Friday, June 30, 2006

Pink jazz trancers


Continuing the theme of backlit subjects, I thought I'd share this one. It's a wine cooler that I subsequently drank - I know, try to contain your sense of shock that I actually consumed alcohol. It doesn't happen often, and when it does, there's usually a darn good reason for it.

But enough about my non-drinking problem. Let's talk photography: I'm a big fan of simplicity in composition. A simple curve, for example, can often be more memorable than a whole whack of them. But then you throw in the play of light on a seemingly bare surface and you end up with a picture that asks to be looked at again and again. Simple, yet complex. An enigma inside a paradox. Kinda like the guy who took the picture in the first place.

Your turn: I'm having fun with titles. This one's from one of my all-time favorite Devo tunes. Why do song titles often make such interesting titles for blog entries?

Oh, and while you're at it, what comes to mind in the first couple of seconds that you view this picture?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Exploding laptops, oh my!

We sent out a press release at work yesterday in response to a report published in The Inquirer that some poor soul's Dell laptop exploded and burned in Japan. Battery recalls are apparently nothing new for laptop manufacturers - mine was recalled last year, coincidentally - and reports of battery-caused fires go back over 20 years.

Although my first thought on seeing the report was a dismissive, "Dude, you're getting a third-degree burn on your lap," I eventually wiped the smirk off my face and realized this is a serious issue. To wit, if one of these things goes incendiary while you're on a plane, you and your fellow winged-tube-dwellers are pretty much cooked.

I'll wager the prospect of hundreds of thousands of laptops being recalled because they could overheat and catch fire scares you as much as it scares me.

So we released this to the wires yesterday: Exploding Laptops Pose Potential Hazard for Air Travel and Personal Safety. It was initially posted to Yahoo! Finance, as well as PR Newswire. Stay tuned for more.

Your turn: Am I being the technological equivalent of Chicken Little? And even if you think I am, do you think Mr. Little would make a good pet for a child?

Update - Thursday afternoon: We're raising quite the ruckus with this one. Here's a quick view of some pickups:

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Ocean blue


The grocery stores in our neighborhood continue to surprise us with glimpses of color and light where we least expect them. We have a Sobeys in our town that was built maybe six years ago. A few months ago, ownership changed hands and before the ink on the contract was dry, the almost-new building was in the process of being ripped to shreds. After a few months of chaos, the place sports a funky new brick facade and some nice new fruit holders. As far as I can tell, it isn't any bigger.

I fail to see the rationale behind this facadist grocery makeover, but then again I do not own a grocery store.

There is one happy byproduct of the change: the windows behind the checkout aisles seem to be much brighter than they were before. So as you're walking out of the store lamenting how much you spent - which we were doing on this day, because our kids came with us - you can at least be bathed in friendly, natural light.

The giant display of bottled water has been moved right up against this window, which makes for an interesting bit of backlighting if you happen to have a camera handy. Which I thankfully did.

I know that the bottles are colored blue to convince us that this is clean and fresh and somehow worth more than the free stuff that comes from the tap. I know that this is a blatant marketing trick. But I still like the end result, not so much for the surface color, but for the hue it casts as you walk past.

Your turn: What other examples can you think of where color is used to sell us stuff? Does this bother you?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Goatee

Today's interconnected world brings us goodness on so many planes, not the least of which is a regular flow of oddball stories that at first blush seem too bizarre to be true. To wit, I bring you the following kicker-type missive:

Goat demoted after unfortunate parade incident

Normally, something like this would be greeted with a quick laugh before we move on to our morning orange juice. But then I thought further, and I was mortified: these are British soldiers. They supposedly protect the U.K. from, you know, total annihilation.

And they saluted a goat. Then they demoted him for behaving like a....goat!

The world truly has gone mad. At least the Canadian Armed Forces, with their Cessna attack aircraft and porous, flammable submarines, never worshipped farm animals as ranking leaders.

Your turn: Military intelligence. Oxymoron? Please discuss.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Twice around the sun

Two years ago today, I started jotting my thoughts down on a little unknown online entity known as Written Inc. (Here's the first entry, And So It Begins.) I wrote a fairly verbose missive, dubbed Once Around the Sun, on my blog's first anniversary, so I'll spare the sap this time out.

But I didn't want to let this milestone pass without at least a casual mention. And a thank you to all of you who have dropped in, read my sometimes-off-the-wall words, and shared your thoughts so generously and honestly. It's been a pretty remarkable journey thus far, and I do hope you'll continue to share it with me in the months and years to come.

So many words left to write and share. Onward...

Your turn: I often wonder what possesses complete strangers to take precious time out of their day to visit my site. So I ask you, why?

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Shoots


Because it's been such a busy writing week for me, I haven't spent as much time with the camera as I would like. My wife came to the same conclusion when she realized we haven't been taking pictures a whole lot in recent days. Admittedly, I felt sad when I mulled it over for a few seconds: what moments did we miss? Now we'll never know.

