Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Thematic Photographic 321 - Where you work

Where the magic happens
London, ON
December 2014
I'm a little slow getting this week's Thematic posted. Life, as they say, has been busy this week, and as workload has cut into sleep a little more than usual, I've decided to let my need to sleep win over my wish to blog. My bad, I know, but I can always write more once I've rested myself up. Thanks for your patience.

Given the reason for the two-day delay - Thematic is supposed to be a Monday thing - I thought it might be appropriate to zoom in on the reason for the busy-life thing. So welcome to my office. As you can see, it's admittedly minimalist to allow me to focus on the very monkish act of writing. The fewer distractions the better, so my little cocoon of creativity has a minimum of "stuff". In its place, a  ridiculously comfy chair, a similarly  ridiculously comfy desk, and an insulated stainless steel water cup courtesy of my lovely daughter.

Somewhere out of frame is a pile of chocolate chip cookies. Because I'm addicted. Please don't judge me.

That keyboard? I'd buy ten of them if I could, just to ensure I'll never run out of them. And that iPad is stuffed with countless hours of writing music. With enough tea in me, I could hang out here for a very long time, and I'd enjoy every minute of it. Indeed, I already do.

Your turn: Point the camera at your place of work and post the resulting pic to your blog or website (or Facebook, or Twitter...pretty much anywhere online will do.) Leave a comment here with a link back to it. Visit other participants to share the photographic happiness, and pop additional pics into the fray later in the week if you wish. Head here if Thematic is new to you. Or simply start shooting if you've done this before. Can't wait to see where you work, and to hear the stories behind it.

On character vs. reputation

"Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are."John Wooden
I never played competitive basketball, but everything I've read about Mr. Wooden suggests rather strongly that I wish I had, and I wish I had played for him.

Your turn: Who inspired you to become who you are? Pick one. Why?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On little things that aren't so little

"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."
Robert Brault
The only thing I'd change here - as if I could ever change someone else's quote, but humor me for a moment - is the "may" part.

Indeed, little things are big things, but most of us seem too preoccupied to pick up on that subtle cue. When you run out of "things" - or, to be more precise, time - you quickly realize the smallest moments are, in the end, the only things that matter.

Your turn: What's the most important little thing that's happened to you - lately or ever?

Monday, December 15, 2014


After the breakup
London, ON
December 2014
Thematic. Homemade. Here.
I wanted to end off this week's homemade theme - head here to share yours - with the somewhat sad sight of shattered eggshells.

In many respects, the egg is one of those perfect little structures of nature and biology, a self-contained engineering masterpiece that even mighty, tech-forward humans couldn't have invented. It's somewhat humbling, then, to come across an egg and think about how it came to be, and how little we truly understand about its origins and evolution.

I get weird like this every once in a while. Okay, perhaps more often than that. Thanks for indulging me.

Your turn: What other seemingly routine everyday objects make you stop and wonder?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hostage taking in Sydney, Australia

News is breaking now from Sydney, Australia, where an apparent hostage-taking by a suspect - or suspects - who has/have unfurled an Islamist flag in the central business district is underway. News organizations and social media describe a major police activity in the downtown core, which is near the state parliament building.

Reports indicated at least 13, possibly as many as 20 hostages, may be inside the Lindt Chocolat Cafe which is part of the Martin Place shopping complex. Reports are also circulating that the Sydney Opera House (map) which is only1.2 km from the site (map) of the hostage-taking (directions), is being evacuated as a precaution after a suspicious package was apparently seen on-site. The airspace above the city has also been closed to air traffic to allow law enforcement helicopters to operate unfettered.

My already-scheduled weekly CTV News Channel segment, Clicked In, with Scott Laurie, was quickly restructured to instead focus on the events unfolding in Sydney. We spoke about the role that technology plays in events like this, and how social media both helps and hinders law enforcement's efforts to bring things to a safe end.

[Deep breath.]

Update 1: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has released the following statement:
"New South Wales Police and the Australian Federal Police are currently responding to a reported hostage-taking incident in Martin Place in Sydney.

I have spoken with NSW Premier Mike Baird and offered him all possible Commonwealth support and assistance.

The National Security Committee of Cabinet has also convened for briefings on the situation.

This is obviously a deeply concerning incident but all Australians should be reassured that our law enforcement and security agencies are well trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough and professional manner.

