Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Publish Day - of kids & vacation

Hi everyone. I hope you're all busy making plans for New Year's Eve and beyond. Please do tell what you're up to.

Today's column, published in the London Free Press, pretty much confirms where we've been and what we've been doing for the past little while. I thought the journey mattered almost as much as - if not more than - the destination, hence the piece, Vacation drive burns into kids' memories.

Tomorrow we set off on the return trip. I hope it'll be just as memorable as the trek down.

Be home soon.

--
DEERFIELD BEACH FL. - The mathematics of driving huge distances with your kids don’t always add up. Sometimes they add up in ways you never expected.

When my wife and I first decided to spend our winter vacation in Florida, we thought driving down would be a unique way to put our own stamp on a couple of weeks away from the cold and snow.

We both grew up in families that drove - often - to see family. Some of our richest memories come from the road. Dark motel rooms that sort of all looked the same, roadside diners that looked and smelled different than anything we’d ever known, scenery that made home look ordinary and boring.

The journey was always the adventure. How we got there - and what we experienced along the way - was often just as important as what we did once we arrived.

We wanted our kids to experience that as well. The numbers, however, were daunting.

First, the distance: 2,375 kilometers. Strictly observing speed limits, that’s 24 hours on the road, Factor in the tiny bladders of children that absolutely have to be emptied every other exit and it’s no wonder it usually takes two or three days to get there.

Second, we’ve got three children. They outnumber us. This is bad enough when we’re home, but it only gets worse on the road. From keeping them out of the path of oncoming motorists in parking lots to negotiating who gets to decide where we eat lunch, vehicular peace amongst three children is about as challenging to maintain as election-eve security in Iraq.

To balance these odds somewhat, we brought along a television. We always swore we would never use TV to anesthetize our children. But the tube - actually, a portable DVD player - bought us some sanity. Ordinarily, they’d ask, “Are we there yet?” before our van had even cleared the first highway on-ramp just outside London. Instead, we were rewarded with occasional, blissful silence; just enough to break the monotony of being strapped into a booster seat for two marathon days.

But the number that overshadowed all was the seemingly limitless number of firsts that our children have experienced since we’ve been here.

Dahlia, 7, gasped with delight when she saw her first palm tree alongside the road in southern Georgia. Noah,4, almost bounced out of his seat when we passed the first orange grove in northern Florida. Zachary, 10, tried hard to contain his excitement as we rounded the corner and saw the pounding surf of the Atlantic Ocean.

We took hundreds of pictures along the way to try to capture the magic in their eyes as they experienced things they never had back home. The photos are lovely, but the really vivid images are the ones a lens cannot ever come close to capturing, the ones that play in the photo album of their minds.

As a parent, it’s hard to ignore just how big these little moments can be in a child’s life. I was nine when I first played on a Cape Cod beach, yet it feels like yesterday. I hope my son always looks back to his moment on his beach with a comforting smile.

In a couple of days, we’ll pack up the van for the return trek. Instead of shedding clothes as we approach a sunny destination, we’ll pack on additional layers as the temperature drops and work and school loom larger in the windshield.

And after we’re back home, scraping ice from the car and piling our bundles of unlimited potential into their car seats, I hope they fondly recall their trip to see their grandparents, just like my wife and I still hold onto images of our own childhood adventures.

Sure, we’ve relaxed during our too-short time here. But we’ve also hopefully left our children with the gift of indelible memories. We’ll try to add to them next year, too.

---
Carmi Levy (carmilevy@msn.com) is a London freelance writer. His column appears every other Wednesday.

-30-

Monday, December 27, 2004

Little guy, big beach

I took this picture seven years ago, during our first visit to Florida to visit my in-laws. Zach was three, and this was his first-ever exposure to a beach of any kind. At the time, I was struck by the contrast of little person, big beach and big ocean. No matter how overwhelmingly huge the scene that spread out in front of him was, he managed to scale it down - as kids always do - to a tiny little space defined by a towel and a few sand toys.

At the time, I fought back tears as I thought how sweet it was. I know it's not a guy thing to talk about tearing up, but it's something that just happens to me when I'm feeling happy or when I experience a poignant moment. It's good for the soul, and reminds me of what's really important.

To this day, every time I think my own world gets too big, too noisy, or simply too much, I think of my son's ability to blinker his world that day. Lessons from a three-year-old: such a thought!

Watch this space in the coming week or so for a stunningly similar picture of Zach's little brother, Noah, in a similar place, doing a remarkably similar thing. I teared up then, too.

---
Update from Jan. 1, 2005: I have posted the picture and accompanying story here. Comments are, as always, incredibly welcome.

Friday, December 24, 2004

An ode to DSL

Not to sound elitist here, but after a few days of tending to my online presence through a dial-up connection, I have a newfound feeling of respect for anyone who maintains a site without the benefit of a DSL, cable, or other high-speed connection.

I never realized how heavily I rely on the big, fat pipe that runs into every computer I've got. Without it, I feel like I have to selectively choose what I do, when I do it, and how deeply I can dig before I have maxed out the phone line's ability to feed my research need.

Lots of bandwidth changes the way one works. I didn't realize it until I had it removed from my midst for a little while. Hmm, possible fodder for future writings, I believe.

End of elitist techno-whine. Without the generosity of my in-laws letting me disrupt their phone line ad infinitum, I'd be thoroughly disconnected. I'm thankful that I have any link at all to the world of writing that so sustains me.

The Physics of Santa Claus

As NORAD redirects its vaunted scanning resources from preventing thermonuclear war to tracking Santa's progress across the skies (note to North Korea: it would be considered bad form to schedule a launch for this evening), I thought it would be fun to share this passage that's held an honored place in my Funnies Archive for a long time.

I first received it via fax (remember those?) around ten years ago. I believe it originally appeared in the January 1990 edition of SPY Magazine. The credited author is one Stanley I. Sandler, from the University of Delaware's Center for Molecular and Engineering Thermodynamics, Department of Chemical Engineering. (I would research its origins more deeply, only I'm on a dial-up connection and I don't want to monopolize the phone line, so I'm posting as quickly as I can. If you want to dig a bit deeper and then share your thoughts in a comment, go for it.)

