Monday, January 31, 2011

Can you bend light?

West Palm Beach, FL, December 2010

I may not be able to bend light, but that doesn't mean I won't elbow someone else's bratty kids out of the way so I can grab this image of a science museum exhibit.

Okay, I didn't elbow anyone. I'm Canadian, and we're way too polite to ever behave in that manner. Rather, I waited patiently for the bratty kids to ADHD their way to the next display - "ooh look, over there...shiny!" - before taking out my camera and having some fun in the almost-dark. It was a quick, improvised shot that probably shouldn't have turned out remotely decent. But I was having a good day in a cool place with my wife and kids, and somehow I got a little lucky.

Sometimes, this camera thing can be a kick.

Your turn: How do you shoot in crowds without getting everyone else's elbows - or worse - in the frame?

One more thing: This photo supports the latest Thematic theme, curves. It's nowhere near too late to share your own, so click here and have fun with it.

Like Saturn's rings...

Abstract light
London, ON, February 2010
[Please click here to share your own curved vision]

This is another one of those abstract-in-the-everyday moments that literally appeared to me when I looked up. I was at an indoor playground, of all places, watching the kids frolic with their friends, so it wasn't exactly a prime photographic environment. If we're being brutally honest, it was hellish, with hastily painted surfaces assaulting my eyes, screaming children assaulting my ears and a growing migraine working its way through my brain stem.

But even the most barren deserts have their charms, and such was the case on this day. For a brief moment, I found solace in a neat example of optics in a place where no one else seemed to care.

Your turn: What's the most desert-like place where you've taken compelling photos? Can you share one?

One more thing: Possible song reference in the title. Guesses?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Dripping wet

The pause that refreshes
London, ON

February 2010

[Click photo to embiggen]
About this photo: It's curves week and you're invited to the curvy party. What the heck am I talking about? Click here and all will be explained.
You'll laugh if I tell you where I captured this photo. I will say that it reinforced my long-held belief that soul-stirring moments happen in the most surprising places, and you can't stop yourself from drinking them in just because people gather around you in a semi-circle and stare at you like you're nuts. Do it anyway and forget what anyone else thinks.

You know, the more I do this photo thing, the more I realize that the lessons I'm learning behind the lens pretty much apply on the other side, too. Learning about life by spending time with a Nikon: Who would have thought?

Your turn: What has photography taught you?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

25 years after Challenger

I'm a day late, but I still didn't want the quarter century anniversary of the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger and her crew to slip into history unnoticed.

I just finished watching the Progress 41 cargo ship dock to the Pirs compartment on the International Space Station. Twenty-five years and a day after Challenger tumbled into the Atlantic, the fantastically complex and near-miraculous business of space continued uninterrupted some 220 miles above our heads. And I got to watch it from my netbook as I wandered around the house excitedly showing the Internet-streamed spectacle anyone I could find.

I'm nowhere near convinced we've learned our lessons from that terrible morning a generation ago - among them, communicate with each other, and appreciate that any technology is subject to the same weaknesses inherent in those who created it - because since then we've lost another orbiter and witnessed the slow dismantling of America's space program.

President Obama may have been trying to evoke JFK when he dropped the "Sputnik moment" line during last week's State of the Union address, but the sad reality is western society no longer believes space exploration deserves priority treatment or funding. The myopia which had clouded U.S. space policy decisions since the end of the Apollo era is showing no signs of clearing up. If anything, it's worsening. Which makes me wonder what the astronauts who died trying to build a space-based future would have thought.

Your turn: Does space exploration have a future? Should it? Why/why not?

One more thing: I'm a bit of a space-head, and have written about this subject both on this blog and in print in years past. Here's what I wrote five years ago, and here's a column I wrote in the wake of the second shuttle accident.

Friday, January 28, 2011

When life throws you curves... throw them right back.

I've lost count of how many curves I've fielded over the last couple of years. It would be easy to add them all up and conclude that life is a never-ending excuse to feel down.

But here's the thing: that would be a mistake. The point is, as challenging as life is, it's probably the one biggest gift we'll ever receive. My late dad used to say he woke up this morning, and nothing else beyond that mattered. He was right.

So for the next week as we contemplate curves and how they arrive in our midst, I hope we'll consider the fact that there are two sides to any curve. Whether we choose to focus on one side or the other is entirely up to us.

Your turn: What does the bright side of your curve look like?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thematic Photographic 132 - Curves

Waiting for a cruise
London, ON, November 2010

I've always had a thing for the Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, especially in its convertible form. It was - and still is, for those lucky enough to own one - a lovingly designed car that happened to be relatively affordable. Time has been good to the Karmann, and it ranks, to me anyway, as a timeless example of thoughtful, functional engineering.

I think this well maintained example of the breed is a great way to launch our new Thematic Photographic theme, curves. I hope you're game for some curvy fun with your lens over the next week.

Your turn: The deal is fairly simple. Just take a picture with a curve in it and post it to your blog. Leave a comment here, and visit other participants to spread the joy. Feel free to share already-posted or archival work, too. Don't be afraid to stretch the bounds when deciding how to interpret the theme - there are no rights and wrongs here. And have fun, because that's why we do this. Click here for more background on how Thematic works.

Into the blue forest

Painted by the fog
London, ON, February 2010
[Click photo to embiggen]

A neat thing happens in the early morning fog as the light tends to shift toward the blue side of the spectrum. I'm pretty sure there's a valid optical reason for it, and I'll leave our budding physicists to explain the intricacies of it all.

