Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Serial cereal

Mornings are far from my favorite time of day. If it were up to me, I'd stay in bed until long after the alarm clock stopped trying to outsnooze me. It's not that I don't enjoy waking up to a house filled with buzzing voices of folks who look shockingly like me. It's not that I don't appreciate hearing the flutter of feet on carpet before our kids fling themselves into bed with us in a happiness-filled drive to wake Mommy and Daddy up.

I simply like being in bed. It's all warm and cozy and safe, unlike the world that I'm going to have to face once I've finished with the cereal bowl.

And what about that cereal bowl? When I was a kid, we always got to have a sweet cereal alongside a plain one. So I'd mix Frosted Flakes and Rice Krispies, or Captain Crunch and Cheerios. Now that I'm supposedly grown up, I've become partial to oatmeal. I enjoy the ritual of boiling the water, then mixing in just the right amount of milk as I sit down for a first glimpse of the morning paper. It extends that feeling of comfort for just a few more minutes before I have to leave the house and kickstart my day.

But oatmeal doesn't shoot well. It's as visually interesting as, well, oatmeal. So I thought I'd haul out the Honeycomb box and try my hand at something reminiscent of my - and our kids' - childhood.

Your turn: What gets you out of the house in the morning?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


When you're away at a conference or other business event, you live two very different lives. For the bulk of the waking day, your schedule is packed with one intense session after another. You spend time with some of the top people in your industry, trying to absorb as much as possible in the limited time you have.

Then, you switch gears as soon as the scheduled events are over and you head back to your hotel room. The frenetic pace of the day is replaced by a sense of isolation. You're alone, far from home, and there's no one around to talk to. The silence is often overwhelming, and it prompts me to look for things to do to fill the time and push the lonely silence away.

This image is a direct result. I had been hunting for interesting scenes within my hotel room and wasn't coming up with anything worthwhile. As you can imagine, the typical North American hotel room doesn't present many interesting photographic opportunities. Eventually, I remembered how the water beaded up on the shower curtain, and resolved to grab a picture of it when I had a few spare minutes.

It's another strange view of the world. And I hope you have similarly routine targets of opportunity in your photographic future. If you want to drop the link in a comment, I'm sure everyone here would appreciate it.

Your turn: Why do water droplets fascinate us so?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Purple haze

Seattle is a city filled with rich visual cues. Look down most downtown streets and you can catch glimpses of water at the very end. The distant horizon is painted with snow-covered peaks, often shrouded in clouds.

Closer in, the streets themselves offer up an ongoing collage of activity and color. People walk and ride everywhere in this city. They like to be entertained as they do.

I didn't have much free time to explore when I was there last week, but I was able to snap off some quick images here and there. As always, looking at them makes me think about what I was thinking when I took the shot. I wonder how I could improve the results next time out.

As I ponder the meaning of photographic life, I'll let you guess what this one might be.

Your turn: It's been a while since I did the first-three-words thing. What are the first three words that pop into your head as you see this?

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Photographic mystery revisited

On occasion, I like to post pictures of things that aren't immediately identifiable. I like to see what others think.

It reinforces why photography remains such a fascinating pursuit: it isn't always about what you see and what you know you see. One's imagination and perception of reality play just as critical a role.

Your turn: What could this be?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The water's edge

Puget Sound, Seattle

Whenever I'm away from home, I try to remember everything I can about the places I've visited so that I can tell their stories when I get home. There's no way, of course, for me to capture every nuance of a city, and the packed schedule of a business trip often leaves me mere minutes in between appointments to grab whatever pictures and impressions I can. But a few snippets here and there can make the story come alive for the folks I leave behind.

If I find myself in a city by the water, I try to spend time on the shore to absorb the unique peace where the land ends. One of the things I like about Seattle is how it carries the vibrancy of its neighborhoods all the way to the water's edge. It's an immensely comfortable place to be, and it explains why this is such a desirable city for visitors and residents alike.

I took this image during a break during dinner. It had been spitting rain off and on, and I was hoping to get at least a few pics before heading home. It's the kind of scene I'd like my wife and kids to see in person sometime soon. I suspect they'd enjoy the peacefulness as much as I did that evening.

Your turn: Where's that bird going? (Please respond metaphorically, not literally.)

Friday, May 26, 2006

Our little pumpkin

Sometimes, you take a picture and you instantly know in your heart of hearts that its very existence will embarrass your child for the rest of his or her life.

This image, which I have loved to bits and pieces since the day I took it just over 2-and-a-half years ago, is of Noah in his pumpkin costume. I'm not sure why he was so serious at that moment - he's usually so happy. I think our then-three-year-old may have been tuckered out from the effort of getting the thing on.

