Key West 2014

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so, we went to Key West. and i shot almost all film, but i hedged my bets and decided to not go 100% film. using expired film exclusively will make one a bit leery of putting all the eggs in one basket. most everything shot in digital was done on the trusty X100 with a handful of iPhone 5S shots, too. Continue reading

Resolutions: 2014!

i actually made this list up the first week of January, but have been so lazy about blogging about it that, well… here we are. so here we go, my 2014 resolutions!

1) cook more: since Rosemary arrived (and even moreso since we moved), we’ve gotten really, really bad about cooking, even anything simple. dinner’s become a never ending string of bag meals (though we try our best to buy only “good” ones), take-out, and main courses without much in the way of sides (like veggies or salads). this is a resolution I’ve tried before but always complicated with trying to figure out specific nutritional values and/or overly complex planning. add to all that, that at the end of the day, especially during wedding season, we’re just zapped. a four-year-old really takes it out of ya, you guys, even moreso a four-year-old whose menu is tiny (to say the least). but this is silly. looking back over my AllRecipes recipe box, there are way too many simple, good things to throw together with little effort. throw in frozen veggies (whatever, they’re still veggies), and a dash of paying more attention to the clock, and this becomes an easy thing to remedy.
2) saving money: this is, by far, going to be the most difficult one to keep. two people running a business, while neither of them have business training, has made saving any amount of noteworthy money way more difficult than either of us imagined. this has been especially true these past few years as we’ve been (essentially) accumulating, repairing, and adding gear to our business… and we’re finally all sort of evened out on where & what we need aside from a couple of upgrades. we also, for the most part, tend to buy all our gear in real cash money rather than credit. but here we are, heading into 2014, with gear purchased, properly insured & covered, and balancing out with taxes, meaning we should finally be able to stick a little away here & there. it’s a slight relief.
3) read more: after college, I went on a major “reading for college” binge. then I sort of hit a wall and just stopped. kinda’ lame. I’ve already started in on this, with a reading of The Shining around Halloween (update since I first pecked this out on my iPhone: I’ve also finished Rob Delaney’s book). I miss reading and I’ve missed books. I’ve zero interest in using my iPad as a reader, which has made it a little more difficult. because seriously, how easy is it to just buy & download a book for reading in a teensy, portable-everywhere format? it’s tempting, but iPad means games/videos/Twitter/email to me. a book is a fantastic one-function “app,” and I’m excited to hop back in. and my sights aren’t too high. sure I’d love to throw in the occasional classic bit of literature, but trying to force myself through a book just because I “should” isn’t going to help the effort. side note: I’m on GoodReads, so feel free to come find me there!
4) special features on movies we buy: because seriously, there’s a world of fascinating material to be watched that I tend to just pass over or forget about. I paid for that, so I should be watching it. and let’s just go ahead and lump in with this one, “watch more movies, period.” this can be difficult with a regular TV watching schedule, and though it never seems like much when added up (because it isn’t), bedtime for RML gives us about two to two and a half hours of grown folk TV time. even just one movie a week is good. i love Blu-ray, and we have a nice TV for it.
resolutions for 2014! yay!

Facebook & Reviews

if you’ve spent any amount of time around me on any number of social media outlets (or heck, even real life), you know how much Facebook makes me tear my hair out as someone who helps to run a small business. in the early days of Facebook Page management, many (if not most) of the functionality available to regular users were available to Facebook Pages. consider it sort of the wild west: nearly anything was up for grabs. then Facebook started clamping down hard on Page managers, and those that followed the rules Facebook set forth tended to feel the brunt of it. namely: those of us who created a proper Page and didn’t just create a Facebook profile for our business were left out in the cold as Facebook stripped away certain bits of usability while allowing those who brazenly flouted the rules to continue on their merry way.

so there’s that in a nutshell. incredibly, there’s a new function available on Facebook Pages that’s causing a whole load of new gray hairs to sprout up, and as far as i can tell, there’s nothing the powers-that-be plan on doing to fix it. simply put, Facebook’s review & starring system is a pile of toxic, hazardous, easily abused dumpster fire.

