Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Lucky 7 for a lucky little man


Always the baby?
London, ON, July 2007 [Click all images to make him grow up]


Before we tucked Noah in last night, he excitedly asked if he would be seven years-old when he woke up the next morning. Yes, we assured him, he would be. So with a big smile and even bigger hugs, he pulled his Buzz Lightyear comforter tightly around his wiggling form and drifted off to sleep.

At 1 a.m., he meandered into our room, expertly tunneled his way between us and the no-longer-sleeping dog, and pulled out his loose tooth. He slept there, quietly, before bounding downstairs at first light, waiting for his big brother and big sister to join him for what promised to be an eventful day.

Such is life for our youngest, a never-ending series of happy moments. Perhaps more than any other child I've ever known, he manages to find a reason to smile no matter where he is or what he's doing. He sings to himself while he plays, and often runs over to us and gives us hugs and kisses, or simply thanks us, just because. Sometimes, I sit off to the side and watch him go through his day, amazed at the goodness that seems to come out of his every pore. Yes, I'm his dad and I'm supposed to be biased. But there's something about him that stands out. I want to be more like him when I grow up.

As far as birthdays go, this one seemed conventional on the surface. We had mommy-made chocolate chip pancakes and birthday cake for breakfast before his grandparents headed back home. We saw a movie. We ate junk food. He told Debbie that this was his best birthday ever. And yet it isn't over: He'll have a party with his friends at a local indoor jungle gym this weekend. In short, all the little things that a little boy does on this important day.

So busy was his big day that he fell asleep on the living room floor, right in the middle of playing with the dog. Debbie carried him upstairs, pausing so that I could kiss his foot, another silly little tradition of ours. With time, he gets heavier and the foot gets bigger and stinkier. But we hold onto this one because we don't know how much longer either one of us will be able to carry him. He may no longer be a baby, but he'll always be our baby, and I'll be one sad dad when I can no longer carry our littlest guy to bed.

May all your milestones be sweet, may all your days be happy, and may everyone around you always be infected by your smile, my little Sunshine Boy.

Your turn: One of the advantages of keeping a blog going for a few years is you get to revisit days like this. If you feel like going back in time, please click on the links for Noah's 4th, 5th and 6th birthday entries. How do you celebrate a birthday?

About today's pictures...
#1 - Taken just before dropoff at day camp earlier this month.
#2 - The last picture ever taken of him as a 6-year-old, at tuck-in last night.
#3 - Tonight, all tuckered out after his big day.

One more thing: My wife wrote about Noah's big day on her blog (click here). She's a lovely read. And a lovely person, too. Otherwise how does one explain a child like him?

Facade at night


Empty balconies
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]


It may not do much for energy efficiency, but it sure looks pretty.

Your turn: Warm lights at night. Please discuss why they appeal to us so.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Gothic


Arch detail
London, ON, April 2007 [Click to enlarge]


Now that I work from home in the burbs, I find myself missing my lunchtime walks through the downtown area. With my camera in hand, I always found a perspective that I hadn't previously seen or considered, and I always ended up seeing my city in some new way. On this sunny day in early April, for example, I saw a snippet of a big old church that seemed amazingly geometric.

On the surface, the suburbs don't really offer the same degree of diversity or interest. The sense of history just isn't there when the average structure is between 6 months and 20 years-old.

I could accept that I'll never find the same degree of architectural eye candy out here that I used to find in the middle of town. Or I could try harder, because there are compelling sights everywhere if we look deeply or long enough.

Your turn: Conventional wisdom often dictates that suburbs are soulless expanses of sameness. But I don't subscribe to conventional wisdom: it's just too limiting. So where should I look for the glimpses of brilliance now that my lunchtime walks are much closer to home?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Caption This 29


Please name/caption this photo [See below for details]
Grand Bend, ON, July 2007 [Click to enlarge]


The parking lot that fronts onto the beach of this lakeside resort town is surrounded by a simple, low fence of thick chain strung from post to post. It's the kind of installation that seems to fade into the background. Well, for most people.

I liked the texture of it in the bright late afternoon sun. I liked the message of strength in the scene. But enough of what I like. What matters is the caption that you're going to give it (you are going to play Caption This, aren't you?)

The rules, such as they are, can be found here.

Your turn: Name this picture. Win pseudo-valuable prizes! Become a Caption This legend. Enter as many times as you want. Bonus points if you refer your relatives.

Oops, almost forgot: Last week's photo of pylons on a running track was a popular one. I received so many good ones that it prompted hours of agonizing and fretting. There may have been a little pacing involved as well. Ultimately, though, there can be only one Caption This winner. Really! I used the Miss Universe competition as my guide, and to the best of my knowledge they've never named two winners in any one year. Well, except when those porn charges came up. But that was an unfortunate anomaly. Oops, I'm rambling. Yes, the winner:

Sara for this lovely play on words: Where did you say the starting blogs should go? Please take a moment to visit her excellent blog, Garnet's Adventures, to congratulate her.

Other notable submissions include:
  • As they make the final turn, it's the coneheads in the lead!!! (from BurntOfferings)
  • I heard it's lonely at the top... but I don't think we will ever know... (from JC)
  • Embarrassed that he missed the starting gun, Mr. Conehead stood still and hoped no one would notice him. (from Danny)
  • The garden gnomes were able to move about unnoticed once they removed their caps and stacked them neatly on the track. (from Dara)
You all made me smile and think this week. Thank you so much. I'm sure you'll all somehow manage to raise the bar with this new entry.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Another squirrel


Not a pet
London, ON, July 2007 [Click for an extremely large squirrel head]


When I was a munchkin, I had a weak spot for the animals who lived in the neighborhood. So for a spell, I would leave tupperware bowls of milk on the front landing for the stray cats. It didn't take long for them to set up shop under our front porch, mewling and baying until all hours of the night. Not pretty. Soon after that, my parents nicely asked me to end my feline milkman career.

