Monster Mash Cookies – A Tricky Halloween Candy Buy Back Method with a Treat

There’s no shortage of Halloween candy at my house come Halloween night with 4 eager Trick-or-Treaters! In fact this year our Church had a Trunk-or-Treat the night before Halloween and then of course we HAD to go Trick-or-Treating on Halloween!

With the excess of halloween candy I wanted to do a clever “halloween candy buy back” method, so I came up with these Monster Mash Cookies! The trick is in step #2! And the treat is the amazingly delicious cookies!

Monster Mash Cookies

1. Make your favorite chocolate chip cookie dough recipe, but don’t add the chocolate chips.

2. Figure out how much candy your kids have and how much you want to thin it down. Then tell the kids you are making cookies out of their halloween candy, and that they each need to contribute X chocolate-based candies they didn’t like (you know, 100 Grand, Almond Joy, Oh Henry! etc.) and then X chocolate-based candies they do like.

3. Chop them all up in different size pieces, big chunks are ok and fun!

4. Gently mix them in to the cookie dough.

5. Bake your cookies like you normally would! Kids get to enjoy a delicious treat and get way less sugar than they would eating all that candy!

Another plus for me too, these were easily one of my favorite cookies ever. I loved how every cookie was different, it made picking which cookie to eat fun and it left you guessing!

The Truth for Everyone Who Wants to Be an Entrepreneur

Would it surprise you that 75% of the US workforce wants to be entrepreneurs?

recent survey by AFLAC revealed this statistic, along with the reasons why so many people want to be entrepreneurs. I know why people want to be entrepreneurs, I love it. I feed on it. But its definitely not for everyone. My experience as an entrepreneur isn’t necessarily like everyone else’s, but it has given me insight and experience that I enjoy sharing with budding and potential entrepreneurs.

According to the survey, what is appealing to most people are the following:

  1. Set your own schedule
  2. More time with family, hobbies
  3. No commuting
  4. No boss or office politics

(Side note: One thing I found interesting was what wasn’t on this list, money.)

When I tell others I work from home or work from myself, almost everyone responds with some comment of how glamorous or ideal that must be.

While these can be niceties of the life as an entrepreneur, there are other aspects that are overlooked that may oppose or offset what is so attractive about being an entrepreneur.

Set your own schedule

  • If you set your own schedule, that also means when you’re not working you’re not growing your business
  • Be ready to work more hours and with more intensity BECAUSE you are working for yourself
  • You never leave your work at the office when you work at home, you will find yourself working at all waking hours if you’re not careful

More time with family, hobbies

  • See above for setting your own schedule
  • Only the hobbies that you truly love will be given attention, and even then it will be hard to leave the to do list for the hobby list

No Commuting

Assuming you are working from home…

  • You will find yourself looking for good reasons to get out of the house. I recommend finding a friend or two to have lunch every week or every other week to bounce off business ideas with
  • Be prepared to “train” the spouse and kids that just because you are at home doesn’t mean you are available
  • You’ll need to be sure you have a hobby so you force yourself out of the house
  • Sometimes bring your laptop or just a notebook to a cafe for a few hours once or twice a week is what you need to break the routine and get new ideas

No boss or office politics

  • You come up with the ideas
  • You motivate yourself
  • Steady income is not guaranteed
  • Benefits like health insurance and pensions are do-it-yourself
  • Be ready to fail, a lot. If you’re not failing, you’re not succeeding.
  • You need to be willing to wear many hats and learn new tricks. Until you build things up to a certain level you will need to be the accountant, do taxes, put together contracts and agreements, register your business, build your website, setup email and phone systems, etc.
  • You may encounter “spouse politics”. Being an entrepreneur can be stressful for spouses especially in the early years. Use open communication and show that you are working hard.

 

Being an entrepreneur sounds grandiose and wonderful at a glance, but there are some realities to it that people should be prepared for. It takes a lot to be an entrepreneur, it is no “candy and lollipops” easy life. But despite all that, it really is rewarding. Its a challenge that gives back the fruits of a good challenge: growth, enjoyment, and the desire to keep at it.