Time to get back behind the lens, then.

This image is one of the oodles captured when we went to the great peninsula to the south last winter. I rather liked the visual flow of the leaves. This picture brought me comfort when we returned home and our windows were filled with frost and snow.

This speaks of warmth, togetherness and peace: which, not altogether coincidentally, is what I'm feeling right now as I listen to our kids play together on a Sunday morning and I watch my wife get our home's day underway.

I hope you'll take a moment to slowly consider these three related concepts: Warmth, togetherness and peace. May your Sunday - and every day beyond - be filled with ample amounts of both.

Your turn: What makes you smile from your heart on a quiet weekend morning?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Killer youth

Today was a much better writing day for me (see here for the back story.) My piece in today's paper was the lead item, and I'm very pleased with how it turned out. This week's run seemed to revolve around my need to be endlessly self-righteous. Right and wrong, crime and punishment, justice for all...my head didn't want to let go of these themes as I wrote my columns this week.

To be quite frank, I don't know what possesses me to focus so intently on one theme or another. But whenever it happens, I know better than to question it. I just let the words come out, and let the chips fall where they may.

This piece is pretty self-explanatory. Canada once again leads the world in its bleeding-heart treatment of youth offenders. This week, our Supreme Court sealed the deal when it said youth justice should not serve as a deterrent. Instead, it should rehabilitate.

Say what?

So the net result is I now live in a country where the court system no longer believes it can deter future youth crime. Great. Next thing, we'll be handing the jail cell keys over to the young cretins who put our collective future at risk. Lovely. Here's what I wrote:
Kiddie killers get smack on wrist
Published Saturday, June 24, 2006
The London Free Press

If a decision Thursday by Canada’s top court is any indication, the Supreme Court reigns supreme in one way only: silliness.

The court upheld a one-day jail sentence for a 15-year old from Winnipeg who had beaten a man to death with two billiard balls inside a sock.

One day. One life. Justice doesn’t necessarily mean fairness.

The high court explained that the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which became law in 2003, is not intended to deter youth crime. Instead, the focus should be on rehabilitation.

I find it difficult to accept that our current legislation can let young offenders off the hook with barely a shrug, and look forward to the federal Conservatives following through on their campaign promise to toughen the existing law.

While I appreciate that we risk hardening young offenders into lifelong criminals if we toughen their punishments, I also appreciate the need for punishment that fits the crime. Ensuring public safety should be the most important goal of all.

Letting killers walk free without holding them accountable endangers society and serves no rehabilitative purpose whatsoever.

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Your turn: Unidentified teenager kills a man with two pool balls in a sock. What would you do to him? What do you think about the court's perspective that youth sentences should not deter?
Am I off-centre for thinking that this is insane?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Unpublish Day

Into every writer's life must come the occasional speed bump. Mine came today, when I opened up the paper to find the column that I had written wasn't there. In its place was a placeholder ad. Here's what happened:

Yesterday, I read the paper when I first woke up. Whenever it's a deadline day for my column, I start my day with a survey of local, regional, national and international news. I look for stories that jump out at me, whose topical nature might make a strong column.

I came across the sad story of a 27-year-old woman who had been hit and killed by a car on a road I ride every morning and evening on my commute. In fact, I had been right there earlier in the day. Scary stuff...it can happen to anyone.

The story said the police were looking for a small purple vehicle. Uh oh, I thought: a hit-and-run. I crafted a piece about hit-and-run drivers. I mixed in equal parts anger and fear. I think it was good writing.

I submitted the piece on my lunch break, then went back to my all-day meeting. I got home after 7 p.m. and logged on to the PC. To my horror, I saw an updated, web-posted article that said the original story was wrong. The driver had not fled. My column was now instantly obsolete and outright inaccurate...based on errant reporting.

I called every number I could remember, but couldn't reach anyone (it was nighttime.) I (wrongly) assumed that someone would catch it and call me, and the fact that the phone hadn't rung and my inbox had no message meant that someone was on top of it.

In the overall scheme of things, this isn't a major issue. It happens. And when it does, my skin gets a little thicker and I learn still more lessons about how far I can and cannot go when I submit pieces for publication. Next time, I won't be afraid to call folks at home.

In the interim, wrong reporting or not, and my journalistic whining notwithstanding, someone died because a motorist took a curve way too fast, jumped the curb and ran her down as she rode on a bike path. Even if the circumstances were initially not clear, the end result was just as tragic. And although my initial cut at an Ink Blog entry didn't make the papers, I've included it here anyway, because writing is writing, and I never want any of my words to go to waste. There's a lesson in here regardless.

Here's my unpublished piece:
Yesterday, I rode my bicycle to work scared. As I passed the spot on Richmond Street where a 27-year-old woman was struck and killed by a motorist on Wednesday evening, I shuddered to think it could have been me.

