Thursday, May 31, 2007

Little boys on the street

Little boy's smile
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click all images to enlarge]

Foreign-looking folks are nothing new to the residents of Shanghai. This is likely China's most western-influenced, outward-looking city, so the friendliness factor was high whenever we took to the streets. To wit, this young man's family, out for a stroll on the pedestrian mall, stopped and bantered with us as we took pictures of them with their son.

Later on, I came across a mom trying to make her stroller-riding baby smile with a handheld toy fan. I had been taking pictures of a nearby statue, but when she rolled up with her stroller and smiled at my camera, my subject clearly changed. The ensuing conversation, heavy on body language and gestures, allowed me to connect with a complete stranger and make a little guy smile. I guess trust still exists here. Definitely a good thing.

Small people, small moments: they look remarkably the same here as they do back home.

Your turn: A small moment. Please discuss.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Quoted - on Microsoft and Palm

It was another big day in Pitkinville: The Microsoft Surface TV-in-a-table kiosk was announced, as was the Palm Foleo mobile companion. These are two somewhat radical products from companies that are undergoing varying degrees of fundamental transition and redirection. I got in what I think will be some of my last media commentary on behalf of Info-Tech, and the results were kinda fun. Come along for the ride...

Business News Network: First, I was on TV again! BNN called me for a 7-ish minute hit on what the Surface announcement meant to Microsoft's future. The interview was with Amanda Lang, and we also touched on the Palm announcement, plus some thoughts on HP and Dell. The interview can be found here, and you get bonus points if you hold in your laughter when the earpiece comes out of my ear. I love the uncertainty of live television, and I love doing BNN interviews, because their anchors have written the book on interview technique and style. I learn something new every time I'm privileged enough to work with them.

InformationWeek: I did a Palm-focused interview by e-mail with editor Richard Martin. His piece, Palm's Foleo Fails to Wow Followers, published today. He quoted me as follows:
Carmi Levy, senior research analyst at Info-Tech Research Group, is less dismissive: "By increasing the size of the device to accommodate a larger screen, Palm can potentially bring more satisfying online and multimedia experiences to the mobile user," Levy comments in an e-mail. Indeed, there's a whole class of potential users of mobile e-mail who have been turned off by the thumb-typing experience who may find the Treo, with its companion Foleo, more amenable. Another plus: the Foleo comes with a Wi-Fi connection, making it in combination with the Treo a dual-mode device of the sort many observers have been awaiting.


What the new device doesn't do is address Palm's most glaring current weakness: "Despite all the hype surrounding the announcement of new hardware," says Levy, "the key to success remains the operating system, developer support, and carrier support."

Palm has promised a new Linux-based operating system for the Treo by year's end, with devices based on the new OS available in early 2008. That's a long time off in the fiercely competitive smartphone market. Staff Reporter Priya Ganapati interviewed me for comment on the Palm device. She ended the piece, Palm, New Device Out of Touch, with my quote (I love when I get last suits my endless need to have the last word.) Here's what I said:
Foleo now seems like a sign of the company's desperation.

"Palm has no choice," says Carmi Levy, an analyst with industry research and consulting firm, Info-tech Research Group. "They couldn't introduce another derivative or evolutionary product.

Kudos to Palm for taking a chance with the Foleo, but I am not sure if this is the right bet." Shane Schick, editor of Canada's largest tech trade publication, wrote this piece, Palm Foleo brings PC-like keyboard, display to Treos. He quoted me as a counterpoint to another analyst's perspective:
[Other analyst says this...] “Nokia, Symbian-powered products are strong on the European side of the world, but have done little on this side of the Atlantic. Palm too needs to find a RIM-beater,” he said. “Apple (with the iPhone) has helped define the space. People are looking for solutions.”

Carmi Levy, an analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research, agreed at the time that Palm was struggling to attract a business audience.

“RIM and Microsoft and Nokia offer enterprise-class solutions that are much easier to implement,” he said.

My last day with Info-Tech is this Friday (two days...yikes!) so I was highly conscious throughout the day that things were about to change. My new role will position me well to continue to work with journalists in this capacity. I have every intention of being the talking head that I've always been. I've built something pretty neat with this media-tech thing, so it'll be interesting to see where I can take it now that I'm following a new path.

I look forward to seeing my name under my new banner. It will reinforce that I've done the right things to get myself to this place. (More on that on Friday...I've got news.)

Your turn: Why do significantly different technology products attract so much attention. Why are we fascinated by this stuff?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Oriental photographic mystery

Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

I thought it might be a good time to reintroduce the Photographic Mystery feature. It's been a while, so let's dive right into it, shall we?

Your turn: So, what is this? Be creative...being right isn't as important as having fun with it. I'll reveal what it is a week from today.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Noodles in the street

Don't shoot me
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

The scene:
As we walked down a narrow alley on our way back from the market, I noticed a woman preparing a bowl of noodles on the none-too-clean sidewalk. On-the-street food preparation and sale was pretty common throughout the city, but this particular scene seemed to take the practice to a somewhat more bohemian extreme.

I'm no culinary whiz, but I'll admit that seeing this made my tummy turn a little. Now that I'm safely home and have the time to scan the details of the image, my queasiness only gets worse. I suspect this wouldn't pass any kind of government-sanctioned hygiene standard from back home.

But here's the rub: I wasn't home. When you travel, you eventually need to accept that standards and baselines of behavior and conduct aren't the same from place to place. And just because it seems "dirtier" here doesn't mean that it's wrong. That's the way things go, and you either learn to adjust your own baseline, or you risk going hungry.

The only problem with this image lies in the fact that she saw me pull the camera out of its bag, and covered her face. I finally got this image after we had passed her. I wonder if she thought I was going to bust her.

Your turn: Food from the sidewalk. Please discuss.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Snatched an uncertain future
Shanghai, China, May 2007

It's a hot and humid afternoon on Shanghai's broad riverfront promenade. Kajillions of people from all walks of life are enjoying the day. It's just as crowded here as it is a few blocks inland, but the breeze that blows in across the water makes things a little more comfortable for all who visit.