I'm sorry that they grow so quickly that they fit into things like this for a mere blink of time. I'm sorry that we don't take more pictures like this to remember these magical little moments. I'll try to rectify that in the years to come.

Your turn: A memorable moment in a child's life, captured. Discuss...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Terra firma

Note: I'm writing this from the docile comfort of my living room. I've missed this place and the people who share my name who make this house a home. If I ramble a bit in this entry, blame the fatigue and leftover bronchitis buzz. Here goes...

I know there's something cool about waking up before first light and crossing the continent in time to have dinner with my family. So many words have been written about the lore and the poetry of long distance flight. It is indeed magical.

Today, however, I woke up on the wrong side of the bed and ended up somewhat childishly focused on the nagging annoyances of air travel. Not that I wanted to be. It just happened. Here are some of my observations from the journey:
  • You will inevitably get into line at the security checkpoint behind a woman who has no idea what she's doing. She will ask you a million questions. Slowly. She will reask those questions as you desperately look for someone, anyone in uniform who can take care of her. She will ignore your furtive glances at your wrist as you realize your plane's engines are probably already turning and they're calling your name at the gate.
  • Also inevitably (this word seems to be permanently linked with air travel...discuss...) you will have the joy of Type A people - always men, for some reason - cutting in front of you in every line you're in. Check-in, security, boarding...doesn't matter, he'll deke you out, then stare at you with that look of death that only someone who's destined to die of cardiac failure at 42 can muster.
  • When a genial elderly gentleman sitting behind you asks whether his removing the magazine from the seat pocket disturbed your back, resist the urge to let him know you didn't feel a thing. I'm not sure what he was doing back there, but I could have lived without the resulting lumbar massages that lasted for the rest of the flight.
  • Personal space doesn't seem to be as sacred as it once was. I always try to sit by the window so that I can scrunch up against the bulkhead, nod off and pretend to be in my own world for the rest of the flight. Call me silly, but I just don't enjoy touching arms with my fellow travellers. So my new neighbor's propensity to share her blanket with me and lean over the Line of Death - usually known as the arm rest - wasn't exactly the highlight of my day. And, no, I'm really not that interested in your dog-eared issue of People magazine, either.
  • Bad: airlines not serving meals on board any flight.
  • Worse: airlines charging for boxes filled with junk food.
  • Inexcusable: airlines not having any entertainment - not even a cheesy movie - on a transcontinental flight.
  • Salvation: my iPod. My camera. My wickedly nasty sense of humor.
  • To wit, here's what I did on my flight out west earlier this week: I took the Skittles out of the aforementioned junk food box and laid them out on my tray. The elderly lady next to me stared at me in amazement. I could see in her eyes that she wanted to know what the heck I was doing. I smiled at her, said nothing, and proceeded to slowly and deliberately turn each Skittle face up so that the S was visible. I arranged the colors so that they were more or less evenly distributed. I then took out my camera and surveyed the result from a number of angles. I resisted the urge to scribble my blog address on a napkin and hand it to her.
The moral of all this is simple: The new age of travel requires travellers to make their own fun. You can either let the few hundred wackjobs you meet along the way get to you, or you can make lemonade out of lemons.

Postscript: As I settled into the final leg of my journey - a tiny wind-up propellor/commuter plane - the pilot announced over the PA that they were waiting for the waits and balances calculations to come back from the airline's operations center. OK, I thought, nothing I haven't heard before. He proceeded to explain in pretty neat detail what this meant. Then he explained that the reason it was taking so long was because they send 'em back via carrier pigeon.

After he laughed and confirmed that he was just teasing us, I thought how cool it was to have a pilot who made the effort to connect with the folks whose lives were entrusted to him. The flight ended up suffering a minor delay due to thunderstorms. He repeatedly got on the horn and talked us through what was going on and how they were responding.

One person stood out from the countless boobs I encountered today. I hope that when you travel, you take the time to find that one diamond sitting in the middle of all that slag. Then forget about the grandpa who's getting his jollies fondling the seat behind you.

Your turn: Got a travel horror story?

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Whole lotta sole

Quick note: I'm still in Seattle. I'm learning not to travel when ill. Here's a vignette of a healthier day that I hope makes you ponder the usually-ignored images of day-to-day life.

I recently discovered this Post-It note stuck to the bottom of my ratty old commute-to-work shoes. Yes, Mom, I properly disposed of the errant stickie. But not before stopping my bike in the parking lot, taking the shoe off and artfully shooting it with the camera I just happened to have in my bike bag.

I know all those drivers who passed me thought I was insane. Perhaps they're right. But I thought this would be the kind of picture not often - if ever - captured. And I liked the lines of it.

Your turn: The weirdest picture you ever took was...? The most odd scenario within which you took a picture was...?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Po hits the road again

Pearson International Airport (YYZ), Terminal 2, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
5:05 p.m., May 5, 2006.