The only thing that mattered to me at the moment I took this was making sure the picture reflected that mysterious sense of quiet that settles over a place when the fog rolls in. It isn't just that the sounds were hushed - they, of course, were - but rather that the silence managed to embed itself deep inside my head.

When the only thing you can hear is the sound of yourself thinking, you know it's a special moment that deserves a bookmark of some sort.

Your turn: How do you define true silence?

One more thing: This photo supports our blue Thematic theme. Feel free to click here if you'd like to share yours (you know, it's never really too late!) And check back later today - 7:00 p.m. Eastern - when we launch our next weekly theme. What will it be? Well, what would you like it to be? We're happily taking suggestions in comments.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Corvette summer

Crossed flag classic
London, ON, July 2010
About this photo: It's Thematic's blue week. Click here. Because life's always a little sweeter with a bit of color.
Logically, this automotive badge makes no sense. The car to which it is attached is not propelled by a turbocharged engine. Close inspection of the vehicle reveals no evidence of anything remotely resembling a jet, either. It's eight cylinders of normally aspirated American open-road glory, folks, and marketing precision is proudly not part of the equation.

In a similarly logical vein, I know that this car, engineered around the time Canada celebrated its hundredth birthday, falls far short of modern automotive standards for performance, efficiency and safety. Today's vehicles can go faster on less fuel, with far greater levels of protection for their passengers. I'm pretty sure the four-door grandpa-mobile I rented on our recent vacation had more horsepower than this thing - not to mention enough room for our luggage. And a fairly decent in-car entertainment system, too.

But here's the thing: None of that matters when you come face-to-face with an icon of automotive history. Logic means little when the engineering and design of a bygone era reach across the decades and hold you, riveted in place, as you stare at every lovingly conceived curve.

Is it as optimally aerodynamic as your neighbor's Prius? Does anybody really care? This is as close to driveway art as we're ever going to get, so I'm content to just hang out beside it for a bit, content in the knowledge that today's eco-conscious, PC world still has room for pieces of history that still inspire.

I doubt my kids will have similar moments in their driveways 30 years on with a 2010 Toyota Camry.

Your turn: Why does history intrigue us?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Welcome to the urban jungle

London, ON, July 2010
[Please click here to share your own blue-themed vision]

The typical street in the typical city is littered with buildings designed to provide shelter for the lowest possible cost. Gargoyles, patinas and flourishes have no place today's bottom line economy. In their place we get cinderblocks, straight lines and a decided lack of anything remotely unique.

The result: Streetscapes that don't vary from one part of town to another. Indeed, towns themselves have little to differentiate themselves from others. It's a never-ending stream of sameness, and it's easy to understand when folks simply decide to stop paying attention. Why bother if it's all the same?

Well, even among the sameness, there's variation. In this case, I was standing in a gas station when I noticed this concrete-painted mural. They pop up here and there in our burg, little slivers of art where you least expect them, the perfect antidote to the epidemic of sameness.

Your turn: Can small things like this make a difference?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Taking Facebook to work

Lots of Canadians use social media while at work. I'm sure we're not alone, of course, but a story in the Toronto Star last week contained some eye-popping numbers on just how pervasive it is.

I spoke with CTV News Channel's Marcia Macmillan on Sunday afternoon about all the time we're apparently frittering away updating our statuses and tagging each photos of each other. My conclusion? It's not as dire as it looks. Here's the video.

Your turn: Do you use social media at work? For personal use? Professional? Both? Does your boss know/care? Should this even be an issue?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Three amigos

The next generation
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2010
[Please click here to share your own blue-themed pic]

I get the occasional razz for not posting more pictures of our kids. It's a critique I take seriously, as one of the original goals of this blog was to shrink the distance between us here in our adopted burg and the rest of our family back home.

But a funny thing happens between intent and reality. Namely, the game plan changes. Life gets in the way. People get busy. The kids don't want to pose together. And not everyone wants to see endless pictures of the kids, anyway.

So on the rare occasions when they do consent to stop and be photographed while:

1) in relatively close proximity to one another; and
2) one of them does not have a sibling in a headlock; and
3) rabbit ears are blessedly absent

I grab the opportunity as quickly as I possibly can. Because no one really knows when it'll happen again.

Your turn: How do you get kids to pay attention long enough to grab 'em for a picture?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Swing kid

Richmond Hill, ON
April 2010
[Please click here to share your Thematic blue]

I've been trying to learn how to stop time. Despite my stunning lack of success to-date, I'm slowly realizing that this may not be the point after all. We may, now and forever, lack the technology to stop time in its tracks, but there's nothing stopping us from learning how to squeeze a little more out of its passage.

In other words, the vehicle may always move at the same speed. But with the right attitude, we can teach ourselves to enjoy the trip a lot more.

In that light, I present this moment with our daughter. She's growing fast, so she won't always want to swing on the swing. But on this spring day, she did. So I positioned myself as closely as I dared to capture what it looked - and maybe even felt - like to try to touch the sky.

I can't stop time any better than she can defy gravity. And before long, she'll be so busy with life's other challenges that the thought of heading over to the playground will seem laughably juvenile. But on this day, none of that mattered as we opened our eyes just long enough to enjoy this fleeting moment of her fast forward life.

Your turn: Can you stop time?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Thematic Photographic 131 - Blue

He has the power
West Palm Beach, FL, December 2010

We're going back to basics with this week's Thematic Photographic theme, blue. At its simplest, pick photos with blue in them and share them to your heart's content. If you really want to stretch things, feel free to explore not just what blue looks like, but what it feels like - a bummed out child, a sad-looking scene, etc. If it looks or feels blue, we want to see it.

