On Fathers Day

Preface: For those of who you don't know, my dad died about a year ago. I think he was a pretty rad dude, and if you knew him, you would probably agree. His defining characteristic was his bike shop, and I encourage you to follow some of the links in this post to learn more about him.

A couple months after he died, I returned to college for my senior year and took the creative writing class I had always wanted to. Most of the pieces I wrote were about my dad in some way, but the following essay was my favorite. There was no prompt for the essay, only a length requirement. I chose to write about how a litany of musicians have helped me recover and cope with dad's death.

As is it Fathers Day in the US, and nearly a year since he died, I figured now would be a good time to share my essay. Over the past year, it has had many drafts, shapes and sections. It's not perfect and I don't think it will ever be finished. The following is only the most recent version.

If you can, give your dad an extra big hug today.

It takes a village

Wesley Schultz addressed an audience larger than he ever had addressed before. “This song,” He paused, “Is about my dad.” Shultz’s song was surprisingly personal. “I thought this song would just be one that would live on the album, you know? I never thought I would play it live.”

The lights dimmed, Shultz was now the only visible part of the large stage he was standing on. “I was running late one day and needed socks. So I ran into his room and opened his sock drawer to find a gun I never knew he had. This is a song about that day.” The crowd’s energy shifted from its previous enthusiasm to a moribund curiosity as Schultz strummed the first chord.

Things I knew when I was young.
Some were true, and some were wrong.
And one day, I pray I'll be more than my
Father’s
son ...

The lights went up and Schultz brought the rest of the band members back on stage. Someone in the audience shouted, “play something happy next, or I might cry!”

***

I closed the door behind me and carried the stack of CDs from my father’s car into the house. I was angry at him for even having CDs, but I at least it was easy to tell which music he actually cared about. The CDs are still in my room, but they have since been transferred and condensed into a playlist 2 hours 14 minutes long. It’s mostly indie-folk albums from bands like Frightened Rabbit, The Lumineers, The Mountain Goats and Death Cab for Cutie. With a couple recent pop albums scattered throughout.

***

Marcus Mumford comes from a religious family. The kind of religious family that starts their own church. After visiting a prominent American religious thinker, Mumford’s parents returned to their home country, England, and started the English branch of the Vineyard Church. Their branch now boasts more than 100 locations in the UK and Ireland.

Mumford’s music has been called its own form of church. The euphoric playing style and way his crowds fawn and worship elicit connections with his mother and father’s work. The lyrics, about sin, grief, forgiveness and redemption, resemble the message and universality of a good sermon.

My own father’s religious habits were best seen on Sundays. Head down and hands placed together, pulling a stubborn network of roots from the dirt. His notion of church was going to the state park with his two sons, cutting bike trails into the hills. There was often a congregation of characters helping on those Sundays, each one more honest and loving than any I had met in a church lobby.

Love; it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be

***

I wasn’t there they night he was hit. I didn’t watch it happen like my brother did. I couldn’t even point to the spot where my father drew his last breath. I did stop there though. One night. After meeting a friend. I pulled into the empty spot where my Grandpa parks his green ‘57 Chevy at the car show each week. I got out, went to the edge of the road, and held up my phone, pointing it toward where I thought it had happened.

I recorded a video in New York that strangely means more to me than the video I took by the side of the road. In the cab on the way to the airport, I held up my phone and recorded nothing. Cars ambling by, horns honking, people coming from the bars. The night I received my call, I recorded a video of nothing, but it was of New York, so for some reason, it means more to me.

***

Mark Evans and Penny Adkins, both from London, started dating in 1987. Their romance advanced quickly as they moved in together to a flat in the city. They had their first child, Adele, but Penny wouldn’t marry Mark because she thought they were still too young. He moved out.

Evan’s alcoholism wouldn’t set in until after his own father’s death, his breakup with his at-the-time girlfriend and the death of his best friend, Nigel. The alcoholism would strain his relationship with his daughter. And would prove nearly impossible to summit if it weren’t for the bowel cancer that appeared in a routine screening.

