Hanging onto the reins

Houston vs SMU via Redditor appling_green. Click to embiggen

My UH blog has been exploding rapidly in growth over the past few months. I’m mostly writing this blog post to keep track of the growth over time so I can look back many years from now and see how much has changed. Since December 30th the blog has grown from 189 Facebook followers to 640 and 1,892 on Twitter to 3,026. January was also my biggest ever traffic month with 36,929 page views. It’s al pretty wild! I’ve got to grab the reins and hang on this wild ride!

Building the largest UH blog on the planet

jetpack

January 17th of 2015 I launched my Houston Cougars fan blog, Cardiac Coogs, and it quickly become the dominant UH blog on the planet.

I wrote in this blog post a few months ago more details about my motivations for creating it. The simple version is that there wasn’t anyone who wrote about the Houston Cougars football and basketball teams from a fan’s perspective. So many other schools are also covered by SB Nation and Bleacher Report and UH gets minimal coverage. I decided I knew enough about college football to start my own blog just for fun with no clue anyone would actually read it. Boy was I surprised!

Since launching in January I’ve published 414 blog posts and I’ve had over 100,000 visitors to the blog in 2015! Not bad for a hyperlocal blog. The blog now has 1,892 followers on Twitter, 189 on Facebook, & 37 subscribers via email (as of Dec 30th). Pretty good for not spending a single dollar on marketing!

I’ve learned a lot about how to write quality content to build an audience and how to keep the audience engaged and coming back for more. I’ve primarily spent my social media efforts on Twitter (which is reflected in the above numbers) and learned how important of a tool it is for media. Without Twitter, Reddit, and Google Alerts running the blog would be nearly impossible.

Reddit has also been instrumental for reaching a larger audience within the University of Houston as well as the greater college football landscape. Also, I’ve learned how to break news anonymously on Reddit: I submitted a post with the link to the original author (as opposed to re-creating the content on my own blog) and the article went viral. Soon every major college football outlet was covering the story: ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Fox Sports, CBS, as well as countless blogs. I nearly fell off the elliptical one morning seeing Dan Le Batard and Bomani Jones discussing the same story on their ESPN show! Pretty cool stuff.

I’m running the blog mostly for experience instead of looking at it from a potential revenue stream. It’s more important to me to retain 100% control and to focus on content and the audience as opposed to aligning with a larger media company and/or to sell advertising for a small paycheck. Unless someone is willing to hire me to do this full-time or wants to purchase the blog outright, I’d rather stay independent and do everything on my own terms. I had brief discussions with a large media company earlier in the year but it quickly became apparent that I would have to give up too much control and wouldn’t get much money in return. I’ve already got a job where I have to follow orders and unless I can make enough money run the blog full-time, it’s not worth it to give up control for another boss.

For 2016 I plan to continue to work hard on adding more quality content and also growing my social media audience.

Houston’s Hermann Park

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Can’t believe I’ve lived in Houston this long but had never ventured over to see the gorgeous Hermann Park in person. The park is located a mere five miles from my apartment but somehow I’d never made the visit. A few weekends ago I finally went with my mom and my brother.

First we had brunch over at The Breakfast Klub which is arguably Houston’s most famous restaurant. The legendary southern comfort restaurant is most famous for their “Wings and Waffles” which of course I had to have:

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After brunch we made our way over to Hermann Park. It was beautiful and I can’t wait to go back! Check out the photo gallery below (click on the first photo to embiggen):

Trip to Austin through the backroads

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Nothing is more fun than taking a roadtrip and staying off of the interstate. Sometimes it’s fun just hitting the backroads and travelling through the countryside and stopping in random small towns along the way. For the Forth of July weekend this year, Gabs and I traveled to Austin and decided to take the backroads to get there. The journey should be as fun as the destination! :-)

First, we drove through the small Texas town of Navasota about 70 miles outside of central Houston. Navasota is apparently known for it’s blues music and we decided to stop off and wander around a bit. This wasn’t planned so it was a pleasant surprise.

