Friday, June 29, 2012

Fireworks For iPhone and Android

With the 4th of July just around the corner, I wanted to pass along a super fun FREE app called Fireworks Arcade for both iPhone and Android

You launch fireworks with the touch of your finger and the cool thing this one has over others I have tried is that you can drag your finger around the screen as well and create quite an impressive show!  And it is instantly responsive, no lag at all. 

The fireworks themselves explode into different shapes randomly the longer you use it, like stars, smiley faces, hearts, circles, etc. similar to some of the newer fireworks you'll see at a live show. 


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Moving Up in the Page Rank World!

Over the last few months my post frequency here has been about 2-3 posts per week, sometimes more, sometimes less, but I've been keeping at it.  At times I've been busy or just haven't had a lot to say.  Sometimes I wonder if it's all worth while or wonder why I'm doing it.  Occasionally I lose interest or focus and just plain need to step away.

I know my experience is not unique.  Two people that I follow regularly are Mark Mason from and Anna Hoffmann from  Mark was missing from his blog from May to June and Anna left her blog behind for over a month.  Check out Anna's recent first post after returning "I had a dream" for her explanation.  It was actually refreshing to see some of the big hitters going through similar setbacks.

Just as easily however, one little thing could pull you right back in and give you that motivation and drive to continue on.  I had two things get me re-focused and back on track recently.

After reading Anna's "I had a dream" post, I left a comment and gave her some info about a few things that she missed while she was away.  Much to my surprise, she came over to my site and commented on a post of mine that I had linked to.  Getting a comment or message from anyone and especially a heavy hitter like Anna, Mark or Pat Flynn is a big deal to a blogger and it really goes a long way as a motivator.

Additionally, last week I finally ordered a new laptop to replace mine that has been dying a slow death for over 8 months.  One of the first things I did was install Market Samurai, which is the tool I use to do all my keyword research and behind the scenes work for my niche sites. 

I ran a quick check on my own site and was super excited to see that I now have a page rank of 1 for this blog!  I think I even let out a few WOOHOOs and did a little happy dance. 

I've had this blog for about 1.5 years now and until recently the main site had a rank of 0.  There is a lot that goes into page rank and it can change over time depending on what Google deems important, but it was great to see I was moving up in the world!

I checked my site and my site and they went up as well!  The niche site tool blog went to a page rank 1 and the alcatraz site went to a 2 in just the 6 months it has been out there! My site is still a 0, but I only have a few posts and haven't spent a lot of work on that yet, but now I have something to shoot for. 

That really gave me some much needed feedback and a virtual pat on the back at a very good time.  That validated that I'm doing something right and in the eyes of Google my sites are improving in quality.  So my goal of making the internet a better place is heading in the right direction.

You can check the page rank of your site or any other site a number of different ways, but here is one quick easy way to check:

A lot goes into that page rank number, your site design, traffic to your site, links to your site from other sites, speed that your site loads, etc.  So there is no real way to say that this particular thing or that was the key factor, but I recently updated the design of this blog and took out a lot of the unnecessary customizations and that has resulted in much faster load times.  I have a feeling those two things were contributing factors.

For the site, I think the increase in page rank is most related to sheer traffic.  A buddy and I set that site up in January because we liked the Alcatraz TV show that had just started on Fox and we wanted to see what type of traffic we could get by doing keyword research.

We decided on 'alcatraz series' for our phrase and domain name based on our research and it seems the research worked.  I just checked and from January 1st of this year to now, we've had over 21,000 page views and just under 9,000 unique visitors with hardly any efforts to drive traffic to the site. 

If you're at all interested in how to do similar keyword research yourself, check out my keyword research post on my niche tool site.  There is a lot of good content and step by step actionable details to set yourself up for similar success from the start.  You can see first hand that doing the research for a keyword phrase that already has traffic and results can move you from a PR0 to a PR2 site in less than 6 months, where my own blog with about 20x more content took a year and a half to get to a PR1 without that same kind of research.  

