Monday, January 31, 2005

Prisoner in my own home

Beware: rant ahead.

I spent another day home today due to my unhappy sinuses. I tried to get some work done, but ultimately had to shut the PC down and take a nap.

The phone, however, kept ringing. Telemarketers from all over the planet wanted me to sell my house, get another credit card, send them money, and schedule a day to have my carpets cleaned.

Eventually I had to resort to using Caller ID to decide who I would and would not allow through. This bothered me immensely, because I had no choice in the matter. I could not control when the phone rang, or who would be on the other end. It was an incessant invasion of my privacy, and it ticked me off.

I lost it on someone who called from a call center - you can always tell, because you can hear the din of the floor before the person realizes my call has been "presented". She made a pitch for a product I had never heard of. I asked if they had a web site where I could conduct further research before making a purchase decision (I know, I was being too nice...I should have just told her I wasn't interested, but my wife says I have trouble saying no.) She rudely spoke over me, pushing me to make a commitment right there. By my third repetition of "no", she put her hand over the phone and spoke to her "supervisor", who ordered her to get me to commit to the purchase right now.

I've never been strong-armed by a telemarketer before, so I pushed right back. I recall using the phrase "I don't think you're listening to me" more than once before I finally told her I simply couldn't cope with her tactics. Later on, my wife received a call with the great news that she had been "selected" for a "special" credit card,which she promptly and politely turned down. Not half an hour later, the same call center called back with the same offer. Gack!

Now, today I wasn't feeling well. When I'm otherwise healthy, I occasionally decide to work from home so that I can focus on the task at hand in a peaceful place. The way I write, I need to have large expanses of quiet time. Constant interruptions by telemarketers does not do wonders for my productivity or my mood.

I appreciate that they have a job to do. But at the end of the day, I seriously don't care. This is not a place of business: it is my home. If they want to call me at the office, go nuts. That is, after all, business. But ceaseless calling to my home by the same idiotic people trying to sell me the same idiotic crap that I absolutely do not need does not make Carmi happy.

I look forward to Voice over IP telephony becoming available in my neighborhood soon. Once we switch over to it, it'll be nice to drop off of their telephonic radar for good. It'll leave me more time to speak with the people who truly matter: family and friends. And no one else.

Anyone have any good telemarketer-survival tips? I'm all ears. I'd even go so far as to describe myself as desperate.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Quote - corporate stewardship

Thanks, everyone, for your kind thoughts on my ongoing health fun. My cold has morphed into something sinus-related. I'm popping Sudafeds now and hoping the headaches subside enough so that I can actually function. On the plus side, my voice is approaching Barry White territory.

Now, time for today's issue:

It's not often that the head of a major profit-seeking organization says something that thoroughly impresses me. That's because I've built up some firmly-held biases against the corporate ethos that dominates our world.

Why? I spent years working for huge companies whose leaders made no bones about their pursuit of shareholder happiness to the exclusion of all else. The employees who made it happen didn't figure into their thinking, nor did doing the right thing for the right reason. As long as the bottom line was served, their thinking was, quite simply, "To hell with everything - and everyone - else."

This trickled down into a corporate culture that encouraged unfettered nastiness, immoral behavior and day-to-day flouting of the basic rules of kindergarten (do unto others, etc.) by those occupying the requisite countless layers of management. Cruelties were - and presumably still are - justified by quoting the applicable bureaucratic truth to which the drones subscribed.

I still get e-mail from former colleagues, virtually all of whom share their thoughts on what a miserable environment this kind of thinking has created. If I only had a nickel for every time someone told me, "You're lucky you got out when you did."

Which is why this quote came as such a pleasant surprise:
“Honda’s vision is to be a company that society wants to exist.”
Honda Motor Company Ltd. president and CEO Takeo Fukui said this recently while discussing his organization's pursuit of new propulsion technologies. Honda has been a leader in gas-electric hybrid development, and continues to lead the industry in building efficient, powerful and clean-burning powerplants. If a car company can ever be called green, Honda is likely as close as any such company can be.

Mr. Fukui's quote runs counter to the scorched earth ethics that seem to guide so many large organizations today. Will his words be heard in other executive suites? Will they be understood and appreciated?

I don't have the answer to that, but as consumers, perhaps we can begin to exert our influence by choosing to deal with companies that make it clear their priorities are symbiotic to the environment - social, economic, geographic, etc. - within which they exist.

Do you believe your voice can be heard? How will you make that happen?

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Evergreen icicles

I made it out of the house today - first time since midweek. The cold air shocked my lungs a bit, but it felt good to be outside. I still feel like burying my head under a pillow for the next week or so, but the world doesn't seem to be slowing down to allow me to keep pace. So I'll pop a few more Advils and get on with it.

By the way, I noticed Advils look really cool close-up. Yes, that means a possible photo in this blog's near future. Poor you!

Actually, I was outside yesterday. I spent about 45 seconds on the porch taking the picture below. I was struck by the icicles that had almost covered part of the evergreen bush beside our front door. I know they're evergreen, but the color still seems so alien during winter. Especially so when it's mixed in with ice.

Like all things that are so transient - either due to temperature variations or the curiosity of our children - I knew they wouldn't last. So out I went.

As I stare at this, I can't help but think one of the formations near the bottom of the pick reminds me of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Am I losing it here?

Friday, January 28, 2005

Lick this

I'm still stuck in the house with a stuffed head, congested chest and a miserable mood. So I thought a cool-looking picture from the macrophotographic archives would make me feel better.

It didn't, but maybe it'll bring a jolt of goodness to your life.

What is this picture saying to you (aside from "tongue", of course)?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Readings of the day

The Internet has evolved into an amazing tool to read the work of others we would not otherwise be able to get. As a child, buying the Sunday New York Times was a magical glimpse into a broader world of opinion and thought leadership. Today, it's all at our fingertips: A five-minute search can generate a robust short-list of opinion pieces that should keep the thoughtful among us reading until well after bedtime, and thinking and discussing long after that.

With that in mind, I tried to grab a snapshot of opinion columns and other publishings that I feel are representative of my thoughts and feelings on this day:
Other resources for learning more about the Holocaust include Yad Vashem, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum,, Steven Spielberg's Visual History Foundation and The Holocaust Chronicle.

With that in mind, what are you reading today?

60 years on

Note: I'm home with a horrid cold this morning, so I'll be brief.

I'm not a huge fan of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney. Yet on this, the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, I am moved by his words, spoken to those gathered at the site. I hope you are moved as well:
"The story of the camps shows that evil is real and must be called by its name and must be confronted.

"We are reminded that anti-Semitism may begin with words but rarely stops with words and the message of intolerance and hatred must be opposed before it turns into acts of horror."
Never again isn't just a trite statement to be trotted out on one of the many dates on which we mark another anniversary of a terrible event in human history. It needs to define who we are, and how we conduct ourselves moving forward. As a species, we still haven't learned that lesson, and for that reason I fear for our future.

What does Never Again mean to you? How will you internalize it?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Vacation images - the beach, again

I'm sorry for continually posting beach pictures. But the place fascinates me for a whole raft of reasons. I thought about being there all the way down from London, I loved being there, and as I watch the temperature bottom out again on the way to another wind chill warning, I find myself once again thinking about it. My only regret about living in landlocked London is I don't make it to the shore more often to just stare out and contemplate the meaning of life.

Publish Day - the Prince & the Holocaust

My latest column was published in today's London Free Press. It's entitled Harry, could you please grow up? and it deals with a topic that's somewhat near and dear to my heart: the Holocaust and the tendency of some folks - either through ignorance, maliciousness, or both - to not learn from it.

I realize I've made Prince Harry out to be something of a whipping boy, but if that's what it takes to wake up the collective soul, then so be it.

Tomorrow marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. While doing the research for this column, I became saddened by how laissez-faire the world has become regarding how we treat the symbols related to this dark historical blot. That a prince would be so stupid was, to me, the epitome of our planet's inability to appreciate and learn from history. To a certain extent, his behavior mimics that of some elements of society.

