Saturday, September 30, 2006

Bee wants coffee

What's amazing about this image, taken in the Eclipse restaurant during our recent long weekend (see here and here) up north, doesn't lie in the image at all. Rather, one of the servers put a coffee mug over said bee, walked the whole thing outside and set the little critter free.

Most folks would have simply smacked the sucker into the next dimension. Instead, he showed a level of compassion that seems to be decidedly absent from society today. That's inspiring.

Your turn: How have seemingly small random acts of kindness touched your life? How have you touched others in this way?

Friday, September 29, 2006

My CrackBerry addiction returns

I should have known that today would be a big day. Research In Motion announced its second-quarter results, and that somehow affected my life from afar.

For those of you who've been reading me for a while, you might remember that I spent a lot of time speaking about the big patent-based lawsuit that hung over RIM like a Sword of Damocles until earlier this year. A small company named NTP had sued RIM for patent infringement. NTP claimed RIM violated its intellectual property rights when it brought its BlackBerry to market.

When I'm not shooting close-up pictures of flower petals and our sleeping children's faces, I cover the mobile space for the tech research firm where I work. Through the course of this lawsuit, we became the BlackBerry thought leaders. If anyone wanted to know the BlackBerry zeitgeist, we were their next call.

Fast forward to this morning. I was donating blood (I like large-bore needles and pre-packaged cookies) and my cell phone rang. A radio station in Montreal was hoping I'd be able to comment. But of course. So I chatted from the chair.

Before long, I heard from Gary Doyle at 570 News in Kitchener (RIM's hometown station...see roundup here) and Report on Business Television. My intentions of spending a quiet Friday catching up on reporting and other must-do work were suddenly scuttled by a bunch of live interviews. But that's OK, because these are all some of the best interviewers one could ever hope to work with, and it's always a privilege to have the opportunity to share our perspectives through major media channels.

I got back to the office, quickly rented a car (my bicycle just wouldn't have been fast enough for the 120 km drive) and, once I was finished the lunch-hour chat on Kitchener radio, drove to Kitchener (I know, irony...but the London studio was unavailable) and did the ROBTv hit. It was a really neat format, called Toe-to-Toe, where I went head-to-head with a financial analyst and we debated RIM's prospects. I did the interview from a studio at the Kitchener CTV affiliate, CKCO, and once again it was a great learning experience.

As I drove back to London to make the rest of the day's appointments, I stared at the beautifully painted clouds in the sky and thought that this really wasn't a bad way to work. Some days, I have to pinch myself.

The ROBTv interview is available here. I hope you enjoy watching it!

Your turn: Do you love what you do for a living? Why/why not?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Playing with trains with my daughter

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
Ferris Bueller (played by Matthew Broderick)
Ferris Bueller's Day Off, 1986

Yesterday morning, I took our daughter to the dentist. As seems to have become our tradition, we had an adventure along the way.

First, some background: London is a city of railroad crossings. The one along our route was just before a stop sign. Since there's only room for one car behind the stop sign, I always come to a full stop before the tracks and wait for the car ahead to clear. Few things terrify me more than the prospect of sitting astride the tracks and having the bells ring, the arm come down, and a ten-million-kilogram freight train barrelling down on the car. No sirree.

So I stopped before the track and waited. And the bells began to ring. My first instinct was to stick the car in park because I knew we'd be there for a while. I also made a mental note to call the dentist's office to let them know we might be late.

Then I stopped caring about time when I heard squeals of excitement from the back seat. My nine-year-old daughter, normally so fashion-conscious, popular and cool, had up until today never been first in line at a train crossing. It was a new experience for our little girl.

So I opened all the windows, killed the CD, and we tried to predict which side the train would come from. She correctly guessed the left, then sat enthralled as a fast-moving train whipped by just a couple of meters in front of our bumper. We tried to figure out what was inside the sleek steel cargo carrying-cars, and eventually figured that it was carrying new cars. She marvelled at how, safely ensconced in the middle of a cushy minivan, she still could feel the ground shake.

Almost as soon as it began, it was over. The last car whooshed past and the arms went back up. The bells stopped ringing as the speeding train receded in the distance and we crossed the now-empty track. We excitedly chatted about trains for the rest of the trip and arrived at the dentist's office just on time.

I feel sorry for those who are in so much of a rush that they always cross ahead of the train. I feel privileged that I got to experience that small moment with a little girl who won't always be enthralled with the front row seat at a railroad crossing.

Your turn: What makes moments like this so meaningful? Is it possible to make magic out of the ordinary? How?

The view beyond the curtains

Sometimes, just a peek is enough to whet our appetite for more.

Your turn: When is this true?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Space blogger

It had to happen sooner or later: someone has actually blogged from space. Anousheh Ansari is half of the husband-wife team that funded the Ansari X Prize. The self-made tech entrepreneur is currently orbiting the planet aboard the International Space Station, and she's been documenting her travels on her self-titled space blog.

Point your browser toward and prepare to be inspired. Her first-person view of this rather extraordinary experience goes well beyond the usual PR-limited perspectives that NASA astronauts are allowed to share with the world - assuming they share them at all.

As you wonder what the heck this has to do with you, I hope you'll keep this in mind: As a little girl in Iran, she used to look up at the sky and wonder about possibilities. If anyone is a candidate for validating the old saw that the sky is the limit, it would be Ms. Ansari.

Your turn: Is her experience inspirational to you? How?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Look up from any street in New York and you're greeted by a diversity of building facades that few other places on the planet can match. I wish I had had more time on-site to appreciate the sights for a little longer. As it was, I took this picture as part of a series on my rapid walk back to the hotel after my interview. I held my laptop in my left hand (in retrospect, likely not the smartest thing to do in Manhattan) and grabbed quick snapshots with the camera in my right.

Not the most thoughtful way to take pictures. But sometimes, that's enough to paint a quick picture of a very rushed afternoon.

Your turn: What story do these buildings tell? Does it matter? Why?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Publish Days - Ink Blog - Garbage Cubed

Last week was another on week for my newspaper column. I've got a three-cycle backlog (that's 15 poor readers!) that I'll post to the blog in the days to come.