I cycle that road daily, sharing a sliver of asphalt with often-impatient drivers. I’ve been cut off, brushed back, and yelled at by drivers who refuse to acknowledge that cyclists have every right to ride in peace.

Today, the victim’s family mourns an incomprehensible loss while the driver of the small purple vehicle allegedly involved in the accident roams free. Like all hit-and-run drivers, this coward didn’t have the courage to stay at the scene to help the victim or speak with police. The driver just left her there.

Whoever you are, I hope the guilt weighs on you so heavily that you feel compelled to turn yourself in. And if the police find you first, I pray they throw the book at you so folks like me can ride without fear.

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Your turn: What's an appropriate punishment for someone who kills someone by clearly misreading the weather, the road, and the capabilities of his/her car and his/her driving abilities?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Hands in my pocket

The silly political season in London has begun anew. Every year, like clockwork, quasi-public businesses come crawling to city hall, begging for handouts because they're in debt. Sometimes they get it, and sometimes they don't.

In virtually every case, the requests are made with the tacit understanding that the public purse has no apparent bottom. They trot out the same excuses that they bring tourist dollars and other benefits to the city, and as a result the taxpayers somehow owe it to them to fund yet another bailout.

The Western Fair is an amusement facility in the middle of town. It has rides, a horse racing track, slot machines, and buildings that host fairs and exhibitions - usually agricultural, motorcycle and other semi-rural events. It's actually a neat addition to the city - but only if it doesn't bankrupt us. The fair's management asked the city to extend a sweetheart deal that drastically reduced the rent it pays on its site. I got fed up when I found out, so I wrote this:
Not just the fair has money trouble
Published Thursday, June 22, 2006
The London Free Press

I’ve got a bit of a personal problem and I’m hoping the city can help me out.

It’s been an expensive year. When our car conked out in our driveway, we scraped together our hard-earned dollars and headed to the dealer to buy another vehicle. Before long, our dishwasher and television also stopped working. All this unplanned buying is killing our bank balance.

So I’m hoping London will give us a break on our taxes this year. After all, we’ve lived in this city for years, contributing to its economy in so many ways. We buy groceries, attend festivals and take the kids to Storybook Gardens. Visiting friends and family add to the windfall.

Western Fair has asked for similar relief from city council. I think London’s response should be a stark no. Why give the fair a break when taxpayers routinely get none?

Organizations that can’t plan effectively shouldn’t expect routine bailouts. If the civic safety net doesn’t extend to residents, it shouldn’t extend to the fair either.

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Your turn: Would you give them the money? When does this endless sucking at the public teat (now that ought to set the search engines abuzz) become too much?

Postscript: The city has rejected the Western request. Yay!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Garbage: NIMBY

Everyone's by now familiar with the term, "Not In My Back Yard," or NIMBY. It efficiently summarizes the way many of us tend to view our management of the environment; that we logically understand and accept the need for garbage dumps and sewage treatment plants, but we are unwilling to live near them.

I'm guilty as charged: I often ride past a sewage plant that the city built beside a major bike path. Almost without fail, my first thought is about nearby residents and what would ever possess them to live in the area.

But if you run the math and look at a map, you realize that eventually someone's got to live next to these facilities. There are only so many places for us to live, and it's impossible to completely isolate each and every NIMBY-class site. This adds a bit of context to the dispute between the city and some folks who live near our garbage dump.

Beyond our general disdain for things that stink, this story got to me because it hinges around a promise apparently made long ago between the city and the township that was eventually absorbed by the expanding city. The outcome of this case will influence how much trust we can ultimately place in a simple commitment.
Dump controversy could get smelly
Published Wednesday, June 21, 2006
The London Free Press

Garbage is one of those things that people don't want in their own back yard. But someone, somewhere has to live next to the garbage dump. And residents living near London's Manning Drive landfill have every right to call the city on commitments they say the city made long ago to close the facility by this coming August.

The dump was established in 1977 and became part of London when the city swallowed the former township of Westminster.

Neighbouring residents say the township and the city had agreed that the dump would close for good in August – something the city now denies. They’re threatening to sue, and as smelly as the case might get, I feel for them.

The city should determine who lived in the area before 1977, and decide on fair compensation without sucking the entire taxpaying population dry.

Those who moved in after 1977 deserve nothing, for promises can’t be made retroactively to residents who knew full well what they were getting into when they moved in.

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Your turn: Do old promises these days still hold water? Should they?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - A soldier's story

My column in today's London Free Press touches on an issue that cuts to the core of living in a democratic society: namely, how we treat the families of servicepeople killed in the line of duty.

The bottom line in the case of one Canadian private killed in a vehicle accident in Afghanistan last October is that his family won't be getting anything because he wasn't married.

It's discriminatory injustices like this that practically beg a writer with any audience to pick up the pen and at least try to right such an obvious wrong.
Single soldiers any less dead?
Published Tuesday, June 20, 2006
The London Free Press

You'd think that someone who dies for his country would deserve to be recognized in some way for his sacrifice. But Canada's new tradition, apparently, is to rip off a dead soldier's family.

