Saturday, December 31, 2011

The year dawns bright


Sparkled
Delray Beach, FL, January 2011
About this photo: We're sharing our favorite photos of the year, and we hope you'll do the same. Just click here to get in on the year-end photographic nuttiness.
Part of me feels our nearly-obsessive devotion to date-based events is a little much. Birthdays, anniversaries and holidays put us on high alert to live up to expectations that simply can't be sustained in the real world. Everything's got to be perfect, everyone's got to be on their best behavior and every memory needs to be unblemished.

Reality dictates otherwise, as life is seldom as clear as the Nivea model's porcelain skin might suggest. We can airbrush, PhotoShop and edit until time immemorial, but underneath it all, reality has a crazy way of bleeding through.

Which brings me to this particular scene, shot in the rushed moments after the big ball dropped, when everyone gathered for the obligatory New Year's party represented the perfect kind of togetherness that made Bing Crosby's career what it was. But was it, really? I'll leave that for you to decide, and to ponder whether such perfection is even worth pursuing. I think the planet would be a happier place if everyday imperfection was considered more than good enough.

Your turn: I'm not a resolution kind of person. But I do want to know what you hope the new year brings. To you. To us all. What do you hope for?

Where he becomes part of something


Togetherness
London, ON, May 2011

It's quite a challenge picking your favorite photos out of the countless moments you've caught over the past year (more here). As I've sifted through my own admittedly virtual pile, I've asked myself what makes a great picture, anyway. Is it technical perfection? A tone or a feel that moves the viewer? A bit of both? Neither?

Truth is there is no one answer. What makes you like something - like pistachio ice cream, Adam Sandler movies or the Kenny Loggins/Michael Bolton Very Special Christmas Album - could very well make your identical twin, if you're lucky enough to have one, violently ill. There's no rhyme or reason to any of this, so we may as well just roll with it. Life's too short to spend overanalyzing.

That said, this one touched me because it marked a transition for our youngest son. I took this picture as his first-ever convention - a three-day event - wound down. Everyone was gathered on the front lawn, singing and speaking, leaders trying their best to leave the little ones with memories that would keep them connected and involved in their community.

I was struck by the way our son left the house a 10-year-0ld boy and came home having made connections he cherishes to this day. He grew during those three days, and no picture sums that up better in my mind than this one. It always stops me in my tracks when it flashes past in a slide show.

Your turn: What makes a picture significant to you?

Friday, December 30, 2011

Dinner is almost served


Empty. For now.
London, ON, April 2011

Some of my favorite pictures (please see here for more similarly-themed Thematic) from this past year are also the simplest. I've admitted many times that I like simple things, that my overwhelmed-by-life brain often needs to get away from it all by capturing and taking in stripped down, elemental scenes.

This particular photo is an excellent example, as it was taken in that quiet time before we had friends over for dinner, as the house bubbled with adults and kids catching up with each other, and the smells from the kitchen suggested we were in for quite a treat. It was a warm, happy moment, and one picture takes me right back. Powerful stuff, this photography thing.

Your turn: What's going to end up on this plate?

When you realize you voted for the wrong guy

"Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city, it might be better to change the locks."
Doug Larson
I live in a medium-sized burg about a two-hour drive away from the largest city in the country. I've vented plenty of bile about our leadership over the years, but our elected civic officials are seemingly godlike when compared to the folks currently running the show in Toronto.

Mayor Rob Ford, who ran for office on an oft-repeated promise to "stop the gravy train" has turned the city into something of a laughingstock. He's declared war on the Toronto Star, called the cops on one of Canada's top comediennes, been spotted driving (at least twice) with his handset (a no no in our parts) and has been accused of giving the finger to a passing motorist. No one admits ever having voted for the guy, yet there he sits, making a supposedly world class city seem decidedly less so.

The latest: cops being called multiple times to his house to deal with an ongoing series of domestic disputes (story here). I don't want to pile it on at a time when he and his wife, Renata, are clearly dealing with some very serious issues. But I am forced to question whether this kind of leadership is in the citizens' best interests, and whether it might make more sense for him to step aside so he can deal with more important issues, at home, than finding gravy and flipping the bird.