3 Critical Lessons for Entrepreneurs Learned from the Startup Genome Project

The Startup Genome Project is now on the list of my top things to share with other budding entrepreneurs (that list sounds like a good post…forthcoming). Essentially they are gathering tons of data from new startups and then releasing the findings of the data, showing relationships between important aspects of startups.

These 3 critical lessons come just from the “Summary of Additional Findings” page, so I’m not even hitting the main findings of the Startup Genome Report. So you’ll need to still study the report, but at least I’ve pulled out these nuggets for you:

1) A successful founder is…

“Founders that learn are more successful: Startups that have helpful mentors, track metrics effectively, and learn from startup thought leaders raise 7x more money and have 3.5x better user growth.”

2) Complementary co-founders a plus

“Solo founders take 3.6x longer to reach scale stage compared to a founding team of 2 and they are 2.3x less likely to pivot.”

“Balanced teams with one technical founder and one business founder raise 30% more money, have 2.9x more user growth and are 19% less likely to scale prematurely than technical or business-heavy founding teams.”

3) Keep it small as long as you can

“Premature scaling is the most common reason for startups to perform worse. They tend to lose the battle early on by getting ahead of themselves.”

UPDATE:

Just been reading more and I’m amazed at more amazing data. Like this one:

“Companies that are tracking metrics average a monthly growth rate that is 7x companies that are not tracking metrics and are 60% more likely to raise funding than companies that don’t track metrics.”

SEVEN TIMES the monthly growth rate. That’s not like 10%, 20%, that’s 700%. Wow.

I found it! The Perfect Homemade Pizza Crust

For years I have searched. I have tried dozens of recipes. At long last, I have found the perfect homemade pizza crust. This really is the best pizza crust recipe I have ever made, and I’ve made a lot of them!

We love to make pizza almost every week with the kids, they get to pick the toppings and often times roll out the crust themselves. It’s a lot of fun and great memories with the kids, and they love picking their own toppings!

I wish I could take the credit for the recipe itself, but I found it at Annie’s Eats. Be sure to visit that link for some step by step photos that really help. I’ve included the recipe here with a few suggestions:

  • You can use active dry yeast if you don’t have instant yeast, just don’t use bread machine or rapid rise yeast
  • I use a warmer drawer and the doubling only took about an hour
  • Don’t substitute regular flour for bread flour! If you don’t have bread flour, get some and then make it!
  • Get a scale if you can to weigh out the flour, it really helps. I had to add about 4 1/4 cup flour to make it doughy enough
  • If you don’t have a pizza stone, don’t even bother making this until you do!!!
  • The parchment paper trick is really awesome and convenient, you can just prep the pizza right on it and then bake it on the parchment paper on the stone!
  • I love this recipe because it can be frozen! I’m going to have to double it every time I make it so every other time I can just pull the dough out of the freezer!

Perfect Pizza Dough

Yield: enough dough for 2 medium pizzas or 4 calzones

Ingredients:
½ cup warm water
2¼ tsp. instant yeast (or active dry yeast)
4 cups (22 oz.) bread flour, plus more for dusting
1½ tsp. salt
1¼ cup water, at room temperature
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:
Measure the 1/2 cup warm water into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup.  Sprinkle the yeast over the top.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the bread flour and salt, mixing briefly to blend.  Measure the room temperature water into the measuring cup with the yeast-water mixture.  With the mixer on low speed, pour in the yeast-water mixture as well as the olive oil.  Mix until a cohesive dough is formed.  Switch to the dough hook.  Knead on low speed until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, turning once to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, 1½-2 hours.

Press down the dough to deflate it.  Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface.  Divide the dough into two equal pieces.  Form each piece of dough into a smooth, round ball.  (If freezing the dough, wrap in plastic wrap and freeze at this point.)  Cover with a damp cloth.  Let the dough relax for at least 10 minutes but no longer than 30 minutes.