The same cancer that took his father and drove Evan away would make him reach out to Adele. They are still working on repairing the relationship, and have been since she turned 25.

Everybody tells me it's 'bout time that I moved on
And I need to learn to lighten up and learn how to be young
But my heart is a valley, it's so shallow and man-made
I'm scared to death if I let you in that you'll see I'm just a fake

***

The only memory I associate with both Dad and The Lumineers is the one where we are driving past the bread factory south of Charleston, West Virginia. I ask him if he’s heard their new album as I put it on the radio. The first song ends and he tells me he likes the first album better, but this new stuff isn’t all that bad. Later, that first song would be the the soundtrack to a relationship he would never get to hear about.

Dad would never see end up seeing the Lumineers in concert. I’m not sure he would have, even if given the chance. I love the band. Until seeing them in concert, I didn’t know several of the songs are about Schultz’s own dad. It wasn’t until the water piled up in the corner of my eye in an Ohio State basketball stadium-turned concert venue that I would learn that. Schultz didn’t hear me, but I asked him to lighten things up after playing a particularly heavy song.

***

The first time I would condense my father’s life through the written word, it would be his obituary. It would the first, as an aspiring journalist, I would write. Born in Ohio. Computer science degree abandoned for bikes. Cub Scout Master, community leader, bike trail builder. Entrepreneur. Father.

The second time I put his life on paper, I packed it into 42 pages. I stole pictures from the internet and words from articles about the legacy he left. I printed pages of condolences and maps of his hometown. In the end, it cost $52 to order a copy of his 42-page life. No tears were shed in the making of, only when I handed one of those copies to his father, and watched how he put it to the side, the only one in the room to not be able to open it at Christmas.

***

John Darnielle was beaten by his father. Stepfather actually. He relied on girls, drugs and alcohol to close the wounds brought by his childhood. Eventually, as an adult, his sister would call him at three in the morning to let him know his father was dead.

Years before that call, Darnielle would often sit above the train tracks for hours ready to jump. Later, he said he was thankful a train hadn’t come. After surviving withdrawal from the heroin and crystal methamphetamine, he attended nursing school because he wanted to know the world contained someone who worse off than him. It was in the hospital where he was first studying that he would start writing lyrics. The lyrics slowly became more important than the nursing, and Darnielle switched professions to accommodate their importance.

Months after that call from his sister, Darnielle would write his first autobiographical album. It was a turning point for him. Just as music would provide hints of solace from his father as a child, it would provide him a similar therapy for his father's death.

I'm going to get myself in fighting trim,
Scope out every angle of unfair advantage.
I'm going to bribe the officials.
I'm going to kill all the judges.
It's going to take you people years to recover from all of the damage.

The album was rated a 7.2 on Pitchfork.

***

Luckily, the district attorney is handling the case. No dime spent by my family. I find it hard to blame the driver for what happened. He was high on meth. Darnielle was an addict, and his music was my therapy. Dad never hit me, but his loss did. One addict took my father when I was 21. Another gave him back slowly through their music.

***

My professor announced that he would have to cancel class later that week, citing family troubles. I didn’t notice any red, puffy eyes when he returned Monday. His voice didn’t seem to have that familiar fist gripped around it I had come to know as a side effect of telling people what had happened.  

My professor’s father died only a couple months after mine. I know from experience that telling him sorry wouldn’t help. The canned “thank you, that means a lot” would be his only response. He would think only those that had felt a loss like his own were capable of being sorry, and he’d be right. In a one-on-one meeting, I told him sorry, that I actually knew what that was like. His face softened with recognition, and for a moment, he got to feel sorry for someone else. A welcome reprieve.

It’s not a universal truth though. My not-so-close friend didn’t take it as well. By the time Big Jim, her father, had passed, everyone had forgotten about my loss. I reached out to my friend as she traveled back to Cincinnati to attend his funeral, saying I knew how she felt, that I was there if she wanted to talk. She responded, “Thank you, that means a lot."

