Thursday, March 31, 2011

One last flight

Saying goodbye
London, ON, March 2011
About this photo: We're closing out our March Madness theme. Our new Thematic theme launches tomorrow (Friday) at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. It's not too late to share a little madness of your own. Just go here.
Those two lines in the sky are the International Space Station (brighter) and the Space Shuttle Discovery. I grabbed this 13-second exposure a little while after the orbiter undocked for the last time. Two days later, her STS-133 mission complete, she swooped back to earth, and into retirement.

The munchkins came outside with me to say goodbye. They knew there was no way for the astronauts aboard either ship to see them, but that didn't stop them from waving skyward for almost the entire time they were visible. They were just dots, really, but I didn't want the experience to pass without the kids having had the opportunity to witness it directly.

It was a clear, cold night, and I'm thinking the last place I should have been shepherding my kids was a cold sidewalk to watch something that, visually, at least, pales in comparison even the simplest game on the family Wii. But this was real, and it was history, and it happened right over our house.

Two more flights to go. I suspect our kids will be out there for those, too. Wherever you are, I hope you'll join them.

Your turn: Do you remember a slice of history from your own childhood?

QOTD #12 - On coming home

"No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow. "
Lin Yutang
I've been off on a work thing for a few days, and later today will get on a plane pointed for home. As much as I enjoy the newness of seeing a new slice of the planet, I always prefer the return leg because of what awaits at the end.

I guess I'm a bit of a homebody, after all. Or I just don't like being away from my family. Yes, the second one.

Your turn: The best part of travel is...?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

I've got my eyes on you

London, ON, March 2011
About this photo: It's March Madness week, and it doesn't get more mad than this. Do you have some madness to share? Click here.
I have no rational explanation for why I take pictures like this. Maybe it's because no one else seems to, so I feel sorry for the poor little potato. Perhaps it's because not everything needs to have a reason. Sometimes we need to be just a little frivolous in the day-to-day. And on this day, this spudnik happened to be in range when my head started to feel a little frivolous.

I think this irrational-frivolity thing just might work out after all.

Your turn: What do you do when you feel just a little silly?

QOTD #11 - On optimism

"In the long run the pessimist may be proved right, but the optimist has a better time on the trip."
Daniel L. Reardon
Your turn: So is your glass half-full or half-empty? How so?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mother Nature strikes again

Resplendent in white
London, ON, March 2011
About this photo: We're continuing our exploration of the March Madness theme with this late-winter blast of snow. You can explore, too, by heading here.
I can accept that everyone complains about the weather. It's the one factor that universally touches everyone's daily life, the one thing that all of us, friend or stranger alike, can quickly discuss no matter where we may be.

But there's a limit to how often any sane person can take the same whining about how cold it is, how uncomfortable it is, how unfair it all is, how it needs to end soon, blah, blah, blah. And I think I surpassed that limit long ago. Some complainers are so emotional that you swear they're about to start crying, as if there's some sort of grand plan behind their meteorological misery.

Not quite. Weather happens. There's no grand plan behind it. We can't control it. We can't change reality.

When snow blankets the region for the umpteenth time in a difficult winter that never seems to want to end, our choice is to either let it bother us, or find the happy. On this day, I chose the latter, and am glad I did.

Your turn: How do you find the happy?

QOTD #10 - On misusing technology

"Technology's only great when you know how to use it."
Daniel Hesse, CEO of Sprint
I see way too many people spend way too much money on way too many gadgets that they'll never manage to use in a barely effective manner, let alone master. The goal for most, sadly, seems to be acquisition, and trumpeting to others of same, and not actually using the wonder-device to improve things for themselves and those around them.

It would be easy for me to say the current volume surrounding iPad 2 (should I buy it? Should I wait in line? Should I sell my eldest child?) is prompting today's choice for this QOTD. But in reality, iPad 2 is yet another in a long line. The story always remains the same.

Your turn: What happens when the shine wears off the new wonder-gadget?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sunday, March 27, 2011

When planes almost crash

Permanently stuck
London, ON, March 2010
About this photo: We're celebrating March Madness all week long. Click here if you'd like to jump into the fray.
Diamond Aircraft has been a success story on the local business landscape since its Austrian parent first started assembling its innovative private aircraft designs here.

Whereas the typical private plane was designed before humans could talk - the Cessna 172's design, for example, dates back to 1955 - Diamond's DA20 (pictured above) replaces Winnebago-esque sheetmetal and engines that make a Ford Pinto's mill look positively state-of-the-art with modern carbon fibre airframes and powerful, efficient engines.