For reasons that still make little sense to me or anyone who knows me, my carry-on baggage always has a little stuffed animal hanging off of it. Depending on my mood, it might be Eeyore of Winnie the Pooh fame, Po from the Teletubbies, or any other little critter who happens to be nearby when I pack my bags.

This silly little tradition of mine serves a number of purposes: It makes travellers around me smile. It helps grease the skids when I go through security, and it lessens the distance between me and my brood. Travel is, by definition, a lousy way to spend time. But a little touchstone here and there can help take the edge off.

As I write this, I'm preparing to head off on another wild adventure. I'm crossing the continent later this afternoon and evening, on my way to Microsoft's WinHEC conference. Po is all ready to go. May we both have a quick, easy and productive trip.

Your turn: Do you take little pieces of home with you when you travel? Do tell.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Waiting for surgery

Southwestern Ontario is known as a center of health care excellence. We've got lots of great med schools, research centers, hospitals and other centers of care. That doesn't mean we're immune to health care difficulty, however. Like much of the rest of Canada, we're dealing with chronic shortfalls in our nationally-funded system.

The concept of cradle-to-grave health care for all, which has been a hallmark of our society for decades, is under pressure. Spiralling costs are causing many to question the very feasibility of publicly-funded health care.

Against this backdrop, a report was released this week that showed wait times for certain kinds of surgery had come down over the past year. Great news, but I wanted to illustrate that a one-time improvement does not mean we can pack up our vigilance and head home. The system's still in crisis. People are still dying. We're a long way from fixed. Here's my column from today's paper:
More effort needed to reduce wait times
Published Saturday, May 20, 2006
The London Free Press

If you get sick in and around London, you got some good news this week: wait times for some procedures have come down since last year.

The danger in reports such as this lies in our assumption that the battle has been won - it hasn’t.

Health-care wait times are still too high, and for some life-threatening illnesses like cancer, they’re still on the rise.

We’ve used up plenty of ink in recent years discussing the challenges of our health-care system. Doubtless, if our local doctors, nurses and other health care professionals could deliver immediate service to everyone who needs it, they would. But that's a pipe dream.

I hope our provincial government realizes that these results are incredibly personal. Delays add additional stresses to patients and their families. Not only do they have to deal with often-ominous diagnoses, but now they’re forced to wait and worry that they’ll get sicker in the interim.

Sadly, some will die. And despite this week’s good news, we’re not done. Governmental budget bosses need to continue to improve their prioritization efforts.

Your turn: Has your life - or that of a close relative or friend - been touched by a delay like this? I hope you'll share your story here.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - McCartney isn't dead

I usually ignore the "news" that comes out of the entertainment world. Frankly, I don't much care what happens to Nick and Jessica, or the fact that Britney is a lousy mother. Yet time and again, fluffy celebrity stories like these cross over into the news cycle. This annoys me.

The McCartney thing this week was the straw that broke the camel's back. It hit the headlines around the same time we received word that Canada lost its first female soldier in combat in Afghanistan. It just didn't seem right to listen to all this mindless bleating about a celebrity marriage when an accomplished hero had been cut down at the age of 26. Hence my piece in today's paper:
McCartney breakup clouds true heroes
Published Friday, May 19, 2006
The London Free Press

It’s been an overwhelmingly tragic week. Canada's military death toll in Afghanistan mounts, while four men die in an accident and rescue attempts at a B.C. mine.

Now, into this mix, comes news Sir Paul McCartney and his wife, Heather Mills, have separated.

The story of the ex-Beatle’s marriage breakup is now global. Reporters, observers, unnamed sources and regular folks who happened to be hanging around when the couple breezed into Canada to protest the seal hunt are all fighting for their 15 minutes of fame.

Financial analysts are speculating on the size of a divorce settlement. Television entertainment show hosts breathlessly report the latest so-called news.

I suppose it doesn’t matter to any of us that the couple's breakup will have no effect whatsoever on our everyday lives. Nor will the daily challenges of Jessica and Nick, Britney, or any other disposable celebrities of the moment.

Yet they routinely divert attention away from the true heroes among us. I know that’s the way the news business often works, but it speaks volumes about what we should treasure most.

Your turn: Tell us what you really feel about entertainment "news".

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Sex offender goes free

It bothers me when I read about repeat offenders being let out of jail, especially when it's an easy assumption that they're just going to continue to find new victims.

This news item bothered me: a guy named Edward Kelly has a habit of having unprotected sex with women, conveniently forgetting to tell them he's HIV-positive. Rehabilitation hasn't worked, and he's been castigated at every parole board hearing for showing no remorse and no willingness or ability to address his deviant behavior. Here's what I published in today's paper:
Bail decision makes mockery of justice
Published Thursday, May 18, 2006
The London Free Press

The fact that Edward Kelly is free on bail sends another signal that Canada’s justice system coddles criminals and ignores victims’ rights.

