Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Would you recognize a stroke?

Today is World Stroke Day. I usually don't write about special days like this on the blog, primarily because there's pretty much a day for everything, and I'd never cover them all if I decided to start writing about them here.

Still, this one's personal. And after giving a lunchtime talk about assistive technology - AT - for folks with disabilities at our library's downtown branch today, I realized how profoundly all of this applies to me.

I touched on my stroke - somewhat strange at first given the fact that I was chatting with complete strangers - because it felt like the right thing to do, and an ideal means of springboarding the discussion. What followed was a lively, interactive hour that opened my eyes to the realities of figuring out how to live in today's world when parts of you may not necessarily be fully functional.

Last year I learned firsthand what it's like to lose critical functions - in my case, I couldn't speak, and my right side was paralyzed. I also learned how lucky I was to get it all back with little more than lingering dizziness as a reminder. I can live with a bit of wonkiness in my vestibular system, but I can't shake the realization that it could have just as easily gone the other way.

Since I began sharing my experience with a wider audience, I've heard from countless people who learned the hard way that ignoring the symptoms can lead to tragic results. From the moment a stroke occurs, you've got a four-hour - give or take - window to seek treatment. The sooner you act, the less damage is caused. But if you wave it off, you miss that window. It kills me to think of all the people I now know who chose to ignore the signs. Some died, while others were permanently disabled.

I'm sharing news of World Stroke Day because I don't want anyone to ignore the symptoms, and I don't want anyone to have to live with the consequences of not seeking immediate medical attention. It can touch us all, at any age, no matter how fit we might be. Stroke crosses all demographic lines, and is increasingly showing up in otherwise young and healthy people. Like me.

Tomorrow won't be World Stroke Day, but the need for awareness will be just as acute. Please keep it on your radar, and please talk with your close family and friends to ensure you all know what to look for, and what to do.

Only in health...

On the lost concept of simplicity

"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated."
Confucius

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Rocket science is hard

Make no mistake: launching rockets will never be routine. Whenever you put massive amounts of highly explosive fuel into a machine, then light it, there's always a chance that something unplanned will happen.

Challenger and Columbia drove that lesson home all too tragically in 1986 and 2003, respectively. Both space shuttle accidents claimed 14 lives and reaffirmed just how much is at stake every time we light the wick and head towards the heavens.

The U.S. space program suffered another setback tonight when an Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket, with a Cygnus cargo vehicle loaded with supplies and experiments destined for the International Space Station, exploded six seconds after liftoff from the seaside Wallops Launch Facility in Virginia (video here.)

Thankfully no one was killed or injured. Insurance companies can figure out what was lost and cut checks to the appropriate companies, and engineers can figure out what went wrong and make changes to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Whatever that "it" is that caused the accident we don't yet know. And when it's discovered and refined to the point that it no longer exists, it's a given that some other "it" will lurk, silently, until someday it, too, causes another accident. There's no such thing as risk-free spaceflight.

The flight, officially known as Orb-3, was part of NASA's plan to privatize cargo deliveries to low earth orbit, which would free it to focus on deep space missions (Orion's first test flight, EFT-1, atop a Delta IV Heavy, is scheduled to fly next month.) Sadly, the accident will cast a shadow over NASA's strategy, and yet again the beleaguered and budget-challenged space agency will have to devote resources to fighting off the naysayers.

They'll trot out the old familiar arguments - spending on space is a waste when the money is needed back on Earth, nobody benefits from it, etc. - and politicians who understand little about what's really at stake will bend to the voters' will. Democracy at its best.

No one ever said it would be easy. But nothing worthwhile ever happens if we simply walk away at the first speed bump. The next flight already awaits.

Your turn: Rocket flight...worth it or not?

Jian Ghomeshi - A very Canadian scandal

The other day, I wrote this on the blog about the former host of CBC Radio's Q, Jian Ghomeshi. And, since the Interwebs work a certain way (sex scandal + Internet = moths to flame) this site was slaughtered with traffic for a while. It's somewhat funny what tickles folks to read stuff, no?

I noodled the idea a little more and wrote this for Yahoo Canada:
Jian Ghomeshi: Did the CBC cross the line as an employer?
And sure enough, if the volume of comments is any indication, more folks have been tickled.

If this raises awareness of violence against women and bullying, then it'll end up being, on balance, a good thing. I doubt anyone directly involved in this mess would fully agree with me on that, but I've got to believe that there's a greater good here.

Your turn: What's an employer's role or responsibility when an employee's outside-the-office behavior crosses a line?

Monday, October 27, 2014

Thematic Photographic 314 - Round and round

Who's thirsty?
London, ON
October 2014
It's been a while since we did the geometry thing for a Thematic theme, so we're going to touch on round objects this week. As you can tell from this photo, I've been playing with my camera - actually my BlackBerry* - at the dinner table again. Funny how a little light and a simple glass filled with water can make for an interesting still life study. What's that they say about small minds?