This week, I was somewhat fixated on one issue - and I ended up writing three pieces on this one topic. This is highly unusual, but it was an issue that resonated strongly with local readers, and they responded in droves with passionate e-mails outlining their perspective. I felt a huge responsibility to continue the dialog on their behalf.

The issue? The city of Toronto - about a two-hour drive east of here - has been shipping its garbage to Michigan for a few years. Every day, hundreds of huge dump trucks make the round trip down the 401 highway that skirts London's southern border. The state of Michigan recently announced it would ban such dumping starting in 2010. So Toronto, unable and unwilling to solve its garbage problem, sought another dumping ground. After a series of secret meetings which failed to involve the regions that would be most directly affected, the city announced it had purchased a landfill near London. Toronto said too bad. The provincial government pretended there was nothing it could do. London was screwed over in the process.

As a crusading journalist, this ticks me off to no end. It ticked off large numbers of readers, too. So I wrote and wrote and wrote about it. I coined the term "garbagegate" and managed to get the word "shafting" into print. Here are the three pieces from last week's writing cycle:
Toronto garbage not welcome here
Published Wednesday, September 20, 2006
The London Free Press
By Carmi Levy

Garbage stinks, of course. But Toronto’s garbage stinks worse after reports that it wants to ship it to a London-area landfill.

Our mayor says London has been actively lobbying the provincial government to get Toronto to keep its garbage within the Greater Toronto Area.

This effort apparently continues to fall on deaf ears, which serves as an ominous message to Ontarians who live outside Toronto. Essentially, if you’re not a big city, you’re second-class.

I refuse to accept Toronto’s bid to dump its mess in places that are too small to fight back. You should, too.

And with a municipal election fast approaching, the time is now to press your candidates on this make-or-break issue.

Cities that fail to clean up their own garbage act shouldn’t be allowed to override the rights of others. Governments at all levels that fail to address our fundamental right to not be bullied deserve to be voted out of office.

Toronto must learn to keep its garbage in its own backyard, not in ours.


A whole lot of green for garbage dump
Published Thursday, September 21, 2006
The London Free Press
By Carmi Levy

You’ve got to give Green Lane Landfill owner Bob McCaig credit. Though the terms of the sale of his property won’t be made public for another 90 days, the deal is estimated to be worth around $200 million. That’s a lot of green for a garbage dump.

However, McCaig lost me when he said he was pleased to be working with Toronto “on an environmentally viable solution to a major problem.”

I’m having difficulty understanding the so-called environmental viability of this deal. Is McCaig referring to the hundreds of trucks burning incalculable amounts of diesel fuel between here and Toronto? Does he mean the money that Toronto still doesn’t spend on increased waste diversion or recycling programs?

The only thing that seems really viable in all of this is Mr. McCaig’s profit. The rest of the region will now spend the next 20 years paying the price for this so-called “solution to a major problem.”

If you’re as ticked off about this as I am, e-mail me and we’ll share our thoughts with city hall.


'Garbagegate' will bite provincial Grits
Published Saturday, September 23, 2006
The London Free Press
By Carmi Levy

If politicians at all levels of government are reading this – assuming they read at all – I’ve got news for them: voters are angrier than I’ve ever seen them.

My inbox has been blasted by responses from livid readers who say the deal to sell the Green Lane Landfill to Toronto smacks of political opportunism and abject greed. They’re fed up with the province’s pandering to the large number of Toronto-area voters, and to the never-ending backroom deal-making that continually violates the letter and the spirit of government accountability. They almost unanimously agree that this marks a new low in political backstabbing.

While local politicians argue over Garbagegate’s potential impact on the upcoming municipal election, the real story lies squarely within Toronto’s borders. The true villains are the self-centred leaders of Toronto and a morally bankrupt provincial government that will do almost anything to hold onto office – even if it means shafting the Southwestern Ontario electorate.

But voters have long memories. The provincial Liberals can expect a very rough ride from this region the next time we go to the polls.


Your turn: What would you do if something similar happened to your otherwise-sleepy city? How do you fight back against faraway, disconnected political forces? Can the individual truly make a difference?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Interviewed, quoted, etc.

I've fallen somewhat behind on posting links to my media-related work of late. Since it's been a bit of a busy week, I thought I'd toss up some quick snippets of what I've been up to of late:
  • Report on Business Television. I did a live interview from the CKCO CTV affiliate in Kitchener, Ontario. I spoke about Motorola's purchase of Symbol Technologies with ROBTv anchors Pat Bolland and Lisa Oke. To view the streamed video, click here, then scroll down to the entry that looks like this
2:05 PM ET
Trading Day with Pat Bolland
Motorola Buys Symbol Technologies
Carmi Levy, senior research analyst, Info-Tech Research Group
Duration: 5 m 18 s

Click on the Play icon and you're off to the races. (Note: this link will likely go dead late Monday or early Tuesday.)
  • Unstrung. I was interviewed by Senior Editor Richard Martin on this same issue. The resulting piece is called Motorola's Vertical Leap, and can be found here.
  • Marketplace on American Public Media. I was interviewed for a radio report entitled More battery problems for Sony. Janet Babin was the reporter, and you can hear the piece by clicking here. Don't tell anyone, but I did this interview from my kitchen table. Shhh.
  • Detroit Free Press. How AdWords work: New Ann Arbor office is part of Google's ad strategy changing the world of marketing. Byline Jewel Gopwani, Free Press Business Writer. Click here to read the article.
  • Unstrung. Palm: Struggles Ahead. Also by Richard Martin. Read it here.
  • Red Herring. Yahoo Latest Dell Laptop Casualty. Byline Eydie Cubarrubia. Read it here. Note that I work for Info-Tech, not In-Stat (I'm still not sure where that one came from.)
  • Who Gets What? Deciding How To Distribute the Goodies. Byline Sixto Ortiz. Click here to read.
  • We also released a quick news brief in response to the latest large-scale recall of laptop batteries. This one was a little different in that the batteries were not at risk of exploding. But's the lowdown: Tekrati picked it up here: Toshiba Laptop Battery Recall Reaffirms Need for Industry Action, Says Info-Tech Research Group.
Your turn: Do I look/sound like I enjoy this? I hope so, because I do. Immensely. What is it about your calling that makes it so enjoyable for you?