Our esteemed professor - who clearly must have had little else to do when he penned this bit - opens with the following:

"As a result of an overwhelming lack of requests, and with research help from that renowned scientific journal SPY magazine (January, 1990) - I am pleased to present the annual scientific inquiry into Santa Claus."

---
IS THERE A SANTA CLAUS?

No known species of reindeer can fly. BUT there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen.

There are 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. BUT since Santa doesn't (appear) to handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total - 378 million according to Population Reference Bureau. At an average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that's 91.8 million homes. One presumes there's at least one good child in each.

Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75-1/2 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding and etc. This means that Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second - a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour.

The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that "flying reindeer" (see point #1) could pull TEN TIMES the normal amount, we cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. We need 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload - not even counting the weight of the sleigh - to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison - this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth.

353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance - this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as spacecraft re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 QUINTILLION joules of energy. Per second. Each. In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force.

In conclusion - If Santa ever DID deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he's dead now.

---

Carmi here: Quick note to wish everyone who celebrates Christmas - child or not - a happy, healthy, and safe holiday. May all your wishes come true on this day and beyond.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Mooring

A simple scene on a quiet morning on the northern shore of Lake Erie near the Ontario town of Port Glasgow. I was strolling down the dock when I was struck by the angles of the bow and its various fittings. Despite the fact that the lighting suggests nothing's happening, the forward-lean of the boat suggests motion, future, potential.

It was yet another scene that whispered to me, and I just couldn't resist.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Defiant, icy bush

Quick note: I'm back. Sort of. Thank you all for your generous holiday wishes. When I have the time and the bandwidth, I'll respond in kind. For now, please know that my wife and I are having an amazing, fulfilling, recharging time with our brood, and that we'll all be back to a normal blogging pace before long. I even have it on good authority that some of my wife's pictures will make it into the mix here. If you think I have a unique view of the world, you should see how she sees it!

On with today's show.

Black and white photography jazzes me. My first exposure (sorry) to photography of any kind was b&w. I remember trying to imagine the first few pictures I took in their color-stripped form. I was wandering around the grounds of my summer camp, shooting trees and other nature scenes. I tried to compensate for the lack of color by making the composition interesting; angles, shadows, whatever I could use to make up for the fact that the lush green field in front of me would become just a drab variation of gray once I developed the results in the darkroom.

This one is from in front of my house. We had had an ice storm the night before that killed a tree and downed branches throughout the city. But this little bush seemed to be the only thing within miles that wasn't leaning toward the ground. It was almost defiant in the way it stood up against the onslaught of ice. So out came the camera.

To continue my recently-established tradition, I've got a few questions for you to ponder as you observe this:
  1. What's the first thing you want to do when you hear a huge snow/ice storm is moving in? (Substitute rain or other liquid form if you don't ever get snow.)
  2. Despite the overwhelming preponderance of gray, is there a bright side to storms like this? What is it?
  3. What kinds of pictures would you take in this kind of scenario?
BTW, I'm going to hold off on providing an answer to the bands-of-color picture I posted last week. I'm loving your responses - none of which is near the mark, but all of which are amazingly creative and fun to read. Please keep trying. I'll keep cranking out the pictures and stories. Promise.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Breather...

I've got some good news for your beleaguered eyes and brains: I'll be disconnecting from the blogosphere for a few days. I've got lots of stuff yet to post - been busy writing this week, and I suspect you'll all enjoy the literary results of my insomnia - but I'm going to be deliberately leading a luddite's life while I reconnect with my wife and kids. This being vacation time for the little folks and for my wife - she's a teacher - I'm going to be spending a lot more time with them and a lot less time at my keyboard.

I'll blast the backlog of words online once I'm back in a regular posting groove.

Please continue to check in regularly, though. I'll do my best to keep things interesting through the Christmas/New Year's period. I'll include the usual stuff: words, pictures, whatever flotsam springs from my mind.

Thanks...and whatever you're celebrating, please be careful in the process. We want you around for more such celebrations in future.

More photographic guessing

I hope you're having as much fun guessing what my pictures are as I am having by posting them in the first place, then by reading your comments. When I take pictures, it's typically a solitary endeavor, so this kind of impact - it clearly touches a nerve in you, and that elates me - is an amazingly pleasant surprise.

Before I started this blog, I had never taken pictures with the intention of sharing them beyond my little sphere of folks - immediate family, suckered-in friends and the like. You've all helped me shift my perspective a bit: very personal photography can now be easily shared via this medium. Let the games begin.

Today's mystery photo comes to us courtesy of yet another long, extremely close-up exposure. I did not have the luxury of natural light for this one. It was at night, and for some reason I had no time the next day to shoot. So I figured it was incandescent light or nothing at all. That explains the sepia cast to the picture. I never have much control over what different bulbs will do to my subjects. Long exposures tend to add even more mystery to the final result. It's great fun - if you're OK with non-instant gratification.

So, you know the drill:
  • What the heck is this?
  • What is it not?
  • What was I thinking when I snapped it?
  • What are you thinking as you look at How does it make you feel?

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The photographic guessing game

Thanks, everyone, for celebrating my Canoe news yesterday. I'm still tickled pink by the whole thing, and feel especially energized to swing for the fences again the next time I pick up my pen. I know I swing for the fences every time I write, and I'd still love the process even if this had not happened. But a little extra incentive is always a good thing. Recognition is, too. I've been pretty charmed on all counts of late.

In the midst of all this happiness, I really haven't had time to think about the weighty issues of the day. Things like the Scott Peterson death penalty, Osama's reappearance, and wireless use on airplanes have all flowed past me this week virtually unnoticed. I'm so out of the flow because I'm too heads-down to really notice. Not that I could do anything about it anyway.

Which brings me to today's picture, and why I'd rather delve into some photography instead of deal with a head-churning, life-changing, serious issue.

So I proudly present another guessing game. I like this picture because as the days grow ever-shorter, they seem to become tinged with an overwhelmingly gray hue. Winter's winds have already blown the last of the forlorn leaves off of the trees. The grass - well, where I am, at least - is covered with a half-crusty coating of snow and ice. You go to work in the dark, and you return in the same state as well.

