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Assortments

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:

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Digital & Social

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!

Categories
Digital & Social

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.

Categories
Digital & Social

A Recap of my First Few Hours with Facebook’s Updated News Feed

I was a bit surprised to see a prompt for me to update my Facebook News Feed this morning. After all, they announced the updates last Thursday and Facebook hasn’t necessarily been the quickest at rolling out new features.

May be the company’s public status.

After spending a few hours this evening with the new layout, I must say I’m quite pleased. Aesthetically, the Feed is ultra clean and its functionality is much more modern. Check out the look below in this snapshot of a single post:

Facebook Updates News Feed 2013

Likewise, the Feed itself is vastly improved. Hover over the black bar at left in the image above and it expands to display navigation points including a link to your Profile, Pages you manage and those online you can message privately. Tagged individuals and Pages display in bold black text and link headlines are in a wonderful serif font.

Facebook Updates News Feed 2013

To the right, you’ll see the various feeds, a new feature that mimiks Google+ (not the only Google nod in this update). The multiple feeds option includes feeds for all the Most Recent posts, Music, personalized ones based on interestes (for example, I have custom feeds for Prairie High School, Washington State University, FensePost and the city of Mount Vernon), and more.

There’s also a Photos feed, a snapshot of which you can see below:

Facebook Updates News Feed 2013

More emphasis throughout the new Feeds is placed on stories; this includes images.

Personally, I love the new layout and look. Of late, Facebook has started to feel a bit stale, and I think the News Feed changes are just the thing the site needs to maintain its relevancy with those who, like myself, have been around since 2004.

These changes excite me, and while others will be adverse to the updates, this will be nothing new. Roll-outs such as these are often met with mixed feelings. For me, I praise the updates and look forward to what Facebook has in store for us with the updated Timeline (which I noted earlier has started rolling out in New Zealand).

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Categories
Digital & Social

Overview: Cyclemeter GPS iPhone App Review

Bicycle

Today I downloaded a new app, the Cyclemeter GPS iPhone App for cycling and running by Abvio, Inc. My plan is to use it as I train up for the Group Health Seattle to Portland (STP) 2013 bike ride.

What prompted this action was the sun. Yesterday was a beautiful day and while everyone else used it to mow the lawn and do yard work, I wanted to bring out the bike and hit the road. So I did.

I wanted a way to track my progress via phone, and perhaps just as importantly, share it with my friends socially. After a little research, I chose the Cyclemeter GPS app as it boasted all the features I was looking for and the reports received for each ride are highly detailed yet presented in a layman’s, easy-to-understand fashion.

For example, the left screenshot below shows my ride route and the one on the right displays the ride time, distance traveled and current speed:

Cyclemeter GPS App Screenshot

The app also tracks your rides over time, giving you an easy-to-navigate calendar where you can view this data. This will surely be useful as I ramp up training for the STP.

In the left-most screenshot below, my speed was tracked for the duration of the ride and you can see it graphically displayed over time. The middle screenshot shows the elevation covered from the start point to the finish point. As I activated the app about two miles in (once it had downloaded), you can see my overall elevation remained fairly constant with a slight upward grade.

Cyclemeter GPS App Screenshot

The right-most image above shows its integration with your phone’s iTunes library. This means you can play the proper tunes for the ride.

Note: I am strongly opposed to wearing headphones while riding. Be safe if you plan to have a few tunes while you ride and use the phone’s speaker instead, and be courteous to others and keep the volume at a reasonable level.

Finally, you can integrate it with Facebook and Twitter. I connected it with Facebook after my ride and Twitter this morning, so next time I activate the app for a ride, my friends and followers will see my training progress (I may update this article with screenshots at that time). And, come the STP, they can follow my progress to Portland.

Other bicycling apps are available (check out a few more cycling apps here before you make your final decision), but the Cyclemeter GPS iPhone App seemed the best given you can view all the data right from your phone. That was the selling point for me; other apps require you to download information and view it via your laptop or PC.

I’m excited to dive into more of the features as I train up, in particular its social integration. But thus far, I am more than satisfied with its $4.99 purchase price. You get a wealth of information that would run you $50 to $100 were you to purchase a stand-alone odometer system, and it goes into far more detail than the standard odometer as well.

Update: March 14, 2013 @ 5pm

Alright, so I had a chance to use the social feature and, for the most part, I’m pleased. Facebook posts a lovely map of your ride and provides the key details anyone would want to know: miles covered, duration of the ride and speed in miles per hour.

