Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Don't tread on me

Step to it
Montreal, QC, August 2010
[Click here for more Thematic sepia]

Sure, they're just stairs. But they're delightfully old and worn, and if they could talk they'd probably have such stories to tell of their countless summers and winters by the water at the far end of the island of Montreal.

After I took this picture, I closed my eyes and wondered what stories those might be.

Your turn: Care to share one?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Yesterday's database

Historical drawers
London, ON, February 2010
About this photo: Thematic Photographic, our weekly photo sharing activity, is exploring sepia-toned images through Thursday. If you've got one (or two, or...) that you'd like to share, click here and have at it.
I date myself when I say I remember going to the library and starting every research effort with a trip through the card catalog. You never quite knew where these endless drawers of time-worn, dog-eared cards would send you, and that, I think, was half the fun. The other half was simply drinking in the experience. I can still smell the wood and feel the drawers open and close. You took your time moving from one to the other as you tried to build up the best possible shortlist of finds.

It was never as ruthlessly efficient as a Google search, of course, and when you were back home well after midnight, you were pretty much up a creek if your original research was somewhat lacking (yes, I speak from hard-earned experience.) But no search engine could ever deliver the kind of visceral experience of rooting through the card catalog. It was deliberate, and it required you to show up ready to invest a little of yourself in the process. So whenever I come across an old library, I try to explore the drawers a bit to remind myself of what it once felt like.

I admit I miss it a little.

Your turn: What do we lose as we move from real to virtual?

WikiLeaks sucks

Deliberately hyperbolic headline aside, I'm evolving my feelings toward WikiLeaks. What was first launched as a somewhat altruistic endeavour designed to give political dissidents and whistleblowers a safe haven, a voice and a place to share their message without fear of reprisals from oppressive governments, regimes and organizations, has evolved into a somewhat different, more malevolent animal.

As the world watches the third major release of sensitive documents - this time it's U.S. diplomatic docs, while earlier this year it was the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts that had their inner workings shared with the world - I've been watching founder Julian Assange explain the rationale for his organization's actions. And I find what I'm hearing to be somewhat disturbing.

On the surface, there isn't anything in any of these documents that comes as a surprise. International sniping is a hallmark of the diplomatic process. Is this embarrassing? Sure. But shocking? Hardly.

What raises my antenna is the fact that we now have a process, a pipeline if you will, for disgruntled employees of any entity - government, military, private organization, whatever - to hoover huge amounts of data onto a flash drive, then upload it to this site. Got an axe to grind? The Web now has an answer for you. And Mr. Assange will happily accommodate you under the umbrella of "transparency".

Never mind that this is a pretty grotesque bastardization of proper journalistic process. Never mind that the checks and balances that have long governed the craft are nowhere to be seen. Never mind that no one seems to care whether the greater good is being served here. Make them public, says Mr. Assange. Let the world see what they're really like, he adds, and who really cares about the consequences, anyway?

I do. I spoke with CTV Parliamentary Correspondent Richard Madan yesterday, and he included a clip from the interview in a report he ran on CTV's national newscast at 11. Newscast link is here. Report link is here, and I've embedded the report below.

I also discussed it with Craig Needles from London's AM980, Gary Doyle of Kitchener's 570News, and Jessica Samuels from Kelowna's AM1150. Yahoo! Canada Finance published my article - Wikileaks leak a wakeup call for business - on October 29th. I suspect the discussion - and the leaks that spawned it - will continue for some time.

Your turn: Is WikiLeaks a force of good, a force of evil or something in between?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Supercharged wireless: One step closer

Canadians are endlessly fascinating people. We're fascinating for more reasons that I can probably count - and certainly more than you'd be interested in reading here. So I'll pick just one: We love to complain.

We don't just complain. We whine. We moan. We bitch. Bitterly. Passionately. Endlessly. Gloriously.

Yes, I said gloriously. Because we wouldn't be the same if we didn't get into it on a regular basis. Life wouldn't be as rich if we simply sat back and took it. Because of our long winters and sparse population density, our expertise in complaining is probably the one thing that keeps us warm. And sane.

One of our favorite - oops, favourite; I keep forgetting the u - complaint subject revolves around wireless service. Whether it's an old-style cell phone or a newfangled, all singing, all dancing smartphone, we love to complain about how much wireless service costs us and what we get in return.

So when our Industry Minister, a gentleman named Tony Clement, announced the long-term timeline for our country's next major wireless auction, I saw it as an opportunity to write an article that explained why this was significant. Long story short, the next bunch of spectrum that's being auctioned off to wireless carriers will be in the 700 MHz and 2,500 MHz ranges. The former is of particular interest, because it'll underpin the next generation of super-high-speed, all singing, all dancing wireless networks. The service is broadly known as 4G (for 4th generation wireless) and it'll be pretty damn cool when it gets here.

The Toronto Star published my article - The 4G revolution: Canadians face hurdles in search for faster wireless - in today's paper (yes, Joe Jackson fans, I know some folks read it in the Sunday paper) and I've included the little graphic here because it led the business section. Coolness.

Your turn: Three questions, actually. 1) What country do you live in? 2) Are you pleased with your wireless service? 3) Why/why not?

One more thing: I've added a page to the blog that summarizes my published Toronto Star articles. The link is at the top of the page, just below the Written Inc. logo. Or just click here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Life, the Universe and Everything

Safe haven
Montreal, QC, August 2010
About this photo: We're sharing sepia-toned pictures as part of this week's Thematic. Go here to share yours, or here to learn how the whole thing works. Or just read on if you're in the mood to be amused.
You don't see public lockers too often these days. Security concerns - thanks, Osama - have prompted places like airports and shopping malls to pull them out. Which means we're rapidly running out of places to store the burgeoning piles of stuff we inevitably accumulate when we're out and about.