That's it!

Oh, and have fun. Because that's why I first came up with this weekly photo sharing activity. And why it remains such a joy.

Your turn:
Share a blue-themed pic, then pop back here and leave a comment letting folks know where to find it. Repeat. Bonus points if you bring a friend along for the ride. Click here if you're new to the Thematic thing.

When guns come to your kid's school

I was in Toronto yesterday, but my trusty BlackBerry kept feeding me regular updates of what was going on back home. The one that got my attention was the report of a lockdown at a high school - Mother Teresa Secondary - not a 10-minute drive from my house. All doors and windows were locked and the lights were shut off after witnesses reported seeing someone with a gun on campus.

Our kids don't go there, but my first thought was that it could just as easily have been my kids' school. It can be anyone's school, anywhere, anytime. Welcome to the modern age.

I put it out of my mind as I went back into my meetings, but as I headed through intense snow and traffic on my way home, my BlackBerry once again chirped. Patrick Maloney, a reporter for the London Free Press, wanted my perspective on how kids with cell phones and smartphones can affect how events like this play out. He wanted to know if I felt it was a good or a bad thing for kids to be texting in the middle of a crisis. Here's the result*:
For one technology expert, the Mother Teresa incident underscores the positives of letting cellphones in -- though he cautions it's not always a good thing.

"In many cases, in crisis situations, the facts people don't know can cause panic," said Carmi Levy, a London-based technology analyst.

"If properly used, (social media technology) can shed light on events and help people navigate them more easily."

But they can also spread rumours, he notes.

"That's the dark side of texting and social media . . . there are no checks and balances," he said. "It's just as easy to distribute bad information."

The full article, Students text to spread lockdown news quickly, may be found here.

Your turn: So what do you think? Do social media/texting-savvy teens help or hinder matters when bad stuff happens at school?

One more thing: Next Thematic - new theme, blue - will launch tonight at 7:00 Eastern. A little late, I know, but it's been a busy week. Thank you for your understanding.

*I lied, make that two: I wore a headset, Officer Bob.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

One fish, two fish

Addiction is a funny beast. If it involves alcohol, drugs, gambling, or some noxious combination of same, it's generally perceived as a bad thing. But get hooked on Glee, orange juice or the grandaddy of them all, phonics, and you'd be forgiven for not making it past the third of the 12 steps.

Which is my way of admitting I'm addicted to the arcane subset of photography that involves walking into a grocery store and taking pictures of whatever's on sale. I have no idea how this little vice of mine took root or why it's evolved as it has. I do know that it's almost gotten me escorted out of the Wal-Mart once, and it's resulted in my being left alone by my annoyed wife on more than one occasion. Yet I still persist.

It's not as if the resulting photos are especially unique. They're pictures of everyday foods, after all, shot hastily under bad lighting, often with my BlackBerry's camera because to haul out the DSLR might actually result in my being forcibly ejected or, gasp, hauled in for questioning by mall cop wannabes. I won't be blowing these up to poster size or submitting them for gallery displays.

Then why?

Because I view grocery shopping as one of those necessities of modern life that, depending on our attitude can either be a chore or an opportunity for enjoyment. I choose enjoyment. When I tag along with my wife, it's a date. It isn't champagne and candles at some swanky restaurant, but that's precisely the point. It doesn't have to be. It's simply a time for us to be together, and I've never believed in limiting those opportunities to nights out or special occasions.

Indeed, special occasions can happen anytime if we let them. Even in the fish section.

Your turn: How do you make the ordinary seem special?

One more thing: These fish are far from home, though I strongly suspect they're patently unaware of that fact. Our own Thematic far-from-home journey

New York, New York. Sort of.

Scrape the scaled sky
Boca Raton, FL, December 2009
About this photo: The far from home theme wraps up tomorrow when we launch our next theme at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. We're still taking submissions for this one, though, so if you've got a picture that supports the theme - even one that's already been posted online somewhere - click here to share it.
A foam puzzle reproduction of a pre-9/11 New York City skyline will always attract at least a sliver of attention. In southern Florida, however, it'll stop you in your tracks. Well, it stopped me, anyway. I guess I still feel a little sad every time I see anything with the twin towers in it - even if it's no taller than our youngest child, and might tip over if I turn the fan just far enough.

My morose sense of nostalgia notwithstanding, chops to the owners of this delightful deli (Ben's, which I wrote about here) who came up with this unique way to add something memorable to the experience of being here.

Some folks just get it.

Your turn: Small things that you remember from along the way. Please discuss.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Deep in the heart of...Georgia

Places and names
Dalton, GA, January 2009
[Please click here for more far-from-home goodness]

I've been to many places in my life, but I can quite honestly say that up until this cold night in northern Georgia, I had never been on or near Dug Gap Battle Road.

If we hadn't been so tired from being on the road since first light, we might have explored the neighborhood a little more. I'm sure there were a few other street sign gems lurking in the darkness.

Your turn: Strange street or place names. Please discuss.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Playing in another world

Beach kids
Delray Beach, FL, December 2010
[Please click here for more far from home Thematic]

We seem to have made it a family habit to go to the beach on the last day of the year. It didn't evolve deliberately. Rather, it's one of those little life events that seem to play out according to an unseen script. We turn around on December 31st and, somehow, we're watching our kids frolic in the surf.

