It's the time of year when one stops to reflect on what's happened the previous twelve months, and I'm no exception. For me, this always starts with the music that's served as my soundtrack for the year. I had to pare down from thirty or so tracks, and what I was left with was a bunch of music that I really, really love—but that doesn't seem to fit together all that well. Nevertheless, I've compiled them together here for your consideration.

So long 2013.

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The moment when you realize you’ve been robbed? It’s exactly how they show it in the movies. You stand in one place, looking dumbly around the room in the direction of where your most valuable itemsought to be. This is where I found myself Sunday morning, as I came downstairs to make breakfast for my daughter.

I actually made it all the way through the living room, through the dining room, and into the kitchen before I realized anything was wrong. My first clue was the back door. It was wide open. My dog Gus, always at my side, bounded out the open door like it was the most normal thing in the world, but that was the moment that began one of the most abnormal weeks of my life.

Half an hour later, we were wrapping up the report with a police officer. It appeared that the thieves wedged open our dining room window, after having ripped out the screen, and taken off with as much as they could find in the dining room alone. Laptops, computer hard drives, and all of my wife’s camera equipment. We’re not talking about point-and-shoot, $100 equipment here, either. My wife is a professional photographer who, as fate would have it, had just gotten home from shooting a wedding hours before the burglary. The value of the camera equipment alone reached into the twenty thousands. Adding insult to injury, the thieves also made off with a wallet of memory cards that contained the only copies of wedding photos taken the night before that were in the process of being copied to our backup system.

It’s an awful feeling, knowing people were in your house, rifling through your things and taking what they deemed most valuable for themselves, and it’s crippling when they take away the means by which you make a living. But it’s an altogether different, indescribable feeling of powerlessness when you have to call a couple on the morning after their wedding and tell them that they have no wedding photos. A huge range of emotions washed over me that morning, but watching my wife make that call and seeing what she was going through was the worst of it.

We spent the next 24 hours trying to keep occupied. Retail therapy was our coping mechanism, as we hopped from store to store trying to replace the most essential equipment as quickly as we could. My wife had been holding off on replacing her laptop for several months, so we took this as a sign that it was time. The second laptop was one that I was given by my job, so I knew that would be replaced fairly easily. From there, we stopped at a few electronics stores to buy extra hard drives to back up the already existing backups of past shoots and weddings. There’s nothing like a break-in to renew your commitment to data backup.

But none of this could do anything about the missing memory cards with the wedding photos. That was the loss that was eating at us the most. We compiled a list of serial numbers — fortunately we had most of the boxes in the attic — and printed out fliers with the details to hand out to pawn shops in the area. We included a message in bold at the bottom:

“$500 reward for return of missing memory cards. Cash. No questions asked.”

We passed them out to a few pawn shops, most of which weren’t entirely encouraging about our chances of getting our stuff back, and went home to try to get some rest. We even took to the Internet, posting information about the reward on TwitterFacebook andReddit. Anything we could do to get the word out about these lost wedding photos.

I took work off that next morning. Fortunately, I work for an extremely supportive and understanding organization and my boss said to take as much time as I need. My wife was still beside herself over what happened — mostly because of the lost wedding photos — and I knew she wouldn’t want to be alone. We took the morning to spend time doing things our daughter wanted to do — we went out for breakfast (“panpakes and bekkon!”) and then went to the park. The rest of that day was spent fielding calls from reporters who were interested in getting the scoop about the missing wedding photos. It was a tricky situation, because we desperately wanted to get the word out about the lost photos and the reward that was being offered, but neither of us were in any state to be in front of a camera talking about it. Finally, in the early evening, they managed to ambush our house to ask for an interview. I was on the phone with one reporter, trying to explain why we didn’t want to be on camera, when a different crew convinced my wife to do a quick statement. So that’s how the story came to be featured on the evening news.

The story turned out really well, actually, and it did help spread the word about the reward. A little too well, perhaps. Very early on Tuesday morning, right around 5:30am, we were woken to very persistent knocking on the front door. I’m a pretty heavy sleeper, and this even woke me up. For obvious reasons, I hadn’t gotten much quality sleep the night before, so it took me a while to stumble down to answer the door. I was greeted by a slightly shifty looking, tattooed gentleman who appeared to be in his late twenties.

“Hey, is this the… uh… the house that had that camera stuff robbed?”
“Yes?”
“I, uh… I know the lady that has the cards. She’s down on Livingston, but she needs transportation.”