Not quite strawberry shortcake

We're in an interim, early stage of autumn when the warmth of summer has started to fade, but the colors haven't quite started to make themselves known. As I look through my kitchen window, the world outside seems dull, gray, and somewhat muted. So I thought I'd shift gears a bit and drop in a shot of color.

Your turn: I'd like to know where you find bright, inspirational colors. If you've posted any examples online, I hope you'll share a link or two with us.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

To be a fly on the wall

They don't have much of a brain, and they tend to be on this planet for about as long as love lasts between Hollywood's latest power couple. But sometimes I find myself looking at a flying insect and wishing I had the ability to fly, to stand on walls and ceilings, and to watch and listen to whatever's going on.

It's funny how those beings who have the ability to fly don't much appreciate the significance of this gift.

Your turn: If you weren't human, what would you rather be? Why? (Yes, it's an odd one. Sorry.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

My equipment

I've often been asked what I shoot with. I think many of you would be surprised at the answer.

This is my camera. It's a Kodak C330, a basic 4.0 megapixel digital unit with a lovely glass lens and a fairly intuitive set of controls. It gives me a lot of room to play with the settings to get the results I want. Most of the images on my blog and accompanying Flickr site were taken with the Kodak.

I also have a lovely old Nikon F-801s 35mm SLR. I've had it forever, and love it to bits and pieces. But in this day and age of digital, shooting 24 images at a time and then paying for development just doesn't seem to be the way to go. I'm holding on to my old camera because it's become more than a mere piece of equipment, and I'll always want to have the ability to rack off a roll of black-and-white. But I have ordered a digital SLR and am counting the days until it arrives.

Which begs the question: isn't the Kodak a bit out of its league?

The answer may surprise you. Technically, it probably is. It lacks the gee-whiz features and downright sexiness of a full-blown SLR or higher-end all-in-one. It doesn't look cool. It doesn't impress.

And that's the point. Its very simplicity is what makes it such a great tool. It's inexpensive, so I carry it with me virtually everywhere I go. It takes a lot of pictures on a pair of NiMH rechargeables, so with a couple of extra sets of batteries and a big memory card, I can shoot all day. It allows me to play with exposure time and ISO settings to coax some neat-looking scenes. It sometimes demands a little creativity to coax the more unique shots out of it, but that's the point, after all.

I grew up listening to people with more money than brains explain how their camera was so much better than any other. They'd wave their expensive equipment around whenever they felt the need to impress other folks. Oddly, they never seemed to be willing to share the results of their work. Those who did showed shot after shot of flat, dull images that didn't tell a story. I call these folks posers. They're usually the ones who walk around with the lens cap off.

Ansel Adams
, arguably the greatest American photographer in history, shot most of his work with simple box cameras. He often made his own cameras to suit the needs of a particular shoot. His contention was that photography was driven by one's creativity and not by one's equipment.

I just love that perspective.

Your turn: What do you shoot with? Do you agree/disagree with my perspective? Have you enountered posers in your neck of the woods? How do you handle them?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Still wet

Thought I'd keep going with the theme of water and muted colors. My somewhat strange photographic mood continues.

Your turn: Should I keep sharing more of the same?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Flash fountain

Photographers control light to tell stories. Sometimes, there just isn't enough light out there to record the shot effectively, so they need a little help. Electronic flash units can do the trick, but directly lighting a subject can often reduce apparent depth and wipe out surface features. For that reason, indirect or bounce flash often helps. But that isn't always feasible, especially when you're outside.

But flash units have one critical advantage: they freeze an image like nothing else. So I tried my hand with the fountain outside our hotel room. Because the shutter was open for significantly more time than the flash was firing, I still got some subtle motion effects on some of the edges. If you squint just so, it almost looks like the water is throwing a shadow back against the sky.

Sometimes, cameras can be so much fun to play with.

Your turn: I think there's more water in my photographic future? Any suggestions what kinds of water scenes would work best?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I like to walk slowly when I'm outside. It helps me catch glimpses of things that would be otherwise missed. This latest image continues my 'naturally b&w' theme, and reinforces my belief that beauty is found in the most unexpected places, but only if we take the time to look.

Your turn: I'm having trouble figuring out why I like this image. Any suggestions are welcome.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Towels on a bathroom shelf

Bathroom photography, Hudson Hotel, New York City

A hotel room provides a welcome refuge from chaos when you're otherwise running from event to event in a place that's completely alien and very far from the people who usually bring you comfort. In the relatively few free moments that I have when I'm attending a conference or similar event, I often use that blessedly quiet time to (unsuccessfully) calm myself down from the stress of the trip.

Sleep doesn't come easily in these places, which leaves me ample late-night free time to observe. I found this somewhat odd scene in, of all places, the bathroom. I liked the simple white-tile-and-chrome mood of the place. Nice and stark, with just enough ethereal backlighting to complete the scene.

Your turn: In your opinion, why am I obsessed with minute details of architecture? And what's with my sudden obsession with monochrome?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Purple vista

The non-gender-specific meteorological expert (aka weatherman in a pre-PC world) is calling for grayness and rain tomorrow. Which is unfortunate, because I'll be riding my bike through it, and I'm not usually at my happiest when I pedal through the wet.

To boost my mood to the point that I'll actually be able to write cohesive prose - it's an on week for my newspaper column, among other major deliverables on my writer's plate - I wanted to post this somewhat colorful and hopeful image.

It's a scene from Deerhurst, and every time I look at it, I'm right back in a blissfully peaceful place with the one person on this planet who finishes my sentences, laughs at my admittedly lame sense of humor and tilts her head just so when I lag behind her because I wanted to take just one more picture.

Your turn: Do you dawdle, too? Why?

