Monthly Archives: March 2013

Florida Gulf Coast’s Server Crashed — Lesson in Website Traffic

florida gulf coast university

Admit it. You had never heard of Florida Gulf Coast University prior to their stunning upset victory in the first round of the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

It’s ok. You were not alone. Nobody else in the world knew who they were either, which is why the servers which ran the Florida Gulf Coast Athletic Department website crashed multiple times on Sunday evening, after FGCU won it’s second game in the tournament to secure their spot in a Sweet 16 game.

The massive surge of traffic resulting from people trying to figure out who Florida Gulf Coast was, literally knocked their site offline.

Technical difficulties aside, that is incredible!

For a blogger, website mechanic, or anyone else trying to boost their traffic numbers, there are important lessons to be learned here.

From Obscurity to Priminence

Some times all it takes is one powerful event to get your name on the map. As a blogger, this might be one link from an uber popular and highly trafficked website. This might be a product endorsement from a major news outlet. This might be bad press that suddenly draws you into the spotlight. Whatever the event, be it good or bad, there are ways to harness this surge of traffic to your advantage.

Always be Prepared

You should prepare your blog or website like you are expecting a tidal wave of traffic at any minute, even if you have no idea it is coming. How can you do this?

  • Make sure your subscription and newsletter sign-up options are highly visible
  • Make sure you always have fresh content on your landing page
  • Make a landing page!
  • Keep your social media outlets up to date
  • Don’t put a “Welcome visitors from X” message on your site (It’s just tacky)

Have a Web Host With Excellent Customer Service

When your servers crash from a wave of unexpected traffic, your web host will become your best friend. The customer service number you may have never used will suddenly be on speed dial.

You also do not want to wait until your servers crash to determine whether your web host’s customer service department is up to snuff. I don’t suggest orchestrating a crash on your own site, but you should at least contact their customer service department with a routine service question to experience their response time and ease of use.

This way, when it hits the fan you will know you have an ally in your corner.

If you don’t already have a web provider, or you want one with documented excellent customer service, I highly recommend BlueHost.

Signup for BlueHost! (Affiliate Link)

I have used BlueHost for a number of years on this blog, as well as all of the other websites that I run and they have never let me down. In fact, they were able to restore one of my websites after I made a bonehead change and erased my entire site!

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that we may never know when we can expect a massive surge of traffic. We can however, prepare to make the most of it if and when it does happen!


Sequester Cuts Military Tuition Assistance Program – Then Brings it Back

military tuition assistance

When the dreaded “Sequester” deadline was passed on March 1st, we all thought the financial world might implode. Many politicians painted a dreary picture for the future state of our economy, and government frustration was at an all time high. Then the fallout of the sequester began to take shape.

One of the worst impacts of the sequester was the elimination of the Tuition Assistant (TA) Program for the United States Military. Separate from the G.I. Bill, the TA program provided up to $4,500 per year for active duty soldiers to take classes. Over 870,000 courses were taken last year by soldiers in this very popular program.

Needless to say the outcry was quick, and powerful.

The military was in a fury over this, and the general public was also rightly outraged. How are we showing support to our military if we cut the funding necessary for them to further their education?

Where Do We Go From Here?

Not even 3 full weeks later, and Sen. Kay Hagan from North Carolina passed a continuing resolution through the Senate that reinstated the Tuition Assistant program for active duty military under the Department of Defense.

So the program is back on, and soldiers can continue taking their courses.

What can we learn from all of this?

  • It’s best to have a back up plan! 
  • Diversification is key
  • Financial Aid can be fickle

The Importance of Being Concise – Or A Writing Lesson from The Hobbit

By now you have all heard of the Apple Fanboys. If not, just Google it. Pretty funny…

Well, I don’t consider myself an Apple Fanboy, but I am most certainly a Tolkien Fanboy. Yes, I just made that up, and yes feel free to associate yourself with it if applicable…

Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and Tolkiens other works have been some of my favorites since I was a kid. I loved the adventure, the characters, the relentless triumph of good over evil, and the full immersion into the fantastical world of Middle Earth.

As you can imagine, I was more than excited when Peter Jackson announced that he was working on developing The Hobbit into a movie. With the success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it was inevitable that The Hobbit would also eventually grace the silver screen.

Then I heard that Jackson had made the decision to split the book into two movies. I was a little taken aback, but I let it slide because of Jackson’s success with Lord of the Rings. But I was still skeptical, after all this is one single kid’s book right?

Then soon after that announcement, I was shocked to hear that The Hobbit would actually be broken into a trilogy. The Hobbit would now have the same amount of screen time as the 1000+ pages of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I heard dollar signs screaming in my ears. Can you say “money grabbing Hollywood bandwagon”? Then I went on to read that there are new characters, new plots, sub-plots not in the book, and WAY more details about the world of Middle Earth that are not in the original texts.