We will provide regular updates as further information becomes available."
Update 2: The PM will be holding a press conference at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, 12:30 p.m. local time. Key comments from the press conference:
  • We don't yet know the motivation of the perpetrator. We don't know whether this is politically motivated, although obviously there are some indications that this could be.
  • The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people out of being themselves
  • Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society. Nothing should ever change that, and that's why I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual.
  • This is an unfolding situation and as the situation unfolds there will be operational updates provided by the NSW Police.
  • I want to assure people that the ordinary business of government must go on. And it will go on.
  • This is a very disturbing incident. I can understand the concerns and anxieties of the Australian people at a time like this.
  • I do urge everyone to exercise caution in their reporting.
Update 3 - 8:45pm - Reuters reporting the U.S. consulate near the cafe (map, directions) is being evacuated and an emergency warning has been issued to U.S. citizens urging them to "maintain high level of vigilance."

Update 4: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has shared his thoughts via Twitter:
Foreign Minister John Baird has also weighed in:
Update 5: Mashable reporting Uber has implemented surge pricing in Sydney. Can we say ripoff?
Related Links:

On inspiring greatness in others

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."
Mark Twain
My challenge to myself today, then, is to look for ways to make those around me feel that they, too, can become great. How will YOU inspire those around you, as well?

Shooting the mysteries of the night

Tree, mist and light
London, ON
December 2014

Click or tap photo to embiggen
As soon as I stepped outside the door with the dog last night, I knew it would be an interesting walk. The air looked foggy, that surreal mistiness that brings to mind bad old movies and similarly hackneyed old movie soundtracks. The cold, clammy, almost touchable scene seemed to be a character in and of itself.

I'm not sure Frasier appreciated the moment - he was a little busy charging around the corner of the house as all of this was dawning on me - but already my mind was racing. I wanted to get a picture of it, but shooting at night is a challenging proposition at the best of times. Even if you have the right camera, a tripod, and all the time in the world, low-light shooting in variable conditions like we encountered on this particular night is a recipe for failure, a virtual guarantee that most, if not all, of what you bring back will be fodder for the recycling bin.

And on this evening, I had none of the so-called "right" stuff with me. DSLR? Nope. Tripod? Ah, no. Time? Not with a perpetually antsy 30-pound miniature schnauzer yanking at the leash as he wandered aimlessly from one side of the darkened road to the other. I shouldn't have been shooting anything on this night. And yet...

The trees seemed to beckon as I walked past and caught their silhouetted forms in the diffused light of the sodium vapor streetlamps. The trunks seemed an ominous as any I'd ever seen on old episodes of Scooby Doo, while the smaller branches on the extended canopies glinted in ways I had never seen before.

Which was kind of odd given how many hundreds of times I've walked these very streets since we first brought Frasier home. Even now, the seemingly familiar landscape offered up something new. And as much as I tried to keep walking, that little voice in my head kept telling me I needed to record the moment in some way.

So I used the camera that I had, my BlackBerry Passport, and tucked the leash as tightly under my arm as I could while I calmly begged our now-curious pup to sit quietly while I composed and shot. It wasn't easy - more than a few images blurred out as the little furry man decided to dig his nose into some nearby bushes or explore the magic of a parked car's front passenger-side tire - but in the end I think everything worked out.

I'm guessing there will be more spontaneous smartphone shoots in my future. And I'm guessing Frasier will just have to get used to being outside for a little while longer.

Your turn: Ever take a picture with your phone or smartphone that made you go, "Whoa"? Do tell - or even drop a link to it in a comment.

Related links:

Saturday, December 13, 2014

On sharing happiness

"Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared."
Gautama Buddha

Comfort food to start the day

Warmth on a plate
(Homemade by my lovely wife.)
London, ON
October 2014
For more homemade Thematic, head here.
If breakfast is the most important meal of the day - and I have plenty of anecdotal, unscientific proof that says it most certainly is - then it's probably not a bad idea to record it somehow for future generations to see.

At least that's what I tell myself every time I break out the camera to take pictures of whatever it is that I'm about to consume. I am nothing if not predictable.

Your turn: What do you love most about breakfast?

Friday, December 12, 2014

On using your gifts

"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, I used everything you gave me."
Erma Bombeck
Wise words from a wise - and very much missed - individual.

Your turn: We were all born with a unique talent, something we were destined to use in our day-to-day lives. What's yours? And how are you using it?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Artist in Residence

Seeing the forest for the trees
London, ON
December 2014
All works by Debbie Levy. Click or tap to enlarge.