In short, he deserved a journalistic smack upside the head.

A couple of interesting things to note:
  • The Tehran Times published a typically usual anti-Semitic, Holocaust-denying piece of tripe. If you're in the mood to be sickened, click here. In the great Iranian tradition of a free press that maintains open dialog with readership, the feedback link on the site returns a canned error message. But their advertising links still work.
  • The Canadian Press is running this piece on the anniversary. As you can imagine, it's based on a somewhat more rational reality than the earlier example. Bear in mind we'd all be living under oppression - or not at all - if the zealots had won the war.
  • This piece from Germany's Deutsche Welle speaks frankly about the challenge of educating future generations after the last survivors have passed away.
Big questions. No easy answers. But to simply let the dust of history cover it up would be a crime. We owe those who perished, and those left behind, somewhat more.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Snowy branches

If anyone wants to know how we're doing these days, this picture should explain all. I know being repeatedly dumped with tons of snow doesn't make it any easier to get around, but it sure makes for beautiful, temporary sculpture when you take the time to smell where the roses would otherwise be.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Top of the pop (cans)

I have no idea why I:
  • Took this picture
  • Posted it here
Yet this unconventional image of the mundane speaks to my unconventional view of the world. I'm sorry I didn't also get pictures of the people who watched me point the camera straight down. I think they thought I was losing it. Maybe they're not all that far off.

What other incredibly mundane scenes should be captured on my wandering SD card? Ask, and ye may have it appear here in the weeks to come.

Why we are all doomed

I'm admittedly as shallow as the next person when it comes to wanting new stuff. For some reason, we feel better when we buy or receive consumer goods. A new doodad can often lift our spirits and convince us that all is right with the world.

Alas, with the passage of time, that lovely sense of warmth is replaced by a sense of obsolescence, of emptiness. Somehow, filling the cart doesn't fulfill the soul as much as we thought it would when we first walked into the store. It gets pretty old pretty quickly.

In my blatantly biased opinion, this product, Chia Shrek, spied at a Florida pharmacy, typifies the rampant consumerist ethic that's threatening to destroy any depth of being that remains in modern society. It is obscenely cheap, unbelievably useless, and most likely to end up forgotten and forlorn mere days after it crosses the threshold into your home.

The world seems to be populated by countless factories pumping out massive amounts of pure garbage that we neither need nor truly want (think, would you actually set out from the house with your heart set on buying one of these?)

At some point, the buying-for-the-sake-of-buying has got to stop.

Fun with pets

The joy of owning a cat is, apparently, never-ending. I brought our black-furred feline to the vet last week for a followup visit to see if his new diabetic-formula food is helping. Short answer, it is. But before the vet was able to deliver the happy news, he needed some blood from our fearless friend.

A little context before I continue: the only thing Shadow hates more than being in the car (where he will meow incessantly) is being at the vet (where he will growl and carry on like a tortured prisoner in a desert nation awaiting the election of its next dictator.) So I thought I'd help calm him down by holding onto him while the vet drew "just a bit of blood" from his paw.

That was my first, second, and last mistake of the day.

I held his head as firmly as I dared while the vet took the needle out and approached him. My sweet little Shadow then did his best Linda Blair/Exorcist impression as he twisted his head back and bit my finger. This wasn't a little nip: his tooth went full-on, deep into my finger. Blood flowed as freely as a mountain spring during the post-winter melt.

I swore. Profusely. Then apologized for swearing. Doc apologized to me, got all sorts of cleaning doodads out for me to wash it out, then scooped my still-hissing Shadow up in a towel and whisked him off to a back room. As I washed and hydrogen-peroxided myself to remove the lovely cat-bacteria from my bloodstream, Shadow's otherworldly screams (who would have thought that cats can actually scream?) echoed throughout the building.

I was embarrassed that my cat, my pet, could behave in such a manner. Then I realized: he's a cat, you doofus! What else did you expect?

After what seemed like a very long time, a now-flustered doc returned him to me, muttering something about not getting a Christmas card from Shadow this year. Yup, good call on that one!

Then we discussed tetanus, and how it would be a good idea for me to get myself checked out lest I die from it. Yum!

So fast-forward to today. I looked up my records and confirmed that, yes indeed, it had been 10 years since my last tetanus booster. So I made an appointment with my family doc and took the kids with me - in the blizzard, yay! - so they could hold my hand and keep me from crying. Truth be told, blood donation needles are a LOT bigger, and they stay in for 30-45 minutes, and I go through that every week. So a little jab in the shoulder wasn't going to phase me. But I figured the kids would find it a hoot to watch dear old Dad get stuck. So off we went.

They huddled around me in the examing room as the good doc got the needle ready. She smiled as I told her the story of how I came to be in her office on a snowy morning. The shot took the usual three seconds to administer, and my kids were entirely fascinated by how much fun I seemed to be having. After the regulatory band-aid, I was good to go.

We bundled ourselves up before heading into the howling storm to the video store to load up on some snowy-weekend-kids' movies. I'm not sure how long they'll remember the time when they helped Dad get his needle. But I'll cherish it as yet another one of those wacky moments of parenthood that even if I tried, I couldn't have planned it better.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Vacation images - wetland leaves

I'm often criticized for "wasting pictures" (their words, not mine.) I don't shoot the standard head shots of family or the usual postcard touristy images. I grab pictures of the weirdest elements that jump out at me and stick in my head. (Don't worry, I ignore the critics as I keep shooting. No sense caving in to the whims of those who settle for mediocrity and conventionalism. But I once again digress...)

While walking through the wetlands (see earlier post/duck picture for more details on this wondrous place) with our brood, I found myself staring at the leaves that seemed to float just above the surface of the water. No colorful flowers, no funny-looking animals. Just an almost-endless sea of green that seemed to pull me in (not literally, though...there was a gator nearby!)

I write this as a massive snowstorm pummels the region. Out my window, the snow is flying sideways as it slowly (OK, not-so-slowly) paints our world white. We're all spending a quiet weekend morning in the house, watching the cold world outside and enjoying our warm little world in here. A sea of green seems to hit the spot right about now.

Today's questions are decidedly temperature-related:
  • How do you stay warm when Old Wo/Man Winter closes in?
  • What does the word "warmth" mean to you? (Don't be literal here...stretch the definition a bit.)

Friday, January 21, 2005

Chill, people

You can tell much about people by how they complain about the weather.

London is experiencing its first real cold snap of the season. The temp went down to something like -24 Celsius last night. Adding in the brisk winds that are blowing through the region brings the wind chill down to something like -35.

For some ridiculous reason, Canadians have to be different in everything they do. As a result, they use the metric system. In Fahrenheit, last night’s temp was -11, and the wind chill was -31. Whatever number you use, it was really cold.

I must admit I’m having a good time listening to folks whine, moan, and, yes, bitch about the temperature. I like to smile as they rant, letting them get it off their chest before I shrug my shoulders, look them right in the pupils and ask what they expect me to do about it? Do they want me to haul out my planetary space heater? Would a more regionalized hair dryer help?

Growing up in Montreal, where winters are somewhat more severe than they are down here in relatively balmy southwestern Ontario, I always looked forward to snowstorms and cold snaps. Maybe I was just being a kid – a kid who didn’t care about little things like working or paying bills – but I enjoyed the feeling you got when things were tough outside and you needed to get tough yourself if you were going to make it through. Sailors batten down the hatches before a storm hits, and this phrase often crosses my mind whenever I hear severe weather is rolling in.

My advice to the weather-whiners is simple: weather's going to happen whether you complain or not. Accept the simple fact that you have no control over it. A little variety - from sunny and warm, to cool and wet, to downright sub-Arctic - is a good thing.

And while you’re at it, please stop blaming the “weather man” or the “weather girl” for “getting it wrong. Television weather forecasters read the same Environment Canada (or wherever) web sites that you do. They just have nicer suits than we do.