The evil eye in Times Square

Walk the streets of any major city and you're bound to run into some folks who might charitably be classified as living on the fringe. Walk the streets of New York and that truth is amplified somewhat. Not that there's anything (Seinfeldianly) wrong with that, of course. Running into folks from all across the human spectrum is what makes the urban environment as rich and frenetic as it is. I wouldn't change a thing.

So as I walked through Times Square on my way back to the hotel following my interview at the NASDAQ, I crossed paths with this individual. Now, I wasn't about to get into a protracted theological discussion with him. On a quieter day, I might have. But I was rushing back to the conference. Still, I didn't want to forget this moment: he looked so forlorn, standing in the middle of the sidewalk while masses of pedestrians did their utmost to avoid him - even turning their heads so they wouldn't catch his eye.

I wanted to ask his permission to shoot him. But the street corner was just too busy, and I didn't want to ruin the spontaneous nature of the moment. I just wanted to snap and run. I know, it was chicken and immoral of me, and I still feel somewhat guilty for throwing caution to the wind. I lifted the camera, prefocused on a nearby element so as not to draw his attention, then shifted my composition toward him and tripped the shutter. Just as I did, he spotted me and his gaze changed. As you can see, he didn't seem to be very pleased with my invasion of his privacy.

Your turn: Would you have taken the shot? Why/why not? What story does this image tell?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Swizzle sticks and light

Found these at my parents' place. I liked 'em because they shoot b&w any way you look at them. (This seems to be a recurring theme lately. Maybe I'm destined to shoot monochromatic scenes.)

This isn't an earth-shatteing image by any stretch of the imagination. Just a simple composition that incorporates an interesting play on light. Simple, but still something that has stuck in my mind since the moment I first captured it. I hope it has a similar effect on you.

Your turn: What are the first 3 words that come to mind when you see this? Why are images like this memorable?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Travel delay

Pearson International Airport, Toronto, September 5, 2006, 2:25 p.m.

When the airline cancels your flight a few minutes before boarding and the agent at the gate is as rude and useless as can be, you have a number of choices:
  1. Go medieval on his sorry unionized persona.
  2. Slink meekly to the nearest phone and convince yourself that he's just having a bad day.
  3. Wait in line, but try to have a little fun in the process.
I think it's obvious which way I went. Po hangs off of my backpack on every trip I take. I do my best to photograph her somewhere in an airport. It's my way of signposting my travels and putting a somewhat human (OK, Teletubby?) face on what is typically a faceless, dehumanizing experience.

So in this, the longest and most chaotic lineup I've ever seen in an airport, I pulled Po off the bag and had her help me add a little perspective and levity to the moment. Elizabeth the ticket agent was gamely trying to direct the lines, and my fellow travellers seemed to take it all in stride. And a small red stuffed animal gave total strangers a reason to smile.

Your turn: How do you turn a bad situation into a good one?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Take off, eh

Out of deference to Bob and Doug McKenzie, I'll voluntarily refrain from further hoser references and other dated Canadianisms for at least the rest of this entry.

But I did want to share this image from my travels last week. It is of the landing gear of a Dash-8 Series 100 (DHQ-1) on takeoff from Toronto's Pearson International Airport (YYZ) bound for London, Ontario (YXU). Lifting off on my last leg home is always an exciting time, because the flight lasts barely a half-hour, and I know what awaits me at the other end.

The photographer in me likes this image because the blurring is pretty neat. It's also one of those rare pictures that, despite being shot in color, renders as a b&w simply because of the composition. I have a few more in my archives that I'll post in the near future.

Until they ban cameras on board aircraft, I'm going to keep bringing mine on board. Aviation's routine reputation notwithstanding, there's something surreal about strapping into a winged tube that slices through the air near the speed of sound some seven miles above the earth, depositing you in a place that would have taken days to get there by car. If I ever lose the sense of flying-related wonder, I hope someone will take the time to reintroduce me to this entry. Deal?

Your turn: Coming home. Please discuss.

One more thing: Please see the entry, The wheels in the sky, posted November 7, 2006, for the rest of this story.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Dawson College - shots fired

I am a graduate of Montreal's Dawson College. This afternoon, every global news outlet is leading with news of a shooting spree in the school's cafeteria.

Sometimes, I wonder what has gone wrong with our world. I still vividly remember the Polytechnique massacre - also in Montreal. And now this. Obviously, there's something wrong with the fabric of the planet.

More soon.

Update - Thu 7:55 a.m. - Police have identified the dead gunman as Kimveer Gill. He kept a blog, and his writings indicate a severely disturbed individual. I can't stop thinking about the young student who died, and how her simple desire to learn resulted in her life being snuffed out. I pray for her, her family, and every other victim of this senseless act. I'm not one for revenge, but I hope there's a special place for this moron who so wantonly visited death and terror on so many innocents.

Your turn: Thoughts?

More reasons to celebrate

It's a busy birthday week in our house. Dahlia celebrated her ninth yesterday, while Debbie marks another one today. She always calls Dahlia the best birthday present ever, and I can't say I disagree with her.

Note that I have not actually divulged her age. In the interest of self-preservation, we'll omit any mention of numbers. But as you can see from the picture, she's just lovely.

As I write this, Noah is buzzing around her in the kitchen. A very tired young lady has just wandered into the kitchen, and somewhere in his room, Zach stirs quietly as he shakes the cobwebs from his huge blue eyes. And here I sit with a laptop, trying to commit the scene to memory so that I can always remember what family feels like.

Your turn: I hope you'll drop by her blog and wish her a happy birthday. She loves when friends drop in.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Dahlia Ranit at 9: No longer a baby

Nine years ago today, we welcomed our daughter into the world. Every time one of our children celebrates a birthday, I think about how fast time moves, and how I wish it would slow down just a little bit so that we could hold onto their childhood for a bit longer.

This is, of course, impossible. But lamenting the passage of time somehow helps me appreciate what we have while we have it. I know she won't be our little girl forever.

I'm just about at the limit of being able to carry her. As I wrote on her birthday last year, she was a tiny wisp of a thing when she was born. Not anymore: she's grown tall enough that when I carry her sleeping form up the stairs, her legs dangle pretty far down. I don't know how much longer I'll be able to safely carry her. The day I admitted I could no longer carry our eldest was a sad day indeed. So, too, will be the day when it arrives for our daughter as well.

