Andy Fenstermaker, MBA

Marketing, Bikes, Social, Music, Blogging, Personal Finance, More.

On Google’s Hummingbird Update

Hummingbird by fortherock on Flickr

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.

Above photo by fortherock on Flickr.

A Constant Reminder, A Little “Thank You”

Office Appreciation

As you enter the break room on the ground level of Vaughan Premier, in the inner corner of the warehouse for Lights for All Occasions, Little Bright Lights, Décor for All Occasions and an assortment of other e-commerce sites, you are greeted with a message.

It reads as follows:

“I cannot say it too many times
THANK YOU
You are the best”

It is a resonating message, one that provides a constant reminder that it’s not just doing a great job for awesome customers that make a place great, it’s the people: the people that package the items that ship out of here each and every day, the people in customer service who take customer calls, the people who ensure that the products and service we provide is top notch day in and day out.

As I looked at this sign on my first day, it made me smile. I snapped the above photo as a memento; a mantra to remember how Vaughan Premier has some amazing people. On my first day, it made me very excited to get to know them.

Content Marketing in 2014

lights-for-all-occasions

First: A Career Move

The cat’s out of the bag. I am leaving my current employer and will be joining Vaughan Premier, parent of Lights for All Occasions and several other e-commerce sites, as Marketing Manager in just over a week’s time.

While I’m sad to trade a 1.5 mile bike/walk commute for a thirty-mile drive one, I am looking forward to spending my time focusing on strategic marketing initiatives and heading up an in-house marketing team. Things I won’t miss: time entries and sorting through 100+ emails per day.

What will I be doing?

Big picture marketing strategy. However, one area I am truly excited to focus my efforts is developing and implementing integrated content marketing strategies. And, to throw another buzz word in the mix, working with the CFO (who’s an analytics guru) to use big data to target these strategies.

Earlier in the week, iMediaConnection posted an article about social media and online marketing trends for 2014.

The first one, content marketing, caught my attention:

…top B2B content marketing strategies are articles on a company’s website, social media, e-newsletters, case studies, videos and articles on other websites. Marketing to the masses is becoming passé – it’s more effective to produce engaging content designed for specific audiences.

I must say, I’m a bit passionate about content marketing. That’s to say I’m a bit passionate about CREATING strategic, targeted content with a purpose: achieving an end goal, something qualitative or quantitative, that impacts the bottom line for a business.

This is an area I am sure will dominate my time at Vaughan. Blog posts, e-mail marketing, YouTube videos, social media. Maybe even some blogger outreach. And I can’t wait to join the team and get started.

On to 2014 and Content Marketing

Jayson DeMers, SEO and online marketing guru and Forbes contributor, is the author of Forbes article “The Top 7 Online Marketing Trends That Will Dominate 2014”.

In at number one, he notes “Content Marketing Will be Bigger Than Ever.”

Content marketing is a great way to demonstrate expertise in a field, relay knowledge about a subject, develop an audience and/or fan-base, and spread the word about your company. This is achieved through strategically generated and targeted content development.

Alright, that sounds a lot more technical and difficult than it should.

Think of it as crafting and spreading a core message across many channels. Essentially, it’s integrated marketing and communication, focused on the online world.

Let’s use a real world example. Say your goal is to increase sales of a group of products (in this case we’ll call them “Halloween Units”) by x percent this year. What do you do? Something like this:

Website Content & Blog Posts

Create a blog post (or posts) highlighting the product. This could be in the form of a list of hot-selling Halloween Units, an instructional post on how Halloween Units can make the day special for family, or something else that’s catchy, targeted, and interesting to the target audience. Above all, make the content useful and engaging to the target audience.

Video

Film videos showing off Halloween Units and post them to YouTube. Again, the strategy is in the idea behind the videos: make them interesting, make them funny, and just as important as the content… use appropriate keywords and titles! If you’re new to this arena, making videos for videos sake may be alright to get your feet wet. But you’ll want to quickly move on to making strategic, useful videos that people will actually want to watch, and better yet share!

Images

Take a few eye-catching photos, post ’em on Instagram and pin ’em on Pinterest. Number three on DeMers list is “Image-Centric Content Will Rule.” This is a no-brainer as photos have dominated social media for well over a year now. It’s what made Pinterest huge and led Facebook to purchase Instagram. Use striking photography to your advantage. And, again, title and tag it appropriately!