The next time you wake up to a cold house on a frosty morning, try to repeat the word “Manyana” a few times. Pull on some layers of warm clothes and wear fluffy slippers on your feet. Look for something – a trinket or a tchatchke – that brings you comfort. Have a mug of tea. Linger over the paper for a few minutes longer. Enjoy the moment of peace that you wouldn’t have otherwise had if the weather hadn’t reminded you who’s really boss.

Bad weather builds strong character – and strong characters. We wouldn’t be who we are if every day dawned sunny and warm.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Vacation images - a little girl colors

I am convinced that adults don't spend enough time watching children being themselves. If we did, we'd learn quite a lot about how we should be leading our supposedly grown-up lives.

Here, Dahlia taught me that it's possible to be at peace even when the world flies by at 120 km/h and you're hundreds of kilometers from home. I love this picture because it is so reflective of the soft little bubble that a girl builds around herself when she simply wants to be a seven-year-old child.

I love this picture for how it makes me feel. I'm blessed to be her Dad, to be able to peek into scenes like this no matter where we are or what we're doing.

How do you - or your children, if you have them - find small slices of peace amidst the bustle of life? Why do you feel this is so critical to your well-being?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Slight warning: I'm on a bit of a pre-bedtime rant. Apologies in advance.

Now, on with the show...

I live my life with the belief that people are fundamentally good, and generally want what's best for those around them. Which is why I am always rather disappointed when I encounter the odd person who seems so focused on his or her own needs that simplicities like saying thank you or dropping me an e-mail to let me know the time I spent proving aid was appreciated and resulted in [fill in outcome here] are completely forgotten.

Over the past few months, I've been burned by a couple of folks who I'll simply call "takers". I'm sure they didn't overtly set out to leave a bad taste in my mouth. But after taking time out of my life to help these folks in any way I could, I was nastily surprised to find out that I seriously overvalued my contribution to their respective lives.

I guess because I'm a writer with a fairly deep knowledge of technology, I'm often approached for help with resumes and job search coaching. I edit what's sent my way, counsel over the phone, via e-mail and IM, and generally do whatever I can to help them through a challenging time. I likely say yes too often, because it seriously cuts into what little free time I have. But I figure people appreciate it, so I do it.

Maybe my breath isn't up to snuff, but the e-mails from my temporary proteges seem to stop as soon as said individuals find employment. I often hear about their new jobs from others because they were clearly too busy to let me know they were hired on. Some of them seem to drift back into my purview only when they're seeking employment. As soon as they hitch up with a company, they forget I exist.

It ticks me off because I invested time in these people that could have otherwise been spent with my family. I'm also trying to add momentum to the rolling snowball that is my writing career, and time spent on unappreciative souls doesn't really help the cause, y'know? Consequently, I need to change my approach a little to preserve my sanity. Here's how it'll work:

I'll continue to help. It's in my blood. I can't say no to someone who needs a boost when I clearly have the skills to help him/her out.

I will, however, have zero tolerance for "takers". Show any sign of being a one-way receiver and I can guarantee you it'll be the last time you receive any assistance from me. I'm not being mean: I'm only being fair to my wife and kids, who clearly value every second we spend together, and who end up getting ripped off when I waste my time on self-centred boobs.

I'll feel guilty, because my nature almost compels me to set my annoyance aside so I can help anyway. But such is life when there's only so much of me to go around, and not everyone has the vision to realize that being appreciative and nice is really quite a bit simpler than they were raised to believe.

I have some questions for you to ponder:
  • How do you handle self-centredness when it rears its ugly head?
  • Do you take the passive-aggressive stance and say nothing?
  • Do you cut the SOBs off?
  • Do you confront them?
  • Why/why not?
  • What strategies for handling "takers" have you developed in your own life?
Please do tell in the comments section below!

If you're reading this and you recognize yourself as one of my "takers" (doubtful, given most of you seem so intent on your own needs that you pay no attention to the little details of others, but nevertheless possible given the ubiquity of the Web) I apologize for causing the flushed cheeks that you're feeling right about now. Next time, show a little grace when someone extends a hand. And if you ever have the opportunity to help someone else out, consider taking it. You might learn something about yourself in the process.

There, I've vented, and I already feel better. Thank you for allowing me this catharsis.

More admin work

I've replaced the old blue template because it simply wouldn't stop blowing up in Internet Explorer. Even after I reapplied the original template, the sidebar continued to slide to the bottom of the screen.

Much frustration ensued, and as a result I decided to pull the plug on the old template and pick another conservative-looking one from the Blogger list. Although I tried to find something more unique elsewhere on the Internet, I ended up settling for this basic one because, frankly, I didn't want to endlessly fiddle with tags and lose sight of why I write this blog in the first place: to write (and not to code.)

So I hope you like it as is. From what I can tell, it seems to be behaving itself in both Internet Explorer and Firefox. I have not tested it in other browsers (Mac folks, feel free to chime in here) but I invite your comments on how it works for you now.

Thanks for your patience and advice, everyone. We now return to our regularly-scheduled blog programming.

Vacation images - Jellico cliff

As you've no doubt figured out by now, a recurring theme of our travels is the relative frequency with which we must stop so that our kids can use the washroom. Our eldest child was blessed with the constitution of a camel. So we naively figured all kids were similarly easygoing in this department. Yeah, right.

When we heard the furtive "I need to go..." call from the back, we pulled off the highway in a desolate place called Jellico that was stuck hard up against a hillside within a broad valley. Lovely scenery in nature, but the human presence in this area was anything but pretty, or intelligent.

In a fit of bad planning, the gas station/convenience store sold more fireworks than I've ever seen in my life. As we walked past the long rows of gaudily-packaged explosives on our way to the washroom, my daughter told me what a bad idea it was to have fireworks so close to gas and matches. A seven-year-old's wisdom: priceless.

We had parked the van at the edge of the parking lot, facing a fence half-covered with peeling white paint and a fading "Stuckey's" logo on it. To our left, an ancient and rusting truck trailer, its best miles clearly behind it, sat right next to an add-on to the store that was clearly not built according to any recognizable building codes. All told, this little anti-oasis was old, worn out, and badly in need of a do-over.

[Hint: here come today's questions...]

Yet beauty still abounded in a cliff face that towered over the fence and diverted our attention away from the murk. Even now, I'm not sure what I saw in these rocks. Perhaps you can tell me what this is supposed to be. Any ideas?

And while you're answering questions, I hope you'll help me with this one as well: what the heck was I thinking parking next to the bubba's equivalent of an ammo dump?

Monday, January 17, 2005

Pause for administrative notification

Although I tend to fiddle with the mechanics of the blog more than I should (really, just ask my wife), I typically don't write about it because I'd rather focus on the actual writing than on the technology that delivers it.

I'm breaking that tendency a touch with this post. I simply wanted to let y'all know that I have added a whack of stuff to my sidebar. Specifically, I've added a couple of sections that you may find useful:
  • Quoted: As part of my day job - Senior Research Analyst for the leading mid-size technology research firm - I am often asked to share my thoughts on the world of technology. It's almost spooky that I'm asked for my expert opinion. It's like giving the kid the keys to the Maserati. But drive I do. This is one of my favorite aspects of the job; I guess I love talking to smart people.
  • Commercial/Journalistic Blogs: I realized my list of linked-to blogs was becoming a bit unwieldy. So I split it up into Favorite Blogs (written by real people) and this category. These blogs are typically written by professionals, industry insiders, reps of major ISVs and other vendor types. Why these? Simple: because I read 'em and obtain value in the process.
  • Technology Columns/Columnists: As with the C/J Blogs, these are more traditional, columnar-format publishings from industry-leading writers. Similarly, these represent the core of my own must-read list.
I've also expanded the Favorite Blogs list because, frankly, my little world of known bloggers continues to expand. Cool!

I'll likely never finish tweaking, pulling, prodding and twisting the contents of my sidebar. Spend any time there and you'll get a good picture of where my gaze rests on the outside world. That should provide additional insight into what I will soon be writing in the main column - and elsewhere.

I figured this round of changes was significant enough to make mention of the process. Thanks for bearing with me - and for continuing to read, to comment, and to share your thoughts and encouragement. I appreciate every crossed electron that zings through my router.