Tonight, she'll blow out her candles, make a bunch of wishes, eat some cake and open her presents. I hope she knows how much she is loved, how awestruck we are at who she is becoming, and how glad we are that she came into our lives.

We often marvel at how we can't imagine what life was like before we had children. True enough, I feel like I've known Dahlia forever. From her bright, happy voice to the bouncy way she carries herself to the way she stops and looks at me in much the same way my wife does, she's a joy of a person to know.

As we celebrate her 9 years on this planet, I hope she continues to have that effect on whoever she meets in the years to come.

Your turn: What would you wish for a 9-year-old girl as she reaches this important milestone and starts to look ahead?

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 + 5

Tribute in Light, New York City. Photographed from Chelsea Pier, September 6, 2006. [Click the picture to load a higher-resolution image]

About this entry: I have written this as part of The 2,996 Project (also click here for more background on this inspiring and important project.) Writers from around the world have each signed up to pay tribute to one of the 2,996 innocent victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. As we mark the five-year anniversary of that pivotal day in modern history, I hope you take the time to scale down from the monumental focus of the proceedings, to instead reflect on the individual lives lost, and the lessons they left behind for us. The headlines speak of numbers, but the individuals among us speak of the people who were lost. People just like us. Thank you for reading.

Last week, I got on a plane in New York and headed home. I had been away on a business trip, attending a conference arranged by a large computer manufacturer.

It had been almost five years to the day since Suzanne Calley did much the same thing at Washington's Dulles Airport. She boarded American Airlines Flight 77, heading home to California from a trip to the nation's capital. Suzanne, an employee of Cisco, a computer networking company, had spoken to her husband barely ten minutes before boarding. The last thing she told him was, "I love you." We all know what happened next: the plane was hijacked and flown into the side of the Pentagon in Washington.

I obviously never met her, but I wish I had. She sounded a lot like me: passionate about life, driven at work, and committed to her marriage. She and Frank Jensen would have celebrated their 20th anniversary the very next day. Her 43rd birthday would be a few days after that. She called Frank her team mate and best friend. He called her his reason for being.

She was an avid scuba diver and skier who never shied away from an opportunity to squeeze just that much more out of the experience. Once, while diving with her husband, she saw a shark for the first time. She insisted on chasing it, probably reckoning that the rewards of the experience justified any additional risk.

The way she chose to lead her life rubbed off on those around her. Cisco dedicated its 2002 annual report in her memory. Colleagues called her a delight. One said she was honest, direct, and full of sunshine. We all wish we worked with people like her. We all wish we could be more like her.

Not a day goes by that I don't think of the lives of good souls like Suzanne and lament the darkness that so senselessly ended their lives. I wonder if the hate-filled individuals who plotted and carried out the attacks would have been swayed had they taken the time to learn about their anything-but-anonymous victims. I wonder if they would have been influenced by the goodness of the lives they snuffed out. Like so many others, my idealism was battered on that day, and since, but I still have to believe that 9/11 wasn't a reflection on all of humanity.

But in looking back at the vibrancy with which Suzanne lived her life, I feel I do her a disservice by focusing on the circumstances of her death. Surely, she wouldn't want her life to be defined by the results of a despicable act. I think she'd much rather have everything up until that date serve as an example to others. An example of how to live a life fully. Of how to get the most out of whatever time we are given. Of how to give – and give more – to those who matter most.

Suzanne lived life well. She pursued everything she did with a passion. She worked tirelessly. She played hard. She loved without limit. She mattered. I saw it in pictures: she smiled with her whole face. I saw it in the words of those who shared their thoughts in the days and weeks after she died. I felt it in the spirit of the memories that silently flickered across my laptop’s screen.

As I mull over how we've changed - both on 9/11 itself and in the five years since - I look to Suzanne's life and think that I should try harder to be a bit more like she was. I already feel so much like her: I love my wife and family to the depths of my very soul. I throw myself into my work because I am incredibly passionate about it. I care deeply about the people whose paths I cross, and hope they learn from – and are influenced by – the way I carry myself. Yet in studying who she was and what she left behind, I know I can take it even further.

It took a catastrophe for me to learn of her all-too-short existence, but I can't help thinking that fate ensured the spirit with which she led her life would somehow live on in the lives of everyone who knew her before 9/11, and in the lives of those who learned about her after that date.

Even though I never met her, I suspect she'd think that would be pretty cool.

Your turn: What have you learned from reading about Suzanne's life? Will this make a difference in your own? How?

Update: This entry has been linked to from the Cisco High Tech Policy Blog. Here's the direct link to the specific post.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sunset at Chelsea Pier

Cities have always drawn life from the waterways that adjoin them. They're modes of transportation, foundations of trade and commerce, or simply a whimsical place to visit and contemplate the meaning of life.

Earlier this week, I was privileged to be invited to an Intel-sponsored dinner at Chelsea Pier, on New York's west side. Just before dinner was served, we all meandered outside and chatted with each other on the pier. We watched an almost endless parade of kayaks, ferries and sailboats float past under the fading light, as well as helicopters from the helipad next door.

As I tried to mentally remember what this place looked and felt like, I chatted about photography with some of HP's best technology minds, the folks who decide what your next computer will look like, how it will work and how it will remain secure.

It was one of those moments where you wonder how you got so lucky to be there. My only regret was I didn't get to share it first-hand with my family. Soon.

Your turn: Describe a perfect moment you may have once had.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Mirror mirror on the wall

I stayed at a fascinating hotel during my trip to New York this week. The rooms were tiny. I thought that added to the appeal of the place, and ensured that the hotel would stick in my memory long after I checked out. Think about it: how often do we travel to faraway places, only to forget where we stayed because all hotels eventually start to look and feel exactly alike?

Not so this time out. This place was designed and outfitted by architect Philippe Starck. I'd go back in a heartbeat, and recommend you do the same if you find yourself in Manhattan any time soon.