Pte. Braun Scott Woodfield died last November in Afghanistan when his armoured vehicle rolled over. Parliament had passed a new Veterans Charter the previous April that, among other things, entitled families of soldiers killed while on duty to a $250,000 tax-free payment.

Those eligible for the payments must be dependent children, spouses or common-law partners. The military says Woodfield's family won't receive anything because he was single.

This, wrongly, tells single people that they are somehow less valued members of society.

I can see the recruitment posters now: Join the army. See the world. But be prepared to get the cold shoulder if you're not hitched.

This is not the way to recruit the professional military of tomorrow. This is not how we thank those who died in service of our nation.

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Your turn: Is the Canadian policy a just one? Are we doing the right thing for our people in uniform? Is it time for the Canadian military to update its definitions of "family"?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Take a walk on the wild side


I took this picture while visiting a wetlands preserve in Florida. The impressive thing about this place is how sensitively the boardwalk has been integated into the landscape. It allows visitors to see the wetlands without unnecessarily encroaching on an unbelievably beautiful slice of the planet.

It was so peaceful there that I felt I could sit on the boardwalk and stare at the grasses all day. Practically speaking, I'd never be able to do so because life demands I be in other places doing other things to ensure the bills get paid. But I can always maintain that dream, can't I?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Daughter's perspective


Composition by Dahlia. Deerfield Beach, Florida, December 2006.

I'm not the only one in my family who likes to shoot pictures. When we were on vacation last winter, we bought our eldest son his first real camera. We went on walkabouts and took pictures of a landscape that had been significantly altered by the 2005 hurricane season.

His little sister didn't want to be left out. So I took her on walkabouts, too. What shocked me about both of them was how similarly they approached the process. They both talked themselves through each composition decision, taking ample time to observe the scene from a number of perspectives before taking the shot. They both ended up taking pictures that were very much unconventional and unique.

Aside from confirming once again that the apples didn't fall far from the tree, they gave me a chance to share a passion that I've had since I was their age. I learned that fatherhood isn't just about maintaining daily schedules and ensuring the fridge is full. I learned that dads can connect with their kids in simple ways that don't fit the rigid stereotypes of parenthood. Although my wife is the real artist in our family, I hope the time we spent then - and since - has helped them appreciate that they, too, have the power to view their world through a unique set of eyes, and share their vision with those who love them.

Your turn: How do you get kids to be passionate about creativity and discovery? Any suggestions?

Bushisms - turning a blind eye

I went on a bit of a roller coaster while reading this story, After Sunglasses Gaffe, Bush Apologizes to Legally Blind Reporter.

At first blush, it looks like another classically pathetic George Bush moment. Namely, he says the most politically incorrect, stupid thing one can imagine, all while the cameras are rolling.

But if you read further into the story, to the point where he calls the reporter and apologizes, you see a glimpse of humanity that, frankly, reporters and editors typically don't highlight.

Is he a great president? Not by a longshot? Is he a good president? Um, no. Is he bad for the country? One could make an argument in support of that perspective. (I know: how convenient that I'm a Canadian.)

But on this day, at that moment, he did the right thing by calling the reporter back and expressing genuine remorse. He did what any kindergarten teacher would have her students do after stepping in it with both feet.

Sometimes, it helps to get off the bandwagon for a bit to appreciate the subtle nuances that make some news items somewhat more profound than they first appear.

Your turn: Can someone be a good egg while being a lousy politician?

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Picking through clouds


My profile that's on file at the travel agency says I like window seats. On aircraft where the in-flight meal is but a pseudo-fond memory and in-flight entertainment consists of shadow puppets you hand-project onto your tray using the overhead reading light, the window often represents the only source of creative diversion available to the weary traveller.

The anti-social writer in me also craves the fact that I won't be getting up every 20 minutes to allow my small-bladdered seatmates to make their way to the loo-in-the-sky. I simply sit down, pull up the shade, and enjoy the view.

As I take in the never-ending picture show above and below, I often take pictures. I know: not an ideal photographic situation. The plastic side windows on most planes today are scratched, smudged, and generally as clear as the ketchup bottle after a five-year-old is through with it. The atmosphere itself, thanks to the polluters in Sarnia (sorry, I couldn't resist), is oftentimes murky.

Yet I keep shooting. I always carry a few sets of fully charged batteries, and my camera has a huge memory card. I know that eventually I'll grab an image worth remembering.

This one presented itself on the late-afternoon puddle-jumper flight to London from Detroit. The best pictures, for some odd reason, always seem to happen on the last leg of the trip home. It's almost as if coming home makes everything I see through the lens that much more poignant. I wish I understood the mechanics of this mysterious process: I'd use it to take more pictures like this.

Your turn: You're lying on the lawn looking at clouds. What do you see?