At a party, later that night, I told her best friend to be there for her. “In a day, week, month, she will need you. She won’t ask for help, she might just want to talk, release a small memory to you so it stops swimming in her head. That’s where you can be there for her.” He nodded and took off the next morning for Cincinnati.

***

Nearly a year later, I still think about dad in weird moments. Like when I'm in the middle of a crosswalk. Even now, I cross roads with reckless abandon. Every time, I look both ways and every time, I think about what my brother would do to comfort mom if I were hit.

If he would be able to.

First-order Retivability

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The Concept

My current design philosophy began with the above toolbox. 

The toolbox in question belongs to Adam Savage, who you probably know from Mythbusters. Adam built the toolbox when he was working at Industrial Light and Magic as a model maker. Impressing his coworkers was the main impetus for creating the box, but he built it with a certain design philosophy which he calls first-order retrievability, and that is why I love it.

I don't know if Adam coined the term, but he has certainly popularized it. Googling "first-order retrievability" will give you page after page of people trying to replicate the toolbox.

The whole idea behind the concept is efficiency. If something has to be moved in order to get to something else, that lessens efficiency, and slows you down. It's not intuitive. If you design something with a first-order retrievability mentality, you are ensuring that everything is out, visible and easy to use. Adam talks about his process of reorganizing his personal shop using this mindset in the video below. (I've fast forwarded to the good part for you.)

I've heard of others designing with the first-order philosophy. Casey Neistat has set up his movie studio to be as easy and convenient to use as possible. He told Gizmodo the reason for doing this, like Adam, is primarily speed. He even goes so far as to leave all his power tools plugged in so they can be used at a moments notice.

Taking it further

Neither Casey nor Adam are web designers. The first-order concept only applies, for them, in the practical design of their work spaces. I want to take the concept out of their shops, and apply it to the internet.

When designing things, I want to organize them for speed. For instance, I am constantly finding myself waiting on my phone when I want to take a Snapchat. I'm usually taking a snap because the particular moment I am experiencing is funny/interesting, and I want to share it with friends. The process of unlocking my phone, hitting the home button, choosing Snapchat and then waiting for it to load can be made faster with a better processor, but it can also be made faster with fewer taps.

In other areas of design, the same idea can be applied. When going to a website, I usually want to get to content as quickly as possible. I don't want to faff about in bloated, unnecessary menus before getting to the content I visited the site to read. Everything should be as efficient to use as possible, even if it means your website lacks the artistic flair necessary to make it into a 21st century Louvre.

In recent web design projects, I've been trying to keep this concept in mind. No unneeded taps, nothing hidden behind three horizontal lines that doesn't need to be. Imagine pulling your phone out of your pocket and having a button on the lock screen to open Snapchat directly. Apple did this with its camera app, and the functionality is great. Less swipes, taps and gestures to get to the same place means more of the funny moments I want to share make it to my friends.

Of course, there will always be a need for menus, sub menus, even unhelpful lock screens (on occasion.) But considering first-order retrievability, even giving a name to the idea of simplicity and efficiency in design, is extremely helpful. It has proven to work well for Adam and Casey, and I don't see a reason websites and apps can't take the same principles to heart in order to maximize and streamline the time we spend with their products.

A new podcast platform

Last week I wrote about virtual reality and how it is the final frontier of media. I can't say anything even close to that for podcasts.

The medium has obviously exploded in the last several years, which many people attribute to Serial. No one will argue that people are listening to more podcasts, and there is a lot of excitement in the space. WNYC started a new company focusing on podcasts, Gimlet media is tearing it up in the space with its podcast about making a podcast company, and Midroll Media, a podcast advertising and production company, was acquired by E.W. Scripps.

The problem that is restricting podcasts goes back to the roots of the medium. In essence, every podcast you listen to, no matter how engaging or entertaining it is, is just an audio file. The only thing separating it from terrestrial radio is the ability to to auto-download your favorite shows. If podcasts are to become as ubiquitous as streaming video, or even as promiscuous as VR is predicted to be, it has to become viral.