Bowling alleys are, somewhat interestingly, exempt from this trend. I'm thinking the average cave-dwelling terrorist doesn't curse the Brunswick name at least once every waking moment, and hasn't identified these temples of childhood and post-retiree recreation as worthwhile targets of misplaced, hatred-driven opportunity.

Which is just as well, because places like this are interesting throwbacks to a simpler time*, and I'd hate to think of a world without strikes, spares, gutter balls and really cheesy-looking shirts. It strangely brings me comfort to know bowling alleys continue to survive and thrive.

Your turn: It's easy to dismiss bowling as a ridiculously stupid pastime. Throw a ball down a lane; knock down some pins; repeat. But I suspect there's more to it than that. What's its appeal, then?

One more thing: Why 42? I didn't even realize its significance until I composed the shot. Once I did, I had a good laugh. Which made total strangers look up and furrow their brows in my general direction. I hope fans of the late Douglas Adams enjoy the numeric reference.


* Disclosure: My mother dragged my very young self to her bowling league at a place in Chomedey known, then as now, as the Recreatheque. To this day, walking into any bowling alley ignites memories of sitting on the creaky, two-toned plastic seats while the ladies clucked around me in between frames. I took this picture, as an adult, as my wife and kids watched my now-retired mother bowl with her league. It was a good day, and definitely a circle of life-type moment.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The towers that connect us

Palm Beach, FL
December 2008
[Click here for more sepia]

I often write about mobile devices and the wireless networks that make them come alive. So when I'm wandering the hinterlands of this crazy continent of ours, I seem to notice every last iota of technological infrastructure.

Some would call these cell towers ugly. I'm no authority on what defines beauty (except for anything that applies to my wife, of course) but I'll admit I wouldn't want one of these things in my back yard. Or my neighborhood. Or anywhere remotely near any place where I spend any appreciable amount of time.

But like most nimby-esque cell phone tower haters, I willingly consume the bandwidth they pump out. I use my BlackBerry to make work happen, to connect with my family and to keep a window open on the world around me. I realize that the magical wizardry of any technology often comes with a bit of a dark side, and the answer (i.e. towers bad, not here) is never as simple as we wish it could be.

So I like to linger a little whenever I find myself near one of these towers. They're the perfect example of built-to-a-purpose engineering. Nothing is wasted, especially the effort to make any of it look good. Aesthetics? Not so much.

But then I circle back to that whole I'm-no-authority-on-beauty thing. Who says this isn't beautiful in its own way? Who says anything - or anyone - is or is not lovely in its own way? Who elected us final arbiters, anyway?

Your turn: How do you define beauty?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thematic Photographic 125 - Sepia

Montreal, QC, August 2010
Sepia: A brown pigment obtained from the inklike secretion of various cuttlefish and used with brush or pen in drawing. Photography: A print or photograph made in this color. Source: Dictionary.com

Sepia: The theme for this week's Thematic Photographic. To participate, please post a similarly themed pic on your blog, then leave a comment here. Click here for the details on how TP works. Or just dive in and see what develops. Source: Me.
I'm fascinated by sepia for the same reasons that I'm fascinated by monochrome photography in general, because it strips away the patina of color and leaves you with composition and light to tell the story. It's a little simpler, a little more spare. Sepia adds an additional dimension to basic monochrome that seems to pull the entire scene back in time. Just a little. Just enough to let the viewer wonder what it must have been like before...

Before what is up to you. The point is that we take the time to imagine. Which is why we shoot, why we look at and appreciate the results, and why we never stop looking forward to our next stint behind the lens.

Your turn: I've got a hunch that you've got lots of sepia-toned scenes to share over the next week. So I'll step back and get out of your way. If you're still wondering how this all works, just click here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Blinded by the light

The Green Lantern
London, ON
October 2010
[Click here for more candid Thematic]

I'm going to bet that this guy had no idea his picture was being taken. I'm also going to bet that he was probably rendered temporarily blind by an apparent explosion of Jello-green brilliance.

I've never been much of a party animal, so I haven't spent huge amounts of time being bathed by laser light filtered through fog machines while dance music assaults my eardrums with the subtlety of a Hummer H1 churning through the dunes on a protected stretch of seashore. Yet I found myself entranced by the scene and wondered if it was even remotely possible to somehow paint it on a memory card.

Short answer: Yes, it is possible.

Long answer: I need to party a little more. Although I've never felt I needed to eat, drink and be merry to, you know, actually be merry, there's a certain coolness associated with tossing yourself onto the dance floor and just enjoying the moment. I won't be making a nightly habit of it, of course, but as an occasional escape, I suspect it'll be good for the old soul.

Your turn: Why we party. Please discuss.

One more thing: I know you've all been having so much fun with this week's candid theme, but all good things must eventually come to an end. New theme, sepia, goes live Thursday at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. If you've got any residual candidness left, click now or not-quite-forever hold your peace.

Black Friday approaches...

It's been a busy writing week so far, and there's more goodness to come from my pen.

Wait, I lie. I'm not using a pen. I'm using a laptop. The last time I wrote something from start to finish in pen was probably in high school. And I'm sure my English teacher went blind from trying to decipher my scrawl. Typing's definitely my thing now, so I'm not sure why I still cling to the notion of "picking up my pen," but I guess it's easier and more artful than "picking up my HP laptop."

Yahoo! Canada Finance has just published my latest piece. If you're Canadian and you're looking across the border for some Black Friday or Cyber Monday bargains, the article, Black Friday is all green for Canadians, may be helpful.

I've also set up a page for everything I've written for Yahoo! Click here to see more.


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Is this bird truly candid?

Are you looking at me?
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2009
[Click photo to embiggen]
[Click here for more candid photo silliness]

I may be stretching things here. I initially selected this photo for this entry because I figured shooting fast-moving birds is about as candid as you can get. Birds don't smile - at least as far as I can tell - and they don't pose. At least not in the way your sequin-gowned Aunt Wilhemina does when she grabs anyone within arm's reach and crinkles her face into a megawatt fake-smile in the general direction of the camera.