here’s how this works. each Facebook Page, if they have their address in place and allow for a map of their business to appear on their Page, has the capability to show Facebook-user reviews and star ratings. those are the requirements (and yes, you have to have the map function turned on). in a perfect world, this would work fantastically well. folks (myself included) are quick to give a review of something they just ate/saw/did/visited if all it takes is a simple tap, be it a Like or a star rating. and the ubiquitousness of Facebook, now having its very own self-sustaining ecosystem, means that in order to leave a written review, you don’t have to create a new account. you’re already on the Page, why not leave a quick, “love it!” or “fantastic work!”? easy enough. except…

except there are absolutely zero checks in place. that ubiquitousness means that anyone can leave a review or a rating. anyone. even if they’ve never used your business or service, even if they live half a world away, even if they have no reason ever what so all to pay you any attention, they can leave a rating. and this can go a couple of ways.

say you have a brand new Page on Facebook and you really want to start to ramp up the good word of mouth and all that. good ratings equal traffic, right? people trust a star review. because Facebook does not care who leaves a starred review, you could conceivably have everyone in your friend list leave a 5-star review on your Page, artificially boosting your ratings. for the even more helpful friends, you could have them leave quick reviews on your Page, inflating an even greater sense of trustworthiness! all without ever really doing anything worthy of that goodwill.

on the flip side, let’s say you have that same Page, and for some reason, a customer feels as if they were slighted somehow. the ease by which a customer can tap that single star rating and never think twice about it is, to put it mildly, frightening. pile on top of that the internet’s tendency towards a mob mentality and imagine that slighted customer tells there friends to also leave one-star ratings as an act of revenge. these are friends you’ve never met, who may leave a thousand miles away, who do not care about you or your business. five, six, twenty one-star ratings, and suddenly, everyone sees it, right there, plain as day, with no explanation.

there’s also the conspiratorial, paranoid part of this that can also take hold. so, you’re that same business owner, and you’re competing with a number of other owners in the area for the same business. i’m not certain if i have to spell it out for you, but that massive bit of anonymity (which is odd, considering how much Facebook wants you to keep a public face) means someone else with perhaps less moral fiber than you can start meting out Facebook rating “justice” your way in a weird sort of passive-aggressive smear campaign.

the worst part: you may never, ever know who left you that rating or for what reason. Facebook’s own mentality of making things super-easy to click & forget is now seeping over into how they treat businesses on the platform. even if you spend money on their ad platform to boost posts or garner more Likes or to promote something you’re doing, Facebook offers virtually nothing in the way of protection for business owners. and it’s a little bit terrifying.

this has all come to a bit of a head with something that Google started implementing for local business owners who take advantage of the Places service. Google is now starting to aggregate and pull in reviews from other online services to give a better, clearer picture of how a business looks across a number of different online venues. as of this writing, they’re not pulling in Facebook ratings (most likely because of their own Google+ system, but part of me wonders if they also know how awful Facebook’s ratings work). but perhaps it’s only a matter of time before those reviews start getting pulled in as well.

i’ve a decent understanding of how ratings & reviews work in other systems. on Yelp and Foursquare, there’s at least the bit higher degree of difficulty of leaving reviews & ratings, baked in to what is a service dedicated to reviewing businesses (well… that, and checkin-ins). there’s at least the sense that if someone is leaving a review on either of those services, there was some thought put into it. Yelp’s own service is kind of a crapshoot (as noted in a number of other articles), but the reviews that are there at least seem, to me, thoughtful and informative. that also means that any customers you have must be on either service, adding a whole other layer of sort of baked in protection, something Facebook has no barriers for. because, let’s face it, nearly everyone has a Facebook account; Foursquare’s and Yelp’s active user numbers are likely microscopic in comparison.

i’m not completely convinced Facebook has done all this in order to leave their review system in a state of anything goes. i have to imagine the anonymous ratings are, in part, some sort of misguided effort to protect consumer privacy, and that, i can appreciate it. but without any sort of limits or barriers, the entire thing is just ripe for abuse. if i wanted to, right now, i could hop on over to a competitor’s Page and leave them a one-star review, no questions asked. i could have my friends, who perhaps are as sneaky as i am, also leave one-star ratings without fear of getting caught. and it all shows up, no matter what.

sounds fun, right?