In short, it's not a visually enjoyable season. Add some cold, some wind, and the usual weather-induced aches and pains, and you have a potent recipe for endless mirth.

Enter my colors. When I took this picture, I was amazed at how vibrant they seemed to get when they filled the viewfinder. They represented my own stylized interpretation of a rainbow. And when I happened upon it in a photo album, I knew I had to share it with you all on my blog.
Three questions, then, before I consume any more disk space:
  1. What do you think this scene depicts?
  2. How does it make you feel?
  3. What other colorful scenes would help banish the grays of winter away?
(And, yes, I'll do my utmost to actually take and post pictures based on your responses to #3. So don't hold back.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Publish Day - ON CANOE'S FRONT PAGE

Something incredibly cool has happened in Carmi's world of journalism: my newest column, published in today's London Free Press, was featured on the front page of Canoe.ca, Canada's most popular media web site.

I wrote the piece, Blame adults, not kids, for bullying, in response to the recent hot button issue of schoolyard bullying in Ontario and the rest of the country. As always, I spun it a little differently, and I'm really happy with the result. The link is repeated at the top of the Sun Columnists page.

I've got to go call all my friends to let them know about the Canoe thing. I'm sorry if I'm just a little excited.

It'll likely be pulled down when the site is refreshed sometime early Friday morning, so I'll post the screen shot of it later tonight. Until then, feel free to surf on in and see for yourself. And tell all your friends!

Whee....

Monday, December 13, 2004

A cloudy perspective

The late, much-missed Friendly Giant used to tell kids tuning in to his television show to "look up, waaaay up." Although I always understood the literal meaning - he was playing a giant, after all, and the camera would slowly pan up the outside of his "castle" (likely just a stack of painted cardboard boxes) to convince any children who still hadn't clued into his gimmick - I still missed the more subtle message buried within those simple words.

Of course, now that I'm older and wiser, I appreciate the wisdom of these words, and the figurative meaning that all adults would do well to consider.

With that in mind, I have evolved this habit - annoying to anyone who knows me well - of staring at the most mundane of scenes for an inordinate amount of time. I'm usually looking for something interesting, for the nugget within this sea of sameness that's worth pulling out, looking at in detail, and talking about over a mug of tea.

I suppose this odd behavior has its roots in my childhood habit of lying on the grass and staring at aircraft as they flew high overhead. I'd carefully watch as the contrails gradually evolved from thin pencils of white to jagged wisps. Eventually, long after the planes that caused them had disappeared into other time zones, the sky would be covered by these artificially-induced clouds. Then my Mom would call me in for supper and I'd have to explain why I was napping on the lawn.

I took this picture from my own lawn. The clouds are all natural, as far as I can tell, and I didn't have to lie down and wait hours for them to form. I was struck by the texture of the sky. I can almost reach out and feel the surface, in all its thickly overwhelming greyness.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Soft and fluffy

When you look really closely at something, you often see things that you would have otherwise missed. We move so fast in today's world that I find most of us don't take the time to observe the little things. This picture reinforces why it's worth slowing down every once in a while.

One fine Sunday morning - I remember it was a Sunday morning because I was really enjoying the soft light of an overcast day beside the east-facing patio door - I was taking some generic pictures of some flowers when I decided to zoom as far as my lens would allow me without actually touching the thing. I didn't think it was technically feasible - those stamens don't really take too kindly to staying within the miniscule depth of field - but I figured all I was risking was some film and some time.

I'm glad I did. I realized there's a lot more going on in that little, dying world than I ever thought possible. I've never looked at flowers the same way since. I hope - after you click on the picture to view the enlarged version - that it changes your perspective a bit as well.

Raiding the Archives 11 - Risk

As I touched on in my earlier post on the Snowbirds, I've pasted a column I published in the London Free Press this past January. Its central theme closely parallels my thoughts in light of this week's Snowbird crash - namely, of risk, and the lessons we all take away when the worst happens.

I wrote the column originally to mark the one-year anniversary of the loss of the space shuttle Columbia. NASA's tragedies seem to have converged on that one-week period: the Challenger explosion on January 28th, 1986, Columbia's disintegration on February 1st, 2003, and the Apollo 1 launchpad fire on January 27, 1967. I thought that somewhere within all that spectacular loss of some of the best people the world had ever known, there had to be some lesson for the rest of us.

Within the idealistic cloud that defines my outlook on the world, I believe every tragedy, no matter how terrible or how despondent it makes us feel, needs to also present us with some sort of going-forward opportunity. Cataclysmic loss simply can't end with a closed door. There's always a sliver of hope there, and it's our obligation to stick our heads through the tiny little crack.

With that in mind, I hope you appreciate the lesson of this piece.

---
Originally published January 28, 2004 in the London Free Press

Risk a critical element of living

Eighteen years ago today, a shining symbol of American technological prowess annihilated itself in front of a horrified world.

The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger didn't just kill seven astronauts and rain massive amounts of debris down on the Atlantic coast. It shook our confidence in the can-do spirit that drove the American space program to the moon.

The disaster prompted calls to end human presence in space.

The more vocal opponents said -– and continue to say -– any money spent on space would be better spent on Earthbound problems like education, health care and the homeless.

Those protests grew louder when Challenger's sister ship, Columbia, disintegrated on re-entry a year ago this Sunday.

Naysayers say the risk and expense just aren't worth it.

Geoff Sheerin is leading a London team competing to be the first private venture to put a human in space. Understandably, he disagrees with the notion of abandoning space exploration.

"As a species, we've been programmed to wander and to be curious about where we're going," said the founder and team leader of the Canadian Arrow project. "Humans need to explore, to see what's around the corner and over the horizon. Some people may disagree, but this is why we've been successful and have survived as a species."

Sheerin says the issue isn't really about space at all. Virtually everything we do entails some degree of risk. Seven students on a ski trip in British Columbia died in an avalanche on the same day as the Columbia disaster, "yet I don't hear calls to stop skiingĂ‚…There's some risk in a lot of human endeavours, even those we do for fun. But you don't stop doing them simply because something might happen."

History is filled with humans' failure at the edge of the reality envelope. Shipborne explorers lost at sea. Test pilots crashing their aircraft. Babies falling over as they attempt to walk. Yet if someone hadn't pushed that envelope and risked it all, we'd still be pretty much nowhere.