To bake, preheat the oven and pizza stone to 500˚ F for at least 30 minutes.  Transfer the dough to your shaping surface, lightly sprinkled with cornmeal.  Shape the dough with lightly floured hands.  Brush the outer edge lightly with olive oil.  Top as desired.  Bake until the crust is golden brown, and cheese is bubbling, 8-12 minutes.

Teaching Programming to Kids

No that's not my son.

As a programmer myself, looking back my years as the Internet was blossoming were formative for everything I do now. Although I started off just doing HTML, eventually I learned Perl and can get around with JavaScript and PHP as well. I struggle with object-based programming however, despite taking one Java class and giving it a good run, I just never caught on.

I have 4 kids, and my oldest is 10. Inspired by Jesse Stay and his 9 year old who just started blogging about programming, I’m looking for the best way to teach my kids programming. I’m very open to suggestions, in fact I want as much feedback as I can get!

Initial Findings

In my initial scouting out there are a few platforms that are more of a “visual programming” language/platform that help teach programming concepts:

1) Kudo – Initially I saw the word Microsoft and ran (sorry, not a big MS fan). But then I realized it was all based on the Xbox. Ok that’s pretty cool. Need an xbox, but still really cool. A PC would work too if I could stand using it for more than 2 minutes.

2) Alice – This is by Carnegie Mellon University (and funded by big game groups like EA, Sun, Microsoft and then some government groups, DARPA, NSF and ONR). Its focus is on 3D animations, and kids end up creating animated stories while learning programming concepts.

3) Scratch – This is a product of MIT and it even runs on a Mac. I think I’m going to give this one a try first. I’ll post more details of my experience with it later.

 

Script Programming

These visual programming tools seem to be a great start and keeping it fun. I still want to introduce actual programming code to my kids, like my go to language, Perl. I also think JavaScript is a great opportunity to fiddle not only with mathematical or string-based scripting but you also can manipulate objects and have some visual elements to go with a fairly simple scripting language. I found this javascript programming tool that might be useful if I can figure out how to make it not so annoying.

 

What are you doing to teach (or help nurture) programming to your kids?

UPDATE 1: Here is the main forum thread that led me to most of these. I got feedback from Jesse Stay about what he was using with his 9 year old son, and it is this book on Python. I just bought it and am going to give it a go along with Scratch.

 

Teaching Kids Business with RedBox

On Saturday my 10 year old son, Ethan, wanted to rent a Wii game from RedBox (Cars 2, fun game). I agreed to take him but he would have to pay for the game rental.

Lesson 1: Revenue Models

Before purchasing it I reminded him the next day was Sunday and that we wouldn’t be able to return it until Monday so we would be paying for 2 days (and we don’t play video games on Sunday).

When we got home he asked, why can’t we just pay for it today and Monday but not Sunday since we won’t play it on Sunday. You could tell the little wheels had been turning on the drive home. I wanted to help him figure out the revenue model on his own, so I asked him how RedBox would make money if they just charged for the days that you played it. He quickly realized that since we had the game during that whole time, it couldn’t be rented by anyone else.

Lesson 2: Hidden Costs

The cut off time for returning it was 9 PM before getting charged another day, so we planned on getting a Tropical Sno and dropping it off after dinner. At about 9:30 when only Ethan was still awake he loudly gasped for air in the kitchen and showed me the redbox case. We got our sno-cones but forgot to drop off the game. Knowing he was responsible for the cost of the game, he realized that meant this game rental now just cost him another $2 for a total of $6 (assuming we remember and bring it back tomorrow). Then realizing he could also play it tomorrow still, he wasn’t too sad. But it was fun seeing that “ah-ha” in his mind in talking about how RedBox makes money out of us just simply forgetting to return it. We don’t anticipate keeping it for that long, and that low barrier to entry makes it an easy buy because all you have to do is bring it back the next day and you’re out a buck or two. But forgetting to bring it back (or being lazy) is a whole lot easier after the fact.

