Making WordPress Static

WordPress can be a nightmare. Don’t get me wrong, WordPress is great. BUT, there are often zero-day exploits, and a universe of complex security concerns which WILL come up. Combine that with the often ballooning resource requirements of templates, plugins, etc, and you get a recipe for a website that becomes a lot more complicated and expensive than it should be.

The solution is actually quite simple; static.

Many cache plugins exist which attempt to nudge WordPress in that direction, but they don’t really solve any of these problems.

On the advice of Pieter Levels, I decided to split up my server architecture. The production sites such as blog.cjtrowbridge.com, cjtrowbridge.com, trowbridge.house, etc are all using static html running simply on apache with nothing else. Take a moment to really consider that. Apache is some of the fastest code ever written. A production server running just Apache has nearly unlimited capacity, especially when it’s on an SSD in a datacenter somewhere. Most limitations and resource considerations are moot at that point, even for extremely high demand applications.

A second server hosts wordpress installations for each corresponding site. These have a different url than the production sites. Whenever a change is made to a page, I simply deploy a new static version of the site onto the production server. This gives me all the benefits of wordpress with none of the security or resource concerns.

Simply Static

Simply Static is a free WordPress plugin. This will create a static copy of your entire wordpress site using relative paths for all links and resources. You just get an archive file which contains the whole site. You can also map the output to a directory which will automatically deploy directly to your production environment. (This would be a little more complicated.)

Handling Bad URLs

The best solution I have found for handling bad URLs is simply to redirect any errors to the homepage via an htaccess file in the webroot. This still runs completely on apache while handling a complex task which wordpress would normally do.

It might be more elegant to create a custom page for each error type. Then redirect each type of error to its own page. This sounds like a lot of unnecessary work in my case, but it would be great to include that kind of detail for a more complex or customer-facing site.

Plan: Salesforce Consulting

This is the biggest and most exciting part of the open startups challenge for me. I have a great deal of experience with CRM administration and development, and specifically with certain niches around clienteling, marketing automation, and audit automation. These niches are currently exploding as multibillion dollar international markets while CRM companies are posting enormous gains. These markets are targeted primarily by large conglomerates who focus on large customers. As the old saying goes, 90% of businesses target less than 10% of a market.

I want to focus on small players. There is a virtually limitless supply of crm administration and development work already be sought after on platforms like Upwork by these small players. A quick job search shows countless open positions in this field in Northern California alone. Clearly there is a huge demand for this.

I have spent the last five years of my career working on launching a free crm product which leverages these niches to monetize itself by adding value for customers. This has proven extremely challenging. So I am pivoting to focusing on adding value for customers who are using paid platforms like Salesforce. Later, I can come back to my project of trying to offer a Free Gmail-type alternative to Salesforce’s paid Outlook-type CRM.

Pipeline

I have already set up a pipeline which pulls all salesforce and crm development or administration jobs posted on Upwork and puts them into a trello board. This will allow me to aggressively target the most valuable work and build initial relationships from the perspective of this new consulting business.

Plan: Content

My blog receives a decent amount of traffic, and I have a consistent ability to generate organic traffic for certain niche topics. I have experimented in the past with monetizing posts via affiliate links, and I was surprised by how easy it was to make some revenue with just organic traffic and no ad spend.

I have seen a lot of promoted posts on social media with simple top ten lists for things like “Cheap last minute gifts” or “Best office gadgets under $10.”

I often click on these ads with genuine interest, and always realize that whenever I do, I am generating affiliate revenue for the sites.

This seems like a super easy gig to get into. It’s very straightforward. The ROI is easy to measure, and I already have a great deal of experience with every part of this business.

I have compiled a list of these types of sites and used automation tools to integrate all their posts into a to-do list which I can go through searching for content for my posts. Then, I will publish the posts on social media and boost them so lots of people see the posts and click through to my site. If even a few of them click through to affiliate sales sites and make purchases, then the project will be profitable.

Data

It will be critical to develop a small, focused set of content types and to aggressively measure results for each post. Important metrics include traffic, engagements, clicks, and of course affiliate link conversions.

From there, each niche will need to have its own reporting about the time spent developing content and its cost, the amount of ad spend, and the revenue generated. This will enable clear and concise business analysis of each niche.

French Fry Blog

This is a blog about the best french fry experiences. Eventually it will also include display ads. I am still recruiting writers.

Cooooooooooool

This is a blog about random cool things. I have so far tried several types of posts, and am still exploring more niches.