Later on, I would leave nuts on the back deck for the squirrels. This lasted until the day that I was a little late getting home from school. My mother noticed a particularly aggressive squirrel attaching himself to the outside of the screen door. Apparently, he was hungry. Quite certainly, my mother was not pleased. They may look really sweet, but they're likely the most troublesome critters you'll ever meet. So like the cats before them, the squirrels were cut adrift.

These days, I take pictures of them instead. They're hellish to shoot because they move so damn fast. But once you get used to their rhythm, you stand a pretty good chance of bringing home something more or less in focus. At least that's what I convinced myself as I painstakingly followed this fellow around and tried to avoid freaking him out in the process.

Your turn: What should I name him? Why?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Plated


Stacked
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]


My eye is drawn to patterns like a child is drawn to a bowl of fudge-topped ice cream. When I saw these pristine plates in the restaurant of our hotel, I had to take a closer look. What really got me was how they were lit. The countertops were made of a translucent, brightly-backlit surface. I liked the resulting glow from below.

Your turn: Look really closely at these plates. Is all as it seemed when you first saw the image?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Curved clay


Interlaced
Toronto, ON, November 2006 [Click to enlarge]

The bricks on a lovingly cared for building in a gentrified old neighborhood near downtown Toronto seem to take on a life of their own as they reflect the early afternoon sun.

I seem to have acquired this odd habit of looking closely at buildings. The closer I look, the more likely I am to find something that will strike my eye.

Your turn: An architectural detail that recently captured your eye would be...?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dreaming of an ice cream headache


How many flavors?
London, ON, July 2007


Because the world can be so tumultuous, I find myself turning to pictures of happier scenes. Thank you for indulging my own form of photographic therapy.

Here, a simple trip to the local ice cream shop turns into something somewhat more involved when our two youngest realize there's more to be had than a mere cone. I couldn't resist capturing this moment by the glass when their unseen eyes were larger than their stomachs, and their thoughts were filled with the happy things that occupy children's minds on a hot summer day.

Your turn: What are you dreaming of right now?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Fear factor


Manhunt? Here?
Parkhill, Ontario, July 2007

I've been taking my bike into the country this week. We live right near the edge of town, so after a few turns through the burbs around my house, I head for the main road and leave the city behind. I trace a long, big rectangle through farm country, blasting past fields of corn and pastures with horses and cows.

I kept my bike home today. There's a murderer on the loose. I know, alleged murderer. Whatever. He's a 22-year-old named Jesse Imeson. He's suspected of killing bartender Carlos Rivera in Windsor last week, and an elderly couple, William and Helene Regier, in Mount Carmel near Grand Bend, on Monday. Ontario Provincial Police have launched a manhunt for him in farm country, and they've issued a Canada-wide warrant for his arrest.

I look at this picture, shot just a few weeks ago in a beautiful little town just a short drive from my home, and it doesn't seem right that murder can visit such a beautiful part of the world. Indeed, how often do we all hear that "this sort of thing doesn't happen here" after a particularly grisly crime in a previously-peaceful part of the world? I guess there's no such thing as safe sanctuary any more.

My route into farm country takes me close enough to the manhunt zone that I worry. Am I being paranoid? Quite possibly. Can you ever be too careful in this freakishly unfair world? No. So tomorrow I'll hit the road again, only I'll go in a different direction, and I'll keep an eye out for the pickup he supposedly stole from that poor couple. I'll head back to my regular route only after this moron is caught. Or shot by a really good cop. Whatever.

This is why I never became a police officer: I'd find it difficult to resist the urge to pull the trigger if I cornered the cretin. I guess that compromises my ability to get into heaven. Again, whatever.

Your turn: Thoughts? Mine involve praying for the victims, and hoping there are no more before this is all over. What do you think?

Update - August 1, 2007: They caught him. He managed to drive clear across the province - 600 km from here - before ditching the pickup he stole from the Regiers in a woodlot in eastern Ontario. The search shifted dramatically when the pickup was found, and last night, he was finally captured after breaking into a cottage in Portage-Du-Fort, Quebec, just across the border. Good. There is no justice in cases like this, of course, but it's nice to know he's off the streets and can do no more harm.

Don't shoot the funny lady


The serious business of survival
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]


She clearly does not want her picture taken. As I approach her on the crowded sidewalk, she removes the plastic nose/moustache contraption from her face. She's one of countless street merchants selling cheap tchatchkes to whoever has the patience to negotiate for them. Despite the funny toys she's selling, her demeanor is anything but happy.

I back away and melt back into the crowd. She goes back to wearing the funny face, but she does not smile beneath it. Ever.

She's got a sharp eye. Every time I raise my camera to shoot her, she quickly pulls it off and ducks behind a post. I'm upsetting her, so I keep walking. After I count off a set number of paces, I preset the camera - focus, exposure, focal length - and turn around and capture this image before she realizes I'm still there.

I feel guilty for playing this photographic cat-and-mouse game with her. But at the same time, I wanted some way to illustrate the sadness of these people's lives. As soon as I saw her, I knew she was the one.