However they got here on this day, it was clear to anyone who saw them that they came from somewhere that may as well be on another planet. While most everyone else hung back from the water because it wasn't quite warm enough, our intrepid kids dove right in and stayed in, afraid to miss so much as an extra minute of playtime in the surf.

Two weeks before I tripped the shutter on this moment, they had been battling snowdrifts that cast shadows above their heads. Playing outside meant pulling on multiple layers of winter clothes, then sitting around the kitchen table when they were done as my wife made them hot chocolate. For the record, there was no hot chocolate in the cooler on this day.

I stood further up the beach watching them play for what seemed like an age. I waited for them to get tired, to slow down, to want to come back to our seats and take a break. Hours later, I was still waiting. I guess all that living in a snowbound land made it that much more urgent for them to cram in as much beach time as they could. Because in just a few hours the year would be over. And not long after that they'd have to head back home.

The hot chocolate, as always, would be waiting for them. Wherever they ever call home, they know mom will never let them down.

Your turn: Rituals of childhood. Got one to share?

Dear Steve Jobs: Only in health

The tech world is buzzing with news that Apple's CEO Steve Jobs is taking a medical leave of absence (Mashable story here.)

The U.S. stock markets are closed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, but one can only surmise that Apple's share price will take a hit when investors return tomorrow. I'll be discussing this issue with Gary Doyle of 570News in Kitchener just after 1:00 p.m. Eastern today (listen live here.)

(If you'd like to listen to the interview, the show page is here. The actual interview, in MP3 format, is here.)

Beyond the seismic market implications of the potential departure of one of the most influential business leaders of our generation - I'm not fawning here; it is what it is - I find myself looking at things from another perspective. A human one.

He's sick. Very, apparently. And however much success we've amassed on this planet, we all leave it the same way. I feel deep empathy for his family as they ponder what tomorrow will bring, and watch his every move, wondering whether this is the beginning of the end. So many of us have been there that I feel compelled to view today's news through that lens before any other.

Your turn: Thoughts?

But wait, there's more: I ended up chatting about this on television...
My favorite clip from the day: "He's the tech world's equivalent of Wayne Gretzky. He can see above and beyond what everyone else sees."


Sunday, January 16, 2011

When it's over...

Final resting place
Duvernay, QC, November 2010

I was last in this place in June, at my dad's unveiling, and I returned on this painfully bright morning with my mom. It wasn't a happy moment, of course, but as we chatted quietly on the way back to her house, I was glad we had come here. Not because it changed anything, but because it gave me - and presumably her - a rare opportunity to try, impossible as it may seem, to figure out where we all go from here.

Every time I'm here, I feel as far away from reality as I can possibly get. I know cemeteries represent the logical end of our life's journey, and I can walk endlessly through virtually any other graveyard on the planet. It's easy when I'm disconnectedly learning about the lives of others, but not so easy when those are my family members' names inscribed on the headstones.

I'm pretty sure my quick photography session on the way back to the car violated some of the rules of protocol of this place, but I didn't want to return home with nothing but empty, sad thoughts bouncing around my head. As it it, the thoughts remain sad. But at least they now have an accompanying visual.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Jagged little tree

Laval, QC, November 2010

I originally wanted to share this photo as part of last week's "wet" theme. But in the middle of the wild week we had, it ended up getting lost in the drafts pile. So I'm calling it a far from home pic. Here's why:

I took this photo around the same time that I shot this one. The light was fading, and I was walking, quickly and alone, along the shore of the near-silent tributary, looking for inspiration before night closed in for good.

I had come here to visit a childhood friend who had just lost his mom. I was staying with my own mom. Since she and my father moved here, I often walked these grounds, using the precious "alone time" to put our visits in perspective. Family can often be hard, so little breaks like this had become part of my away-from-home routine.

Now that my father's gone, these solitary walks by the water have taken on a different tone. He loved this place, and saw it as his mission to get all of his friends to move nearby. He loved these grounds, and always talked about what was going on here. To anyone else, it was an unremarkable stretch of land by the water. To him, it was a kingdom, with a narrative that unfolded every time he felt well enough to get on the phone.

So on this evening, I walked silently and thought about journeys - mine since childhood, my friend's after losing his last parent, my mother's now that she looks out her window at scenes like this, alone. I felt very separated from the things most precious to me - my wife and our kids - and felt a sudden chill at the prospect of being this far from them. I guess I needed a hug.

I couldn't come up with any bright-minded solution to banish any of the dark themes that now clouded my thoughts, but I thought this disjointed reflection on the water's surface summarized my feelings quite nicely.

Your turn: Where do you find quiet time? Why does it matter?

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tracked changes

Go via rail
Toronto, ON, March 2009
About this photo: Thematic Photographic is exploring "far from home" this week. Please click here to share your own far from home experience.
One of the reasons why I chose this week's theme is that I've spent much of my adult life trying to figure out how to use technology to make far seem a little less so. For example, we live about a two-hour drive outside Toronto, and I periodically end up in Canada's largest city to visit clients and do the reconnecting things a writer/media/geek/wonk needs to do. You can only be virtual and remote for so long, after all.

Sometimes I take the car, but on this trip I decided to take the train. And since Via Rail was kind enough to get me there a couple of hours early, I dawdled a little after I got off the train. In a pattern that's now become pretty standard whenever I go to Toronto for the day for work, I took pictures and sent a few home to my wife and kids via my BlackBerry. Later, I used IM to chat with Debbie as I walked from one meeting to another. (Sorry to the really tall dude in a suit who almost wore my nose print on his shoulder. I'll watch where I'm going next time.)