Your turn: Politicians who suck. Please discuss.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Eat a good breakfast


A good start
Delray Beach, FL, January 2011
About this photo: We're sharing our favorite photos of the year, and you can, too, by clicking here.
I used to be religious about breakfast, with at least a 20- or 30-minute block of time reserved to sit down at the kitchen table with something nominally nutritious. I'd take my time with it as I spread the newspaper out and gradually ease my way into the day.

Times have changed. I get up at different times every morning - sometimes psychotically and unpredictably early depending on deadlines, munchkins' choir schedules and the state of the dog. Oh, and the newspaper these days is impossibly thin, and barely worth reading. Carving out quiet time to eat and read has taken a bit of a back seat, so most mornings I get by with a quickly downed glass of juice and a thermal mug of tea that comes with me wherever I go.

I know that this is bad. Logically, I appreciate how important a good breakfast is to maintaining good health. Realistically, I'm just freakishly time-challenged, so this is the first thing to go.

I'm not one to make resolutions. Still, I know this is something I need to change. Opinions welcome.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Another Toronto Star Op-Ed...

Exciting times in my writer's world, as the Toronto Star has published my next op-ed piece (first one went live in October - blog entry here, direct link here.)

The latest article is entitled Life of tech companies is nasty, brutish and short, and it examines why things are seemingly worse in this sector than in virtually any other. It's accompanied by a piece of artwork by illustrator Charles Weiss. I think that's kinda neat, too, and am doing a bit of a happy dance at how it's all turned out.

The piece will be in the Thursday print edition of the paper, so if you're in Toronto and come across the dead tree edition, I'll be your pal if you can shoot/scan it and send it my way (carmilevy AT gmail DOT com). Heck, I'll be happy if you don't flame/troll me in the comments section.

Either way, happy reading.

Your turn: What should I write about next?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On dirty art

"Art washes away from the soul the dirt of everyday life."
Pablo Picasso
I did a neat thing with my wife today: We wandered through a few art galleries. We didn't have much of an agenda beyond spending the day together and reminding ourselves why days like today are so treasured.

Along the way, we learned about artists whose work literally turned our definition of "art" on its ear. And inspired us to return to our own admittedly pedestrian artistic pursuits with a little more vigor. Whoever we are and whatever we do, we've all got an artist's voice. And Picasso's words, which we literally bumped into as we exited the last gallery of the day, couldn't have been better composed or timed.

Your turn: What does art mean to you?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Thematic Photographic 177 - Your Favorites


There will come soft rains
London, ON, December 2011

I'm going to end the year and start the next one with a familiar theme - a simple request, really, for you all to dig into your archives from the past year and share your favorite pictures. If you loved it, we want to see it.

I realize that some pictures don't necessarily fit into the weekly ebb and flow of themes, so this is our collective chance to share the ones that may not have found the light of day otherwise.

Looking forward to seeing what you've all got!

Your turn: Please share one photo - or many photos - on your blog. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the photographic community goodness. Repeat as often as you wish, and feel free to bring a friend or two along. We'll stick with this particular theme for a little longer than the usual one-week deal, as I think we all have a backlog of favorites to share. Are you game? (Oops, almost forgot: Click here for more background on how Thematic works.)

Learning from your kids

I learned an important lesson from our kids today: Slow down. I've been burning the candle at both ends for so long that I think I had forgotten how important it can be to turn it all off every once in a while.

While I'm busy zinging from place to place, they're busy growing up, building foundations for whatever comes next. I'd be silly if I missed it because I was too occupied with life. There will always be more work, but there won't always be a little man who wants to play Crazy Eights.

Funny thing is they didn't have to say anything. It was the simplest of epiphanies, actually: We went out for breakfast. And we lingered for a while as the kids ate ice cream and laughed themselves silly. And I looked at my watch and realized time isn't doing me any favours, and we won't have limitless breakfasts like this to squander.

