Hey, he’s blogging again

September 20, 2017

Over two years ago, I posted the most recent post here on Two Cents and a Thousand Words… until now. A lot has changed since then – both good and bad – but one constant is my love of writing, and I’d love to start doing that more again.

I’m not going to set any expectations about frequency or content here, but what I expect Two Cents to become is a sort of behind-the-scenes look at what’s going on in my life. Sometimes it’ll be my personal journal. Sometimes it’ll be a look into my thinking behind projects and next steps. But in a lot of ways, this might be the most me place online.

Old posts are still kicking in the newly-created archive. But right now, it’s all about looking forward.


May 17, 2015

I’ve heard from a couple of people lately that they’re not impressed by the amount of negativity on my social media accounts lately. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, mostly because I hadn’t intentionally been more negative, so I looked through the statuses I’d posted lately on my accounts. I’d guess about half of my recent posts on Twitter could be considered negative in some way; if you look through Facebook, the percentage is much smaller.

So why do some people notice the negativity? In my specific case, I think part of it is that a lot of the “happy” posts I used to put on my main account have moved to other places, like Justin Russell Photography and re:bangor. And in general, I think people tend to notice and gravitate to negativity more than positive posts (this is basically the business model of a lot of cable news, actually). Still, the thought of being considered a negative person bothers me.

Looking through the posts made me realize something else: it can be tough to read between the lines on social media.

It’s been a really rough few months for me. I’ve tried to cover when I’m with people and when I’m online, but it’s there. There’s not any single cause; it was a combination of a number of psychological blows that’ve knocked me to the ground. Luckily things have gotten better, and I never reached a point where I felt scared or out of control of myself, but the fact remains that I’d been having a tough time.

Granted, the majority of social media users aren’t psychologists. But when you see posts from the people you know well – or the people who you may not – do you think about what might be going through their mind as they write a post?

Never be afraid to ask if someone’s ok. And in a venue where attacks and argument seem to be the norm, try to thank or recognize someone publicly for what they do every once in a while.

I’m going to make a focused effort to follow that advice in the coming months (along with other more positive posts). I hope you’ll join me.

Facebook, blame, and the new world our kids face

May 21, 2013

“This wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for Facebook.”

In every tragedy that even potentially involves a predator finding a victim online, Facebook and others seem to bear a large portion of the blame. It’s convenient to point fingers at a site, and yes, it’s important sites take steps to protect their users, but it really only deflects our attention from the truth; there are new dangers for our kids, and we don’t fully know how to combat them.

I remember the conversations when my parents taught me what to do if a strange adult asked me to follow them or offered me candy. The threats children face now are really very similar to those we’ve been preparing kids to handle for decades; the difference is that now anyone has easy access to almost any child and can put on almost any face.

The sad truth is that it’s tough to prepare kids for a world that changes every year – or every month. I can’t reasonably expect all parents to understand how to use every new tool. (Heck, I was one of the first people on both Facebook and Twitter in Maine, and I just sent my first Snapchat a week or two ago. And yes, it does make me feel old to think that Facebook messages and email are considered passé.)

I remember high school and the recipe for disaster that environment fosters. Take a hearty craving for validation and acceptance, throw in a good bit of invulnerability, and voilà… trouble.

We need to figure out how to educate children about the importance of online privacy and safety. Digital literacy and conduct need to be part of every school curriculum, and there needs to be better resources for parents who may not have even heard about the tools and apps their kids use every day. Parental controls on a phone are a start, but they’re not enough. Kids are smart (and crafty).

As I spend more time thinking about these challenges, I keep coming back to those talks my parents had with me about conversations with strangers. The methods by which predators lure children are ever-changing – and ultimately irrelevant. The candy may be digital now, but the lessons we need to teach our kids are the same.


May 6, 2013

A few weeks ago I posted this status on Facebook:

There’s always been a part of me that’s a little uneasy being called “photographer”. It’s been shrinking lately, but it’s still always been there. Well, after this morning – after doing something I’ve wanted to do for years – I’m now completely comfortable with it. And it feels good.