Our little group meanders around the waterside railing, taking pictures and discussing where we'd like to go next. Suddenly, a commotion erupts nearby. People running in different directions. Lots of yelling. Eyes and necks strain as everyone tries to figure out what's going on.

Pretty soon, it becomes apparent that it was an attempted purse snatching, and the alleged perpetrator has been caught. I swing my lens toward the officer leading this man away, the object of his alleged crime still clutched in his hands.

Normally, I'd feel a sense of smugness that the criminal (OK, alleged criminal) had been caught. But this isn't home. Due diligence and a transparent judicial system aren't part of the landscape here. I feel a chill down to the base of my spine as I wonder about the future that now awaits this individual.

Your turn: What future does this man now have?

Caption This 20

Please come up with a caption for this pic [See below for details]
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

Gather 'round the campfire for another episode in the seemingly never-ending saga of Caption This. Last week's image of China's top Don Ho impersonator garnered a lot of fun-silly responses. But in the end, only one winner could stand atop the podium. So in my best Ryan Seacrest/American Idol voice, I present this week's best caption:
"Free and easy enjoy natural life eternal happiness."
Stacy coined it. She's a Taiwan-based educator and mom, and a keen observer of the human spirit. If you haven't read her yet, you're missing out on a treat. Please drop by her blog, Entertaining Angels, and congratulate her.

About this week's image: I shot it fast, from the entranceway of a department store. Something about these two women taking a rest in the middle of a constant flow of human activity seemed to draw my eye. With my long lens, I reached in and grabbed the moment before dissolving back into the crowd.

Your turn: Please take a long, hard look at the picture above and come up with something funny for a caption. Then drop it in a comment. Don't know what Caption This is all about? Read the rules and then come on back for more. Want to see past Caption This entries? Click here for all of 'em.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Leviathans of the sky

Financial district at dusk
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click all images to enlarge]

The skyline is this massive city is almost overwhelming when you first see it. Unlike a typical North American metropolis, whose downtown area is is typified by a dense core of larger buildings that rise out of the less-dense neighborhoods that surround them, Shanghai seems to have endless vistas of tall buildings. But the tallest of the tall can be found here, in the financial district, also known as Lujiazui.

The tall building on the right that is nearing completion is the Shanghai World Financial Center. It will eclipse the nearby Jin Mao Building when it opens in 2008. The Oriental Pearl Tower, not visible in this image, lies to the left of the frame. Interestingly, if you look closely at the Aurora building, you'll notice the Kyocera logo on its gold glass facade. Virtually the entire surface of the building is a video screen, and each night, it runs multimedia ads that reflect across the water and are clearly visible from kilometers away.

Here's another view of the area, shifted slightly to the left and taken well after the sun had gone down. Notice the HP advertising on the nighttime shot. Its campaign, The Computer Is Personal Again, was apparent in much of the messaging at the Mobility Summit that we were attending. Pretty cool stuff.

All told, these leviathans of the sky paint a picture of this country decidedly different from the stereotypes of old. The China I had heard about as a child is worlds apart from the China that presents itself to me as I stand in awe across the river.

Your turn: You're visiting a place that you had only previously heard of or read about. Does your impression of it now change? How? Why? Feel free to share a personal travel experience.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Freedom interrupted

Blogging with difficulty from China
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

We take many things for granted in this free society of ours. Freedom to communicate is one of them. We assume that the channels we use to fling messages back and forth will always be open, unencumbered by any kind of authoritarian, autocratic rule that would impede our ability to express ourselves as we wish.

Until every country on the planet is a democracy, that assumption would be a false one. I learned fairly quickly when I first logged in that some services are deliberately compromised by the government.

I've often been quoted about search engine firms like Google and their efforts to crack the Chinese market. I've spoken about how these firms have agreed to compromise some of their innate secrecy by limiting some services and sharing other data with the government. My contention has been that these compromises may seem abhorrent to freedom-loving observers, but they are the cost of doing business here. If you don't bow to the government's will, you don't work here at all.

So it was with little surprise that, when I first logged into my blog admin interface, I was presented with unintelligible question marks where all the links should have been. Some worked, some did not...the Great Firewall of China was apparently doing its thing to limit people's - and my - ability to blog from here.

With difficulty, I managed to publish the entries that I had prewritten and saved as drafts. But I felt like a prizefighter with one hand tied behind his back. I knew I'd have all my accesses back as soon as I returned home, so it didn't concern me all that much. But then I thought about folks who live here, who must deal with these limitations constantly.

Your turn: What about them? What must it be like to have one's voice suppressed?

Update - May 29, 2007: CNet's Michael Kanellos is in Beijing to attend a technology expo. He filed this insightful piece, How good are the censors in China? I think I'll be sending him the link to this entry.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Caption This 19

Please come up with a caption for this image [See below for instructions]
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click for a bigger dose]

Note from our sponsor: Oops. I'm a little late getting this week's Caption This entry posted. With all the hullabaloo surrounding my job change and a family wedding thrown in for good measure, I ran out of time to give this important feature the attention it deserves. My apologies. So let's play Caption This. A little late, mind you. But all good things are worth waiting for, right?
You can tell a lot about a society by its advertising. The messaging that blankets the streets of this city is almost on its own worthy of a trip. I could have sat on a bench and simply watched the ads drift by on the side of the trams that bring shoppers back and forth along the pedestrian mall. But it was a lot more fun to chase them down on foot and then shoot them while walking or trotting, much to the amusement of passers-by.

But as much as I enjoyed taking the shot, I can't think of any words to accompany it. What would you call this image? Here's how you can get involved:
Please join me in congratulating Bob-kat for coining last week's winner, Walk This Way. There were so many incredible entries - including more than a few Beatles-themed ones - that I had a difficult time choosing. Thank you all for making this such an enjoyable milestone each and every week (and sometimes a little late!) Please visit Bob-kat's site and say hi from me. While you're there, drop a kind word in for her mom, who's in the hospital.