The London man just finished doing time for aggravated sexual assault after having sex with four women without revealing his HIV-positive status.

He was released last May after serving two-thirds of his sentence, but was jailed again in September after starting a relationship with an 18-year-old woman. Once again, she didn’t know he carried HIV.

In December, the parole board told Kelly that he is indifferent to the consequences of his actions. Yet he walked free on Monday.

We all know it takes two to tango. No one should initiate any relationship without full knowledge of a partner’s HIV status. Safe sex is a virtual given.

But the fact remains a man serially initiates relationships with the biological equivalent of a loaded gun.

Why is he walking the streets?

Your turn: Do you think his picture should be published periodically as a warning against would-be victims? It was recently published in the paper, but who keeps newspapers? I'm thinking more along the lines of a web site that keeps the faces of serial offenders visible on an ongoing basis. Thoughts?

One more thing: He's scheduled to be in court June 14th. I'll let you guess the charge. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Need more power

I love "on" weeks at the newspaper, because I get to write and publish for five days straight. There's something refreshing abount waking up with a mid-afternoon deadline, knowing full well that you'll turn that empty screen into something readable and topical as soon as the inspiration hits.

In today's paper, I published a piece outlining my frustration with our government's energy policy. Essentially, they cancelled a program designed to help Canadians be more energy-efficient right around the same time the provinces jacked electricity rates through the roof. Nice. Here's the piece:
Energy program cancellation a shock
Published Wednesday, May 17, 2006
The London Free Press

One of the outcomes of the May 2 federal budget is a shocker: the feds don't want us to save energy. They cancelled funding for EnerGuide for Homes, a program that provided grants averaging $737 to homeowners who made their homes more energy efficient. A similar program aimed at helping low-income households was also axed.

Perhaps they hoped to avoid controversy by officially confirming the program's death last weekend on an obscure government website.

As energy costs skyrocket to historic highs, it is incomprehensible that any government would dare to reduce its efforts to help Canadians consume less. Governments must be leaders in encouraging citizens to maximize their energy investments.

There is, however, a silver lining: Ottawa says the Quebec and New Brunswick governments will pick up the tab for future grants.

The Ontario government should follow suit. Citizens are having trouble keeping their homes lit and warm. They want to save energy. Would someone in Queens Park let us know that our government is working on a resolution?

Your turn: What kind of message does this decision send to our population? What's your government's energy policy where you live?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Druggie minister

I live in Canada's largest province, Ontario. The minister of health is a guy by the name of George Smitherman. Last week, he outed himself, admitting that during the 1990s, he had been a regular user of what he called "party drugs." Although he refused to say precisely what those drugs were, his admission is pretty shocking given who he is.

This being a writing week for me for the newspaper, I thought it would make for a worthwhile discussion with readers. After all, it's not every day that someone at the very center of power admits he was a drug abuser.
Minister's admission a brave wake-up call
Published Tuesday, May 16, 2006
The London Free Press

Politicians typically aren't known for being gutsy heroes. Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman may change that. His admission last week that he was addicted to illegal drugs in the 1990s took a lot of courage.

It isn't easy to admit you've been a drug addict. Society tends to stigmatize its addicts, assuming they're directionless losers who crash out in dilapidated houses and forage for their next hit.

But Smitherman doesn't hang out in drug dens. As a provincial cabinet minister, he's got much more to lose than the typical crack smoker stereotypically sprawled across the back of a dimly lit room.

The minister's admission shatters the stigma and reinforces what has been increasingly obvious for too long: drug users and abusers don't exist solely on the fringe of society. They're everywhere. Friends, colleagues, neighbours and close family members can all fall under the spell of addiction.

How many among us would have the guts to admit it? How many among us would have the guts to applaud those who do?

Your turn: Was this a smart or a dumb move for our esteemed minister? What - good, bad or indifferent - might possibly come out of something like this?

Monday, May 15, 2006


I've been venturing back into the supermarket with my surreptitious lens. And one of the things I've noticed is how outlandish some packaging has become, as if the grocery store aisles are mandated to host an escalating war between the packaged food superpowers.

The basics of simple design, layout and color are being ignored. In their place are relentlessly, some say explosively bright packages that, frankly, fail miserably in their capitalist quest. It's like camouflage: when you look like everything around you, you blend in. And if you all happen to be wearing fluorescent green polka dots on a flashing yellow and orange background, you're all going to disappear.

So when I came across this delightfully simple stack of cans, I thought it would make for a neat macro picture. A friend of mine once said I was married to my perspective shots. I suspect my wife would disagree with that photographic-artistic assessment, but I do find the whole fading-into-oblivion angle thing fascinating when projected on a 2D screen. Don't you?