And it’s true. I’m a photographer.

Unlike a lot of photographers, though, I don’t cringe when I see bad photos from phone cameras on Facebook. I think everyone should take and share photos; it’s a great way to record and experience what you believe is important about your life. I share more photos of my friends than they probably want, but it’s because I think it’s important to have that record.

But when someone goes through the transition I’ve been feeling lately – when he starts to label himself as “photographer” – my expectation changes. I think it’s fine for a photographer to share a quick snap every once in a while, but an artist’s presentable work should have some level of quality. If I see some sort of huge watermark on a crappy photo, it angers me. That’s when the label of “photographer” turns from passion to ego, and I never want to be the kind of photographer who believes every photo he takes belongs in a museum.

In order to reach that level of quality you have in your own work, you need to recognize your own strengths. I know I’m really good at performance (and to a lesser extent, event) photography. I’ve reached the point where if I don’t think I’ve performed at my potential, I get frustrated at myself. (That happened after Thursday’s dance showcase, for example.)

That doesn’t mean you can’t grow as an artist; I want to get better at portraits, so I’ve been asking friends to go out on shoots. They’re patient, and I think I’m getting better – but I still have a ways to go before I’m satisfied with my own work for that kind of photo.

It’s tough, too, because friends often do the friendly thing and tell you that your photos are great regardless of their actual quality, much like a friend would compliment you on your beautiful new cat even if she were a dog person. I’m sure some of the compliments I’ve received on my work from friends fall into that category. My goal is to share good photographs. If I post something that isn’t good, I want to hear it (hopefully along with some suggestions about how I can improve). I know I’m a good photographer, but a) I want people to mean it when they say that to me, and b) I want to get better.

Since I wrote that post, I’ve been living a dream I’ve had for years. I’ve been really, really busy, but it’s completely worth it – and I want the title of “photographer” to mean something.

My attempts to stop myself from getting pissed about Google Reader’s shutdown have failed

March 14, 2013

Well, Google made it official. Google Reader, a web app I’ve been using since just about the beginning of time, will be no more on July 1st.

I feel the same as I did when del.icio.us went through its rocky patch, really, but with an added bit of disappointment. Google Reader’s uniqueness was that it wasn’t just a web app; it powers a number of fantastic third-party applications, including Reeder (one of the reasons I love my iPad) and Headlines Reader (an innovative app my my friend Matt). Luckily, Reeder will live on past the closing of Google Reader, but many other applications (FeedDemon, for instance) won’t survive. Google’s hurting developers with this decision.

After I thought about it for a while, I realized that the shuttering of Google Reader isn’t what angers me. Instead, it’s a perfect example of why I can’t stand a lot of Google’s mentality about products and services.

A lot of people ask why I stick with iOS even though Android is arguably a better mobile operating system in a lot of respects. There are a lot of answers to that; one happens to be that the third-party apps for iOS (including, for example, Reeder) are worlds ahead of anything available on Android. Another reason is Apple’s track record with product support as compared to Google – and Google Reader’s shutdown solidifies that point for me.

Google, by any definition, is a technology company. They make some great products: Gmail was leaps ahead of any other email service at the time it launched, Google Maps did the same thing with mapping, and Google Glass (although I’m not a fan of it) is really amazing tech. Google’s problem is that they tend to lose interest in their products fairly quickly and decide to close them down on a whim. If they do that with a service you like (say, Wave, Buzz, iGoogle… the list goes on), you’re out of luck. (If Google were really as open as they claim, they’d turn the code for Google Reader open source, much like they did with Wave.)

For any Google service I use often (Gmail, Reader, and YouTube, mostly), I make sure that I have an exit strategy. For Gmail, I download a copy of all my email to my computer. For Reader, I sync with NetNewsWire to have a local copy of feeds. And on YouTube, I try to make contact with people whose channels I enjoy so that I have an alternate way to stay in touch if YouTube suddenly disappears.

Dave Winer summarize the bottom line nicely: if you really rely on a service, pay for it. You’ll tend to end up with products with more incentive for the developers to keep going. That’s why I pay a bit more for iOS, it’s why I often pay for apps, and it’s why I’ll probably end up paying for a service to replace how Google Reader helped me work and enjoy the web.

