Wednesday, April 23, 2014

On getting one more day

"Have you ever lost someone you love and wanted one more conversation, one more chance to make up for the time when you thought they would be here forever? If so, then you know you can go your whole life collecting days, and none will outweigh the one you wish you had back." 
Mitch Albom, For One More Day
Mr. Albom is, without exception, one of the finest writers on the planet today. If you haven't read his work, which includes the seminal Tuesdays with Morrie, you've been missing out.

This passage begs one obvious question: Do you have a day you wish you could get back?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

No traffic. Yet.

Clear roads ahead?
Shanghai, China
May 2012
For more chaotic Thematic, head here
I grew up in Montreal, so I learned to drive on pothole-infested roads crawling with some of the world's most aggressive drivers. It should have prepared me for pretty much anything, yet one look at the zoo that is Shanghai traffic and I was just as glad to not be at the wheel.

I guess there are different forms of "aggressive" in different parts of the world, and from the looks of it, I really didn't want to tangle with the roads here.

So I did the next best thing and shot out the window as we made our way into town from the airport. This is not an overcast day, by the way. It's smog. And I'm guessing I breathed in a lifetime's worth of pollutants in the short time I was there. Yum!

FWIW, the green-lit sign here was a lie: traffic stopped dead not three minutes after we passed this sign. I'm guessing it's some kind of government policy to keep people happy, even if it has no remote connection to reality.

In that regard, it sounds shockingly like the mean streets of Montreal. Maybe we're more alike, after all.

Your turn: Your worst-ever traffic story is/was...?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Thematic Photographic 291 - Chaotic

Nature's Randomness
Drumbo, ON
June 2013
This week's Thematic theme, chaotic, is designed to recognize the unpredictable nature of the world around us. Maybe it's just me, but things on this planet seem to be accelerating, often in every different direction, and simply keeping track of it all can be a challenge.

And so it goes photographically. Which is why I hope we can capture some chaotic moments over the next week. Who's in.

Your turn: Shoot a chaotic shot and share it on your blog, website or social media presence. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the photographic love, and feel free to pop by through the week if you've got anything new to add - we encourage serial photography around here. For more info on how Thematic works, click here. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Streaking through the night-time sky

Almost close enough to touch
Way over London, ON
April 2014
Life is full of simple pleasures. Like when the Heavens Above website tells you that tonight's International Space Station overflight will put on an especially bright show (-3.0 mag in London) for anyone who takes the time to head outside and look up. So you grab your camera and tripod, rustle the kids and wander across the street to the dark spot under the trees that's just right for spotting and shooting.

In the 10 or so minutes before the dot first appears high overhead, they ask endless questions about what they're seeing overhead. Planets? Stars? Why do they twinkle? How far away are they? Are there any other satellites up there that we should be looking for? How will we know we're seeing it when we see it?

We discuss the observational differences between airplanes and satellites, and the optical mess known as the atmosphere. We talk about how big the station is, who lives on it, and why we still wave despite the fact that they can't see us so far below. I listen to their chatter, and realize they know infinitely more at their age than I knew way back when.

Finally they spot the moving dot low on the horizon as it emerges from a stand of trees. It brightens as it silently climbs toward us. The Dragon capsule, which launched from Cape Canaveral yesterday on top of a Falcon 9 (SpaceX page, wiki) rocket and is scheduled for rendez-vous tomorrow at 7:14 a.m. ET, isn't visible here. But we still know it's there, chasing the station through the inky blackness, and we make plans to gather around the laptop in the morning to watch the capture and docking.

I shoot as many 15-second exposures as I possibly can. Not because a smudge of light on a dark background makes for a particularly compelling photo. But because I want them to be able to look at the picture someday and feel what it was like to be outside on this night. Because photos make it easier to relive moments you don't want to forget.

In the overall scheme of things, I realize it's a moment that doesn't necessarily shake the earth. We gathered on a dark sidewalk on a cold, clear night and stared up at a moving white spot of light in the sky for a few fleeting minutes before it flew into the planet's shadow and winked out. But I'd like to think our kids somehow added to their growing list of life experiences. No matter how small they may be, when they all get added up someday, I hope they find them meaningful. And I hope their future is filled many more moments on sidewalks.

Your turn: Got a small memory from your own childhood?

On the need for chaos

"You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star."
Friedrich Nietzsche

Well, that explains a whole lot.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Chew on this...