Cyclemeter Facebook Integration

Twitter goes two steps further by providing followers with two tweets: one at the beginning of the ride and one at the end.

Cyclemeter Twitter Integration

Given Twitter’s 140 character limitation, a link is provided that goes into a lot more detail. You can zoom in and out of the map to see the path of the ride. It also provides, graphically, both speed and elevation on the y-axis over – and they give you options – distance, time, and ride time. Below the fold in the screen shot below is more data, but I’m not going to go into all that at this time.

Cyclemeter Twitter Integration Link

I’m a bit disappointed that the integration with Facebook doesn’t provide a link to this page, but alas, maybe it will in a future update.

End Update

With this app, I’ll be removing that temperamental odometer unit currently mounted to my handlebars. I’ll be replacing it with an iPhone mount instead.

So yesterday’s ride saw me travel Dike Road from Mount Vernon to Conway and back, a total of close to 20 miles. If you’re wondering how the countryside along this route looks, see the image below:

Bike Route

Categories
Digital & Social

How to Name A Blog (A Personal Case Study)

Brainstorm Sticky Notes

Back in late December or early January, my fiance Andi decided she wanted to start a fashion blog. Fashion has always been a major part of her life, and it seemed a logical step to take it to the next level and write about it.

Since this decision, we’ve been struggling to name the blog. After a few months of occasional brainstorming, we decided that enough was enough. We needed to find a name, and we needed to do so right away.

Here are three steps we took to name her new fashion blog. If you’re in the same predicament we were, hopefully they’ll provide you some words of wisdom (or at least encouragement).

1. Brainstorm

I love the photo above (by Flickr user jakecaptive) entited “Brainstorm” as that’s almost always the first place to start. Andi and I began by brainstorming.

While we didn’t use sticky notes, any and all ideas went onto a text document and we weeded them down to a small handful.

Unfortunately, the ones we liked best were already taken, and as time passed it became harder to think up new options. We needed to look elsewhere for inspiration. By taken, I’m referring to unavailable URLs.

Though it failed to yield the desired result, brainstorming is a great starting point. Generating the free flow of ideas will get you thinking about what you want to write about, why you want to write about it, and how you can carve a niche for yourself in the blogosphere.

I cover a few more questions to ask yourself during all three of these options in the conclusion.

2. Search and Research

Being that it will be a fashion blog, when brainstorming failed to yield desired results, we turned to Google. The first order of business was to do a few quick searches and see what popped up. Here are a few search strings we entered into Google:

• How to Name A Fashion Blog
• Blog Name Generator
• Blog Name Ideas

We landed on an article on the Independent Fashion Bloggers website called The Blog Name Generator: 9 easy Ways to Name Your Blog.

While many of the recommendations were cheesy, it gave us some ideas that ultimately led to us naming her new blog.

But before I go further, one stood out as relevant to me:

4. Give yourself a quirky nickname. Go ahead, give it to yourself. Isn’t that how cool nicknames really start?

This is precisely how I started my music blog of more than six years, FensePost. As a DJ at KZUU while in graduate school, I chose the name “Fense” to represent my on-air personality (a name I use to this day on my Friday night show on KSVR). This naturally progressed into the blog name FensePost.

Back to the case study. In searching for a name for Andi’s new fashion blog, we didn’t find any of the ideas in the previous link (or any of the other articles we checked out) worthy of name generation. But it gave us an idea, which leads to number three.

3. Think Outside the Box

Making abstract connections is a great way to name a blog. Brainstorming failed to yield a name. Searching for ideas didn’t work either. But it gave us an idea that worked:

Our favorite collective band is Belle & Sebastian. What about marrying something fashion related with a lyric or song name by the band?

A-ha! We landed on the perfect name shortly thereafter. Like Denim in the Movies, a play off Belle & Sebastian’s “Like Dylan in the Movies” off their 1996 sophomore LP If You’re Feeling Sinister.

Thinking outside the box is vague. In our case, it meant drawing upon inspiration in the IFB link noted above, making abstract connections about seemingly unrelated items. In our case, it was music, film and fashion. Her blog will likely encapsulate a little of all three, with the main focal point being, of course, fashion.