Blogger Outreach

Reach out to bloggers that may be interested in reviewing one of the products. Thanks to FensePost, I am on the receiving end of blogger outreach. Bloggers love free things; it’s one reason we blog. And getting through to the right blogger can help grow your audience by reaching theirs. This one is a bit trickier as it’s more a publicity/PR role, and therefore must be managed as such.

Social Media

Share all of the above across your other social media presences. That’s what integrated marketing is all about: a consistent message dispersed across multiple communication channels. If you’re already in multiple areas, why not take advantage of it!? And, of course, the opportunities extend beyond sharing from contests and coupons to strategically developed themed posts.

You’ll want to develop a social media calendar to manage all of this (that’s a post for another day).

For now, the above can act as a launching point to get your creative content juices flowing.

That Moment When…

…you take off your socks after a busy day, and a sense of relaxation causes a ripple of shivers to cascade up your body. That is the best.

…you ride your first 20-mile bike ride in a month, snap a few great shots of the beautiful rural landscape, and have that good soreness when you get home. That is also the best.

Here’s one of the shots, from Rexville:

Rexville by Bike

Keep an Eye on Gmail’s New Promotion Tab

Gmail recently announced and launched inbox tabs; it has been a core topic for email marketers of late.

There are three standard inbox tabs: Primary, Social and Promotions. The final one is where email marketers have focused the discussion, and for good reason. It poses many questions:

• Will this tab simply be a forgotten receptacle for promotional-based emails?
• Could companies ultimately benefit in the long-run from the Promotion tab?
• How will this change affect open rates, click rates, and ROI?

These questions and more are being discussed. What remains consistent throughout, however, is a recommendation to inform email list subscribers of the changes and give them a choice (i.e. show them how) about where to house your emails.

But what is the impact of these changes? Mailchimp’s Matthew Grove took a look.

By the Numbers: Mailchimp Reports on Gmail’s Promotion Tab and Open Rates

Late last month, Mailchimp gave us a rundown on how the new Tabs are affecting open rates.

Like any good analyst, Grove took a large sample against which to compare the changes. By extracting Gmail delivery rates from the past year and a half, he compared it to data since the launch of the Promotions Tab.

Grove notes the possibilities of error in his finding, rightfully stating that there are not only hourly but seasonal trends in delivery and open rates. He compensates for this error by using data from 1.5 billion emails.

Here are his findings (again, courtesy Grove and Mailchimp):

Mailchimp Chart: Gmail Promotion Tab Impact on Open Rates

And here’s what he had to say about them:

Before the tabbed layout, open rates to Gmail had been above 13% for 15 weeks. They never dipped below that threshold unless there was a specific holiday. For instance, weekday opens for Gmail fell to 12.5% on the week of Valentine’s day. Open rates between Christmas and New Years are an abysmal 10.5%… open rates (have since) stayed down for 3 consecutive weeks.

A few percentage points drop is notable, but Grove isn’t too concerned yet — still, you can sure bet he and everyone else in email marketing will be keeping his/their eyes on the numbers.

The article was updated on August 1, and he reiterates what everyone else is saying:

I’ve tested something like fifty configurations of headers, content, and authentication and I’ve come to one conclusion. The best way to get into the Primary tab is to have your subscribers put you there.

How to clear Gmail Contacts for Your Primary Inbox

This is what email marketers are focusing on of late: how to clear Gmail contacts for display in Gmail’s Primary Inbox.

If you are unfamiliar with how this works, I’ll tell you:

Gmail Tabs

When in the Gmail Promotion Tab, drag the email you wish to clear up to the Primary Tab and release. This will move the email and prompt you with the following message:

Move Email to Primary Inbox in Gmail

Click “Yes” and all future messages from that email address will arrive in your Primary Inbox.

It works the other way as well. Dragging a message from your Primary Inbox to Social, Promotions, or a custom tab will prompt you to store all future messages in the new location.

How to Customize Your Gmail Inbox Tabs

I for one like the new Tabbed Inboxes. For one who gets a large quantity of messages, it makes the organization and management of your Inbox all the easier. You can add other template Inboxes and remove ones you don’t use. Here’s how:

Gmail Tabs

Revisiting the earlier image (above), select the plus sign at far right when in any Gmail Tab. This brings up the following box:

Editing Gmail Tab Options

Deselect the Tabs you don’t want to see and select the ones you want. It’s as simple as that.

