A little under a week ago, my personal domain name, which matches the name my parents gave me, started to get overridden (lol) with lots of posts about cycling in and around Skagit county.
Then I thought, “This is ridiculous. It should have its own domain.”
True, I have a portal for FensePost, my original music blog which recently received a fresh breath of life and is going through somewhat of a resurgence. Why should my love and passion for bicycling be any different?
It snowed a few inches last night, so it’s somewhat of a Snow Day. They say that people west of the Rocky Mountains cannot drive in the snow. I admit. We suck at it.
Skagit County Snow Driving Fail
After waking at my normal 5:30am time, the decision to stay home was quickly made as I watched the neighbor attempt to head to work. After a few tries, I grabbed my camera, and here’s the result:
Mind you that he had already made several attempts before I started filming.
4 inches (or thereabouts) of snow doesn’t sound like much, but we live at the bottom of a 7% grade hill with an elevation gain of about 80 feet over 0.2 miles. Water frequently cascades down the road making it especially tricky if it freezes over.
He finally made it out, while I decided to play it safe and not attempt the 30 mile, one way trek to work. No need to risk it in my little 2 wheel drive Fiat 500.
The song is a royalty free Yakety Sax sound-alike from Orion Williams so I can monetize the video once that’s set up in my YouTube account.
This was my first attempt at adding visual commentary to a video, and in iMovie it’s quite easy. The program uses drag-and-drop so it’s fairly simple to embellish videos with text and music alike.
Adding audio commentary is something I plan to try out in future biking & cycling videos.
Last year I came close to hitting 2,000 miles on my trusty Trek 2.1 road bike. I beat my bicycling milage goal of 1,500 miles by almost 30%. And, over the course of the year, I climbed over 8 miles on those two wheels.
Achievements included my fifth or sixth (I honestly cannot remember) time riding the STP, making the 200 mile journey from Seattle to Portland over the course of two days. I also completed my second Bike MS Deception Pass Classic in which I raised an evil $666 to combat Multiple Sclerosis.
I’m at it again in 2017, and this time I’ve set two goals. First, I’d like to cycle 2,500 miles. If I can keep up the pace and stamina, I’d prefer to shoot for bicycling a full 3,650 miles, or 10 miles a day on average.
As January drew to a close, I topped 250, so I’m well on my way to $3k.
To accompany me on my bicycling journey this year is a new inexpensive action camera, the Apeman A66.
On January 31, I filmed my first YouTube video. Today I edited and posted it on YouTube. I’m still learning the camera, but it’s pretty fun to be able to film and edit rides so easily. Enjoy!
Of note, I still needed to drop the date logging feature on the video, which I have since done. The audio could also use some help.
For my second video, which I filmed and began editing today, I make a cameo at the beginning and then ride up Little Mountain. The Little Mountain hill climb is nearly 800 feet, is a great workout, and rewards the rider at the top with a stunning view of the Puget Sound. It’s truly amazing on a sunny day, but today was not that.
Stay tuned for more as I hope to make posting my rides a regular thing. I’m also planning to explore the YouTube monetization feature, as well.
Aside from a handful of music-related musings on FensePost, the number of which I can count on one hand, and a few foodie posts here at AndyFenstermaker.com, 2015 is shaping up to be the first year since the ’90s in which I have essentially NOT blogged.
I would like to change that.
But who knows if that will happen. There are certain points in life where priorities change.
Where music was once the go-to for me, this is morphing toward cycling and cooking. I have logged 600 miles on my bike this year alone, and with two 200+ mile rides in the near future, I’ll easily top 1,000 miles in 2015.
The photo below, for example, was taken a few weeks ago on a 50 mile trek from Mount Vernon to La Conner, out along Padilla Bay and north to Edison, then back to Mount Vernon.
All of this is a bit deceiving. What this post really is, is an announcement of sorts.
Less than a week ago, my wife Andi was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. We are in our early to mid 30s, and this disease is likely to impact us for the rest of our lives.
I have always wanted to ride Bike MS, but not necessarily because of the cause. Sometimes it takes a life-changing event to become empowered.
Today, I commit to riding Bike MS to help raise awareness of MS and do my part to erase it from the lives of families like mine. Please help out and support me, my wife Andi, and the countless others impacted by this disease.
Click the image below to visit my personal Bike MS page donate.