I've spent a lifetime working my way up to being able to create stick figures, so it's quite an experience for me to live in a house with a wife and daughter who can sketch, draw and paint circles - and virtually anything else - around me.

Aside from the practical applications - homegrown art throughout the house - it's the kind of thing that so often makes you stop in your tracks and wonder about where this comes from, and how some people seem to be gifted with it, while others not.

I find it inspiring when they carve time out of their lives to get into the creative groove. There's never enough time for any of us to get to all of our wants because we're often so busy focusing on the needs. Yet art feeds the soul, and no one has ever had to explain that to the two most important ladies in my life.

So my wife took art classes at a local studio this semester, and as much as she came home each week bubbling from the experience, I hadn't had a chance to see what she had created until the end-of-term open house over the weekend. All the students' works were up on the wall as friends and family members slowly circulated through the space. I politely appreciated everyone else's creations, but let's be frank: The only ones that truly mattered to me were these. Hers.

Whether she's wielding a brush or simply talking to our kids, my wife amazes me. As lovely as she is to look at, it's her soul - artist, wife, mom, friend - that's always set her apart and drawn me into her orbit. And thanks to her being struck by creative lightning when she was born, I'm not the only one who sees it. Enjoy.

Your turn: I believe everyone has some kind of creative gift. What's yours?

Monday, December 08, 2014

Thematic Photographic 320 - Homemade

Yeast, evolved
London, ON
October 2014
My favorite home appliance is, bar none, the bread machine. Which says something, because I'm also rather enamored of our kettle (tea) and microwave oven (oatmeal, endless rewarmings of soup.) But fresh-baked bread is such a staple of our wintry existence that I can't imagine our house without it.

On second thought, maybe it isn't the bread machine as much as it is my wife's ability to make the bread machine do all sorts of magical things. It's one of the things that, in her hands, makes our house a home.

So for the coming week, I'm hoping we can focus our lenses on stuff we make at home. Because despite our pre-processed, tech-forward existence, I'd like to think there's still room for the simple things that aren't manufactured or bought elsewhere, but made right where we live.

Simple, no? I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

Your turn: Take a picture and post it to your blog or website - or use one you've already taken and/or uploaded - that evokes this week's theme, homemade. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it, and visit other participants to spread the photographic joy. Feel free to visit and contribute again throughout the week. And have fun, because Thematic is all about fun. For more background on how Thematic works, head here.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The king at rest

Silver dog, in black and white
September 2010
London, ON
To contribute your own animal-themed Thematic, click here 
I'll apologize for being so Frasier-centric this week, but I've been lingering over our walks a little bit longer this week, so I'm going to assume the universe is trying to tell me something. I'm not entirely sure what that "something" is, but if it means more focus on the little furry guy, it can't be all bad.

I'm sharing this picture for two reasons. First, it reminds me that I need to shoot more black-and-white. I'm not sure why I've strayed away from the form, but every time I come across a series in my archives, I wonder why I'm not shooting it more. So there you have it: More monochrome to come. (Here's what I've already shot.)

Second, Frasier has an interesting habit around bedtime. He'll plunk himself down on the upstairs landing just outside the kids' bathroom, where he'll stay while they get ready for bed. He lies there quietly, not really doing much of anything except watch them wash, brush and do the usual things that kids do before tuck-in.

It's comforting, in a way, to know that he needs to be around "his humans" as much as he does. He truly hates being alone, and the fact that he deliberately stays close to us as we move through the house and the day speaks volumes about how fused he's become to us since the day we rescued him.

I think he knows we've become fused to him, too, and I'm sure just knowing their little furry friend is watching over them while they move through their nightly ritual brings as much comfort to our kids as it does to their beloved dog.

May every moment in all of their lives be so charmed. Night night, Fray Fray.

Your turn: What's your night-time ritual?

Related: More Frasier-tagged entries

Friday, December 05, 2014

Orion flies. Hope comes along for the ride.

I woke up early this morning so that I'd be able to catch the scheduled 7:05 launch of the Orion test flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida. For anyone who thinks the U.S. got out of the human space flight business after it retired the Space Shuttle in 2011, Orion - and its upcoming Space Launch System mega-rocket - is all the answer you need to know.