Finding your destination while you’re on your way

February 21, 2013

When I received my first digital camera as a Christmas gift in 1999, I had no idea about the journey I was starting. I’d always loved photography; I developed my own black and white prints at a summer day camp in grade school, and my mom loves to remind me that she captured my first steps on film because I was trying to grab the camera out of her hand. But digital was what made my interest explode. I spent years traveling around Maine and capturing the natural beauty of the state. In college I discovered the rush of capturing performances – concerts, dance, and theatre – and I’ve been fortunate enough to have full access to shoot great events like the American Folk Festival and Live and Dance Strong.

My next adventure

These past couple of months have been transformative for me; I’ve grown as a person, and I’ve grown as a photographer. And portraiture has started to call my name.

I have a lot of thoughts about many kinds of portraits, and I don’t think I’ll ever be what many people consider to be a typical portrait photographer. A few friends of mine have given me strange looks when I say I’m not interested in taking photos of babies or doing senior portraits for high schoolers right now. Those kinds of portraits may follow down the road, but for now I want to focus on capturing the beauty of many of the friends and others I’ve been lucky to know over the years.

A project I’ve been planning all along

There’s one project in particular that I’m excited to begin. Little did I know that I’ve been working on it for years.

One of my absolute favorite hobbies is talking with people about what they love to do. I love one-on-one conversations about passions with people I know in person, and whenever I have the chance, I enjoy meeting and talking with people face-to-face or online about their interests. I’ve covered a strange blend of these passions over the years, ranging from running to music to bodybuilding to contortion to dance. What drives someone to spend so much time on one talent or skill? In every case, I’ve noticed these passionate people have one trait in common: they’re never satisified. They want to be better. That inspires me.

While I was thinking about how I wanted to approach portraiture, I realized that I could tap into all of the connections and friendships I’d built. I realized I could extend that love of learning about passions into a photographic space. That’s when it all came together, and I decided that my main portraiture project will be a study of the passions people have and what drives them to be their best. I want to show the diversity of skill that the people we see every day hold.

The thought alone of working on this project excites me. I’m building a list of shots I want to take, and I hope to start publishing photos soon.


I’m extremely fortunate to have many people in my life who have supported my own passion – photography – over the years. They’ve pushed me to be better. I’ve frustrated many of them by being conservative about my goals and process, but their encouragement has led me to grow into the person I am today. Photography has changed my life for the better, and for that I thank everyone who has supported my journey. And it’s just beginning.


October 19, 2012

I’m a builder. I love the way an idea flows from the mind into something you can see or touch – something real.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about when my love for building began. I’ve always had a creative streak in me; in fourth grade I made a pretty impressive diorama of Pompeii, if I do say so myself, and in fifth grade I hosted a spinoff of “Classic Concentration” with baseball cards as a class book presentation on The Trading Game. In high school I handed in an essay entitled “My Dog Ate My Homework” on a heavily-crumpled sheet of paper with one corner missing. Those projects – the ones with enough flexibility to allow me to explore the boundaries – were always the ones I loved. They never felt like work, and I wanted the final product to be perfect.

Lately the things I’ve built aren’t tangible. I have many thousands of photos stored on a hard drive, and I have web projects both for work and for myself in various stages of completion. The feeling’s still there, though. When I have that ability to play, that ability to explore… it never feels like work.

Sometimes I wonder whether actual work-with-your-hands craftsmen feel the same way about the things they make. There’s a special kind of connection with your work that you feel when you first see it roughly take shape, and it grows and grows until the thing you hold or see matches what you imagined in your mind. You made that. It’s tough for me to understand why everyone doesn’t have that same drive.

Over the past few weeks I’ve worked on a few projects that have really allowed me to experiment and explore. I’m doing some of the best work of my life. Through all the frustration I feel when I’m boxed in for some projects, it’s amazing to feel that sense of connection again with projects I truly love.

They don’t feel like work. I want the final product to be perfect. It’s that Pompeii diorama all over again – and I love it.