When I first arrived, I noticed mirrors on both walls of the small main room. Just as I had in the barbershop I used to go to when I was a kid, I found myself staring into the mirrors, counting the number of receding reflections and marvelling at the wonder of simple optics.

I wanted to capture it, but the bed's low relative position meant I needed to boost the position of the camera. I grabbed the garbage can and a small sculpture/stand from the floor and tried to stack them up. I learned that beds are not the most stable platforms. If you were in an adjacent room at this late hour, please accept my apologies. I finally settled on the night table, which I carefully placed on the bed before setting up the camera on its tripod.

The rules: no flash (an easy one), 3-second exposure, and a self-timer to avoid the shakes.

After shooting the camera on its own, I decided to see if I could hold myself still for three seconds. I now know why folks in antique photos were so sour-faced: the only way to keep absolutely still for that long is to not smile. Try it and let me know how it works out.

I'm breaking with tradition and posting the additional self portrait below.

Your turn: What do you think?

Friday, September 08, 2006

I'm in a New York state of mind

New York City, seen from above - click for higher-resolution image

I found myself on top of the Empire State Building this week. I wanted to somehow capture what it was like to be in that magical place that was the scene of so many classic movie scenes and so many childhood dreams of mine. I wanted to bring a bit of my experience home to our kids. Through pictures, I wanted to be able to explain what it was like, to get them excited so that they'd want to come back here so we could experience it for real, together.

Technical background: I bought a new gadget for my camera last week. It's a tripod with articulated legs that can wrap around pretty much anything. Up until now, I've been working without one, creatively bracing the camera on flat surfaces whenever I worked in low light and needed to use long exposure times. But that was wearing thin.

I used it for the first time for this series of images. To capture night scenes, the typical shutter speed of around 1/60th of a second simply wouldn't cut it. The images would be black. Longer exposures are necessary, but then you end up with blurred images because no one can hold a camera absolutely still for three seconds. And let's not talk about using flash. That's the domain of the clueless souls sitting in the nosebleed section at the football game.

Enter this little device of mine, which I used to clamp the camera to the outside of the security grating on the observation deck. I did so with great fear, because I had visions of my camera falling to the ground 86 floors below (and of having to explain it to my wife.) I received many odd looks from folks around me, but it was the only way to keep the shutter open for 2, 3 or 4 seconds and hope to bring home something workable. Because I'm a chicken, I kept my hands close by and, where feasible, the security strap around my wrist. In the end, I think it worked.

Your turn: Did this picture capture the sentiment of this place? What do you think (either first-three-words or whatever comes to mind) when you first see it? Was I nuts for shooting it this way?

Water: another view

We all know that anything you eat or drink in a hotel will be overpriced. Room service is fantastically expensive, and no trip would be complete without discussions about the $8 miniature bag of M&Ms or the $10 bottle of water.

While I was in New York this week, this issue bubbled up a couple of times, and it got me wondering. So as I sat in my room and pondered the value of overpriced water that likely came from a tap, I started to stare at the object of my price-conscious-consumer ire, and I realized it could be an interesting thing to explore with my lens.

The light, cast by an artsy-looking desk lamp and filtered onto a soft white desk, seemed to almost invite additional observation. Now that I'm home, this image reminds me that even snobbishly packaged and priced items can be cut down to an aesthetically pleasing size if we take the time to look at them in a new way.

Your turn: Do you think that hotels overcharge for the little things? Got an example? Do you try to work around their pricing structure?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Here's looking at you, kid

It's well past midnight as I write this in a tiny hotel room in the middle of a giant city. In just under 10 hours, I'll hopefully lift off the runway on the first leg of my trip home.

As is the case every time I travel alone, I miss being at home. I miss the background and foreground sounds that are unique to our little brood. I miss hearing my wife's voice live - the phone just doesn't cut it.

And I miss seeing her. Sure, I bring lots of pictures on my laptop and PDA, and I run the slide show when I'm not working. But I'd rather be looking at the real thing, because even a picture is a mere two-dimensional representation of reality.

This is what I'll see when I get home. I can't wait.

Your turn: Who's watching you? What is it that makes this person matter so much?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Quoted - New York Times

I was interviewed last week for a story on next-generation batteries, known as thin film batteries, for a piece in the New York Times. This is a loosely related followup to the exploding laptop issue I've been following for much of the summer.

It's entitled Thin-Film Solution Is Closer for the Lithium-Ion Battery, and it's in today's paper. Byline is Eric A. Taub. (You may need to register to read the piece. It's a free process.) It's also been picked up by CNET.

Somewhat coincidentally, I find myself in NYC today. So I'll have to snag myself a copy to bring home. Some days, life's just good.

Update, 3:23 p.m. - I got called to do an interview with Report on Business Television. Except I'm in New York. So I ducked out of the conference I'm attending and headed down to the NASDAQ in Times Square. As I write this, I'm sitting in a little studio over the main floor with the big board. It's about as surreal an interview venue as I've ever experienced. Someone pinch me.

Another update - The video of the interview is now available on the ROBTv web site. Click here, then look for the following block:
3:45 PM ET
The Trading Day with Pat Bolland
Nortel's Turnaround

Carmi Levy, senior anayst, Infotech

Duration: 6 m 24 s Play
Oh, and I couldn't hail a cab after the interview was done. I don't think my hailing technique was correct. I gave up when one passing cabbie swore in my general direction. So I walked back to the hotel and did my best to absorb a bit of life on the New York streets.

I didn't have time to dawdle, as I needed to rejoin the conference and catch up on what I had missed. So I walked with my camera in one hand and tried to grab whatever pictures I could. Just before I got to the hotel, I ducked into a convenience store and picked up a copy of the New York Times. When I got back to my hotel, more messages from journos awaited. All told, a neato day.

I'd love to hear what you think of the interview.

Towel off

Please accept my apologies for the brevity of this entry. It's late, I can't sleep, and I'm in a rather small hotel room a couple of blocks away from NYC's Central Park. Oh yes, I need to finish off some work before I tuck in for a few hours' rest.

Yet I find myself updating my web log. Maybe crossing the border has compromised my ability to prioritize. Or maybe my priorities are in perfect order.