Shuttles will resume flying soon enough. Even then, there's no guarantee another accident won't happen before the fleet is finally retired. No technology is perfect, especially in the ruthlessly unforgiving environment of space.

Our recent history is filled with huge space-related disasters. Brazil's space program was decimated by a launch pad explosion last August that killed 21 of its top space scientists and technicians. NASA's Russian partners have also witnessed their own share of failures, including an accident in October 2002 that killed a soldier and polluted the countryside.

Yet we still reach for the stars.

As China's recent successful manned space mission shows, such capability allows a nation to drive itself to the next level on the world stage. And to motivate the next generation.

Tomorrow's rocket scientists are today's kids downloading the latest pictures from the Spirit and Opportunity rovers on Mars.

Even if most of them never send a resume to NASA, merely watching the spectacle of space flight lights the fire in all of them to push their own performance -– in whatever they do -– farther.

In the longer term, going into space will enable us to someday move humanity to another planet - something we'll need to do if we trash the Earth before the sun swallows it up.

Everything we do is potentially fatal. The simple act of going to work incorporates a whole raft of risks which, to the most phobic of us, would keep us locked indoors forever.

We could get hit by a bus and die today. Or we could simply die years from now from traffic-caused smog.

Yet we still get up and leave the house every morning. That's because sitting on a couch all day and doing nothing more challenging than popping open a can of pop involves its own set of unacceptable risks.

In space, as in life, the only true danger lies in never taking risk in the first place.

-30-

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Snowbird down

Sad news out of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan on Friday, where a mid-air collision between two aircraft from Canada's famed Snowbirds aerobatics team left one pilot dead and another injured. The accident happened six years to the day after the team's last fatal crash.

I've seen the Snowbirds fly many times, and it's always been an awe-inspiring sight. Eleven years ago, I watched them perform at the now-defunct Plattsburgh Air Force Base in upstate New York. As soon as I heard about today's accident, I immediately thought of this picture that I took on that day.

This is not, after all, the typical Snowbirds shot. The expected picture is one of all nine aircraft in a diamond formation, backdropped against the blue sky. I've taken lots of those, but they don't tell the story inherent in this scene.

I remember thinking as soon as I took it that it was special. The team was taxiing out in advance of its performance. They had just passed the stands, and everyone had already put their cameras down after capturing the typical side-on tarmac pictures. I kept shooting. The forlorn story of planes going off into the unknown struck me as unbelievably poignant.

Sure, the pilots had trained long and hard. They represented the best aviators anywhere in the nation and, arguably, in the world. But out there, anything could happen. And does.

I watched from the ground in London three years ago as two aircraft from the team flew back to the airport here after one of their own had crashed into Lake Erie after clipping another's wing. The pilots ejected and survived that day, but the tenuous thread on which these aviators dance became very real to me that day.

Naysayers will no doubt once again use this tragedy to question why we even bother to do this at all. Calls for disbanding the team have often become more pronounced after a mishap. The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and Navy Blue Angels have experienced similar opposition in the past, and likely always will.

That's because some among us don't understand the influential impact of these teams on society. They show us what people can accomplish when they singlemindedly focus on achieving nothing less than the absolute best in themselves. They set the bar high for the rest of us, even if our aspirations never involve aviation. They make us better by setting an example that cannot be ignored.

They also die in the process. But risk is a natural part of this world, and it's something each pilot internalizes before signing up for the job.

I sincerely hope this latest tragedy only serves to reinforce why it is so important to the rest of us that these bastions of excellence continue to be supported by the nations whose flags they so proudly wear.

Earlier this year, I wrote a column on the risks of spaceflight that I'm going to post here later this weekend. In light of this incredibly sad loss, I think it's appropriate to bring the column's message forward at this time.

May the family of the lost pilot, Captain Miles Selby, take comfort in the knowledge that their son, a second-year veteran of the team and an experienced CF-18 Hornet pilot as well, helped countless young people in this country shoot higher than they otherwise would have if they hadn't seen the famous red, white and blue planes fly overhead.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Pause for technical malfunction

I need some tech help. If you're using Microsoft's lovely Internet Explorer browser to view this site, you've no doubt noticed that the sidebar over on the right tends to "slip" waaaay down to the bottom of the page. If you use Firefox, the page displays as it should.

I know I did something to upset the vaunted Microsoft League of Blog Template Justice. I believe I added some doodad to the sidebar that somehow pushed the content beyond the margins and caused IE to hiccup. Before I summarily remove all the special stuff from the site and re-add each one to determine the culprit, I was hoping someone would have some wizard-like technical insight to share in a comment. Any thoughts on this most maddening of template-related glitches?

In a similar vein, I want to either reduce the text size on the site, or find a Blogger-compatible template that contains smaller text thoughout. Does anyone have any thoughts on:
  • How I might reduce the font size without wrecking the site?
  • Where I might find somewhat workable Blogger templates?
  • Where I might find some advice on how to tweak what I've got? I'm cognizant in HTML and all, but CSS and XML are relatively new to my existence.
Thanks in advance for your wise counsel. I'm done with the atypical tech talk. We now return to our regularly-scheduled programming.

Answer: Reese's Pieces

A humble bow of congratulations to Clipped Wings for correctly guessing that the mystery picture was of none other than E.T.'s fave, Reese's Pieces.

Only after I posted the original message did I realize that I had left a gigantic clue in the post itself: the file was named PIECES1.JPG. Doh!

I've got lots of other macro pictures hanging around the archives, and will post them here in the days, weeks, and months to come. I'm thinking y'all seem to enjoy 'em. Right?

If I'm correct in my assessment, please say so (also let me know if I should put my camera away forever, or simply keep it away from the blog...I accept that not everyone likes photos either.)

I'm also opening things up to requests. What kind of pictures do you want me to take? Let me know: I'll be happy to take your suggestions and post the photographic results here. The lines, as they say, are now open. Go for it!

Someone noticed!

Thanks to Mellie Helen for nominating my humble little blog for the Best of Blogs 2004 Awards. She submitted my site in the Most Inspirational Blogs category. The listings can be found here.