This is far from likely to be the last post with the phrase “Courtesy Penzeys Spices” attached to it. Just under a year ago, my parents introduced me to the culinary company, based out of my birth-state Wisconsin, with a jar of Penzeys Frozen Pizza Seasoning and Penzeys Arizona Dreamin’. These two spices kicked off a slow but rapidly escalating obsession.
Fueling the fire was, again courtesy my parents, was a Christmas gift: a subscription to the company’s catalog and an introductory set of spices including Cajun and Chinese Five Spice.
The first catalog arrived and seeing the deliciousness that was the Kai Pa Lo recipe (courtesy to Penzeys’ one Jennifer Sombutamai), I had to try it.
Note: Kai Pa Lo is traditionally made with pork, but this recipe called for chicken. I dig the meat swap; the chicken comes out super juicy and the result is totally mouthwatering.
Tonight I’m making it for the second time; the first was a knockout success.
Here’s what you need:
1 TB. canola oil
1/2 large yellow onion, diced*
1 TB. minced garlic*
3 TB. soy sauce*
1 tsp. Penzeys Roasted Garlic (or garlic powder)
1/2 tsp. black pepper*
4-5 chicken leg or breast quarters
4 cups chicken broth
2 TB. brown sugar*
4 soft-boiled eggs
2 TB. Penzeys Chinese Five Spice
1/4 tsp. salt*
3/4 cup rice
*These are slight variations from Penzeys’ recipe, which called for 1 diced medium yellow onion, 1 tsp. minced garlic, 1 TB. soy sauce, white rather than black pepper, 1 TB. brown sugar and no salt. I embellished it to my own personal taste.
Step 1: Prep the Onions & Minced Garlic
Sauté the minced onions in a large pan. I use my Le Creuset Everday Pan. Add the garlic after a few minutes, then push it all to the side.
Step 2: Make the Chicken Rub
Combine the soy sauce, roasted garlic and pepper. Mix well.
Step 3: Prep the Chicken
Douse the chicken in the liquid-y soy sauce rub and place in the pan. Sear each side for a few minutes.
Add the chicken broth. Yes, all 4 cups. Bring to a quick boil then let simmer for about 45 minutes, turning the chicken every so often.
Step 5: Prep the Rice and Eggs
Add about 3/4 rice to a rice cooker and let it do it’s thang. Soft or hard boil the eggs.
Step 6: Make It Sweet!
While the chicken soup is simmering, mix together the brown sugar and Penzeys Chinese Five Spice.
Step 7: Bring it Home
After the chicken has simmered about 45 minutes, pull it from the soup. Toss in the sweet mix from step 6 and stir lightly. Pull apart/shred the chicken with two forks and replace into the dish, letting it simmer and soak in the juices for another 10 minutes.
This super easy and delicious gluten free zucchini bread recipe comes courtesy my mother, who found it on Hillbilly Housewife. I’ve modified it ever so slightly slightly to fit my preferences (and those of my wife) over the course of more than one dozen bakings.
Given my passion for cooking, I’m hoping to post more recipes here in the future. Some will be old mainstays, while others will be new favorites as we find and master them.
Let’s get to it!
Step 1: Get Your Ingredients
This is one of my favorite parts, as it totally plays to my OCD. I always pull out all my ingredients in advance and display them so I can easily pick and pull what I need as I go. And, as I go, I put them away as well. Makes for a tidy kitchen!
1/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
3/2 cup shredded zucchini (do not peel)
3/2 cup all purpose Gluten Free flour
1 tsp. xanthan gum
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
Once you have them displayed as pictured above, now it’s time to get to work!
First, the variations. Hillbilly Housewife (see her original recipe here) calls for 1/3 cup vegetable oil rather than 1/4 cup butter, which is what I use. She also adds walnuts whereas I do not. Finally, rather than mixing separately, I mix the wet ingredients then blend in the dry to use fewer dishes.
Step 2: Preheat Your Oven!
This one is easy! Preheat your oven to 350F.
Step 3: Mix Your Wet Ingredients
Combine the eggs, sugar, butter and vanilla in a large bowl and mix well with a whisk or — my preference — a high heat baking spoon scraper. It’s easy and, since you’ll be using it later, means one less dish to wash upon completion. For my bowl, I use my green Le Creuset 2 quart Batter Bowl.