Your turn: Take a picture that evokes or otherwise supports this week's theme, round and round, and post it to your blog or website. Leave a comment here to let everyone else know where to find it. Visit other participants to elevate everyone's collective sense of fun. Feel free to share additional photos throughout the week, and everyone's encouraged to bring a new friend along. If you're new to Thematic, head here to learn more about how it works. If you tweet, use this hashtag: #ThematicPhotographic. Otherwise, enjoy, and thanks!

* For the record, it's a Passport. In a word, epic.

On the outside looking in

Not a health food store
London, ON
October 2014
There's a convenience store near the house. I admit we don't come here often, as between the prices (you pay for the convenience) and selection (healthy? Not quite) it's pretty much a store you use for emergencies only.

Still, as I wandered past one night last week on a walk with the dog, I couldn't help but notice the fluorescent light pouring out of its locked facade. The scene struck me as particularly sad-looking, the kind of thing that's all too common in an urban or suburban setting, but something we aren't especially proud of. Somehow, humanity can do better than this.

Despite my neo-artistic misgivings, the pool of light spilling our into the parking lot attracts my eye every time the pup and I walk past. Maybe there's hope for these places after all.

* Thought I'd slip in one last look at night-time photography - head here to share yours - because I've rather enjoyed this week's theme and hope you have, too. Our new one goes live at 7 p.m. Eastern. What will it be? Good question. What would you like it to be?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Jian Ghomeshi and you

I've been listening to Jian Ghomeshi for as long as he's been associated with the CBC. His interview style, honed on his national show, Q, is an almost otherworldly mix of the familiar and the probing. I wish I could "do" radio like he does radio, wish I could talk to people with the focused ease that he seems to bring to any conversation.

Doesn't matter if he's talking to rock royalty, actual royalty, or some guy we had never heard of until the mic went on. Whoever the guest and whatever the topic, you know it'll be a worthwhile thing to listen to simply because he's the guy with the baton, and the guy who's helping the guest tell his/her story in ways no other interviewer could manage.

All that seems to have blown up in an uncharacteristically un-Canadian manner this weekend with news that the CBC has let him go, and that he is suing the broadcaster for $50 million. In an explanatory post (here), he goes into rather painful and sordid detail about what may be behind the latest turn of events.

I'm no judge, and I won't get involved in breathless social media speculation over who said what, who's right and who's wrong. That's for the courts, the lawyers, the HR experts, arbitrators and union officials to work out in the weeks and months to come.

But my feelings as a journalist need not wait that long. For now, a major Canadian media voice has been silenced, apparently over allegations that have yet to be proven in a court of law, and that apparently revolve around behaviors that might make a lot of Canadians uncomfortable.

It makes me wonder what a vengeful ex-anyone might dig up if they dug deeply into my own private life, and how that might affect my own professional trajectory (for the record, they'd find an incredibly boring pile of nothingness, but still, that's not the point. What matters is that anyone has this kind of power over anyone else in the first place.)

In the age of social media, expect the number of victims of this kind of thing to increase over time. Whether the allegations are founded or unfounded is almost irrelevant. The fact that they can be made in the first place, and fanned with relative ease in today's online forum, should make us all afraid that the same thing can happen to us.

More man, less child

Once, long ago
London, ON
June 1998
He's always been our little man, but today he somehow seems that much less so. Zach, our firstborn, turned 20 today. Which, I'll admit, freaks me out a little bit because, well, 20!

It seems like just yesterday that he fought his way into the world, just yesterday that we were settling into our home in the Montreal burbs with him, just yesterday that we sold that house and drove through a winter storm's aftermath to a strange faraway city to start a new life, and just yesterday that he became a big brother to Dahlia and then, again, to Noah.

In many respects, the story of us wouldn't be the story of us without the story of him. And he now looms over us all as he figures out this world thing and takes one step after another toward the man he is destined to be.

He is smart, funny and very sweet. He has a personality that fills a room and sticks with whoever's there long after everyone's gone their separate ways. He's well on his way toward putting his own ding in the universe, and it leaves me wondering why time has to move so quickly.

I guess when life is good, there's never enough time. Happy birthday, little almost-grown man.

Your turn: What do you wish Zach as he begins another decade?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

As the day slips below the horizon


Say goodbye, for now
Grand Bend, ON
July 2014
For more night-themed Thematic, click here
My wife and I have evolved a bit of a tradition around our wedding anniversary. If circumstances allow, we take the day off and head for the beach. We don't do anything formal: We just spend a quiet day in a place that has always resonated with us, where the land ends and the water begins.