I always vowed to never use the old Hollywood cliche, "It's nice to be nominated." But I said that only because I didn't think I'd ever be nominated for anything. Now that someone has so kindly taken the time to recognize my quiet experiment in literary insanity, I've got to say I'm really touched. Thanks, MH!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Another edible photo

I can safely report that no one has as yet correctly identified the contents of my most-recently posted picture. There was at least one guess that they were M&Ms. Good thinking, but no chocolate cigar. They're also not Smarties. Here's an M&M shot. They're peanut, BTW - hellishly more difficult to shoot than the plain ones. Oops, I forgot they're not called that any more.

I guess you now know which ones I prefer.

Please keep the great guesses coming.

Time for a closer look

I may as well fess up about my longstanding macro photography addiction. Here goes: my name is Carmi, and I have a problem. I like to put extension tubes on my camera so that I can stick it reeeeeeally close to all sorts of otherwise-mundane objects and take pictures that, for all intents and purposes, seem to have spent a little too much time in the acid trip section of the darkroom.

I constantly seek out objects which would look interesting, or merely bizarre, when viewed from a fraction of an inch away. If I do my job correctly, you see things you wouldn't otherwise see. And this assumes you even know what you're looking at. Sometimes, the lens goes so close into the shot that all sense of context is lost. I love when viewers play guessing games - and don't get it until I tell them what they're looking at.

The challenges of light

The optical realities of macrophotography are somewhat harsh. First, mounting extension tubes between the camera body and the lens reduces the amount of light that hits the film plane. This makes handholding a virtual impossibility. Even with ultrahigh ISO film speeds, it's a difficult balancing act. So out comes the tripod. Worse, depth of field is about as wide as a human hair. This forces a somewhat obsessive process of composition and focusing. You can close down the aperture to help the depth of field problem, but then your exposure times go through the roof.

As a result, I end up hovering over the camera, adjusting both it and whatever I'm shooting for optimal composition and focus. Flatter compositions are better, but they're not always feasible to set up - have you ever tried adjusting a pile of rocks to lie flat?

Focusing challenges are often solved by nudging the chocolate covered raisins - or whatever else I'm shooting - around until they settle nicely into the miniscule depth of field that I've got. It's around this time that I curse my clumsy fingers, and wish I had more manual dexterity than I do.

As a result, I often take huge amounts of time setting up for the shot. Sometimes, I simply never get to the point where I'm confident I'll actually get something usable. In these cases, I often end up eating the subject of my aborted photographic survey. By now, you all know that food is one of my favorite survey targets.

Pitter patter of little feet

Long exposures mean absolute stillness is a must. But with three little people and a cat padding through the house, it's a luxury I can rarely afford these days. Waiting until the rugrats are in bed is one option. But shooting by the available light from a window is preferable to using artificial light. I know I could always use Photoshop to correct the unnatural cast introduced by a incandescent or fluorescent bulb, but that's cheating. And even if I weren't so photograhically virginal, nothing gives you quite the depth and dimensionality of a gentle, early morning bath of diffused sunlight through a patio door.

If I shoot during the day, I'll try - desperately, and most often unsuccessfully - to get everyone to do absolutely nothing for the duration of the shot - sometimes 30 seconds, other times 10 minutes, depending on how I've set things up. Needless to say, I don't get to do this nearly as much as I'd like. It's a lovely little mental and physical game I play, dancing around my tripod, making countless minute adjustments and talking myself through the painstaking process as I try to grab an anything-but-candid slice of an unnatural scene. I don't do it nearly often enough; something I'll work on in the coming year, because few shutterbugging experiences bring me as much visceral enjoyment as this one.

The point, Carmi?

This is all a somewhat long-winded way of introducing this next picture on my little photographic journey into the twisted depths of my camera bag. I really like this one - which says something, because I'm usually so self-critical of my pictures that I can't look at them for fear that the technical flaws will cause me stress. In this case, everything aligned nicely. It's not so much the colors - there are only two main ones - or the composition. Rather, it's the surface textures. I absolutely didn't expect there to be so much detail when I got that close. Click on the picture for an even closer look.

Here's where you come in

I'd like to hear your guesses as to what this stuff might be. I'm also hoping you'll share any suggestions for future macro observations - which I would, of course, post here. Beyond the merely photographic, I'm also hoping you'll take the time to start squinting at little stuff in your own daily travels. The world can look really cool if you get up close and personal.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

More fun with words

By now, only my cat hasn't heard of the "Dude, you're getting a Dell" guy.

(If you must know, the actor who played the slacker wannabe-computer sales dude in the ubiquitously annoying Dell commercials, Benjamin Curtis, was busted for pot possession last year. Here's the New York Daily News piece on the incident.)

But I'm digressing...again.

So the real purpose of this post is to share the absolutely earth-shattering news of a University of Pittsburgh linguist's just-released research on, you guessed it, the word, "dude". Here's the Associated Press piece on it. The University's own paper, the Pitt Chronicle (yes, I read them all), ran this story.

It turns out there's a lot more to this word than what the strung-out TV pitchman would have had us believe. It's an utterly fascinating piece of research.

Words never cease to serve as sources of enlightenment and fun. May it always be so.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A library rises from the ashes

Six months after the library of the United Talmud Torahs was firebombed, the elementary school in the Montreal suburb of St. Laurent has reopened the facility. (CTV and the CBC are both reporting this story.)

Donations of books, money and other materials have been pouring in since before the smoke cleared (including one well-publicized check from Russell Crowe), a process that has reinforced just how much good can come from what initially presents itself as anything but.

I can still feel the sense of revulsion that coursed down to the base of my spine when I first heard what had happened. My parents were visiting us, and I didn't want to upset them over supper. So we ate and then got the kids ready for bed. I quietly researched and wrote a column about it while they chatted with my wife. Just before the 11 o'clock news came on, I told them what had happened and showed them what I had written.

Oddly enough, I had already submitted another column that week. I was well past deadline, but I couldn't let this pass without getting my words out. My editor graciously bumped my other piece to the Saturday paper, juggling an already-packed editorial page calendar in the process. The piece, Hatred comes home to Londoner, was published April 7th. How the editors handled the late-breaking changes reinforced how lucky I am to work with such caring, able professionals.

