Andy Fenstermaker, MBA

Experienced Marketing Manager, E-Commerce Nut, Content Strategist, Event Planner, Social Media Manager, Music Critic, & Blogger.

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.

Wes Anderson teams up with Prada

Prada Candy

I remember stumbling upon Wes Anderson’s famed two-minute epic American Express ad way back in 2006. Featuring his signature quirky style and, following the final scene in The Royal Tenenbaums, filmed in its entirety in one take, this advert has become my all time favorite.

It has humor (he grabs a sandwich and proceeds to ask an assistant for his snack; her reply – You’re eating it), celebrity (yes, that’s Jason Schwartzman), and a .357 with a bayonet. Watch it below:

Well, Wes Anderson has teamed up with another well-known name: Prada. With the new ad – or should I say ads, as there will be three – Anderson teams up with Roman Coppola to promote Prada Candy L’Eau.

Prada Candy L’Eau, Part I

Prada Candy L’Eau, Part II

Prada Candy L’Eau, Part III

Outside of the branding at the film’s onset and outset, there is nothing that says – or screams – Prada, but you get it. It’s one of those shorts that you simply want to watch over and over, and it’s very cool. When it’s done, you can’t help but wonder about the frangrance’s scent, how it would waft forth from a mysterious beautiful woman (or your dearly beloved).

Each concludes with the über hip “L’idole” by 60s French-pop artist Jacques Dutronc. Watch a live performance of the video below (p.s. the stumbling goes with the lyrics: joking, not drunk):

Yelp Releases Revenue Generating Tool

Earlier this past week, Yelp announced it had released a new tool for businesses to help assess and estimate how much revenue the site was helping them generate.

One problem with social media has always been the difficult task of determining its return on investment (ROI). Thanks to Yelp, at least one social platform has taken step in an attempt to make calculating this an effortless task.

In the article, Yelp writes:

This new FREE tool does the math by multiplying customer leads sent from Yelp each month by the business’s average revenue per customer lead. We’ve also included the average spend per customer for each business category for reference, based on the BCG study.

In part, the tool “establishes a revenue baseline for prospective advertisers” – which is to encourage more businesses using the service to buy advertising. But this is a good thing; when a social company can demonstrate the value of its service, the value of its advertising, all while showing how both connect to the user’s ROI, well, it makes paying for that advertising all the more appealing.

Here’s a sample screen shot of what you can expect:

Yelp Revenue Generating Tool

I’ve long been a fan of Yelp. It’s what I use to find hot spot eateries when I’m on the road or do not know the area. Whether, as a consumer-focused business owner, you use Yelp advertising or now, I at least encourage you to own and monitor your space. Keep an eye on reviews, understand how your customers see your business.

Even before their Revenue Generating Tool, Yelp has provided a wealth of information for the small business owner that, when used strategically, can help that business grow, learn and become the best it can be.

Check out Yelp’s Revenue Generating Tool by logging into you (or creating a) Yelp Business Account.

Kickstart This: Arrested Development Documentary

Arrested Development

Anyone who knows me has likely experienced a moment when I awkwardly attempt to reference Arrested Development or a quote from the show and correlate it with a current situation.

A particular favorite is the (originally) Dwight Yoakum -as- Johnny Treebark saying “And that’s why you *insert thing you shouldn’t do here*” (later a recurring thematic statement by the one-armed lesson-man J. Walter Weatherman).

I feel strange saying it, but Arrested Development has shaped much of my adult life. I credit the show for turning the mutual attraction between me and my soon-to-be-wife Andi into love. Introducing her to the show was the original foundation for our relationship.

We have literally watched the entire series over 30 times in near six years of being together; these days, it’s what we fall asleep to each night.

To say I was excited last year when Netflix announced will back and release a new season is the understatement of the century.

In an article today, Mashable talked about an Arrested Development documentary that’s in the works by two superfans simply known as Jeff and Neil.

A couple of Arrested Development superfans did what seems impossible to most superfans: they got interviews with the cast, writers and creators of everyone’s favorite canceled Fox sitcom. Now these Bluth-hunters need $20,000 to put their loose seals in order and release the documentary.