It's quite interesting, even though the Alcatraz series ended here in the US in March, we consistently get a few likes on our Facebook page every week and we're up to 92 likes total.  Based on a few comments recently, I realized that the series was shown later in the UK and we got a bump up in traffic over the last few weeks because the finale aired there.  That is something I was unaware of and never would have expected and it just goes to show you how important page rank and ranking high  in Google can be to expand your reach. We're ranked 4th on the main page of Google for the term "alcatraz series" and that is where we're getting almost all of our traffic from. 

So all in all, I was very happy to see things are heading in the right direction!  I'd still really like to get more immediate feedback in the form of daily comments on posts, but hopefully over time that will increase.  And by all means, if you're reading this post, drop me a quick comment and just say hi!  You can leave your name and a post to your blog or remain completely anonymous.  Either way it means a lot and is greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Best Blackened Fish Sandwich in Jacksonville FL

On Friday, a guy at work was heading to Tampa to drop off his dogs at his parents house before going to Vegas for a short vacation.  It was lunch time and that got me thinking about a place he turned me onto when we vacationed at the Tampa beaches area called Frenchy's.  They are famous for their blackened Grouper sandwiches and it was the best we've ever had.  

If you're not familiar with the term blackened, it just means that the fish is grilled and seasoned.  At Frenchy's they have a choice of different seasonings such as Jamaican Jerk seasoning and others, but at most other places you just order it blackened.  It's not usually super spicy or anything, just real flavorful. And Grouper is a mild white fish similar to Tilapia, but better and not quite as thick as Mahi Mahi.   

The point of mentioning Frenchy's, was that we got to asking each other where the best blackened Grouper/fish sandwich is in the Jacksonville area and nothing really came to mind.  I've had good blackened Grouper for dinner at several places, but haven't had an amazing sandwich for lunch.

At that point I was then on a mission to find a good place to try out over the weekend.  I posted on a local forum asking folks their advice and received a few good responses.  One was the Sand Dollar restaurant on the River.  That was good advice because I've eaten there a few times and it was definitely in the top 5.  Unfortunately, they're closed for major renovations due to a recent fire, but it says they will open again in August.  Definitely a great place to try for the food and the view.

Another place that was recommended is Chowder Ted's.   I'd never heard of the place, but we've apparently driven right by it several times.     

On Google maps it looks like Ted's is a very small place on the side of the road on Heckscher Drive on the water, so that probably explains why we didn't notice it.  Based on the 92% on Urban Spoon and the great reviews, it looks like it might be a little local hidden gem.  This one is on the list to try out sometime soon, but note that they are closed Sun/Mon and sometimes they have odd hours on Saturday, so you might want to call ahead.  Check their Facebook page for daily fresh specials. 

A place that the wifey came up with is the Black Molly Grill on rt 312 in St Augustine.  It's a newer place that has great reviews on Yelp and Urban Spoon.  I read reviews that said the blackened fish sandwich is very good, so that was a done deal.  We went on Saturday for lunch and we were glad we did!

I of course had the blackened fish sandwich and the wifey went with the blackened fish tacos and they were both excellent!  The tacos came with a cilantro lime sauce that was yummy!  I used some on my sandwich.  They had a bunch of different sides to choose from, but I went with regular fries and the wifey went with sweet potato fries.   

Black Molly Grill Blackened Fish Sandwich
Black Molly Grill Blackened Fish Tacos
The food was excellent, the atmosphere was nice with a beachy/fishy theme inside and the service was great also.  They even came out to our car with an umbrella when we pulled up to keep the wifey dry.  Impressive.  And be sure to grab a mint on the way out if you go, or several actually.  They are key lime flavored green mints and even though I'm not a big key lime pie fan, they were so good!  Nice little touch.  Definitely a great place to try if you're in the area and it is now on my top 5 list.