I could only shake my head in stunned silence.

I tell that story, just to say that there comes a point where it is critical to your success to be concise. Granted, The Hobbit has already pulled in $1 Billion, and I will pay go to see the next two movies in the theaters  but the fact remains that the essence of the story was gutted, because Peter Jackson did not know how to be concise.

Don’t Say 5 Words When 2 Will Do

When I first began writing one of the most difficult things for me to do was be concise. I still struggle with it. Every English teacher I ever had scolded me for being too wordy.

When I was working on my Master’s degree, my program adhered to the APA style which emphasized brevity, and being concise. I dearly earned my stripes trying to perfect APA.

Through my struggles to be concise, I constantly had to remind myself that my words could be powerful, but they were not as awesome as I thought they were. I did not need to write needless phrases just to hear myself talk.

Why do you think Twitter is so popular? Because people can express themselves in 140 characters or less.

Twitter = Forced brevity

Being wordy, adding fluff, and rambling are the death blows to quality writing.

Just remember that people want you to get to the point as quickly as possible. Don’t ramble, don’t add extra words into sentence to make them appear cool, and don’t add fluff content to boost your word count.

Practice being concise and your readers will thank you.

553 words later, I am done…..

How to Use 1098T for Education Tax Credit

As we are all well aware, it is tax time again…

If you, your spouse, or one of your dependents attended an institute of higher education this past year, they should have received a 1098T tax from from their school. **Many schools make these available online, and do not mail them out, so please check your school’s online portal if you have not received one**

The 1098T is used to qualify for the American Opportunity Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit:

One important point to note is that the majority of colleges and universities report qualified tuition and related expenses based on when the amounts were “billed” as opposed to when they were actually paid. This may cause a headache for you when filing your taxes because you will likely want to file based on how much and when you actually paid the expenses. It is ok to do this, but you must figure out the exact amount of “qualified” expenses versus non-qualified expenses, and file accordingly.

In the end, it is often easier to simply file according to how the 1098T is reported from your school.

In the end however, the 1098T is only for informational purposes, and you can do with the form what you would like. Yes, it is submitted to the IRS, but many people do not claim their education deductions strictly according to the 1098T.

For a sample form, and an explanation of each of the boxes you will see on your form, please see below!

Sample of Form 1098-T that will be mailed to student.

Instructions for Student

Box 1. Shows the total payments received in 2012 from any source for qualified tuition and related expenses less any reimbursements or refunds made during 2012 that relate to those payments received during 2012. Please note, Box 1 may be intentionally left blank. Many colleges reports tuition billed and not payments received. For information regarding total payments made to your student account, please see the supplemental information accompanying your 1098T.

Box 2. Shows the total amounts billed in 2012 for qualified tuition and related expenses less any reductions in charges made during 2012 that relate to those amounts billed during 2012.

Box 3. Shows whether your institution changed its method of reporting for 2012. It has changed its method of reporting if the method (payments received or amounts billed) used for 2012 is different than the reporting method used for 2011. You should be aware of this change in figuring your education credits. The credits are allowable only for amounts actually paid during the year and not amounts reported as billed, but not paid, during the year.

Box 4. Shows any adjustment made for a prior year for qualified tuition and related expenses that were reported on a prior year Form 1098-T. This amount may reduce any allowable education credit that you claimed for the prior year (may result in an increase in tax liability for the year of the refund). See “recapture” in the index to Pub. 970 to report a reduction in your education credit or tuition and fees deduction.

Box 5. Shows the total of all scholarships or grants administered and processed by the eligible educational institution. The amount of scholarships or grants for the calendar year (including those not reported by the institution) may reduce the amount of the education credit you claim for the year.

Box 6. Shows adjustments to scholarships or grants for a prior year. This amount may affect the amount of any allowable tuition and fees deduction or education credit that you claimed for the prior year. You may have to file an amended income tax return (Form 1040X) for the prior year.

Box 7. Shows whether the amount in box 1 or 2 includes amounts for an academic period beginning January-March 2013. See Pub. 970 for how to report these amounts.

Box 8. Shows whether you are considered to be carrying at least one-half the normal full-time workload for your course of study at the reporting institution. If you are at least a half-time student for at least one academic period that begins during the year, you meet one of the requirements for the American opportunity credit. You do not have to meet the workload requirement to qualify for the lifetime learning credit.

Box 9. Shows whether you are considered to be enrolled in a program leading to a graduate degree, graduate-level certificate, or other recognized graduate-level educational credential.

Box 10. Shows the total amount of reimbursements or refunds of qualified tuition and related expenses made by an insurer. The amount of reimbursements or refunds for the calendar year may reduce the amount of any education credit you can claim for the year (may result in an increase in tax liability for the year of the refund).