Step 4: Mix In Your Dry Ingredients
Add in your dry ingredients including flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and xanthan gum. Stir and mix well by hand. Again, I use my trusty ol’ baking spoon scraper to mix as its not too difficult and uses fewer dishes.
NOTE: I tend to mix it until the dough starts to form but the dry ingredients haven’t fully absorbed into the wet. Then I move on to Step 5. This helps introduce more liquid into the dough and makes mixing a bit easier.
Step 5: Shred and Add Zucchini
Cut the ends off a medium-sized zucchini and grate it using a cheese grater. One medium zucchini should yield approximately 3/2 cups. Combine it with the dough and mix until it nice and consistent.
At IRCE Chicago this year, Instagram was touted as a great space (if it makes sense for your audience) by several e-commerce brands including Bucketfeet and Chubbies.
I’ve been a big fan of Instagram for ages, for both personal use and for use as a brand. While it provides some frustration points for brand account managers, such as the lack of clickable links and the inability to easily access multiple accounts on a single log in, the benefits far outweigh the negatives if you are able to reach your customer base and target audience on the platform.
In other words, by being steadfast the platform has done a great job limiting brand creep into its space, allowing it to maintain a greater level of authenticity.
Still, for those who do not mind the labor involved, it can be a rewarding spot for brands with a keen eye. Especially now that they have added additional editing tools that give you the ability to manipulate contrast, brightness, warmth, saturation, shadows and more!
Once you’re in the space, there are several complementary apps to stick in your Instagram for Business toolbelt:
It’s also great for light image manipulation. Among my favorites is using the shapes tool to flood the image and adjust the opacity. Using a white shape, this gives you a true opaque look. Using a color over a black-and-white image gives you a duo-tone Blue Note effect.
The latest version of Studio has even more options with an assortment of “packs” you can download far beyond the standard elements I found so intriguing when I first discovered the app. I am only beginning to scratch the surface here.
One way I use this is to post a filtered image on Instagram and manipulate it afterwards to share on other social platforms. For example, here’s a design I just put together commemorating my experience this past week at IRCE (Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition):
There are other similar apps like Phonto, but I haven’t found them to have near the editing and creative abilities as found with Studio.
Currently, Instagram does not allow you to post an image that is not square. Enter InstaSize; this is what I use to post full-size pictures.
InstaSize does this by adding white space to the sizes of portrait shots and to the top and bottom of landscape shots.
On New Years Day this year, my wife and I joined some friends for a hike around Whistle Lake in Anacortes. I captured some great shots but didn’t want to limit them to a square and used InstaSize to make it happen:
You also cannot do an image collage on the current version of Instagram, which is popular these days. InstaSize also has this capability. I used it to showcase the sexiness of my obese cat back in December:
Repost is the mandatory app to share user generated content. It allows you to easily repost photos others have shared on Instagram. While I have not used it yet, I will be doing so in the next week.
PickFlow is relatively new to me. I grabbed this one at IRCE after it was recommended from my Repost app. It allows you to create a quick slideshow of images then add music. You can include transitions if you like that sort of thing.
Here’s one I created after IRCE:
It reminded me of something I saw from Martha Stewart on Instagram for National Donut Day. While I suspect that Martha Stewart’s creative folks put this together using something much more sophisticated, you could do it using an app like PicFlow if you’re good.
If you plan to add music and use this as a brand, make sure you get permission from the artist.
Those are my four picks. Follow me on Instagram, and if you have some favorite apps of your own, let me know in the comments!
The other day, I stumbled upon a little-known trick that can help Facebook Page admins analyze how they are doing in comparison to their competition. It’s all about how many people Like your page and your competition’s page, and analyzing that data as a performance benchmark.
But first, a quick disclaimer: I have yet to delve into Facebook’s “Pages to Watch” section as paranoia gets the better of me. Too many questions go unanswered — could Facebook one day inform Page admins of who is watching their page as encouragement to lure them into watching others? Given Facebook’s past with privacy, I’m continuing to hold off in those regards.
What Your Competition’s Page Likes Can Tell You
Looking at the page of a competing blog, I was curious to understand why their page had so many more likes than mine. Clicking the “Likes” Tab (i.e. not “Likes” under the Page name) brought me to a page featuring a few insights about those likes. Here’s what this exposes to your competition:
1. Your Most Popular Week: The week when most people were talking about your Page. This includes any of that ever popular “reach” data and includes new Likes.