Unlike the commercial crew vehicles - SpaceX's Dragon 2.0 and Boeing's CST-100 - which are being developed to serve as taxis to low earth orbit, where the International Space Station flies, Orion is designed for deep space exploration. This thing is designed to go to the moon, an asteroid, a Lagrange Point, and ultimately Mars. While regular Earth orbit is a major deal in its own right, deep space flight presents a vastly expanded range of challenges, and the ship's got to be built to handle them. I don't think we really appreciate how monumentally capable Apollo was.

Since SLS won't be ready to fly until 2018, and NASA needs to test Orion's complex systems sooner than that, a special unmanned flight, known as Exploration Flight Test 1 - or EFT-1 - was scheduled atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket. That's what today's flight is all about: Get Orion into orbit, boost it to a delightfully high orbit, test all its systems in a deep space, high-radiation environment, then dive it back into the atmosphere at 20,000 mph - 2,500 mph faster than a vehicle flying in LEO and roughly as fast as a mission returning from deep space would be flying - and test the heat shield, parachute and recovery systems. Lots of stuff to cover in a 4-and-a-half-hour flight, and the data collected in the process will be crucial to shaping the continued development of the vehicle and the program.

All of which brings me back to the shuttle era. I remember what it felt like to watch Columbia first lift off, an otherworldly sight that in an instant reinforced that something had changed. I stayed glued to the TV, refusing to leave the room until I knew she was safely in orbit.

I got those same chills this morning as the three RS-68A engines lit up and the vehicle took flight. Something changed this morning, too, as the U.S. once again pulled the best of the best together, told them to develop something ridiculously cool, and then let them go fly it.

I'm no rocket scientist, but it's easy to see how what's playing out high above our heads this morning is already inspiring so many others - space-connected and not - to raise the level of their own game.

Your turn: What inspires you?

Thursday, December 04, 2014

When a puppy naps

And dream of sheep
London, ON
October 2014
Thematic. Animal Planet. Here.

Say hello to our dog, Frasier. He doesn't speak English and I don't speak dog. So when I get down on the floor and stick my face right up to his, I'm not entirely sure what's going on between those floppy ears of his. At various times, I like to imagine that he loves the attention. Other times, the pessimist in me figures he's just tolerating me as he awaits the next trip to the treat bin. When you're a scnhauzer, after all, it's all about the treats.

Which is perfectly fine by me. Because a dog's life is full of all sorts of moments. Intense play, intense napping, intense cuddling, not to mention the part where he stands just inside the front door and howls relentlessly while I get my winter gear on. He's quite adept with time, as I apparently don't move fast enough for him.

And as he tries to rush me out the door, I find myself trying to slow the experience down. Every moment is worth remembering, worth committing to memory somehow.

Because we don't get enough of these moments in the first place.

Your turn: What's he thinking?

On never settling

"The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle."
Steve Jobs
Your turn: What do you love to do? How do you know when you've found it?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Merci, M. Beliveau

I admit I'm more tech-addicted than I'd like to be, and I have difficulty turning it all off. To wit, the first thing I do every morning is reach for my BlackBerry and quickly read off the morning's headlines. I don't even have to unlock the phone to see what I missed while I was sleeping, as the lock screen displays snippets of key tweets, messages and other data bits that may or may not shape the day to come.

This morning's screen was filled with news I had been dreading for some time: Montreal Canadiens hockey great Jean Beliveau had passed away at the age of 83. He had been sick for some time, but still, it's hard to believe he is gone.

Growing up in Montreal, it's difficult to escape the ethos of the Canadiens. It isn't just a hockey team. It's a dynasty, a generational marker, a near-religion for some. You don't simply watch a game. Instead, you're part of the experience, the Bell Centre arena - as the Forum before it - serving as something of an altar to those who worship. You feel it more than you see it, and it becomes part of your personal fabric, inextricably woven into your character no matter where your life may ultimately take you.

And Jean Beliveau exemplified the gentlemanly class of an organization that has no peer. Long after he retired from the game he so defined, he was the team's goodwill ambassador. He was a fixture at community events, and countless Montrealers have stories of him moving crossing their paths and leaving an indelible impression. You didn't have to be a hockey fan to appreciate what an giant of a human being he was.

They don't make them like him anymore, and the world is that much dimmer with his passing. Thank you, M. Beliveau, for never losing sight of who you were, and for setting the bar so incredibly high for the rest of us.