While I like the flexibility of the new Tab feature, I would love to see Gmail take it one step further and allow for customization, reclassification and renaming.

Summing Things Up

So what’s the conclusion? The same as it has always been.

1. Supplement your email marketing by integrating it with other outreach methods: direct mail, social media, whatever makes sense for your business and — more importantly — your customers/audience. Maintain consistency in your branding and messaging; integrating your outreach will increase brand recognition and message recall in those who see it through multiple tools and tactics.

2. Make it meaty: ensure the content you distribute is high quality, engaging, enticing and has a viable call to action. Stories, images: these are both great to include in your outreach. You want your readers to remember you, so make sure your messaging is memorable.

Convert Energy into Mobility // Praise the Light

Design Chat: August 8, 2013

Every month or so, the firm at which I work hosts a lunchtime event with our architect firm friends down the street. We call it Design Chat, and it brings together nearly a dozen design-minded individuals with a passion for aesthetics, sustainability and progress.

As we haven’t really done one of these in a while, we revisited an old theme: Good Design.

Items presented have included everything from graphic design to architecture and product design to industrial design. I chose the bicycle, and the following is what I presented, in blog form with minimal words.

Convert ENERGY into MOBILITY


“The bicycle is a tremendously efficient means of transportation.

efficeincy

It is more efficient than any other method of travel–including walking!
A bicycle can be up to 5 times more efficient than walking.”

(Source: The Physics of Cycling.)

Skagit County has some of the most beautiful roads I have ever traveled by bike. Design Chat has also given attendees a chance to share art, photographs, and personal experiences related to design or not.

The Project: 1972 (or 1974) Schwinn Varsity


Next, I talked about my current project, an early 1970s Schwinn Varsity, which I have disassembled and am now stripping of paint. It will be rebuilt as an elegant, flat black cycle with white-wall tires and plenty of shiny chrome. The plan is to fit it with a Brooks saddle, and I’m still debating whether to make it a freewheel single speed or multi-speed.

Progress


The Goal


Growing the Revolution: Mission Bicycle


I follow a small handful of bicycle makers. There is Fast Boy Cycles in NYC and — my favorite — Mission Bicycle in San Francisco.

What They Do

• Make lightweight hand-made cycles.
• Custom built to order, one at a time.
• Built for city riding.

Their Products


One reason I am such a fan of Mission Bicycle is due to their Instagram account. They take fabulous photographs of their products, of which I noted above are all custom made to order.

PRAISE the LIGHT


A Different Revolution: Revolights


Revolights are a revolutionary new bicycle light that mounts to the front and rear wheels. Not only does it light your path forward and back, it provides adequate adjacent lighting to give you greater visibility to other riders and drivers at night.

I am fascinated with this product and would love to install it on one of my future cycles.

Revolights™. Now landed. from revolights on Vimeo.

In Photos: Seattle to Portland by Bicycle

PREFACE: Like my previous post, this is less a story than it is a journal entry recounting a great moment in my life.

WE BEGIN: In 2011, my father asked if I would join him on his annual participation in the Group Health Seattle to Portland Bike Ride, also known as the STP. What I didn’t know was that my answer would essentially change my life.

Two years later and I have completed my third STP. Biking has become an integral part of my life, logging roughly 1,000 miles on my bike each year. It is my “commuter car” and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Each year it begins the same: a photo of my bicycle resting the evening before the trip, posted on Facebook with the famed Twin Peaks line (as delivered by the mysterious giant): “It is happening again.”

The night before, I joined my parents and my friend and Green Light Go Publicist Janelle Rogers in my parents’ room for a celebratory pre-ride bottle of wine. We used styrofoam cups.

With my parents, it is always an ordeal to get on the road. It is always a hurry up and wait scenario. Everything has to take place now in my father’s eyes, but then we get held up by things he did not finish.

We got a very late start, leaving the hotel roughly 30 minutes later than hoped and the starting line a good hour-plus later than planned. They called 5-minutes ’til starting line closure as we rode through. The time was 7:25am.

We cruised through the first stop at REI’s headquarters. Things were wrapping up; the crowds had dissipated, food was essentially gone. What was left were plain tortillas, plain bagels and oranges. We left quickly, concerned lunch might find us with an equal lack of food options.