Donate to the project via its Kickstarter page. The page goes into more detail surrounding why the duo needs $20k:

After five years, we’re finally close to releasing the documentary. Our final step is to pay the network for photos from the set of the show. These photos are extremely relevant to the story, and we can’t move forward with the release of the documentary until our fees are paid to the network. This is where you come in. Help us pay the network fees so every Arrested fan can see this documentary!

Here’s the video Jeff and Neil made for their Kickstarter campaign:

It has only been a few days, and the duo has already raised over three-fourths of what is needed to cover those costs. It’ll reach its goal by tonight.

My reasoning: When I originally read the Mashable article, donations had just topped $15,500. Half an hour later another $1k had been added. I’m about to hit “Publish” (an hour after originally reading the article) and donations read more than $17,500.

A big *STEVE HOLT* to Jeff and Neil is in store (hopefully in the form of doubling their money and getting them a little extra cash for taking on the feat). And another *STEVE HOLT* to the sole donor who pledged $553 Mr. Manager donor level.

Here’s the documentary’s trailer:

I’ve been fascinated by the Kickstarter movement and hope to one day soon assist with a project on the platform. There are a growing number of articles out there about how best to use Kickstarter for your project; in particular (being a music fan), I really enjoyed this Mashable article on 9 Essential Steps for a Killer Kickstarter Campaign.

One Weekend: Two Farewells

Last weekend, the world lost two inspirational individuals. Both likely had no idea of each other’s existence, nor could they be considered inspirational for any parallel reason. One a politician, the other a musician. Yet each touched the lives of those with which they came into contact.

RIP Booth Gardner (Former Gov. of Washington): 1936-2013

RIP Booth Gardner

I met Gov. Booth Gardner on several occasions during my employment at Strategies 360. I found him to be an inspiration; he had a brilliant, charismatic demeanor despite having long suffered from Parkinson’s Disease.

Gardner was elected the 19th Governor of Washington in 1984 and held the office for two terms between 1985 and 1993. Prior to his Governorship, he served as Pierce County Executive, and after his term through 2008 – and likely well beyond – Gardner was active in some regard both in the local community and in the state government.

He publicly announced support for assisted suicide in 2006 and headed – successfully – Washington’s Death with Dignity Act in 2008. Per wikipedia about the Death with Dignity Act:

In 2009, The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner, a short documentary film, was produced by Just Media and HBO, chronicling the Initiative 1000 campaign. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.

In a letter to my old employer, Ron Dotzauer, the family spokesperson, I stated: I know he touched the lives of and inspired countless people, myself included. He will definitely be greatly missed by all who knew him and many who didn’t.

Rest in peace, good man. You were a true inspiration.

Watch this clip of The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner:

The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner clip from Just Media on Vimeo.

RIP Jason Molina (Songs: Ohia, Magnolia Electric Co): 1973-2013

RIP Jason Molina

I caught a partial set by Jason Molina several years ago at Seattle’s Folklife festival. I can’t quite recall the year, not can I recall the name under which he performed. It could have been Jason Molina, Songs: Ohia, or even Magnolia Electric Co. What I remember of the performance is that out of his minimalist style, he was effortlessly enigmatic in the songs he created.

Somewhere between indie-folk and alt-country, Jason Molina’s music was without a doubt heartfelt and revealing, despite having a sound that was often difficult to describe. The first song I ever heard of his was the stripped-down opener and title track to Songs: Ohia’s 2002 LP, Didn’t It Rain.

Molina ultimately succumbed to health complications resulting from alcoholism. Despite his ailments, Molina was an artist whose music moved those who heard it. Loved by many throughout the indie music scene, he too will be a greatly missed soul.

Listen to “Heart My Heart” by Molina from his 2012 release Autumn Bird Songs:

Goodbye Google Reader: 9 Suitable RSS Feed Replacements

To the dismay of the Internets and Interwebs, it appears Google Reader is going the way of the indefinite hiatus. I’ve been noticing the complaints in my Facebook, Twitter and Google+ feeds over the past day, and amidst them was a list from my buddy Andy Boyan.

Thought it appropriate to share what he thought would be suitable RSS feed replacements for Google Reader. Here’s what Boyan posted to his G+ account:

This avalanche of GoogleReader DramaRama Saga is hilarious. Congrats to all those RSS feed startups with brand new money and energy… Have you had any experience with these or other RSS Feed readers?