2. Most Popular City: The city where most people are talking about this Page.
3. Most Popular Age Group: Age demographic information on people talking about the Page.
4. Most Visited Week: The week during which the highest number of people checked in at that location.
And a few other items…
Analyzing The Competition
Now here’s where things get interesting. In questioning why this competitor had so many more likes that my Page, I noticed something astonishing and potentially quite revealing. Their most popular city was not just out of the country, it was from a place highly unlikely to generate that much discussion on the topic in question. My conclusion: It is highly probable the Page purchased these likes thus generating wildly skewed and somewhat deceiving results.
Another insight that led me to this deduction was the page’s engagement. Despite having a similar amount of posts, engagement too is fairly similar. This tells me that a much smaller percentage of people are engaging with their Page in comparison to mine.
Changes Over Time
A few weeks have passed and I’ve kept an eye on things. From South Africa to India, their “Most Popular City” eventually returned to the states.
This tells me a few things. First, maybe they didn’t buy their Likes; maybe they just aren’t influencing their target demographic. This is entirely possible, based on a review of their wall. Or maybe they’re posts have poor timing.
Either way, it’s not good.
More Harm Than Good
Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm tells the company how relevant content is to a viewer and dictates what shows up in fan feeds. Buying a slew of likes, then, may do more harm in a Page’s ability to show up in a feed. But that’s not all…
As Google and other search engines start placing more and more social proof into their page ranking consideration, seeing irrelevant Likes from overseas is likely to go the route of link building via guest blogging: Quality guest blogging is OK but guest blogging for SEO sake is not. Don’t be surprised if social proof re: Likes goes the same route in the very near future.
It almost seems like old news, or maybe news that wasn’t: about a month ago Google sneakily rolled out its latest algorithm and search infrastructure update. Last week they announced the occurrence at their 15th anniversary — the update has been dubbed Hummingbird.
MOZ SEO put together a quite in-depth article on the event and subsequent chatter that inevitably takes place after such a release in an article simply titled Hummingbird Unleashed. One statement in particular stood out to me:
We should stop focusing only on keyword optimization and start thinking about topical optimization. This obliges us to think about great content, and not just about “content.” Things like “SEO copywriting” will end up being the same as “amazing copywriting.” (…) If Hummingbird is a giant step toward Semantic SEO, then as SEOs, our job “is not about optimizing for strings, or for things, but for the connections between things,”
Within SEO, to me, there has always been a strong correlation between a few simple, common sense items and the production of good, quality content. Certainly, other, more complex items exist and are given weight — solid inbound links, site load time, certain elements of site build, etc. — but a page without quality, useful content is an irrelevant page.
Reading between the lines in the MOZ article, I see Google doing a few things.
Google and Conversational Search
First, and the article states this: Search is becoming more conversational, with results digging into the meaning and “semantics” behind the string. What this says to me is that posts, too, must become more conversational.
From a content standpoint, it’s become even more important to develop a solid voice.
SEO vs. Content Strategy
I have always felt there is a strong correlation between content strategy and SEO. This gained appeal, perhaps most notably, after Google’s Panda release.
With Hummingbird, the correlation is even stronger.
The strategy behind building links to generate authority, increasing a page’s social capabilities, and creating quality content is becoming more and more important with each newly released algorithm update.
Be A Follower
By far, the best thing you can do is read. I’m not sure where I first heard it, or even whether or not it’s a well-known statement:
In order to be a great leader, one must first learn to follow.
But even if you are a leader in this particular area of expertise, it’s always a good idea to see what others are doing and saying. Here are a few blogs I strongly recommend following on the topics of SEO and Content Strategy:
Copyblogger: This blog features regular posts by a variety of writers on topics relating to content on the web. From content strategy to SEO copywriting to email marketing, Copyblogger is a must-read for anyone who creates online content.
SEO MOZ: The Moz Blog is a great resource when it comes to staying up-to-date on all things related to SEO. The blog is a bit more on the technical and scientific side of SEO, so be prepared for that if you’re more on the creative side of things.
A few other notables in search, content strategy and social that I recommend are , Mashable and ReadWrite.