I love opportunities to teach business, marketing, and money management lessons to my kids, and hope you’ll take advantage of opportunities like these as well.

Poke the Box – Just Start It

Seth Godin, I’m a huge fan. I’m amazed at what Seth can do with one phrase (the title of each of his books). One of his most recent books, called Poke the Box, is a book all about “starting”. It’s a book I’ve recommended a number of times to others, including today to a good friend looking to start his own business.

The main message is to just start something. Don’t worry about failing, failure is good. If you’re so worried about failing you’re never going to start something enough to not fail.

Another part I found interesting was that we have a “duty”, a social responsibility to start something. If we have the idea, and the ability, not starting it is like hiding our talent. If we don’t start it, how can we expect to be given more ideas that we aren’t going to do anything with.

Buy it, it’s $7 on Amazon.

If you don’t start now, when will you?

How to Search Google Plus for Content Not Just People

One of the things I’ve wanted to do is to “monitor” what is being said on Google Plus for things I’m interested in and my own brands. Without a Developer API yet available, it isn’t really possible unless you follow everyone and keep up with your G+ stream.

I did discover a way, however! It’s not perfect or automated, but at least it is a step forward. All of G+ is indexed, so if you use Google’s own “site operator” and then your search term, it limits your search and returns results. I’ve been able to narrow down some search terms and see some posts I had not seen before, so it is already a valuable tool for me.

Here’s how it works and some examples to boot:

*Search for G+ users talking about “favorite iPhone apps”*
http://www.google.com/search?q=site:plus.google.com+favorite+iphone+app

*Search for G+ users talking about “Debt Ceiling Plan”*
*Search for G+ users talking about “Abstract Photography”*

 

Whether you are looking to find new people to follow in your hobby or industry, or want to monitor a search term or brand name, this search query will help!

Give out Google Plus Invites Right Now (Confirmed)

Everyone’s been begging for a Google Plus invite, and I just figured out how to give them out. I’ve confirmed it works twice now, and will try it out for the first 10 commenters to this post that include their gmail address (I can scrub it afterwards).

This is assuming either you are already on Google Plus and want to give out invites, or you know someone on Google Plus and need to give them instructions:

Step 1

Go to Circles and click on “Add a New Person”. Type in the email (should be a gmail or Google account email) of the person who wants a Google Plus account, and then click “Add ‘<email>’ by email.” If it doesn’t auto fill the name it will give you a text field, type in their name, and then add them to an existing Circle.

Step 2

Go to your Stream and type in a quick message like “Inviting you to G+” and then clear out any default Circles and click on “Add circles or people to share with…” and type in the email address. It should find it pretty quickly and add it as a Blue rectangle. Then click “Share” (don’t worry it just goes to them).

Step 3

The user getting the “invite” should sign into Gmail and then after they sign in go to Google Plus (http://plus.google.com). They should be in!

 

If you want an invite, I’ll do this same process with the first 10 commenters that include a Google account email or gmail address! Report in the comments if it worked or not for you!

Backup Google+ with Google Takeout

What you probably missed (as I did) with the launch of Google+ is the launch of Google Takeout, a quick and easy service to download your Google data (not all yet, but soon).

Just like Chinese takeout, you’re not taking it to another restaurant, you’re taking it home. That’s what Google is hoping, that you’ll be more willing to side with Google if they are freely letting you access your data, and that you won’t just go somewhere else simply because you have your data now.

This comes on the cusp of big Google+ vs Facebook news where a popular Facebook tool was shutdown by Facebook that lets you export your Facebook users and bring them over to Google+. That doesn’t sound as nice as Google, letting you take all your data with you, now does it? Interesting dynamics.

I tested out Google Takeout and it took under a minute to gather and download everything, and the data now is in one folder, separated by subfolders for each Google service. The data is also in common file formats, like my contacts are all in VCF, my profile is in JSON, Buzz and G+ Stream is in HTML, and of course Picasa is in the original file format.

The announcement was made with a fun video from Google’s own “Data Liberation Front” team.