Thoughts on Self-Hosted versus Free WordPress Accounts

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Today’s challenge sponsored by Sarah of Sarkemedia was to find out how to install plugins on self-hosted WordPress blogs. While trying to figure this out for a good 15 minutes of my time, I concluded that my blog was not self-hosted. Which then led me to believe that I really didn’t know the difference between free and self-hosted blogs on WordPress.

I then came across this great article by WPBeginner (Beginner’s Guide for WordPress), who explain in detail what exactly the pros and cons are for both types of blogs. Find the full write-up with infographic here.
In the meantime, I’ve come up with my own conclusions on both types:

1) .com versus .org
The main difference is perhaps the most obvious: Hosted blogs end in (wordpress) .com whereas self-hosted blogs end in .org. This is not to be confused with the CSS upgrade wordpress.com users can achieve, which gets rid of the WordPress part in their URL.

2) Themes
This has always rubbed me the wrong way because all the great themes are usually restricted to an upgrade of your wordpress account. I have wanted to do something great theme-wise with this blog in like forever but every time I find a great, suitable theme, it costs $$ each year (which is not a one-time fee either) or you have to upgrade your blog to have access to other great themes.

3) Plugins to Enhance User Traffic
After searching for an SEO plugin today, I realized that perhaps the free WordPress account is a bit limited in terms of SEO and google search features. Self-hosted accounts certainly have more flexibility when it comes to installing SEO plugins and adding other great, traffic enhancing features to the site.

4) Cost and Regularity
The hosted version of wordpress.com is free. Perhaps one of the main reasons I decided to start two blogs was that it was perfectly easy to do so. I also have not yet switched over to self-hosting on either. I enjoy entertaining different blogs but, as most of my readers can attest, I have not been very avid about blogging in the past year or so. I figured that if I wanted to spend the money on blogging, perhaps I should make sure I establish more of a daily/ weekly routine.

At the end of the day, I don’t think I will switch to self-hosted anytime soon. Even though I’d really like to get rid of the wordpress.com in my URL. My main reason is that I already own a photographer’s website, for which I pay a large amount of yearly fees thanks to bluehost and smugmug. Personally, I consider blogging more of a fun side activity and a great way to share my thoughts, way of living, and events with other writers and photographers. As of now, I don’t think it’s worth it (yet) to pay an extra yearly sum for self-hosting or to go through any CSS upgrade.

What are your thoughts on free versus self-hosted wordpress blogs? Does your blog expand your business in such a way that you want to get rid of the wordpress.com URL? Are free WordPress users at any other disadvantages?

Taking Artsy Classes in NY: BRIC, 92nd St Y and More

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I’ve been recently trying to expand my creative horizon by using my flexible work schedule and time off to my advantage. In addition to seeing some pretty inspiring shows and theatre last month, I’ve also come across some great websites when it comes to taking reasonably priced art classes in New York.

I’ve been looking forward to furthering my interest in certain artsy areas, such as graphic design, calligraphy, drawing… After doing some research and following through on word-of-mouth recommendations, I discovered some pretty rad programs throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan.

1) BRIC Arts Media

I am currently enrolled in an Intro to Graphic Design course with these fellows. BRIC is a nonprofit arts and media organization, which organizes the glorious Celebrate Brooklyn! each and every year. It is community aimed and makes sure that local art and artists get out there. In addition, BRIC offers certification and non-certification courses in various realms. Some of these being: Intro to TV studio production, DSLR photography, videography, motion animation… The certified courses differ in time and cost from the non-certified courses. BRIC also offers free courses, which are usually given by the Central Brooklyn Library in Prospect Heights.

I started taking a basic graphic design course this week and am so far satisfied with the amount of attention and technical skills I have received. By the end of this course, we should be able to design our own business card, poster, and basic logo. The teacher also patiently answers all of our questions and offers some of her free time after the course to sit with us and go through our Photoshop troubles.

bric logo

2) 92nd Street Y

The 92nd St Y (not to be confused with a YMCA, like I thought in the beginning) has a broader array of classes and pretty much anything your artsy heart desires. It considers itself a “world-class cultural and community center”, which hosts studios, workshops and classes to artists in NY. What is pretty neat about this institution is that all professional levels can come together and find something to suit their needs – be it an intro or advanced class. It is here that I found some great dance and also drawing lessons, which I might try out in the future months.
You can dip into art, dance, sports for reasonable prices, as classes average around $20, with a purchase of a 6-10-week-session. If you want to involve your entire family, you can also find classes for newborns, children, and elderly people. It’s a pretty neat concept they have going on and I am excited that I finally came across it.