Friday, June 16, 2006

All Bill, all the time

I've had a fun day as an analyst. I did a couple of live interviews on the Bill Gates resignation from Microsoft thing. Report on Business Television (ROBTv) has the interview with Michael Hainsworth available on its home page: http://www.robtv.com/

Scroll down to here and click on the Play button:
2:15 PM ET The Trading Desk with Pat Bolland
Bill Gates Gives His Notice
Carmi Levy, senior research analyst, Info-Tech Research Group
Duration: 7 m 50 s
I also just came off a live interview on CFRA, a radio station in Ottawa. The region is Canada's high-tech corridor, so we speak with them often - and enjoy ourselves every time. If it ends up online, it'll be on the interview page.

If it isn't, I'd be happy to call you at home and tell you why I think the exit door at Microsoft hasn't finished spinning. CEO Steve Ballmer is next. You heard it here first.

Update: The MP3 of the CFRA interview is available here. Happy listening!

Awaiting flight


Hmm, where shall I fly today?

Seattle's Elliott Bay presents a range of travel options to a local.

Your turn: Do you still want to see my travel images? I've got lots of 'em left.

One more thing: If you have a free moment, please visit the exquisite blog, Melange, written by SRP. We seem to have captured thematically-linked birds (here's the direct link to her entry.)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Bill exits stage left

Just received word that Bill Gates is announcing that he will step down from day-to-day leadership of Microsoft in 2008.

I chatted about it with a really nice reporter from Agence France-Presse. I'll post links when they appear online.

(Update, June 19, 2006): Here's a hit from Le Figaro, Bill Gates se d√©sengage de Microsoft pour se consacrer √† l’humanitaire.)

Now, about that free copy of Office 2007...

Your turn: Why does the most exciting news always seem to hit at the end of the day?

Curves


I came across a lot of lovely pieces of glass during my recent trip to Seattle. Some of them were spectacular (see this and this blog entry for more) while others were decidedly more muted.

I liked the color and shape of this one...it reminded me of the light in my late grandparents' apartment on a Sunday morning. Like their home, the window of this space faced east, and the sun never seemed to shine directly in. Instead, the light was somewhat diffused, and it gave everything in the place a slightly gloomy, shadowy cast. Surfaces, especially curved ones, seemed to be much richer as a result.

This place in a distant city took me right back to a time when these memories first formed, long before I was able to understand their significance.

Your turn: If someone can share some background on this city's apparently deep glass blowing heritage, I'd love to hear it. Alternatively, feel free to tell us about an image from your own childhood that refuses to leave you.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Cactus world news


Looks like Florida dodged the bullet when the first named storm of the year, Tropical Storm Alberto, failed to develop into anything really major. (The last time Alberto visited the U.S., in 1994, the outcome was much worse.)

It's early days yet, and this year's hurricane season is predicted to be an active one. But for now, at least, the little patch of cactus I captured toward the top of Deerfield Beach is likely still there.

May the lucky streak continue indefinitely. I suspect it won't, but hope is an important component of life.

Your turn: Got a hurricane story?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Sheets


Taken at the Seattle Westin (more on this place in a future blog entry.)

Hotels these days seem to be engaged in a cold war of sorts. They're pulling out all the stops to convince travellers that they have the latest and greatest beds, because we know a state-of-the-art bed is all it takes to make one think of home.

I think it's a load of bunk. Marketers love the bed-war thing because it allows them to personalize or warmify what is, at the core, a highly impersonal and cold experience. The uniforms, professional demeanor and wall-to-wall branding of everything related to the hotel do little to change the fact that you're sleeping in an anonymous concrete box in the middle of a huge building that's filled with hundreds of other strangers who are also sleeping in their own anonymous concrete boxes.

Okay, I'm overstating it. But I can hardly pad through the lobby in my one-piece jammies and share a tea with the concierge, now, can I?

But the high thread counts look kind of interesting in the muted light that comes through the window on a cloudy day, especially when the sheet is just messy enough to show some relief in the shadows.

This is one of those images that I might not have taken in the pre-digital era. Because every shot came with additional logistics and cost, it simply wouldn't have occurred to me to study something as seemingly featureless as a sheet.

Apparently, it wasn't as featureless as I once assumed.

Your turn: Can you think of other textures that, in your opinion, are worthy of a picture? Why do textures make for such interesting photos?

Monday, June 12, 2006

Play ball, thirstily


Some people go to baseball games to watch the game. I go to baseball games so I can take weird pictures like this one.

I was enjoying the low-angled evening sun as danced across the stands. I thought it would look interesting filtered through a cup of 7-Up. Not exactly a classic photo idea, but one that nevertheless takes me back to a pretty neat place every time I see it.

By the by, I took this earlier-posted image from the same vantage point. I hope the groundskeepers get to take some time every once in a while to appreciate the view.

Don't worry, Mom, I was very careful to avoid a) dropping the cup; and b) dropping myself on the poor souls a few storeys below.

