You're my wonderwall.
You're my wonderwall.
I recently had to submit a photo of myself to accompany my bio for an upcoming conference that I’m speaking at. The only professional pictures I’ve really ever had taken were courtesy of LinkedIn at an event, and another with a fun team I worked with. My partner “encouraged” me to remove the LinkedIn picture from my profile as he said it aged me and conjured soap operas. He was right. (And that’s why you should always do your makeup in the daytime, and lay off the bronzer.) So we went out to the alley. Plenty of natural light, slightly overcast, gritty urban setting. I changed wardrobe about 5 times. My omnipresent black 3/4 sleeved shirt was covered in dog hair and fuzz, despite my best efforts with a hand wrapped in packing tape. My nipples wouldn’t behave and just simmer down for the photo. My hair looked dry (and yeah, it probably is). So I changed into a hoodie, and proceeded to take about 30 shots holding the hood strings. Why did I do that? WHY DID I DO THAT? Am I making a Britpop album??!

Not me
Not me.
Thankfully, the conference’s web designer cut my hands out of the shot he eventually used. But every time I look at the photos, I’m again confused by why I felt the need to hold on to the hoodie strings. And then, by complete coincidence, a pal sent me a hilarious post: 12 Ways to Achieve the Best Glamour Shot. And wouldn’t you know, the very first tip is to Hold On To Your Collar. I knew I was on to something!

I’ll admit to occasionally trying to capture a flattering snap with PhotoBooth. Instagram. Hipstamatic.Trying being the operative word, as it’s hard to coordinate the pressing of the right button with the perfect facial expression and not spilling the wine. And the resulting photos are rarely of the calibre that you’d want increased to 500 x 500 on a website or other piece of collateral. For one thing, I’ve realized that my eyes don’t always look in the same direction. This is a problem. This has nothing to do with the wine.

Perfect for my keynote
Perfect for my keynote.
Even when there are a zillion photography apps to convince us that we’re Annie Leibovitz, there’s really nothing like the quality of a pro head shot.

A while ago, I wrote about not using stock photography on your website to convince visitors that there are actually people that work at your company. I’m going to take that one further and suggest that whether you’re on the speaker circuit or belong to a LinkedIn group – your photo matters enough to warrant paying a pro to have a go. And before all y’all speed on down to the WalMart Photo Studio, check your local listings to see who might be available in your area. A new business? A student looking to bolster their portfolio?

According to this post from Vivian Giang of Business Insider, heatmap research proves that the profile photo is the most important part of your LinkedIn profile, and critical in the recruitment process. Eye-tracking techniques measured where a sample of recruiters looked when scanning a potential hire’s profile, and the results point squarely at that head shot. Discriminatory? Maybe – but probably not the place to take a chance on not having a picture, or displaying one that shows you in an unflattering light.

Michel Feist: Ampersand GreyI spoke with lifestyle photographer extraordinaire Michel Feist about the pros of hiring a pro. Michel runs her company, Ampersand Grey, out of Edmonton, Alberta. As well as being a top-notch shutterbug, Michel is a talented designer who has done some really interesting branding work. When I caught up with her, she was jetting off to a shoot in San Francisco but had time to give me a bit of insight:

Why do so many self portraits veer to the ridiculous?
I think most people feel uncomfortable in front of the camera so they act silly or over exaggerate an awkward pose so they don’t feel as weird taking a picture of themself.

What can a pro capture that my PhotoBooth can’t?
You’re kidding right?

What should a social media profile/conference pic say about it’s subject?

For small business I see the “avatar” picture as a mini billboard for your brand. If you’re quirky, show quirky. If you’re a fashion blogger you should probably show a glimpse into your style. Being current is the best part of social media, this isn’t a business card you just printed 1,000 of. Change it up and have some fun!

The key takeaways?
* Market yourself with a head shot that does justice to your beauty and ingenuity. No bedazzling required.
* A pro can bring out the best in your bad self. Hire one and be rest assured that people aren’t coming to your session just to see your nipples or the moustache you thought you waxed.
* An effective visual you is a critical component of your personal brand.

Say cheese. Don’t be cheese.

Like many concerned and outraged Canadians, I’ve been watching the Usage-Based Billing (UBB) development with great interest. I signed the petition. I shared stories with our uninformed friends and colleagues. I felt embarrassed, and yes, furious, that the CRTC would move in such an incredibly backward direction with regard to online access.

Today I feel a bit less aggravated as I learned that Ottawa would reverse the controversial CRTC billing decision, but I consider myself warned.

UBB would have a number of negative implications for Canadians. Many have spoken of its potential to kill innovation. To stymie web-based collaboration and the development and sharing of content. To create a dangerously tiered structure of access, with the wealthiest having the greatest access. UBB would limit access in the sectors where we are at a critical crossroads and need innovation, such as health care and education, at the expense of the profit and content monopolies that our telecoms so desperately want to preserve.  It ain’t right.

Yesterday’s hectoring, school-marmy National Post editorial in support of UBB reeked of telecom lobbyism and ignorance.

How can we push and advocate for free, open, and transparent use of the internet, when cost issues (as opposed to old thinking and ideologies) are the prohibitive factor?  Yeah, unlimited web access is great, if you can afford it.