Snack time
London, ON
April 2014
Thematic. Hungry. Here.
The puffy confections you see here are known as Forgotten Kisses. My late mother-in-law taught my wife to make these, and that's what she called them. So the name stuck.

I can't quite explain what they taste like beyond light and airy, with little bits of chocolate in 'em. Nutritious? Not even close. But as a rare treat from my wife's kitchen, they're a reminder that foods that have, ah, less than ideal nutritional makeup can be just as healthy for you as anything you'd get in the fruit-and-vegetable aisle.

Because the soul needs nourishing, too. And who better to make it happen than your mom?

Your turn: What was the most special dish from your childhood?

On darkness, light, and loss

"It's so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone."
John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent
I can't imagine what it must be like to have never had...anything...to begin with. I'm okay with the losing-it part, largely because we essentially have no choice. But that doesn't mean I'll ever get used to it.

This life thing isn't so easy, after all.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Radio days

It's no secret that conventional media outlets are experiencing historic difficulties. Plummeting advertising revenues and increasingly fractured audiences are challenging newspapers, television stations and radio outlets as never before. The Internet's ruthless ability to deconstruct legacy industries continues, and conventional media continues to do itself no favors by ignoring the threat for as long as it has.

Radio isn't immune from the grind, as local stations across the country grapple with the need to do more with less. Once fully-staffed facilities can look like ghost towns after successive waves of layoffs and downsizings. Listeners looking for voices of stability and reason have been repeatedly disappointed as their favorites are time and again shown the door.

This week, the merry-go-round claimed two of this region's best. And unlike past layoffs where I've shrugged my shoulders and explained it away as "one of those things," I feel compelled to share my thoughts this time out.

On Monday, a producer from 570 News in Kitchener reached out to me to book an interview with Gary Doyle. Gary's been in the biz for close to 3 decades, and has become a mentor to me as I've built my own practice as a journalist and analyst. I frequently speak with him on-air about tech stuff, and have always enjoyed how he "does" an interview. It isn't about the Q&A. He really speaks to you. Really cares about the topic. Makes it personal. Real. He's the kind of interviewer I've always wanted to be. The kind of guy I've been listening to ever since I can remember so I can learn how it's done right.

I agreed to the interview and we set up a time for Tuesday morning. As I've often done, I dropped it onto my calendar and went back to my regularly scheduled programming.

Late that evening, however, the producer emailed me letting me know Gary wouldn't be in, so someone else would be doing the hit. No biggie, I thought, as I dashed off a reply, hoping Gary wasn't down with a cold or something similar.

When I did a quick scan of social media, however, I saw a snippet that Jeff Allan, Gary's colleague and another longtime guide-figure to me, had been laid off. And sure enough by the next morning, Gary had confirmed online that he, too, had been shown the door.

I get that radio station leads make business decisions all the time, but forgive me if I disagree with the logic behind this particular move. Eventually, a community reaches the point at which it can no longer stand idly by and watch while corner office-dwellers in distant locales - 570 News is owned by Rogers, a massive telecom conglomerate based in Toronto - make remote control decisions that upset the lives of people they've likely never even met. I'm willing to bet whoever pulled the trigger on Gary's and Jeff's jobs never even listened to the show, never even spoke with a listener to understand why they tuned in every day, never bothered to give a damn about the after-effects of their spreadsheet-based decision.

Since this news went public, social media has been scorched with ticked off listeners who are sick of being left out of an equation that sells their loyalty to advertisers. And understandably so. Because if good people continue to be shuffled into oblivion and content continues to be winnowed down to the point of irrelevance, maybe that loyalty needs a bit of a rethink. And maybe this industry needs a rethink, as well.

Wherever Gary and Jeff end up, I hope I continue to be in a position to find some way to work with them again. They're really that good. But in light of who calls the shots in a business where doing the right thing - with the right people, and for the right reason - doesn't seem to matter now as much as it once did, I fear we're fighting a losing battle for the next generation of broadcasters, of folks like Gary and Jeff, and anyone else who still thinks radio (and, let's face it, TV, newspapers and magazines) is a value-added contributor to the life of a community.

The dark forces won this week, and I wish I knew how to finally beat them back into the cave where they belong.

Thoughts?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Heartbleed continues: RCMP charge 19-year-old London man

This is just breaking now: the RCMP have charged a 19-year-old London, Ontario man, Stephen Arthuro Solis-Reyes, in connection with the breach of 900 Social Insurance Numbers from the Canada Revenue Agency website.