Your turn: Are some photos worth a little more tenacity? How so?

One more thing: She's not the only one who doesn't want her picture taken. Click here for an older, similarly-themed entry.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Green, wet pole


Droplets
London, ON, July 2007 [Click to zoom in]


I believe we are a species that thrives on touch. Handshakes, pats on the back and hugs can turn our mood around in a blink.

The irony of photography is that it is anti-touch, Consider that the photographic print can be damaged by sticky, oily little fingers. Consider that we've long kept our prints stored in plastic sleeves within thick albums. No kids allowed.

Yet as I look at pictures like this, I think that touch can be a part of photography after all. When I see textures like this, I imagine what they would feel like. This pole, which sits in the middle of the new splash pad at Gibbons Park here in London, would probably be delightfully cool on a hot summer's day. I think the water on my fingertips would make me smile.

Right now, it's only a picture. But imagining the reality suggests that pictures can touch us in all sorts of ways. So I guess I'll just have to take more.

Your turn: Am I being silly here or does this touchy-feely photographic thinking have merit?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Caption This 28


Please come up with a creative caption for this photo [Read on for instructions]
London, ON, June 2007

I captured this image at my daughter's track meet last month. I've always been captivated by running tracks because they represent places of intense competition, where long periods of training come down to a few seconds of truth, where relatively few people reach the top and pretty much everyone else goes home empty-handed.

I thought the pylons' placement was saying something, but I couldn't quite figure out what that "something" was. Can you?

Your turn: Click on the Comments link and leave as many witty, funny and brilliant captions for this image as you wish. Is your long-lost cousin also hankering for some Sunday enjoyment? Bonus points if you bring him/her along as well.

One more thing: Please click here for details on how Caption This is played. Last week's top-down image of Santa garnered a sleigh-full of superb responses. The ever-brilliant Craziequeen coined this lovely phrase: "While Santa is on his break, the public are NOT to cross the candy cane" and in doing so takes the prize. Well, there is no prize, per se, beyond my deepest thanks for making this such a joyous highlight of the week.

Other gems were submitted by b13 ("You expect ME to pick that up? I can't even see my shoes!!!"), Ms. Pretend ("It's times like these I wish I had listened to Mrs Claus and taken my glucosamine tablets..."), Bob-kat ("Wait until I catch the elf that keeps shrinking my walking stick!"), Joy ("When no one's looking. That candy cane is mine.") and Heidi ("I'd pick up that candy cane, but... be kind. I am still carrying a little holiday weight.") It was a great week in Caption This-land. Thank you all for participating, and good luck with #28!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Chopper


Sikorsky S-76, C-FSBH, pre-flight
London, ON, July 2007 [Click all images to enlarge]


The birds of Ontario's air ambulance service, known as Ornge, are a familiar sight in our skies. Whenever I see one flying overhead, I often think sadly to myself that it's likely heading out to an accident scene, and I'll be reading about it in the paper tomorrow.

The major hospitals here are equipped with helipads to facilitate emergency airlifts and patient transfers. As I passed by the hospital's campus on a bright summer's morning, I noticed the helicopter sitting there and thought I'd stop for a closer look.

While the flight crew walked around the aircraft and checked everything before taking off, the flight nurses arrived with a gurney. The relaxed pace of the work suggested this wasn't an emergency run. I felt relieved.

Soon enough, they buttoned everything up and returned to the sky as I moved around the parking lot and captured whatever I could. I said a quick thank you that I had my camera with me, and that it had plenty of battery and tons of room on the memory card. While it may indeed be a shlep to carry this thing around with me, sometimes it pays off.

Your turn: Please discuss a picture that you took because you happened to have your camera with you. Or one that you missed because you didn't.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Chatting on the telly

When I decided to leave my old job (see here and here) one of my key goals for the next phase of my career was to maintain the ability to be a trusted resource for journalists looking for expert tech commentary.

(If you're just joining us, I used to be a senior analyst for a tech research firm. I'm also a journalist. So when the opportunity to be quoted by tech writers came along, I jumped at the chance. Eventually, I got into some really neat places, including the CBS Evening News, the New York Times, and CTV's Canada AM. Once I became a media darling, I decided I enjoyed the process, and didn't want to stop being one after I left the research company. I'm childish that way.)

So part of my transition to my new role included a media component. I've been reaching out to the journos with whom I've worked, letting them know that I still do this. The good news is that the phone's ringing fairly regularly, and I continue to have some great discussions with some great media folks. I wish everyone loved his/her work as much as I love mine.

Sorry, rambling here. Long story short, I was on television again today, discussing the current and projected state of the cell phone/handset market now that all the major vendors have announced their quarterly earnings. Between Nokia, Motorola, Sony-Ericsson and Samsung, it's like the business equivalent of the circus, and I get to have a front-row seat.

I spoke with Marty Cej of the business news network, and if you're ever wanted to see what I look and sound like on live television, click here for a look.

Other recent coverage includes two pieces by Richard Martin in InformationWeek, a major U.S. tech publication:
Interestingly, I did the interview for the China story from the beach alongside Lake Huron in Grand Bend. I used my Motorola Q to do some additional research on the web and file a detailed response back to the writer via e-mail. It was a textbook example of how technology changes the way we work. It was very cool, and I did a little happy dance when I was done. Then I put my Q away and stopped playing with it because I didn't want to tick off my wife.

Jeff Jedras of ITbusiness.ca also interviewed me for his piece on Canadian software vendor, Corel:
Your turn: What cell phone do you have? What do use it for? Does it do the job for you or is it deficient in some way?