Whatever the case, I thought this image of hotel towels would fit the tone of my evening.

Your turn: The more I look at this image, the more I realize that whoever stacked these towels never worked at The Gap - where they train you to build tall towers of perfectly aligned textile goods. Does the variable alignment contribute to or detract from this image? Discuss.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Up, up and away

There's a Loblaws supermarket near our house that features artistic flourishes at every turn: A locally-inspired mural on the wall, live musicians serenading shoppers from an overhead stage, and stylized balloons suspended from the rafters.

The cynic in me suggests this is their way of helping us forget that this is a premium-priced market. Someone, after all, has to pay for the tuba player.

But when I watched our youngest son stare intently up at the balloons, I thought they were onto something. He's long remembered this place as "the one with the hot air balloons." Seeing them never fails to ignite a discussion over how they work, and the differences between pretend balloons like these and the real ones that often fly over our neighborhood.

Later today, I'm scheduled to once again take to the sky. I'm heading to New York City for a conference, and will miss the funny little discussions that our kids love to initiate. As I float above the clouds, I'll wonder what they're thinking as they crane their necks and look skyward. And I'll look forward to coming home on Thursday and telling them what it was like to once again be up there on my way to a strange new place.

Travel is, by definition, not always the easiest thing on the traveller or immediate relatives. But somewhere in the stress of being away, I'll think of this image of our little man looking up, and I'll smile at what awaits me upon my return.

Your turn: Do your kids exhibit great insight in the grocery aisles? What is it about kids that makes them such keen observers of the world around them?

Monday, September 04, 2006


We all know what happened to the ancient dude who attached wings to his arms with wax, only to have them melt off when he flew too close to the sun. It remains an important lesson about the importance of planning and the dangers of over-ambition. Or something like that.

I'll quietly sidestep the physics of temperature and altitude and all the other scientific explanations that render this slice of mythology about as believable as cold fusion. But when this bird flew overhead while we sat on a quiet lakefront beach, I was glad my lens was already pointing in the appropriate direction.

Oh, and when they tell you to never shoot into the sun, ignore them. Some photographic rules are made to be broken. Repeatedly.

Your turn: What words come to mind as you first see this picture (don't think it over...just write whatever words pop into your head.) Moreover, how does an image like this make you feel?

(I know, it's an odd pair of questions. I'm still toying with both the logic and the emotion of photography. Thanks for humoring me.)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Main span

The angry skies threatened to open up any minute. I cycled quickly on my way home from work, hoping to beat the rain to my front door.

I skipped the bike paths and stuck to the main roads. When every second counts, they represent the fastest way home. But as I zoomed west down Oxford and crossed the Thames River, I glanced to my right and saw the railroad bridge against a multi-shaded gray sky. Logic told me to keep cranking the pedals. But emotion compelled me to stop and capture the scene.

I love this bridge because it's an old, rusty relic that reminds us that industrial engineering wasn't always as benign as it is today. It's one of the things that I'll be revisiting when I have the time. Its weather-worn girders almost invite closer inspection.

This composition stuck out from the sequence I shot that afternoon. The disembodied span seems suspended over the genteel river below. Industrial vs. natural. Straight-edged vs. organic. Either way, something to remember. More shots to come, I'm sure.

Your turn: How would you shoot this bridge?

Quick update: I ended up spending a little over 5 minutes on the bridge. It was just enough of a delay that I had to pull into a gas station a few blocks from home just before it started to pour. Chances are I wouldn't have made it home anyway - I was cycling west and north, and the system was moving into me from that direction. I hung out at the pumps as I waited for the worst of the downpour to pass. I chatted with bewildered motorists, assuring them that I wasn't part of some government gas station behavioral auditing team. When the rain eased up to a gentle drizzle, I continued home at a gentle pace, arriving with just a little water on my helmet. And a card full of neat pictures. The bridge turned out to be a detour worth taking, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

100 things about me

I've been asked by a bunch of folks to write a 100-things-about-Carmi list. I've resisted for a while because I generally don't do memes. These things take time - which is something I do not have much of these days. I also don't think anyone's really that interested in knowing all that much about me.

But the 100-things thing still gnawed at me for months. So I wrote one. And now that I've knoncked off one, I think I might do another one sometime.