More to come...

Cat needs a new home

Gang, I'd like you to meet Mickey. As you can see from these photos, she's a healthy - okay, very healthy - cat who clearly leads a very charmed life. She's around 10 years-old, and up until now she's been owned by our good friend's mom.

Sadly, this furry little girl needs to find a new home soon. Ideally, it'll be someone in the London or broader southwestern Ontario region, and someone who clearly loves cats as much as her current owner does.

Mickey is healthy, spayed, and her shots are all up-to-date. If you know of anyone who can adopt her, please either let me know - leave a comment here - or feel free to forward the link to this blog entry along.

Thanks for your help. As you know, I've got a soft spot for pets, especially when they come from great families who just can't keep them anymore. I know that somewhere in our 'hood, there's a lovely new family just waiting to welcome Mickey into their home.

Meow.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

On pursuing passion

"I would rather die of passion than of boredom."
Vincent van Gogh
I had an interesting discussion with a friend the other day about finding work that feeds the soul. And as we were chatting I realized too few of us are doing that. We're letting ourselves slide into the groove of doing stuff for the sake of doing stuff, without ever feeling - really feeling - anything remotely approaching passion.

The prospect of this saddens me for a whole lot of reasons, primarily because we haven't been given enough days to fritter them away on nothingness. Pursuing your passion may indeed expose you to a greater degree of risk - of falling flat on your face, of losing what you had in the first place, of diverging from the path that others may have laid out for you, whatever - but never taking steps toward whatever it is that fuels your soul strikes me as the greatest risk of all.

Your turn: What feeds your passion?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Thematic Photographic 290 - Hungry?

Dog. No blanket.
London, ON
March 2014
No need to state the obvious - but I'll do it anyway because that's what I do: This is a weird picture. I shot it because I was sitting at the kitchen table with our daughter, and I got it into my head that I wanted to have a little fun with her. Because she's that kind of kid, and I'm that kind of dad.

And it occurred to me that I haven't been shooting food lately as much as I used to. Which made me sad. Because food photography - dare I call it food porn? - is one of the more interesting subsets of photography, and one that connects nicely with all of us. Because we all have to eat. And we all need a reason or two to smile.

Your turn: Find some food, shoot it, share it, comment here. Visit others. Repeat through the week. Click here for more background on how Thematic Photographic works. And enjoy. Because photography should always be something we enjoy whether we're in front of or behind the lens, and whether or not we're eating at the time.

Someone at US Airways is getting fired...

...or has already been fired.

This after someone with access to the airline's Twitter account tweeted a lewd photo this afternoon in response to a customer complaint. The customer started the ball rolling by tweeting this at the airline: "You ruined my spring break, I want some free stuff." And the airline responded with, let's not mince words, porn.

I won't link to the pic because it's highly NSFW, involving a woman doing something with a model plane that no model plane should ever have to endure. But I'm guessing it's still floating around Google's index. And probably will be forever. Add another chapter to my ever-lengthening manual of things I wish I never had to explain to my kids, but now have to.

Social media's ability to turn a small chunk of data into an immediate viral sensation is well known. So is its ability to ruin a career with one finger on a touchscreen or click of a mouse. Good times.

After another day chasing Heartbleed fallout, it was nice to end the day with a much-needed laugh. Well, at least we're laughing. Can't say the same for whoever was running the airline's Twitter account today.

Related links:
US Airways Just Tweeted Out One Of The Most Graphic Things You’ve Ever Seen A Brand Tweet (BuzzFeed)
US Airways apologizes for lewd photo sent via Twitter (USA Today)
Bad day? At least you're not running the US Airways Twitter account (Globe & Mail)
38 Priceless Twitter Reactions to That NSFW US Airways Tweet (Mashable)

Heartbleed...first security breach confirmed

I've been saying all along that it's only a matter of time before web administrators report back that user data had been compromised as a result of the Heartbleed bug.

Simply put, Heartbleed left the front door unlocked. We weren't sure, however, if anyone had walked in the door and taken anything.

Now we know. The Canada Revenue Agency today confirmed that approximately 900 Social Insurance Numbers belonging to Canadian taxpayers were breached during a six-hour period. The agency continues to investigate if additional data was compromised, as well. Full statement here.