The second stop is a mini-break in Puyallup/Sumner before what everyone dubs “The Hill” — a somewhat brutal mile-plus incline that never seems to end. Shortly after the hill is the lunch spot. We were pleased to find plenty of sandwiches remained.

After lunch, we ride alongside Fort Lewis, a road that is typically a bit terrifying. For one, it’s narrow. Cars drive fast along it, and the heavy quantity of bicycles make for bunch-ups behind slow riders, and closer-than-normal passing by fast cyclists. Last year we witnessed the aftermath of a few bike-on-bike accidents along this road, one of which resulted in hospital treatment.

This year, the road was easy. Given our late start, bike traffic was light.

At the end of this road, we hop on a bicycle trail for 14 miles. In the past, this has been an arduous ride, but this year it seemed to go quickly. The heat was still blaring, but I had trained a significantly greater amount this year in comparison to last.

Perhaps the best part of the STP is the overnight stay in Centralia. Each year we stay with a wonderful couple who hosts a get-together with plenty of beer and wine, an amazing BBQ, and actual beds for riders to sleep in (most riders camp).

Contrary to previous years, our very generous hosts expanded the party and invited neighbors, family and other friends. Met some great people that night, had a little too much beer and wine, and woke up the next morning with a light hangover.

Our hosts, of course, have the perfect cure: an amazing breakfast with homemade cinnamon rolls and oatmeal, all the coffee we can drink, and fruit and muffins and more.

Like much of this year’s STP, the second day was very untraditional. We three rode separately for the most part, my father going ahead early on while Janelle and I took a longer break. I rode with my father up to the Banana Bread stop, but he left us behind at Winlock, home of the World’s Largest Egg.

By the time I arrived in Vader, dad had a 30-minute-plus lead. Following Vader is a school stop, then Day 2 lunch. I left Janelle behind a few times and met up with her again at the stop-points. We also met up with a few of our fellow overnight stay guests along the way.

Perhaps one of the most notable paths during the STP is the crossing of the Columbia River in Kelso. Traffic is split: a large group of cars crosses, followed by a large group of bikes, and so on.

Last year at the peak, I lost my chain. It jammed and I cut my fingers an knuckles yanking it loose. This year, with a new bike under me, I was determined not to have the same fate.

The bridge arches tremendously, and at the peak you can see miles in every direction. Of course, in a crowd of bicycles, you don’t look. Especially at the peak. You focus on what’s ahead — the decline.

It’s known as a water bottle graveyard. You can achieve great speeds on the way down — thirties, forties, if not higher. It’s the dividing sections of the roadway, subtle bumps in a car, but back-jolting impacts by bike. It’s always a bit terrifying, but a thrill nonetheless.

From there, it’s on to the final large stop of the day in St. Helens, about 30 miles outside Portland. Arriving here is always a welcome sight. They have plenty of water and crude PVC-pipe misters. The more daring bikers walk through the arches, while most stand eight to ten feet away and let the mist roll over them.

It’s a welcome feeling after a sixty to seventy mile ride. It’s even more welcome as by the time you arrive, the temperature is in the 80s.

However, one of the best stops on Day 2 is the Dairy Queen in Scappoose. By 3:30pm, we’ve been riding in 70 to 80+ degree heat for hours, and all we can think about is something nice, cold, and refreshing: ice cream.

It’s a popular destination.

In St. Helens, I caught up with my dad. We rode together to Dairy Queen where we each had a treat. With the sugar rush that followed, I left him far behind. Had I clocked it, my average speed is likely to have topped 20mph the last 20 or so miles.

People always talk about the Puyallup hill as being one of the most hellish parts of the trip. I quite disagree. I think it’s the hill up to the bridge in Portland, given it comes up so unexpectedly. We always forget about this hill, and it’s a bit of a monster.

At the top is quite the sight.

The bridge is so iconic — We have arrived in Portland!

What follows is another easily-forgotten path: the winding streets through the city to the finish line. It’s a good seven or eight miles, and it always seems so much longer as in the city there are endless stoplights and crowds of bicyclists.

Then it’s done.

In Photos: A Hot Vegas Wedding

PREFACE: This is less a story and more a journal entry, recounting my wedding on July 1, 2013 and the road trip there and back…

WE BEGIN: Andi and I have been together for nearly six years. We’ve lived together for over five. Last August, I, in my normal state of awkwardness, proposed and she gracefully said yes. She didn’t want a fancy ring. It nearly brought tears to my eyes; she was satisfied with the ring I presented her on the day we got engaged — my late grandmother’s engagement ring from the 1940s.