Click the first photo to launch the gallery:

Then we hit the road down 105 to 159 and came across Fayetteville which I had never heard of but looked light a picturesque small town so we pulled over to look around and snag some photos:

Next we headed further west to another town called Lockhart which is famous for it’s barbecue. We decided on a famous bbq joint called Black’s and had some amazing food!

It was a fun road trip!

Houston Pride 2015

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Houston’s 2015 Pride parade was a few months back in June and of course I’m getting around to blogging about it now. The wife and I had an excellent time and we had never been before. 2015 was the first year the parade was in downtown Houston instead of in the historic Montrose neighborhood. We had no idea what to expect but it was a great time!

I don’t talk too much about politics but I feel it’s important to show my support on this particular issue. I know many gay people, both friends and family members, and everyone deserves the right to feel accepted for who they are. Sometimes it can feel very lonely in this crazy world like nobody understands us, so I feel this is an issue I need to wear on my sleeve to let people know that we support them.

Photos from the parade are below. A few are a bit blurry since it was a parade and so the participants were in constant motion.

First, check out this hilarious video I shot of a drag queen firing up the crowd, followed by two other brief videos that show what the atmosphere was like:

 

 

Photos are below. Click the first photo to launch the gallery:

Houston’s Art Car Parade

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Houston’s famous Art Car Parade is held every April. The 2015 parade was held on April 11th and of course I got busy and forgot to post photos from the parade. Check em out! (Click the first photo to embiggen and launch the gallery)

Learning Bootstrap, GitHub, and building a portfolio page

For the past few weeks I’ve been diving in to learning how to be more technical. I’ve always worked in technology and with programmers and developers, but I figured it’s time a get a bit more technical so I can better communicate with coders. Even if I don’t decide to pursue a career on the programming side, just being able to communicate effectively will help me tremendously in my career. Another benefit to learning some code is to be able to mockup my ideas and even build my own side projects for fun.

I decided learning some web development basics was a good first step in learning some code. I’ve already been using HTML for years and have been learning some CSS on the side. In the past few weeks I started learning some JavaScript and jQuery to increase my skill set. I’ve been diving into some lessons from Codecademy, Free Code Camp, and Khan Academy. After doing many lessons I hit a wall and decided to try something else to clear my head… with the goal to come back to these lessons in the near future. I then got the idea that I needed to learn how to use GitHub and learn how to use GitHub Pages to host some test websites.

Enter Bootstrap

I figured learning Bootstrap would be a good idea as well while I learned how to use GitHub. Instead of just putting a basic HTML+CSS landing page, I wanted something that actually would look semi-decent. I found these excellent videos on YouTube by a user named Microwave Sam on how to use Bootstrap. There’s lots of hand-holding involved, which is exactly what a n00b like me needs! He not only tells the viewer to do something, he does a very good job explaining why he’s telling us to do it.

GitHub

Then, I watched his videos on how to use GitHub and learned how to create a repo and upload files onto the website. Being non-technical and logging into GitHub the first time and trying to figure everything out was very overwhelming. So, I just watched a bunch of videos and did lots of Googling until something finally started to make sense.

I followed his guides and ended up realizing I could actually make this project into a portfolio page to show off my n00b web dev skills to other people. As I learn more and more web development, I can go back and update the original source code and have new items listed on my portfolio page. Now I’ve got some basic GitHub and Bootstrap skills under my belt! Double-Win!

Conclusion

I’ve still got a long way to go learning all of these new tools, GitHub especially, but I’m so excited I finally got up and running! Check out my project page here: westonludeke.github.io.

Resources:

Microwave Sam’s Bootstrap Tutorial
Microwave Sam’s GitHub Tutorial
This guide to push an existing project onto GitHub Pages

Diving deeper with WordPress

I’ve been using WordPress for over five years now, which is hard to believe it’s already been that long! This website (westonludeke.com) was the first site I launched on the WP platform. I was just a simple blog I created on the WordPress.com platform.