3) CourseHorse.com

Course Horse can be found in other cities, as well. It’s an online platform combining best offers for an array of classes throughout New York City. I’ve been told that this can be a magic site for the rather unusual sports activities, too. My friend is currently taking a handstand class through them and loves it. I guess if my bank account has not yet been exhausted by all of the previous mentioned programs, I will certainly give them a try!

What centers of interest and sites do you guys use when it comes to finding some cost-effective, furthering education in arts, sports, and thereof?

On Cell Phone Addiction and the Moments App

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Ever since purchasing my first smartphone about 3 ½ years ago, I’ve been finding myself to become the victim of the widespread disease called cell phone addiction.

I remember the days when I didn’t own a smartphone at all. The first 1 ½ years in NY were tough money- and also career-wise. I wasn’t able to afford $200 plus a 2-year-contract on a phone until my job stabilized and I was able to set up a bill plan. Now when I first received my iPhone 4s in the mail, I was over the moon. An entirely new world opened up to me in terms of online connectivity and internet presence. I suddenly became familiar with apps such as Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn … And the phenomena of constant e-mail downloads. Having access to Facebook 24/7 sounded very appealing in the beginning, especially when it came to meticulously uploading status updates and location pictures. About 9 months later I deleted my Facebook for almost 2 months – a reaction I indirectly attribute to having constant access to it via cellphone.

Since that time, I’ve always wondered about my daily cellphone usage. A few weeks ago, an acquaintance told me about an app that tracks your daily usage and reprimands you when you are over your limit. It is called Moments for iPhones and Quality Time for Androids (I’m sure other phones have a slightly different version of it). I finally got to download it last week and have been on it for the past 7 days. What I’ve found was quite alarming: On Wednesday, just one day after downloading the app, I’ve spent a total of 240 minutes (!) on my iPhone 5. That’s 4 full hours of sitting in front of my phone doing.. what exactly?

My initial phone usage in the first week

My initial phone usage in the first week

Over the next few days, my cellphone usage slightly decreased but the amount of pickups was still quite alarming. Pickups refer to the almost unconscious motion of unlocking your phone to quickly browse through all your apps and check what you’ve missed out on. I’ve come to find that I consider my behavior almost neurotic, especially when I am bored. I’ve also come to find that perhaps I am not the only one with this behavior and have observed how others in my surroundings handle their cellphones. Heck, even waiting on the subway or being in a train car where more than 50 percent of people finger around on their phones seems to be a given nowadays.

Consciousness heightens awareness and vice versa. Being aware of the amount of time I spend on my phone each day has made me re-evaluate whether or not I should slide that unlock button. Is it really necessary to check on status updates on Facebook or likes on Instagram when there is nothing to do at work? Do I really have to snapchat my most current meal or view just so I can gain more app points (which ultimately buy me nothing, not even new friends).

Spending 4 full hours on my phone during one day this week has made me re-evaluate what I’d rather spend my time on instead. I’ve come up with the following list:

1) I’d rather catch up with blogging and write a blog post or two within that extended amount of time.

2) I’d rather get to editing all the pictures I took over this summer and during my trips in the fall.

3) I’d rather learn how to cook a recipe out of my newly purchased cook book: Good Food Made Simple Vegetarian

4) I’d rather get it going on my goal of accomplishing calligraphy for up to one hour each day.

5) I’d rather look up fitness classes or attend a fitness class.

6) I’d rather fold my laundry or re-arrange my room, which I’ve been seriously neglecting for the past month or so.

7) I’d rather catch up with a friend over brunch or coffee.

8) I’d rather go outside and experience the real New York other than being glued to a screen and looking at people who depict their lives as happy on social media.

9) I’d rather get it going on my travel plans I have yet to make for some upcoming trips this year.

10) I’d rather look for a second job or work at a second job to save up money in order to accomplish those travel plans.