Your turn: Baseball been berry, berry good to me. Has it been berry good to you, too?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Vista


Nothing much to say on this one. I just loved the view.

Some people would think the view should be photographed without interference from foreground elements. I'd like to think that the barrier made an interesting picture even more fun to explore. Vive la difference photographique.

Your turn: What goes through your mind as you take in this image?

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Dissing Toronto

I never pass up a good opportunity to tick off the residents of nearby cities. By the time I wrote today's column, I had already done it once this week. As a result, citizens of Sarnia will not be giving me the key to the city anytime soon (read more about that here.)

Today, it was Toronto's turn to get spanked. Maybe I'm overly puritanical, but any city that can't pull its act together shouldn't expect other residents in the region to pay for its mistakes. Look after your own, and be a good neighbour. Hopefully, someone in government there will read my piece and get the message.

Doubtful, of course. But one can always hope. And write.

Toronto told to clean up its act
Published Saturday, June 10, 2006
The London Free Press

Saying no to Toronto’s sludge is like telling the neighbourhood bully to go home and never come back. It’s empowering.

Every year, Toronto ships approximately 900,000 tonnes of garbage to a Michigan landfill. Effective August 1, the landfill will no longer accept the city’s treated sludge. It will continue to take the remaining 700,000 tonnes of regular waste.

Toronto says it is now considering all options. Our mayor, Anne Marie DeCicco, says Toronto can strike London’s name off the list, because the city will not be able to dump its sewage here.

Londoners should line the 401 and cheer our city’s initial response. Although we haven’t made any final decisions, we’re already sending a strong message that we won’t bow down to a city that is unable or unwilling to effectively manage its waste.

It’s high time Toronto stopped shipping its garbage 400 kilometers into Michigan. Our region is tired of the additional truck traffic – and risk – that this bizarrely complex waste management scheme brings.

Today it’s sludge. Eventually, refusals like ours could stop the flow of garbage for good.

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Your turn: Is garbage disposal/landfill management an issue where you live?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Kids 'n guns at school

Sometimes, I seriously think the world has gone completely mad.

For example, a 14-year-old student in London was charged this week after he brought a gun to school and gave it to another student.

Some days, I find it tough to pick the topic for my next column. To make it as a column, the basic topic has to be, well, topical. I often say it has to snap, to jump out of the mass of messaging and stick in your brain. It has to matter.

As soon as I saw this news story, I knew I had my column.

Gun in school demands answers
Published Friday, June 9, 2006
The London Free Press

Reading, writing, ‘rithmetic are no longer the only things on the curriculum at London’s Cleardale public school. Now, students there are apparently learning about guns, too.

We learned this week that a 14-year-old has been charged after stealing a pistol. The allegation is that the youth brought it to school and gave it to another student.

London isn’t midtown Detroit. Our schools don’t have metal detectors and security guards. Students aren’t frisked on their way into class. Not yet, anyway.

Despite our perception of relative safety, parents who leave their children at the front door of their school in the morning trust that their teachers and related staff will not only educate and enlighten them, but keep them safe.

That didn’t happen at Cleardale this week.

I can’t imagine parents and students feeling at ease until they get some answers. They have every right to ask the Thames Valley District school board how it intends to keep guns away from kids.

Come to think of it, parents in any school deserve similar reassurance.

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Your turn: It seems almost surreal to repeat the phrase: Kids and guns in school. If you're a parent, how do you feel when you hear this? If you're a teacher, how do you respond?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Chemical Valley

I stepped in it a bit with today's column. Sarnia is a city about 45 minutes to the west of London. It is the center of a region known as Chemical Valley. Lots of petrochemical firms have located there, and it has enjoyed a bit of a reputation for environmental messiness. OK, maybe "a bit" is understating it. According to some studies, its pollution levels contribute to some frightening health-related consequences.

Of course, according to many supporters of the area's industries, everything's been cleaned up, and it's now a lovely green part of the world.

It is these people who have responded in fairly vocal protest to this piece. I've been called names, and I've even been asked to print a retraction. The language used in the process has been nothing short of profane. Fun stuff...I love when I strike a chord with readers. Here's what I published:
Chemical Valley, chemical world
Published Thursday, June 8, 2006
The London Free Press

Canary, meet your coal mine.

Members of two Sarnia families found out this week that their bodies are laced with a wicked brew of poisonous chemicals. I’d wager that similar tests on anyone else in southern Ontario would yield similar results.

It’s no secret that Sarnia is an environmental quagmire. Overrun by the petrochemical industry, the city’s residents quite literally make a deal with the devil: The engine of their economy might also be slowly poisoning them.

But London shouldn’t be so smug. We’re just downwind, and our own record of environmental abuse is nothing to be proud of. While evidence mounts that cosmetic pesticide spraying is already making us sick in ways we barely understand, we waste years debating the merits of pretty lawns.

London City Council votes on our proposed pesticide bylaw next Monday. But the Sarnia family’s experience suggests the damage is already being done.