Yet the more I looked at this photo, the more I realized the gull was Looking Straight At Me. If he (she?) were a mangy dog, it would be a Cujo moment and I would suddenly hear ominous music play in my head as the blood nervously rushed out of the rest of my body. But Stephen King was nowhere to be found. So we'll have to go with heavily modified Edgar Allen Poe instead.

Oops, literary tangent there. Sorry. So, the bird's not exactly unaware of my presence. Which makes this photo not-quite-candid. But I'll share it here anyway. Because rules were made to be broken. And I like this photo. More importantly, I like that it reminds me of a day when everything in my world was zooming along pretty nicely. Days at the beach will do that to ya.

Your turn: He (she?) is thinking something. I just can't quite put my finger on it. Can you?

Monday, November 22, 2010

He shoots, he scores

London, ON, September 2010
Quick note: This photo supports Thematic Photographic's candid theme. Please click here to participate. It won't hurt.
We never really know how our kids will turn out. We do our best as parents, of course, by learning from our mistakes and from the mistakes of others. Sometimes, it seems like a never-ending, open-ended lab experiment, one that leaves you wondering if all you've done is enough.

The upshot of it all is that there really is no way to know. There isn't a teacher sitting at the front of the class, waving an exam with a letter grade on it. There's no end-of-semester, no finish line, no established metrics for knowing if you've passed or failed. But that's the way it is, so we deal with it.

A small token of validation sometimes comes from watching these little versions of us follow somewhat tentatively in our footsteps. Don't get me wrong, the last thing I'd ever want is for our kids to be carbon copies of us. They're their own people, and nothing brings us greater pride than to watch them follow, without fear, their own path through life. But I admit I get a little jolt of happiness when I see them cross my path, however fleetingly.

For example, all of our kids have become very comfortable around and motivated by cameras and photography. I've never pushed it on them, but I guess a lifetime of having lenses stuck in their faces has rubbed off. Our daughter just got her first Nikon, and she carries it with her wherever she goes. We review her work together and then she heads out and shoots some more. Listening to her talk about the joy she gets from recording the world around her is, frankly, a joy for me, too.

Here, our son explores the nearly-deserted restaurant around us (see here for a scene from the same night.) He was so careful and deliberate with his composition that I couldn't not pick up my wife's camera and record him, too. It made me happy knowing he was happily exploring this place through the lens. My lens. Maybe this parenting thing is going to work out, after all.

Your turn: Are your kids like you? Are you like your parents?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Off to the penalty box

Disciplinary action
London, ON, September 2010
[Click here for more Thematic candidness]

You may be surprised to learn that London has a hockey team, the Knights. They play in the Ontario Hockey League - not exactly the big leagues, but it's something we see more as an advantage than anything else.

See, we're a small-ish town, so we'll never have our own major league team. We get that. But it's that smallness that seems to play to our advantage. Games here are still affordable for the average family (vs. a four-figure night for the average Toronto Maple Losers fan) and sitting in the stands still feels like you're part of a community instead of a slick, marketing-driven, moneymaking machine. It filters down to the ice, too, as the players, still working their way up through the hockey hierarchy, haven't become megabuck, megawatt stars.

To wit, Daniel Erlich, #92, who plays centre. He visited our kids' school last year as part of the team's community outreach efforts, and they've been avidly following his progress ever since. He's being billeted by a family we know in the community, and he's been a regular guest on a radio morning show. He isn't a superstar - yet - but he's already the kind of person, a good soul with a tremendous work ethic, that my kids want to emulate.

So when we attended a recent game, I followed him with my camera for a bit because I knew the kids would love to have a picture or two of their favorite player. I've long been critical of how sports has tainted our definition of hero, but a hometown team like the Knights, with good kids like Erlich on the roster, is enough to soften my formerly curmudgeonly attitude.

Maybe he can teach the Maple Losers a thing or two about good sportsmanship, too.

Your turn: Can major/minor league sport ever return to its simpler roots?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Please don't squeeze the Charmin

Soft and strong
Toronto, ON
July 2010
About this photo: Thematic Photographic is celebrating candid this week. If you've got a candid shot you'd like to share - or if you just want to see what all the fuss is about - click here.
On a good day, shooting in public is a bit of a highwire act. In this post-9/11 era of paranoia, pulling out a big lens in a wide-open space may not be the smartest thing to do.

But done carefully, with quick, unobtrusive camera technique and a specific focus on avoiding identifying features, public photography is still, if not easy, at least possible. And a good challenge.

So as my brother-in-law and I wandered through Toronto's Yorkdale Shopping Centre on a bright afternoon, I looked over his shoulder and saw Ms. Charmin here. I think he knew I wanted to shoot her before I did. I already had the camera in my hand, so I wheeled and shot. As you can see, composition, focus and exposure are more than a little off. This shot won't be winning any awards, and I highly recommend against clicking it to zoom in - it's just that lousy. In fact, I came pretty close to deleting it off the camera. I kept coming back to it, kicking myself for not being more meticulous.

But that's the thing with candid shots: You may not have the opportunity for meticulousness. When you have zero time to think things through, a flawed result is often better than no result at all. Because photography doesn't always have to be perfect. The world it records, after all, is far from it.

Your turn: Do you self-edit less-than-perfect shots out of your archives? Do you sometimes wish you had held onto something that didn't make the technical grade?

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Running Man

Reckless abandon
London, ON, September 2010
[Thematic explores candid this week. You can, too, by clicking here]

It was the first day of school and for some odd reason I found myself standing on the roof of our kids' school. I'd been asked to take a group picture of all the kids in the school, so I figured a high-up perspective would make the resulting shot a bit more interesting than the usual head-on pose.