In recent years, the company's been trying to expand beyond its private aviation roots, and its staked its future on the D-Jet, a low-cost, 5-seat jet. Various governments have already approved loans to develop the plane. The problem: A final, $35 million loan to kickstart actual production has been stalled. The federal election campaign that just got underway isn't going to accelerate matters.

My take? This isn't some pie-in-the-sky program. Governments have already committed to it, and 240 orders for the plane have already been received. The fate of 200 remaining employees and one of the shining lights of the local economy dangle in the balance while governments dither. If this continues much longer, it won't do much good to counter the belief that London's "open for business" claims are little more than wishful thinking.

Madness indeed.

Your turn: How should governments help local economies? Are they doing enough now? Too much? Do tell...

QOTD #8 - On nuclear

It was only a matter of time before I tapped into my inner Homer Simpson, whose Thanksgiving-time perspective on the industry that employs him seems particularly misguided in light of the unfolding nuclear mess in Japan:
"Lord, we are especially thankful for nuclear power, the cleanest, safest energy source there is."
Homer Simpson
Your turn: If not nuclear, then what?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Mad lungs

Little man's been out of school for the past week-and-a-half with bronchitis. We've been trying to perk him up with a steady stream of movies. They give him something else to think about when he can't sleep because of the coughing and congestion.

Good times.

So when it was time to bring the latest batch of rentals back to the local Blockbuster (news flash: we still rent DVDs...there's something about physical media that I'm not yet ready to give up) he asked if he could come with. Dad-of-the-year that I am, I told him to ask Mom. We figured he was well enough to feel fresh air, so off we went.

I took this shot just as we got into the car. The smile says it all. I know one boy's bout with bronchitis doesn't amount to a whole lot in the overall scheme of things, but we still hope this little bit of madness is over for him soon.

Your turn: What's your cure for cabin fever?

QOTD #7 - On vision

"Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass."
Anton Chekhov
Every time I sit down to write something, I agonize over how I'll find the words to take an abstract thought and turn it into something that paints a picture, a scene, a mood, an emotion, a whatever for a total stranger.

Coming up with words that reflect that proverbial glint of light on broken glass? I guess that's both my challenge and my opportunity.

Your turn: How do you make your words count?

One more thing: Looking for Thematic? It's right here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Thematic Photographic 139 - March Madness

Let them eat cake
London, ON, March 2010

This week's Thematic theme, March Madness, comes to us courtesy of Dana, better known online as Awareness. A writer, a poet, a photographer and an incredibly astute observer of the human condition, her blog has been a must-read for me for years.

As you mull over what photos to share this week, keep the following in mind:
  • It must have been taken during the month of March
  • It should illustrate some semblance of madness, silliness or irreverence. If it makes you smile, it's good.
That's it. Off to the races we go...

Your turn:
Share a March Madness-themed pic on your site (or choose something that you already uploaded) and leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants' sites to share the joy. Repeat as often as you wish through the week. Don't forget to smile. Thematic instructions, if you need 'em, are here.

About this photo: Why did I choose cake as my launch photo? Because closeups of cake are kinda silly. And it makes me smile every time I get ideas like this in my head and reach for the camera.

QOTD #6 - On perpetual childhood

"When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up."
C. S. Lewis
Your turn: I've never understood why children seem to lose that sense of wide-eyed curiosity and goodness when they become adults. For too many of us, life seems to beat it out of us, and I'm not entirely sure why. Do we really need to "grow up"?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Is this Wonderland?

White. For now.
London, ON, December 2010
About this photo: We're closing out Thematic's transition theme (click here for a last-minute fix), and given the weather that's been repainting much of the landscape for so many of us this week, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit the winter that was - and apparently still is. Sooner or later, the great transition known as spring is inevitable. (New theme launches tomorrow eve.)
As you can see, Frasier is not the world's largest dog. Mind you, for a Miniature Schnauzer, he's somewhat outsized for the breed, taller and broader than most others we've seen. Yet another thing that sets him apart and makes him special.

His size works against him in conditions like this. Huge snowdrifts block his view and make it hard for him to leap into the snowpack - as he'll eagerly do when the packed snow doesn't tower over him. And when he does, it's quite the joy to watch him take it all in. He bounds through the white stuff like a jackrabbit, sticking his head deep down when he finds something he likes. You know he's really enjoying himself when the snorting reaches fever pitch. I like to stand there and just drink in his energy.

Around these parts and elsewhere, it's been a winter and then some. And the Twitterverse (and blogosphere, and Facebook planet, and...) have been rife with endless complaints about the weather. But as I hold the leash and feel him pull me along, I can't help but think that whining about the weather is a pretty useless practice. It is what it is, and nothing we do will change it. So why not be like Frasier and throw ourselves into it? Good question: Looks like my dog taught me something, after all.

