10 Favorite Movies of All Time

I’m a big movie buff. I watch them on the road whenever I can. Prior to traveling my home theater was the focal point of my house. I had a 106″ screen with a collection of over 750 DVD’s.

I don’t see as many movies now that I’m traveling, but I still try to hit the theaters whenever I can.

Sight and Sound Magazine released their decennial film critics poll of the greatest moveis of all time.

Just for the hell of it, here are my 10 favorite movies of all time, in no particular order:

Honorable Mentions:

  • Once Upon A Time in the West
  • American in Paris
  • Ben Hur
  • Cool Hand Luke
  • The Great Escape
  • M
  • Barry Lyndon
  • Seven Samauri
  • The Wild Bunch
  • Pulp Fiction
  • The Seventh Seal
  • The Red Shoes
  • Network
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
  • Lord of the Rings Trilogy
  • The Conversation
  • Badlands

August Blog Review

A quick look at some of my numbers compared to July 2011:

Visits: +18.41%
Pageviews: +49.41%
Pages/Visit: +26.18%
Bounce Rate: -6.14%
Avg. Time on Site: +21.42%

Facebook Fans: 479, +4.4%
Subscribers: 630, +4.3%

My efforts at recommitting myself to blogging are paying off, and I haven’t really gotten going. I only had 1 guest post this month and didn’t publish anything in the larger outlets like The Atlantic or The Huffington Post.

There were two big wins this month in terms of traffic. One, was the guest post on Stuck in Customs and the second was my review of the iPad which got picked up by several gadget blogs.

The big thing I keep telling other bloggers (who never seem to listen) is that the ONLY way you can grow your audience is by exposing yourself to people who have never heard of you. That is exactly what both of those posts did for me. Having the same circle of people retweet, stumble and comment over and over does NOTHING for you. It is a circle jerk inside an echo chamber. This month I grew by more subscribers than most blogs have total, and it is because I found way to introduce myself to a new audience.

You will notice the big jump in pages per visit and time on site. There were several things which contributed to this:

  1. I removed the thumbnail links to wahoha and and replaced them with links to my own content. What few complaints I did get were usually about those thumbnails. Those links generated about 3,000 visits per month for me, but they were low quality. By just writing more, I can compensate for the traffic loss. Also, those 3,000 visits were probably generated by 2,000 people clicking on them and leaving my site. Those 2,000 clicks are now staying on the site.
  2. I massively decreased the load time of the site. I wrote about that before. The end result for pages per visist isn’t quite the jump I saw in the first few days, but it has remained substantially higher.
  3. I added a “Best of” section in my navigation to some of my more popular posts from the past

I don’t expect massive jumps in this number in the future. If I get them they will be due to an influx in new readers who are exploring old content and it will only be a temporary increase. Any systematic increases will be small and incremental from here on out.

I have also read some speculative posts about Google using analytics data to determine “quality”. If that is true, then increasing time on site, pages per visit and reducing bounce rate should all help drive search traffic.

I’ll be writing 2x a month for They were recently named by Time Magazine as one of the 50 Best Websites on the internet. I’ll probably be writing about more than just travel, or least more than what you might expect from a guy who travels. I also hope to have 1 or 2 more pieces appear in the Atlantic in September.

After bragging about my increase in search traffic I made a site wide change in how I display my HTML titles. I used to have the name of my site in every single title. I removed it and now the title is just the title of the post. It is cleaner and shorter. My traffic dropped a bit after I did it because I had so many pages change at once, but I expect it to bounce back.

I’m also changing how I title my daily photos. I’m no longer using the format “Daily Travel Photo – Place Name” but rather used the more descriptive text found in the caption of the photo. I think that should bring in more long tail traffic and the old format wasn’t doing anything for me.

As of today I’ve finished the huge glut of photos I had from the last 4 months and I will have much more time to write. This will mean more posts on my site (I have a long list) as well as more guest posts.