I wrote about this because, beyond sharing Canadians' outright disgust at this hate crime against children, I attended the campus when I was a child. The story was an enormously personal one, and it galvanized me to explore more of my own background in my writing.

That the school chose the eve of Chanukah to reopen the library is no coincidence. The holiday celebrates the victory of a small band of Jews over an overwhelmingly powerful Greek force. It celebrates the survival of light over the forces of darkness. It recognizes the miracle of a small people's continued existence in the face of a seemingly endless barrage of obstacles. It's the ultimate underdog story.

The reopening of the library signifies a deep-seated refusal to sit back and take it. No matter what those who hate throw at us, we will continue to fight back with all we have to ensure that we all have a tomorrow. A peaceful life really isn't too much to ask for, after all.

If you celebrate Chanukah, I wish you a chag sameach and a holiday filled with light, peace, and the warmth of friends and family. If you don't, I wish you all of these things as well. At the end of the day, we all deserve the same goodness our planet has to offer; something worth pondering as I think of kids who are my own kids' age who once again have a library to call their own.

Tempest in a television teacup

Looks like I put my foot in it. I commented on DeAnn's blog about the perils of television addiction, and seem to have stirred a bit of a hornet's nest. Her original posting outlined how she uses a spreadsheet to keep track of the shows that she watches. My thoughts on the matter were simple: if you're using a spreadsheet to track the status of your television-watching, perhaps this is a sign of overuse of the medium.

I did so as the agent provocateur, writer-type that I am. Sometimes, I find myself stirring the nest knowing full well what will happen after a few well-placed literary pokes.

Read the posting that started it all here.
Read my comment here.
Read the response here.

What I said was:
I think we all need to cancel cable (or satellite, or whatever else we subscribe to) and get outside so we can stare at the sky. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by television, some downtime always seems to set me straight. TV Tuneout Month at my children's school is the greatest thing going!
(Sorry to be a party pooper...TV's killing the planet.)
I'll remain defiantly cynical of the belief that watching double-digit hours of television every week helps most people lead richer lives. When you need a spreadsheet to keep track of which shows you watch, what you've taped or saved on Tivo, and what you've yet to hunt down, maybe it's time to step away from the box and interact with the real world a little more. Some television is good, healthy, and educational. Too much television is decidedly not.

The bottom line is quite simple: Healthy debate is a good thing. I am not offended by the response. Nor do I regret stating my opposition to overuse of television - or, for that matter, any one medium. Life's all about variety, and as my Mom used to say, too much of anything is no good.

It's so grand being a cranky writer. It sure gives me lots of column ideas.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Perspectives on media

It's been an interesting week in the evolution of blogs:
The article puts a new spin on freedom of the press, military censorship, and the overwhelming impact the migration of powerful publishing tools into the hands of everyday folks has on the evolution of all forms of media.

The ability of a given entity to control the entire messaging space - an ability which has been eroding for generations - has become that much more diluted as the distributed Internet has given birth to commonly-available tools.

The resulting messages, as evidenced in this piece, are stunningly different. Think about that for a second as you consider how many of us typically take whatever we see at face value. Maybe it's time to rethink our media gullibility.

Beyond the current situation in Iraq, this evolution has broad implications for governments everywhere. How much longer can China, for example, keep its own people in the dark? Cuba? Name your own autocratic state here, then mark my words: sooner or later, technology will do to these regimes what generations of tanks and guns ultimately failed to accomplish. At least that's what I'd like to think - I guess I'm too much of an idealist.

I'll descend from my political soapbox now. What does your soapbox have to say?

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Sublime, meet ridiculous

The pox of the politically correct continues to infect the furthest reaches of society. I know it's somewhat sacrilegious for me to even bring this up, but the PC revolution has now reached Santa's grotto.

The BBC, bastion of all that is truthful and good in media (excuse me while I cough up a hairball) reports this much in this web posting, Live camera protection for Santa. The fat old guy and webcams have now been united in commercial-technological glory. Why? To protect him and prevent lawsuits, of course.

Now there's some spirit of the season for ya!

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Zay. N. Smith summarizes this and other ridiculous snippets of the season in Sunday's column, Have a holly, jolly PC Christmas.

All of this, of course, diverts attention away from the fundamentally flawed logic that puts Santas into specially-constructed villas in malls around the world. As parents, we talk ourselves hoarse teaching our kids to never talk to strangers. Yet well-meaning Moms and Dads see nothing wrong with plopping their precious little ones into the lap of a Complete Stranger who may or may not have consumed mass quantities of alcohol so as to survive the endless onslaught of gift-seeking young 'uns.

I shudder to think what we teach them in the process - "It's OK, honey, go over to that man you've never met before and tell him what you want while we stand over here and cry while the elves over there take your picture. Mommy loves you."

If this is the lesson society wishes to teach its children, count me out. I know I've always been technically "out" of the whole Santa game by virtue of the fact that I don't celebrate the holiday (heathen!) but humor me anyway.

Humbug.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Water, frozen

Whether we want to be there or not, many of us these days find ourselves amidst the unending knots of aggressive Christmas (sorry, holiday season) shoppers in overcrowded, overstimulated malls.

I took this picture at least nine or ten years ago. I found myself wandering the mall near our then-home on the West Island of Montreal, Quebec. This particular shopping mecca is known as Fairview Point-Claire, and I haven't missed it one iota since we moved around 730 kilometers west of its satellite-viewable parking lot.

Still, while walking past the water fountain that used to sit in front of the long-since-closed Eaton's department store, I started to stare at the water as it shot straight up in an never-ending jet. I kept trying to imagine what it would look like if I could freeze it just long enough to get a workable picture of it.

On my next trip to the mall, I brought my camera with me. My "real" equipment is a lovely old Nikon that shoots almost-obsolete 35mm film. But I've been using it forever, and its now-faded blue carrying bag is stuffed to the gills with all sorts of lenses, and a flash that can turn night to day from 60 feet away. I have no intention of ever selling it, because, like my pen, it's become almost a part of me.