Your turn: What else can animals teach us?

QOTD #5 - On Liz Taylor

I'm not one to worship at the cult of celebrity. Not much and not at all. But sometimes, Hollywood seeps into my life in ways I can't even begin to explain. I present Elizabeth Taylor, who as everyone on and off the planet now knows passed away yesterday at the age of 79, as a prime example.

She was a huge star in an era when being an icon meant something. Her star had faded by the time I came along, but my parents, who also tended to view all things celeb-like with suspicion, always spoke about Ms. Taylor in reverent tones, as if she was somehow different from the other stars who came and went.

Indeed, she was different, as her later-in-life charitable work in many ways eclipsed anything she may have ever done onscreen. She led a purposeful life, and left the world better than she found it. So when I heard the news, I thought it would be strangely appropriate to share this quote of hers. It shows she wasn't simply a creation of celebrity. She understood what really mattered well beyond Lalaland:
"I hope with all of my heart that I have made a difference in the lives of people with AIDS. I want that to be my legacy."
Elizabeth Taylor
Your turn: I think she got her wish. What about you?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Gravity claims another victim

When the ref calls icing
London, ON, December 2010
[Click here to share your own transition-themed moment]

Winter can be a tough time to be a photographer if you live in Canada. Short days make it hard to get outdoors because by the time you're finished working, living and foraging for sustenance in the frozen foods aisle, it's dark outside and the last thing you really want to do is head out for a photo shoot. Besides, it's probably snowing, and the dog needs to be walked.

But being the polite Canadian that you are, you take your camera with you, anyway, and you try to make do with whatever situations you encounter. Like a skating session for the kids at a local rink. The lighting's just dim enough to dash any hopes of shutter speeds fast enough to freeze a moving snail, let alone a flailing child. And you risk life, limb and very expensive glass by stupidly venturing out onto the ice so you can see your little ones close-up. In retrospect, not smart.

So you change your approach. You won't be bringing home tack sharp today. But deliberately slow, painted images of munchkins in motion may be just enough to shake up your mid-winter mind. Maybe.

And when some unknown munchkin stumbles past you on her way to an inevitable soft landing on the ice, you know this one capture makes the entire exercise worthwhile. Sometimes, the picture you bring home is light-years removed from one one you hoped to bring home. It's just as well: Predictability is so oversold.

Your turn: What's this little one thinking?

QOTD #4 - On preparation

"If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything is ready, we shall never begin."
Ivan Turgenev
I remember thinking this very thought when my then-girlfriend/now-wife and I began discussing marriage, before we bought our first house, and again when we decided to have kids.

I suspect that life isn't about filling in every checkbox or being absolutely certain about everything before setting out. It's about knowing when to cast off your lines and set sail, doubts be damned.

Your turn: When do you know when it's time to get moving? How do you know?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Final approach

Dropping out of the sky
Delray Beach, FL, December 2010
Click all photos to enlarge
About this photo: Thematic. Transition. Here. Much fun. Really.
Birds are designed to fly, with bodies that, thanks to countless generations of evolution, have been remarkably optimized for flight. So when they're efficiently cruising through the sky, everything about them is precisely as it should be: Light, streamlined, agile.

But what goes up must eventually come down, and all birds will, at some point, have to land. And when they do, the nature of these incredible flying machines changes radically. Wings go from streamlined and tapered to draggy and curved. Legs go from tucked in to fully extended. Airplanes do the same thing as they prepare to land, with flaps extended, gear down and nose flared. But birds do it so much more purely. As they should. Because they invented it.

When I watch the gulls prepare to return to terra firma, I realize how tenuous this period is. A breeze, a mean-spirited neighbor-bird, a curious child...anything can throw the bird's careful balance off at this critical aerodynamic moment. Yet somehow they always manage to recover from whatever it is that hits them, and they always manage to hit the ground in one piece (seriously, have you ever seen a bird crash-land?)

We would all be so lucky to handle transitions - flying or other - so gracefully.

Your turn: How do you handle tricky transitions?

QOTD #3 - On parenthood

Little man's had a few rough days*. And any parent with a sick kid knows that even if you manage to avoid catching what he/she has, the experience weighs on you, too, in oh so many ways.

The good news? Fever and congestion can make him miserable and sad, but they can't sap his sweet spirit. Small miracles, indeed. With this in mind, I thought this one would be particularly appropriate today:
"Kiss your children goodnight, even if they are already asleep."
H. Jackson Brown Jr.
Your turn: Why is tuck-in so precious?