In his newsletter about podcasts, Nick Quah points out that nearly 22 months have passed since the chilling realization that audio isn't viral. No one has fixed that yet.

I'm guessing that there are people out there working on it. Gimlet talked about the need for a new podcasting platform in one episode of StartUp, but told listeners that they would prefer to focus on content rather than become a tech company. Fast forward the Soundcloud embed below to 2:25 to get to the good stuff.

Even though we technically can share audio online, it's not with the same speed or ease as we share GIFs, photos, or even videos. To share that section of StartUp with you, I had to go to Gimlet's website, click on their shows then StartUp, go through several pages of  episodes until I found the one I wanted, clicked on the link to the Soundcloud, listened through until I found the moment I wanted, find the embed code, copy paste that into this post, and then tell you where to start listening because I couldn't do that with natively. It's doable, and really not the biggest pain in the ass, but the GIF above it was dragged from my desktop onto the post and it automatically loaded in place. Much simpler.

For podcasting to become viral, it has to mirror the ease of use that comes from photos, GIFs and videos. The app Pocketcasts tries to do this by making it fairly easy to share a link, but it's still far from perfect.

The next revolution in podcasting will be a platform. As Matt said in the StartUp episode, it will probably (more like hopefully) be open-source. It will allow creators to post their episodes to a single app that is cross-platform, and easy to use. It will allow for the gathering of usage information, like how far a listener listens, when they listen and what other shows they like to listen to. It will have a programatic ad platform which will allow marketers to see the data gathered about listening habits, as well as collected demographic information, and will allow those marketers to buy targeted advertisements based on that data. Audio files may not change, but the platform will allow them to be augmented with rich data about the topics being discussed, segmentation where the discussion changes topics, and the point where ads are read so video or display advertising could accompany the audio. The platform will make it easier to find new shows based on your interests and the shows you already like.

And above all else, it will be social.

The podcast platform of the future will allow you to find your friends, through Facebook or Twitter if you desire. It will let you see what they are listening to and enjoying. It will let you take your favorite, bite-sixed moments, and post them to your feed or to external social media. Social aspects will be baked into every pixel of this new platform, and hopefully provide the catalyst needed to let audio go viral.

One of the first viral audio pieces I came across, posted of course, not as audio.

Of course, there won't be one solution that fixes everything, no one app or platform can completely solve the problem. But, if made and thought about correctly, it could bring podcasting into a much more modern format.

Several companies are well positioned to make this happen and build the platform. Gimlet had the idea but decided not to go further. Midroll media is focused on advertising and content right now, but combining the two in a meaningful way is plausible and could be the start of something really great. They even have an app, but it's only for their shows and it's kinda terrible as it sits. Spotify wants to expand their brand and they have a decent platform to do so.

Maybe none of these companies will create the new platform, but I think it is inevitable. It will come eventually, or the medium will die. I hope it's the former, and that company already has one loyal fan who is really excited to download that beta.

Recording the Process, and Giving Back

I've started recording making of videos, mainly of my digital creations. Since deciding to do them, I've only remembered to record two of my projects. One of which you can see below.

I love making these, and they look really nice when they are done. To be honest, I started recording them because I've been applying to internships, and I wanted to have something to show my process. Even though many people will only care about the final product, getting to know a person is an important part of finding a good fit for a company. If I can show a prospective employer that I not only can make interesting graphics, GIFs and videos, but that I can make them in a way that shows digital best practices, then I am one step ahead of the game.

Making these videos isn't entirely selfish though. I'm in love with the open source movement. The Coral Project is a really good example of this. They are taking audience engagement and commenting to a really interesting place, and their work would be much less exciting if they decided to close it off. I've learned so much from people posting their code, behind-the-scenes videos, and tutorials, that I feel it is only fair to give back to that community in any way I can. It's a small contribution thus far, but I have to start somewhere.

Hopefully I will be making more videos like this in the future. Some of my work, like what I am doing for the Scripps Innovation Challenge, is necessarily shrouded in mystery. The result of the challenge will hopefully be made widely available when it is complete, but until then it will be kept under a watchful eye. To hold you over, here is another video, and if you'd like to see the source code for any of my graphics, the best place to do that is at The Post's Github page where I am the only current contributor.