This has been a big stumbling block for me. Editing photos takes time to do it right and I can’t write about some places until I get the photos done. I have a few more from Tahoe and Mexico I took this month, but there aren’t too many of those.

Having taken care of most of my site load issues, I’m going to focus this month on conversions and tracking. I haven’t really paid much attention to this lately and I think I can see large jumps in conversion if I focus on it. I will also be implementing some changing to my Facebook page which I think should result in growth over there as well.


Knee Deep In Blog

I’ve spent the better part of the last 2 days working and fixing stuff on my site. Over time a lot of things have crept up and have made the performance of my site slow. While not perfect, I think I’ve fixed most of the big stuff that was causing problems.

  • Fixed image loading. I have a very photo intensive site. That isn’t going to change. One of the big problems was that on my front page, I display the last 7 of my daily photos. The problem was, it was loading the 1000px wide images which is shown on the page and displaying it as a 500px wide image. Because we are talking total area, each image was 4x larger than it needed to be. Multiply that by 7 and you have a big problem. My friend Jason made some quick changes that made it only load 500px wide images. Smugmug image resizing made it easy to do. This was far and away the biggest improvement I’ve made.
  • Moved to W3 Total Cache. I was using WP Super Cache, but W3 Total Cache seems way better. It not only caches files on the server site, but it will also do browser caching and minify your scripts. Unfortunately the aforementioned daily photo script is really fussy and breaks when it is minified, but other than that I have much better caching going on.
  • Removed scripts. I got rid of a bunch of stuff including the and Quantcast analytics scripts. Frankly, they weren’t helping Compete actually calculate my traffic (off by a factor of 4) and no one has ever cared about Quantcast that I know of. I also got rid of the Google FriendConnect widget and the Google Translate widget. Stats showed no one was using the translate tool and I have no idea what FriendConnect is for. I also got rid of the LinkedIn button when I saw I got only 7 visits from LinkedIn over the last month.
  • Deleted unused code. I had accumulated some code which I had commented out over the years. I figure if I can go a year without noticing it, I probably don’t need it.
  • Implemented Asynchronous scripting. I’ve noticed several times when I’d try to load a page and it was hanging trying to load Google Analytics or the Facebook widget. I replaced the code so that it loads asynchronously. That means the page wont stop loading to wait for that script to load. This is actually a pretty big deal.
  • Removed extraneous images. When my site was built, they put a my logo at the bottom. Why? I have no clue. Dumb spot for a logo. It was just another image that had to be loaded on every page. Gone!

I also spent time tweaking my Smugmug site. I set default thumbnails for each gallery, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it really is. Not every image makes for a good, square thumbnail. By picking images which make good thumbnails, I think I made the overall photo site a lot cleaner. I also changed the Smugmug theme and redid my bio at the top of the page.

Using the Google Page Speed tool, I was able to compare my site’s performance vs other big sites. My performance is comparable or better with Mashable, Techcrunch and the Huffington Post. It isn’t perfect but it seems to be well within the range of acceptable performance. It scores an 88 or 89.

I still have some things I want to do to improve performance:

  • Fix my daily photo script. This thing has been flaky since I got it. If I can fix it, then I can minify my scripts, CSS and HTML.
  • Tweak the social media buttons. All these Facebook, Twitter Google and StumbleUpon buttons come at a cost. I’m not sure I’m implementing them in the most efficient manner or even in the most strategic manner.
  • Move background images to Smugmug. The few images my WordPress theme uses are hosted on my blog. There aren’t many and they are small, but it would be more efficient to move them to my photohosting site. It would cut down on bandwidth and http requests for the web server.
  • Clean up the database. I have a plugin for WordPress I run about twice a year. It will delete the old versions of posts which clog up your database. I need to do that soon.
  • Institute CSS Sprites. I have no idea how this is done, but it would combine all my background images into one image, cutting down on bandwidth and http requests. This is pretty low on my list as few sites seem to actually do it.

I added a xmlns:fb=”” xmlns:og=”” to my < html > tag, which solved my problem of duplicate titles showing up when I posted a link in Google+.