Here are the six RSS feed readers Boyan considers could be “rolling in new money” in the near future:

1. Rssident

Rssident Screen Shot

2. The Old Reader

The Old Reader Screen Shot

3. NewsBlur

NewsBlur Screen Shot

4. Fever

RSS Fever Screen Shot

5. Tiny Tiny RSS

Tiny Tiny RSS

6. Vienna RSS

Vienna RSS Screen Shot

Cnet also posted a list of Google Reader alternatives. According to their article:

…when you’re ready to make the jump, be sure to check out the Data Liberation Front’s primer on exporting your Reader data using Google Takeout.

Here are three highlights from their list:

7. Feedly

Feedly Screen Shot

8. Taptu

Taptu Screen Shot

9. Pulse

Pulse Screen Shot

In related news, Mashable reports Digg is building an alternative to Google Reader as well.

Do you use any of these feed readers? Are you a Google Reader devout looking for a new feed home? Let me know your thoughts and decision process in the comments section!

5 WordPress Plugins Your Site Needs Right Now

Inspection

WordPress is among the most widely used blog and content management system platforms in the world. Because of this, it’s easy to get sidetracked by the day-to-day and forget that new plugins are continually being created. Here are five must-have WordPress plugins that I highly recommend and have included on all my sites.

These five plugins were chosen due to the diverse attributes they will lend to your site, from making it more sharable to enhancing it strategically, from visual fluidity to overall optimization. Essentially, when used properly they will help you inspect (hence the above photo by pasukaru76) your content and make it better while looking good.

Whether you’re new to WordPress or an old pro, it’s always good to keep an eye out for new WordPress plugins. If you have a plugin recommendation, please share it in the comments and let us know why it’s so great.

1. Google Analytics for WordPress

This is a new site, so it doesn’t have many visitors yet, but you bet’cha that I’m monitoring and tracking my analytics like a hawk! Google Analytics for WordPress provides easy integration with your Google Analytics account, and it’ll give you access – through Analytics – to a wealth of information you can use as insight into your site’s performance. Used strategically, Google Analytics allows you to:

• Create analytical and statistical goals for your site and measure against them.
• Pinpoint your best content for promotion and in-site linking.
• Gain insight into which articles draw traffic and produce similar content.

If you’re not tracking and monitoring your analytics, you’ll soon be left behind. Grab the Google Analytics for WordPress plugin here.

2. Jetpack by WordPress.com

Jetpack has a hodgepodge of features that you can use to improve your site functionality, sharing capabilities, and more. There are pods that allow you to activate the infinite scroll, transform your image galleries into a large full-screen experience, automatically post to your social sites like Facebook and Twitter, and optimize your site for Mobile devices.

Click here to download and install Jetpack by WordPress.

3. WordPress SEO

WordPress SEO gives you added search engine optimization (SEO) capabilities by allowing you to manipulate your SEO title and meta description and more. While altering your meta description alone won’t likely help you rank higher, but it allows you to generate a proper description and may ultimately generate more clicks when it does show up in search.

Learn more about the WordPress SEO plugin by visiting this link.

4. WP Fluid Images

This one has been a godsend. One of my biggest personal complaints with modifying existing WordPress themes, specifically on my blog FensePost, has been the problem of inconsistent image dimensions. Having a minor case of OCD when it comes to such things, it bugs me to no end that my early FensePost content has smaller images than the current posts as, over time, the content width has increased in size.

Enter WP Fluid Images and this problem is solved for any future posts. While I cannot go back and manipulate the image size on photos I cropped in the early days, by adding a full-size photo to the site, WP Fluid Images scales it to the appropriate content width – and it’s variable to take advantage of responsive sites like this one nonetheless. A true must-have!!!

Get the WP Fluid Images plugin here.

5. MediaElement.js HTML5 Audio and Video

I don’t use this one very often, but it does come in handy on occasion. If you’re looking to add audio or video content that is NOT uploaded to a sharable audio platform (like Soundcloud) or video platform (like YouTube or Vimeo), and instead plan to host the content yourself, MediaElement.js HTML5 Audio and Video allows you to easily embed the content in your WordPress post or page. Highly recommended for the multimedia content developer/generator.

This link is your key to embedding audio and video into your WordPress site via HTML5.