Your turn: Put on your creativity cap and come up with a caption that best describes this photo. Come up with two captions. Or three. As many as you wish. Get your mother-in-law involved, too, because MILs often have great senses of humor. I'll post the winner and the next Caption This entry this coming Sunday.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Shelter from the sun

Pretty protection
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

The scene: We're on our way back to the hotel late in the afternoon after a richly fulfilling walk through Shanghai. We've seen and experienced so much of this fascinating place, and we're tired, hot and hungry. The hotel looms in the humid afternoon sun as we slowly walk toward the pedestrian mall that will bring us back to our home away from home.

As a young woman with a pink umbrella walks past us, I realize I've seen a lot of them on this day. The subtropical sun can be brutal, and residents here use umbrellas more for sun than for rain.

I reach quickly for the Nikon and shoot before she disappears into the crowd. Another moment from a city that seems to offer them up with relentless frequency.

Your turn: Who is she? Where's she headed? What's her story? Have fun with it...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Lost on the sidewalk
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

The first thing I notice are the feet. The dirty, leathery bottoms speak volumes about this individual's have-not life. I happen across his sprawled form in the middle of a wide, modern overhead sidewalk that spans a busy intersection on Shanghai's riverfront. The scene stops me dead in my tracks because it illustrates that strata exist even in supposedly egalitarian societies.

This neighborhood is alive with activity, with some of the world's tallest towers looming across the water and streets surrounded by high-end stores and offices. Packs of people move constantly in every direction, suggesting a vibrancy of life that few other places on earth can match.

Yet this person may as well live in a completely different world, because the bustling, successful one that buzzes around him seems to not even acknowledge his existence. I've seen a few other homeless people on the streets since I first landed, and I'm saddened by the fact that each one of them likely has a story, but no one seems willing to take the time to hear it.

I wonder how many other homeless people in how many other cities large and small are being shunted into irrelevance by the simple fact that no one knows a thing about them, and no one wants to change that fact. I make a mental note to write more about those whose lives have had precious little ink devoted to them to date.

Your turn:
What was your first impression when you initially saw this image? Did this change as you read through the rest of the entry? How?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Urban decay continues

The meter reader was here
London, ON, April 2007 [Click to see the decay up-close]

London's downtown core has been on the ropes for so long that most folks don't remember when it was ever a happy place. I've seen old black and white pictures from its heyday, but it's difficult to believe that this is the same place when you can barely walk down the street without being accosted by someone you wouldn't want to invite over for tea.

The local newspaper, when it isn't busy repurposing generic content from other newspapers in its cost-cutting national chain, runs the occasional cheerleader-like piece talking about how the area is coming back from its malaise.

Then I walk down the main drag, Dundas Street, and see scenes like this. The renaissance depicted on the pages now being chewed to shreds by my dog doesn't seem to exist in the real world. I guess the reporter and I must have been here on different days.

Your turn: What's the downtown like in your town? Do you go? Why/why not?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Chalk circle

...dust to dust
London, ON, April 2007 [Click to enlarge]

Quick note before I click the Publish button: I thought I'd briefly switch gears and post an image that's been embedding itself into my head for the past couple of weeks since I took it. The neat travel, the career shift, the photography and the writing all make for fun topics of discussion, but this picture reinforces - in my mind, at least - why all of those great slices of me matter in the first place. Simply put, they're meaningful because they allow me the luxury of lingering in my daughter's classroom (and by extension the [event/life's experience] of [fill in all of our kids' names here]) and taking in the moment. I wish for many more chalk circle moments in my life. And yours.

In my daughter's fourth-grade classroom, there's a box of chalk that just begs to be captured. As I stare into the dusty box, I see colors and textures that I don't want to forget. So while the kids play and their parents chat, I surreptitiously take a macro shot with my wife's camera.

Eventually, it'll all be dust. For now, however, it inspires me to keep looking for brilliant colors in unexpected places.

Your turn: Where do you find color in your life? Think metaphorically, if you wish.

One more thing: Bonus points if you muse on the significance of the title of this entry. Have fun with it...

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Chinese idols

Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]
Quick thanks: I'm blown away by the supportive comments you've all shared with me since I posted about my recent decision to shift my career into another lane/gear/direction (see here and here if you're just joining us.) It means so much to me that I'm surrounded by a community that cares. It's amazing how rich an environment we've created by simply saving charged particles to magnetic devices in faraway towns. It's so much more than virtual, and so very treasured. Thank you all, because encouragement is the fuel that drives future success. It's nice to know I'm not alone in any of this.
This is one of my favorite images from the entire trip. There's something in the reflected light, the tone, the composition, something, that speaks to me and says that this is one of those magic moment images.

I took this at a Buddhist temple, a lush oasis of calm in the middle of a bustling city. Although the religion itself is rather far from my own belief system, I have long admired the places of worship of other religions. There's a certain comfort and peace to these places that is almost universal. (No Mom, I'm not converting. I just like the architecture and the lessons it can teach us. End digression.)

I took this as we headed out at the end of our visit. I turned back and saw this scene. Others in my group were already taking pictures of it as well, but I wanted to see if I could do the scene justice. I'm weird like that: sometimes, I just want to see it through my own lens before deciding if it's worth capturing. In this case, it was an emphatic yes.

Your turn: Do you learn from other religions? If so, what?

Friday, May 18, 2007

Ornate threads

Ready to wear
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]
Quick note on yesterday's entry: I woke up this morning with that fuzzy feeling you get the day after something monumental has happened in your life. It was a good-fuzzy, though, the kind of emotion that comes from knowing you've done the right thing for the right reason. I'm off work today. I dropped the kids off at school and gave them a big hug and kiss before they sauntered into the school yard. The sun was shining and I drove home with a smile on my face. Life is good. Now, on with the continuing show from my adventures in China...
A visit to the market in Shanghai is an experience not to be missed. As you walk in from the main street, your senses are inundated by sights, smells and sounds that are decidedly different than anything you'd find at home.

As I slowly walk the streets and try to avoid getting lost - tough to do amid choking crowds in the midday heat and humidity - I find myself struggling to commit this place to memory. I wish I could bottle it in some way and take it home so that I wouldn't forget what it's like to be right here, right now. I wish I could somehow explain it better to my family, to give them a glimpse, a sound or a taste of what it's like to stand in this place and feel its pulse.