I think the disconnected vibe of it all serves as a handy reminder to us that life can, and should, be a simpler affair than modern society has made it out to be. Because when you take away the packed schedules, the never-ending deadlines, the pressure to deliver this before immediately diving into that, what really matters is time. And ensuring we use some of that time to reconnect with each other, whoever those "each others" may be.

This year, we lingered on the beach a little longer than usual, and as the sun slipped beneath the faraway horizon line and the sand beneath our feet turned colder with the arrival of the shadow of night, I thought about the simple joys of being with the right person at the right time in the right place.

When the sun disappeared for good, I looked over at her and said a quiet thanks that she gets it, and that she picked me. And I resolved to not wait until next year's anniversary to try to repeat, or at least enjoy, the moment.

Your turn: How do you enjoy small moments?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Where the sidewalk ends

Watch your step
London, ON
October 2014
Head here for more night-themed Thematic
A time-worn sidewalk beside a similarly time-worn parking lot probably doesn't top most photographers' must-shoot lists, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth a second look. Or even a third.

Come to think of it, maybe there's a broader lesson in there. Maybe there's a reason my dog decided to turn left instead of right on this particular walk.

I should follow his lead more often, as he seems to know where he's going.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Vandalism that inspires

Putting my foot on the truth
London, ON
October 2014

‎I normally don't advocate defacing public property. Come to think of it, I don't advocate defacing private property, either. But as I was heading back to my car in the parking structure beside my office last night, I was stopped dead in my tracks by this ink-scribbled missive on the bottom stair.

In the wake of yesterday's trauma in our national capital (see here if you're just joining us), perhaps more spontaneous vandalism like this might add some good karma to the universe. I often wonder if the individuals who commit these crimes - radicalized, disconnected, hopeless - would have been influenced in some way by seemingly little things like this.

Would they have been stopped in their tracks, too? Would they have decided to change direction, perhaps return to a peaceful, community-minded life? We'll never know, but there's someone out there in London, armed with a Sharpie, who seems intent on finding out. Whoever you are, you have my thanks for at least trying to change the landscape. And us.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ottawa shooting: Making sense of that which makes no sense

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"
Fred Rogers
I've got to hand it to Mr. Rogers, as he always had a way of cutting big stuff down to size and restoring that sense of comfort that seemed to insulate my childhood from the nastiness just outside. Every time something would threaten that delightful cocoon, a little time with him - well, his televised persona - seemed to fix whatever had caused that breach to occur.

Today, these are just words. They do nothing to fix what happened in our nation's capital today. They don't bring back the life of a Canadian soldier, Nathan Cirillo, shot in cold blood as he stood guard at the National War Memorial. They don't undo images of police sweeping through our House of Parliament as deafening gunshots ring out - the police bravely continuing into harm's way, the journalist bravely continuing to shoot the surreal scene.

This is not the Canada I know. Things like this aren't supposed to happen here. Yet, now, they do. And we are forever changed because of it.

Maybe the blissful sense of contentedness that marked my childhood and seemed to extend into my very Canadian adulthood is no longer as blissfully content as it once was. Maybe the outside world - of terrorists, of those who wish us ill because of who we are, of those to whom freedom is something to be hated and forcibly taken away from others instead of protected and aspired to - leaked in today, and we'll never fully sweep it back from where it first came.

But I'll go back to the inimitable words of Mr. Rogers, because there always has to be hope. And despite the growing threat to our sacrosanct freedoms posed by those who seem to play by their own murderous, life-hating rules, tonight I'll tell my kids that they should always look for those who help. And to fashion their own lives so that they, too, will become those individuals who seek to become those helpers, running toward peril, when everyone else would be running for safety.

Update:

I'll be talking live with NewsTalk 1010 Toronto's John Moore tomorrow (Thursday morning) at 6:40 a.m. Topic: Technology's role in the events of today, and whether online tools like Google Maps (here's an interactive map of every building on Parliament Hill) made it easy for the gunman.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Thematic Photographic 313 - When night falls

Scary place to be
London, ON
October 2014
The creeping advance of autumn brings with it two rather cruel truths:
  1. Peak color has come and gone, leaving a swirling mess of brown leaves and grey landscapes in its wake
  2. Nightfall comes ever earlier with each passing day
I don't say this to depress anyone. It just is. And as the planet moves through another phase of its yearly dance, it's simply something I'd rather notice and record, in some way, than ignore and miss all the fun.

Since it's only a matter of time before we both leave and return home in total darkness, I thought we'd embrace that fact with this week's Thematic theme, "When night falls."

Your turn: Grab a night-themed shot, post it to your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the photographic fun. Feel free to share additional pics through the week, and don't be shy to pull a friend into the fray. I hear they like that kind of thing. For more info on how Thematic works, head here. Enjoy, and thanks!