This was one of those nice-in-theory, not-so-great-in-reality ideas of mine, because once I went upstairs through the smokey hallways (please, don't ask) and climbed out on an adjacent balcony before hopping the fence onto the asphalt and definitely not human-friendly rooftop, I approached the side of the building and realized just how much space now separated me from terra firma. So I tiptoed near the edge and, as I waited for the bell to ring - perfect time to shoot was when they'd be lining up to head inside - I practiced on my kids to make sure I could shoot without suffering from vertigo.

Little man made it easy, because true to form he was his usual happy-to-the-core-of-his-being self. He hadn't yet spotted me in my sniper-like perch, so I quietly snapped away as he went about the very serious business of being a munchkin. As you can see, It's hard to avoid feeling his energy, and wishing that more of it would rub off.

Your turn: What's he thinking?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thematic Photographic 124 - Candid

Real or not?
Laval, QC, November 2010

[Click photo to embiggen]

Welcome to the new Thematic Photographic theme, candid. If you're new to our weekly photo sharing activity, the deal is actually pretty simple: Post a pic to your blog or web site, then leave a comment here letting people know where to find it. Feel free to visit other participants to share the joy. Repeat often. It's not a competition...just an informal way to stretch our photographic bounds a bit. Click here for more background, otherwise, buckle up for the ride...

About this pic: I'm in a shopping mall - Carrefour Laval - with my mom. I've been shopping for shoes, of all things, because my beloved old Sperry Top-Siders decided to wear out somewhere between London and Montreal. We're wandering through the top floor of The Bay - think old-style retail that's been around, I kid you not, for 340 years. As I pass a window display, I notice the silhouetted mannequins and make a mental note to return, because the aesthetic speaks to me.

Before long, we're done here, so we turn to leave. I remember the scene and ask my mom to follow me while we make a slight detour. I reach into my camera bag and pull out...my wife's camera. I sweep into the general area only to be confronted by a well-coiffed saleslady who masks the cigarette wrinkles on her face with too much makeup and burned-red dyed hair. She asks if she can help me. I flash a shopping bag from the Bay, identify myself as a journalist, and in rapid-fire Quebecois-joual French, tell her I'm taking a picture.

It's more a statement than anything else. I don't ask for permission and I don't wait for a response. I just sprawl down on my stomach - I figure a low angle works best - and quickly compose. People stop and stare. One less observant soul, the man on the left of this shot, wanders into the shot, apparently unaware that I'm shooting (and probably about to get my sorry tail kicked out of the store.)

But I don't want to be here very long in case the mall-rent-a-cops have been summoned. So I trip the shutter anyway. He wanders away before I shoot the second and third shots, but a quick check of the screen to ensure I've got something to justify this insane stunt confirms that the first shot is the keeper. I bubble about it with my mom as I get into the car, and indeed for the entire drive home. It's my favorite picture from the trip, and I hope you enjoy it, too.

Your turn: This week's theme, candid, is all about capturing people when they may not be aware you're doing so. It's about telling stories of people as they are, not as they're trying to be. It can take any form - remember, photography has nothing to do with right and wrong - and I know you'll have fun with it. As we've done in previous weeks, I'd like add a slight twist this week by encouraging each of you to bring along a friend for the photographic ride. This thing becomes even more fun the bigger it gets, no?

One more thing: I think I may have inadvertently teased this week's theme as sepia. Apologies for the confusion. I'll queue sepia up for next week.

Another view of the non-electric chair

London, ON, October 2010

Remember this shot? I used it to launch last week's Thematic, and at the time I promised I'd share the story behind it. In actuality, it's a simple one:

We were at a local restaurant for dinner and as we waited for our server to bring the kids something or other, I found myself wandering around the edge of the unusually quiet eatery. I tend to do that when things slow down. I'm not restless by nature, but quiet moments seem to give me time to think about my surroundings. And that inevitably leads to impromptu photography if I can avoid ticking off my very understanding wife in the process.

On this night, I had free rein, so I slowly moved around the space while the kids bantered with each other. All was right with the world, and I felt like the proverbial fly on the wall, observing unobtrusively from a distance, enjoying the simple act of being there.

Of course, nothing's ever perfectly simple with me. I almost tripped over this chair, tucked into temporary storage beside a wall and as I collected myself, realized it was just the kind of solid, peaceful scene that would forever remind me of this moment. I shot it in both black and white and color, and from different angles. Because perspective is all about how you choose to position yourself, and how you choose to view the world around you.

You just have to remember to take the time.

Your turn: How do you grab onto moments that matter?

One more thing: Thematic launches in less than two hours with its new theme: candid.

Shattered ground

Impending doom
Laval, QC, August 2009
Please note: This photo winds down our black & white* week. Click here if you've got any last-minute sharing to do. We launch our new Thematic theme, candid, tonight at 7:00 Eastern. Check back then!
The roads in and around Montreal, Quebec, Canada are subject to some very serious environmental challenges, which largely explains why you need springs under your car seat to survive pothole season. I grew up there, and when we moved away to a warmer place on the planet, my kidneys thanked me.

Freeze-thaw cycles are deadly to roads in this region, because water seeps in, then freezes and expands. As the processes repeats before, during and following winter, the pavement literally crumbles or shatters. If it isn't developing suspension-jarring potholes, it's cracking in spectacular - and potentially dangerous - form.

But when I'm not driving on it, I'm taking pictures of it. Because even something so destructive can have a redeeming quality or two.

Your turn: How do you find the positive in the negative?

* I think we all had a lot of fun with the black & white theme. I'm open to a sepia-themed week if you're all game. Let me know and I'll make it so. Either way, new Thematic launches tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Thanks!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Got change?

Playing the slots
London, ON, July 2009
About this photo: It's black & white week all week long. We call it Thematic Photographic, and if you want in, just follow your mouse here.
Before our dryer dried its last load last summer*, I didn't appreciate the virtues of the neighborhood laundromat. Silly me, because these places have a feel that almost begs to be experienced.

Laundromats also seem to have a slightly forgotten-by-time aesthetic about them. This, of course, feeds the photographic machine rather nicely. So while our whites and delicates spun their little permanent press hearts out, I explored the place with my lens.