What does it mean? This is the first of many such announcements. When two-thirds of the world's web servers are affected by a weakness like this, the mathematics make it virtually inevitable that more breaches will be reported in the days and weeks to come. Because hackers never met a weakness they couldn't try to exploit.

Human nature, I guess.

More to come...

Updates;
  • I spoke with CTV News Channels Jacqueline Milczarek at 9 a.m. Video here.
  • Frances Horodelski interviewed me for her show, Business Day, on BNN.
  • Chatted live with CP24's Karman Wong.
  • Spoke with Sun News Network's Pat Bolland and Gina Phillips.
  • Interviewed by CBC News Network's Reshmi Nair.
  • Spoke with Russ Courtney from NewsTalk 1010 Toronto, Al Coombs from 1290 CJBK London, Trudie Mason and Aaron Rand from Montreal's CJAD 800, Dean Recksiedler from News1130 in Vancouver, and Richard Cloutier from 680 CJOB in Winnipeg.
I'm percolating other snippets of coverage as we speak, and will add them here as the day plays out.

Additional perspectives to keep in mind:
  • We saw this coming and it was only a matter of time before the first Heartbleed-related breach was reported. This is a warning sign to all businesses that they'd better batten down the security hatches. We - companies, individuals, governments, etc. - just aren't spending enough on security-related tools, infrastructure, people and processes. And Heartbleed is the price we pay for this priority mismatch.
  • The CRA is reporting 900 SINs were compromised. Dollars to donuts that number grows in the days to come, and it won't be limited to SINs, either. It's like boiling the frog: start slow and gradually raise the temperature.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

3 dead in Jewish center shootings

Just when you think the world isn't sufficiently depraved...

A gunman shot at least three people to death in two separate shootings this afternoon at Jewish community facilities in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park. Police say two people died at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City campus in Overland Park, and one person died at the Village Shalom assisted living facility a few blocks away. (Story from KSHB Kansas City). A 15-year-old boy is in critical condition.

As the suspect was taken into custody, reports say he said "heil Hitler."

Story link here
You'll pardon me if this hits a little close to home. Our little town has a JCC, as well, and my family and I practically live on the campus that includes the center, a seniors' apartment building, a school, and a synagogue. Just this afternoon, probably around the time this idiot was hunting people down, I was parking my car in our local JCC's parking lot. Our kids often idly wonder about the police cars parked across the way, or the officers who stand guard during festivals or times of raised international tensions or threats. And just like I felt when I was their age, they feel vulnerable. All because they're Jews.

So you'll also pardon me if I shake my head at the growing intolerance that seems to be spreading into every nook and cranny of this planet. I grew up surrounded by enough people who hated me not because they knew anything about me - they didn't - but for the simple fact that I was a Jew. I grew up surrounded by the first-hand stories of those who had survived the Holocaust. I grew up surrounded by those who deny any of this is a problem. I go online today and witness it each and every day.

Well here's the thing: It remains very much a problem. And today, some psycho came looking for the Jews. Tomorrow, I'm quite certain they'll come looking for anyone else - maybe even you.

Update - 11:25 pm ET: Officials have confirmed the suspect is one Frazier Glenn Cross, and he will face charges of pre-meditated first degree murder when he makes his first court appearance in the morning. Here's the snippet from the CNN piece:
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, described Cross as a longtime, "raging anti-Semite" who has posted extensively in an online forum that advocates exterminating Jews.
And here's more from CNN.

Related:
KCTV5 CBS Kansas City
Associated Press
Reddit 2014 mass shooting tracker

On the meaning of family

"Family means no one gets left behind or forgotten."
David Ogden Stiers
Nice sentiment. If only more of us followed it.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Instagram is down. World stops.

After a week of never-ending computer-related craziness thanks to something that meant absolutely nothing to most of us barely seven days ago (cough, Heartbleed, cough), we face an online tragedy of unprecedented impact.

Yes, folks, Instagram is apparently down.

The popular photo sharing and tagging service, now owned by Facebook, mysteriously stopped functioning earlier this morning. To no one's surprise, Twitter and Facebook have exploded with chatter from users who seem to have no clue what to do with themselves now.

May I make a suggestion? Go outside. Walk the dog. Call your mom. Grab a few cables and give them a really good yank. Enjoy life.

Because it doesn't always revolve around an app. And joy isn't necessarily exclusively derived from random assemblies of broadband-fed pixels.