all of this is because today i learned that if you go to a Page’s star rating, you can hover over and see a breakdown of the ratings. as of now, we have 38 5-star ratings (yay!), five 4-star ratings (nobody’s perfect!), and three… three… one-star reviews. we’ve racked our brains all day long to try and figure out who we might have angered in the past or maybe just had a bad interaction with (because hey, it happens) and we literally could not think of anyone. i went through our calendar and trolled through our past bookings, trying to see where we might have gone wrong, and again, nothing. so where did those one-star reviews come from? the imagination runs wild…

so what to do? the easy thing, for now, is to simply remove the “put this on a map” function under your Facebook Page. that strips any & all of the reviews/ratings given to your Page from any view. but one has to think, at some point, these Facebook reviews will start to mean something, and if Facebook doesn’t force you to to make use of it, they’ll at least handicap your Page from further growth and usability. and for the good reviews you do have, well of course you want to leave those! but it’s an all or nothing deal.

the short of it is this: Facebook has the power and ability to create the world’s most comprehensive & useful database of small business reviews anywhere. there’s absolutely nothing wrong with making something easy. feedback is necessary to a business’s growth. we know as well as anyone it’s not all unicorns and rainbows. and if we screw up, we definitely want to know. Facebook can help with that. but its seeming refusal to do anything to fix an already completely broken system leaves little room for hope.

my advice: turn off your mapping function under your Page settings and garner reviews from other online resources. and do it quickly.

An Idea For ShootQ

ShootQ does a pretty good job of keeping our stuff in order. ShootQ also has some incredible flaws that i find absolutely mind-boggling. the worst offender is the lack of a cohesive notification system and/or mobile implementation.

see, when you have a booking in ShootQ, it creates a little email archive so you can go back and find earlier emails. in order for ShootQ to keep track of these emails, the messages need to have a specific email address CC’d on them. easy enough for a little bit, but because it’s a nonsensical string of characters, there’s no great way to keep track of it in a conversation in it (and not everyone will hit “Reply All” on an email). but, but the worst part is when auto-fill takes over.

here’s the issue. when we send an email from the ShootQ site, it sends directly from that nonsense string of characters, not from our normal, everyday email address, so if you’re not paying attention, that becomes the primary address for LAP. so if an email gets sent to us, and the client hasn’t explicitly saved our normal, everyday email address as the main contact, the client will start to type in “Little A-” and their email app of choice fills in on its own, leaving the user none the wiser about where it’s really going to.

that email, sent directly to the nonsense email address, winds up in ShootQ… but we never receive notification of it. no, “hey, you have a new message!” email or even a “hey, you have a new message!” when we log in. it just sits there, waiting. and the only way you’ll see it is if you go to the Booked section of the site and sort by Last Activity. that’s when my blood runs cold, and i break out in hives, because a bride emailed us five, six, days ago, or two weeks ago… and we never knew.

so far, ShootQ has been just about an unhelpful as possible getting this fixed, and i cannot figure out why. they’ve completely halted development on their iPhone app, going so far as to pull it from the App Store. their mobile experience (in that there is none) is absolutely atrocious, so checking on-the-go is a complete non-starter. so here are some solutions to fix this. i really, truly hope someone from ShootQ reads this, because the support staff have been completely unhelpful.

  • a banner at the top, noting there is a new message waiting in “____ & _____’s Portal.”
  • an email sent to us, noting there is a new message waiting in “____ & _____’s Portal.”
  • restart development of the iPhone App and enable push notifications for new messages
  • make the ShootQ way more mobile-friendly than it is now, so that a random check-in an account is possible without having to lug a laptop around

look, if an extra ping or email coming through means i don’t miss what is potentially a really important communication from a client, then i want it. people pay us enough money to make sure we have timely communication, and when an email goes unanswered for six days (or more), it’s really embarrassing. this should be easier. this should be more fluid. this shouldn’t be that hard.

2013 Alabama National Fair: Film Edition

my last bit of fun from this year’s fair here in Montgomery. i took a couple rolls of Kodak Portra 400, and pushed them to 1600. i am very pleasantly surprised at the results! i think all in all, the film held up really well and now i’m curious as to how i can work this in with some actual work.

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this guy really wanted his photo with his giant banana prize. he may not have been completely sober.

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this is most of them, but you can find the full set here over on Flickr- 2013 ANF:Film