One other place worth mentioning is South Beach Grill just south of St Augustine in Crescent Beach close to Marineland.  The blackened Tilapia is excellent and the black beans and rice side is great as well!  This one is definitely in my top 3 locally.  Good stuff, great location on the beach with a slight view and worth the trip. 

When we try out Chowder Ted's I'll be sure to update this post or post a new update!

Do you know of any great places in the greater Jacksonville FL area, or perhaps where you live, that have great blackened fish sandwiches?  I'd love to hear about them!  Drop me a comment below and let me know.  Thanks!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

iPhone 5 and iOS 6 features

The Apple Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) last week brought with it a new operating system version for the iPhone, iPad and iPod devices, iOS 6.  That will be released in the Fall and will most likely be the OS that the iPhone 5 comes with. 

iOS 6 will be compatible with the iPhone 3GS, 4 and 4S, 4th Generation iPod, iPad 2 and new iPad.  Without doing manual hacks, Siri, however, will be available only on the iPhone 4S and the third-generation iPad. A few other features, like turn-by-turn navigation, will be on iPhone 4S, iPad 2 and the new iPad only.

Below are feature highlights from this article at and here is the main iOS 6 preview page from Apple.

Answering Calls
One of the best software changes is the way iOS 6 will give iPhone owners more options beyond "Answer" and "Decline." If you're too busy to answer the phone you will have the option to instantly respond with a list of preprogrammed text messages, including "I'll call you later" or "I'm on my way."

iPhone users too busy to respond to the call in real time can even set a reminder to return the call later. A "Do No Disturb" function will also give users the option to choose who they can recieve calls from at certain times of the day.

Apple Maps
Apple is replacing built-in Google Maps software with it's own application which they claim will feature easier step-by-step directions. The new app is vector-based to create detailed graphics and detailed texts even when the map is zoomed all the way in.

The new Apple Maps will also feature visual and spoken navigations, including not only turn-by-turn directions but also real-time traffic updates.

Better Siri
The iPhone electronic personal assistant is getting smarter and more useful. If you ask about sports it will show you live scores and stats. Siri can find restaurants and movie times and even update Facebook for you or turn your voice into Twitter messages.

Apple is also working with car manufacturers to create eyes-free Siri voice-control mode for safer driving.

Facebook Integration
The iOS 6 will make using Facebook with your iPhone easier than ever. Photos and video can be posted straight from the photo reel and your location can be posted straight from Maps.

Additionally, once logged into Facebook, all your events and birthdays will be synched with the iPhone.

Share Photos With Your Friends Through iCloud
iOS 6 will let users share photos with their friends though iCloud to any Mountain Lion Apple devices.

Updated FaceTime
New FaceTime lets you receive video calls through cellular networks and not just Wi-Fi. So now you can use WiFi whenever you want.

Handicapped Accessible
Guided Access with the iOS 6 will make the iPhone easier to use for people with vision, hearing, mobility and learning disabilities.

Mail Gets Redesigned
The Mail application has been redesigned to be more streamlined and easier to use.

What are the items you're most looking forward to?  As someone most likely to switch over to the iPhone 5 from Android, Apple maps with turn-by-turn navigation is a key feature that I would want.  Also, I think an updated version of Siri would be useful and Facebook integration would be a nice feature as well.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Our new kitty Buddy!

Introducing our new kitty Buddy! 

Our kitty Poker has had to go to the vet for some care and checkups a couple times over the past few weeks and they occasionally have kittens or sometimes slightly older cats that they are looking to adopt out.

The first time I saw a new kitty in the cage was about 3 weeks ago and he immediately caught my eye and he was wanting my attention.  He pulled me in right away.  I started to pet him and we know all of the staff very well and one of them came over and started to tell me the story of how he came to be there.  It was not a happy story.