But all I have is a lens and a writer's memory. And when I pass by this simple rack of women's shirts, I realize that this is the kind of scene I couldn't find anywhere else. I take a few pictures here, and when I'm done I smile to myself for two reasons. First, I'm happy with what I'm seeing on my camera's screen, because it reminds me of our daughter, who appreciates loveliness like this and can spot it from a mile away. Second, I have the answer to that vexing how-to-bring-it-home question: just capture unique and simple images.

It makes eminent sense: Don't try to grab it all, because it's just too big. Zoom in, get close, find the colors, textures, and shapes that define and explain this wondrous place.

Now that I've learned my lesson, I sling my camera over my shoulder and head off to the next wow moment, no longer overwhelmed by a seemingly impossible task.

Your turn: The shapes and colors grabbed my eye as I walked by. Sure, it's a simple rack of clothes. But beauty can be found in all sorts of unexpected nooks and crannies, don't you think?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Moving on...

I quit my job today.

It wasn't a rash decision. I didn't suddenly wake up this morning and conjure up a diabolical plan to uproot my and my family's future. It was family, however, that lay at the root of this milestone. More on that in a moment.

Before I continue, however, a number of baseline facts:
  1. I loved my job. Working for a small, fast-growing company that's disrupting a typically staid market is an immense rush.
  2. I loved the people with whom I worked. They're the smartest, most insightful folks I've yet encountered in my career. Not working alongside them every day will take a lot of getting used to.
  3. I would have continued to love it had I stayed there. Day-to-day, I can think of far worse things to do than read a lot, write a lot, and talk to journalists about it.
But I'm a bit of a restless soul. As much as I could have stayed where I was, I've learned that I'm patently unwilling to leave a challenge on the table. I'm not a cruise control and automatic transmission kind of guy: give me a stick and an open sunroof instead. Oh, and throw in some wacked out tunes on the iPod, too.

Just as critical is the whole issue of balance. I want some. I want to be able to drop my kids off at school in the morning. I want to be able to edit a client's document on my BlackBerry while I grab a tea at Starbucks on the way home from morning dropoff. I want to be there in the afternoon when they get out of class and run into me at full-speed, arms wide open.

Eventually, they'll be too big to do stuff like this, and I don't want to miss it.

Workwise, I want a stake in my future, and I want to live and die - professionally - by my own efforts.

My new role is with a communications and marketing firm with a stable of incredible clients and a future brighter than I dare imagine. I'm going to be Senior VP of Strategic Consulting, which basically means I'll be taking everything I've learned so far in my journalist/IT/tech analyst career arc and applying it directly to real-time and real big client projects. It's about as direct and hands-on as it sounds, and I can't wait to roll up my sleeves and dive in.

I will still be a geek. I will still read about, pry open, break and write about technology and its impact on our lives. It's who I am, and leaving a job doesn't change that. I am also a journalist, something that's as true today as it was the day three-and-a-half years ago when I first started as an analyst. I will always have a pen in my hands. I will always write.

Am I scared? Sure. But it wouldn't be worth doing if it didn't make me a little bit nervous. Hunger and fear, in measured amounts, are necessary elements if we want to change the paradigm and move our reality to that next, previously unimaginable level.

I'm ready for that step, and I look forward to the next stage of this amazing journey.


Your turn: Thoughts?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Reading a stranger's face

Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

I've written previously about my thoughts on privacy and photography (please see here and here.) With relatively few exceptions, I've avoided shooting people's faces as a means of bypassing privacy issues. I suppose I could carry pre-printed release forms in my camera bag, but I've long thought that simply not going there was the optimal strategy.

As you can tell from some of my already-published Shanghai pictures, I seem to have set this personal policy aside for a bit and shot images of identifiable people - strangers - in the street. With the long lens, they were, in most cases, completely unaware of my presence. I could optically reach across the street and pick off pretty much anyone I wished.

It's something I still wouldn't do closer to home. But there was something about being in this place so far from home that I guess emboldened me a bit when I got the camera in my hand. It felt like an appropriate storytelling tool, that if I didn't capture at least a few photos of the people here, my story would be incomplete.

With that in mind, this man's face captures so much of my feelings about this place. The wrinkles on his face and the bags under his eyes mirror the brutal pace of life in this place. His face tells his story, even though I wouldn't understand his spoken language.

Almost as soon as I've taken the shot, I'm tucking the camera back under my arm, feeling slightly guilty for pushing the bounds, but still happy that I captured a thoughtful moment in this stranger's life.

Your turn: What's your take on the photographic privacy issue? Did I push it this time?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Alone in the big city

Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

This city seems to have defined the word frenetic. Crowds of people don't ebb and flow as they would in a large American city. They simply flow. There's no such thing as downtime on a Shanghai street in the middle of a business day. It's an energy level I've never seen anywhere else - not even New York's Times Square. It's one of the indelible memories of this place that I carried with me on the plane home.

Yet if the streets themselves are the mighty rivers of commerce and activity, a quick peek to the side reveals a quieter world of hidden alleys and passageways. Hustlers pushing counterfeit merchandise prowl the streets looking for interested customers before leading them through the impossible-to-navigate rabbit warren of old stone and concrete paths. The sun, so bright and constant on the main road, shines only intermittently here, its narrow beams slashing into the dark gray with no apparent pattern or logic. The final destination, deep within clusters of forgettable and forgotten buildings, almost never has so much as a single window.

Yet for all their forbidding dinginess and age, these places offer a sort of refuge from the massive flow of life mere feet away. They are relatively quiet, shady spots in a city that seems to have neither. It is here where my colleague spotted a man reading and tapped me on the shoulder. He thought I'd find the scene poignant. He was absolutely right.

Your turn: What is this man's story?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Asleep in Daddy's arms

Chinese doll
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

When I originally confirmed my plans to travel to China, I expressed concern about the wisdom of bringing a large-ish digital SLR camera along. I decided to tote our little point-and-shoot instead, reasoning that it would be less conspicuous a tool in a place where personal freedoms weren't guaranteed as they are here.