2019 Gear List: Exploring Shiftpod Alternatives

Last year, I took way too much stuff. This year, I am taking far less stuff and focusing on a smaller and more efficient footprint. Home v3 has about a quarter the footprint of Home v2. It’s not just about bringing less stuff, it’s about being more effective. Aluminet stretched over a small light-proof shelter combined with an evaporative cooler should provide the best tent experience I’ve had at the Burn. It should be darker, cooler, and quieter than my past burns. Here’s how I’m planning to do it;

Home Sweet Home v3.1

I have decided to go with this blue knockoff Shiftpod 2 for my tent this year. It’s a bit roomier than the shiftpod mini or its knockoffs. That means I can bring a queen-size mattress and an evaporative air conditioner. This is still much smaller than my ridiculously enormous tent from last year.

Blue Shiftpod

Incidentally, this one works perfectly with the lag bolts I already bought and therefore the impact driver I got last year.

I will cover the tent with a cheap sheet of 12′ x 18′ 80% Aluminet which should stretch tightly over the whole tent, except the entrance side which faces north. This will block almost all light from reaching the tent’s walls. This aluminet covering idea would also work well with a real Shiftpod 2 . A smaller piece of aluminet would work perfectly on a Shiftpod mini (or knockoff). Aluminet is something I just learned about last year, and it seems like a magic bullet for issues relating to light and heat in the mornings on playa.Aluminet

 

Tent Orientation

Last year, I intended to orient north. I set up my enormous dome-tent facing north, but there were some logistical changes in the camp after I had set up. This put another structure essentially right in front of my entrance. Luckily I had a back door too, but this meant I ended up facing south and getting direct light essentially all day. This meant a lot of unnecessary light. This year, I will make a special effort to have my front door facing north, and to have every other side covered completely in aluminet to prevent as much heat and light from reaching the tent as possible.

I will again bring two folding camp chairs which I found for just $4/each at Walmart several years ago.

Intex Self-Inflating Queen-Size Mattress

I am again bringing an Intex self-inflating queen-size mattress. This is very comfortable for single or double occupancy depending on the night. It works perfectly with the power bank and microgrid. I had considered bringing a folding cot instead, but I would rather luxuriate a little and get as much rest as possible. This mattress goes inside a small mattress tent which I bought last year. This provides extra darkness and a second layer of thermal isolation as well as excellent protection from dust. I zip this up when I get up, and leave it shut until I’m ready for bed.

Realistic Air Conditioning

Air conditioning is a contentious subject. I am a member of the Facebook group, “Burning Man Generators and Electrical Systems.” You would not believe how many people think they can run a large home air conditioner off a single battery all week or a single solar panel. It’s hilarious.

A far better solution is evaporative cooling. This can be done with almost zero electricity, and at the extremely low humidity of the Black Rock Desert, there is a potential for up to 40 degree temperature drop inside the Shiftpod. There are a few pitfalls which many people fall into but are easily avoided. The biggest thing is that there must be constant airflow both into the space and out of the space.

Evaporative cooling works by adding humidity to dry air which causes it to get much cooler. That air is pumped into a space, cooling the surfaces. Then the now-warm air in the space must be pumped outside while new cool air is pumped in. I have seen many failed evaporative cooling implementations which simply humidify a space without exchanging the air. This does nothing to cool the space, it just makes the space hot and sweaty.

I adapted the many burner evaporative cooling designs and made some big improvements. You can check out what I did and how by clicking here.

Power

I love this power bank. It is cheap, powerful, and reliable. At under $200, it has essentially the same functionality of the Yeti 400 Lithium which costs three times as much. It provides all that power through USB and a 120 volt outlet. This is an excellent option for a small camping set up or essentially anyone who isn’t trying to refrigerate anything. This power bank allows me to run my evaporative air conditioner, charge my phone over a hundred times, and power the lights inside and outside my tent for over a week!

I found this great set of USB powered lights which worked out great last year. They will be the main light source for inside the tent.

This is really overkill since my camp has its own microgrid, but this will make a great backup. Also, our microgrid is under constant development and growth, and sometimes it may not be completely in place during placement. Having this just eliminates any electric uncertainty.

Food

I bought all this food for last year, but didn’t end up eating any of it because my camp provides food. I included the list here because it may be helpful for people who want suggestions! I will probably bring one of two in case I get hungry or miss a meal.