One more thing: Thanks again for being so enthusiastic about our new QOTD feature. I know it's hardly an innovative thing, but I'm nevertheless enjoying having it as part of the daily flow here at Written Inc. I'll try to tweak things as we go along, and am always open to suggestions. As part of this process, I'm adding links to each author's wiki page.

I'm also setting the daily posting time at 6:30 a.m. Because that's my favorite time of day, when things are at their most quiet before the house - and the world - awakens. Let me know what you think.

* The verdict from our doc: bronchitis, and we're still waiting for the meds to start knocking his fever and cough down to size.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Crash. Then gone.

Nature's power
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2010
About this photo: We're exploring transitions this week as part of our latest Thematic theme. If you're got something that even remotely connects - and we're hoping you do - just click here to get the proverbial party started.
As images from Japan continue to dominate news coverage across the planet, I can't stop thinking about waves, and the power they have to change everything around them.

The tsunami that rewrote the landscape of Japan's eastern coastline and literally wiped entire cities off the map is an extreme example of the power of nature. I've spent too much time standing at the edge of the sea, staring at waves as they crash ashore, shooting them with my camera in a near-vain attempt to capture what makes them tick. I can't quite explain my fascination with this place, but it keeps drawing me back every time we're on vacation, and I'm entirely too glad to go along for the ride.

I've always been struck by how much energy these things carry with them, and how quickly that energy is turned into history. They're here, spectacularly, and then they're gone. Just like that. Most of the time, this process repeats itself routinely, essentially ignored by the rest of the world. Most of the time.

I hope I never witness anything approaching the scale of a tsunami. I hope the communities devastated by the one that followed the mega-quake can find a way to rebuild themselves. I give thanks that I have what I have.

And sometime soon, I'll return to the edge of the planet. And once again I'll point my lens at the pounding surf. And maybe in the churning waters I'll see hope for a better future.

Your turn: Why do waves fascinate us?

QOTD #2 - On destiny

Y'all liked my quote-of-the-day idea so much that I've decided to run with it. I'll be posting a new one early each morning, right on time for some breakfast/off-to-school-and-work thoughtfulness. Ping me if you've got some quotes of your own to suggest.

This being Monday and all, I thought this one might be an appropriate way to start the work week:
"It's not the load that breaks you down. It's the way you carry it."
Lena Horne
Your turn: How will you be carrying your load this week?

One more thing: Thematic's transition theme is most certainly on. Click here to dive in.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Thematic Photographic 138 - Transition

In the western sky
Laval, QC, August 2010
Click photo to embiggen, and here for more info on Thematic

Many thanks to Titanium* for suggesting this week's theme, transition. I'm not entirely sure I have what it takes to do her theme justice, but I'll certainly do my best to do just that this week. I hope you'll come along for the transitional ride.

Mine begins with one of my favorite moments of any day, when the sun slips below the horizon. It's more than just an orbital dance; it's an invitation to take stock, to reflect, and to look forward to the next gift of a day.

In the end, they're all gifts, aren't they?

Your turn: Please post a transition-themed photo to your blog - or find something you may have already posted - and leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Repeat as often as you wish, and feel free to pull in unsuspecting friends, too. Visit other participants to spread the photographic joy. And click here if you want more background on how Thematic, our weekly photo-sharing extravaganza, works. Have fun!

* If you haven't visited her blog, you're missing an inspirational treat. She lives in Alaska, climbs mountains, and paints pictures with her camera and pen that never fail to make my jaw drop.

QOTD #1 - On resilience

I'm going to try something new on the blog, and I'm looking for your thoughts on it. I'm thinking of posting a quote of the day, a quick kind of entry that's designed to make us think or reflect. It'll be a daily thing, and I'm considering a routine schedule - perhaps early in the morning - to get everyone's day off to a thoughtful start.

It'll complement the usual nuttiness - Thematic, observations of life and whatever else hits my brain - that marks the ebb and flow here at Written Inc. Here's a sample:
"We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again."
Nathanael Greene
Your turn: What do you think? Is Quote of the Day worth continuing?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

He was a good frog

Jump no more
Delray Beach, FL, December 2010
About this photo: We're winding down the latest Thematic theme, late (click here to share), and preparing for the next new theme, transitions. It launches for it.
The scene: I'm shooting pictures around the edge of the pool while the kids wear themselves out in the water. They're old enough now that I no longer have to sit high up and watch them, hawk-like, like the lifeguard I once was. I'm still hyper-vigilant, of course, but I can also afford to pick up a camera and multitask a bit. One of the benefits of age, I guess.

I come across this frog floating in the pool. I carefully remove its clearly lifeless form because even frogs deserve to not end up sucked into the skimmer basket. I'm trying to avoid drawing attention to myself, as I don't want to upset the little folks. As I try to quickly remove the frog from sight, our youngest son notices what I'm up to and swims on over. I'm not going to fake this one: I have to admit the poor little fella is dead.