The list of “I’d rathers” goes on. But coming up with this list in about 5 minutes of time shows me that my priorities do not lie in spending time on my phone for such an extended amount of time anymore. Why then do I (we) do it?

A few of the following circumstances might lead to answers and solutions:

1) I actually don’t have any proper alarm clock other than on my phone. Waking up via means of phone means that indirectly I am forced to check what messages/ emails/ status updates I’ve missed out on as soon as I wake up. Perhaps I’ll purchase a proper alarm clock and make an effort to wake up like in the good old days.

2) Having become constantly available via means of whatsapp or e-mails is another drawback to our generation. I remember looking for an apartment in 2012 and not communicating with potential roommates via text messages anymore (the way I had in 2010). People admitted to meeting half an hour to an hour before the meeting time via e-mails. This behavior implied that every potential candidate was thought to have constant access to their emails via phones.

3) Overusing the photo feature of my smartphone and feeling almost incomplete when I do not post it online has certainly caused me to download picture-sharing apps such as Instagram and Snapchat. And yet, I still have countless of images to go through, especially when it comes to my most recent trips, which most likely I won’t ever look at again. Overtaking pictures does not increase the quality of them but rather causes more headache. Perhaps I should make sure I really want to take a picture of an object/ person/ scenery before I do it.

Re-evaluating time spent with my cellphone means deleting lots of meaningless apps and focusing on not having it run my life anymore. After all, there are endless amount of things to waste my time on. Why do it on a tiny screen than real, tangible life?

What do you think about your own cell phone usage and when you observe it in people in your surroundings?

The 30 Day Blogging Challenge

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This blog has been under- unused for a significant amount of time. Not that I ever intended on neglecting my writing and stories. Life happened and along with it came some petty demotivation and feelings of tiredness, boredom, and unfulfilled purpose. It’s become incredibly hard for me to fuel my newly inspired interest for blogging and writing again. Especially when I haven’t managed to catch up with half of the posts I intended to publish over a year ago.

In these moments of despair, the great blogging community comes into play together with some pretty awesome ideas and motivators. My fellow blogger friend Amanda from Embracing Adventures posted quite recently (less than two months ago is recent enough for me) a challenge online, which caught my attention to the degree that I wanted to try it out. Amanda (whom I also happened to have met in real life) participated in the 30 Day Blogging Challenge over the course of December 2014/ January 2015. She managed to write about a diversity of topics and perhaps even catch up on her most recent trips around Germany and Europe. Inspired by the simplicity of posting a blog every day over the course of one month, I’ve decided to give it a go. Even though the challenge is initially intended for business blog use, I still think it’s an excellent idea to “grow that writing muscle” and start catching up on all the posts I’ve been wanting to publish for a while. I’m not sure where the challenge will take me, but if it helps revitalizing this dusty blog I guess it has fulfilled its purpose half-way.

How it works? I literally just subscribed to the entire process a few minutes ago. I guess I will be receiving e-mail prompts and some ideas on what to blog about within the allotted time frame. I do have lots of own ideas on what to blog about so if anything, I’ll probably go for those and switch between the other ideas.

So stay tuned for the next 30 posts and let’s hope I can get them going before my trip back home, which will be by the end of this month! Idealistically speaking, this will happen. Realistically speaking, I might also just be a happy bird to blog and contemplate for a bit more than the previous zero two posts a month.

Culture February: Plays, Music, and More to Beat the Cold

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So long, it’s been a few weeks since the last entry. Not only have I fought with sincere polar vortex allergy but also a hiatus of procrastination and lots of demotivation. Well, it looks like this dreary, bleary, cold winter is almost coming to an end – a fact that makes me sad and happy all at once. In regards to a spring awakening, I am hoping to catch up on a few events that have been happening lately.

Carnegie Hall us

I’ve deemed February my most important culture month so far. These past 4 weeks have been not only the coldest of our NYC winter but also culturally the most appealing.

It all started off with watching my friend Shubhra’s play in Chinatown/ Soho. Romeo and Juliet – A Bollywood Love Story was an inspiring, humorous, and also dramatic version of the Shakespearean classic. Together with another theatre director, Shubhra has founded the theatre company Hypokrit Theatre and this was the company’s very first play. What better stage than NYC itself? I’m staying tuned for future plays and/ or different locations.