Breakfast:

Lunch/ Dinner:

Bike v2.1

My bike from last year worked out really well. I am going to use the same design this year with some minor tweaks. I got rid of all batteries and switched everything to run off of USB instead!

Roadmaster 26: This is the same model bike I have taken to each burn. They have proven very versatile and reliable. And they go back to Walmart after!

USB Bike Lights: Two strings of these lights run to a dust-proof power bank in the basket. This is able to run the lights for weeks on a single charge, and it recharges via built in solar panel. This technically makes the bike a microgrid in its own right!

Shelf: I added this shelf to the back of the roadmaster. It allows a milk crate to rest comfortable on the back. This makes it a lot easier to bring beer and snacks around with me on the playa.

Front Basket: I added this basket to the front of the bike. While the back basket is great for food and drinks, the front is great for thinks like the power bank, the lock, spare tubes, tools, etc. You don’t want to find yourself in need of these things and not have them handy!

Other Accessories: I found a kit for under $20 at Walmart which contained a lock, pump, bicycle bottle, headlamp, tail light, and a bell. These kinds of kits are usually available and well worth the $20.

Don’t Forget…

One last thing which I suggest is Mack’s silicone earplugs. These are one of the best products I’ve ever spent a few dollars on. I can’t overstate the importance of some kind of sound protection for sleep. There is just no way you are going to sleep at Burning Man without earplugs, and these are absolutely the best option. I have tried many solutions to this problem and I can’t recommend these enough.

Mack's Earplugs

A Call To Empathy!

Cheap LED Grow Lighting

Today we have widely available and excellent cheap LED grow lighting, but there are far more scams than good deals. I have done a great deal of research on the best and most cost-effective, efficient ways to light indoor growing spaces. Here is what I have learned.

Avoid anything with “grow” or “plant” in the name. These products are essentially identical but often up to an order of magnitude more expensive for no reason.

Look for “shop” or “utility” in the name instead. Modern broad spectrum cheap LED grow lights are interchangeable. Anything with white light, whether warm or cold is going to work just fine for plants. If you get into industrial grow operations at large scale, then eventually, it will make sense to do further research on exactly which spectrum your plants need and to use more specialized lights. This will probably provide a single-digit increase in output. That makes sense at large scale but for home grow operations, regular white light works just fine.

 

High lumens are key. LED Grow lights should be at least 3000 or 4000 lumens. Three or four of these will keep dozens of plants happy and let them grow. This can be achieved with a single spotlight like the one pictured below which I love, or with linked fluorescent-style lights which illuminate a larger area.

Another important thing to keep in mind whenever you are using led grow lights is that they need to be on some kind of timer. There are two main ways of accomplishing this. The old-school way is to use a mechanical timer. These are cheap and simple to set up and use but they have several drawbacks compared to the other way of solving this problem…

Personally, I recommend using smart plugs instead of the old fashioned mechanical timers. They accomplish the same timing for your lights, but they have several advantages. A big advantage for me is being able to check on them from elsewhere to be sure they are working. For example, if the power goes out for an hour, mechanical timers will have their cycle thrown off. This may confuse your plants into thinking the seasons are changing which can have negative side effects. Smart plugs check the time when the power comes back on and everything continues as normal. They also tell you how much power the lights are using over time. This is helpful for budgeting and diagnostic purposes.

I did a lot of hunting around online and testing with my own grow operations using both mechanical timers and smart sockets. I really like the cheap chinese smart plugs on Amazon which can be had for under $15. These are actually cheaper than the old fashioned mechanical timers depending on where you get them. I can’t recommend this strategy highly enough.

smart plug

 

Plan: Trowbridge Marketing

I have owned this company for 15 years since I started it at age 14. My strategy has always been to accept essentially any work. I want to narrow my focus and think more strategically. Different types of gigs come with enormously different amounts of work, reward, and prestige.

I’m done with schools. These are stressful jobs which don’t pay well. I may outsource this to a contractor in order to continue to leverage that segment, but I don’t want to work school gigs anymore. The kids are always mean, and I spend all my time mediating between the opposite wants of kids and their parents. It’s not worth it.

I want to focus primarily on two weekly residencies at dive bars. I want to set up an 80s dance party which benefits a worthy cause, as well as a weekly hard techno night (In the Berghain sense) which more closely resembles San Francisco’s underground sex party scene. This is a very complex and challenging pair of weekly events which should prove a very challenging and engaging project. Currently I am looking at Wednesday and Thursday nights but I do not have venues in mind yet.