My Chinese Kodak moment


Filmed
Shanghai, China, May 2007


Back home, it's becoming increasingly difficult to find good old conventional photographic film. So when I ran into this department store display, I thought I should take a picture - albeit a digital one - for the sake of posterity.

I think the salespeople liked my camera, and wanted to sell me another lens. I politely declined after concluding that warranty support would be decidedly difficult in this part of the world. Some things are best bought closer to home.

Your turn: When's the last time you shot a roll of film? Do you still go back to the old silvery faithful on occasion? Why/why not? Does it sadden you that film is disappearing from the photographic landscape?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Leading edge


Home at last
London, Ontario, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]


The final leg of my trip home from China was a short hop from Toronto to London. The regularly-scheduled Dash-8 turboprop/puddlejumper had been pulled out of service after it arrived in Toronto. I'm not sure why, and I'm not sure I really want to know. But after a bit of a delay while the airline searched through the bottom of its proverbial knapsack for a replacement plane, we boarded one of my favorite aircraft, a Bombardier CRJ (Canadair Regional Jet).

It's manufactured in Dorval, Quebec, right near my old home. The old Canadair plant in the nearby suburb of St. Laurent - where I went to high school and used to watch them test-fly the then-new aircraft when I really should have been studying algebra - still builds major assemblies for this plane, as well as the Challenger business jet on which it is based.

So I've got a longstanding like affair with this particular aircraft family, and I relish any opportunity to get on board and head into the skies. I know, more detail about my aviation addiction than you really want to know.

As I deplaned in London, I turned back and admired the leading edge of the wing. Like the plane that just a week earlier had safely started me on my journey, this one ensured I was able to return to my family, now waiting just inside the terminal.

Your turn: I find air crashes to be unimaginably tragic. The TAM Airlines disaster in Brazil this week got me thinking about those souls unlucky enough to not make it back to their families after being away. Life is full of razor-thin differences between routine completion and horrifically immediate endings, and I strangely relate to the immense sense of loss when something like this happens. What do you think when you witness news like this?

Purely beautiful


Perfection, to me
Grand Bend, Ontario, July 2007


I'd like you to meet my wife. I took this picture earlier this month, on our anniversary (July 5th, if you're advance-scheduling the FedEx delivery for next year.) I've been looking at it a lot lately because she's been away tending to her mother, doing the things that adult children of aging parents do when they get sick.

The kids and I have missed her immensely. Although we've fared pretty well - I've managed to cook meals that did not poison them, I have kept up with the laundry, I didn't destroy the kitchen and the house is pretty darn tidy - I'll be the first to admit it's not easy without her here. It extends beyond the day-to-day challenges of running a busy family's life, to the fact that I don't get to stare at her while she sleeps, or hear her voice as I slowly open my eyes in the morning. It's not as much fun when your partner and best friend isn't there.

So I've been staring at pictures like this one to help me feel like she's not so far away. Just one of the little reasons why taking pictures of the people who matter to me an activity far more involved than simply snapping away with a camera.

Your turn: We pick her up from the airport in the morning. Do you think she'll kill me for posting this?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Swing


Holding on
London, ON, July 2007 [Click to embiggen]


A trip to the park is never dull when you get to watch a boisterous six-year-old chase his older sister around the playground. He's a non-stop picture of happiness as he races from place to place, trying out everything and fearing nothing. There's a look on his face, an energy in the way he moves that I remember having when I was his age. Part of me thinks wistfully how nice it was to be so carefree.

Your turn: The carefree adult. Please discuss.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Water, stopped


A fleeting moment in time
London, ON, July 2007 [Click to create a torrent]


Freezing water with a camera has become an occasionally recurring photographic theme for me (see here, here, here, here and here for previous examples.) On the surface, the results can be quite spectacular. But beyond the fast-shutter-speed gymnastics, there's the underlying feeling that I'm capturing the otherwise invisible, the imperceptibly real, and a moment that's gone long before I remove the camera from my eye.

When I take pictures like this, two things come to mind:
  1. I hope I don't get the camera wet
  2. I wonder how many other moments like this I've missed because I didn't take the time to record them
I used to kick myself for not being more prolific, for keeping the camera at home or in its bag when opportunity presented itself, for missing every spectacular, hidden moment around me. But that got old, and it started to take the fun out of the photographic game. These days, I'm more apt to choose my moments, to focus on those that I can capture and capture well, and not lament the ones that got away.

Once again, I find myself learning that these little lessons I learn as I peer through the lens seem to have a broader impact than just a picture. Who would have thought a mere camera could present such great opportunities to learn.

Your turn: What can a lens capture that the eye cannot?

About this image: Forgive my geekiness for a moment: I shot this at 1/4000 sec, f/8, 200mm focal length, ISO 800. Time of day was 6:11 p.m. and I was challenged by a sun that was moving between clear blue sky and clouds. I had taken our two youngest to the Gibbons Park splashpad and we were drying off and heading home. In the 90 minutes that we were there, I shot some 320 images - of them, of ducks, of water, of whatever. I used the long lens to meander around the edge of whatever it was they were doing and quietly record them. I'll post more images from our Sunday afternoon adventure in the days to come.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A lamp and a lesson


Light from above
Montreal, QC, December 2006 [Click to embiggen]

The next time you're in a hotel, condominium lobby or any other public or semi-public space, I hope you'll take a moment to scan the fixtures in the room. The lamps, tables, couches are usually fairly benign, designed to fade into the background and not offend anyone in the process.