One of the original reasons I created this website was because I found out there was someone else out there in the universe named Weston Ludeke and I didn’t want him to be able to have WestonLudeke.com. I also wanted to take control of my name: I didn’t want him to do something stupid and have it hurt my chances of obtaining a job. The goal of this site would be for me to give myself a voice and so I can control the “branding” of myself… for lack of better term.

Over the years the Automattic team has been adding advertisements on blogs on the free WordPress.com to help cover costs of those free websites. The downside is publishers on the WP.com platform don’t receive any revenue from those ads. To remove those ads publishers have to upgrade to the WordPress Premium plan which runs $99/year. Ugh. I’m already playing about $10/yr for the domain name (via NameCheap) and $13 to map the domain via WordPress so visitors see westonludeke.com and not wordpress.westonludeke.com. So, instead of paying $23 per year I’d be paying $109 (domain name + WordPress premium). Multiply that by many websites and that starts to add up quick!

I decided it was time I look into self-hosting my own WordPress websites via a web hosting service. Doing some research I decided to go with Bluehost. I did a lot of research on how to do the migration from WordPress.com to WordPress.org via Bluehost and created a game plan. I did the migration first on some small websites I own before the bigger websites. Some good resources I recommend for anyone thinking of migrating:

Bluehost Customer Support – Their support team is available 24/7 and was extremely helpful with me getting my account setup. I used their live chat which was great because I was able to ask all of my questions and email myself a copy of the chat transcript to reference later.

• WordPress Forums – The WordPress forums were a very valuable tool for me as well to read through other questions users had around migrating.

WordPress Sub-Reddit – The WordPress sub-Reddit was super helpful as well. I was able to ask questions on there and get very helpful responses quickly. Also, I found myself helping out others users as well who asked questions. Gotta pay it forward!

I still have a lot to learn about the different best practices and plugins, etc. on WordPress, but I’m so glad I dove in feet first and got most of my websites migrated over. I’m using the Bluehost Plus hosting plan and I can host all of my websites for only $5.95/month.

Where to eat as a Newstonian

You may have just moved to Houston or are simply looking to find awesome new places to eat. Here’s a few brief suggestions from someone who’s lived in the H for nearly a decade. This is by no means comprehensive or a list of all of the best restaurants in Houston. This is just a simple get-started guide for any Newstonian (new Houstonian) who’s looking for some good food. I’ve spent my entire time in Houston either living on the campus of UH or on the otherside of 45 from campus in EaDo, so I may be a bit biased towards places near UH.

Quick Breakfast Tacos

Brother’s Tacos
Alamo Tamale & Tacos
Laredo Taqueria
Villa Arcos

A Nicer Breakfast

Harry’s
Aranda’s (many locations)
Frank’s Grill (many locations)
The Breakfast Club

Casual Eating With A Beer

Moon Tower Inn
Luigi’s Pizzeria
Mandola’s Deli
Nikko Nikko’s
The Black Labrador
West Alabama Ice House and Tacos Tierra Caliente

Barbecue (Yes, this is it’s own category)

Goode Company (many locations)
Pappa’s BBQ (many locations)
Hickory Hollow
Oak Leaf
Pizzitola’s
Luling City Market

Mexican

The Original Ninfa’s On Navigation (Great if you’ve got a large group)
Taqueria Alteno’s (Authentic Mex)

Late Nite Hangover Cure

Dot’s
House of Pies
Mai’s

There you go! Now you know where some decent places to eat are located in the bayou city. Again, this list is just a start but it should help make your stay in Screwston a bit more comfortable.

Bonus: Planning on taking the light rail from campus into the city? Want to find out where to drink after grabbing food? Check out the Houston Light Rail Guide I threw together.