Us: we’re not much for large get-togethers. She especially will shun big parties. Likewise, she doesn’t like being the center of attention in a large group. So we decided the best route to a wedding was something small — we set a mid-summer date and scheduled a small ceremony at the famed A Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas (Elvis not included). The date: July 1, 2013 — all prime numbers (a requirement of Andi’s).

Homemade invitations were distributed to a small number of close family and an even smaller number of close friends.

Given Instagram has added embed functionality to their photos, I figured I’d give you a visual rundown of our trip.

The trip was amazing. What we didn’t expect, though, was 117-degree weather.

We left our Mount Vernon, Washington home on the Saturday before our wedding and drove to Twin Falls, Idaho. It was a long drive at over ten hours, but we stopped in the cute town of Nampa just outside Boise for dinner at Messenger Pizza. The second day, we traveled south to Vegas, quickly passing through several small desert towns.

We arrived in Vegas Sunday afternoon, the day before the wedding, and checked into our room at the Flamingo. Andi’s parents had arrived earlier that day, and mine the day before. We met up with hers for dinner, hopping from casino to casino to take advantage of their indoor air conditioning. The heat was already near unbearable with thermometers reading the hundred-teens.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced this type of heat, but it’s like being in a slow cooker. The air is thick with the heat — not thick like it is when it’s humid, though, just a pure, hot thickness. Almost immediately, we began to dub Vegas as Las Vegas, Hell.

We ultimately settled on The Cheesecake Factory in Caesar’s Forum for our meal after a few unsuccessful attempts to find a spot that offered gluten free options. By that time, Andi’s parents had gone back to the room to rest, and we were joined by Andi’s sister and her sister’s husband (where we are Andi and Andy, they are Jesse and Jessi).

The rest of the evening was spent looking for the piece Andi would ultimately wear in her hair during our wedding. We scoured the Forum for hours, looking in this store and that.

Marc By Marc Jacobs, a store in which we spent a fair amount of time, had a 1979 El Camino sitting in the window. Being that I drive a nearly identical car (but jet black), I had to take a picture. Finally, we gave up as 9:00 came around.

Heading back to Flamingo, Andi noted that she would probably find it in the least obvious place possible: our hotel. She was right.

That night, I took a few shots of the view from our hotel room on the 24th floor. The view was astonishing at night, lights everywhere, traffic and crowds never ceasing…

The morning of our wedding, we drove downtown to apply for our marriage license. At a Starbucks down the street, we met a wonderful elderly gentleman from Nevada who was nearly as hot as we were. He said this was unusual weather, even for the desert; the night before, it barely dipped below 90.

Andi dropped me off at the hotel around 11am. She and her father ran additional wedding errands while I met Andi’s friend Gypsy, who was just getting into town, and assisted her in checking into the Flamingo.

Our limo was to pick us up between 2:15 and 2:30pm. Andi hadn’t returned from having her makeup done by 2, and I, being the stress case I can be, was freaking out thinking she wouldn’t be ready in time. But we made it; she returned five minutes later and was ready within fifteen minutes (quite the feat for her, I must say).

She had her makeup done at Sephora, and expressed concern at the thickness of her eyebrows. Gypsy noted that on film and in photographs, having slightly bolder eyebrows is a good thing. She, of course, was right — despite our Girls references (i.e. when Hannah’s co-workers do her makeup, which prompts Adam to comment You look like a Mexican teenager. It rules.).

We made it to the limo just in time (or, about five minutes late). Andi’s mom gasped noticeably from the lobby as we descended on the escalator to where our ride was waiting. Joining her at the bottom, she commented that Andi looked stunning with her hair and makeup and 60s-referencing, Mod-era dress.

The limo ride was nearly unbearable. 117 degrees outside, but it wasn’t much better inside — 105 at least — as the air conditioning was terrible. The six mile drive to the Chapel nearly killed us. We rode back to the hotel in my parents’ rental car (though Andi’s family took the limo).

Technically, you’re not supposed to take your own photos in the Chapel, but we snapped a few from the lobby, including one with an Elvis cameo (he was not part of our ceremony):

After the ceremony, we congregated at The Center Cut, Flamingo’s signature steakhouse, for our reception dinner. We all ate steak and me, being a social drinker, had nearly 12 glasses of water. I snapped a photo of my parents, my brother and his wife, and our wedding dessert. In retrospect, I wish I would have had one of the waiters take a photo of the entire party at dinner.