But back to the important stuff: the process. Your turn: Who are you reading these days? Should any of these folks be in my sidebar? Why? Why not?

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Vacation images - ducky

One fine afternoon, we took a drive north and ended up at a wetlands preserve that blew us away with its richness and diversity. Initially, we weren't sure if the kids would be keen to walk on a three-quarter-mile boardwalk through what is essentially a swamp, but they ended up bubbling about the experience more than we were - which says something.

We saw all sorts of animal and plant life during our stroll through the Wakodahatchee Wetlands, but my joy came from watching our little folks experience it. Here's another link.

This little fellow swam under the boardwalk, so I made sure the camera strap was securely wrapped around my wrist, then shot almost straight down. As I continue to review the pictures we took, I am amazed that no matter how much time has passed since then, merely looking at a given picture takes me right back to the very moment it was taken. I can even remember what it felt like as our daughter tried to (quietly) coax the duck to stay close so she could talk to her (she insisted it was a she.) I could easily spend a lot more time sitting under the gazebo just drinking in this most unique of environments.

I seem to be evolving a strange tradition where I ask questions whenever I post a picture. Since the last thing I want to do is threaten a tradition, here's my question:

What's the duck thinking?

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Vacation images - exit stage left

I took this one on the same day as my previously-posted beach picture (and if you're not bored of seashore photos, I can probably post a couple more in the weeks to come. Just let me know if you're getting sick of this theme.)

What amazed me about that day was the contrast between the threateningly dark sky and the shafts of sun that fought to emerge through the clouds. It made for some vivid colors in the water, and a memorably unusual visit to what is usually an optically predictable place (bright sand, blue sky, kids in bathing suits, etc.)

Here, our avian friend exits stage left. I know seagulls are supposed to be dirty, common birds. But there's something magical about how they master the skies above the beach. That they were able to get airborne at all on this windy day - let alone glide as if they owned the place - was incredible.

It made me feel very small as I took this picture. What would you be thinking if you were observing this live?

Warning: hilarious AND profane

I don't swear much. Except when I'm stressed or late or otherwise at risk of blowing through a deadline. I also tend to let some cuss words leak out when I'm riding my bike and my life is, intentionally or not, threatened by a motorist. Oh yes, I also swear - or think of swear words - when I'm really tired and it becomes apparent that there will be utterly no sleep in my immediate future.

But when it comes to writing, I'm about as likely to use a four-letter word as Jerry Seinfeld is in one of his stand-up routines. Aside from the fact that such language wouldn't be appreciated by the editors of a daily newspaper, it just isn't me. I can paint literary pictures with decidedly cleaner words.

Still, I appreciate creative stretching of the language envelope as much as anyone else. So with this spirit in mind, feel free to click here for a graphical - and graphic - view of a real university essay.

If you're drinking milk while you're reading this, swallow it all before you follow the link. You may also want to visit the washroom. And tell your mother to exit the room (yes, this includes you, Mom.)

Dad too.

BTW, the associated graphic files are fairly large. High-bandwidth connection recommended. Otherwise, be patient.

Titanic Titan

In the midst of the AnisPitt breakup, it's difficult to imagine that the news cycle would have room for any other news story of consequence. Never mind the tsunami wiping 160,000 people off the face of the planet, or the ongoing carnage in Iraq. Nah, nothing matters more to Entertainment Tonight devotees than the breathlessly-announced celebrity separation of the week.

If you're still mourning the end of this union, feel free to return to the makeshift Brad-Jen altar that you hastily set up in your basement as soon as you heard the news.

For the rest of us, I hope we take a moment or two to think about space exploration, and why it matters to us. Certainly more than a couple of vacuous celebs.

The Huygens probe successfully separated from the Cassini spacecraft last week and subsequently landed on Titan, one of Saturn's moons. Data beamed back are prompting scientists to rewrite the books on how this distant and icy world came to be. They're going to be analyzing the implications as they relate to our own understanding of Earth for years to come.

In short, this is significant. When usually-sober scientists and engineers break down in tears of overwhelming joy at a news conference, it's significant.

The NASA home page for the combined Cassini-Huygens mission is here. The Jet Propulsion Lab mission home page is here. The European Space Agency page for the Huygens lander component is here.

Read. Enjoy. Learn.

Don't forget to blow out the Brad-Jen candles on your altar before you tuck in.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Vacation images - mysterious root

Across the road from my in-laws is a huge park called Quiet Waters County Park. One fine morning, my father-in-law and I took the kids there to vent some steam on the very large jungle gym. Before long, little man advised me that he needed to ... you guessed it, pee.

Quick aside: When it comes to a four year-old's bladder, it's not a matter of if he'll need to pee. Rather, it's a question of when. We plan our trips around our his pee breaks, and don't go anywhere unless the Bathroom Disaster Plan is fully documented and synced to my PalmPilot. Aside over.

So I scooped him up and half walked, half ran to the bathroom which, if it wasn't at least half a statute mile away from the playground, sure seemed like it.

After he was finished exploring every feature of the hand dryer, we headed back outside to rejoin his older siblings. As we came outside, I noticed that the city had laid down a neat layer of reddish cedar-like chips around the bases of the nearby trees. The contrast with the roots was beckoning me. So I pulled the camera out of the holster on my belt (yes, it went everywhere with me on this trip) and grabbed a few pictures. A mother nearby wandered over with her similarly-aged son to see what I was up to.

Only after I finished shooting, as Noah and I reviewed the pictures on the screen on the long walk back to the playground, did we both notice the uncanny image I had just captured. Even now, I get chills.

How does this image make you feel?

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Publish Day - murder close to home

I had a column all ready to go on Sunday night. It was a happy piece intended to put a lovely little exclamation point on our vacation. But then I watched the 11 o'clock news. They led with a story about the murder of a young woman mere blocks from my home. Her ex-boyfriend was arrested outside the aquatic center where we take the kids swimming.

It played on my mind as I tried to get to sleep, and was still troubling me in the morning. I decided to pitch the happy-happy column and write a new one. The result, Slaying shatters illusion of safety, was published in today's paper.

Through the magic of a small tagline at the bottom of all of my printed columns that includes my e-mail address, I already know that writing this was the right thing to do. It's hard to explain how it feels when you receive poignantly worded messages from close friends of the victim. I don't feel at all good about this horrific tragedy. But if words can bring comfort, it was worth it.

It's too late for Laura Wilson. But if additional coverage of domestic violence can prevent even one future murder, can incent someone to step in and stop the cycle in even one case, then perhaps words really are more powerful than weapons.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Notes From the Road - Day 7

My in-laws live in what can only be described as a city within a city. Hundreds of buildings containing well over 8,000 housing units, all laid out in a sprawling chunk of land criss-crossed by canals and roads. Depending on who you talk to, the place easily swallows at least 15,000 residents - frightening given how many towns around London aren't anywhere near that figure.

Most folks use their cars to get around. Others use the pedestrian walkways and quieter side roads for their daily walks and jogs. My father-in-law hits the road every day on his bike.

The community even has its own mass transit system. Known affectionately as Lolly the Trolley - or, more simply, The Trolley - these blue bus-based vehicles loop through the community constantly, bringing folks to and from wherever they need to go. True Trolley experts know the times, the routes ("No, the 2 doesn't go there...but you can link up with the 4 if you're willing to wait for 7 minutes") and even the peculiarities of individual drivers.

Stylistically, these things actually look like Trolleys, right down to the arched windows and wood-inlaid interiors. Freaky, even for an adult.

So it was with a great degree of excitement that Zayda ( father-in-law) led us all on a trek across the village in one of these magical vehicles. It was a gray day, and the swimming was so-so. So he looked at his watch and beckoned us outside for the grand ride.

The kids barely made it to the stop before the Trolley pulled up and we all climbed aboard.