Skimping in Seattle

I was busy this summer. I worked in the deli of a local grocery store chain, and on my off days, explored Seattle or the surrounding area (including Canada)! Here are some photos from my travels over the last month or so. 

I've singled out portraits as one of my photographic weak points, so I was working towards improving my skills in that area.

My kind hosts for the summer have been my Aunt and her family, and spending so much time with them has meant they became my most common portrait subjects. 

That cute kid in the rings above is my little cousin. The shirt he is wearing is from his little league all star team. I followed his team through their journey in their local tournament, which was a great experience. Following the tournament allowed me to shoot sports again. I may not be shooting the Ohio University Bobcats that occasionally grace ESPN, but the emotional investment was just as high, and the games just as stressful to spectate.

The team has historically had very little success, but came in third of 13 teams this summer. I'm sure it will be a team they will cherish the memory of for a long while.

These last set of images don't really have a nice segue, or even category, they all would fit under, but I like them. So here are a couple random photos from the last month or so.

So that's about it. I had a wonderful time in Seattle, and came to love the pacific northwest. I had a lot of good coffee, shot a bunch of interesting subjects, and got to experience life in a completely different area of the country. It was a summer well spent.

12 Hours in the City

Starting around 11:00 a.m. yesterday, my uncle, the famous Seattle Sketcher, and I went to explore the wonders of downtown Seattle. We started at the Seattle Folk Life Festival, a merry place of hippies, art and music.

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Though I don't have any pictures, the fennel crusted fried chicken with a kale slaw and pickled and charred jalapeno aioli sauce on a potato ciabatta bun I had for lunch upon arriving was phenomenal. After eating, we set out to tour the stalls, ad performers.

The festival was fun for all ages. All the young ones seemed to flock to the large fountain toward the center of Seattle Center, where the festival was being held.

Then, after a short ride on the mono-rail to the heart of downtown, and a coffee break at the starbucks, we set off to explore. We had a date with the rest of the family at Safeco Field later that night for a Mariners game, but that wasn't until 7, so we had some time to kill.

Being the prolific urban sketcher that he is, my uncle was able to tell a story for almost every old building, iconic landmark and back alley. He led me on a whirlwind tour through Pike Place Market, the gum wall below, the very first Starbucks, and the historic waterfront. 

After the tour, we walked the several blocks to the game. The Mariners lost 9-4 to the Astros, but it was still a good game, and a good day. Big thanks to my uncle for showing me around and hanging out all day. I had a blast. 

This man was trying to sell kettle corn and peanuts outside the field. 

A Gathering Place

Tomorrow, The Post will release its third installment in a five part series highlighting Athens area non-profits. The Gathering Place is the focus of the most recent Aiding Athens. The Gathering Place is a small, unabashed home located at 7 N. Congress street. 

The house is home to mentally challenged "members" and people who have dedicated careers to helping these members.

I went out this past Saturday to shoot photos for the Aiding Athens series. I sat on the back porch of the Gathering Place for about four hours, gathering a narrative of these people. 

The writer for this story and I are thinking about volunteering there next semester because of how touched we were by the place. They are normal people doing great things. The members of the Gathering Place are extremely loving people, who genuinely love the help they get. The friendships formed there are equally moving. A single roof brings together so many diverse people for the purpose of healing, and they manage to accomplish that with a silent fervor I hadn't yet experienced before.

Candles for the Fallen


Chardon High School

February 27th, 2012, 7:30a.m.


  • 1 student stood up
  • 10 shots were fired
  • 6 bullets connected with a person
  • 3 kids were stripped of their future
  • 3 others were to be marked forever by a hole
  • A town of 5000 was forever changed
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2 Years Pass


February 27th, 2014, 9:15p.m.