Yet sometimes a closer look reveals something else. The light on this lamp base seemed so soft and transitional that I couldn't not take a picture of it.

Hmm, maybe this little self-lesson wasn't just limited to lamps.

Your turn: Are you ever pleasantly surprised when you look at an otherwise ordinary scene or, gasp, even a person? Do tell...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Pastels on the lawn


Colorful places to rest
Grand Bend, Ontario, July 2007 [Click to enlarge]


My wife noticed these chairs sitting unoccupied on the sloping front lawn of a sleepy old inn overlooking the beachfront parking lot in this lakeside town. Alternately known as adirondack chairs or muskoka chairs, the colors almost begged to be photographed.

I didn't even have to ask. As I looked at her, she nodded at me and, smiling the smile of a wife who knows what drives me, told me to take a walk with my camera. She's cool that way.

I think we have a potential new candidate for our living room wall.

Your turn: This image continues to speak to me 10 days after I first took it. What's it saying to you?

One more thing: This isn't the first time I've explored these chairs. Click here to go back in time.

Caption This 27


Please suggest a creative name/caption for this photo [See below for details]
London, ON, December 2006 [Click to enlarge]


Being among the minority that does not celebrate Christmas, we've never experienced the joy of waiting in line to sit on Santa's knee. So the pictures we get of this annual tradition won't be the overpriced, rent-an-elf-taken, unfocused Polaroid variety. I'll be stealing them with my own camera when no one's looking, thank you very much.

As I walked the upper floor of nearby Masonville Place (wiki) with our kids last December, I peeked over the railing and saw a very fatigued Mall Santa below. I don't know what he's being paid, but I'm sure it isn't anywhere near enough. Bless him.

I share this image now because it's July, and we'll be elbow-deep in holiday-season madness before long. I just didn't want anyone to forget how much fun it is, even for the jolly man himself.

Your turn: Please come up with a snazzy, snappy, funny caption for this image. Call your friends and have them jump into the fray, too. All denominations welcome. I'll announce the winner next week.

And the winner of last week's Caption This is....JC for this gem: "She is always picking my brains"

I took the picture so quickly that I didn't notice the funny-looking thing behind the munchkin's ear. As I reviewed it later on, I kept asking myself what mom was stuffing into his ear. This quote nailed the bizarro thoughts that hit me as I stared at this image, high up in a lonely hotel room. Please take a moment to visit JC and share a congratulatory message or two.

Not sure how Caption This is played. Click here to go back to where it all began. All shall be explained. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Density, squared


The walled city
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]


It's difficult to explain just how densely populated this city is. The kind of image most often used to tell this story is typically a people-choked streetscape. And not to worry, I've got plenty of those in my archives. But it was this image, taken at 5:44 a.m., that will forever sear the incredible density of this place into my brain.

I remember sitting in my quiet perch on the very top floor of the hotel after taking this picture, trying to understand how such an architectural monstrosity could have been conceived. In the end, I gave up: I doubt any of this was a clean sheet design. It was likely added to in haphazard fashion over the years as needs grew and available space shrank. It was a set of constraints that the average North American likely would never understand. Which was why I was glad I got to witness something like this first-hand.

At that moment, I felt my understanding of the broader world expand just a little bit more. One doesn't judge this kind of discovery, after all. Rather, one must understand how it came to be.

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

Friday, July 13, 2007

Where the rubber hits the road


Traction
London, ON, June 2007


We've been riding bikes a lot lately. Our kids have been bitten by the cycling bug, often asking to go out after supper so they can get some seat time with us. Sometimes we take the dog outside, and sometimes I leave the dog in the house - where he proceeds to bark and cry at the window - so I can get on my own machine and ride alongside them.

I love knowing that the simple act of riding a bicycle, something that has defined me for so long, is now becoming a part of our kids' lives as well.

More on this soon. For now, I leave you with a view of my son's bike during a rare motionless moment.

Your turn: What does cycling mean to you?

One more thing: I rather like how this entry contrasts with Cyclical Geometry (if you haven't read it, feel free to click back.) Cycling in China and cycling on our cul-de-sac present two very different realities, yet they are amazingly similar as well. I suspect the legions of riders I saw when I was in Shanghai were all once just kids, too, taking their first tentative spins around the neighborhood. Just like ours.

Historic front porch


Iced tea, anyone?
London, ON, April 2007 [Click to enlarge]


An old veranda stands witness over the historic neighborhood, blending in perfectly with the trees and bushes that surround it.

Your turn: This house has just sold after being on the market for quite some time. What would a summer's evening on this porch look like? What kind of stories will the new owners be able to tell?

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Can you Etch A Sketch?

From the world of the trivial and immaterial comes this...

It's been 47 years since the Etch A Sketch was released to a dumbfounded world. Deceptively simple on the surface, it survived at the top of my toy box long after everything else had either sunk permanently to the bottom or was mysteriously scooped into a garbage bag and left by the curb when I wasn't looking.

My Etch A Sketch survived through more hospital stays than I can count, and somewhat perversely it eventually became an icon of my upbringing. I wish I had held onto it. Maybe there's some garage sale-hunting (or craigslist, perhaps?) in my near future.

If you're feeling nostalgic for a time when toys didn't require batteries and an electrical engineering degree, you may find yourself - just as I did - taking a sketchy tour of the Ohio Art Company official website, the Wiki entry, Wired's take on it, and the inevitable online version - better known as Etchy - of this venerable toy.