The kids' heads swivelled in every imaginable direction as they tried to take in the rapidly-changing landscape around them. Zayda explained the sights as rapidly as he could, giving them - and us - a lesson in how different people of a different age in a different place try to lead their lives. Other passengers - mostly elderly given that this is a retirement community - smiled as they calculated the suddenly-reduced average ridership age in their heads.

After barely a half-hour, our coach looped back home, and the kids hopped off and waved goodbye to the driver. It was another seemingly little experience in a vacation that thus far seemed chock full of similarly small moments.

Small, however, does not mean insignificant. As I watched our kids listen to their Zayda, I got the feeling that this moment would stick in their heads for a very long time. It's just the kind of little experience that has an anything-but-little impact on a child's memory. They connected with him as only grandchildren can. I only wish we had a Trolley here at home so we could repeat the experience the next time Zayda visits us here.

Vacation images - cracked sky

My wife and I went to the beach on our own one fine morning. As has become our custom, however, our days at the beach are never sunny and warm. We don't plan it that way: bad weather seems to follow us around whenever we're alone and outside. As we doffed our sandals and stepped onto the sand, the sky was threatening and the wind was strong enough to sandblast our legs.

But we were alone - the munchkins were spending some quality time with their grandparents and that was all that mattered. As much as we love our kids - and we do, immensely and limitlessly - we similarly cherish being alone on certain rare, select occasions.

So we walked along the beach, stared at the churning ocean, held hands, and talked. It seemed like we were there for an age, but it was barely an hour before the wind-driven sand sent us back to the car.

I took this picture a few minutes after we got to the coast. The sky couldn't seem to decide whether it wanted to be sunny or cloudy. The sun's rays peeked through as if the sky had been cracked open. We could almost hear the choir sing an aria as the light burst out of the clouds. We felt very small and humbled to have seen this short-lived, unbelievably beautiful scene.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The photographic plant

I thought I'd get back to non-vacation pictures for a very brief bit. A visitor to the site who kindly took the time to leave a comment a few weeks back said plants would be neat. So here's an interesting example. At least I hope you think it's interesting.

I'm pretty sure this was from an African Violet plant. As always, I succeeded in killing the flowers through my sheer inability to maintain plant life much beyond the time it takes to get it home from the store.

Yet the leaves seemed so cool. So I set up a long exposure and managed to grab this one before the inevitable wave of crinkly brown overtook the remaining green.

I once again leave you with more questions than answers:
  1. What's the first thought that creeps into your head when you see this?
  2. Quickly think of the first thing that you will photograph the next time you pick up a camera (it could be anything...go nuts!)
  3. Will you let me (and everyone who reads this blog) know when you post the results from Question 2 to your own blog?

Sunday, January 09, 2005

A cat's life

In the overall scheme of things, the welfare of one cat doesn't merit top billing in the history books. Yet in his own way, the furry black character who's been with us for pretty much all of our married life has managed to carve out his own place in our family's life.

So it was with a tinge of sadness that we learned yesterday that our 12-year-old pet is diabetic.

My wife, who's got a much finer sense of these things than I, knew something was up. He had been losing weight for some time. I figured he was simply being himself. Shadow's always been a bit psychotic, so I buried my head in the sand, assuming that age and age alone was why he was becoming less like the boisterous kitten who had ruled the house ever since we first brought him home.

Our vet put him on some special food, and we'll try to manage it with diet for now. If that doesn't work, I may need to learn the intricacies of injecting insulin into a cat. At the same time, I will also learn extreme self-defense techniques against a ticked-off feline. We'll hope it doesn't come to that.

Of course, the world continues to spin about its axis at the same speed it did before we received this news. The real suffering on this planet - today and always - puts this in its properly minor perspective. Yet I can't help but take notice of this change, and draw parallels to how these things evolve in humans as well: now that we know, we'll never look at him the same way again. He's fragile, different, older. My wife and I find ourselves thinking of how we'll explain it to our kids as things progress to their inevitable end - and hope that it'll be a while before we need to do so.

Our daughter, in her typically gentle, motherly way, reached out to Shadow before tuck-in tonight and softly smoothed his fur while she quietly spoke to him. Watching her, I got the distinct feeling that at the age of seven, she already understood what I am still struggling to accept: that things change, lives end, and sometimes a little cuddle is all you can do to help ease the inevitable transition.

Notes From the Road - Day 6

Sixth in a continuing series of observations from our recent family road trip...

I have this thing for self-powered transport. From around March till December - when the roads are clear - I use my bicycles as primary transportation. When we drove to Montreal this past summer, I managed to convince my wife to allow me to stuff the commuter bike into the back of the minivan. In case you missed my rambling thoughts from that time, here are the related postings: The Grizzled Vet, Return to the Green Mountain, A Centurion, I Am, and Last Ride to Booneyville.

Alas, I didn't have a hope in purgatory of getting the bike onto the approved cargo list for this trip. But rollerblades (oops, in-line skates) were another story altogether. I had visions of a daily cruise among the lovely palm trees around my in-laws' place.

So I set off early in the morning. A couple of obstacles stood in my way:
  1. I'm really not a very good in-line skater
  2. The pavement in Florida is about as coarse as a cheese grater.
So even though I've mastered the basics of going, stopping, turning and all that, a bit of broken pavement can easily fluster me, force me out of my little skier's crouch and bring me down to earth with a resounding thud. Which is precisely what happened when I sort of freaked out over a particularly large crack in the pavement and fell, rear-end first, onto the concrete.

I recall the feeling of electricity shooting up my spine from my tailbone. I also recall swearing a number of times as I conducted the obligatory post-crash inventory check of what body parts still worked. Thankfully, the toes wiggled and I was able to roll over and observe that Florida grass is definitely different than Ontario grass.

A couple of motorists stopped to make sure I wasn't seriously injured. One elderly woman even stayed in her car until I was able to get up. Lovely soul, she was.

Then a pickup filled with members of a landscaping crew cruised by. The men in the truck's bed laughed as they passed me. Not-so lovely souls, they were.

After a couple of minutes on the ground, I got up, rolled slowly home and took my blading doodads off for good.

Post-vacation note: The rollerblades were not used again on this trip. Thoughts of driving home on a bruised tushy pretty much scared me out of any further attempts to master this ridiculously health-threatening sport. I'll venture out again this spring.

Safety note: I was wearing the full gamut of blading protective gear: helmet, elbow pads, knee pads and wrist guards. Yes, I am paranoid. Unfortunately, there are no rear-end protectors beyond the mythical feather pillow. Perhaps next time...

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Vacation images - towel on a lounge

Wherever I am, I'm always subconsciously looking for things that interest me. While swimming with the kids, I took a fancy to the yellow-webbed lounge chairs arrayed haphazardly around the deck. In and of themselves, they weren't that compelling. I took an unadorned picture of a few of them, and got the scrunched brow response from my wife.

But when one of our towels was draped over the back, the whole color-line-geometry impression was too good to ignore. I love how this picture makes me feel, and how it takes me right back to the pool, with our kids' voices playing in my head.

Notes From the Road - Day 5

Today was a day for family. We drove north to visit my aunt and uncle, who merely days earlier had moved to Florida. In between guiding workmen around the house and moving boxes into more convenient spaces, they found time to allow our kids to bounce around their house. True to form, we all ended up in their pool, and before long had yet another rich collection of memories tucked away.

Here, Noah answers the ages-old question of how superheroes become superheroes. I love the perspective on this one. My creaky old bones, however, did not.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Close call

While driving back to the house last night, I was startled out of my evening reverie by the increasing-volume barking of an incredibly agitated dog. In the left lane of a major four-lane road, a beagle-like dog suddenly materialized out of the darkness and ran straight at me.

I did the usual panic thing: brake, swerve into the other lane, control the inevitable skid and bring the vehicle to a safe stop. Not easy to do when the roads are mushy-snowy and your heart jumps into your stomach and you can feel it pounding in your ears.

Thankfully, the only cars near me were far enough back that I didn't hit them. I pulled over and looked back to see where the poor pooch was. He was sprinting in a straight line and was well over a block away - and disappearing fast - by the time I got out of the car. There was no way I or anyone else was going to catch him.