A guy had brought him in one day and his paws were all very badly burned.  She didn't say how and I'm not sure if they know how, but I really don't want to know anyway.  I just know he was in very bad shape.  They required a credit card for the very extensive surgery that was going to be required.

The guy's card never cleared and he never came back.  The doctor made the decision she was going to eat the cost and was going to perform the surgery even though she did not expect him to survive.  She had to de-claw both his front and back claws and had to remove two toes on one of his back feet and I think had to reconstruct his paws. 

But enough about that, he made a full miraculous recovery and it's as if nothing ever happened, other than he has the appearance of a small limp because he's missing the two back toes on the one foot.  His paws look completely normal as well.  She did a great job.  He is one tough kitty, but he is so calm and chill so far.  You'd think whatever he went through would make him afraid and skittish and that is definitely not the case.  He is very affectionate. 

I had already felt that we were meant to take him, but felt that even more so after hearing the story.  Knowing how much we care for our cats, I know the staff at the clinic were hoping we would take him also.  I resisted for a few weeks to try and give it time and not make any quick decisions to see how things unfold.

Every time we drove by we would think about him.  When I brought in Poker Thursday morning I played with the new guy a bit and I knew I would be taking him home that afternoon and I did!

I didn't mention it to the wifey, but she had just texted me earlier saying when you pick up Poker, bring him home too with a smiley face.  She didn't think I would actually do it, but when she walked in and walked into our office, she noticed an odd kitty laying on our bed out of the corner of her eye and she was so glad he was here!

He is very comfortable here already.  He's been rolling around and wanting his belly rubbed.  The other 3 boys have been hissing at him and watching him intently from a distance, but the new kitty has not hissed back or really cared at all.  He will walk by them slowly and try not to get real close and I think that is helping a bunch that he is not threatening at all.  

I really thought Sage would be a problem.  He hates it when strays walk around outside in the back yard and generally will act out when that happens.  But he has been very good.  He hisses and growls, but he has been pretty close by and he was even laying with his belly exposed pretty close by.  Hah, he must know I'm talking about him.  The new guy just used the litter box on his own for the first time (YAY!), but after he came out Sage was not happy with him and went up to him and told him so.  So I will reserve judgement on this one, but so far so good.

And a new interesting behavior for the new guy in the last few minutes, he has a meow!  He's been quiet all evening and his purr is very soft, but his meow is pretty loud.  It's dark and quiet now that the wifey has gone to bed so I think he was saying where is everyone?  He seems to like the bed and it would be great to have a kitty next to a pillow or close by again, so will hope for the best.

Hopefully the other boys come around soon and they get to be friends.  Should make for an interesting and fun weekend!  If you come up with a name, lemme know!

Here is a quick update on Friday afternoon.  He continues to be very good.  He did not sleep in the bed, he was too busy exploring, but he did come up after I woke up this morning.  

The vet office called to see how he was doing and they were so glad to hear he was fitting in nicely.  The one girl wasn't there yesterday when I got him and she said everyone in the office texted her to let her know we took him home.  They were so happy.  I emailed them some pictures and said thanks for fixing him up and making him good as new!

The new guy is excellent at hiding, so I think we might want to find a name that has something to do with that concept.  Not like Houdini, because he's not an escape artist, but something like that.  He was in my laundry laying down and then 2 minutes later I could not find him anywhere and I searched from one end of the house to the other 5 times!

Eventually I found him wedged between the wall and a big pile of old purses and bags in the corner of our closet, no idea how he got there.  Then later he was wedged between a kitty window shelf and a comforter with just enough room to fit in there and fall asleep.  He was looking for a secure place to sleep where he wouldn't have to worry about being spotted by the other boys.  And now he carved himself out a safe spot inside the comforter to sleep.  So cute!