It’s time to dispense with the chemical pushers’ agenda and recognize that our head-in-the-sand approach to environmental management is likely killing us.

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Your turn: I know I pushed it a bit with the language. I wanted folks to pay attention, and they did. But am I being unfair or is it within my journalistic rights to tweak the noses of industry to bring light to our blase environmental awareness policies and attitudes?

One more thing: I'm looking forward to your feedback. I'll post some content from readers in the days to come. I suspect I haven't heard the last from folks just yet.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Texan webcams

One of the things I like to do when I write a column is tie two seemingly disparate stories together. It forces the reader to participate a little more deeply in the reading process, to think a little harder about what I'm trying to say. It's a fun way to get folks involved.

While choosing a topic for my piece in today's paper, I noticed that the Texas governor was installing webcams to monitor the Mexican border. (Apparently, they have an immigration issue down there...who knew?) Even better, the footage would be fed to the Internet, and citizens would be allowed to watch, then call in a toll-free number when they see something amiss. Cool! This could very well be the most brilliant use of free labor since Nike put its first swoosh on a sneaker (then a t-shirt, and a ball cap, and...)

London spent oodles of money a few years back installing a downtown camera surveillance system. In a classic London move, the footage is actually watched eight hours every night. Over the course of the other 16 hours, the footage is sent into oblivion because no one ever thought that staffing the thing 24/7 might be a Good Thing.

As is typical of my burg, good ideas like the Texas webcam thing are often completely ignored. We live in a fishbowl covered with a thick, opaque substance not unlike crystallized honey. We're patently unable to learn from the best practices of others unless they are wrapped up in a pretty little bow and gently deposited on our doorstep.

I was out of bows when I wrote this. But I thought no one would look a gifthorse in the mouth no matter how badly it was packaged. Here's the piece from today's paper:
Texas plan might boost surveillance
Published Wednesday, June 7, 2006
The London Free Press

Do you want to become the eyes and ears of our city? Do you want to help London save money as it decides what to do about downtown video surveillance cameras that sit idle for 16 hours a day? The governor of Texas has come up with an interesting idea.

Rick Perry has proposed installing web cameras on the state’s border with Mexico. Live, around-the-clock video feeds from the cameras would be made available over the Internet. Regular citizens could log in from home and watch. If they see any illegal attempts to cross the border, they’ll be asked to call a special toll-free number.

Although London doesn’t have much of an immigration problem, the idea of citizens watching the city from the comfort of their homes has merit. It wouldn’t cost appreciably more because the cameras and supporting infrastructure are already in place. We could even use the novelty of our new network to boost tourism.

Sure, it sounds crazy. But so does spending six-figure amounts on cameras that sit idle.

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Your turn: Are webcam-vigilante-citizens the answer for controlling crime and keeping folks on the right side of the border? Would you welcome such a program in your city?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Terror comes to Canada

The big news in Canada this week is the arrest of 17 (so far) suspects in connection with a terrorist plot to blow up some pretty high-profile targets. These include the Peace Tower in Ottawa and the CN Tower in Toronto.

All told, it's pretty scary stuff for a generally-pacifist nation like ours.

Of course this disturbs me greatly. But what digs even deeper is the anti-Muslim sentiment that the arrests have elicited. The names of the accused suggest they are all Muslim. In an almost-repeat performance of the post-9/11 backlash, Muslims here are being targeted simply because of their religion. A mosque has been vandalized, and folks who had nothing to do with the plot are being threatened.

This goes against my view of the world, for it opens the door to similar discrimination against members of any group. Tomorrow, it could be me. Or you.

So I wrote this for today's paper:
Don't tar Muslims with terrorist brush
Published Tuesday, June 6, 2006
The London Free Press

I’ll be the first to admit that when I initially read the list of those arrested in connection with the alleged terrorist plot to blow up major Canadian landmarks, I was struck by the origin of their names.

It would have been easy for me to jump to the usual conclusions equating an entire religion with terrorism.

Easy is what vandals have done to a Toronto mosque in the wake of the arrests. Easy is what self-righteous Canadians are doing in droves this week: blaming all Muslims for the alleged acts of a relative few.

After we get past the initial hysteria associated with Canada’s new-found status as a global target of terrorists, we need to ask ourselves whether our collective response represents the best we can do.

It doesn’t. Those who target all Muslims expose themselves as the racists that they are.

Canadians would do well to let the justice system deal with these alleged criminals. Anyone not already in custody does not deserve to be victimized by association.

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Your turn: I recognize that the spectre of terrorism frightens us all. But does the ensuing backlash scare you, too? If most terrorist plots seem to involve radical Muslims, will the religion ever be able to move past this obvious problem with public relations?

Monday, June 05, 2006

Cropping


The next time you're out and about, I hope you'll try this simple exercise in perspective: form a rectangle using the index finger and thumb from each hand. Then use this crude device to crop out details of things around you.