I drove home with a heavy heart. Glad I hadn't hit him, and glad I didn't damage anyone else, or myself, in the process. But I worried about whether he (she?) made it safely back to his owner. I worried about a family somewhere wondering where their pet had gone. I hugged our own now-geriatric cat, Shadow, and took comfort that we had him for at least another day.

Notes From the Road - Day 4

Second day here and the day started off cool enough that we seriously doubted the kids would want to go outside. They insisted on swimming in the pool. Far be it for us to deny our children anything, so we went.

Mom & Dad froze, but the kids loved it, and didn't want to leave. Long after my wife and I had officially reached near-hypothermic core body temperatures, our munchkins were still vocally expressing their desire to have their bedroom furniture shipped to Florida and installed in the changing rooms beside the pool.

By the time we coaxed them out of the pool with promises of milkshakes and ice cream, the skies had clouded over. As we walked back home, we saw a blimp in the distance. Another first - a giant gasbag. I ran upstairs with the two munchkins to get a better look. I did my best to explain the concept of a blimp - "Yes, Sweetie, that shrinking gray dot waaaaay over there is like a hot air balloon, but with a motor" - to our little man. But in the end, I think he was just happy to be playing with his big sister.

I couldn't argue with that logic.


Sad news from Betty Crocker's kitchen: Father of the Bundt pan dies.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Vacation images - future's so bright...

Dahlia and Zach expressed their creative solution to a vexing problem when they donned their swimming goggles to combat the bright sun. I'm not sure about the long-term comfort factor, but they seemed to enjoy the experience.

Vacation images - Day 1 drive

The first day of the drive was a lot easier than we expected. We left early - 5:30 a.m. - and were in Ohio by breakfast. We stopped at McDonald's in Bowling Green, just across the street from Bowling Green State University. The kids seemed to really enjoy being in the car. And we didn't even have to drug them.

Here, Noah tries on his "earmuffs". Yes, we know they're the headphones from the DVD player, but the word "earmuffs" sounds so much cuter.

Yes, he really is this happy pretty much all the time.

Vacation images - Noah

Officially, he's our baby. Just don't call him that. Unofficially, he's our Sunshine Boy because he's eternally happy right down to his core.

He's an infectious little guy: hang around him long enough and his sense of humor will doubtless rub off on you.

Here he is guarding the edge of the pool near Bubby and Zayda's house. If it were up to him, we would have spent every waking moment there. Not a bad idea at all.

Vacation images - Dahlia

Middle child, sandwiched between two brothers. Not the easiest place to grow up, but Dahlia manages to hold her own, and then some. A stronger-willed child is difficult to imagine. We wouldn't have it any other way.

Here she's hanging out in Bubby and Zayda's (Yiddish for grandmother and grandfather) Florida room in, you guessed it, Florida. We couldn't find dahlia flowers for the picture, so artificial daisies will have to do.

Vacation images - Zach

Eldest son. Biggest brother. Would live in water if given the choice.

As you'll notice with a cursory comparison to any picture of me, he looks like me. A lot.

Yet, somehow, he's infinitely cuter. Thank goodness for my wife's influence.

Vacation images - me

I'm not one for having my picture taken. I'm much more comfortable taking the picture and keeping my face from being captured on film, CCD, video, or any other medium.

But every once in a while, someone manages to snap one of me where my eyes are open and I look not-so-scary. My wife grabbed this one during one of those rare moments when the kids weren't wrestling over the last handful of Tostitos.

Vacation images - Mom's sun

Our cast of characters starts with the literal center of our little family: my wife Debbie. Mother of three and keeper of all, this picture of her captures why we decided to head south in the first place.

Every time I shiver in the cold of a London, Ontario winter (OK, it's not that cold here, but walking around in sandals over the Christmas break tends to skew one's perspectives on weather) I'll think of this picture of her. It simply speaks warmth.

Vacation images - a society's priorities

Anyone who knows me knows I'm a keen observer of the little things that most people miss. Just after we got into Florida, our little guy announced - for the zillionth time since we had left home - that he had to pee. Since four-year-olds haven't yet evolved the holding-it-in gene, an immediate lane change to the right was initiated, followed by a rapid search for the nearest exit.

We ended up at a BP station which gave us our first taste of Florida weather. Wind warnings had blanketed the state that day, and the rush of air through the abundant palm trees in this hillside location served almost as nature's welcome to the state. It was almost too pretty a scene for a gas station.

Then I read the sign more closely. The fact that cigarette carton prices figured so prominently struck me as absurd. I'm not so much a non-smoker as an anti-smoker. I've written about the hypocrisy of the tobacco-driven economy in the past, and the sign's message just begged me to take out the camera and shoot it. Which I did. Judge - or don't judge - as you wish.

Vacation images - reflecting on a trip

Have you ever taken zillions of pictures in the hope that just one of them will be worth saving? Over the years, I've evolved an overshoot-based philosophy toward photography. I figured all I was wasting was film and time - not such a big deal (my father, who doesn't quite understand my photographic or literary motivations, would vocally disagree with my logic, but he's welcome to set up his own blog if he wishes.)

Over time, I got better at the photography thing - I've done a few weddings along the way, but much prefer to capture all the subtle nuances of my family - and my hit rate increased substantially. We got our first digital camera this summer, so my trigger-happy shutter finger has become even more trigger-happy.

Which leads us to our just-completed Florida vacation. We took around 600 pictures. Before you ask, no, I will not be posting them all here. But I felt some strategic posting of some of the more notable scenes would help tell the story of a momentous couple of weeks in our and our kids' lives.

I hope you enjoy the photographic ride.

Oh yes, about this picture: it simply says "road trip" to me, and brings me right back to the drive every time I look at it. I'm not sure what it is about the mirror that fascinates me as a photographic tool, but I've been experimenting with reflective surfaces since I brought my first SLR home as a kid some 20 years ago.

Vacation images - about

Thanks, Joan, for green-lighting my photographic migration. Let the games begin!

(To anyone who's wondering what I'm talking about, please click onto my earlier post.)

I shall now begin the painstaking (for me) and potentially painful (for you) process of adding some glimpses of our driving adventure to grandma and grandpa's house. I'll post 'em under the "Vacation images" banner. As always, I'll jot a brief story to go along with each, and I'll do my best to keep 'em topical even if you've never met us before. I'll also promise to keep my verbiage to decidedly fewer than 1,000 words.

A bit of expectation-setting: we took over 600 pictures (!) during our time away from home. At a mite over 1.5 Mb per shot, that's almost 2 full CDs worth of material. I have no intention of posting them all to my blog. If I did, I'd be here until, well, our next vacation and you'd be asleep long before then. If anyone wants to see all 600 of them, I can always send out the CDs. Beyond the grandparents, who've already received theirs, I doubt we'll have any other takers.

Uh oh...

After struggling to upload a picture to my new MSN Spaces blog, I realized - much to my chagrin - that Microsoft limits your total photo load to 10 Mb. Ooh, talk about a kick in the technological beitzim.

I fail to understand how this facilitates photo-sharing, and am once again forced to consider how and where I should post a sampling of photos and stories from our little tour of the American south. If it's just as simple for you all, I'll simply move the party over here.

Sound good? Will y'all want to see a few pictures of my little ones on vacation? Or will you run for the hills at the faintest hint of same?

Please let me away-from-Microsoft migration will commence soon.

(I tried. I really tried.)

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Wrong season, right mood

It is absolutely the wrong season for this. This is a picture of one of the pumpkins we had in front of our house around Halloween this past year. Somewhere, my parents fret about their Good Jewish Boy participating in a self-centred pagan ritual. But I only took pictures of the thing. I didn't bow in front of it and offer my beret as a sacrifice. (End Guilt Phase of this evening's writings.)

To further reduce our ritualistic investment in the whole holiday thing, we didn't even bother to carve it. I'm soooo lazy when it comes to these things.

That said, I wasn't originally planning to take a picture of it. It didn't strike me as particularly interesting, unique or memorable. It was a vegetable, and a common one at that.