August 16, 2012

Twitter is, without a doubt, my favorite social network. As I’ve told many of my friends, it’s an amazing way to discover new people to follow and to take the pulse of the people you find interesting. There’s an adage that circles around tweetstreams every so often that summarizes the point nicely: “Facebook is for the people you know; Twitter is for the people you want to know.”

Tonight Twitter published a bunch of new rules for developers who use their service. As is standard with rule changes (remember the reply kerfuffle?), there’s been a heavy dose of backlash over the last couple of hours – including from yours truly. What Twitter didn’t do was provide a good explanation of why they were making their changes. It makes a lot more sense if you tackle that question (even if you still don’t like the changes).

The new rules

At its core, tonight’s update about the direction of Twitter’s programming interface revolves around a fairly major change: Twitter discourages third-party developers from writing apps that mimic the functionality of the products released by Twitter itself. If you use an app like Echofon or (my personal favorite) Tweetbot, this is going to affect you. Twitter wants everyone using their own client. (Let’s ignore the fact that Twitter’s native mobile clients were pretty late to the game compared to pioneers like Twitterrific, and, as Gruber points out on Daring Fireball, Twitter’s own iOS and Mac client was a third-party app called Tweetie before it was acquired.)

But why?

Granted, the ratio of people who use third-party clients as opposed to Twitter’s official apps is relatively small. But why anger some of the most loyal users of your service… and why tick off some of your cheerleaders, the developers who make the apps?

The answer Twitter gives in tonight’s post is that they want to encourage a consistent interface across the platform. I can appreciate the intent here; if Twitter rolls out a new feature or changes how something works in the system, they don’t want to wait for every third-party developer to implement the change. I understand, but I don’t agree.

I admit, it’s strange to hear a loyal Apple user complain about limits placed by a platform owner on developers. And yes, it is in itself a bit inconsistent for me to shrug off the restrictions placed on iOS by Apple while also criticizing limits from Twitter in a similar scenario.

Third-party apps and services make Twitter a richer experience. I’ve really started to enjoy Storify; it’s a great way to collect tweets (and more) about related subjects in a single place – something Twitter’s tools don’t easily allow. Tweetbot also adds a thick layer of functionality on top of Twitter’s default service; it allows more sharing options, lets you switch between accounts more easily, and frankly does everything in a more seamless and convenient way than Twitter’s official apps.

In this situation, diversity allows innovation. That’s how Twitter has grown, and that’s how Twitter will continue to grow.

So let’s go back to the original question: why do any of this? I mean, really?

The answer (surprise, surprise) has to be advertising. Twitter controls the entire experience in its own app, including the option to insert ads (“promoted” stuff) anywhere it likes. If the same user visits the site using a third-party app, Twitter doesn’t get anything. Therein lies the problem.

The inevitability

This day had to come at some point; it’s the fatal flaw of Twitter’s current business model, and they’ve chosen to finally do something about it.

Are there other options? There must be compromises, like maybe…

  • Charge users an access fee to use third-party apps. Most developers probably wouldn’t like this, and it won’t fly for Twitter; it’s a numbers game for them now. New services like app.net, on the other hand, could be a new place for devotees who want complete control.
  • Push ads through the API and enforce rules for displaying them. This sounds like a great option, but it’d be really, really difficult to enforce. That adds a ton of overhead for Twitter.
  • Develop a mandatory revenue-sharing program for third-party apps. Sell ads in your app, Twitter gets 30%. Works for Google and Apple. Could it work for Twitter? Again, lots of enforcement and overhead.

In a dream world, I hope the complaints from developers and loyal users will cause Twitter to reconsider their policy. But in reality, a change like this is inevitable in order to allow Twitter to be sustainable. Something’s gotta happen for them to be successful as a platform.

But again, it doesn’t mean we have to like it.

Credit where credit is due

August 11, 2012

My friend Audrey recently found herself in the middle of a debate about copyright and fair use. As a photographer and a general technology nerd, I’m pretty interested in that area of the law and its effects on everything from Pinterest to slogans to stickers, and I’ve been watching as this new saga unfolds.