Noah pauses. In that moment, I can almost hear his mind churning, wondering what we do next. When he starts talking again, he's no longer the frenetic munchkin excitedly sharing Every Last Detail of his swimming adventures. He's quieter, more thoughtful, almost as if someone flipped a switch in him. He seems older, somehow, as he suggests finding a quiet spot to bury him. We both agree on the landscaped cedar-shingle bed behind the bushes at the edge of the pool.

"But you're going to take a picture of him, right Dad?"

I do. And we carefully walk behind the bushes and find a nice spot for him. "I bet he was a good frog," says Noah. I nod quiet agreement, thinking to myself that the growing boy who made this moment happen is pretty good in his own right.

Your turn: How do you explain death to a child?

What's "Libya" in Japanese, anyway?

Just had a thought: Would the world be a better place if Moammar Ghaddafi stopped dropping bombs on his own citizens and instead directed his prodigous oil-fuelled resources toward helping Japan recover from its triple-hit quake/tsunami/nuke disaster? I can't seem to stop thinking about how these two seemingly distant dots could - indeed should - be connected, and why human nature in Libya's neck of the woods is so often not human at all.

What do you think?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Shooting my dad's grave

What it is...
Duvernay, QC, November 2010

This photo - of my late father's footstone - isn't the easiest image to share, but I've been sitting on it since I first took it, wondering when I'd feel "right" in posting it here. I don't think I'll ever feel absolutely comfortable doing so, mind you, but I've learned that you can't always wait until everything aligns before you move forward. Sometimes, you just have to get up and move, even if every excuse on the planet is screaming in your ears to keep waiting.

More broadly, I'm not entirely sure members of my extended family would agree that sharing this is "right", either. But I've also learned since losing him that following my own voice matters now more than ever. And if that means this, then so be it.

We use the word "late" to describe those who are no longer with us. I'm not entirely sure why, and when I was a kid it always threw me off to hear the term. I remember thinking my Uncle Harry wasn't late, he was gone. It struck me as needlessly euphemistic and bothersome to conjure up words that tried to soften the blow, but only ended up muddying my ability to understand the vagaries of life and death.

When I write, I use simple language. I can out-vocabulary the most ardent dictionary-reader, but I choose to keep it stark and focused because, let's face it, everyone resents a know-it-all. I hate tangents and I have little patience for those who insist on taking me on them. So when it's my turn to tell the story, the straight line serves me best. Terms like "late" and "dearly departed" don't ease the process for me. They annoy me to no end, forcing me to watch others come up with ways to make sure I'm not offended or upset in some way.

I appreciate the sentiment. But the truth is my father died, and life has changed immensely since then. I'm okay with looking back and calling it what it is. And when I look at this stark-as-stark-can-be moment, I'm ripped right back to the moment on a brilliant November morning when I took it. Standing over his grave, I wondered what he'd think of his son taking a picture like this.

I heard his voice cheerfully ribbing me for "wasting film". I smiled, tripped the shutter and headed back to the car.

Your turn: Inappropriate photography. Please discuss.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Time ticks down

One direction only
Deerfield Beach, FL
December 2010
About this photo: Late. Thematic. Here. You know the drill.
This is the last picture I took before 2010 turned to 2011. Over the last year-and-a-half or so, I've become much more observant of firsts and lasts, increasingly conscious of beginnings and endings. Loss does that to you, I guess. Or maybe I'm just getting old. Whatever.

Another sign of age? The fact that I still wear a watch. I know it's kind of a young-demographic thing to not wear one, as every smartphone and electronic device already has a fairly capable timepiece built-in. But unless you like to go through the deliberate act of yanking your BlackBerry or iPhone from its belt holster every time you want to make sure you're not about to miss Ex-Love-Boat-Guest-Star-Celebrity Jeopardy, it's a lot more convenient to keep it on your wrist. Just turn, glance, and you're done.

That's one excuse. Another is that I just like having something there. I guess I've been wearing a watch for so long that I feel somewhat naked without one on my wrist. An adult binky, if you will. And if I'm not buying a new watch every couple of years just because, my wife knows something's wrong with me. My name is Carmi Levy, and I'm addicted to my watch collection. The shame.

So as the minutes ticked down to the inevitable bouncing around the house in well-timed glee, I took a moment out from watching the kids drink it all in and grabbed some physical proof that time continues to mean something. Even if we don't keep it as close to us as we once did.