As I said, I was a bit groggy at this point, but even in the cold light of day I’m unsure what “she needs transportation” was actually intended to mean. I told him that was great, and we’d happily meet up with her wherever she liked, but that we would have to work out the arrangements in the morning. I gave him my name and cell phone number and sent him on his way. Little did I know that would be only the beginning of that day’s excitement.

Hours later, sitting in my office, I was going over the long list of items that were stolen with our insurance adjuster. It was about as exciting as you would imagine. Right around the time I was listing off the model number and purchase date of the eighth Nikon lens, my call waiting clicked in: It was my wife, frantically telling me that she had gotten a call from a local camera shop that some men were just there trying to sell what sounded like her equipment. I quickly got off the phone with the adjuster and went outside to meet my wife and drive over to the camera store.

Columbus Camera Group is a new and used camera shop on Ohio State’s campus, less than a mile from our house. The men were gone by the time we got there, but the store owner had managed to write down the serial numbers from the equipment; Sure enough, it was ours. He had also had the forethought to watch them leave and write down a description of the vehicle along with the license plate number. I immediately got on the phone with the burglary squad to give them the details. It was clear that these guys were in the process of actively trying to unload our equipment. Armed with the list of serial numbers and vehicle description, we decided to pay a visit to the rest of the used camera sellers in the area.

Our next stop was Midwest Photo Exchange, another camera shop that was less than a mile from our home. As we approached the store to look for a parking spot, we were abruptly cut off by a pair of police cruisers who pulled to a stop directly in front of the store. We worked our way carefully to the back parking lot and found it littered with store employees on their cell phones; It looked like we may have been just a few steps behind.

Our suspicions were confirmed when we walked into the store and overheard the manager talking with the officers.

“…two big guys. They had a couple of cameras and lenses, and they clearly didn’t know how to use them. It looked like the equipment that was stolen from that wedding photographer this weekend.”

I chimed in explaining who I was, and provided them with the official list of serial numbers to compare. This owner had also managed to copy down the serial numbers, but he even did one better: He was able to pull the memory card that the guys had in one of the cameras and exported all the photos to a local computer! This was the moment when I walked behind the counter and gave this man a hug. The next thing I remember was going with my wife to the computer at the rear of the store to look at the photos and confirm that they were ours. They pulled up the first photo, and then it was my wife’s turn to give out hugs.

As we waited for the images to burn to DVD, the manager began calling other local camera shops that people might go to sell stolen equipment. We listened as all the employees rehashed the story as they remembered it and talked about previous attempts by other people to sell stolen equipment. We marveled over how crazy you would have to be to try to sell stuff like this so quickly, and so close to where it was stolen from. Of course, we asked if they remembered seeing any other memory cards, and nobody had. We were obviously still really close behind these guys, though, and we remained hopeful that the police would catch up with them.

Just as the DVD was finishing, we heard the manager shout from the back office: “It’s them! They’re at World of Photography!” He had just called up another camera shop, a few miles away in Grandview, and the men had just walked in as he was telling them about the situation. The police put out a call on the radio to get to the store, as I heard the manager asking his counterpart to stall the men as long as he could. We held our collective breath for a few minutes until we heard a squawk on the officers’ walkies. I couldn’t make it out, but one of them was kind enough to translate.

“We got ‘em!”

We were told that it may take some time to process everything, but if we wanted to we could head over to the shop and probably take our equipment home with us. I can barely remember the car ride down to Grandview, but it was full of text messages, phone calls, and Facebook status updates. Hope was at an all-time high, but we were trying to throttle it as best as we could until we had those memory cards in our hands.

At the camera store — our third of the day — we were actually able to see the suspects handcuffed and sitting on the ground. It was actually slightly disappointing to see that they looked exactly like as you might expect: Disheveled. Vacant eyes. They looked like they hadn’t showered in about a week. We spent about 45 minutes in our car waiting for them to be loaded into the police van and for the detective to arrive to review everything. Before we had the chance to inspect the equipment, we were asked to give a quick statement to the detective. We went over the burglary again, as well as a basic list of things that had been taken. The detective prefaced the final question with the disclaimer that it was something that he had to officially ask: Did we want to press charges? My wife answered with no hesitation.

“Yes. All of them.”

In the end, we were allowed to look through what they had in the car and confirm that the equipment was ours. It was ours, of course, but unfortunately there was no sign of the memory cards. The police were very helpful, and when we told them about the memory cards and the wedding photos they were incredibly thorough in searching the nooks and crannies of the vehicle, from front to trunk. No luck. That’s not to downplay the incredible victory we had that day. By that afternoon, less than 72 hours after the break-in, we had recovered the bulk of our most expensive equipment, which I feel is more than most burglary victims are able to say.