Your turn: Can you share a thought about a childhood toy that mattered to you long after you morphed into an adult. What made it special to you? Why do some toys become meaningful classics while others are almost immediately relegated to that mythical forgotten pile?

Windows over an alleyway


Overlooked
London, Ontario, March 2007 [Click to enlarge]


Ever notice how some out-of-the-way alleyways seem to have a million windows and other vantage points, yet no one is ever actually visible in them?

Your turn: Why is that?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Obscene fruitography?


Bananarama
London, ON, March 2007 [Click to enlarge]

Forgive my indulgence: I'd like to revisit the theme of fruitography (if you want a good laugh, Google it. Then go see where it all began.) That's where I shoot closeup pictures of fruits and/or vegetables (no, let's not get started on vegography; one invented word for now is enough.) There's no real reason for this obsession beyond my desire to look at ordinary things in extraordinary ways.

I believe that bananas sit atop the fruit pyramid. There's something essentially perfect about these self-contained, nutrient-packed creations. The out-there color is an added bonus.

So I thought I'd observe my lunchtime dessert closeup before I wolfed it down.

Your turn: My next fruit of opportunity should be a...?

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Cyclical geometry


Means to an end
Shanghai, China, May 2007


Between cars, scooters, bicycles and pedestrians, there's precious little open pavement in this city of 20 million people. Cyclists take to the road at their peril, it seems. Yet the way they approach this mode of transport is decidedly different than in North America.

Back home, we ride high-tech alloy wondermachines that cost more than my first car. Here, the average bike is an old, clunky beast of burden that doesn't seem to have ever been new.

Back home, we wear helmets, spandex shorts, gloves, shades and whatever other chic gear we've picked up at the bike store. Here, riders never wear helmets, and the clothes they ride in are the clothes they work and/or live in.

Back home, we ride for pleasure. A few of us commute, but we're usually the minority in an urban center. Here, it's an accepted mode of transport, with some bikes precariously loaded with more cargo and kidlets than I can stuff into my minivan.

As I peer through the viewfinder at this ancient machine, I wonder what its owner would think if he/she saw me ride by on my pink Specialized, wearing my helmet and related gear. I'd probably get a dismissive shrug as its owner got on and quietly pushed off on yet another daily commute. So different, yet so similar, all at the same time.

Your turn: Do you ride? Why?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Birthday boy


Sitting pretty for the camera
London, ON, July 2007 [Click to make the puppy into an adult]

Our dog, Frasier, celebrated his first birthday on Sunday. He can't read, of course. Nor can he understand the concept of calendars, orbital mechanics or Hallmark cards. So as far as he was concerned, today was yet another day in his charmed dog's life. But to our kids, today was special.

Noah spent much of the day drawing cards in various shapes - dog bone, party hat, dog head, etc. - and taping them up throughout the living room. He placed them wherever the dog was likely to see them, but too high for him to actually get to. See, our beloved dog is quite the paper-chewer.

Dahlia sang him the happy birthday song as soon as he woke up this morning. She sang it a few times, with different tempos, and at increasing volume. He didn't seem to mind.

Zach ensured he had extra food in his bowl this morning - notable because the smell of Frasier's food usually makes Zach nauseous - and also made sure my wife scheduled time to go to the pet store to pick up a gift for him.

I know. Birthday gifts for a dog. Ridiculous.

Yet I can't help but think that this was an entirely appropriate way to mark a milestone in this furry being's life. In a year when he went from the well-documented birth of a purebred to a family that clearly couldn't or wouldn't care for him, and left him in a cage for upwards of 18 hours a day before we adopted him, it mattered that on his birthday he had a happy day surrounded by people who adore him. It mattered that our kids got to bring a neglected pet into their home, that they learned how to love something more than any tchatchke they could get at a store. It mattered that this little one's life got happier as the year progressed, as did ours.

For him, today wasn't any different than any day in his life these days: He plays, he gives kisses, he gets hugged a lot, he sleeps, often on us, and he chews up the occasional newspaper and shoe. But for our kids, today allowed them to formalize what they've learned about pet ownership since we welcomed him into our home almost four months ago. As a parent, it was a joy to watch.

Your turn: What do you wish for a dog for his birthday? Be creative!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Caption This 26


Please give this picture a name and/or caption [See below for how this works]
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click image to enlarge]


Sometimes, the best way to capture impromptu photos when visiting a faraway or otherwise new-to-you place is to simply walk and shoot. No need to overthink the composition: just point your camera at whatever captures your eye. You can figure out meanings and settings later on.

Which is what I did as I walked along the riverfront in Shanghai. It was a hot and humid afternoon, and I was, as usual, lagging behind my very patient and understanding group of colleagues. And as I saw this image of a family out for a walk by the water, I knew it was a keeper. In this case, one shot was all it took. Now it's your turn to name it.

Your turn: Please come up with a caption or title for this photo. Post it in a comment. Post as many captions as you wish: I give props to multiple-submitters. I'll post the winner next week. Need to refresh on the Caption This rules? Click here.

About last week's winner: The picture of two servicemen sitting atop their Hercules transport plane piqued a lot of response. Awareness takes it with, "Stan and Joe opted for the economy tickets. Little did they know it was more than surviving without complimentary nuts." If you haven't seen her site, you're missing out on one multitalented Canadian.