Your turn: Do you wear a watch? Why/why not?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Kicked out of bed

Chasing shadows
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2010

[Click all photos to enlarge]
About this photo: We're sharing late-themed scenes all week long. Click here to share your own. It'll make you smile.
This wasn't my finest hour as a parent. We were on vacation in a warm, happy place, and I learned of an impending lunar eclipse. Since these are much more kid-friendly than the solar kind - the whole going-blind thing always scared me - I got it into my head that the kids should watch it.

Slight problem: I'd have to wake them up at an ungodly hour, like 4 a.m.-ungodly.

Much to my pleasant surprise, the boys insisted that I wake them up and haul them outside. So when the happy hour rolled around, I rousted myself out of bed with no fewer than three separate alarms, then quietly ushered them onto the front lawn for a celestial show.

As they stared at the strange scene of the moon with a chunk bitten out of it, we talked about the orbital mechanics that made this possible, the differences between lunar and solar eclipses - they liked the not-going-blind part - and the relative rarity of events like this. They were tired, of course, and soon trundled back inside for a few more hours of zees. But the buzz around the breakfast table later that morning confirmed the fatigue was worth the middle-of-the-night wakeup call.

Sometimes, it's worth losing sleep to see something special. Sometimes, I guess it pays to be a lousy parent.

Your turn: What interesting things have happened to you in the middle of the night?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Thematic Photographic 137 - Late

Oasis of light
New York, NY, November 2009

I'm a little late getting the new theme posted. Okay, a lot late. In light of, well, life, our little weekly photographic diversion took a bit of a back seat. On reflection, however, I realize what we all need right about now is precisely that, a diversion.

That's because as I write this, the precarious situation in Japan is rapidly worsening. Fears of nuclear meltdown - or worse, meltdowns - are growing, and it's hard to see the light at the end of this ever-longer, twisted tunnel. It seems somewhat frivolous to be playing with pictures when an uncontrolled catastrophe grips folks just like us half a world away.

So please forgive me if I write with a bit of ambivalence tonight. I'll keep shooting and writing and sharing. And I hope you will, too. But it'll be with a sense of sadness because the world doesn't always play fair. And explaining the why of it all to our kids is proving to be harder than I thought.

Your turn: You know what to do. If not, please click here. And if you'd like to share a thought about Japan, or about life in general, please feel free to do so in a comment.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A tale of two cities

Toronto, ON, March 2009
About this photo: Thought I'd close out the "doubles" theme with a quick peek at Toronto's Union Station. Head here if you'd still like to share your own. New theme, late, goes live Monday morning.
I was far from home in the city's main railway station when a carving high up on an ornately detailed wall caught my eye. I immediately thought of how transportation hubs no longer feature this kind of thing, that they're more likely to be built of aluminum and glass, and any signage is delivered on a plasma screen.

There wasn't any functional purpose to these timeless letters way above my head. But they made me think of home - and the connections this place fosters - far more effectively than any plasma screen ever could. It's the kind of sense of place that folks really understood once upon a time, but seem to have forgotten more recently.

Your turn: What connects you with home when you're far away?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Big in Japan

London, ON, October 2006

Like many of you, I've been watching the news from Japan with a growing sense of dread. Bad enough the quake moved the coastline eight feet and realigned the planet's axis. Worse that the ensuing jet-speed tsunami destroyed entire regions miles and miles inland. Now the country is dealing with a potential nuclear accident as it continues to count the dead and figure out a way back to normalcy. Or something like it.

I know adversity tends to breed the best in some - and Japan's achievements have positioned it well to drive its eventual recovery. But watching my kids enjoy an average Saturday with friends today, I couldn't help but wonder why fate doesn't always smile on others as it smiled on them on this day. I'm not complaining, of course. Just wondering why life sometimes seems so unfair.

I took this picture years back as a way of reminding myself to take the time to step away from the big, bad world and enjoy some solitary peace every once in a while. As I looked at it again earlier today, it also reminded me that life returns after the bleakest winter, even if we can't really see it right now.

Your turn: Japan. Thoughts?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Blog, interrupted

Busy day. No time to post. Sometimes, life has to take place away from the keyboard and from the lens. Back to normal blogging - and Thematic - in the morning.

Rorschach test?

Water, metal and cold
Bowling Green, OH, December 2008

It's been a while since we did a first-three-words-that-come-to-mind exercise. Since it's Friday, I thought it would be nice to reintroduce it.

So...what three words first come to mind when you see this pic?