Your turn: I will be spending more time in the grocery store aisles in the near future. What should I tell store employees in the increasingly likely event that I am caught red-handed? Any humorous tips to get me out of a pickle (ha!)

Quick update on that pesky health thing: I'm slowly starting to feel better. The problem, as best I can determine - remember, I'm a writer-geek and not a medical professional - is that my lungs are pretty congested. I have an impressive-sounding cough, and I won't be winning any balloon-blowing contests anytime soon. My wife has implored me to call Doc tomorrow. I shall. Thank you all so much for your concern and caring. I very much appreciate your kind sentiments.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Little Man; Little Man's Mom

Our youngest son helped me make a Mother's Day omelette this morning. He's spent the past three days carefully hiding his gifts and cards, often giggling uncontrollably whenever my wife would come into the room. Five-year-olds don't keep secrets very well, but they're quite cute when they try to hide them.

We quietly prepared the kitchen by taking out the utensils and ingredients. We fetched the stool so he could see above the counter. He helped me crack each egg, first by putting his hand over mine as I whacked the shell with the spoon.

As he gained more confidence, he took the spoon and did it on his own. Once all the eggs were out of their shells, I put him in charge of beating them with a whisk. I knew I was risking a messy kitchen, but I wondered how often I got a chance to cook with my munchkin. He didn't spill a drop.

We chatted as we got the cheese out and as I tossed everything into the pan. Not once did I have to warn him away from the hot stovetop. He's been using the microwave to practice his numbers, so he knows all about the dangers of the kitchen.

As I worked the pan, he peered from afar, telling me when everything was ready. He helped me get everything properly set on the table. We took out the good china because special days deserve special dishes.

His older brother and sister helped him assemble all the gifts and cards they had made this week. When the table was perfectly laid out, he trundled upstairs to wake Mommy and tell her breakfast was ready.

He led her downstairs, regularly spilling little details about what awaited her. His excited little voice grew louder as they approached. He hugged her tightly as she sat down at the table, surrounded by the three little folks whose existence made her the Mom she is today.

This wasn't an earth-shattering moment in the history of time. I'm sure similar scenes were repeated in homes around the world. But in our home, all that mattered to our kids was that they got to have a happy morning with their family. And our youngest got to show that he's more than capable of putting his stamp on his family.

Your turn: What was Mother's Day like in your home? Beyond the store-bought sentiment - which we all rightfully despise - what does a day like this mean to you and your family?

One more thing: May today and every day be happy for you and your family.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Doggie love

Hello there. I'm Oscar. I belong to Carmi's cousin, Heidi, and her boyfriend, Allan. I live in New York, and I bring happiness to all who take the time to pet me.

Your turn: Am I sweet, or what?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Florally photographic diversion

Because it's been such a fun-filled week of sleeplessness and illness, I thought I'd post something pretty and sweet to boost the collective mood around here.

As I wallowed alone at home this week, I found myself looking for comfort in everything around me. It's almost like a nesting instinct in that I seek out whatever touchstone brings warmth.

As part of this process, I meandered through some old photos. I've always enjoyed looking at images captured long ago. It's like a time machine, only less expensive.

This particular picture has always made me happy. I like the color, the composition and the mood. It's almost impossible not to feel better after seeing it.

Your turn: What images make you feel better when the world turns cold? Should I post some more so-called "comfort pictures" in the days ahead?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Me? Sick?

I went to work yesterday. Bad mistake.

Not that I don't like what I do. I do. I love my work. It makes me feel good to know that my research and my words can have such far-reaching impact. I love to write because it never really feels like work. I love looking back at what I've created - it always looks and sounds so cool. I thoroughly enjoy working with people who are tack-sharp smart and funny, too.

But I still should have stayed home yesterday. I was still sick.

The problem was my own stupidity. After spending Monday and Tuesday at home to work the nasty bug out of my system, cabin fever had set in. I got it into my head when I tucked in on Tuesday that I absolutely had to get back to work. Otherwise, things wouldn't get done and that would be bad.


So I loaded up the bike in the morning and started the long, slow pedal toward my downtown office. I deliberately kept the speed down to avoid stressing myself. It didn't do any good: my heart was racing by the third block despite the fact that I was doing a grand 15 km/h. Any slower and I would have lost my balance and fallen.

But stubborn, silly person that I am, I kept riding. Had to get to work...

At the morning meeting, a colleague asked me if I was flushed because of the ride or because I was still sick. Uh oh.

Other colleagues kept asking me if I was OK, offering me rides home, tapping my shoulder to make sure I was still on this earthly plane. By mid-morning, I was really lagging. But I had things to do, people to meet, you know, stuff.