Weddings are a very high ticket gig which is also a high stress gig. It’s worth it, and I really should be doing more of these. I usually gross about $1k/gig. Stress is no excuse for ignoring such a lucrative market segment.

Third, I want to expand my probono work. I already have some of the best sound and lighting equipment currently available, and I can literally give a mic to worthy groups in need.

Revenue Goals

My first goal is to make $200/week in revenue from these two weekly diverbar events.

My second goal is to do one wedding a month at that $1k price.

These two goals make up $1800/month in revenue. This is just shy of half of my overall monthly revenue goal for the open revenue project. In order to fulfil my overall goal that each of three project should supply at least 20% of an overall revenue of $4,000, this means I should have two other projects grossing at least $800 each. This still leaves me $600 shy of the $4,000 goal.

New Edges

Exclusivity

There are lots and lots of bars in the Sacramento area which do not have the required entertainment license for hosting live events. This prohibits them from having dancing, bands, DJs, or any other music that isn’t coming from either a jukebox or radio. The cost to get this license is actually very low, but you have to pay for several years up front. Many venues simply choose not to have these types of events.

The solution is so simple. I have already spoken to several bar owners who said they would happily accept a binding contract for several years of work in exchange for me paying for the permit and giving them several days a week to host their own events. I project a weekly amortized cost of just $8, with potential weekly profits up to twenty times that.

Diversification

It can’t just be bars and weddings. I have had many other reliable sources of DJ revenue over the years including sororities, middle schools, high schools, etc.

These days, many small venues such as hookah bars are impacted by a changing legal landscape and struggling to identify ways of enticing larger crowds while selling less product. Live entertainment is the obvious age-old solution. I have already spoken to several hookah bar owners who would love to host live DJ events. Incidentally, the smoke would really make the lasers pop!

Plan: Bolt Action

I had the worst time trying to source a set of lag bolts for Burning Man online this year. I found them listed on Amazon for as much as $50 a set. This is absolutely insane. I went to the hardware store and put together a set from scratch which cost about $6.

I intend to put together sets like this and list them on Ebay and Amazon at prices which dramatically undercut the competition. The beauty of it is that I can use JIT to eliminate all startup costs by simply waiting until a set sells to purchase the parts.

I have the strong feeling that this will be a seasonal business which peaks just before Burning Man, but there is no harm in starting now.

Inspirations

Pieter Levels

Several figures are inspirations for this project. Chief among them is Pieter Levels. His open revenue dashboard shows his several projects and monthly revenue, along with a graph. His dashboard also shows the status of many serverless bots which perform tasks to facilitate his projects. This enables him to be an effective solopreneur and digital nomad.

Andrey Azimov is another interesting case, and a friend of Pieter Levels. I have been following his progress on a very similar open revenue dashboard on his site. His dashboard also includes the interesting feature of an overall progress bar towards his MRR goal and a countdown to the deadline for his MRR goal. I think this is an interesting approach which could enable additional analytics about trends and progress.

Blueprints and Cost Projections

Blueprints

As you can see here, four side-facing murphy beds are at the rear of the trailer. These can fold up and down to allow lots of extra storage while in transit.

Two Ikea 2×4 Kallax shelves are mounted to the walls just forward of the beds. These allow plenty of personal storage for campers.

The very front wall of the trailer is covered with storage and appliances. These include a battery bank, a microwave, and a portable travel toilet as well as pantry space and a flatscreen tv.

 

 

Cost Projections

The biggest cost is the trailer itself at around $5,000 new. I am planning for a 7×14 trailer. This will also serve as storage and transportation for my DJ gear and other projects while not in use as a travel trailer.

Next is the power bank. I want to get a Yeti GoalZero 3000 for this project, at $3,000. This will be able to store the power I am expecting to produce from the roof-mounted solar panels while also providing enough continuous power for all the lights and appliances I am planning for. Several small redundant power banks will run things like lights and air circulation, just like I did with my grid at Burning Man 2018.

The solar array is less pricey than the batteries. Nine panels fit neatly on the roof. I plan to get these from the highly reputable company Renogy at a cost of just $1070.91.

Next is the beds. I want to get four memory foam twin-sized mattresses at a total cost of $1,134. I have back problems, so I prefer to only sleep on memory foam mattresses.

I also want to include a microwave. Using these to boil water and heat up hungry man meals is a simple solution which is well within the power production I have planned for the solar array. This will cost just $50.

In the future, I may add refrigeration.