As I got closer to departure, I had a change of heart. I had visions of coming across photo ops that would pass me by because the little camera was just too limited with its wide-angle lens and slow response time. In the end, I brought the Nikon with the so-called big lens (75 to 300mm), as well as the pocket camera. I'm glad I did, because otherwise I would have missed a moment like this, when a pensive father walked along the Nanjing Road pedestrian mall with his sleeping infant daughter in his protective arms. With anything smaller than a long lens to pull the moment in and make it real, the shot simply would not have happened.

Your turn: There's so much going on in this picture that I almost don't know where to begin. What's it saying to you?

Pearls in the sky

The sun rises over Shanghai
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

I shot this early morning perspective from the 66th floor of my hotel, Le Royal Meridien Shanghai. I wanted to catch the sunrise against the Shanghai skyline, but was stymied by the thick smog that turned the vista to mud and blocked the sun as it rose above the horizon.

This is the famous Oriental Pearl Tower (travel guide, wiki entry) that serves as an iconic gateway to Shanghai's seemingly never-ending skyline. It seemed everywhere we went, there it was. So when I realized it was easily visible from the hotel's top floor, some high-up lens time became inevitable.

I wrote about this shoot here, and am happy to finally able to share it here. In the end, I'm glad I took my Nikon along, because it allowed me to bring home not just images like this, but the moments that preceded their capture. After all, photography to me isn't just about the picture. It's about what I was thinking and feeling before I took it. The story takes on a third dimension beyond the initial two of the basic image.

Yeah, I'm getting metaphysical on you. But it's 4:20 a.m. as I first compose this, and I'm so massively jet lagged that I can't fall asleep. So I'm writing.

Could be worse.

Your turn: The first three words that come to mind as you see this are...?

One more thing:
As I composed this image, I noticed something I'd never seen before. Namely, I could actually see the edges of the sun shimmer in the roiled atmosphere. It was like I was watching a special effect in some movie, except it was very real and very dramatic. Alas, a still camera can't capture the effect, but it'll stick permanently in my mind nonetheless. Has this ever happened to you, too?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Caption This 18

Please name/caption this image [See below for instructions]
Shanghai, China, May 2007

This is one of the first photos that I captured after landing in Shanghai. We were on the bus on the way from the airport to our hotel, and I shot semi-randomly out the window as I tried to capture a quick hit of the essence of this very different-to-me place.

I first tried the out-the-bus-window technique in San Francisco earlier this spring. I figure it worked there, so it was worth trying again. I need your help with a caption, though. Here's the lowdown on how Caption This works:
Lee Ann gets the nod for last week's caption. She coined this: Would you like fries with that? Please drop by her site and congratulate her.

Your turn: Please come up with a zingy caption for this week's photo. Enter as many times as you want. Bonus points if you get immediate family members and beloved pets to join in. Most of all, have fun with it: I'll post the winner next Sunday.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Confirmist crayons

London, ON, April 2007 [Click to enlarge]

Quick note, not quite from the road: I'm home. Got back late last evening to an unbelievably happy brood. They waited for me at the airport and barely let me get through the door to the baggage claim area before engulfing me with hugs. Life is good.

I'm exhausted beyond words. Airplanes are lousy places to sleep. Every time I was about to nod off, we'd hit another pocket of turbulence that would jar me awake. Add in the folks walking up and down the aisles, the never-ending PA announcements and the general thrum of the four CFM56 engines on our Airbus A340 (oops, sorry) and I'm lucky if I got 90 minutes of zees over the entire 14-hour flight. Oh well, I'm making up for that now!

I have a monumental pile of pictures and videos to go through before I start packaging and uploading the results to the blog and accompanying Flickr site. Please have patience: it'll take me a bit of time to work through it all, but I'll do my best to get the ball rolling with some initial views over the next couple of days.

I like restaurants that give crayons to our kids. It's a little thing, but it keeps them occupied while we wait for our meals to arrive.

Although I liked the symmetry of this image, I was challenged by low light levels and a lack of a tripod. Still, I handheld it and managed to bring home a composition that sticks in my mind for its stark simplicity and texture. The label on the crayons makes the picture a keeper, and ties nicely to the place I've just been.

Your turn: The importance of color in your life. Please discuss.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Dog in motion

London, ON, April 2007
Quick note from the road: This is my last night in Shanghai, and I feel ambivalent about leaving. Of course, I want to go home. I miss my wife and kids, and they miss me. Life isn't easy for my wife when I disappear to faraway places. It's hard enough keeping the house on an even keel when we're both around, so when she flies solo, things only get tougher for her.

Yet at the same time, I'm conscious of the fact that this has been an extraordinary trip that has, in so many ways, changed me. I was privileged to visit a place unlike any I've ever been. I learned more about a nation and a culture than I ever could have learned from reading it in a book. I lived it for a brief time, and got to see a society that struggles with the rapid proliferation of capitalism. I learned this lesson right outside my hotel's front door, when a street vendor approached me and tried to sell me DVDs, shoes and watches. This is a city that is full of such itinerant sales people, hustling up and down the main roads with frightening frequency.

In contrast, I push words around a screen. I know I'll be able to afford to eat tomorrow. I have the right to write whatever I wish - including this blog - free of fear of political recrimination. I lead a charmed life in comparison. The images of this place will remain burned in my consciousness, teaching me that I'm a very lucky person to have the opportunities that I do. And that I'd be very silly indeed to not act on them.


Oh yes, today's picture. It's blurred, but that was the point. I have included a picture of our dog, Frasier, in this entry because the world still needs wiggly puppies, and I need to be around more to enjoy ours. I'll see him Friday night (today, actually, in light of the wacky things that being here does to the calendar), because later this afternoon I begin the long journey home.

He's a bundle of barely contained energy. As we watch him run free in the enclosed dog run near our house, it occurs to me that the pure joy of a puppy at play can have unintended benefits for his newfound family.