I popped some pills (this is notable, because I never take meds. I'm one of those stupid souls who prefers to tough it out) to ease the growing pain and pushed through the backlog of work.

I left at the end of the day and rode home, kicking myself for being such a doof. By the time I got home, I knew the fever was back. The look on my wife's face as she opened the front door said it all: tsk tsk.

So after a sleepless, congested night, I ended up back at home today. Lesson learned: next time, I'll stay home the extra day. No sense trying to be a hero, right?

Your turn: What do you do when you're sick? Do you go into work anyway?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Patterns in nature

There's an old tree stump that sits along the edge of the road near our house. We pass it as we walk to the park, almost never paying attention to its slowly decaying form. Once upon a time, it was the base for a fairly large tree that must have cast a large shadow on the surrounding grass. Now it's a cut-down afterthought, forgotten by all save for the occasional dog.

Beauty is not only a pristine image. It is sometimes found in the nooks and crannies of our environment, and it rarely wears the label in an obvious manner. We have to look for it a little bit, take the time to find it and discover what it is that makes it worth capturing and remembering.

It's the process of discovery that often reveals an image far more worthwhile than those that may have been more perfectly packaged, more plainly obvious.

Sounds like a pretty good template for the larger things in life as well.

Your turn: What other decaying scenes have you captured? What made you stop and take a second look?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Waiting for the journey to continue

Thanks, everyone, for your kind words on my admittedly minor bout with illness. I stayed home again today, but will try to get to the office tomorrow. I could probably stay home another day, but I worry the world is passing me by while I languish at home. The weather's supposed to be nice, so I'll try a carefully-paced cycle to the office. Hence this entry...

By this date, I've usually been riding my bike regularly for about a month. I've shaken off the early-season cobwebs and am into a pretty good riding groove - to work every day, and the occasional extended ride after dinner or on weekends.

Thanks to weather and the fact that I've been away more often than I've been home, I'm well behind my usual cycling pace. And it's starting to bug me. I use my time on the bike to toss ideas around and think through things that simply can't be mulled when I'm being interrupted every few minutes. And I'm not getting as much of that quiet time as I'd like.

I once read somewhere that when you're concentrating on something, it takes upwards of 15 minutes to get back to that state after the phone rings or someone drops in. Trying to write during the day is often a futile process because I'm constantly flipping from one thing to another. Answering phones, responding to taps on the shoulder, even watching the little popups in the corner of my screen that announce new e-mail. I'm a good multitasker, but I admit I need quiet time to come up with ideas and figure out priorities.

The bike takes me away from it all. Sure, I have to avoid being flattened by SUVs and tractor-trailers, but - oddly - that doesn't seem to be as obtrusive as a ringing phone. I often point my bike just outside the city limits and cruise the concession roads that line the never-ending farms and pastures that define our region. The city literally and figuratively disappears from view. Everything gets quieter, clearer, somehow easier to deal with.

I've been home from work for two days thanks to this nagging chest cold. I still feel miserable, but I think I need to take the beater bike (my big purple mountain bike, not the one in the picture above) to the office tomorrow morning, if only to convince myself that I am still somehow plugged into my world.

Then, at the end of the day, I'll head to the country and try to restore the silence, if only for a few minutes.

About this picture: My hybridized Specialized Stumpjumper (aka the urban commando wondercycle) waits patiently by the side of Hyde Park Road, just northwest of the city. There's nothing overtly stunning about this shot, but it's always been one of my favorites. I was busy taking pictures of a setting sun and the landscape it so artfully painted, and the bike allowed me the freedom to explore the area with relative ease (just try doing the same thing in a car. I have, and it's not so much fun.) The image takes me back to a moment that I hope more of you get to experience, and soon.

BTW, yes, it is pink. A lovely color indeed.

Your turn: Are you riding? Why?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Good news, bad news

Today was one of those good news, bad news days.
Good: It was my birthday.
Bad: I was sick and had to stay home from work.
Good: My wife came home at lunch to make sure I was alive. It meant I got to spend time with her that I wouldn't have otherwise had.
Bad: I spilled the tea she made me.
Good: Whatever was left in my mug was pretty darn sweet.

Bad: My laptop died today.
Bad: It died five weeks after the 1-year manufacturer's warranty ran out.
Good: I had bought the extended warranty.
Good: I've been diligently doing my backups.

Good: We had cake.
Good: I got to watch our kids have cake. They were so excited because they got to help Mom pick the balloons and pack my present. It was an absolute zoo in the house (kids and sugar, who knew?)
Good: I looked over at my wife amidst the chaos and whispered to her that we created all this.
What today taught me: Every day arrives as a package that has some good and some bad. The trick, I think, is to find the happy stuff and focus on that. Everything else is pretty much immaterial.