Alistair Fairweather

And then a beloved and trusted South African Twitter contact chimed in on my frustrations. You see, UBB is the state of the internet in South Africa. She connected me with Alistair Fairweather, who is the Digital Platforms Manager for South Africa’s Mail and Guardian online. He also writes for Memeburn and News24. I was curious to explore the implications and outcomes of UBB in a place where it is part of the system, and Alistair was gracious enough to answer my questions:


How much does the average South African pay for unlimited monthly internet? Is this affordable?

In US Dollar terms, a decent (10Mb/s) “uncapped” connection will cost well over $150 per month. If you want proper broadband speeds (30Mb/s or higher) you’re looking at as much as 5 times that.

Does this constrain the average web user from accessing the media they are interested in?

Very definitely. Many South Africans scrape by on less than 1GB of usage per month. Most billing is done on a “capped” basis – ie you get a certain amount of data per month and are either cut off or pay more to use more. And, of course, you lose any data you don’t use. This means that most internet users are constantly and painfully aware of what they are doing online, and how much bandwidth it will use, for fear that they get cut off and can’t access their email on the 28th of the month.

Does UBB prevent certain types of media (video etc) from being produced and accessed?

It doesn’t prevent it per se – it just makes it much less attractive. What amateur videographer is going to pay $15 per GB to upload her 45 minute, HD wedding video to Facebook? In the States that’s not even a consideration. And of course, an aspiring local film maker can’t use the internet to access a mass audience because barely 5 million South Africans are even online.

Any implications for education? Online learning?

Definitely. Paying by the MB makes schools nervous of providing unlimited internet access, or internet access at all. The same goes for many homes – kids aren’t allowed online for fear of downloading some innocent video and using up their parents cap.

How do South Africans feel about it? Have they tried to change it?

Most of us are very angry about it. We are trying to change it, including lobbying government to open up the market, but when 70% of your country is mired in poverty, it’s quite hard to make them pay attention to something as “luxury” as internet access.

Is there a telecom monopoly?

Yes, and it sucks. Our old state monopoly – Telkom – is now a parastatal but still enjoys an effective monopoly over the “local loop” of our fixed line telephony system. They are inefficient, greedy, corrupt and idiotic. They have single-handedly stunted the growth of our entire internet industry through their stranglehold on both ADSL and our outbound peering links with the world. If I had my way I would have the lot of them horsewhipped and fired, and dissolve the entire company. Our other telecoms companies are also greedy, but at least they are progressive and intelligent.

I’d like to thank Alistair Fairweather for taking the time to share his insights on this issue.

Canadians – be warned.  Let’s hope the decision sticks.

Anita Reynolds MacArthur
Anita chose not to wear her space helmet for this interview.
At SpaceRace, we are cosmically fortunate to work with some amazing authors, including Anita Reynolds MacArthur, creator of the award-winning MacCheeky series. Anita pulls inspiration from her own family for these engaging children’s books, which are delightfully funny and beautifully illustrated. We Skyped Anita from Mission Control for a wee chat about her successful use of social media tools, her inspirations, and her predictions for the future. Enjoy!

(the audio version of this interview is not available due to interference from a nearby alien craft)

A Royal Little Pest1. Hi Anita. Is that a new space helmet?

Hi Aerin. Yes, my space helmet is brand new. It’s not too big, is it? There are so many different styles to choose from!

2. Self-publishing is a very entrepreneurial initiative! What prompted you to publish your own stories?

After 15 years editing other people’s words, I felt it was time to write some words of my own. Self-publishing was the easy part–it’s spreading the word to the public about the MacCheeky picture book series that’s challenging.

3. You use technology a lot in spreading the message about your books. How have social media channels helped you?

Getting the word out via the web is quick and easy, can be done from practically any location, and best of all, it doesn’t cost anything. People all over the world are learning about my picture books every day. It’s very exciting.

4. What is your favourite 2.0 technology tool?

I’d have to say Twitter is my choice 2.0 techie tool. The possibilities are endless.

5. What are your recommendations for other authors with access to the web?

Build a website, start a blog, open a Facebook page, and create as much Twitter buzz as possible.

6. What is your favourite science fiction movie?

Hmmm, I’m going to mention two movies, if I may. My favourite new sci-fi movie is Avatar, and my favourite old sci-fi movie is Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

7. What considerations went into the development of your most excellent website?

My most excellent website? Wow! Thank you for the compliment. Ease of navigation for the user was first and foremost on my mind. A lot of thought went into creating the home page. It had to be inviting, capture as much information as possible without being too wordy, and it had to hold a person’s attention in order to keep them on the site for as long as possible.

8. What are your predictions for the digital future of educational publishing?

Digital learning tools in the classroom will take over sooner than we think. Students today live, eat, and breath technology outside the classroom. I predict that cumbersome hardcover Student Books will soon become a thing of the past as student e-books and SmartBoards become mainstream learning tools.

Learn more about the adventures of the MacCheeky characters and read Anita’s blog at
Like it on Facebook.
Follow ’em on Twitter.
Watch ’em on Vimeo.

The full report is ready for download. So are other local government action resources.