So here we are, a couple of days later, still hoping for the return of the rest of our stolen items and — more importantly — those missing memory cards. We’re trying to keep optimistic, as the local news and radio outlets continue to spread the word about the reward, but we’re also trying to move on. We’ve taken the one recovered card and begun processing the photos, as well as setting up a new shoot with the newlyweds once they return from their honeymoon. It won’t make up for the loss of the photos documenting their wedding day, surrounded by friends and family who had traveled from all over the country, but it will be a first step in giving them something they can look back on as the beginning of their marriage.

I don’t know where those memory cards are now — maybe they’re in some thief’s apartment, maybe they’re in a pawn shop, or maybe they’re with some woman down on Livingston Avenue. Wherever they are, I do hope eventually someone hears about the reward and contacts us. Because, honestly, all we want is for this young couple just starting out on a life together to have these small mementos of the day they said “I do” to each other. I still have faith in the goodness of people, but we’re keeping this $500 offer on the table just in case someone needs a little more motivation to do the right thing.


The $500 cash, no-questions-asked reward for the return of a dozen CompactFlash memory cards containing wedding photos is still being offered. If you or someone you know has them, please contact Andy Soell at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Additionally, we’d like to say a big “thank you” to the Columbus police for their hard work on the case, to Columbus Camera Group for getting an accurate description of the men with our equipment, to Midwest Photo Exchange for having the presence of mind to copy one of the cards, and toWorld of Photography for stalling the men as long as they did. You all are just a small part of what makes Columbus such a great place to live.

Originally written and published for Medium.com, August 2, 2013

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A little over a year ago, my dad moved from the house where I (mostly) grew up in Zanesville, OH to The Middle Of Nowhere, IN when his wife took a university position in the northern part of the state.  Going from having him forty-five minutes away to three hours away has been an adjustment, but he finally has his house surrounded by all the grass he can mow in the midwestern countryside. He's happy, so we're happy for him.

Our visits are a little more of a production now since they nearly always require an overnight stay. My sister typically accompanies us which means our dog sitter option is gone and along comes Gus.  Now that Julenna has a bunny, that's just one more animal to add to the happy caravan. A couple of weeks ago Andy and I loaded up the Element with Julenna, Lucy, Gus, and Hilde and we headed west to celebrate Father's Day with good old Rex and deliver the air pop popcorn maker I bought for his gift. This was my attmept to get him to switch from microwave popcorn (which I am convinced will ultimately lead to the demise of whomever consumes the chemical laden kernals).  

Lucy already loves trips to my dad's since he has a kiddie pool, a "bark" (her word for any sort of jungle gym/swing set/sliding apparatus) and endless amount of patince for her antics. But recently the neighbor who borders the back yard adopted three adorable and friendly ponies.  This is a gamechanger for little Lu.  

I know it isn't the most popular of opinions, but I'm not the biggest fan of summer.  Warm evenings spent watching the sun tuck behind the trees in a wide open space has the power to change my mind ever so slightly.  Add in a cute little girl and the people I love the most and SOME PONIES and I'm almost converted to a fan.

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For those of you who haven't already heard, Google Reader has been discontinued. If you haven't heard of Google Reader, you can read a quick writeup I did from 2009. In short. Google Reader is an aggregator that keeps tabs on all the news sites, blogs, and web sites that I read regularly, and presents a concise list of new updates that appear on those sites. When I wrote that article in 2009, I had already been using it for years and years, so you can imagine how sad it is to lose something that's become such a big part of how I use the Internet.

I don't dispute Google's right to shut down a project like Google Reader -- especially in light of the fact that it's a free service that I haven't paid a penny for. But the loss of Google Reader has absolutely taught me a valuable lesson: Things worth having are worth paying for.

This lesson goes counter to pretty much everything we have come to expect from the Internet today. Everything is free. Facebook, Gmail, Spotify, Maps, YouTube, Wikipedia. There's a wealth of entertainment, news, and information at our fingertips that we expect to be there completely free of charge. I'm not against using these free services, but I've come to believe that there ought to be a line at which we ought to expect to pay for services that are essential to our lives. Since Google's announcement, I've been gradually working to switch myself from these free options to competitors that charge for the same services. Here's what I've gone with.