A stolen situation

Here’s a quick rundown. The Portland Press Herald in Portland, Maine, used one of Audrey’s Flickr images in a story. They made very little (if any) effort to contact her, and they didn’t credit or link back to her in their story beyond listing her job title at the time the photo was taken. This frustrated (if not angered) Audrey a bit, so she wrote to them; instead of removing the image from the story, they maintained that the usage of the photo in the article was covered by fair use.

I’m definitely not a lawyer, but I know enough to say that fair use in general is a very, very complicated piece of copyright law – complicated enough that some pieces are still being defined in court cases. (The Internet complicates the issue even more, of course. Stupid Internet.) Let’s leave the legality of the situation to the people who know something about the law and focus instead on what it means for all of us who enjoy taking photos.

Reproduction repercussions

I love capturing and sharing photos. I’ve posted hundreds of photos on my Flickr account and on Facebook; it gives me quite a bit of joy to be able to share events with the people I know and others who attended. What bothers me about this particular situation is that under the Press Herald’s interpretation of the law, there’s no way for me to know whether my photos will be used in one of their stories – and there’s no way for me to tell them not to use my work.

Sure, it’s flattering to have your photo used in a widely-circulated piece. Without any form of credit, though, sharing devalues your time, effort, and talent as a photographer. Their usage of a third-party photo in a piece is an implicit way to say, “We would’ve liked to have one of our staff photographers there, but we don’t have any media from that event. Yours are good enough to use, though.” Shouldn’t the photographer of the work be compensated for their time and effort – or at the very least, credited or contacted about its use?  (Note that, for example, photos taken by PPH staff photographers are all labeled with the photographer’s name. Their work is part of the Press Herald’s brand and quality.)

From my perspective as a photography hobbyist/enthusiast, there are many options for the Press Herald to handle the situation in a better way. Listing the best first:

  1. Compensate Audrey for her work. (This isn’t unreasonable to ask.)
  2. Contact her before the story is published and ask if she minds if her photo is used. (This just seems like good journalism to me.)
  3. Link to her photo on Flickr within the story, but don’t use the photo itself. (This would give her work the traffic for anyone interested in seeing the photo in question, and it would allow people to view more of her work.)
  4. Don’t use the photo at all. (The article itself describes the situation well; the actual photo doesn’t really add much.)
  5. Credit her for the photo, preferably with a link. (This would put her photo in line with the attribution used for other photos in the paper.)

Admittedly I realize that there are different thoughts on the issue, and I can understand that. I decided that I should ask the opinion of someone well-versed in this kind of usage, so I sent an email to the Portland Press Herald’s own reproduction permissions address:

Good morning! I want to write a post on my website about the Gentlemen of the Road show. I really love the photo you have of the promenade on the story at http://www.pressherald.com/news/City-will-debrief-on-Mumford–Sons-on-Thursday.html . I’d like to know if you would mind if I used the photo in the post. I think it would really help to have a good photo on the piece.

Their reply informed me that they don’t allow other sites to use their photos, and they suggested that I link to the story from the post.

I’m glad at least someone there agrees with me.

UPDATE (August 13): For those not following the story closely, here’s where the situation stands. Since the time this post was published, the PPH has removed the response linked here from their site and has replaced the photo in the online version of the original article with a link to the photo on Audrey’s Flickr account. I’ve also heard that they may be compensating Audrey, but they have not offered a retraction or apology for the photo – which, as it turns out, appeared at the top of the August 7th print edition’s front page.

Rock and woe

August 5, 2012

I think it’s probably pretty clear by now that I have a little Maine bias. I love this state, and I love watching it grow and improve. But I’m also a realist; I know that not everything that happens in Maine is perfect. Unfortunately, yesterday’s Gentlemen of the Road stopover in Portland featuring Mumford & Sons was one of those less-than-perfect events.

If you find an attendee and ask what he thought of the show, you’ll likely hear that he either loved the show or was really fed up with the event. I’ve heard them both.

