J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

Month: March 2014

My Experience with WordAds

I try not to blog about blogging too much, but there are a few topics I want to quickly cover. When WordPress featured a recent post in their Freshly Pressed feature section, they also emailed me to suggest that I reactivate WordAds. WordAds is the advertising program available to sites hosted by WordPress. Initially, I had been invited to join the pilot program, and accepted. I turned it off after awhile because of very low revenue, and some weird formatting issues (the ads didn’t seem to be totally compatible with the template I was using). But then, as the Freshly Pressed post was getting tens of thousands of hits per day, I received this email:

Hi there,

I noticed you’re part of our WordAds family, but at some point had disabled WordAds on your blog.

With the recent spike in traffic driving to http://jdmoyer.com/2013/08/14/40-days-without-booze/ you might want to consider re-enabling it, as you could make quite a bit of revenue.

Also, if you deactivated WordAds before because you were having problems, I’d love to hear about them so we can get things fixed.

I wrote back with some questions. How much revenue is “quite a bit”? I received some polite but nonspecific answers. Not being one to like leaving money on the table, I decided to give the WordAds program another try.

Honey Nut Cheerios

After I turned on WordAds, short commercials started appearing at the bottom of my posts. The ads generally seemed like reasonably high quality mainstream TV commercials, interspersed with a few PSA type ads. Nothing offensive and nothing sleazy. Some were even funny.

None of my readers complained (though admittedly my contact form is somewhat buried), and site traffic stayed about the same. I didn’t yet know how much revenue I was earning, but WordAds didn’t seem like a disaster. I’m not philosophically opposed to advertising as long as it’s not intrusive or pernicious (see the previous post for a subtle example of the latter), and I like the idea of making back some of the money I pay WordPress to host this blog (and possibly more; the ad rep had mentioned “quite a bit” of revenue).

Then Kia told me I should turn off the ads. Like, now. She had just finished reading this post about the psychological effects of some artificial food dyes on children, and found an ad for Honey Nut Cheerios at the end of the post. There are worse foods than Honey Nut Cheerios, but at the end of the day my paleo/health/nutrition blog was showing an ad for junk-food sugar cereal.

I left WordAds up for another few days, so I could complete the month and see how much money I had earned. Then I turned them off.

Earnings

I made $162.19 over a roughly 10 week period, based on about 70,000 ad impressions. Site traffic during that time was probably about 120,000 views.

Not a lot of money, but nothing to sneeze at either. Having spoken with people who know much more about internet advertising than I do, that amount of revenue for that much traffic is on the low side. I could probably make more with Google’s AdSense program. However, WordPress hosted blogs don’t allow the option of AdSense; it’s WordAds or nothing. I could of course use the WordPress software on a 3rd-party hosted site, but I really like the WordPress hosting option. The software is great, the prices are reasonable, and traffic spikes are never an issue.

So earnings could be higher, but that’s not my main complaint. If WordPress would add one additional feature, I would turn WordAds back on.

Feature Request

When I’m logged in, I would like to see a small control next to each ad that says “Don’t show this ad on my site.”

That’s it. If WordPress added that feature, I’d be back in.

Obviously advertisers get to choose what kind of blogs they want to display their ads. So why not give bloggers a little control as well?

I think I would use the feature rarely. I didn’t even mind the rum ad. “0K” runs. Sleep yoga. That’s funny!

I have one other gripe. I think the $100 minimum payout is way too high, considering the low amounts of revenue being generated. That’s just a way for WordPress to keep money. As a music label owner I also have small royalties that I haven’t paid out at any given time, but I don’t have a minimum payout. If I owe an artist thirty cents and they ask for it, I’ll pay them. It actually pisses me off, the more I think about. WordPress should just pay their bloggers what is owed. There is no legitimate business reason to make $100 the minimum cutoff.

 Why Do I Blog?

Bringing money into the equation forces me to reevaluate why I blog. Is it to make money? No, the main reason is to help people live well, both as individuals and also collectively, as a species and planet-wide civilization. I also use jdmoyer.com to mouth-off about whatever I’m thinking, and to promote my music releases. Eventually I’ll promote my novels here as well.