Here we go...
  1. When I was born, I was fat, red-haired, and incredibly cross-eyed.
  2. My uncle called me Butterball.
  3. These days, I'm relatively thin, I eat whatever I wish, and I have trouble gaining weight.
  4. Women hate me as a result.
  5. My eyes are fairly large and blue. I can see in the dark.
  6. The flip side is I need to wear sunglasses on even moderately bright days. Otherwise, I can barely see.
  7. Between the ages of 4 and 6, I wore a two-legged cast with bars in between.
  8. As a result, I learned to swim and ride a bike really late: 8- and 10-years-old, respectively.
  9. I made up for lost time: I eventually became a lifeguard. I often cycle more kilometers per year than some motorists.
  10. I met my wife while working as a lifeguard.
  11. She thought I looked hot in a Speedo.
  12. I no longer own a Speedo.
  13. I've never been in a fight.
  14. Unless you count my being assaulted by a motorist last year.
  15. I wrote about him here, here, here and here. He later pleaded guilty. Loser.
  16. No, I did not swear at him.
  17. My first published work was a poem in my high school yearbook.
  18. My English teacher that year thought I was a slacker.
  19. I have since concluded that she was likely correct: I skated when it came to writing because it was easy.
  20. I own two bicycles: a purple one and a pink one.
  21. My masculinity is not compromised in the least.
  22. My wife agrees with me.
  23. I take pictures of the strangest things.
  24. I learned this from my late grandfather. When I was a kid, I'd go to the park with him and we'd watch squirrels play.
  25. He appreciated the little things that most people ignore. I got that.
  26. I've been known to cry during movies.
  27. I also laugh. From my belly. When I smile, I smile with my whole face. And my soul.
  28. Sometimes, I laugh for no apparent reason. Also from my belly.
  29. It makes no sense to anyone else. That's OK if it makes them smile, too.
  30. I love being the only one awake in the house before dawn breaks.
  31. I love listening to the birds as they begin their morning song.
  32. I love the sound of a silent house.
  33. I love when that sound is replaced by pattering little feet.
  34. I love listening to our youngest sing to himself while he plays.
  35. I believe that when our kids doze, they smell like sleep.
  36. When I was a teenager, I walked away from a car accident on a Montreal highway.
  37. Someone else was driving.
  38. To this day, I'm a nervous passenger. I'd rather be the one behind the wheel.
  39. There's something neat about a car with a sunroof.
  40. I'll keep mine open as long as there isn't ice on it, even if I have to crank the heater in winter.
  41. I'm a closet Mac addict, stuck in a conventional PC world. Help me.
  42. I once flew on a blimp. I tossed popcorn out the windows and tried to hit the swimming pools below. (I missed, by the way.)
  43. My request to actually fly the blimp was politely declined.
  44. I hate big crowds, loud noise, and boisterous people.
  45. I like to linger around the perimeter, where I can quietly observe the proceedings.
  46. I dislike parties. They're too warm, and my feet hurt afterward.
  47. I'm a rare writer who barely drinks alcohol.
  48. I hate drawing attention to myself.
  49. Yet I love being published, interviewed and quoted. I have no idea why: it's just cool.
  50. I am addicted to movie soundtracks. A good movie can often be driven by music.
  51. I had a strong singing voice when I was a child.
  52. Then I hit puberty.
  53. I often hum while I ride my bike.
  54. I won't sing to anyone else. I don't enjoy inflicting pain.
  55. I believe people are fundamentally good until they prove otherwise.
  56. If they show their nasty side, I'm pretty quick to leave them be.
  57. I'm patently unable to simply forgive and forget.
  58. I learned long ago that you don't have to like everybody.
  59. Even if you're related to them.
  60. I have relatively few friends. They are all incredibly dear to me. I have no patience for shallowness.
  61. Selfish people really tick me off. Generosity of spirit is so much more inspiring.
  62. My father had his first heart surgery 10 days after our daughter was born.
  63. We loaded her into the car and drove back home to be there.
  64. He needed a number of transfusions during the surgery. Total strangers helped him. That affected me somehow.
  65. I started donating blood plasma then. I figured this was a nice way to give back.
  66. I donate each week. It's an inspiring way to spend a couple of hours on an early Friday morning.
  67. The cookies, juice and conversation are pretty good, too.
  68. I ride my bike and eat right so that my kids never have to make that trip.
  69. And if they do, it'll be because of something I couldn't control.
  70. Like cancer. I fear it. It has taken many family members. But I can't lose sleep over things I cannot change.
  71. Smokers bother me.
  72. Actually, it is their stupidity and self-centredness that bother me.
  73. I am the youngest of three children.
  74. I write about the people who matter most to me.
  75. Whoever gets no ink probably doesn't matter most.
  76. I'm not being mean. I reserve my limited time for the folks who appreciate it and deserve it.
  77. My world revolves around my wife and our three children.
  78. She carried them for 9 months each. They sorta look like me. Life isn't fair.
  79. Thankfully, they inherited my wife's fundamental kindness.
  80. I hate when people can see my computer screen.
  81. I once drove a cubicle for a living.
  82. Now I write about my adventures in cubicle-land.
  83. If you know a publisher who'd be interested in my book, e-mail me.
  84. It'll be my second book. My first one was published in 2004.
  85. It was about technology infrastructure. My parents didn't understand a word of it.
  86. When I worked for Mother Corp., I would often do Google searches for "sheep porn."
  87. I knew it would drive the network admins insane.
  88. I once rode my bike through the building on a quiet Sunday afternoon.
  89. I learned that thirty-year-old burned-orange carpet squares have lousy traction.
  90. Quitting that place turned out to be a pretty smart move.
  91. I used to phone into a radio call-in show using as many different voices and accents as I could.
  92. The producer eventually busted me. They still aired four of my other voices.
  93. I eventually became the associate producer of that same show.
  94. I never told my news director. I guess I'm busted now.
  95. I have an uncanny ability to remember the most arcane facts.
  96. I was on my high school's Reach for the Top team.
  97. We lost. I swore on-air.
  98. I still do not know where the pots and pans belong.
  99. It explains why my wife can be so annoyed by me - and loves me to bits and pieces. All at the same time.
  100. That makes me incredibly lucky. Not a day goes by that I don't remind myself of this.
  101. I've apparently overstayed my welcome. This list was supposed to be only 100 items long, right?
  102. Yet I've enjoyed this process immensely. I think I'll write another one soon.
Your turn: Should I?

Update: In the end, I did. Part 2 is available here.

Update - Sep. 22, 2012: Apparently, 2 lists weren't enough. Part 3 has just been posted. Here.

Friday, September 01, 2006


I got up just after 6 a.m., and quietly got ready to leave so as not to wake my sleeping wife. It was our first morning alone in entirely too long, and I didn't want to ruin the peace and quiet for her. But a quiet resort in the middle of lush countryside beckoned my camera. So I figured a little early-morning walk along the grounds would be OK.

No one was awake. My only company at first was a flock of Canadian geese, whose honking got louder as the majestic birds circled lazily from one side of the lake to the other. I felt very much alone despite the fact that I'm sure thousands of people were staying in the various buildings scattered about. Eventually the groundskeepers started to make their way onto the nearby golf course, and the air began to fill with the sounds of a slowly awakening day.

I came across this scene because, frankly, I had been walking amid the dim stillness for a while, and I was tired. So imagine my disappointment when I realized the bench was soaking wet.

But when life presents you with lemons, you try to make lemonade, right? So I crouched down and started to wonder whether or not this would make a worthwhile picture. I was challenged by the relatively low level of light, the monochromatic quality of the light that I did have, and the fact that I had no tripod on me. But the composition made it worth the effort, I think.

I turned for home and got back to our hotel room just as my wife was waking up. It was one of those perfect moments you wish you could hold onto for a while. Maybe, in a strange sense, this image will allow me to do just that.

Your turn: What do you think of when you see a scene like this?