Funny, but now that we have a working washer-dryer set, I find myself hankering to return to the laundromat. You never know what you'll find there, and what stories you'll bring back.

Your turn: Got a laundromat story? Or a laundry story?

* Please see here, here and here for more background on our laundry adventure. This one's my favorite, as it involved an inadvertent near-meetup with a fellow London blogger.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Is Prince William a Beatles fan?

Journalism's an interesting profession. Even if you specialize in a particular space - in my case, tech - you tend to cast a wide net as you scan the planet in search of ideas. You never know where the next spark will come from, so it makes little sense to limit yourself just to the tech pages.

Which largely explains why I found myself watching two stories today that, at least on the surface, shouldn't hold much interest for a tech writer. If you're just joining us, Prince William announced his engagement to Kate Middleton, and Apple announced the immediate availability of the entire Beatles catalog via iTunes.

The cynic in me scoffs at both of these announcements. I'm very happy for Prince William and his now-fiancee. I wish them a life of happiness and health. Like anyone else (remember these words, please), they deserve their shot at happiness. I just fail to understand why the world needs to stop every time a royal decides to get married, get divorced, or simply stop by the side of the road to take in a particularly spectacular view.

I appreciate the great weight of history inherent in all things related to the monarchy, but I bristle at the way modern society deifies the royal family and turns even the most trivial life event into a cause celebre. Is there such thing as a point where it becomes beyond-trivial? Because if it exists, I think we may have passed it long ago.

By the same token, Apple was its typical hyperbolic self during the leadup to today's Beatles/iTunes announcement. The corporate website promised today would be a day we "would never forget." I must apologize for failing to fully internalize the deep, history-making significance of making a defunct-but-once-globally-popular band's music available online. If you're a Beatles fan, you no longer have to truck your middle-aged self to the soon-to-be-shuttered record store to buy, again, what you've probably bought four times previously.

So the royals now have renewed hope for future relevancy and Beatles fans enter the dawn of the iTunes era. For the rest of us, though, the kids still have to get to school, bills still have to be paid, and ordinary and extraordinary realities alike remain unchanged. Call me a curmudgeon, if you will (those meddling kids...) but I think I'd rather focus on the mundane, less headline-generating stuff closer to home.

Like anyone else.

More publishing...

I've been busy with my pen lately, which gives me a good chance to catch you up on things I've recently published, as well as a quick housekeeping change here at Written Inc. First, the new stuff:

Yahoo! Canada Finance:
  • Size does matter when it comes to tablet products (published November 16th). I couldn't resist having some fun with the language, or tossing in a couple of gratuitous Goldilocks references. Bottom line is tablets are going to be huge, and 2011 is shaping up to be a pivotal year. I see lots more tablet writing in my future, but I'll start with this one.
  • Is Microsoft a dinosaur? (published November 8th). Short answer is no, the company is anything but extinct. MS has, in fact, been doing some pretty cool stuff (hello, Kinect) to position itself for the post-Windows and post-Office world.
The Toronto Star:
  • Move over iPhone and BlackBerry. Here comes Android (published November 5). Google's Android mobile operating system is now more popular in the U.S. than Apple's iPhone and RIM's BlackBerry. How did this upstart seemingly come out of nowhere to lead the market? The article explains all.
  • I believe there's another print-only Facebook Messaging piece in today's paper - if any Torontonians have a copy and want to take a peek, let me know. Finding it in my 'burg is proving to be a cast iron, um, challenge.
Oh, the housekeeping thing. Almost forgot. If you look at the top of the blog, right below the banner, you'll notice a line of links...Home, About, Contact, etc. I've added links for Yahoo! and the Star here to more easily track my latest published work. I publish elsewhere, too, so I may yet add stuff in this space over the next little while. Let me know what you think.

Your turn: What bugs you about tech?

Foam as metaphor

London, ON
March 2010

You get the strangest looks from people when you lean in for an artsy-looking photo of styrofoam. They think you're a little odd-kilter. They don't necessarily have to say it. The look in their eye, the raised eyebrow, the slight catch in their voice: Yup, they clearly think you're weird.

Which is fine, because you wouldn't want to pass up an opportunity to entertain them. Life's too short to spend it sitting quietly within the crowd. Sometimes, you've got to get up and stretch your legs, even if it means getting some stares along the way.

This picture makes me more than a little sad. We've reached a point in our evolution as a species that we give no thought to what it takes to move stuff from one side of the planet to the other. We think we're technological wizards for merely having that ability, for being able to build supply chains that get the highest quality goods to our doorstep at the lowest possible price.

We don't think too much about the resources required to make all this happen. And as I stared at this styrofoam - which, in my neck of the woods, isn't recyclable, and probably demanded some seriously noxious materials and processes during its manufacture - I wondered if we'd ever return to the day when things were made close to home, and it didn't take a PhD in chemical engineering to get it to your doorstep unbroken.

Somewhere along the way, I fear we lost the script.

Your turn: Did we? Is cheaply made stuff from China going to kill our planet?

One more thing: It's not too late to share your black & white vision as part of this week's Thematic. Just go here to participate. We promise you no styrofoam will be harmed in the process.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Screw it

Phillips head
Laval, QC, July 2009
[Click here for more black white Thematic]

Remember the other day when I wrote about looking for things that no one else would (link here)? Well, our son, Zach, seems to have inherited the same gene, as he captured this closeup of a screw head during one of his shoots. He didn't need a reason to take it, which was the whole point of the exercise.

Because not everything needs a reason, and I hope my kids learn this lesson whether or not they've got a camera in their hands.

Your turn: Do you learn life lessons through your photography? Would you like to share one with us?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Facebook E-mail - Just Say No

The rumor mills are swirling at warp speed with news that Facebook is set to launch its own e-mail service tomorrow. The so-called Fmail (formerly known as Project Titan, or Facebook's Gmail killer) is seen as another front in the growing war between Google and Facebook for dominance of the web services world.