Monkey has been great today, he and the new guy were within a paw or two distance of each other and he did not hiss.  Not quite friends yet, but getting there!  We're so glad to have him as part of our kitty family!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

San Francisco - Day 7: Lands End

Lands End Lookout
On the last day, things were winding down and we had no specific plans other than to go see anything we had missed and still wanted to see.  That boiled down to Lands End trail.  That is an area called Ocean Beach, on the water close to Golden Gate Park.

It was a very picturesque area that was once home to the Sutro Baths, which was the largest indoor pool establishment in 1896.  They had 1 fresh water pool and 6 salt water pools of varying temperatures and could hold up to 10,000 people at a time.  Unfortunately the building burned in 1966 and was abandoned, but you can still visit the former site and that's just what we did.

Sutro Baths
Remnants of Sutro Baths
Cliff House restaurant
Cliff House Restaurant, the original one was built in 1863
Check out a great animated pictorial timeline of the Cliff House and Sutro Baths.  

Cliff House Restaurant totem pole
Golden Gate Park Windmills, no longer functional but cool looking!
Lands End Trail, me on the hillside
We gotta go back up?  Blech...
Lands End Trail
Lands End Trail
Lands End Trail
Ocean Beach by the Cliff House restaurant
Ocean Beach, no one in the water cause it's cold!
Flower in bloom above Ocean Beach
That pretty much wrapped up our exploring around San Francisco.  When we finished checking out Lands End, we were pretty much ready to head back home.  We had such a great time and saw/did so much over the course of the week, but we had enough of the hills, having to take public transportation everywhere and we were ready to escape the constant activity/noise that a big city brings. 

We're definitely not the big city type, but San Francisco is really an amazing city to visit.  You really do need a full week to see everything that we saw.  This was our first real activity based vacation and we had a great time.  Typically we like to do all inclusive vacations and just lounge pool/beach side all week and read a book or two and unwind.

If we had to do it over, I don't think we would really have changed anything.  The only thing we didn't do prior was research any specific restaurants to go to.  We just figured with planning most of the excursions, that we could just wander and play it by ear.  However, as big of a foodie capital that San Francisco is, the food was not a memorable part of the trip surprisingly.

We had good food, but we also had not so good food.  The highlights food wise were the expensive fish tacos at Copita in Sausalito and the wifey really liked dinner at Forbes Island restaurant, but overall our second favorite meal was at....The Cheesecake Factory of all places.

The weird thing is at home, it's one of my least favorite places to eat.  Apparently they have a new Skinnylicious menu and first off there is a ton of good stuff on that menu and the Skinnylicious Pasta was sooo good.  The description says Gemelli Pasta with Sauteed Chicken, Fresh Tomato, Marinara Sauce and Fresh Basil, yummy.  If you haven't been in a while, definitely check it out.  Kinda sad that a huge chain like that was one of our favorite meals, but I just think that was because we didn't do any research on restaurants prior.  So if you do visit, you might want to do that ahead of time.  

The busiest Cheesecake Factory is on the top level behind the Macy's sign
Mmmm...Warm apple crisp with vanilla ice cream, once of my favorites!
Union Square view from the Cheesecake Factory
Chancellor Hotel, the beginning and end of our trip
To wrap things up, I'll offer some suggestions.  We did not rent a car and that was a wise choice in our opinion.  It would have been crazy having to navigate the city with all the busses and trolley cars and crazy drivers.  On top of that, parking in the city even at the hotels is anywhere between $25-45 per day!  Just pick up a Muni-Pass anywhere around town, we got ours at the Concierge desk at the hotel.  We got the 7 day pass which gives you unlimited rides on all the buses and trolleys for a flat $27 and it is well worth it.

If you will be taking public transportation, get the 511 Transit app for your phone.  It is really great and has up to the minute information on buses and you can search based on where you are and where you want to go or you can look for information on specific bus lines.

We stayed at the Chancellor Hotel in the heart of Union Square and it was very centrally located and inexpensive relative to other hotels and we had a good experience.  It is close to shopping/restaurants and many of the tours and main transportation routes go right through that area.