I sat down on a nearby bench and got myself ready. Out came the 300mm telephoto lens, on went the mondo flash. People stopped in their tracks to watch me shoot a seemingly senseless scene. Out of the corners of my eyes, I nervously watched for the mall's rent-a-cops, who I'm sure had already been summoned to escort me by the elbows off the premises.

But it didn't take long to get what I wanted. I buttoned up my equipment, politely smiled at my gang of new fans, and headed home.

Like many non-people subjects of my photography, this one sticks in my mind because of its transience. A blink after I clicked the shutter and the flash froze the image forever, the water had already moved on. It would ultimately move up, down, become evaporated, get sucked through the filtration system for yet another wild ride, and ultimately go whevever the imagination thought it would go.

But for that slice of time, it was Right There. And it remains Right There to this day, to remind me what it felt like to have such total control over such a minor moment in time.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Publish Day - IM rant

Processor.com has published an opinion piece of mine in which I go on and on about the evils of instant messaging (IM). The headline is, inexplicably, Instant Messaging, and you can find it here. I'll forewarn you, however: I'm really obtuse in expanding on my argument against this class of software.

This piece is also notable for the debut of my newly-filtered byline picture. I'm no longer a pixellated twin of Frodo. Instead, I've been transformed into a sepia-toned, attitudinally-challenged twin of Frodo. It still isn't pretty, but at least it looks a bit more like the real thing.

Insofar as IM is concerned, I remain steadfast in my contention that this technology both is and shall be the greatest threat to computerized productivity since the invention of Tetris. I despise it to the depths of my very soul, and am glad I was able to turn such unfiltered hatred for some computer code into a really fun-to-write article.

If you're still an IM fan, why?

One phish, two phish

As many of you know, I write about technology by day. Until the world recognizes the quirky brilliance of my prose and is willing to pay me huge amounts of money so that I can stay home all day and punch out words from my kitchen table while sipping hot chocolate and shooing the cat off of my lap, I'll continue to write endless variations of the "this technology is good for your business" theme.

One of the topics that comes up often in my tech-writer's world is security. As our technologies continue to evolve, the opportunities for bad people to do bad things continue to proliferate. Hardly a week goes by that a new word doesn't enter our vernacular.

Phishing (no, that's not a typo) is one such term that's grown to prominence in 2004. It represents a particularly dastardly form of attack whereby the supposed victim receives an e-mail from a financial services institution asking to verify some personal information - name, account info, PIN number, etc. The recipient is often redirected to a web site that looks amazingly like the real thing - but us cynical types know that's not the case.

Once the bad people have your personal information, they quickly schedule junkets to Vegas, all on your dime.

The trend seems to have spread to incredibly real-looking Web sites that to the uninitiated look like legitimate news outlets. But they're not. Here's one particularly well-built example. From the perspective of watering down the public's already-diluted trust in media (thanks, Dan Rather), it's a scary thing to see.

I don't understand the profit motive behind the creation of this kind of bogus resource, but I'm thinking someone clearly has a lot of free time. We live in interesting and dangerous times.

The endless road

Another scene from another two-lane near my house. As much as I despise what overreliance on roads and cars has done for our modern landscape, another part of me appreciates the ribbons of asphalt that crisscross the countryside because I get to see things - non-urban, genteel, comforting things - that I wouldn't otherwise be able to see.

I love the never-ending story wrapped up on any given stretch of roadway. Everyone connected with it, in whatever capacity, has a story. Whether you're a transient traveller or someone who lives beside it, it will affect you in varying ways, and it does so whether or not you actually take the time to notice it. In that respect, it's much more than hot-rolled asphalt, gravel and paint. It connects us. To each other. To ourselves.

With that in mind, I enjoy stopping along the roads I travel, because it lets me slow down and think about my own journeys - the physical ones through the day-to-day minutae of life, as well as the figurative ones through life in general - and the things I can do to make my travels that much more successful. As I pedal along roads like these, my mind often churns through big-picture thoughts.

The longer I ride, the more things seem to make sense. It's remarkably peaceful, and I miss it during those few months every winter when the snow keeps my bike in the garage and limits me to a much smaller radius of self-powered travel. I know I could always take the car out for a drive, but that simply lacks the spirit of a self-powered journey of discovery.

If you occasionally find yourself on similar journeys, feel free to drop any suggestions for squeezing the most out of them in the Comments link below.

Time for a quotation

It's been a while since I dropped a thought-provoking quote into the blog. It's sometime in the middle of the night. I can't sleep, so I'm tapping this out on my PalmPilot, and will sync it in the morning (ain't technology grand?) Hope this gives you sufficient pause to think about what really matters as we meander through our time on this planet:
"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better. . . . This is to have succeeded."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

No lawsuit yet

The good news from Carmi's World of Journalism is that I didn't get sued this week. Sometimes, I worry that writing about provocative topics in a provocative manner will get the wrong person's goat. Then I slap myself as it dawns on me - for the umpteenth time since I first picked up a pen and bugged my parents to read what I wrote - that that is precisely the point of this entire exercise.

We write so that we reach people. They won't always agree with what we've written, and that's perfectly acceptable. That we reach them is all that matters.

What a gift it is to even have that chance.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

A blogging window opens...

The third-worst-kept secret going – right behind Ken Jennings’s all-night bender in Las Vegas and the impending cancellation of the televised car wreck known as Survivor – revolves around Microsoft’s entry into the blogging space.

Because Microblog, Blogosoft, Winblog, Blogdows, and Blog XP were all apparently taken, the Biggest Software Company Ever went with the Microsoft Spaces moniker.

SiliconValley.com is reporting on it here. Other neat first-reaction links can be found at The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer (blog posting), Wired, eWEEK, and TechNewsWorld. You might also be pleased to know that Chief MS Pitch Man Steve Ballmer has decreed, “Blogging is huge.” Wow, I wouldn’t have known this factoid otherwise. Thanks, Steve.

But back to the blog thing.

Since I’m one of the coveted billion or so users with a Hotmail account, I used my privileged level of access to set up one of the precious and expensive sites. (I lie: anyone can have one, and they’re free. I’m being sarcastic. That’s what playing office political bingo for years on end will do to your brain. Don’t do rugs, okay?)

I’m digressing again, Occupational hazard.