One more thing: It's been half a year since I started Caption This. I didn't really think it would last as it has....I don't typically stick with regular features on my blog. But this one seems to have hit a bit of a nerve, and I'm really enjoying the week-to-week progression. I hope you are, too.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Toothopolis is under attack


Too much choice
London, ON, July 2007

The grocery store of my childhood was a homey place where I recognized the names and faces of most of the folks who worked there. It was small enough that I could see each corner when we walked in. Product choices were pretty simple: pick from the one or two options, then move on.

Today? Not so much. I'm in the toothpaste aisle of the local Loblaws, our version of an oversized temple of conspicuous consumption. It took us well over five minutes to decipher the eight different kinds of Crest toothpaste. I was about to use my Moto Q to research these offerings online when my wife figured it out and made her choice.

Every item in our cart requires a similar process: stand in front of the overloaded shelves as you make a purchase decision only marginally less complex than that required to grant launch authority to a space shuttle.

This plethora of choice drives the need for airport-sized superstores whose dairy sections come with their own zip code. On a day when the Live Earth concerts decry global warming and prompt us to act, I wonder about the role that supersized commercialism and mega-choice in places like this grocery store play in our current environmental pickle.

I miss the human-sized stores of my childhood, and wonder if I'm the only one who feels that way.

Your turn: Am I? What message do today's superstores send to you?

Hey, that's my plane!


Air Canada Airbus A340, waiting for flight
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]


I took this picture right around the same time as this one. I had a little time to kill before boarding, so out came the camera as I tried to capture my last glimpses of this place before taking off.

The geometry of an airplane is too compelling to leave be. I think I could walk around this particular bird all day and shoot pictures for as long as my battery and memory card would hold out. Maybe someday soon I'll get to do just that. For now, I'll just leave this straightforward image on your screen.

Your turn: The immediate moments before you take off...what's going through your head?

Friday, July 06, 2007

Woody and curved


Timeless design
St. Thomas, Ontario, June 2007 [Click to enlarge]


I took a quick time out from craning my neck at the airplanes to catch a glimpse or two of the lovely old cars that were on display on the flight line. The vehicles provided a nostalgic backdrop to the raw display of testosterone-driven power, and gave air show attendees a chance to slow things down for a minute before the next act took to the skies.

I found this woody wagon in the shade of a U.S. Navy training aircraft. Its sinuous curves and rich surfaces reminded me that beautiful designs are timeless, and we as a society are so intent on pursuing the Next Big Thing that we don't spend enough time seeing where we've come from. Pity that, because we might learn something about ourselves if we took the time.

Your turn: Is nostalgia all it's cracked up to be?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

How many years?

15.

That, according to the calendar, is how long my wife and I have been married. We celebrated our anniversary today by once again going to the beach in Grand Bend and just being us. It was an amazing day.

But it just doesn't feel like it's been that long. In so many ways, it feels like it's gone by in a blink. Just yesterday we got married. Just yesterday we rented our first apartment and set up our first home. Just yesterday we decided to start a family. Just yesterday we welcomed our son into the world and drove him home with the hazards on. Just yesterday we pulled up stakes and moved to another city. Just yesterday we added two more amazing little folks to our family and watched our three kids grow into incredible people in their own right.

Just yesterday I saw her for the first time and felt like my life had changed in some inexplicably good way. Just yesterday I rode my bike home from her house on a warm summer's evening and knew that she was the one. I wish I knew how 15 years seem to have gone by seemingly overnight.

On the other hand, 15 feels like forever. I don't remember what life was like without her. I don't remember a world that didn't have three smaller versions of us intertwined in our lives. I don't remember what our home was like when it didn't fill slowly with patter and little voices in the morning. I don't remember what it was like to not hear her voice as I slowly awoke. I don't remember what it was like to sleep alone. I don't remember what it was like to not be thinking about her every waking moment. I don't remember what it was like to write before I had my inspiration. I don't wish to ever remember what my life was like before she was a part of it.

It seems like yesterday, and it seems like forever. At the same time. I can't begin to explain the dichotomy, but I don't think I need to. I just need to say thank you for that lightning bolt of incredible luck all those years ago. I just need to say thank you to her for knowing we were bashert (fated) even before I did. I just need to say thank you to her for somehow keeping our family's life on track despite the craziness that I have always brought to it. It isn't easy being married to an always-on creative like me. Yet she somehow makes it seem easy.

Simply put, I am what I am because of her. My life wouldn't have been anywhere near as fulfilling if I hadn't experienced it with her. Indeed, all of this was meant to be.

Call me greedy, but I want a lot more than 15 more years. I don't know how one person deserves as much as I have. But now that I've had it for as long as I've had it, I wish it would never end.

If you haven't met her, please visit her blog and share a wish with her.

Your turn: The Flintstones "Happy Anniversary" song is once again ringing in my ears. How do you mark major anniversaries and/or milestones in your life? Do you count your blessings?

One more thing: I reread my entries from last year and the year before, just because. They brought me peace. If you're new to the blog and you want a smile, feel free to click back in time and see where I come from.

Six more...


Snowbird on the ground
St. Thomas, Ontario, June 2007 [Click to enlarge]


Canada lost another six soldiers in Afghanistan yesterday, their lives ended when a roadside bomb obliterated their armored vehicle in the Panjwaii district, just outside the city of Kandahar.

When we were at the air show barely two weeks ago, we were privileged to meet so many members of Canada's military - any of whom could just as easily become victims if and when they are sent to this precarious region.