But do I like passive income streams? Of course I do! Don’t you? Doing something you enjoy and getting paid for it called getting away with it. It’s one of my main life philosophies.

My alternative to WordAds will be a recommendations page of some sort, where I will link to products and services that I already use and enjoy. Then, if any of the companies behind those products and services want to get in touch with me to run a more official advertisement, they can do so.

PSA

If you use the internet, you should be aware of the plug-in AdBlock Plus. If you don’t like seeing ads, AdBlock Plus will do the trick. I use it in general, but turn it off for sites I like to support (like reddit).

“Follow Your Dream” Is Making Bankers Rich

Andy Allo stars in the new Wells Fargo commercial.

Andy Allo stars in the new Wells Fargo commercial.

The “follow your dream” mantra has a lot of power. Cal Newport over at Study Hacks spends a lot of time deconstructing the “follow your dream/follow your passion” narrative vs. a more realistic narrative of intensive practice and disciplined study leading to rewards. The two paths aren’t necessarily incompatible, but too much “follow your passion” and not enough “work hard and work smart for a very long time until you get really good” can lead to unrealistic expectations for young people.

In this ad (which I saw recently while watching the new Cosmos on Hulu) the “follow your dream” narrative is used to persuade young people to take out personal loans in lieu of employment or otherwise creating reliable income streams. The euphemism “manage her debts” is used, but the implication is that the young artist is going to borrow money (and pay interest to Wells Fargo). “Sydney” isn’t going to sell her gear or her car, and she’s touring instead of taking a 9-5. So where’s the money coming from? I wonder what kind of interest rate Wells Fargo typically offers young music artists?

I’m making a broad and loose connection here, but when a cultural mantra goes 100% mainstream (“follow your dream” is definitely in this category), you have to start asking who is really served by the philosophy? Maybe the mantra for young artists should instead be “demand government funding for the arts” or “50% minimum royalty rate by law”. Neither of those serves Wells Fargo.

Incidentally, the star of the commercial is the talented and charming Prince protege Andy Allo. She’s got a good financial plan: advertising residuals!

Intermittent Fasting Update

Breakfast and lunch, some days.

Breakfast and lunch, once a week.

One of the more popular articles on this blog is about intermittent fasting. I still practice intermittent fasting (I.F.) about once a week, so here’s a quick update.

How

About once a week I don’t consume any calories (or artificial sweeteners) until 2pm or later. I drink water, black coffee, and sometimes tea (black or herbal). Sometimes I fast until dinner (I did so last Thursday, as Kia was observing the Fast of Esther and I tagged along).

Why

I do it mainly for health reasons. There is some evidence that intermittent fasting can help protect against diabetes, dementia, cancer, and other diseases of aging. Since I only practice I.F. once a week, the measurable effects probably aren’t large. But the subjective effects keep me coming back to this simple practice. On fasting days and for a few days after, I consistently notice the following positive effects:

  • seasonal allergies (if I have any) go away
  • mood improves
  • waistline tightens (some fat loss, some retained water loss)
  • general motivation and creativity increase
  • steady energy

My once-a-week partial fast feels like I’m giving my body a chance to “clean house” through autophagy. For more on the health effects of autophagy, here’s my original post on the topic.

Fasting and Comfort

The first few times I practiced I.F. were a little rough. I was probably experiencing some minor detox. I felt slightly irritable, a little achy, and my eyes got a little bloodshot.

Now I don’t experience any negative effects. I’m not hungry after 11am or so, my energy is steady, and my concentration is very good.

I do notice that my body temperature drops a few degrees in the afternoon on I.F. days. On really cold days I usually choose not to fast.

I prefer “quiet days” when I’m fasting. I don’t feel as social, and my senses and emotions are heightened (so I need less stimulation). I like to take long walks on I.F. days but I usually don’t lift weights or do anything physically intense.

Psychological Effects

Food can take up a lot of mental space. Not just in terms of thinking about “what’s for lunch,” but as a reward system. Do you “deserve” a treat today? Or a shot of Jameson? (It is St. Patrick’s Day, after all.) Taking a short break from food helps me recalibrate my rewards system. What other things do I look forward to in the place of food? Sometimes I read fiction when I would otherwise be eating lunch (for me, good fiction is comforting and reassuring and enjoyable, like good food).