Aside from looking like a total geek - which becomes more enjoyable over time, I promise you - you will over time realize that stuff looks different when it's cropped away from everything around it.

My big mistake when I first started shooting was thinking I had to get everything into the frame. And so my early albums are filled with images where the real focal point is but a tiny dot in the middle, too small to have any storytelling effect. The context does nothing to explain what the picture is all about. Most folks would yawn through the experience.

These days, I try to get in a little closer to see the pictures that most people would miss because they're too embarrassed to lift their fingers up in front of their face and view the world with a slightly offset eye. Viewers may not always know what they're looking at, but it makes for a much more interesting conversation.

Your turn: Anyone want to hazard a guess re. what this is and/or where this might have been taken?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Window shades


Detroit Metro International Airport, en route home from Seattle

The typical airport represents a bit of a conundrum for me. On the one hand, the express goal of the place is to get through - and out - as fast as is humanly possible. Long before you land at a connecting airport, you're plotting your journey through it: run up the jetway and into the terminal, fetch your luggage, do battle with the customs folks, clear security again, find the gate for your connecting flight, and finally avoid getting lost as you walk what seems like - and probably is - miles to the gate.

On the other hand, airports are the most rare of public spaces, namely those with a captivating sight at every turn. These places practically beg everyone within them to stop and appreciate at least one aspect of their sleek, efficient form.

But who has the time? Travellers are busy fighting time, other travellers and ill-trained airline and airport personnel in their quest to get where they're going. If they stop to smell the photographic roses, they risk spending more time en route than originally planned. I can practically hear the phone conversation when I call home to explain the delay to my wife.
Me: Hi sweetie. I'm going to be late getting home tonight. I missed my connecting flight, so they've put me on the next one to London.
My wife: I'm so sorry to hear that. What happened? Did your first flight run into thunderstorms again?
Me: Thankfully, no. But I was futzing around the terminal with my camera. I lost all track of time and, because I had the volume cranked up on my iPod while I was shooting, I didn't hear them calling my name just before the plane pushed back. Silly me.
My wife: Silly you, indeed. I'll leave a fish sandwich on the kitchen table in case you're hungry when you get home. Nice job setting priorities, buddy.
Okay, so I embellished the wife part a little. All right, a lot. She'd never do the fish sandwich thing. But this scenario does highlight the risks of stopping to capture scenes in an airport.

As you can see, I still managed to grab this late-afternoon-shadows-through-the-window image as I walked the long corridor to my connecting flight. It took just a few seconds to drop my bag and snap off a few images. The corridor itself can be a sterile, lonely place. But that afternoon, the warming sun on the window frame made for a geometry that I could not pass up.

At that moment, my head was filled with thoughts of coming home, of seeing my wife and kids after too many days away, of swapping an overwhelmingly huge and lonely space for the welcoming comforts of our home. The light caught my eye, as did the picture it painted on the long, narrow floor. So I had to stop, even if I only had a quick minute to take in the scene.

Your turn: What stops you in your tracks and compels you to take out your camera?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Ballfield geometry


Safeco Field, Seattle

On the surface, there's nothing extraordinary about a couple of guys hosing down the field before a ballgame. Fans filing into the stadium at this time are typically focused on the players warming up. They're also concentrating on finding their seats and finding some food, generally not in that order.

But I noticed no one was watching the two guys with the hoses. I thought they painted an interesting picture from my admittedly high vantage point. The perfectly cut grass and finely sorted dirt made a perfect backdrop for these two workers and their shadows. The curving hose added an interesting counterpoint to the otherwise-linear geometry of the scene.

Colors, lines and shadows...isn't this an ideal way to kickstart a long-overdue visit to a ballpark?

Your turn: What images from a baseball field do it for you? Why are ballyards magical places for some?

Friday, June 02, 2006

Fire


This is the fire hydrant next to our house. I like the fact that it's so close because anyone who knows me is patently aware of my immense fear of fire. I think of it as my own. I'm odd that way, but we need to find comfort wherever we can in a world that doesn't always seem willing to provide it.

My hydrant looks brilliantly yellow from far away. But when you get up close and personal with it, you realize it's probably time for a new coat of paint. Actually, it's probably time that someone stripped all that badly layered paint away and started from scratch. But municipal budgets don't allow for such luxuries.

In spite of, or perhaps because of its funky old paint job, I found it an interesting hunk of metal to study with my lens. The surface texture looked so much more interesting when I took the time to look closely and explore its imperfection. So on my way home a few weeks ago, I spent a few minutes shooting it from a bunch of angles. I didn't have much of a photographic plan, but I thought I'd keep shooting until I liked the result.

Your turn: Do you?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Reddish


Sometimes, you take a picture because you happened to be walking by and the color and shading jumped out at you. You capture the image quickly, without giving it a whole lot of thought. Then you hope that the depth of color that attracted you in the first place manages to make it to the final result.

Your turn: What is this? What thoughts come to mind the first time you see it?