Your turn: The first three words that come to mind when you see this image are...?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Photographic mystery

Squiggly line
Laval, QC, December 2006
Notes from the road: I'm sitting here, safe and sound in my hotel room on the 33rd floor, looking over Shanghai as it awakens for another day of frenetic activity. The pace here reminds me of a supercharged New York City: Never mind that it never stops. Rather, it never seems to slow down. It makes for an interesting visitor's perspective, but I doubt I'd have the capacity to live here. Beyond the language thing and the distance-from-all-that-matters-to-me thing, I need occasional bouts of quiet and reflection. I love being surrounded by friends and family, but every day should have at least a few minutes of simple alone-ness. I doubt that's possible in a city of this density.

I've had some, um, interesting experiences walking around the streets here. While walking beside the river, I suddenly saw the Good Year Blimp flying incredibly low. I startled my colleagues when I freaked out and scampered up the footbridge steps to get a better view. I had visions of witnessing a blimp crash and then sprinting back to the hotel to file my pictures with some famous wire service. In the end, it was a hot dog pilot doing things that would get him (had to be a him) grounded in the U.S. Blimp Top Gun, anyone?

Earlier, I had been asked to pose for pictures with a pretty young woman in a red dress. Her male companion (older...kinda creepy) was incredibly insistent. He didn't speak a word of English, but his body language was pretty clear: may I take your picture with her? Sure, I thought. When in Shanghai... But he didn't just want a picture. He wanted lots of pictures. Different poses and perspectives - all in front of the Chairman Mao statue. Lovely. I'm sure those shots will end up on some Communist Party propaganda poster someday.

I have had more photographic magic moments here than anyone deserves to have. Here's an example: The sun rises really early here, like around 4:45, but it's hard to tell precisely when because of the intense smog. So I went up to the restaurant on the 66th floor of the hotel with my Nikon in hand to capture it in some way. The vista was stunning, and I stayed there for a bit, capturing whatever tickled my fancy. I felt like a sniper - long lens, high perspective, picking off targets. It was surreal. The place was desserted, so I hung around for a bit.

When I finished, I crossed to the other side of the building to see if the views were any better. They weren't - the light was flat toward the east - so I settled on the shelf of wine glasses beside the picture window overlooking the city. So here I am in my shorts and t-shirt (I dressed for the occasion, can't ya tell?) shooting long exposure images from the bar. I'm playing with my camera's remote control when a restaurant worker reports for duty and sees me. He does not speak English, but he looks annoyed. He manages to ask me for my room number. I get just a little nervous, and say "pictures" in animated tones as I point to my camera and smile. Then, when he goes to get help, I duck out for the elevators and scoot back to my room. No knocks on the door yet, so I think I'm safe. Maybe next time I'll ask permission first. Or not...

The crazy thing is, I've got enough stories in my notebook to keep writing for months. It's incredible how intense this experience has been. Lucky doesn't even begin to describe how I feel.
Your turn: Yes, the picture: I'm hoping you can guess what this is. Leave your best guess in a comment, and I'll post a response here in 7 days. I'll give you one small hint: there is some relevance to my adventure this week.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

From a distance

Family at breakfast
Laval, Quebec, December 2006

Quick note from Carmi in China: I'm still here, fighting the sleep demons that would have me believe that I ought to be awake (it's 3:25 now...I should be sleeping, but can't.) I DID get about 4 hours of sleep just now, so I should be good for another few hours of zees when I'm finished posting this. Don't worry Mom, if you add up all the hours of sleep I'm getting, it amounts to a lot. It's just not coming when I either want or need it. All part of the adventure.

This is a global event, with people coming in from all the regions where HP does business. I'm surrounded by a team of people from Canada who not only answer every business question I've got, but who have taken the time to ensure I had TWO birthday cakes along the way (remember, my birthday's 36 hours-long this year...I've got another 8-and-a-half-hours of celebrating left, woo-hoo!) I'm always amazed at the kindness that people are capable of showing, even for something as simple as a birthday far from home.

In the end, I brought the Nikon in addition to the point-and-shoot. I paired the DSLR with the longer (75-300mm) lens and am using the pocketcam for wider images. Between the two of them, I'm capturing storytelling images of this remarkable place. Shanghai is so overwhelming in scope and pace that it's difficult to absorb the meaning of the things I'm seeing and experiencing. But that will come.

I've been using Google Talk to keep in touch with the folks at home. It's a godsend, allowing me to talk and talk without paying any attention to time or data rates. How neat it is that by being away, I have reconnected with people from all aspects of my life - close and not so close - in all sorts of technologically cool ways. This stuff really is magic.

Which brings me to today's themed image. So far this week, I've focused on family, because it is family that keeps you grounded even when you're zillions of miles away. I took this image a few months back on a trip home, and grabbed it right before we said goodbye to them and hit the road. It has a warmth to it that reminds me why I so love being part of this family, something that is larger than I am, and makes me feel whole, all at the same time. Enjoy...

The rules of composition supposedly dictate tight framing of a given topic and a minimum of extraneous space. We're supposed to go in close to avoid repeating the mistakes of past generations of snapshot photographers, namely tiny little people in the middle of gigantic, monotonous vistas.

For the most part, I follow the tightly composed mantra. But for this image, I broke the rules. I lagged back away from the breakfast table and captured my family - wife, kids, parents, in-laws - in a way that just wouldn't have been possible if I had zoomed in any closer. There's something to be said for keeping a bit of distance.

Your turn: Standing by the edge of the room and quietly taking it all in. Please discuss.

One more thing: I took this picture at our kids' favorite breakfast place, Allo Mon Coco. Family tradition dictates that we go there for breakfast before we embark on the long drive back to London. I wrote about it here. If you look closely, you might recognize the light fixtures.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Three kids and a dog

The things that matter
London, ON, April 2007 [Click to enlarge]

Quick note from me: I'm in Shanghai. Got here safe and sound late yesterday afternoon, which is exactly 12 hours ahead of my usual time zone (door-to-door: 24 hours). It was an odyssey of a trip, not without its little adventures along the way. I scribbled tons in my notepad, and some of my writings should make their way onto the blog at some point. I'm battling a failing laptop battery and a Blogger interface that doesn't seem to like the Great Firewall of China - it shows up as question marks where the text should be (if anyone has any idea how to clear this, please let me know in an e-mail) - so I'll type quickly.