None of this was particularly earth-shattering. The pictures could have waited till I got home that evening and my wife could have lived without a blow-by-blow account of the directionally challenged taxi driver who blocked a good chunk of the intersection with an ill-advised and badly executed three-point turn.

But the neat thing was that I had the ability to bridge the distance, to make the experience a little more real for her and our kids. I doubt they looked up from their homework or video games to notice the freaky pic I sent of the CN Tower. But that wasn't the point. I was far away, but somehow I wasn't.

After growing up in an era where long distance phone calls were an expensive and rare luxury, and travel typically meant little to no contact for extended periods of time, being able to easily reach across distance and connect in this way is something of a revelation to me. It'll never get old.

Your turn: How do you stay connected when you're away?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Thematic Photographic 130 - Far from home

Horse play
New York, NY
November 2009

This photo launches our new Thematic Photographic theme, far from home. For the next week, we'll be exploring photos that may have been taken, ah, far from your home. I know, such creativity!

As ever, how you interpret it is entirely up to you. For example, I offer you the picture to the left. It was taken in New York City, which by my odometer is about 880km from my front door, which would easily qualify it as far from home. But beyond the literal interpretation, there's the rather incongruous sight of a horse in the middle of a large city. I'd venture he's pretty far from home, too.

So as you choose your own contributions to the theme, please feel free to come up with any excuse you wish to justify the "far from home" connection. And have fun with it. Because that's why we do this, no?

Your turn: If you're a Thematic Photographic veteran, I believe you already know what to do. If you're new to our weekly photo-sharing activity, please click here for full details.

A day at the beach

Laying it down
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2010
[Please click here to contribute to the latest Thematic theme, wet]

I had come here with our eldest son and daughter on a cool, windy afternoon to walk along the ocean's edge and record it for posterity. Each of us had a camera, and we just wanted to drink in the uncharacteristically quiet beach and see if it offered up any interesting scenes. Nothing more involved than that.

It didn't take long for all of us to realize we had picked a great day for a shoot. I watched them slowly walk onto the beach, scanning thoughtfully. Our daughter found a spot to lay out her towel, sit down and figure out her next move. She remained there for a bit, saying nothing, watching the waves roll in. I hung back and let them figure out where they wanted to go, how they wanted to get there and what they wanted to do along the way.

It was quite a switch from my usual role. The dad in me has long thought parenting was all about doing stuff for your kids. And for much of their young life, it's played out exactly like that. But as they move through their teen years - just saying the word makes me realize how fast time has flown - I'm slowly learning that as they take on greater day-to-day responsibilities, the heavy parental lifting of making and doing begins its inevitable shift to guiding and facilitating.

So instead of placing the cameras in their hands, working the dials and controls for them and telling them where to go and what to capture, I let them figure it all out for themselves. It made for a great, memorable afternoon for us all.

Your turn: Letting go. Please discuss.

One more thing: This is the final entry in our wet theme (see here to squeeze one in under the wire.) We'll launch a new Thematic theme, far from home, later today (Thursday) at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What does this thing do?

Attention to detail
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2010

We're still noodling with the water theme (you can noodle, too, here) and within that context I still find myself photographing things that most others might call unpretty.

Unpretty doesn't mean uninteresting. Not in my world, anyway.

Your turn: What was going through the mind of the guy - definitely a guy - who painted this?

I'm giving you A finger, not THE finger

Me and my sister
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2010
Photo by Noah Levy
Please see here for more water-themed insanity

For the record, that's our munchkin's pinkie - (before the injury.) And despite our little mishap with the waterproof-camera-that-wasn't, we still managed to get some neat pics from the day: The one above being among my favorites.

Noah has a spirit that I can only describe as infectious. Everyone who knows him loves him, and everyone who spends any time with him can't help but have a little of him rub off on them. He probably gets under big sister Dahlia's skin more efficiently and quickly than anyone on the planet, but he's also probably her biggest fan, too. And she's one of his biggest heroes.

I could watch both of them play all day. And on this day, I was privileged to do just that.

Your turn: How do you make people around you smile?

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Thumbs up

Forgive the picture. It's the best my BlackBerry could do with the available fluorescent light, and after the day that Noah had just had, I wasn't about to get hung up on the finer points of photography.

Long story short, little man jammed his thumb while playing basketball at school. I fetched him and, after a false start at a closed-early-by-budget-cuts urgent care centre, we ended up across town at the ER.

Noah was his usual stoic, balanced little self, taking in the sights - a deathly ill-looking, wheelchair-bound woman smoking in a deepening snowdrift, a little girl around his age using a walker to get around - with the eye and demeanor of someone much older. He answered every question from the doctors and nurses with the kind of politeness that reminded me of my wife.

As we waited and waited, he hung out on the examining room bed, listening to kids who whined too much and parents who should have needed a license to procreate, smiling quietly at the circus but refusing to let it bother him. At one point, his lip quivered and tears began to fall: he was hungry. In the rush to get here, he hadn't had a chance to eat anything and it was now past suppertime. A promise to pick something up afterward stemmed the tears.

Eventually, the doc with a kind heart I wish we could both bottle and clone appeared and quickly diagnosed strained ligaments. Nothing broken, thank goodness. A splint for 5 days and pain reliever and ice. Back into the snowy night we went, picking our way to the open house at his school that he so very much didn't want to miss.

And his empty tummy? A Mars bar from the vending machine was all he wanted. And he got to eat it in my car, the one I always said would be a meal-free zone. It was a very special day, I said with a wink, so we could easily make an exception for him.