Google Reader replacement: Feedbin

feedbinFirst priority, of course, was getting set up with a Google Reader competitor. There are lots and lots of alternatives that have popped up over the past few months, vying to take Google Reader's place. Lots of them are free, but it was important to me to switch to one that has a viable business model in place where I can pay for the service, rather than just hoping they'll stick around under a free model. Feedbin offered a modest $2/month or $20/year subscription, which is more than reasonable for something I use multiple times a day, every day. As a bonus, the iPhone app that I used to connect to my Google Reader account also works with Feedbin, so my day-to-day workflow hasn't changed at all. 

Google Apps replacement: Media Temple hosting

mediatempleThis one was a big problem. All of my email addresses were being hosted on free Google Apps services. Around the same time Google announced that they were discontinuing Google Reader, they also announced that they weren't going to offer free Google Apps accounts anymore. People who were already using free accounts were to be grandfathered in, but I'm not at all comfortable keeping something as important as my email on a service that may decide to discontinue it at some point in the future. Fortunately, the web hosting service that I use for all my web sites -- Media Temple -- does have mail service included in the $20/month fee that I already pay. Switching all of my email addresses over to new servers was certainly a time consuming activity, but one that gives me better peace of mind.

Google Analytics replacement: GoSquared

gosquaredIf you run your own business web site, you know how important it is to see how your visitors are using your site. Installing Google Analytics -- a free web visitor analysis tool -- was always one of the first things I did when setting up a new site. It's free, easy to install, and works great. I wasn't aware of too many competitors, but when I started looking around I found GoSquared analytics. It's a bit more simplified than Google Analytics, but that's one of the things I actually really like about it. It also shows real time stats about who is on your site right now, which Google Analytics doesn't offer. They do have a free plan, but I opted for the Premium, $9/month plan that keeps stats for up to 3 sites.

Facebook Photos replacement: Flickr?

flickrlogoIt seems like most people are perfectly content keeping their family photos on Facebook and nowhere else, but this has always been bothersome to me. Not only are there no assurances that Facebook will be around forever, but there is actually no way to extract your photos in bulk if you did want to move them somewhere else. I've always felt pretty strongly about this, which is why we've been Flickr Pro members for years and years. for $25/year, you can keep as many photos as you like in the highest resolution possible. Unfortunately, this option has gotten a little less appealing over the past few months as Flickr has changed their business model to a mostly-free version. You can still pay, but you're only paying to remove ads -- which to me indicates that you're not really paying for extra storage or reassurance that it will be around for a while. Flickr is still a better, more stable option than Facebook, but I will definitely be looking for a new, premium paid option in the future.

YouTube replacement: Vimeo

vimeologoLike photos, the videos we take are really important and I don't want to trust them to a site where I'm not paying something to ensure they're archived properly. So rather than upload them to YouTube or Facebook, we keep our videos on a Vimeo account. A Vimeo+ membership is $60/year, which isn't cheap, but that subscription ensures you can keep an unlimited number of HD videos and stream / embed them wherever you like, not to mention gives me peace of mind that they aren't just going to disappear someday. Additionally, instead of being compressed, Vimeo keeps your original, full-resolution video file as long as you maintain your Plus membership.

Google Voice replacement: Grasshopper

grasshopperGoogle Voice is actually a really neat service, if you haven't heard of it yet. They basically give you a phone number in your area code that you can give out, typically as your business number. When people call it, they are forwarded to your cell phone and you have the option of screening their calls and sending them to voicemail. It also supports automatic voicemail transcriptions and can receive text messages at the same number. This is a great service, and something we've been using to handle phone calls at The Salt Mines. The problem is, it's free, and I don't see how Google plans to make any money off of it any time soon. As a result, I don't have a lot of confidence in its continued existance. After a bit of searching, I did find Grasshopper which offers a very similar service for a very reasonable $12/month. It's actually quite a bit more flexible than Google Voice, allowing multiple destination phones to ring at once and including support for virtual extensions and incoming faxes. We recently switched our Google Voice number over to Grasshopper, and I'm eager to see how we can use these new features.

I realize that this article may come across as very anti-Google. I assure you, that isn't the case. I still use Google search, Chrome is my primary browser, and some of my sites continue to use Google Adsense for advertising. But these are services that I don't necessarily rely on, and that I wouldn't be in risk of losing information if they went away tomorrow. I just feel that if a service is essential to you -- especially to your business -- it's important to pay for it to have a little more insurance that it will stick around and be able to continue running.

What about you? What services are so essential that you would have to make big changes if they went away? Are you paying for them? Switching from free to pay services isn't cheap -- all told, I'm paying an extra $38/month to replace other free services -- but isn't the peace of mind worth a few bucks?

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