There's been a spirited debate over whether public service vehicles in Canadian cities should be carrying magnetic yellow ribbons to express support for the troops. The small-minded among us have been flooding editorial pages and radio talk shows, trying to convince anyone who will listen that they oppose war and they won't support a ribbon campaign.

I'll be perfectly blunt when I conclude they're all morons. You can oppose our involvement in an armed conflict - Canada in Afghanistan, or the U.S. in Iraq - but still express support for the men and women who are fighting and dying there.

I pray for those lost souls tonight, and for those among us who can't appreciate what these brave individuals and their families have lost on behalf of the rest of us.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

On language...


Need a copywriter?
Shanghai, China, May 2007


When I was in China, I found myself actively looking for English signs. My going-in assumption was that they'd often read funny because of the massive structural differences between eastern and western languages.

As you can see from this image, I wasn't disappointed. I found this sign in a very chic-looking multi-floor department store. The store was plastered from top to bottom with signs like this, and I couldn't leave the building without taking at least one picture to remember the scene.

I post this not out of mockery or disrespect. Their English is light years better than my Mandarin, after all. But it was too cute to pass up.

Your turn: Got any funny anecdotes from the world of translation?

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The neighbors we meet


Winging it
Pacific Ocean, Eastbound, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]


When you're sitting in a tube made of alloy for 15 hours, accompanied by hundreds of people who don't speak your language, you find yourself finding little ways to amuse yourself. Regular readers of my blog already know that at some point, I'm going to pull out my camera. This trip - back from China - was no different.

This image, captured just as the sun rose off our port side, was the one that helped me connect with my neighbour. Doris was a middle-aged Chinese-Canadian from Toronto on her way home from visiting her father in Harbin. As soon as I took this image, she asked me about the pictures I take, and asked to see the ones I already had stored on the camera. I gave her a quick slide show.

Thankfully, I didn't bore her: She pulled her own camera out - a Nikon, yay! - and shared the pictures of her family. Every picture had a story, and she smiled from within as she shared each one. We chatted for a while, and she tutored me expertly in holding chopsticks when our meals came.

Funny how miles above a desolate ocean so far from home, I briefly made a complete stranger's day, all because I decided to take a picture or two (or more...) She made my day, too.

Your turn: Ever had a complete stranger give you an impromptu slide show? Do you have a stranger-type travel story you'd like to share?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Canada Day, Eh?

I. Am. Canadian.
St. Thomas, Ontario, June 2007
[Click to enlarge]


Call me a patriotic sap, but I love being Canadian.

Yes, I'll admit I whine about our relatively high taxes, our governments that seem to have raised corruption and nepotism to a high art, our lack of inexpensive data plans for BlackBerries (we invented the things, dammit!) and the ridiculously stereotypical winters.

Come to think of it, I whine quite a bit. But when I'm travelling in some far off place and I see my first sign of Canada on the way home, I can't help it if I feel just a little cozy inside. It's a great place to call home, and a welcome place to return to. There's a sense of empathy within this country that I just don't see elsewhere. For all its warts, this is a country that still hasn't forgotten how to look out for those in need.

Since I grew up with the concept of Tikkun Olam - repairing the world - as a regular touchstone, it's nice to know that my country sorta echoes my own personal sentiments.

Which is my way of saying that as I enjoy the Canada Day statutory holiday (thanks, government people, for giving us the day off!) with my brood, I think of the generations of folks - leaders, citizens, people from near and far - who have helped shape this place. It's far from perfect. But it's ours, and it feels like a pretty righteous place to lead a life.

Your turn: Are you a fan of your country? Why/why not?

About this image:
I shot it surreptitiously at an air show. This shoulder belongs to a member of the Snowbirds ground crew. He was walking the security ropes, ensuring no one got too close to the planes or the equipment. True to fashion, he spoke jovially with everyone he met and he handed out stickers to the kids. A real Canadian hero, in my book, especially considering how he and his entire team were still grieving the recent fatal crash of one of their pilots.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Caption This 25


Please think up a clever caption/title for this photo [details below]
St. Thomas, Ontario, June 2007 [Click to enlarge]


These two crew members are winding down on top of their C-130E Hercules after spending the day showing countless visitors - including my children - the ins and outs of their fantastic machine. I used my long lens to pick off this image without them ever knowing I was there. Please start thinking of an appropriate caption or title for this photo. More on this in a bit, but first some housekeeping:

Last week's Caption This image of a geometric subdivision taken from the sky garnered lots of interest. Courtney takes it for her gem, "I hate playing Monopoly with my Dad." David merits special mention for his "Sheep Think." Dave gets my eternal thanks for "Levy-town" and Roxanne is my hero for digging up Little Boxes, the poem by Malvina Reynolds that came to mind as I tripped the shutter.

As an aside, I studied this poem in high school under an English teacher who taught me for four years and never missed an opportunity to push my buttons. I hated her then, but eventually realized that she saw my potential as a writer and didn't want me to let it lie fallow. I find it fascinating how a picture that slipped past my scratched plastic aircraft window in a blink could evoke such powerful memories.

Your turn: Please come up with a caption for this photo. I can't promise fame or fortune, but it'll be a neat process regardless. I'll post the winner next Sunday. Not sure what Caption This is all about? Click here.

One more thing: It's Canada Day today. I'm going to don some appropriately-themed red-and-white clothing and spend the day with a very excited brood of little people who look a bit like me. The kids really love this holiday, and my wife and I are going to find some family-friendly way to remember the day. Monday's a statutory holiday as well, so I'll write about the holiday in earnest tomorrow. For now, it's party time in the Great White North, eh.