Why is this so important? I'll be overly simple: Because whoever gets more people like you and me to spend more time hanging out online with their particular services wins the right to see more advertising.

There's way more to it than that, of course, but a titanic battle is shaping up, and Google may find itself on a slippery slope if it doesn't play this one right. Pop some popcorn, pull up a chair and enjoy the show.

Your turn: Would you use Facebook Mail? I'll pre-bias the discussion here: I would, because I can't comment on or write about things that I don't use first-hand. But I wouldn't be happy about it. Facebook's spotty record on the privacy front gives me great pause. This is the company that allows third party developers to quietly scaff personal data from your Facebook account every time you so much as answer a question online. Are you really going to trust them with your personal - and increasingly professional - correspondence?

One more thing: I discussed this very issue on-air this afternoon with John Downs, host of Newstalk 1010's Sundays with John Downs. If you're a CFRB listener who tuned in and have dropped in for a read, welcome! As this is shaping up to be a major topic for the coming week, I expect I'll be writing about it in some capacity over the next few days. Stay tuned.

Something wicked this way comes

Building sky
Laval, QC, July 2009
[Click photo to enlarge. Click here to share your own black & white pic]

Remember when we were kids and we'd lie on the lawn for hours at a stretch, staring at the passing clouds and trying to guess what they looked like? Don't tell anyone I'm still doing this well into adulthood. Who says there's a threshold for wonder, anyway?

The day I took this shot, I wasn't lying on the lawn. I was in the middle of what seemed to be the largest parking lot this side of a Boeing factory or a Texas football stadium. It was a hot, muggy summer day that promised to turn into a late-afternoon thunderfest. As we waited for the atmospheric entertainment to play itself out, the skies looked so, I don't know, rich with potential. I knew something was going on up there, so I picked up my decidedly non-childlike slab of a camera and tried to remember the feel of the moment.

When I was finished shooting, I reviewed the results on my camera's screen and thought I saw my dog's head over there on the right. Maybe I was just imagining it.

Your turn: What do you see in this sky? Do you stare at clouds, too?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sitting by the dock of the bay

Where no one looks
London, ON, May 2009
About this photo: Thematic Photographic celebrates black and white week. You can, too, simply by heading here.
Rules and photography don't exactly mix, at least as far as I'm concerned. There's a certain conventional wisdom among the point-and-shoot set that dictates the kinds of pictures that are and are not generally taken. Conventional wisdom subsequently results in conventional outcomes: Groups of folks staring at and smiling at the camera, head-on perspectives of famous buildings, the kind of things that ensure Cousin Sid's slide show will have us asleep within four minutes.

Don't get me wrong: There's plenty of opportunity for the smiling groups and the big, tall, iconic buildings, the birthday cakes and the pre-prom corsage pictures. But there's got to me more, too, because otherwise there are entire swaths of the planet that are completely ignored.

As an example, I'd like to present this loading dock at the back of a local mall. Shoppers don't give it a second thought as they rush inside in rapt anticipation of a new sweater that's more wanted than needed. Which likely explains why I'm drawn to it. Because it explains the background that makes the foreground possible. Because if I don't tell its story, no one will. That and I have no interest in telling the same story as everyone else.

Your turn: Taking pictures no one else does. Why?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thematic Photographic 123 - Black and White

A place to sit and ponder
London, ON, October 2010

This photo launches a new theme and a new week for Thematic Photographic, our weekly photo sharing extravaganza. The theme? Black and white. The deal? Share a similarly themed pic on your site, then leave a comment here. Visit other participants. Repeat as often as you wish. And have fun with it, because that's the whole point.

As you mull over possible photos for this new theme, I hope you'll keep this in mind: Black and white isn't necessarily a color thing. Sure, you can go with monochrome shots all week and never run out of cool things to share. But you can also push the bounds a bit by, perhaps, not thinking in terms of colors at all. Black and white can be obvious. It can be contrasty. It can be stark. It can evoke a feeling more than a visual. Where you go with this is entirely up to you, and there are no rights or wrongs.

Your turn: If you're new to TP, click here for more background. If you're ready to dive in, I'll step out of the way and let you do just that. Enjoy. And thanks.

One more thing: This pic has a story (I know, I know...they all do, but still.) I may share it later this week if you wish. Let me know. This just in: I've posted the story here.

Please remember...

We have the lives we have because they sacrificed theirs. Something to keep in mind not only on November 11th, but on any given day of the year as well.

Your turn: How will you remember? Why does it matter to you?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Transmission ends

Fading light
London, ON, January 2009
About this photo: It's not too late to get in on the electric theme. Click here to see what everyone's talking about. Okay, maybe not everyone. Maybe just my kids and the three soon-to-be-ex-friends I've been harassing all week. Either way, you'll like the experience. New Thematic theme launches tomorrow. I think I'm leaning toward black and white.
Sunset makes me think of the day that's about to end and that we'll never get back. As I stare at the deepening oranges and reds that paint the sky in a brilliant yet ephemeral display, I ask myself if I made the most of the day, if I made it count. Indeed, it's what I encourage the kids to do whenever I send them off to school, and it's what I ask them when they're done: Did they make it count?

Regardless of whether they - or we - do or don't, the sun will eventually slip below the horizon, the sky will darken and the day will slip, quietly, into history. We can't control the sun, nor can we change our planet's rotation. So while our closest celestial bodies do their thing, it's up to us do to ours.

For most of us, the sun will rise again in the morning, giving us an entirely new, fresh opportunity to make it count. Another chance to seize the day and make it our own. To make it count.

Your turn: How did you make your day count today?

Hypertexting teens and me

According to a study released earlier this week by Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, teenagers who send over 120 text messages per day are apparently more likely to engage in risky behaviors like drug use and unprotected sex. Who knew?