P.S. New Thematic theme is coming. Tonight. 7:00 Eastern. What would you like it to be?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The view from behind

Red light, white light
London, ON
March 2010
About this photo: We're winding down Thematic's doubles week. Feel free to share your own photo here. I'll post the new one Friday morning (a little slow this week. Life's just busy.)
The typical car is an incredibly sophisticated combination of parts, engineered to levels of refinement that earlier generations of drivers couldn't have even begun to imagine. Despite it all, the car has become an appliance, a beast of burden we barely pay attention to unless we're paying for it - or fixing it. Day-to-day, we get in, we drive, we get out. Does anyone ever take the time to appreciate the little details?

On this cold, wet day a year ago, I lingered in the driveway for a bit. Like so many photos-of-the-everyday that I choose to shoot, this one isn't going to change the world. It isn't an iconic Eiffel Tower or a pivotal picture of an important person. But I'm thinking that not every picture needs to be iconic or pivotal. Sometimes it's just enough to record the things that make our everyday, ordinary lives a little less everyday and ordinary.

Your turn: Look around. What do you see?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

What goes up must come down

The rocket's red glare
Arva, ON
July 2010
[Click here to share your own double-themed vision]

I've been in a bit of a space-ish mood for much of the week. As the space shuttle Discovery's been zipping around the planet at an average speed that's 280 times as fast as a typical drive on the highway, I've found myself reflecting on the fact that this is the orbiter's last flight.

I was out on the sidewalk again with the kids last night, watching her fly overhead. On the surface, it wasn't anything spectacular: a dot moving across the sky, followed by an even brighter dot - the ISS - as it trailed her some 300 km above the planet. The meaning, however, wasn't lost on the munchkins. They saw her waiting for launch when we flew over the pad in December. The next time they see her, she'll be in museum.

Discovery, also known as OV-103, is set to return to Earth later this morning. When her wheels stop, that'll be it for the most experienced space vehicle in history. Her commander has said he may have difficulty getting out of his seat when the flight is over. I understand how he feels, especially given the relative lack of anything to replace it. Lots of plans, promises and talk. But nothing to haul to the pad anytime soon to continue the job started by Discovery and her sister ships.

I can't help but think that an opportunity's being lost in the process.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Talk to me, Goose

Formation flying
Delray Beach, FL, December 2010
About this photo: We continue to share double-themed photos as part of our latest Thematic theme. It's not too late to share yours; just follow your mouse here.
I'm an unabashed fan of the old movie, Top Gun. It's moviemaking at its bombastic-Hollywood worst, with more cliches and hackneyed passages per minute of screen time than virtually anything else you'll ever watch. To add to the fun, it's chock full of discontinuities and silly mistakes that make every viewing an adventure.

Yet somehow it all works, as it's a hellishly fun romp that doesn't seem to lose its appeal with the passage of time. It's managed to become a cultural touchstone of its era, a movie we all subconsciously quote from, and one that will easily hook us in when it appears on some obscure movie channel late on a Friday night.

It's also nice to see Tom Cruise before his sofa-jumping days. He was actually a decent actor once.

So when this fleeting avian scene appeared in my viewfinder, I instantly thought of this movie, and the central relationship between rebellious Maverick and his reluctant-enabling friend and backseater, Goose. Somehow, when you're in the sky, you've always got to trust the guy behind you to watch your six.

Your turn: Who do you trust? Why?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Charlie Sheen has been fired

Latest news from Hollywood is that the Warner Brothers studio has terminated Charlie Sheen's contract for his hit show, Two and a Half Men.

Pause. There, the world continues to spin. Goodness.

I discussed this on CFRB yesterday (disclosure: I chat about the week's biggest tech stories on Sunday afternoons with host John Downs) and my take then was the same as it is now: Everyone loves a train wreck, and as much as they claim to disavow celebrity "culture", they'll all rubberneck when they cruise on past the crash scene. I'm willing to bet you do it, too. All humans seek the outliers, after all.

Now, can we all please go back to living our own lives? The sooner we move on from feeding Mr. Sheen's enormous need for attention, the sooner he can get on with the process of seeking the help he so clearly needs.

Your turn: I think this cult of fame thing really needs a reboot. Where do we start?

Droplets on a table

Twice as wet
London, ON, April 2009
[Please click here to share your own double-themed Thematic]

I had spilled a tiny bit of water on our apparently waterproof tablecloth, and because I'm not like a normal person who would simply clean up the mess, I felt the need to instead reach for my camera and create a brief record of my clumsiness.

I don't know whether there's any significant - or even insignificant - message in this scene, and I'm not entirely sure there even needs to be. Sometimes, it's enough to be moved sufficiently by a transient scene to remember the simplicity of the moment. Because in the end all those little moments have to add up to something, right?

Your turn: Do they?

Sunday, March 06, 2011

They'll always be puppies

Dog show
London, ON, July 2010/December 2010

Dogs can have friends, too. This picture is Exhibit A. Frasier's first dog-friend was, and is, the handsome, beyond-sweet fella on the left, better known as Hudson.