Thank you all for your supportive comments. I think I've cleared most of them onto the blog, but because of this interface issue, the process has been arduous. My apologies if anything got munched in the process. Please keep the happies flowing: it means so much to me and my family.
I just Google Talked with my family. To say that it was magical to just speak with them from around the world would be an understatement. It was a joy to hear their voices. Sometimes, technology can tie us together in remarkable ways: it's our challenge to find the magic. I just did.

I'm sharing this image/entry with you today because this is what I'll carry with me in my head as I go through the paces of a new day in a fascinating place. In the end, it means little if I don't have them in my head. And in my heart. Enjoy.
Every time I look at this picture, I see and feel something different. Maybe it's the maternal way Dahlia holds onto the dog. Maybe it's the way my father's hand is draped around Zach's shoulder. Or perhaps it's Noah's sweet little-brother look that reminds me so much of my wife's childhood pictures.

Either way, I often find myself replaying moments like this, staring at the picture and letting my mind wander at the layers of gooodness that reflect back at me. Moments like this tend to slip into the past fairly quickly, so pictures help keep the memory front and center in my mind.

Your turn: Lexus is currently running an ad campaign that revolves around the central theme of "a moment." What kind of moments matter to you?

One more thing: You'll notice the time stamp says 5:31 a.m. on May 8th. That's local time in Shanghai, some 12 hours ahead of Eastern. I'm using the local time stamp because it means that it's already my birthday. And thanks to the vagaries of the time zone system, I hereby declare this my first 36-hour birthday - it started at midnight Shanghai time, and will continue until midnight Eastern. Fair compromise with the time zone gods, wouldn't you think?

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Caption This 17

Please help me name/caption this photo [See below to find out how]
London, ON, April 2007 [Click to enlarge]

Quick aside from Carmi: I'm posting this week's Caption This feature a little early. By the time you read this, I'll quite likely be floating somewhere far over Canada or the Pacific Ocean on my way to a conference in China. Here's a bit more background on the fun week I'm about to have. In my absence, I'm not sure what kind of connectivity I'll have, so comments, which are moderated, may not show up on the site for some time. New posts may also be a bit wonky: please know I'm doing my best. Thank you in advance for your patience. I promise I'll inundate you with words and images when I return from this magical place. Now, on with the show...
Sammy's Souvlaki is a locally famous eatery with pseudo-temporary stands in a few key spots in and around the downtown area. They've been here forever, and the chain even has the distinction of having put up the first webcam in this burg about a decade ago. When I worked deep in the bowels of Mother Corp., I would often pull up the page to see the weather outside.

The webcam is long gone now, but I'm still fascinated by this relic of a time when regular folks owned popular eateries and chains were unheard of. As I meandered along on a lunchtime walk, I happened across this anonymous woman waiting for her lunch. It was too rich a scene to pass up.

If you're new to Caption This, click on the links below. If you know the CT drill, proceed directly to the comments link, and do not pass Go.
Speaking of last week's entry, I had a heck of a time choosing a winner. There were way too many great entries - and for that I thank you all. After much Jack Handey-like deep thought, I settled on this gem:
Power Play
The one and only Melissa (aka MissMeliss) submitted it. She is one of the most readable writers in blogland, so please visit her if you haven't yet had the privilege of doing so. And if you're in the Dallas area, try to be there on a night when she's doing improv.

OK, time to turn things over. To you...

Your turn: Please submit a caption for the photo above. I'll post the winner next Sunday. In the meantime, submit as often as you want. Spam your friends and encourage your mother-in-law to do the same. When Caption This hits triple-digit comment numbers, I'm posting somewhat legal pictures of myself. Really.

Heading to the other side of the planet

Tomorrow's a big day in my crazy life when I step out of the family minivan at the airport and kiss my brood goodbye for a few days. They'll head home, and I'll get on a plane that will take me to another plane, which will take me to yet another plane that will ultimately carry me halfway around the world.

By the time I land, I'll be in Shanghai, China to attend a major mobility conference hosted by HP. I've been invited there because my research often touches on the mobile space, its impact on business, and on the lives of the people who use it. I write about this stuff because I use it every day, and I love the sense of discovery that typifies this market.

It's difficult to describe what I'm feeling right about now. I'm nervously excited (or excitedly nervous; I'm kinda flip-flopping.) I'm hoping that I perform well enough within my peer group that they feel confident that they invited the right guy. I work in an intangible business where our currency is our intelligence. My track record as an analyst got me invited, and I'm hoping my onsite contributions ensure future invitations. I'm retentive that way.

I'm bringing a camera - alas, not the Nikon because big cameras with big lenses don't always mesh well with some places on the planet - with lots of batteries and memory cards. I'll do my best to capture the spirit of this place, even as I try to adapt to a time zone 12 hours ahead of home. I'll be in a place where I understand barely a word of the local language, and will be surrounded by an environment that's so different from my own that I hardly know what to expect.

But that's part of the adventure, after all. Knowing it all in advance wouldn't be nearly as much fun, and part of me looks forward to learning about a place I've only read about in books and online.

Over the next week or so, expect postings to be somewhat chaotic. I've advance-written some draft entries, and will do my best to publish them from my oriental venue. But in case I don't, please feel free to dig into my archives - there's lots of old material to read - and share a thought in a comment.

Or you can visit my wife so she feels a little less alone. Granted, she'll have plenty on her plate as she keeps our three kids and furry being on track through the week. But a happy word from a reader will probably make her smile.

I'm also bringing a notebook. Spiral-bound and paper-based. With a pen, too! In case the technology thing doesn't allow me to connect into my usual haunts, some ink on paper will hold me over until I get back. I have an image in my mind's eye of sitting by an aircraft window thousands of miles away from the nearest land, silently scribbling my idle thoughts into my notebook. For all my techno-geekiness, there's something elementally comforting about reverting to something that doesn't rely on a battery or a cable.