I hope you enjoyed my day by day breakdown of our trip and if you have any questions whatsoever about San Francisco or any of the places we visited, please drop me a comment or an email to chris at and I'd be glad to answer them!

Thanks and happy travels!!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

San Francisco - Day 6: Monterey Bay, Cannery Row, Pebble Beach & Carmel

Best picture from the trip, great shot by the wifey of the Oakland Bay Bridge before departing

Thursday, day 6 was our tour along the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) to Monterey Bay, Cannery Row, the famous 17 mile drive through Pebble Beach and then onto Carmel.  This one is a longer drive, around 3 hours on the way out due to taking the scenic route and then a little over 2 hours on the way back.

It is a very scenic drive along the coast on the way down to Monterey Bay.  And surprisingly, there really isn't a whole lot of anything along the way except for scenic views.  There were a few artichoke crops and you do come across little towns here and there, but other than that it's pretty sparsely populated.

Starting out our trip down the PCH from inside the shuttle bus

Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Me and the wifey
Pigeon Point Lighthouse Prairie Dogs
Kinda seems self explanatory
Really bright pink invasive wild flower
Example of the farm country along PCH
High end Taco Bell in Pacifica on the ocean complete with walk-up window for surfers
Artichoke starting to bloom, they were lots along PCH
Artichoke blooming close up
We stopped at the Pier in Monterey Bay for about 30 minutes to walk around and get some pictures.  There really isn't much here other than a few restaurants on the pier and souvenir shops.  It was beautiful, but we were a little disappointed in this specific area, but just around the corner is Cannery Row, which we didn't know at the time. 

Monterey Bay Marina
Monterey Bay Pier
Monterey Bay Sailboats
Monterey Bay
Monterey Museum
Cannery Row has a lot more shops and restaurants and that is where the Monterey Bay Aquarium was located.  Since we had only about 90 minutes there, we didn't do the aquarium.  It was over $50 each and we really didn't have the time to do that and grab lunch.  We ate at The Fish Hopper instead and had a great waterside table outside.  We had an amazing view and the food was very good as well!

View from our table at The Fish Hopper restaurant in Cannery Row
Grilled artichoke
Cannery Row
Monterey Bay Aquarium
Otter in the water by the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Pacific Grove
We then wandered around the shops, bought a few shirts and a vintage looking beach sign and we were on our way to the famous 17 mile drive through Pebble Beach.

There are 5 golf courses, including the famous Pebble Beach course and some of the most expensive homes in the nation.  I was hoping for some cool stories of who lives where, how much all the houses were, etc. but unfortunately we didn't get a lot of that.  The driver pointed out a home formerly owned by Clark Gable, but that was about it.

Huge home on the hillside along 17 mile drive
There were a lot of massive homes and when we got to Carmel I checked out some of the for sale pictures at real estate offices and this one below in Pebble Beach had a golf and ocean view for...wait for it...$27 MILLION DOLLARS! Whew...

Home in Pebble Beach with a $27 million dollar view
Me and the Lone Cypress, which is the trademarked logo for Pebble Beach Golf
Pebble Beach Lone Cypress
Pebble Beach Lone Cypress close-up
Carmel was blocks and blocks of unique/high end shops.  An interesting fact about Carmel is that it's one of the most dog friendly places on the planet.  Everywhere you go people are walking their dogs and most of the shop owners have their own dogs hanging out in the stores.  Dogs were welcome at most eateries with outdoor seating from what we saw.

Carmel California
Even the street clocks are big dollar
All in all, we were glad we got to see the Pacific Coast Highway and Monterey Bay/Cannery Row/Carmel, with the Cannery Row area being the area we liked the most.  However, we were glad we did not decide to spend a day or two staying in that area.  Initially we were thinking of spending 2 days in the Santa Cruz area, which is close to Monterey, but I think we would have been bored, our time was definitely better spent in San Francisco, taking day trips here and there.

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