Can I have a lift to choir practice?

Our daughter has been part of her high school choir since she first got to the school. It's been an incredible experience for her, and it's become one of those things we wish she could bottle up and take with her after she graduates.

As any parent of a child in choir - or hockey, or swimming, or any other activity that involves showing up - knows, early morning practice is part of the deal. As they commit to pre-dawn wake-up calls, so, too, do mom and dad to making sure they get there on time.

Every time there's a concert or music night at school, her music teachers take a moment to thank parents and caregivers for driving them to early-morning practices and otherwise ensuring they get up and out of the house on time. But if we're being realistic, I don't understand why we need to be thanked in the first place.

The reality is I can't imagine it being any other way. The years where I'll be able to drive them to school, or pick them up from a program, or otherwise make sure they make it from Place A to Place B within Timeframe C are, as we all know, remarkably brief. The driving and more-complex-than-an-aircraft-carrier-deck scheduling are part of the deal we make when we decide to become parents in the first place, and I admit I rather enjoy being part of the barely-controlled chaos.

So this week, as she stepped out of the car and into the chilly early morning darkness, I waited and watched her as I always do until she made it inside and disappeared up the stairs. It's her last year of high school, so I've got a limited number of these early morning minutes with her before she moves into another chapter of her life.

And after she's gone to her final choir practice, I'll have plenty of opportunity to sleep in. But I admit I'll miss the early alarms, the quiet discussions as we get our stuff together in the kitchen, the feeling of dark chill that settles over us as we open the front door and step outside and head over to the car in the driveway.

If anything, I should thank her for the opportunity to have moments like these. I'll miss them when they're gone.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The view from the anchor desk

All eyes on you
London, ON
September 2013
I admit I lead a pretty charmed life. I get to do work I love, surrounded by a family I adore, supported by incredible friends and a community that's always felt like home. And I've got a pretty neat dog.

And in between all this fun, I get to hang out in some really cool places, with some really cool people. For example, this place. The picture is taken from the anchor's chair at CTV London. If you're wondering what it looks like to deliver the evening news, this is it.

Don't worry: I'm not about to become an anchor (pity London viewers if I ever do!) But I drop into this remarkable place often enough that every once in a while I get to do an interview from this location instead of the secondary studio that's way down the hall just right-of-center of this shot.

And when I do anything on-air, my laptop and iPad, like high-tech security blankets, are never too far away. I don't actually use them when the red light goes on. But finalizing my notes in the few minutes before we go live, and knowing they're nearby, is often all that I need to feel just right as the conversation gets underway.

There are so many moving parts to doing an interview that sometimes it just makes sense for me to sit in the big chair, where I get to follow in some very big, very accomplished footsteps. While it looks a little terrifying at first glance, the reality is that this place has become something of a second home to me, and it's easy to do what I do when I'm surrounded by the best in the business.

Your turn: Is there one place on the planet that frightens you? What is it, and why?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A dog dreams

‎I often wonder what goes through our little guy's mind. He seems outwardly happy, but his complete absence of English skills keeps us from being absolutely sure. If only I could travel, Magic School Bus-style, into his canine brain to observe, first-hand, what's really going on in there.

Or I could steal a picture of him while he naps and leave reality for another time. Sometimes it's good enough to simply wonder about what might be.

Sleep well, sweet Frasier.

Your turn: Three words...go!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Stairway to not-heaven

Don't. Drop. It.
London, ON
October 2014
For more Thematic patterns, go here
I'm not afraid of heights, per se. I can sit in an airplane all day and be as comfortable seven miles above the countryside as I am at my kitchen table. But scenes like this weird me out. Especially when I'm the one leaning over the opening in the middle of the staircase and looking down.

I think it has to do with whether or not I'm inside the thing. Plane? Yes. Here? Not so much. Maybe there's a little worry about dropping the smartphone down the middle, as well. So despite the fact that we're looking at "only" 11 storeys of vertical space here, it's enough to give me pause. I grabbed the shot and beat a hasty retreat before gravity had its way with me.

Already I can see opportunities to improve on this initial treatment of the subject. So a return trip is already churning in my head. And you can bet I'll be as freaked out then as I was here.

It's what we do to get the shot.

Your turn: What do you do to get the shot?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Railroad to infinity

Never ending
London, ON
August 2014
For more patterned Thematic, head here
Never mind the fact that positioning yourself on a set of railroad tracks to get the shot is probably not the safest thing to do. But I figured I'd hear and feel an approaching train long enough before its arrival to get myself out of harm's way.

The double-standard for my kids, however, still applies. They are so busted if they ever come home with anything like this on their memory cards.

Your turn: Where does this track lead?