Romeo and Juliet (courtesy of iPhone)

Romeo and Juliet (courtesy of iPhone)

The same week, I saw one of the most inspiring photo talks up to this date. Paul Nicklen gave his speech “Spirit of the Wild” at the newly opened NYU Skirball. Nicklen has gained popularity as a wildlife photographer for National Geographic, specializing in the cold climate zones. He is considered an influential activist when it comes to preserving (Arctic and Antarctic) wildlife throughout the world. Not only did I enjoy hearing his life story – having grown up on one of the most secluded parts of the arctic called Baffin Island and being fluent in the Inuit language – but I also enjoyed listening to someone whose sole purpose is to change the world around us. Not just for the good of fame or advertising but for the sincere and intent purpose of the preservation of wildlife in the most remote corners of our world. His speech has been a deeply longed- for wake-up call this month and has caused my interest in photography to shift towards the cooler parts of Earth. I’d love to spend more time in those nifty corners, even though unjustified mass tourism is causing problems in remote areas such as Antarctica. I guess an upcoming trip to Iceland is certainly a good start.

Spirit of the Wild via Paul Nicklen

Spirit of the Wild via Paul Nicklen

Just a week later, my dear friend Wendy invited me to yet another great event: A multi-cultural concert at Carnegie Hall! A premiere for me, as well, since I had never set foot into it in the almost 5 years I’ve lived in the city of New York. How great my surprise was when Wendy escorted us up to the balconies. Not any balcony though, but the one RIGHT NEXT to where usually the composers and directors sit. Yes, you’ve guessed it – this translates into: Almost the best seats/ views in the house. The concerts “Two Cultures, One Dream” were two different sets with entirely different composers. Xian Xinghai introduced “The Yellow River Cantata” which deals mostly with communism of the early 20th century in China. The second was a premiere for Carnegie Hall. Earnestine Rodgers Robinson introduced “Exodus” with a strong choir and great narrators. The religious background to the story deals with the Israelites during Moses’ time and their generation-like journey to the Promised Land.

Best seats at Carnegie Hall

Best seats at Carnegie Hall

Then, just last week I saw a free (!) concert at Lincoln Center. The Daedalus Quartet was transforming the David Rubinstein Atrium into a musically appealing concert hall for the duration of one hour. With some fine violin tunes and passionate quartet power, I was once again blown away by the power of classical music. While I had been to various auditoriums of Lincoln Center in the past, I had never gotten a freebie before. During one of the coldest months of the year, this treat seemed extra special and deeply cherishable.

From there, I made the trek up to the Upper West Side. Unfortunately, this is an area of Manhattan I seldom go to, especially on the so far coldest night of the year. An acquaintance of mine was playing the trumpet at the legendary Smoke Jazz & Supper Club in the city and I didn’t want to miss out on it. Wayne Tucker put up a great show together with his ensemble and it turned out to be quite an event. Despite the bouncer gave everyone an attitude and didn’t let me in till approx. 10:30pm, I was still able to enjoy about one hour of music luxury – all for free.

Some Jazz at the Smoke Club

Some Jazz at the Smoke Club

Another actress friend is currently performing in quite a play down in Tribeca at Here Arts Center. “You on the Moors Now” deals with feminist reactions and women saying no as interpretation of Jane Austen’s plays. This great piece of art still runs throughout February 28th and I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in amazing acting. The play is around 1 1 /2 hours long and has no intermission – so get your snack attack on before.

You on the Moors Now

You on the Moors Now

Last but not least, I got to see some solid comedy! Just yesterday, Aasif Mandvi gave some insight into his book “No Land’s Man” at Words bookstore in Jersey City. The Indian actor/ comedian/ writer has gained fame especially through the Daily Show and he shared some funny anecdotes and jokes about his time in the US and especially throughout his acting life.

New York – how I love that there is always so much going on. If you really want to experience some great cultural events here, all you need is a bit of time, some planning, and perhaps a few dollars. But unlike most people assume, lots of events are low-cost or even for free. Even during the winter months. Some of my future goals in regards to culture include seeing a ballet, finally going to an event at the Barclay’s Center (what use is it to live in its vicinity?), and listening to some fine tunes at the BAM. We will see how much of those I accomplish.