Precautions

I don’t think skipping a meal or two once a week is risky. A simple precaution if you are just starting out would be to try I.F. on a “light” day where you don’t have much on your schedule. If you feel really terrible, you can always have something to eat. If you have health issues, check in with your doctor first. Some sensible precautions:

  • If you are addicted to caffeine (like I am), remember to drink black coffee or tea. Don’t try I.F. and caffeine withdrawal at the same time.
  • Drink enough water (so that you piss clear or light yellow).
  • Dress more warmly than you would otherwise.

The Next Level

For me, there is no next level. This is as far as I’m going with intermittent fasting. I enjoy eating with my family and friends too much to want to miss out on more than a few meals a week.

Reading articles like this one have persuaded me to stick with three meals a day in general. Restricting the “eating window” on a daily basis may have some benefits, but there are risks of cortisol dysregulation and other hormonal balance issues. My own “once a week” system is the opposite of hardcore, but I still notice clear benefits (without any side effects).

Mental Health System Rant, and What Can Be Done Better (a Pipe Dream)

Who takes over when you get a mentally ill family member to the ER? Nobody.

Who takes over when you get a mentally ill family member to the ER? Nobody.

Lately I’ve been trying to get help for a relative who is mentally ill. What passes for a “mental health care system” in the United States is a joke. There is no system. There is a patchwork of uncoordinated crap.

I try to be positive and constructive on this blog, and to offer something of value to my readers. This post will be no exception, but I need to get a short rant out of the way first.

Some observations …

  • HMOs tend to farm out mental health services to independent clinics, and then refuse to coordinate with those clinics (like transferring medical records to the psychiatrist). This means the person with mental illness needs to deal with such logistics (which means a family member or caregiver needs to do it — if they have access and permission).
  • There is an incredibly low bar for “well” or “ok” among most psychiatrists. If you are not currently committed for violent or suicidal behavior, you are doing “well” or “fine.” Even if the patient is delusional and suffering from severe memory issues, they are deemed “ok” if they are not hospitalized.
  • All psychiatric drugs are prescribed on pretty much a crapshoot “let’s see if this works” basis.
  • It is extremely rare for a patient with mental illness to be able to work with a single qualified psychiatrist, or even a single team. The patient is much more likely to see a psychiatrist who is new to their case, ignorant of their history, and under too much time pressure to carefully consider the needs of the patient.
  • Getting committed to psychiatric lockup is horrible for the patient, even if the facility is run well. Everyone is aware of losing their freedom when they lose it. But often it’s the only way for a patient to get care. Usually the care is sub-par, and consists of sedation, cursory evaluation, and rapid discharge.
  • The “residential treatment” options I have seen are really dismal. Ratty houses, cramped quarters, no psychiatrist (or therapist) on staff, lots of TV watching, lots of sitting around. Not a healing environment.

I could go on and on, but my point is simply that there is massive room for improvement. The Mental Health Parity Act (2013 technical amendment) is a start. But what would real improvement look like? What’s the best case scenario?

I’ll put forth my own pipe dream. Here’s what I would want the experience of trying to provide help for a mentally ill family member/loved one to look like:

1. Let’s assume the patient has HMO coverage with Kaiser Permanente, either through employment (unlikely if they are chronically disabled), through Medicare, or independently purchased. (Already we’re in pipe dream land, right? Many people with mental illness don’t have *any* medical insurance).

2. I notice my family member or friend is having severe psychiatric problems (serious depression, mania, psychosis, delusions, hallucinations, confusion, memory loss, etc.). Let’s assume I manage to notice these symptoms before they reach a point of “decompensation” (med speak for losing your shit entirely — especially with schizophrenia).

3. I convince the friend or family member that it’s time to seek help, and (depending on the seriousness of the symptoms) we go to the ER or make a regular doctor’s appointment. Those who have been in the situation know what a Herculean feat of patience, persuasion, and persistence this single step entails.