I think the disconnect there depends mostly on what the person you ask did at the festival. If she found a place on the lawn, didn’t move for a few hours, and enjoyed the music, there’s a good chance she had a wonderful time. If she had to get up for any reason – to fill a water bottle, to buy some food, to use the bathroom – the story will probably be a little less rosy. That’s the takeaway from the festival: the music was incredibly good, and everything else could use some improvement.

People, people, people

Gentlemen of the Road Portland, Maine stopoverThe biggest problem of the day was that there were too many people for the venue; it was physically difficult to move from one side of the Eastern Promenade to the other. Since this was the first show of its kind on the Prom, this may have simply been a misjudgment of capacity.

With the people came secondary issues, most notably of which were lines: lines to enter the beer area, lines for food, lines for water. One line stretched the length of the venue. Some friends and I were sitting near the end of the line, and this kind of conversation among people wasn’t uncommon:

“Is this the line for beer?”

“No, it’s the line for water.”

“I thought it was the line for pizza.”

Nobody knew.

Those determined enough to enter the line ultimately waited two hours or more to grab a bite to eat or to refill their water. On an 80-degree day in direct sun, that’s not only inconvenient; it’s dangerous.

Even the toilets were inadequate: within a couple hours into the nine-hour event, some of the portable toilets started to overflow.

Poor entry management was rampant, too, with a lot of confusion about what was and wasn’t allowed in the venue. Some people with children in strollers were turned away, for example, despite numerous strollers allowed into the festival grounds.

Finding solutions

Over the last decade I’ve helped plan a number of events to various degrees. Sure, none of them have been on the same scale as the stopover, but I’ve learned it’s difficult to make all the pieces work well in a large-scale event. It’s important to learn from what went wrong in order to make future events better.

First, the Prom can’t handle as many people as it held yesterday. It’s tough to tell organizers of an event to sell fewer tickets, but at a point capacity becomes a quality and safety concern. Fewer people would mean shorter lines, easier movement, and a better overall experience.

There also needs to be more organization throughout the festival. The festival’s attendee information encouraged attendees to bring a blanket, but this took up additional space and crowded the venue even more. If blankets are allowed in the future, there should be a designated lawn area back from the stage where blankets are allowed – and only standing (or blanket-free sitting) directly in front of the stages. There should also be people to help direct attendees into appropriate lines, and there should be more direction as to where lines should form and where general movement between sections of the venue should occur. Two hours to wait in line for food or water is unacceptable.

Perhaps most importantly, there need to be enough vendors and facilities to accomodate the crowd. There should have been more food, more water stations, and more toilets.

Finally, there should be a clear outline of what is and is not allowed in the festival. No one should receive special treatment.

The importance of a good show

The issues at the Gentlemen of the Road stopover show how difficult it is to run a large-scale festival. A half-dozen bands don’t just come together to play for an afternoon; there need to be near-flawless logistics to create a great experience for everyone.

But why is the experience important? Isn’t the music the main attraction?

A poorly-run show reflects poorly on the bands, and they deserve nothing less than the best. Every band at the show was incredible. The music sounded wonderful throughout the venue, and everyone genuinely seemed to enjoy the entertainment. It’s a shame that the rest of the experience tarnished the day for a number of people at the show.

It’s not just about Mumford & Sons, though. It’s about Maine. With events like Gentlemen of the Road, we have the opportunity to bring people to our state – many for the first time. We need to make the best impression we can to bring them back again and again.

If this were a person’s first event in Maine, they may walk away thinking that Maine can’t handle large shows. That’s simply not the case. We welcome a hundred thousand people every year to the Maine Lobster Festival and to the American Folk Festival, compared to the 15,000 at Gentlemen of the Road. We can do concerts, too; we’ve had a number of near-stopover-sized Waterfront Concerts shows in Bangor, and I very rarely hear complaints from attendees. They’re masterfully done.

We can do great shows and great events in Maine, and I hope Portland continues to hold shows on the Eastern Prom. It’s a beautiful venue, and done right, it could be the home for amazing events. But if the shows continue on the Prom, there need to be major changes to leave the best impression possible on those who choose to join us here.