About halfway there, he sighed happily from the back seat and said this had been a great adventure for us. Despite the pain he still felt and the tough day he'd just experienced, our wise little guy somehow managed to see the big picture from inside our darkened car. I blinked back the tears and continued driving through the blinding snow.

Your turn: How do you find the good in something that isn't?

Dear Kodak...

Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2010
[Please click here for more wet-themed Thematic]

...You know that camcorder you advertise as waterproof? Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but it isn't.

This is a picture of our PlaySport ZX3. Actually, it's my wife's. I bought it for her birthday in September. The geek in me liked its feature set, and I figured the waterproof thing would come in handy some day. So when we hit the pool during our recent vacation, I brought it along and let it get wet.

The fogging screen was the first sign that something was amiss. I quietly took it away from the kids, opened it up and carefully removed the battery and memory card. Bad sign #2: Both of them were wet. Ruh-roh.

Later, when I thought everything was nice and dry, I put it back together and powered it on. Yet another bad move on my part, as it emitted a squeal that reminded me of an angry cat being tossed across a chalkboard (kids, that's what we used before SmartBoards. Ask your mom.) My wife called out from the other side of the house, fearful I had angered the natives.

The ZX3 was now truly and officially dead. On my watch. My wife was, understandably, not pleased.

Into a Ziploc bag with rice it went. Three days later, I successfully powered it back on and with the exception of some apparent water stains on the LCD screen, it's now working just fine. Thankfully, the content we originally captured on the card was undamaged. It won't be going anywhere near water ever again. My wife won't let me near anything of hers for far longer than that.

Your turn: Extricating oneself from the proverbial doghouse. Suggestions?

Update: I tweeted the URL for this blog entry to the folks at Kodak. Their Chief Listener tweeted me back, and asked for more details via e-mail. Long story short, the company has offered to replace the device at no charge. A few months back, I wrote an article for the Toronto Star about companies using social media to improve their customer service competencies - link here - so imagine how tickled I am to be on the receiving end of a clear SM-CS best practice. Major thanks to Kodak, a company that very much gets it.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Wet shoe diary

Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2010
[Click here to share something wet]

After my daughter accidentally dripped on my shoe as she stepped out of the pool, she apologized. I stopped for a moment and considered why she'd even apologize in the first place.

I told her three things:
  1. It's a boat shoe. So no worries: These things are designed to get wet. Even if it isn't waterproof, who really cares? It's just a shoe.
  2. That's a neat set of droplets on it, don't you think?
  3. I should be thanking you for creating this too-cool visual.
So I did. And then pulled the camera out and pointed it down. Once again, I had been inspired by one of our kids. I don't think my work - in words or in pictures - would be anywhere near as much fun if I didn't have them.

Your turn: How do others inspire you to create?

Sunday, January 09, 2011


Quiet slips
Laval, QC, November 2010
About this photo: Thematic. Theme. Wet. Here.
Recipe for lowered blood pressure: Stand beside still water. Remain quiet. Drink in the moment. Repeat.

Your turn: Where have all the boats gone?

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Just ducky

Wavy vision
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2010
Click photo to embiggen

About this photo: Thematic Photographic explores water this week. Click here if you're in the mood to get a little wet.
#1 rule of photography: There are no rules.
#2 rule of photography: See #1 rule.

Despite this, I've developed a few, um, quirks over the years that have resulted in some surprisingly different deposits on film and, more recently, memory cards. The one that stands out is this:
Return often to the same scene. Shoot the same thing over and over until you get something you like.
This isn't so much a rule as it is as truth. The world around us changes constantly. So the way a particular scene or subject looks today may very well change radically when you return tomorrow.

Of course, you can come back tomorrow and it'll still be exactly the same. But what about the next day? Or the next? You'll never know if you aren't there. And if you've been using "been there, done that" as an excuse to not return to a specific place or topic, I humbly suggest reconsidering. Because there's no such thing as a done deal in photography.

This is my lame-oid way of explaining how I ended up standing on the edge of the same swimming pool, pointing my camera down at the overflow gutters. I assumed this stance at least once per day, hoping to capture some neat reflections as the shallow surface waves washed over the brightly painted concrete. Every day I'd return, wait for the moment of brightest sun, then shoot downward as total strangers whispered among themselves.

My kids pretended they didn't know me. Come to think of it, so did my wife. But I hung around and kept at it.

And then this duck showed up. Sometimes, patience is a good thing, even if your kids think you're insane.

Your turn: What does persistence mean to you?

Friday, January 07, 2011

Stumbling upon a space shuttle

Where journeys begin
Cape Canaveral, FL
December 2010
Photo by Zach Levy
About this photo: It's a wet week in Thematic-land. If any of this confuses you - no worries, it's the story of my life - please click here to share your own wet perspective.
You're looking at the Kennedy Space Center, shot by our son from our plane as we began our descent into Miami. The thing in the middle is the Vehicle Assembly Building, where space shuttles - for now, anyway - are stacked and prepped for launch. To the upper left is launchpad 39B, which is in the process of having all its shuttle-related fixins removed. 39A is to its right, and as we flew over, Discovery was undergoing a tanking test in advance of its next launch, currently scheduled for February. The Shuttle Landing Facility's runway is peeking in on the left.

As ever, this photo has a bit of a back story. Zach had been shooting randomly out the window and noticed these neat forms on the ground. He grabbed a few frames before I peeked over his shoulder and had a mild-but-happy freakout.