4. Medical tests (blood work, blood pressure, exam, interview) are run to rule out stroke, side effects of new meds, etc. These tests are either run in the same intake location (ER or doctor’s office) or a medical escort is offered to help the patient and caregiver navigate the system (pipe dream — I know!). If it’s clear the problem is psychiatric in nature, the patient is referred (immediately) to a psychiatrist on call.

5. The on-call psychiatrist begins the diagnostic process, considering recent events in the patient’s life, meds history, family history, nutrition, sleep, past episodes of mental illness, etc. At this point the on-call psychiatrist refers the patient to a permanent psychiatrist (the patient would have the option to change doctors later if desired), and provides the option of a short-term residential voluntary stay in an HMO-managed facility.

6. The permanent/longer-term psychiatrist meets with the patient and caregiver(s) in the context of the short-term residential program or regular appointment. The in-depth diagnostic process begins, and includes the following tests and considerations:

  • detailed patient history (previous episodes, past and current medications, life circumstances)
  • genetic (family history and complete DNA sequencing)
  • nutritional (eating habits, allergen testing, gluten sensitivity, tests for vitamin and mineral deficiencies)
  • infectious disease, as related to psychiatric conditions (neurosyphilis, toxoplasmosis, etc.)
  • recent traumatic events (death in the family, divorce/breakup, loss of a job, etc.)
  • sleep patterns, sleep deprivation
  • changes in medications, side effects of medications
  • recent chemical exposure/toxicity
  • drug/alcohol abuse
  • meditation (not kidding here — I know of two cases of meditation-induced psychosis)
  • recent head injury or concussion
  • brain scan/other neurological tests (looking at both activity and organic structure/pathology including injury or tumor)

7. The patient, psychiatrist, and (if invited) caregiver(s) come up with a treatment plan, and treatment goals. The treatment plan would contain the following elements:

  • conservative medication (conservative both in dosage, and in the number of concurrent medications, and in the duration of the prescription — not every psychiatric patient needs to be on meds for the rest of their lives)
  • medication tapering (if the side effects are suspected as being part of the problem, powerful psychiatric medications may need to be tapered off slowly, over a number of weeks or even months)
  • nutrition (high nutrient/low junk diet, with food restrictions if tests indicate such restrictions might be helpful, correcting any nutrient deficiencies)
  • exercise
  • social (time with family and friends)
  • therapeutic (group, music, talk, addiction, whatever is appropriate for the patient)
  • treating any infectious diseases or other treatable organic causes discovered during the diagnostic process

Not all of these elements would be required for every patient … it might be more effective to devise a simpler treatment plan with fewer elements. But they should all be considered by the psychiatrist.

8. The patient should have the option to stay in a voluntary residential program (HMO-managed, covered by insurance), under psychiatric observation, for as long as they need. In cases where powerful medications are being added, tapered off, or modified, months of observation and supervised meds might be required.

9. Follow-up. The patient should be able to meet with the same long-term psychiatrist for years, as needed.

Those who have had experience dealing with the mental health “system” in the United States know how far we are from anything remotely resembling the scenario described above.

But it’s not impossible.

A few years ago I had a hernia repaired, through Kaiser. The entire process was incredibly streamlined and well-managed. Every step of the process was well-organized. The level of care was excellent. Even with insurance, I paid a lot out-of-pocket, but it didn’t bankrupt me.

So large HMOs can provide excellent care. But most of the time, people with mental illness fall through the cracks. They are treated like 2nd-class citizens. They are blamed (or partially blamed) for their own condition. Their treatment is outsourced to poorly funded, haphazardly run clinics. Caregivers must navigate a Byzantine maze of services. The left hand doesn’t talk to the right hand. The ball is constantly dropped. Nobody is willing to take responsibility for the patient’s medical care. Doctors say “it’s a psychiatric problem,” as if the brain were not an organ of the human body.

Psychiatric care should be medical care. One system, accountable and responsible for the wellness of the patient. Just like any other disease!

Psychiatric care is incredibly complicated (and expensive). The patient isn’t thinking clearly, and won’t necessarily comply with recommendations. So HMOs like to avoid the sticky wicket, and outsource the care. But they shouldn’t be allowed to. They should step up and deal with these patients like they do with every other kind of patient. That’s why the Mental Health Parity Act and continued improvements to psychiatric healthcare are important.

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