My hope is that the solo business travel eventually morphs into something a little more family-friendly. For all the times I've left them alone, they deserve to experience the world alongside me. Time will tell.

Your turn: You're alone in a distant, strange place. Paint the scene for us, please.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Forgotten art

Shunted aside
San Francisco, CA, March 2007

It's a bright, sunny afternoon. The sky is brilliantly blue and San Franciscans have hit the streets in droves to drink in the glory. I'm walking among them, exploring this city with my eyes and my camera, trying to remember what it feels like to be enthralled every time I turn my head.

The brightness is easy to see (examples here, here and here) as I click away. But it's in the shadows where some of the most memorable images can be found. For example, a long-forgotten garage that sits in the corner of an old building. It is semi-enclosed on two sides by an iron grate fence. An old red Toyota Tercel sits inside, its hood, roof and trunk covered with so much dust that the color has faded to near-gray. Miscellaneous pieces of garbage that have floated in from the surrounding streets have started to accumulate in the corner.

I debate whether I should try to wedge my lens between the iron, then conclude that this place probably hasn't been visited in a very long time, so it's worth the admittedly slight risk. I catch sight of an abandoned frame in the corner, then carefully compose and shoot.

I doubt that whatever is inside the duct-taped frame is high art, but it's not my place to define what is and is not worthy of the label. In the end, something that someone once valued has been abandoned to time and the elements, and that's pretty much all that I see as I peer into the dusty, shady corner on this otherwise bright, sunny afternoon.

Your turn: Fine art is...?

Iced dog

London, ON, April 2007 [Click to embiggen]

The diversity of sights right outside our front door seems to have no limit. After an unseasonably cold and wet snap in April left much of the landscape a wintry mess, I closed my ears to the inevitable complaining and looked for the opportunity in it.

I found it under the little mini-roof that covers our porch. The eavestrough that channels the water often results in huge and intricate icicles (see here, here , here, here, and here for examples.) When the icicles start to melt, they create all sorts of fun on the bushes below.

So I poked my lens out the door and grabbed a few ethereal frames of an otherworldly scene that was gone by lunch. There's that ephemeral thing again.

Your turn: I'm thinking it looks like a dog's head. What do you think it looks like?

Thursday, May 03, 2007


San Francisco, CA, March 2007 [Click to embiggen]

By now, my propensity to shoot pictures of birds is well-known (please see here, here, here, here, here and here.) I do so for a number of reasons:
  • They're everywhere, so it's always easy to get some bird photography practice.
  • They're pretty magical, what with their ability to fly and all.
  • They force you to focus your photographic efforts more intensely than virtually any other subject. Make the call, shoot fast, adjust and shoot have little time to waste, and that's a thrill in itself.
So as I watched the birds play around by the water's edge, I trained my lens on them and went to work. Weeks after my arrival home, I find myself coming back to this image time and again. It has such, I don't know, energy, and it makes me wish I could somehow convert that motion and potential into something I could use. Another lesson for everyday life, I think.

Your turn: What is it about birds that prompts you to look?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Splish splash

A (watery) brief moment in time
San Francisco, CA, March 2007 [Click to get wet]

Right across from the St. Regis Hotel is a neat place called the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. (Quick digression: because I'm a geek and this stuff is cool, here's the link to the Google Map so you can see it for yourself. Neat, huh? Now, back to the show...)

There's a pretty extensive set of water fountains facing the street. As the day progresses, the light plays differently on the dancing water. I didn't have much time to capture the aquatic fun, so when I had a few extra minutes, I scooted across the street and grabbed what I could.

I rather liked the sheet-like effect in this one. Of the dozens of images that I took in that very brief period, this was the only one where that weird effect presented itself. I can't explain it, and I can't even begin to wrap my head around the fact that this particular image lasted for barely a thousandth of a second, and was then gone forever.

Beauty is ephemeral, I guess. So I figure we need to capture it in our minds whenever it presents itself.

Your turn: Temporary loveliness. Please discuss.

One more thing: I've been nominated for a couple of Blogger's Choice Awards: best photo blog and best blog about stuff. I'm humbled and honored. The links are right over in my sidebar (look to the right...THERE!) If I ask really nicely, would you vote for me? Would you tell your friends, too? Sure, it's wonderful to be nominated. But it's wonderfuller (oops, I'm inventing words again) if I actually get votes. Or something like that.

I've also pasted the links here:
My site was nominated for Best Photography Blog! My site was nominated for Best Blog About Stuff!

The lovely Indigomaia from North Carolina nominated me. Here's what she said:
Carmi is an incredible photographer, with a zest for life, for seeing beyond the obvious. His insights have often been like a breath of fresh air, giving hope to a hurting world. He uses his photographs to ask questions of his readers, questions that cause them to THINK on an introspective and meaningful level. When I read his entries, I can see that he has a hungry mind...and a caring spirit. I believe that he strives to make the world a better place, and that he and his wife are teaching their children to do the same. I find his blog to be personal and meaningful, and a true blessing to my life.
Me again. I am deeply humbled when I realize that my simple words and images can have that sort of impact. It's all the incentive I need to keep at it.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Curves and lines
San Francisco, CA, March 2007

I was getting worried. I had been in San Francisco for over 24 hours and still hadn't seen a cable car. Not getting a tourist-cliche picture like this would be a big black mark on my photographic report card.

So to cover my bets as I walked back to my hotel, I took this picture of the tracks. (Mom, please stop reading here.) We won't discuss where I had to place myself in order to get this picture. I made sure there was no passing traffic before I, um, exposed myself. (OK, Mom, you can read again.) I took it because there was something in the simple geometries that I felt was worth remembering.

A few minutes later, I came across the penultimate cable car. We're talking kitschy central, the one from the Rice-a-Roni box. And I took the picture. But I won't be posting it here, because it's more than a little obvious. This, instead, is the picture that sticks in my mind. Not because it's the one that everyone expects. Rather, because it's the one they don't.

Your turn: Non-cliche photography. Please discuss.

One more thing: Happy new month! Please make sure to get outside at least once today so you can drink in the fact that life is good. I know it sounds silly, but I hope you'll do it anyway, and maybe even write about it.