Andi and I had a very untraditional honeymoon. The majority was spent on the road, driving home from Las Vegas. But it was along these roads that we had the most fun. Driving northwest toward Reno, we turned down a side street in Goldfield, NV and discovered a gold mine.

Not literally, of course, as those dried up years ago.

Goldfield is a partial ghost town, parts of which appear to have been abandoned in the 1920s. We could not pass up the chance for the photo op.

Walker Lake is a picturesque lake just outside Hawthorne, Nevada. We stopped here for a restroom break, questioning why the resort-like beach was vacant. We soon learned why.

Stretching our legs and getting ready to use the restrooms, Andi almost stumbled into a bush. It was at this moment she realized the bush was covered in inch-long spiders — nearly fifty in all! It’s wasn’t just this bush — it was EVERY bush.

Creeped out, we left as quickly as possible, not pausing to get a picture for proof. For miles around the lake, as we cruised by at 55 to 60 mph, we saw similar bushes along the side of the road, all infested with spiders. The following article about Walker Lake notes:

…woe to the motorist who pulls over and doesn’t pay attention to the guard rail. It is spider central — spider nirvana. It’s as if a B-movie director put out a casting call for large, nasty looking arachnids, miles and miles, thick with webs and spiders, packed together and ready to pounce.

On July 3, we were those motorists.

That night we splurged in Reno, staying in a room with a jacuzzi at the Silver Legacy Casino and Hotel.

The next day we drove the best road I’ve ever traveled: CA-139 from Reno, Nevada to Susanville, California. It’s a road I hope to drive again someday. Along it we stopped at Jacks Valley, a watering hole from the settler days and early 1900s.

On our way to our evening stay in Bend, Oregon, we took a planned detour and visited Crater Lake. For those who have never been, Crater Lake is exactly that: a giant lake in the crater of a dormant volcano. What you don’t get from the name is that it features one of the bluest, most serene and picturesque lakes in the world.

That evening, we were spent. We stayed at your standard Super 8, woke early the next morning and drove north to Yakima, over to Seattle, then home.

Exhausting as these types of drives may be, we decided that road trips are the way to go.

You experience so much of America by driving back roads and byways, by traveling two-lane state highways and scenic routes. You discover towns like Goldfield, Nevada, drive breathtaking roads like CA-139, and have unforgettable experiences like Walker Lake.

The old saying Why drive when you can fly? should be reversed: Why fly when you can drive!?!?

My First Experience with Facebook Graph Search

Facebook Graph Screen Shot

What people say about Facebook’s new Graph Search ranges from totally awesome to stalker-ish creepy. Articles have been published on how to use Graph Search to find a job. A Tumblr was created solely to show how revealing Actual Facebook Graph Searches can be.

Today I sat down and gave the new search engine a little test drive. My thoughts: it hits all the above quite firmly.

Now, some background. Last weekend, I took a little bike ride. Nothing too spectacular, just joined over 11,000 others on Group Health’s annual Seattle to Portland ride. Logged about 210 miles over the course of two days.

This was my third time completing the journey, and once again I stayed with family friends at the midpoint in Centralia, WA. Contrary to other two years, 2013 saw R.O. and W.O. hosting a larger group; there were about 20 of us there.

(For the sake of anonymity, I will refrain from using their real names and use first and last initials instead, despite what’s visible in the screen shot.)

I met a wonderful couple named C.M. and M.O. We three connected several times on the road the second day, and verbal plans were made to connect in the near future. The only problem: we didn’t exchange contact information.

Here’s what was known about the two:
• His and her first names only
• His place of work
• The city in which they reside
• A key interest of his

Within 5 minutes, I had located both individuals on Facebook using Graph. Here’s how I did it.

1. His First Name AND Employer
First I typed in his first name and his employer. This prompted me to click a search query for “People named ‘C.’ who work at ‘A.'” This yielded roughly 5 pages of results, none of which were C.M.

2. His First Name AND “In A Relationship” with Her First Name
No results. This means they haven’t made it official on Facebook.

3. His First Name AND Key Interest AND City of Residence
The results of this search far exceeded my interest to peruse them, so I took a different approach.