  • 15 degrees
  • 30 people gather around
  • 1 student stands up
  • 2 songs are played
  • 7 candles are lit
  • 7 speeches are made

Two years ago, TJ Lane stood up and fired a .22 caliber pistol into a cafeteria of peers. He killed three people that day, and injured three others. It was a terrible tragedy, but soon forgotten about by all but those effected by it. I hadn't heard about the shooting before last night. I guess it gets overshadowed by Sandy Hook, and Aurora, but it is no less tragic.

I had the privilege of partaking in a candle light vigil for the victims of the Chardon shooting last night, and I truly mean privilege.  It was a beautiful event. Beginning with a song in the freezing cold, Chardon alumni, friends, and residents gathered around a few flickering candles to pay their respects. Several people spoke. They told us about being in the school that day, attending the vigil that night, and the overwhelming support and love the felt in the wake of the tragedy. Then, a prayer was said. A final song was played and the people gathered, toughed out the deathly cold, and just survived for a moment together. Held hands. Were comforted by hugs. A broken community came together to heal.

It has been two years since the people of Chardon went through the events of February 27th. With 30 people, 7 candles, 2 songs, and an infinite amount of love, they muster on and even turn their pain into a force for good.

It doesn’t take a lot to perform an act of kindness for someone, and it can make a world of difference. Let’s turn our pain into something good.
— Kelsey Crowley, Chardon High School graduate

Day Tripping

My friends and I awoke at 6 a.m. to spend 7 hours of our day with two Nat Geo Photographers, Ami Vitale, and Melissa Farlow. They were speaking about photographic story telling. 

Dont ever think your story is over. Stay longer and the story just gets richer and richer
— Ami Vitale

Both photographers condensed their years of storytelling into these hours. They spoke of travels to remote villages, dressing up in panda suits, and cameras destroyed by wild mustangs. A far different set of experiences than I have had in the small collegiate town of Athens. 

My friends and I had a great time there and on the way there, it was great spending pressure-less time with some of the greatest people I've ever met. 


We had a fun time at the conference too. We finished puzzles, played dress up and ate food in an art museum, how could that experience be anything but amazing?


I loved the seminar. I loved the time with friends. Meeting professionals at the top of the field I wish to join, and getting a few decent pictures out of the deal, all made the trip a great one.

Night on a Parking Garage

With the gear in our arms and the picture in our heads, my friend Tessa and I set out last night to capture pictures of the night sky. The ultimate goal was a spectacular milky way, filled with countless stars like the ones seen in Nat Geo. So we set off for the highest place we could find on campus. 

The final resting place of the journey was the Athens Parking Deck. It was a good starting place, we learned a lot about astro-photography up there, but there was ultimately too much light pollution to get good exposures. Our hopes and dreams of capturing the galaxy were dashed, but compromise was found as we still got good shots from our rooftop vantage point.

Then, like the Nat Geo photographers we were trying to emulate, we froze. It was in the twenties and hours of exposure to that cold takes its toll on one's fingers. Thus, we ran to the nearest shelter, the small elevator building.

The only part of us resembling Nat Geo photographers was our frozen extremities, but the trip was a positive step towards that goal. There was a failure on the galaxy photo front, a final captured breath emulated one in a weird sort of way.

Snow More Friends

I'm from North Carolina. In North Carolina, it doesn't snow. So after a few inches graced the grounds of Ohio University, I had to go shoot it. 

I went with my friend Maggie, and we explored almost all of campus and uptown Athens. 

Senior Dance Concert

Last week, I had the pleasure of shooting a dance concert put on by seniors in their Capstone course. I spent several hours with them, including warm ups, where I got to immerse myself in the entirely foreign dancer culture.

As a journalist, I get to use my job as a credential to experience how an entirely different group of people function and operate. I get to see dancers rolling around on the floor, which to them is apparently completely normal.

The dancers were great. The way they interacted with each other was both strange and wonderful, weird and beautiful. 

The concert itself was wonderful as well. I am not a dancer, I don't have a fluid bone in my body. So seeing people able to move their bodies in a wonderful way was fascinating. 

I also liked the lighting at the concert. But that is just the photographer in me talking.