If I'm being kind, Frasier is not the world's best behaved dog. He barks incessantly when he first sees strangers on the street, and he can never be off-leash outside because we just don't trust him not to run off at the first sign of a jackrabbit or squirrel.

But when he meets his buddy, everything changes. They play hard, they occasionally growl at each other because, well, they're dogs. Then they work it out and bound off in another direction. Eventually, they tire each other out, so they'll take a quick nap before heading back to the serious business of play.

Hudson somehow gets Frasier. Communicates with him as richly as he does whoever he meets. Connects with everyone around him in ways that betray the fact that he's covered in fur, walks on four legs and doesn't speak English. Reminds you why anyone's life would be better if it had a dog in it, and why every day would be better if it started and ended with some dog time.

I don't think I've ever met a dog I don't like, but there's something in these two that gets me. It's a joy to watch them create their own little dog social network, because it reminds me that doing the same on the human side really should be just as simple and pure.

Your turn: Why do best friends matter?

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Notes from a cemetery

Note: I wrote this last May, after the unveiling* for my late father. For whatever reason, it sat in an online list of draft writing ever since.

I didn't count the number of attendees, but there were likely a couple of hundred in the cemetery in the countryside well north of the big city. It was a sunny Sunday morning, and just like at his funeral, the proceedings were interrupted by an Air Canada Airbus A-320 flying high overhead on a long, circuitous approach to Montreal's Trudeau International Airport.

I don't know if this has anything to do with anything, but at the time I thought it was an interesting coincidence. See, years ago, in 2002, I had flown to that same airport to be there for one of my father's surgeries. It was on that trip that I picked up my laptop after seeing airplanes on the tarmac. For reasons I still don't quite understand, the sight moved me. Almost on their own, words formed in my head. And as I waited for my plane to board, I began to write. That piece eventually became a newspaper column**, which then became many newspaper columns.

Unwittingly, my father and an airplane had reintroduced me to the pen I had set aside for too long. So perhaps it was meant to be that now, on this spring morning, as we said yet another belated goodbye, the aviation theme once again crossed our collective path. And I once again felt the need to use words to remember what it looked and felt like.

Life moves in strange cycles. As I stood there watching the plane recede into the distance, I found myself wishing I could tell my father about the story I was going to write. Instead, I stepped forward and shared my thoughts with those who attended. It would have to do.

* What's an unveiling? I wrote about it here.
** I re-posted that column, originally published in the London Free Press, here.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Thematic Photographic 136 - Doubles

Twin towers?
Delray Beach, FL, December 2010

Remember when Thematic Photographic covered "singles" a few weeks back (here)? Well, y'all had such a good time with the number thing that I thought I'd give twosies a shot.

So for the next week, if your picture has two of anything in it, then it's fair game for inclusion in Thematic. Because it's always more fun when you share.

Your turn: If you've got a two-themed pic, please share it on your blog, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Repeat as often as you wish, and bonus points go to anyone who brings a friend along. The rules, such as they are, may be found here. But the only real rule that matters is this: Enjoy it. Just because.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Peace out...

Small word. Big meaning.
London, ON, September 2010

This is the word, shalom, in Hebrew. It means hello, goodbye, and peace. I like the third one best, because every time it's used in greeting, it serves as a subtle reminder to be a better person, too.

Your turn: Do some words make you feel warm and fuzzy? Do tell. (And go here for more letter-ish goodness. New Thematic launches, a little late, Friday morning.)

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

P is for...

Watch your step
London, ON, October 2010

Further proof that letters are everywhere. Even when they make your kids giggle.

Your turn: Have you shared a letter-themed photo yet? Have you already shared one, but want another go? Click here. Because life is short.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The new iPad cometh...

I never met a geek story I didn't like - or that I didn't want to write about. So in advance of Apple's expected announcement Wednesday of its next-generation iPad (which some folks call iPad 2, but I'm betting they're wrong, but I digress) I wrote a piece for Yahoo! Canada Finance, and it published today:

My point? The iPad isn't successful because it's a lovely piece of engineering. It isn't about the hardware. The software/iTunes App Store ecosystem's the real reason no other tablet comes close.

So while everyone in San Francisco and beyond is swooning over the cool new features, lighter weight, thinner chassis and all the other things that make folks cool at parties, I'll be focusing on the less tangible reasons that explain why Apple rules the consumer electronics world. And I'll be alone in the corner, most likely.

I'm such a contrarian.

Your turn: Are you the kind of person to line up outside a store to be the first among your friends to own a given gadget? If you are, why? If you aren't, what do you think of those who do?