To what must have been incredible frustration for them the machine failed to perform at EVERY show!  I read in their latest post that the popcorn machine will be set up once again (resurrected?) for tonight's show, and they were planning on testing it out this afternoon.  We'll have to see what happens tonight.  Either way I'll be happy.  I'd certainly enjoy being able to buy  bag of popcorn to munch while watching "Raiders of the Lost Ark" on the big screen under the stars of a hot New England summer night.  But if it DOESN'T work it will actually feel a little like a sort of new tradition is continuing!  Time will tell...

WFW's table and the "infamous" popcorn machine!

Worcester Movies on the Common is a great program that has been put together by a small group of enthusiastic people trying to do something good for Worcester.  I'm very happy to see that it's back for a second year.  Hopefully the crowds will be even bigger this year than they were last year.  And I haven't even mentioned what is possibly the best thing about this whole thing...  These shows are absolutely FREE!  Just come out with your blankets and lawn chairs, relax and watch a great movie under the open sky.  It's not exactly the same as a drive-in, but it's still pretty awesome!  And the price can't be beat!

Here's the schedule for this year's Worcester Movies on the Common series.  All shows start (with musical acts) at 5:00, and each show falls on the third Thursday of the month.  In case of rain or other inclement weather shows will be postponed until the following Thursday (the fourth Thursday of the month).  This year's show will feature:
See you at the movies!