Conclusion

Naming your new blog can be among the harder tasks of starting a blog. Approaching the problem creatively and strategically can help you land on that perfect name. Here are a few questions to ask yourself if you’re looking to enter the blogosphere:

• What is your purpose behind starting a blog?
• What do you hope to accomplish with your blog?
• What, specifically, will your blog cover?
• What other blogs fit your niche or category?
• What will differentiate your blog within its niche?

Think about these questions and write down the answers. I recommend doing this before you launch into the initial brainstorm, then revisit them frequently as you go.

The answers will get you thinking about how best to move forward and create a strategy around your blog and generate blog post ideas, if not assist you on the way to finding a solid gold blog name. And they’ll provide footing for developing your overall blog goals and the strategy to help you achieve them.

Categories
Digital & Social

Facebook Updates Timeline & News Feed

Earlier today, Mashable touted that Facebook will be showing off updates to its News Feed on March 7.

The article also talks about the roll-out of Facebook’s updated Timeline, which is reported to be debuting in New Zealand. Check the link for photos.

Just now I posted a new video by Angel Olsen for her song “Sweet Dreams” and I noticed the video included a “Like Page” button – an element highlighted in the article. See the screen shot below:

Facebook Updates News Feed 2013

This has great potential for content generators and businesses alike. It does what Facebook does best. It makes the web more sharable.

If you haven’t yet, feel free to drop me a line on Facebook.

Categories
Digital & Social

Instagram at 100 Million

What a feat! Just the other day, Instagram announced that it has reached 100 million users.

Here’s a great quote from the article:

It’s easy to see this as an accomplishment for a company, but I think the truth is that it’s an accomplishment for our community. Now, more than ever, people are capturing the world in real-time using Instagram—sharing images from the farthest corners of the globe. What we see as a result is a world more connected and understood through photographs.

Kevin Systrom, Instagram Co-Founder and writer of those words downplays the milestone, putting it more on the users than his on ingenuity. Humble, smart, honest. But a lot has to be said about Systrom, who assisted in bringing the idea to life.

Of all the social places to follow a business, Instagram is perhaps my favorite. It capitalizes on putting a human touch to a company, connecting its products with its fans:

I may only go to Starbucks about once a month, but I love their brand even more thanks to Instagram. They occasionally put a fun twist on product placement:

Starbucks on Instagram

The same goes for Mission Bicycle. As an avid biker, I may not own one of their bicycles, but I aspire to one day park a Mission in my garage:

Mission Bicycle on Instagram

How can a business capitalize on the image-centric nature of today’s social world using Instagram? It can come in many ways, depending on the ultimate goal for being there and how it relates to the company’s overarching business and marketing goals. Used consistently, Instagram can be a great way to share a side of the business that may not often be seen, or portray the business and its customers in a light that is warm and endearing.

One brand that does this well is General Electric (disclaimer: I am a GE stockholder). Their photos tend to be of highly technical heavy machinery, of jet engines and wind turbines, of unknown industrial and mechanical manufacturing plants. Not something you’d expect to be interesting or amazing when photographed with a camera-phone, but put through the lens of Instagram the colors pop and life begins to emerge from machinery that would otherwise seem ominous:

General Electric on Instagram

Have you used Instagram for your business? If so, do please share. And feel free to follow me on Instagram while you’re at it!

Categories
Assortments

When In Vegas: MRI, Red Bull & A Quiz

Here it is, my blog-slash-web presence under my very own name, Andy Fenstermaker.

This is what was recommended we create at a two-day intensive Account Executive Advanced Training session by Agency Management Roundtable.

What a concept!?!?

In now fourteen years of blogging, I never thought to create one using my own name; likely to my own fault. It just always seemed more notable to create something under some pseudonym — something witty or clever.

But this makes perfect sense: I am now peeking behind the veil that is “Fense” and saying Hello World! in the most generic WordPress manner possible.

The AMR event saw me in Las Vegas for the first time. (Talking with someone later, I noted that the only items I didn’t use in my über small carry-on bag were the 14 quarters I took to play the slot machines.) And what a trip! Lots of new friends; an amazing learning experience.

The final night I ended up a Vodka Martini and four beers deep while hanging out with a new friend from Massachusetts. After she took off for a red-eye flight, I made my way to my new hotel, checked in and powered up the laptop.

Looking for a spare plug, I found the following behind the couch:

When In Vegas

Plenty of WTF, this was the perfect wind-down to an amazing trip.