Your turn: If I stray off of this path in the coming year, please remind me what I wrote today.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Balls at rest

Last week, I was able to reconfirm just how monumentally incompetent I am at billiards. So inept am I that rules should be put in place preventing people of my non-abilities to even pick up a pool cue.

Yet something happened as I circled the table and eyed the flat, shadowy surface. I realized that the goal wasn't to sink as many balls as possible. Sure, if I end up devoting enough time to learning the game, I'm certain I'll be somewhat better at sinking these dense spheres - and I'll look better doing it.

But I was enjoying the mere act of doing something completely out of character, in a new place with new people. Of course I still missed everyone back home and couldn't wait to return. But for that moment, in that place, I drank in the fact that this was a fascinating way to expand my horizons and add another story to the experience that is me.

I also had my camera. And in between may laughable attempts at looking like a pool shark, I pulled out my camera and tried to capture the scene using a tool somewhat more familiar to my fingers and my mind. The lighting and surfacing in this image remind me once again that memorable scenes can always be found, quite literally, right under our noses.

Your turn: How do you expand your own experiences? Is there worth in venturing beyond the same old?

Saturday, May 06, 2006


I am always struck by the relative impermanence of everything we leave behind. It starts with simple things like footprints in the sand. They take a mere blink to create, and are typically gone in a similarly scant length of time.

Beyond the beach, time does no favors to memory. For example, we tend to view architecture as permanent. Perhaps to us it is. But add a few decades or centuries and most of what we think as "permanent" will ultimately be buried ruins, waiting for someone from a future generation to discover and wonder.

Then we come to our own lives. When I read obituaries - which I often do because they are such poignant recollections of lives now lost - what sticks with me is the notion that the spirit of those who have passed on will be remembered forever by those who remain.

Perhaps. But what happens to the memories we hold when we pass on? I vividly remember my maternal grandfather and to this day reflect on the strong influence he had on my becoming a writer. Yet our children never met him. So they have no way of archiving their own memories of him because he was never a part of their reality. I often reflect on how much I wish they could have met him; what they would have thought of him and the look he would have had upon seeing them and spending time with them.

But perhaps my overly simplistic concept of permanence of memory is insufficient. Perhaps the members of each generation carry traces of who they are, and pass them subtly to their children. The lessons, passed thread-like from generation to generation, connect us to our great-great-etc. grandparents in ways more felt than viewed. But they do help us grow, shape and guide our lives, even if we choose to not pay overt attention to them.

With that in mind, my grandfather is a part of my kids. They don't remember him, per se, but much of what he stood for shows up in them because we've passed these traits on to them. The direct connection becomes an indirect one. But one no less tangible.

The footprint in the sand may have disappeared in mere seconds. But its impact seems to have hung around for a significantly longer amount of time.

Your turn: Do memories fade? How do you keep them alive?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Waiting behind the door

Noah plays nice with Shadow. November 3, 2004.

Many of you may not know that my wife blogs, too. She posted this week about how my recently accelerated travel regime has affected the family. It's not easy on any of them when I simply disappear for a few days. It makes coming home that much more rewarding for us all - and gives me lots to think about as I hover miles above the earth on my way home.

Returning home has always been my favorite part of being away. Tonight, they came to pick me up from the airport shuttle. I got limitless hugs from the little people before we piled back into the van and headed home. It was late, I was jet lagged, and our munchkins were too excited to fall asleep.

As I watched them bounce up the front walk and head into the house, I thought about how our cat, who we had to put down a year ago March, used to greet us at the door whenever we came home from a trip. He would meow angrily as we put the key in the lock, as if he didn't want us to forget that he was ticked off at being left alone. After a few hours of feline guilt-giving, he'd calm down and make nice to us all.

These days, the door is silent upon our return. Yet for a split second, I still expect him to be there. Weird, yet strangely comforting.

This picture is reflective of a typical Noah moment with his self-proclaimed "best cat." He still speaks fondly of his lost pet, still smiles when he does so - even as his voice gets a little quieter because he misses him.

I can't help but think that our little boy learned something about growing up from the time he spent with his furry friend. The hallway may be silent when we come home. Yet somehow the echoes are still, faintly, there.

Your turn: So should we just get a dog already? I know it's insane and we have neither the time nor the energy. But we said that about kids before we had 'em, and they're working out all right. Does pet ownership help kids grow up to be better people?

Thursday, May 04, 2006


When I'm away, I tend to muse about all things related to travel. There's something about being away from home that gets the mind thinking. When I'm away on my own, as I am now, I often think about the trips I've taken with my family. It helps close the distance a bit.

Highway 401 cuts through Ontario from its eastern border with Quebec all the way to Windsor in the extreme southwest. It's the busiest highway in Canada and, through its Toronto sections, is considered the most congested stretch of road in North America.