So the long and the short of this new MS blogging service is as follows: it’s blogging for folks who can’t be bothered to learn about blogging. It offers little-to-no control over the finer aspects of cascading stylesheets and XML. It doesn’t let you use your own domain name. It won’t make a three-cheese omelette for Sunday morning breakfast.

It’s sure pretty enough, with lovely screen artifacts that make any Mac-addict salivate. But most MS properties look pretty at first blush. It’s when you dig into them a little deeper that you realize they’re being held up by duct tape and poly filla.

Wait, that’s not true. Duct tape would muck up the insides of your computer. Anyone knows that!

Which is a really convoluted way of saying it offers little compelling reason to skip off of Blogger. At some point, I’ll do the my-own-domain thing (yes, Wheelson, I’ll be watching your experience, then shamelessly absorbing every last iota of knowledge I possibly can.) That’ll likely happen when I have time to manage the transition, and when my lovely wife lets me.

Turning serious for but a moment, Microsoft’s arrival in the blogosphere (why it isn’t simply the blogsphere, without the superfluous O, is beyond me) is, to a certain extent, a milestone in the evolution of the medium. It legitimizes the field, and raises its profile within markets that might previously have considered blogging to be populated by lonely denizens of society’s fringe. In doing so, it opens the door to a more mainstream, commercialized future for blogging. (I know, uh oh.)

If you head over there for a look-sie, please come on back to this humble little non-MS site and let us know what you think.

Batten down the hatches, folks.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

A question of vocabulary

I've noticed a trend in many of my readings over the past few weeks: people are pretty disgruntled.

Which got me thinking why the opposite doesn't ever seem to be true. Why can't we be gruntled as well?

Please feel free to discuss. This will not be included on the exam.

Publish Day - another taxpayer's lament

Another every-other-Wednesday, and another rockin' opportunity to publish my work. This time out, I share my thoughts on a spate of recent lawsuits in which the City of London was named as one of the defendants. The piece is called Must every tiff end up in court? A couple of background stories can be found here and here.

As a taxpayer in this burg, the whole scenario rubs me the wrong way. I wanted to make sure the other little taxpayer voices were represented in this now-very-public discussion.

I hope this gives you the feeling that your voice can be heard as well. I look forward to your thoughts on this piece.
---
Must every tiff end up in court?

CARMI LEVY, London Free Press

I was raised to behave in a certain way. Beyond respecting my parents, not stealing, and not using my pet turtle as a hockey puck, I also learned early on not to bite the hand that fed me.

It's a lesson that some folks in London's construction industry might wish to revisit in the wake of three high-profile lawsuits filed in the past month.

Southside Group owner Vito Frijia kicked off the suing season Nov. 9 with a $2-million libel suit against City of London city engineer Peter Steblin and a number of directors and officers of the London Development Institute.

Frijia's complaint is based on an Aug. 10 letter from Steblin that, according to the suit, incorrectly says Southside was responsible for delays during last summer's Hyde Park roadwork project.

C.H. Construction followed 10 days later with a $2-million libel suit of its own, this time against the city, Steblin, the London Development Institute and its president, Stephen Janes. As with the Frijia-Southside suit, Steblin's letter dated Aug. 10 is the source of the complaint.

Just to make the jumble complete, a third libel suit was filed Friday. C.H. Excavating is suing a competitor, Blue-Con Inc., and others, and the latest suit also has to do with letters by Steblin and Janes.

Like a parent dealing with a playground tiff, I feel compelled at this moment to grab all sides by the scruff of the neck, force them to look each other in the eye and resolve this once and for all. Let the city apologize for its letter. Let the suing firms apologize for wasting our time and money. Let everyone shake hands and get on with the business of doing business.

I'm sorry the plaintiffs in the lawsuits feel they were wronged. But construction is a tough business, so get over it. Like kids in the playground, you'll get dirty and scuffed up in the process. You might even skin your knee.

But that's fine. A little criticism in life is actually a good thing. It helps you build a thicker skin.

I find it hard to believe that any development or construction firm would grow to any size if the owners had hissy-fits every time someone didn't glowingly praise their work.

The irony in all of this is that the public probably would never have known about the alleged defamation of both companies if they hadn't initiated legal action. But now we know. And I, for one, am ticked. I hardly think I'm the only one.

Business is all about building long-term relationships within your community. We exchange goods and services with organizations -- and people -- who have earned our trust and respect.

We return to our so-called merchants of comfort because we want to.

Yet the next time I see one of these organization's signs on a project, I might find it difficult to muster up some warm and happy thoughts. Would it prompt me to avoid doing business with them in future? Who knows.

I don't quite understand the business model that is driving the Frijia-Southside and C.H. lawsuits. Do the owners believe this will foster goodwill and trust in the corridors of city hall? Do they think citizens will applaud them as they try to extract huge sums of money from taxpayers' pockets?

Ah yes, the taxpayers; the poor souls who are always forgotten in high-profile cases, yet without whom none of this would happen.

That's because taxpayers pay for all of this. We fund city hall. Directly or indirectly, we pay for the Hyde Park work. We'll pay the lawyers to fight these suits. We'll cover the increased insurance premiums no matter what happens.

So as I watch both cases unfold around the same time our city tries to knock down a proposed huge property tax increase for the coming year, I feel anything but goodwill for those that willingly expose saps like me to additional financial risk.

After a lifetime of treating the hands that raised me with respect, I rather resent mine being bitten by a couple of complete strangers.

-30-

Still with the vegetables

My obsession with veggies continues. For the first time since I began this twisted photographic pursuit of produce, I was informed by a store employee that I am, in fact, not allowed to capture such scenes on film, on an SD card, or via any currently known photographic means. As you can see from this message, I did not follow said advice.

Maybe I just really like this picture - I've made it my Windows desktop background at home and at work because it's just so dimensionally colorful. Maybe I hope to continue to take pictures like this in future. Maybe I'm just really bad at listening to people (my wife will nod enthusiastically at that one!)

It's very much like the writer's obsession: no matter how much you like what you wrote today, there's a little voice inside you that says you can go even further tomorrow. There are always more literary, photographic and equivalent worlds to conquer. I won't be told by anyone that I'm not allowed to do just that.