With that, I'm off. Back soon. Or maybe later. Whenever.

Al Jazeera!

So I had an interesting interview yesterday.

With Al Jazeera.

(!)

I spoke with correspondent Daniel Lak about the - say it with me - Heartbleed vulnerability.
Video is here: Heartbleed bug shuts down Canadian websites
Story is here: Governments warn of Heartbleed bug threat
I'm guessing my rather tumultuous world of journalism world grew a little bit this week. I've long called this journey of mine somewhat surreal and  more than a little blessed. After this latest neat piece of news, I'm starting to think that I may be right.

What a ride.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The busy signal fades to silence

Click graphic to enlarge
I'm pretty lucky in a whole lot of ways. First, I'm here. Never underestimate the power of simply being on this planet. Next, I'm able to communicate. I say or write stuff, and for reasons that still make no sense to me - but for which I am eternally grateful - folks listen and respond. You can touch people with words, and that's an immensely gratifying thing.

So when I idly tapped out this tweet late last week and hit the send button, I didn't give much thought to it. I had just called someone and got a busy signal - a simple moment, really, and likely not one worth holding onto. But I held onto it anyway because I'm guessing my brain works in weird ways.
And as I held the phone to my ear and listened to the repeating tone, I realized I hadn't heard it in ages. I froze, not quite sure what to do next. As a pondered the absurdity of it all, I slowly realized that something fundamental had changed, yet I was too busy with everything else to have even noticed.

Thankfully my friend Dan Brown wasn't too busy. He writes for the London Free Press, and in short order had pulled together a pitch for an article and reached out to me for comment. We chatted about what it meant, and almost by osmosis - I think he reads minds - the theme almost seemed to form itself. I've posted his article here, and you can find it online here, as well: Busy signal - a blast from the past.

All of this has made me wonder. Because it's been an overwhelmingly difficult week and I find myself looking for touchstones, for opportunities to think about where all of this chaos and uncertainty fits. And here's what I've managed to come up with:

There's a subtlety to the evolution of technology, and its effect on our everyday life, that we tend to ignore. We respond intelligently to email while we fill the grocery cart. We keep projects moving forward even when we're nowhere near civilization. What used to have to wait until we were back in the office at a "real" computer can now be quickly taken care of on a device we carry in our hand.

In the middle of a frenetic day of activity yesterday, I sprinted back to my car after an interview and paused before I got in to send an email before I got back on the road. As I madly thumb-typed an answer that I hoped would lock in my next couple of assignments, I remembered that just a few short years ago I would have had to drive home first and hope I hadn't missed anything "while I was out." Well, "while you were out" is no longer part of our lexicon, and the busy signal, that stalwart dividing line between available and not available, is now more of a curiosity than anything else, something that elicits a crinkled brow from my kids. And apparently from me, as well.

Part of me wishes we did more to hold onto more pieces of our technological legacy. I'm starting to feel more reverent toward the things that once defined us but have since been replaced. It happens so quickly and subtly that I fear we're losing pieces of ourselves in the process.

I wonder what else will soon join the busy signal in that slow fade to history. And I wonder if we'll take the time to notice that it's gone.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Jim Flaherty has passed away

Canada is an interesting place. Our celebrity culture doesn't tend to revolve around spray-tanned entertainers. Instead, we revere hockey players, songwriters, authors, and politicians.

On that last one, we may despise an individual's particular spectrum of political beliefs, but we always find a way to admire the conviction and passion that the individual brings to the table. It's why Members of Parliament can battle - often physically - on the floor of the House of Commons, yet somehow come together when the universe dictates humanity.

Sadly, they'll be coming together sooner than anyone had hoped. Former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty died today at the age of 64. He resigned his post and resigned from politics less than a month ago, and was replaced by Joe Oliver. He had been Finance Minister for eight years, an eternity in this role, and managed to pilot the country through the worst of the recession with a fairly steady hand. I was privileged to follow his career, and wrote often about him, his policies, and their impact on the tech space.

Mr. Flaherty represented the Conservatives, and whether you "got" his political leanings or not, he was a leader who managed to keep everything in balance when leaders around the world were seemingly losing their grasp.

He'll be missed, and may his memory influence others to pursue the steady, righteous course.

Related links:
Jim Flaherty Was a Man Whose Humanity Trumped His Politics, Glen Pearson, The Huffington Post