4. Her First Name AND City of Residence
Being that her first name is less common, it should have been my starting point. However, as I knew more information about him, that’s where I began. Searching with this query yielded a single page of results and she was in it.

5. Searching Her Friends for Him
Visiting her list of friends, I was able to locate him quickly.

These five steps took all of five minutes. Five minutes to locate people I know virtually nothing about outside of a few highly general facts. That’s scary accurate, a bit creepy, and — of course — totally awesome.

Were I more observant, I could have narrowed the results in #3 by the “Refine This Search” column to the right of the original results. This allows you to specify options like Gender, Relationship, Employer, Current City, Hometown, School and many more.

Yes, Facebook Graph Search is shaping up to be a bit of a game changer. With the quantity of information Facebook has logged on its users, it’s a bit surprising more people are up in arms about the NSA rather than shutting down their Facebook accounts.

Still, it’s power is that of sheer awesomeness… and will be until something embarrassing about you inevitably gets exposed. I’m sure we all have one or two things we wish we hadn’t shared, said, commented or liked on Facebook.

If you’re worried about that, two good reads include this Slate article on changing your privacy settings and this notable article from Mashable, the latter of which reminds us:

“It makes finding new things much easier, but you can only see what you could already view elsewhere on Facebook,” reads a Facebook press release.

5 Must-Have Apps for the Seattle to Portland (STP) Bike Ride (or Any Other Bike Tour)

These days there are apps for everything, so I sat down and compiled a brief list of five must-have apps for the upcoming Seattle to Portland (STP) Bike Ride.

This is not a new area; others have compiled bike app lists, including this The App Whisperer article that led me to choose my #1 app on this list.

There’s also this Travelling Two article which goes beyond mere bike-only apps.

I followed the path of Travelling Two, but looked to compile five very different apps that would be useful during any bike tour. My requirements: each would need to serve a notably different function and aid your tour in some fashion. Here’s the list:

1. Cyclemeter GPS Cycling & Running App

Read my original take on the Cyclemeter GPS Cycling App, and you’ll get the impression that I was a fan from the start. It’s true: I have used the app to track my location, elevation climbs, ride time and average speed since the day I purchased it, and I’ve found it very well worth the cost of a few dollars.

Cyclemeter GPS App Screenshot

My only complaint is likely the standard one: like most apps, continuous use over a long period of time will drain your battery. So, if you are able to charge while you ride either via a bike-powered phone charger (still looking for one that gets solid ratings) or a solar-powered phone charger (again, still on the hunt).

If you prefer, you could also get Map My Ride, which has received good ratings.

2. Bike Repair

While the hope is you’ll never need it, having access to a bike repair or troubleshooting app can come in handy when out on the open road. This app gives you good step-by-step instructions on how to complete various small repairs and also has a decent troubleshooting section.

In addition to my Bike Repair app, I have a small set of standard and compact bike tools housed just under my seat as a just-in-case.

Bike Repair App

I have found the photo guides most useful and have used it to research removing pedals from my old 70s Schwinn Varsity.

Bike Doctor is another app in this category.

3. Red Cross First Aid

Again, the hope here is that you won’t need this app. However, there were a few times we passed cyclists who had crashed. Being that my father is both elderly and a diabetic, it’ll be useful to reference if he gets low/high on blood sugar during the ride. If an emergency should arise, this app could come in handy.

Red Cross First Aid iPhone App

Now, during the STP it is unlikely you’ll need this app even should there be an emergency or problem as this ride is quite well supported. However, if you are on a solo or very small group tour, it’s recommended to have a general first aid app.

4. Instagram

I love Instagram. It takes you standard, often dull camera phone photos and brings them to life.

Instagram iPhone App

With Instagram, you can share your photos with your friends by connecting your account to Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. A strong recommend for any trip and one I’ll be using frequently during the STP.

5. Yelp

Why use Yelp on the trip? During those overnight stays, Yelp is perfect for finding that hot local spot for a quick bite to eat, a beer after riding 100 miles, or even a hotel for the night (though for that I’d lean toward TripAdvisor or Orbitz).

Yelp iPhone App

On a recent vacation, I used Yelp frequently to seek out restaurants with gluten-free options. You can read what others say in the reviews section. Its connection with Maps allows you to get easy directions to the dining establishment, and you can add in your own two-cents about your experience when you’re done.