It's a stretch of road that we cover often as we try to bridge the distance between us and friends and family. Since we moved to London nine years ago, we've come to know the roadway on an almost curve-by-curve basis. We've also come to know and rely on the rest stops along the way.

On the surface, the typical highway rest stop or service area is little more than a fast food restaurant attached to a gas station surrounded by a large parking lot. But when your little one has to go, your middle one needs to blow off some steam and your eldest has been hungry for the last hour, the looming fluorescent presence is a welcoming sight to a tired and transient family.

The 401 has a network of them along its entire length. Once upon a time, each one had a cool-looking domed roof. The unique shape stood out on the unending landscape, and gave the kids something neat to talk about as they waited their turn for Mommy to buy the inevitable box of TimBits. These domes weren't fine architecture and they weren't going to become heritage buildings anytime soon. The design suited the purpose. And they were just unique enough that they were not forgotten.

Now, the service stations are gradually being rebuilt. One by one, the turtle-like domes are giving way to larger buildings that hold more restaurants. The new buildings look pretty much like any other: nondescript boxes made of concrete and glass. We can still buy TimBits and let the kids be kids before we get back in the car and hit the road once again. But something's missing.

The kids don't talk about these places. They're not different enough to merit discussion. They're just like the buildings back home. They're no longer signposts of the great adventure to their grandparents' house.

So I thought I'd post a picture of the interior of one of these domes. I don't know how much longer they'll still be around. And I don't want my kids to ever forget what it felt like to be in a building that made them feel just a little bit more special.

Maybe someday, the folks who design public service buildings like these will listen to kids like mine and once again give them an excuse to look up, and to connect with their surroundings.

Your turn: I hope you'll tell us about an icon of your own travels. Why does good design matter to those who are just passing through? Does it really matter at all?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Traveller's prayer

Today was another one of those bittersweet days, when I closed the door on my house and on my family and headed off for yet another new-to-me place in the world. I'm attending a conference in Fort Collins, Colorado, and I'm writing this from a quiet hotel room.

I'm in for a few intense days of learning and discussion with some very smart people from a very large and successful global technology organization. It's a privilege to be here, and I will, as always, make the most out of my being here.

Yet it is during quiet times like this that I once again find myself pondering the why of business travel, and hope that this time away from my family helps me continue to build on my ability to move the bar ever higher. It's the least I can do to justify in my mind the fact that I'm losing three sleeps, three tuck-ins, three breakfasts...

A five-year-old, after all, don't always understand why Daddy isn't there to help him get his jammies on. Concepts like providing and striving for a better standard of living are still beyond his grasp. And if I have it my way, he'll be blissfully unaware for a long time to come.

When I first got here, I noticed this on my bed. It was unlike anything I'd ever seen in a hotel before. And once I looked past the overtly religious overtones, I rather appreciated the sentiment, as it speaks to these thoughts that have been bouncing through my head all day. Here's what it says:
To Our Guests

In ancient times there was a prayer for

"The Stranger within our gates"

Because this hotel is a human institution to serve people,
And not solely a money making organization,
we hope that God will grant you peace and rest
while you are under our roof.

May this room and hotel be your "second" home.
May those you love be near you in thoughts and dreams.
Even though we may not get to know you,
we hope that you will be comfortable and happy
as if you were in your own house.

May the business that brought you our way prosper.
May ever call you make and every message you receive add to
your joy. When you leave, may your journey be safe.

We are all tralevers.
From "birth till death" we travel between eternities.
May these days be pleasant for you, profitable for society,
helpful for those you meet, and a joy to those
who know and love you best.
Your turn: As I write this, word has come out of a major plane crash in the Black Sea. I've always been a confident flyer, but when the same type of plane (Airbus A320) that you've just flown - and that will carry you home in a few days - goes down, it gets you thinking about how unfair life can be sometimes. Please hold the victims of that tragedy in your thoughts and prayers.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Quoted - The BlackBerry vine keeps growing

Just when I thought the whole BlackBerry thing had gone away, along comes another lawsuit and - shazam - I'm being interviewed again.

When Research In Motion paid $612.5 million to NTP last month to settle their longstanding patent dispute, I said then that this would open the door to more frivolous lawsuits. I hate to say I told 'em so, but... is running this piece, RIM faces fresh patent fight. Byline is Neil Sutton. Here's what I said:
In March, RIM settled its patent dispute with NTP for US$612.5 million following a lengthy court battle. The two parties had attempted a settlement a year earlier for US$450 million, but the deal fell through.

The fact that RIM did finally agree to a settlement “opened the door for other companies to come out of the woodwork,” said Carmi Levy, an analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research.

“It was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped,” he said. “The NTP case encouraged other companies that felt they owned disputed technology to proceed with cases that stood a better chance of winning.”
Your turn: Will lawsuits like this damage our ability to innovate?