In fairness, the researchers said this doesn't imply a causal relationship. It simply draws a correlation that invites further study. Whatever: It makes for great headlines, and they certainly got lots of those from across the continent after they went public.

My take: Every generation has its own issues with new technologies, and every new technology comes with a dark side. Overuse anything and it, too, will potentially spawn some questionable outcomes. This should hardly be a surprise to any of us. We should also hardly be pulling phones from our kids' hands because their use will make them have sex and do drugs. It's not that simple.

I had some media fun with this one, speaking with CTV's Daniele Hamamdjian for a report that aired on the national 11 p.m. newscast (Report video here.) I also spoke with Priya Mann from 'A' News here in London, for a report that led off the London 11 p.m. show. Will upload video once I get it off my BlackBerry. (Update: Here's the video. It's also embedded below. I come in around the 0:50 mark. Enjoy the jumpiness.)

Your turn: Do teens text too much? Is this all needless hype?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Keep on truckin'

Jennings, GA, January 2009
[Click here for more Thematic electric goodness.]

Our just-in-time economy has gifted us with highways clogged with 18-wheelers and motorists who feel their only option for survival is to buy Cadillac Escalades and Ford F-150 Lariats. Seriously, folks, Lariats?

It's rather amusing to witness the mindless logic of North American one-upmanship, the mistaken belief that size is good and lack thereof is not. But it is what it is, and the trend probably won't be reversing anytime soon. This never-ending superpower arms race of road weapons has a plus side, though: local Wal-Marts everywhere never run out of pool noodles and Timex Ironman Triathlon watches. G-d bless America!

Doesn't mean I can't sneak a peak at some colorful connectors when we're in the left lane. Don't worry: I wasn't driving.

Your turn: Finding the good in something that isn't. Please discuss.

One more thing: Another road trip looms ahead as I stare out at the still-sleeping city that used to be mine. I've been away from home these past few days, and I'll be spending a good chunk of the day shortening, and ultimately eliminating, the 735 km between me and my family. It's been good to be here, an important time to connect with friends and extended family. But it's time to go home.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Electric tablet

Apple sure doesn't need any additional marketing help from me. On the one hand, the company invents buzz in ways other companies can only dream. On the other, I write and talk about this company plenty. So why am I blogging about them?

Because this scene spoke to me when I first saw it. Because when folks step outside the box, they deserve to be recognized. Because this is the kind of marketing that makes you stop and go, "Neat". And so I did.

Look closely. All is not as it appears.

Your turn: Most ads are forgettable, but some rise above the crowd. Did you see an ad - in any form - recently or ever that stuck out in your mind?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Clickety clack

Freeze the countryside
Somewhere between Toronto and London, March 2009
Please note: This photo supports the Thematic Photographic electric week. What's a Thematic and how can you get involved? Glad you asked. Click here and all will be explained.
There are a few laws of photography and optics that dictate the futility of shooting out the window of a speeding train. I've never been one for laws or rules, anyway, so perhaps it's just as well that I ignored the scowls of the dude sitting across the aisle as I pointed my camera toward the speeding terrain. Maybe he wanted me to take pictures of him, instead.


Weirdo passengers aside, it was a late Southern Ontario afternoon as I cruised home from a day in the big city. It had been a good day all around, and I was looking forward to reconnecting with my family, growing closer by the second.

As you read this, I'm on another road trip. Waaaaay before dawn today, I set out in my car for Montreal. I'm heading back alone because, well, no one lives forever, and sometimes you just need to be among friends. This entry will auto-post in the afternoon, and if the BlackBerry fairies allow it, I'll try to share some thoughts - and maybe a lousy smarthphone pic or two - from my journey.

I'm sure at some point I'm going to wish I'd been on the train instead.

Your turn: The appeal - or not - of solo travel. Please discuss.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Thematic Photographic 122 - Electric

Energy savers
London, ON, October 2010
If you're impatient, start here: Thematic Photographic launches its next week of fun with a new theme. electricity. If you're already well-versed on the insanity that is TP, post your pic, leave a comment here and have fun with it. If you're new to our weekly photo sharing activity, click here.
If you want the backstory, read this: Lately, electricity's been in the news fairly regularly here in Ontario. Government mismanagement (there, I said it) has resulted in skyrocketing baseline rates, coupled with a botched implementation of smart meters and a hair-brained layering of the new Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) on top of it all. Stories of bills doubling and tripling are not uncommon. Citizens are ready to torch Queens Park, the Ontario legislature building.

To say we're being governed by monkeys would cast monkeys in an unfairly negative light. I hope our Premier and grand poobah, one Dalton McGuinty, watched the U.S. elections carefully last night. There may be a little foreshadowing going on.

Oops, I got political! Doesn't happen often, but when it slips out, far be it for me to snuff it out.

There, I'm good. So...electricity. Yes. Triple-digit bills are prompting many among us to look for ways to save. Replacing conventional filament-based bulbs with these compact fluorescents seems like a no-brainer. Same light for less than a quarter of the energy. Ah yes, but there's the dirty little secret of these bulbs, that they have a small amount of mercury in them, and as of now there's no recycling process in place.

No one ever said being green would be easy.

Your turn: Please post an electrically-themed pic on your blog or site, then leave a comment here so folks know where to find it. Remember: how you interpret it is entirely up to you. There are no rights or wrongs here, so if you want to stretch things well beyond the bounds of conventionality, go for it.

Oh yes, one additional wrinkle this week: kindly send the TP link to a friend. I'd like to see more folks playing along because, well, bigger is always better. And I know y'all enjoy this. Thanks gang!

Angelo bakes no more

London, ON, February 2009

The Angelo's market near our house abruptly closed its doors yesterday (news story). Rumors of trouble within the 4-store operation had been building for weeks. Two stores had already closed, but this latest closure leaves only the original location open.

This is the place my kids loved. This is where my cycling group used to stop for fruit juice and a chat on our Sunday morning rides. This was the local business that reminded us so much of the bakeries and markets we grew up with. In a whitebread city like London, where richly character-driven places like this simply don't exist, the loss of a business that stood out is an especially tough shot to the gut.