But one day as I came home with the kids, I noticed that the yellowish, low-angled late-afternoon sun seemed to intensify the orange. The shading seemed to jump out at me, and I thought a color-based picture might be fun. Our daughter happily chatted with me as I snapped off a few pictures.

"Why are you taking pictures of the pumpkin?"
"Can we keep our pumpkin all winter?"
"I think Mommy will say you're being silly."

(She's so perceptive!)

In the end, this over-the-top view won me over. The stem sort of balances the picture, while the fading orange adds to the direction. I don't think it says anything in the process, but it's a nice combination of angle and color that isn't like the typical pumpkin pic. And it reminds me of a simple few minutes I spent in front of our house with my little girl.

Publish Day - online privacy

Fun things happen when you go away. Aside from the usual vacation-induced relaxation that can put you into an umbrella-drink-driven coma before too long, you often return to the real world to waiting good news.

In this case, one of my opinion pieces, The Web's Laughable Pretense Of Privacy, was published in on New Year's Eve.

To ensure I don't lose track of anything, I have updated the sidebar to include a section for the articles I have published thus far in Processor. I have also included a new "Quoted" section in the sidebar. Each item links to an article where I have been quoted - essentially, I'm pontificating (there's that word again) my thoughts on various aspects of the IT industry.

It's yet another side of the complex being that is me, and I hope you enjoy reading it.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The deal with resolutions

As a rule, I don't believe in New Year's resolutions. The thought of making a bunch of unrealistic promises to yourself at an arbitrary point on the calendar, then forgetting about them soon after, then repeating the entire process a year from now, has always struck me as a few ticks beyond ridiculous.

Still, the desire to improve ourselves should not be overlooked. It's what sets us apart from other species, and it's what gives us hope for the future. So in the spirit of tikkun olam - Hebrew for, literally, fixing our world - I present my short list of resolutions:
  • I will listen more than I speak.
  • I will do everything in my power to make others smile.
  • I will hug everyone in my family as often as they'll let me.
  • I will stare into my wife's eyes and take the sight of her in - again, as often as she will let me.
  • I will spend more time with (and thinking about) people who matter and less time with (and thinking about) those who do not.
  • I will use my writing to help others.
  • I will repeat these resolutions to myself at least once a day for the next year. I believe in resolutions, after all; not New Year's resolutions.
What will you do to fix the world around you?

Notes From the Road – Day 3

On our first full day in Florida, we decided to take the kids to the beach. The weather was sunny, but not really warm – well, warm for us, but not-so-warm for native Floridians – so we figured a quick walk at the edge of the surf would be a nice introduction to this warm and welcoming part of the world.

Zach had been on the very same beach seven years ago. So had Dahlia, but given the fact that she was four months-old at the time, she didn’t really remember the experience.

This was Noah’s first time, though every time we went to the Port Stanley beach near our home in London last summer, he sweetly referred to Lake Erie as “the ocean” and we never had the heart to correct him.

To get to the beach, we had to drive over the lift bridge that crosses the Intracoastal Waterway. I listened carefully to the bubbling of three little voices as we climbed the bridge and approached the coast. Noah saw the waterway out the side window and asked if this was the ocean. Not yet, we said. But a couple of quick turns later, the surf loomed ahead of us, and everyone fell silent as they absorbed the scene with their very large blue eyes. The winds had whipped up some large, deep-blue and green waves. We quickly parked and unloaded.

Before long, our elder little folks doffed their shoes and sprinted through the sand toward the rolling waves. For kids who had no intention of going swimming, they got plenty wet: Dahlia was bowled over by a wave as she stood in ankle-deep water, while Zach looked like he’d been through a car wash after he finished skipping through the surf. Noah played happily away from the water, filling his pail with sand. They never stopped smiling, and would have stayed there all day if we let them.

My wife and I held their hands and strolled through the edge of the surf, thinking that this was one of those simple times that they’d likely remember forever. I hope so.

Monday, January 03, 2005

The balance of color

It's such a gray time of year - both visually and psychologically - that I find myself deliberately looking for anything that's richly-colored to jolt myself out of this seasonally-induced sea of sameness. I'm far from depressed, and I've never been diagnosed with SAD, but I can understand how long nights, short days, a dull landscape and non-stop cold can file the edges off of one's soul.

This picture injects jolts of color into the proceedings. It moves beyond color, though, to texture and temperature as well - all elements that make for a rich memory of a scene that lasted all of a few minutes in time.

Where do you find comfort during our calendar's doldrums? What brings you warmth and comfort?

And, oh yes, what, precisely, is this? (And will I stop using italics anytime soon?)

A wave of parental emotion

I stared at our youngest son after tucking him into bed last night. I lingered longer than I usually do because I wanted to appreciate how lucky I truly am.

Here I was, on the last night of a wonderful family vacation. My three kids were safely tucked into their beds. My wife was getting things ready for the next morning. It was a happy evening in Levyland.

And I felt guilty that I should feel such peace when so many others on the other side of the planet felt nothing but pain. Or couldn’t feel anything at all.

While I watched my kids frolic on a beach, countless others were dying in a remarkably similar, faraway beachfront environment. While I took lots of colorful pictures, images of horror spread across the Internet and global television networks. We still have our kids, and our kids still have their parents. So many victims of the South Asian tsunami disaster cannot say the same.

As I have done so often with Noah’s older brother and sister, and as I have done so often with him since he first appeared on this planet, I watched his blanket rise and fall as he slept. I thought about the parents who wish they could do the same. What separates me from them is, in the end, not a whole lot.

So as I engage in the seemingly trivial act of writing this blog entry and wondering why such horrific things can happen to people who simply wanted to live, work, and play, I hope you’ll take a brief moment to think about how lucky we all are to simply be here. If you resolve to do nothing else in 2005, helping those around you in any way you can would be a great place to start.

The long-awaited photographic answer

A few weeks ago, I posted a picture within a message entitled The photographic guessing game. I challenged you all to guess what the macro-photographed, rainbow-colored stripes were. I am thrilled that so many of you were so creative in your attempts to figure it out.

Now that I'm back from sticking my head in beach sand, I'm happy to end the mystery once and for all - well, until I post my next macro shot, that is.

It is a picture of a box of colored 3.5-inch floppy disks, viewed edge-on.

I included it here because these icons of technology that have lived on our desks and in our suitcases and knapsacks for the past two decades are rapidly disappearing from our midst. I often take pictures of things that won't exist for long as a way of ensuring I don't forget them.

Once again, thank you all for turning a silly little message with a silly little picture into such an enjoyable exchange. Count on the photographic pipeline containing more such surprises in future.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Notes from the Road - Day 2

Second in a meandering series...

Still Cold

At the midpoint of our psychotically long drive, we awoke to frost on the car windows. I'm sorry, but Georgia shouldn't be this cold at this time of year; not when we have fatigue-induced thoughts of palm trees dancing through our heads.

Towers in the Sky

While packing the car in the pre-dawn murk, I noticed a giant Waffle House sign hovering in the sky over the hotel's parking lot. These signs - 7-to-10-storey monstrosities that dot the edges of the Interstate's skyline - quickly became a signature of our drive.

During the day, they would obscenely pop up in the most pathetic places, like the middle of an otherwise-stunning mountain or valley view, or in dense, repetitive clusters leading up to the next offramp.

At night, they floated like lit beacons in the sky, marking the edges of an otherwise-inky-black road. It was strangely comforting to drive down the middle of this glowing corridor of commercialism.

At Every Exit a Washroom

Our little guy decided to test our resolve just south of Atlanta by saying he had to pee no less than three times within an hour. Although we believe no one on the planet has such a small bladder capacity, we didn't want to test this belief. So stop we did. Often.

Thankully, the highway soon became stunningly wide and straight - parts of it were originally designed to be used as airfields in the event of a Soviet attack up from Cuba - so we were able to, um, use increased rates of velocity to make up some of our lost time.