Me: "Do you know what those are?"
Zach: "No. They just looked cool."
Me: "OMG, that's the space shuttle! You're looking down on their launch pads...Discovery is Right There." I punctuated that with a finger poke of the dirty plastic window. I may or may not have hyperventilated a little.
Zach: "Gee, I hope it doesn't launch while we're here."

I think we were the only ones who noticed, as the other passengers were either snoozing or watching their seatback screens. So he grabbed as many pictures as he could before it slipped out of view. We chattered about it for the rest of the flight, excited that he happened to be looking out the window at just the right moment.

I know that airplanes fly over this place every day. But not our airplane. Not when I'm sitting there with my kid. And in the context of our family's world, it was another neat event on a journey that had barely gotten underway.

Your turn: A moment you've shared with your kid. Please discuss.

Bearded television

Wanted to share a couple of recent TV interviews I've done. Not because they'll make the planet spin any faster or slower, but because they were fun to do. Both of them were on CTV News Channel, which is a national 24-hour news station here in Canada.

Today's hit was my first one with Power Play. this political show, hosted by veteran journalist Don Martin, is based out of Canada's capital, Ottawa, and is a regular stop for ministers, members of parliament and other top political types. It was a thrill to be able to join in. Today's topic was Twitter and Politics, and I was on with Stephen Taylor, director of the National Citizens Coalition and an eminent conservative blogger.

The video is here.

On New Year's Eve, I spoke with Christine Bentley about how easy it is for hackers to listen in on conversations on GSM-based cell phones. The neat thing: I was in Florida at the time, and given the fact that I had stuffed my suitcase exclusively with t-shirts and shorts - and, possibly, a pair of slippers, though I'll never publicly admit it - had nothing remotely like a jacket, tie or even a dress shirt. Oh, and my face had about 2 weeks worth of beard on it.

So rather than shave and run out to a store, I trimmed a little to make it look less ratty, ironed my best Hawaiian shirt, fired up my uncle's iMac and chatted live via Skype from his home office. Gotta love technology.

Here's the video for the earlier hit.

Your turn: Should I keep the beard?

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Thematic Photographic 129 - Wet

Delray Beach, FL, January 2010

I dig water droplets. Not sure why, but I do. I think it's a lovely way to launch our first new Thematic Photographic theme of the year, wet.

Why wet? Because water is, literally, life. It's elemental. It's renewal. It's how I think we all want to start the new year, and I hope you'll come along for the ride with us.

What's Thematic Photographic? It's our weekly photo sharing and learning activity, and it's simple: We post a new theme on Thursday. Over on your blog, you post a picture that interprets the theme, then return here to leave a comment. Repeat as often as you wish, and feel free to pull in a friend, too...the more the merrier. That's it! Complete details are here.

Your turn: Appreciating certain subjects, yet you can't explain why. Please discuss.

World Wide Web(bed)

Do my ankles look fat?
Trenton, ON, November 2010

I thought I'd wrap up our look at the year's favorite pics* with one I grabbed in the parking lot of a newly-opened service centre along Canada's largest highway, the 401.

I was driving home alone after a not-particularly-happy few days in the old hometown, and I found myself stopping more often than I usually do. Part of it was physical fatigue: I hadn't gotten a whole lot of sleep while I was away. But the other part of it was a somewhat psychological need to savor the journey a bit more, to slow the trip down and remember the places I was passing through. When I'm feeling somewhat melancholy, I derive comfort from connecting with places, and being on the road alone gave me the rare opportunity to do just that.

This anonymous seagull happened to cross my path as I stood near my car debating whether I had enough snacks with me for the next leg of the journey. Logic tells me I've taken more pictures of seagulls than any person has a right to. But logic doesn't always sit in the front seat when I pick up a camera. Sometimes, logic has no place at all in the composition process.

Your turn: Where's this bird going?


*Last-minute submissions for Thematic Photographic favorite-photos-of-2010 are still being accepted here. Thank you all for making this theme such a vibrant and memorable one. New theme, wet, launches tonight at 7:00 Eastern.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

My future's so bright...

Spun light
Deerfield Beach, FL, January 2011

Technically, this doesn't qualify as a favorite-of-2010 photo because it was taken just after midnight (12:10 a.m., if we're being precise.) But it's close enough that I'll let it squeeze in under the wire*.

The story behind this bright scene is a simple one: My wife has always believed in making even the smallest events in our kids' lives special, and tonight was no different. She had picked up party hats, horns and sparklers for the big celebration at her parents' place, and after the ball dropped we went outside to create some light of our own. I figured some fingers-crossed long exposures would capture the feeling of the moment.

Your turn: How do you make small moments memorable?

*Please go here if you want to squeeze in one last one of your own, as we're moving on to the next Thematic theme, wet, tomorrow (Thursday) at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Back on terra firma

Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2010

This morning we drove through rush-hour traffic on roads lined with palm trees. The windows were down as the Miami-region FM morning hosts bantered in our ears. Late this afternoon and half a continent away, we drove through blinding snow under a darkening sky, our headlights barely cutting through the murk as Toronto-area news anchors updated traffic conditions on Canada's largest highway. No palm trees in sight.

We'd been away for a bit, spending some much-needed quiet time among family. I was about as far off the grid as I've ever been. No data on the BlackBerry, only occasional checks of e-mail to make sure nothing was burning down back home. The blog magically updated itself with scheduled posts, and assigned articles were still written to deadline. The difference is they were written poolside, using whatever WiFi signal I could scavenge. I kept the netbook on battery power to ensure I wrote quickly.