Some of you may recall that I wrote about this place last year (link here). I was out with the little folks, and we ended up having one of those encounters that they'll never forget. Caroline was the daughter of the founder, and I hope she's doing OK in the wake of this business mess. A lot of good folks no longer have a great place to work; I can't help but feel that our city has lost something significant.

Your turn: The difference between locally-owned businesses and chains. Please discuss.

About this photo: We're winding down our yellow-themed week. New Thematic launches tonight at 7:00 p.m. What'll the theme be? How's about electric?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Sunflower in the shade

Yellow petals
London, ON, September 2010
[Please click here to share your yellow-themed perspective]

The world can be an ugly place. Flowers make it prettier. Please discuss.

The Canadian government wants to spy on us

Warning: Tech rant coming. But then I'm on TV. So it's not all bad.

Perhaps I'm overstating things in the headline, but not by much. It turns out the U.S. isn't the only place on the planet with a ridiculously oddball political landscape. Despite our reputation as mild-mannered hosers, Canadians can make political headlines, too.

To wit, our minority Conservative government, headed by none other than Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is introducing two bills that would greatly expand the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate citizens' online activities (background story here.) For the record, the bills are known as the Investigative Power for the 21st Century Act and the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act. Ooh, big words, I know. But what do they mean?

Simple: If these bills are passed, Internet service providers (ISPs) would be compelled to track and store information on our online activities. Send an e-mail, do a Google search, Skype your ex...your ISP will know, and they'll be forced, by law, the store it all in a database.

Part 2 is even more fun: Law enforcement agencies would be able to tap into this personal data without a warrant.

Now, don't get me wrong. Cops have been screaming for years that they need better tools to go after cybercriminals. They need more powerful, accelerated means of going after child pornographers, identity thieves and other freaks of the modern age. I get that, and I'll do everything in my power to support their quest to keep us safe.

But these bills, as currently structured, turn ISPs into proxies and open up massive privacy holes. I'm not so naive as to believe that ISPs don't already have this capability. Do anything online and you leave a footprint that is easily trackable by the dumbest of the dumb. But if this becomes law, ISPs will now be compelled to keep much richer datasets on our activities. And cops won't need a warrant to pore through the results. Due diligence much? Not anymore.

More ominously, do you really think your ISP - with outsourced tech support in Bangladesh - will keep a lid on your personal data? Do you think no-warrant access to every last bit about your online life is a good idea? My take: it'll open up a Pandora's Box, and it's a road we don't necessarily want to go down.

Want to improve law enforcement's ability to catch bad guys? Don't give them new, Draconian legislation. Instead, give them money and resources so they can hire and train the best of the best and give them the best technology humankind can buy. There's nothing in the current laws of the land that keeps them from kicking some cybercriminal butt.

Bills much like these two are nothing new. This is the fourth kick at the can in recent years, and they've died on the docket every time before. If Canadians are lucky, they'll die this time, too.

I did a live interview with CTV News Channel's Dan Matheson this afternoon, and the video can be found here.

Your turn: What thinketh you?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

What would have been

His old self
Laval, QC, July 2009

My father would have been 76 today. In the little-over-a-year since we lost him, I've wrestled with how I should mark the various milestones that have come and gone in his absence. Birthdays, anniversaries, whatever they are, the calendar has a nasty habit of serving up bitterness just when you thought you could handle the memories.

Well, I'm learning that there is no "should", no pat schedule that governs how we are expected to mark these events, no rules that determine whether or not it's acceptable to post a photo or even mark the day at all. So in the absence of a defined framework, I've simply decided to do what feels right to me. And sharing this specific photo feels right.

Why this one? I could have chosen any picture from the few months leading up to last September. But there's something in this one that all the others lack. It's likely the final picture of him where he looks...like himself. Not sick, not tired, not resigned to whatever comes next. No, here, at this moment, he was dressed nattily, his usual sharp-looking self, holding court with a crowd of people gathered at a party, because no one worked a crowd as well as he did.

What I remember from that night was his voice was strong, his eyes were sparkling, his spirit was intact. He bantered with me as I shoved the camera in his face, as I had done so often throughout our shared life. He was my dad as I had always known him, and for once I didn't have to play with the camera to shield what years of sickness had done to him.

It's too late for birthdays, of course, but I felt I needed to remember the day, his day, in some way. Thank you for your indulgence.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Candle in the wind

That warm glow
London, ON, October 2010

As we continue our exploration of all things yellow (follow your mouse here for more Thematic Photographic yellow-themed goodness) it occurs to me that this particular optical wavelength is more commonly associated with happiness than more sober colors like, say, grey or black.

I don't know why this is so, or why some colors tend to mean different things in different cultures. In my own stumblings through the universe, yellow has always cast a happy glow over my life. It was a warm, sunny day when I first met the woman I'd someday marry. The bike that carried me ultra-long distances across town during my most hard-core years as a bike commuter was banana-yellow. Speaking of bananas, I wouldn't have had the stamina to ride that far without them. All in all, yellow's been good to me.

And so we come to these candles. Every Friday, my wife lights them with our daughter. It's a tradition, both in our home and in the legacy of who we are. Mothers and daughters light candles to welcome in Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath). Everything stops as they light them and say the blessing, then wish everyone in the house a happy and peaceful Shabbat. It's a small thing, really, but such a touchstone of our family and our daughter's relationship with her mom that it's something I've long tried to capture with a camera.

I doubt this picture does the trick, but it'll have to suffice for now. Because that friendly yellow glow simply continues the warm fuzzies I've long felt every time I cross paths with a certain woman who inexplicably still loves me. Thank goodness for small miracles.

Your turn: Do you have a color/life/happy to share? Please do!

One more thing: Please find the person closest to you and wish him/her a happy new month. It's a small thing, I know. But small things add up.