Just before the Florida border, our daughter noticed the first palm tree beside the road. Just after the border, Noah noticed his first orange grove. It was hard to keep the lump in my throat down as I heard and felt the excitement in their voices. The beauty of childhood often lies in how purely their emotions are expressed. They haven't yet been beaten down by the cynicism of the adult world - something we should all appreciate to a greater degree.


By lunchtime, it was clear we'd make it to Bubby and Zayda's (Yiddish for grandma and grandpa) house today. The kids counted the minutes while I ticked off the kilometers in my head.

We zoomed down Florida's Turnpike, my wife expertly navigating us through the dark, off the highway, through the streets of Deerfield and, finally, to their front door.. Funny how the anticipation of getting there seemed to mask how tired we all were.

As I watch our kids sleeping soundly, tucked into bed at their grandparents' house, I'm thankful we made it here safely and happily. I know the return trip hangs out there at the end of our vacation. But we'll worry about that when the time comes. For now, we'll focus on making sure they never forget their time here.

Photoblog/MSN Spaces Experiment

I've already shared my thoughts on Microsoft's recently-launched MSN Spaces blog service (here's the post, entitled A blogging window opens...) My bottom-line assessment at the time was it was a nice effort but not sufficient to prompt me to abandon what I've already got here at Blogger.

I'm going to shift that world view ever-so-slightly now that I'm back from vacation and looking for an easy way to share lots of pictures with friends and family. Given the wide range of technical ability in my constituent group - yes, I'm being very careful with my words here - an easy-to-surf web-based solution would clearly work best.

I know I could simply dump a huge chunk of vacation pictures onto this blog. But I don't want this site to turn into Carmi's Family Photo Album. I realize it is already that to a certain extent. But that is only one of this blog's functions. I don't want to lose that sense of balance - the whole words 'n pictures 'n thoughts 'n whatever-else-comes-to-mind ethos.

I had set up an MSN Spaces site when it first launched, but left it untouched pending some future requirement. Enter the two-plus CDs of pictures we brought back from the trip.

Here's the site's URL:

(I's also called "Written Inc." Sorry for the confusion. I was going for consistency.)

I will continue to post pictures and related thoughts here on (the original, Blogger-based) Written Inc. Nothing changes content-wise. I'm simply going to use my MSN Spaces site as a virtual family/friends photo album. If you're looking for pictures of us, our kids, our lives and related stuff, you'll find them there. (Yes, Mom and Dad. That means you. Don't be shy: leave a comment here and say hi to everyone. They don't bite.)

This site will continue its already-established journey of literary and photographic discovery, and I invite you to continue to surf on in here to experience the trip.

Notes from the Road - Day 1

Please note: When we decided to take our kids on our family's Grand Adventure to Florida, we wanted to capture the experience in an appropriate manner.

Conventionally, we took our digital camera with us and ended up taking around 600 pictures. Somewhat unconventionally, I took my PalmPilot and keyboard along, and jotted down incoherent thoughts and other spurious facts each day of the trip. The Notes from the Road postings are the result of this. I hope you enjoy coming along for the ride with us.

The plan was to roll out of the driveway at 3 a.m. By piling our still-sleeping children into the already-packed minivan - and buckling them in, of course - we thought we would be able to knock off at least three or four hours of peaceful driving before the kids stirred in time for breakfast.

The best laid plans are, as you can well imagine, just that: plans. They don't translate well into reality. We ended up sleeping through the phalanx of alarms we had set, and rolled out of bed at 4:30. We still managed to get on the road by 5:30 - well past our original goal, but earlier than we had ever previously made it out of the house.

The Tim Hortons coffee - the last we would have for almost a couple of weeks - tasted especially good as we set off in the dark of a wintry morning.

We originally set a three-day goal for the 2,400-kilometer trip - making for three, 800-kilometer (500-mile) drives. By overdriving the first day, we figured out third day would be a short one, allowing us to arrive at our destination - my in-laws and their grandparents - earlier in the day.

The kids half-napped for the first couple of hours as we crossed the last bit of southwestern Ontario and approached the border crossing at Detroit.

I was struck by the gradual brightening of the pre-dawn sky as night slowly gave way to a mostly sunny morning. I felt as if we all had a front-row seat to the world waking up.

And I do mean we. Remember our grand plan to have all three little folks sleep for the first few hours? Yeah, as if. They sort-of napped for a bit, but ultimately were awake and increasingly excited as we crossed the very tall Ambassador Bridge and cruised into the incredibly bustling city of Detroit. Their chatter was a welcome change from the usual competitive bickering of three intensely-bright siblings.

Barely two hours into our trip and we had already set the tone for a memorable journey. Given that my wife and I always intended for the journey to be an integral part of the adventure, we smiled as we rolled on to breakfast in Ohio.

The first of many dichotomies of life in this amazingly rich and diverse land became obvious early on:
  1. A massive white cross that loomed over the highway and cast a shadow over the nearby porn superstore. And this in a supposedly dry country. I guess porn - and the suggestive billboards that heralded it in the preceding miles - was OK, but booze wasn't.
  2. A BMW-driving woman who left two infants in her unlocked, idling uber-machine while she ran into the rest stop.
  3. The 400-plus pound folks who were on a first-name basis with the servers at the local fast-food joint.
Sure, all of this can happen anywhere. But we crammed a lot of experiences into a very busy day, briefly touching one community after another as we hopscotched south. The net result for us was an intense package of memories that will stay with us far longer than the time it took to drive through whatever burg it was where they happened.

I'm writing this from our hotel in Ringgold, Georgia. We've covered 1,200 km and are just over halfway there. This has been the biggest single-day drive in our little family's history, and the kids fell asleep almost as soon as we tucked them into bed.

My wife and I are talking about possibly making it in two days. But we think it'll be best to hold off on telling our little people until we're sure Day 2 is as charmed as Day 1 so clearly was.

Today was memorable for us. Watching three sleeping kids in a quiet hotel room, I hope it was for them as well. The relaxed look on my wife's face suggests she knew this was precisely the case.

May tomorrow be just as easy, and may it bring us safely to our still far-off destination.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Little guy's little brother, big beach

As I slowly get back into a somewhat normal groove - operative word is "slowly" given the fact that my brain is still firmly in vacation mode - I'll post some pictures, stories, and other notes-from-the-road-type missives from our just-finished trip.

I'll do my best to avoid boring you in the process, which means it won't be a blow-for-blow travelog reminiscent of the nap-inducing slide shows of yore. Instead, I'll pick and choose snippets that I think (hope?) will pique a happy thought in the mind of anyone who reads this. As always, I'll take requests.

With that in mind, onward.

I took this picture on Deerfield Beach, which is on the Atlantic coast of Florida somewhere south of Boca Raton (don't ask me to get more precise than that...I'm still amazed that we even made it there without getting massively lost!)

It's a few miles east of my in-laws' winter place, and is the same beach where, almost 7 years ago this month, we took our then-three-year-old Zachary and four-month-old Dahlia for their first ocean experience.

Seven years on, it was Noah's turn (he's four) to see the ocean for the first time. Just like his big brother, he played in the sand and managed to carve out a little world for himself despite the enormity of where he was. Zach's picture is included in my earlier post. Can you see any similarity?

Interestingly, I hadn't originally planned on taking the picture this way. But as I crouched down to capture it, I was reminded of that long-ago scene. And as I snapped picture after picture of a little guy who wasn't even aware of the buzz going on around him, I once again wiped tears away. I guess I'm too much of a softie for my own good.

More later.

Home again

After another two-day marathon driving session from South Florida to London, Ontario (bless the I-75), we arrived home safe and sound last night in time to watch the ball drop in New York's Times Square.

I've got a whole lot of observations about the silliness of ABC's "coverage" of this "event", but I'll wait until my head is capable of assembling coherent thoughts before I delve into it.

For now, I'll limit my words to letting you know how good it feels to be back home, how nice it was to get away in the first place, and how much I look forward to the coming year now that I've had a chance to refill the creative tank with my family.

All the best to you all in the new year. I am incredibly lucky to have crossed your collective paths over the last few months, and I can't wait to see what 2005 brings us all.