As much as I wanted to keep us all there for much longer, life awaited us back home. Vacations are wonderful things, opportunities to slow things down and remind ourselves why we all matter so much to each other. Why the quiet moments matter as much as the momentous ones. But like a good dessert, it doesn't taste quite as special if that's all there is.

As you may have imagined, I took a lot of pictures and I'll be sharing some of them in the days and weeks to come. I wanted to start with this one because it reinforces my belief that southern light is entirely different than northern light. And sometimes you need to go far from home to see things from a new perspective.

Your turn: Did you change gears a bit over the holiday season? What did you learn along the way?

Raise your glass

L'chaim, to life
London, ON, October 2010
About this photo: We're sharing our fave photos of 2010 as part of an extraordinarily long-running Thematic Photographic theme. To make sure no one misses out, we'll be doing this until January 6th. If you're into it - and I hope you are - then feel free to go forth and photographically multiply.
I'm still working my way through my favorite photos from the last year. I could probably do this for the rest of this year, but I suspect the novelty is wearing a little thin by now. I'll launch a new Thematic theme on Thursday, but for now, I hope you'll take a seat and think about why all these glasses are here, and who's going to be drinking from them in the very near future.

Your turn: So? What's the story of these glasses? Have fun with it. I'll share the real story if you wish.

Torah, torah, torah

Intricately holy
London, ON, September 2010
About this photo: We're winding down our three-week journey through our favorite photos of 2010. New theme launches Thursday evening at 7:00 Eastern. And what will the theme be? Wet. In the meantime, the old theme remains live - here - if you want to get some last-minute contributions in.
Synagogues around the world read from the Old Testament every week. Each scroll, known as a torah, is hand written on special parchment by a single scribe who literally cannot make a mistake. If he does, it's back to square one. Talk about pressure.

As you can imagine, each torah is priceless, and the arrival of a new or refurbished one is cause for major celebration. So when our Rabbi said it was OK for me to shoot our congregation's scrolls, I approached the experience with a huge degree of trepidation.

So I shot slowly and deliberately, careful to avoid losing my balance as I hovered near these ornately crafted icons of history. Only afterward, as I reviewed the results, could I truly appreciate the artistry of those who had labored to create them.

Your turn: Ever shoot something that scared you?

Monday, January 03, 2011

Rainbow connection

London, ON, March 2010
[Click here to share your own favorite photo of 2010]

I'm pretty sure the colors are in the wrong order to properly reflect an optically pure rainbow. But I'm not one to disturb a subject - even an inanimate one - for the sake of some aesthetic ideal, and the journalist in me says just shoot it as it is. Mucking around with it would kind of violate the entire point, no?

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Gourd afternoon

It came from the earth
Laval, QC, November 2010
[Click photo to embiggen]

There's nothing earth-shattering about this scene. As best I can tell, it's a kind of squash - please don't laugh at my ineptitude, as I'm vegetatively challenged - and I found it languishing in the middle of a mall. The Carrefour Laval mall, to be precise, where I had come with my mom to find shoes*.

I liked the color, the light, the texture, and the fact that I made people stop and stare when I pulled my camera out and started shooting. I half-expected the rent-a-cops on Segways to swoop in and subdue me with plastic zip ties, but they were nowhere to be found. Later on, I discovered them hanging around the popcorn stand near the food court. I did not offer to show them my photos, and my mother wisely shot down my suggestion to invite them over to watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop.

So somehow, a picture of a partially deformed vegetable becomes one of my favorites of the year. Not because it rewrote the book or set some new photographic bar. But because it was an everyday find that I stumbled across only because I was looking for it. Because in 2010, photography, to me, anyway, became an integral part of my day-to-day life. As I ponder the kinds of things I'll see through the lens in the year to come, pictures like this remind me why I do the photography thing in the first place.

Your turn: How will you grow as a photographer in 2011?

*The mall was good to me that day. Please see here for another, earlier, entry. And please see here to share more favorites from 2010.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

A psychedelic start to the new year

Light me up
Richmond Hill, ON

February 2010

About this photo: We're sharing our favorite photos of the year for, oh, the next kajillion days. Actually, it's till January 6th, but who's counting? We call it Thematic Photographic, and you can play along, too, by pointing your mouse this way.
I don't have a whole lot of advice to give new photographers beyond this: Always keep your eyes and your mind open.

That's because you never know where an idea will come from. And if you're not open to the possibilities, you'll miss 'em when they zing past. But where do you look? Not where you'd normally expect. I can reliably confirm that the biggest ideas always seem to come out of nowhere, from the shadowy corners of the day that no one else seems to recognize.

So as we start 2011 off with colors and light, I hope you'll keep in mind that the coming year will offer up its fair share of out-of-left-field moments. Are you ready for them?

Your turn: No, really. Are you?

Another orbit complete

Boom, boom, pow
Arva, ON, July 2010
Click photo to embiggen
Click here for more faves of the year

I couldn't resist the opportunity to post something right at the stroke of midnight. Okay, I lie. I'm not actually posting this in person. I'm not sitting at my computer at this moment. I'm with my wife, kids, in-laws and aunt and uncle and we're probably doing something family-fun to mark the end of one year and the beginning of another.

This entry, then, is being auto-posted to the blog, courtesy of my lovely admin interface. Makes sense to start the year with a little bit of geek-fun, no?

Y'all know I'm not terribly fond of the whole resolution thing. But I am curious as to how you've all chosen to start off the new year. Do tell!