I also changed the way titles on my posts render. They were showing the name of the blog in each title and I removed that so now it is just the title of the post and nothing else.

I’ve also been going through my Google Analytics data for the first time in months. Actually that is what spurred the performance binge when I realized a full 1/3 of my search engine traffic comes to my front page. I figured if I improve front page performance would give me the biggest bang for my buck.

Even though my search engine traffic is at an all-time high, most of it is from people searching for me. I have only 12 internal pages which get more than 100 visits per month from search engines. Most of those pages are old pages from when I started blogging and tried doing link building for individual articles.

One mention on even an semi-good blog seems to drive more traffic over longer period of time than a good article will drive from Google. I’m still getting over 400 visits per month from my guest post on the Four Hour Work Week site.

I had comments from people about the crazy images I have the bottom of my pages. I switched services from Wahoa to MGID. That got rid of the disturbing images that sometime show up and it also increased my traffic. I get about 300-400 visits per day from them.

Surprisingly enough, one of my best sources of traffic in terms of quality is Lonely Planet. They don’t drive a ton of traffic, but what I get spend a lot of time on my site and they view a lot of pages. I’ve been making an effort to tag my posts correctly so they can pick them all up.

I have a lot more little things to do over the next few weeks.


How to avoid results like the MN Senate Election

There are two things occurring in Minnesota right now which also occurred in Florida in the 2000 presidential election:

1) There is an extremely close vote.
2) There are a number of ballots which are ambiguous.

Both of these things are unavoidable. Close elections will happen from time to time and it should be assumed that they will happen again. Humans, being fallible creatures, will always find ways to screw up even something as simple as filling in a dot on a sheet of paper.

For 99.9% of all elections (if you include elections at every level) the number of screwed up ballots doesn’t matter because the margin of victory is much greater than the number of ambiguous ballots. How they are counted will have no effect on the outcome.

In that 0.1% of elections where it does matter, it can cause problems. You get into issues like hanging chads and “voter intent”. I think having any group of people trying to determine voter intent is a very dangerous thing. If the voter wasn’t clear, then they expressed no clear intent.

The way out of this is easy and should be adopted at all levels of government:

Accept that there will always be a small level of error in any voting system. In the MN senate election, approximately 2,400,000 votes were cast and 5,300 have been called into question. That is 0.22% of the votes. I’m sure a more thorough study could determine what a reasonable number is.

If any election is within that margin of error (lets say 0.5%), have a runoff between the candidates in an election which would happen 1 month later.

In the case of Florida, they would have had a special election one month later between Bush and Gore, with no Ralph Nader. In MN, they would have another election with no Dean Barkley.

Odds are, even if the election is close again, which you would expect it to be, it wouldn’t be as close as it was in the previous election. The ballot would be cleaner, there would be more attention paid to the race, and other candidates would be eliminated.

While it is possible to have yet another extremely close ballot count in the second election, it is unlikely. If it did happen, the recount would be much easier on a ballot with only two choices.


Winning isn’t everything, its the only thing

Here are the results for the top keywords coming from Google over the last three days (Nov. 1 to Nov. 3):

ulrur 22
travel blog 21
everything everywhere 15
gary arndt 13
november wallpaper 10

After all the effort I put into working the keyword “Travel Blog”, I am getting more traffic from a typo. I should note that I am ranked #1 for that typo. I am also ranked #1 for “everything everywhere” and “gary arndt”.

I’ve learned (the hard way) that being #1 for any keyword is better than being ranked below #5 for all but the biggest keywords. If you aren’t on the first page, you might as well not exist.

My efforts at ranking for “travel around the world” have advanced slowly. I’m currently at #16 on Google and #4 on MSN, which as generated very little traffic so far. In fact, I haven’t seen the key words appear on my Analytics results as of yet. I’ll reserve judgment till I can get to at least #5.

I’m tempted to go and misspell words on all my old articles.