So I consciously enjoyed this one. And I'll enjoy whatever else comes along, even if it means rearranging the calendar a bit to accommodate the so-called real world. Who says what happens in their lives is any less real, anyway?

Your turn: How do you get the most out of the stuff - and the people - who matter most?

On birds, horses and happiness

"Did you ever see an unhappy horse? Did you ever see bird that had the blues? One reason why birds and horses are not unhappy is because they are not trying to impress other birds and horses."
Dale Carnegie
I grew up surrounded by folks who fretted over what they wore, what they drove, and how others would respond when they first pulled up to the curb and got out. Impressing everyone around them was the goal. Failing to do so was a disaster worthy of movie-of-the-week-like attention. Until, of course, movies of the week fell by the wayside.

Now, I presume, they just drink themselves silly when their Lada Niva Sport merits an indifferent shrug from the prom queen.

But here's the thing: Once everyone scatters from that curbside kill zone in front of the high school reunion - or whatever venue that serves as Judgement Central - you're still wearing whatever you were wearing, still driving whatever you pulled up in. And the prom queen and folks like her who passed judgement on you? They've moved on. Forgotten you exist once again, until the next time you pull up.

And it's up to you to live with the person you are. And until you learn to ignore the prom queens - who I'm betting are more miserable than you've ever imagined - and listen to your own voice instead, that whole happiness and self-contentment thing might remain out of reach.

Besides, the Lada Niva Sport is a seriously great vehicle to have when eight feet of snow lands on your driveway overnight. You could even pick up the prom queen on the way to work.

Your turn: How do you find inner happiness?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Beyond land's end


Lives over the water
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2010

You never quite know what you'll end up with when you put your camera into your kid's hands and tell him to go to town. The pictures could end up blurry. The camera itself could end up irreversibly damaged by oompa loompas and beach sand. You could have to explain it all to your wife when you get back home.

But you'll never know if you don't give your munchkin that first opportunity. Like driving, first apartments and first relationships, you kind of have to hold your breath and let go. Of them, obviously, but also of your own parental need to control everything and keep them from experiencing anything remotely close to hurt.

Whatever happens next is up to them. Scary thought for some, I know, but a necessary step all the same. Because they'll never learn about the bumps and falls of life if we don't let go in the first place, don't give them the opportunity to experience it all first-hand, don't let go of the fear of them coming back with a bruise or two.

On this blustery afternoon, we found ourselves walking along a nearly deserted beach. And it just made sense to let our son carry the camera and see what he could see through its lens. In the end, there were no oompa loompas and no sad stories to tell my wife. What you see here is what he saw, a moment on a place that he's been connected to since he was little (here and here), a story of distant strangers all drawn to this place beyond the edge of the earth, for reasons that will forever remain unknown.

He's clearly got a sense of vision that's very much his own.

Your turn: How do you know when to let go?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Yahooligan journalism

Every once in a while, I like to grab a virtual lasso and corral some of the more notable writing I've done over the last little bit. Looking back at December, I realize it's been a bit of a busy month. I'm lucky enough to be a regular contributor to Yahoo! Canada, where most of my work is published on the Insight blog. If you want perspective on the business news of the day, this is a great place to start. Yes, I'm just a little biased. Sorry.

Here's a rundown of some recently published work:
Your turn: What should I write about next?

Journey to the centre of the universe


Time out
New York, NY, November 2009
About this photo: Thematic. Strangers. Here.
Let's get this out of the way first: I spelled the word, "centre", like a good Canadian should. There, I feel better. Let's continue.

It's hard to take a picture in Times Square without getting a stray human being caught in your composition. The place teems with people like the underside of a rock is covered with...well, you know. I almost got away with an empty shot on this bright Saturday morning (I wasn't in shul...shhh) until this guy sauntered into the sea of red chairs and plunked himself down.

Looking back at this now-two-year-old shot brings some neat things to mind:
  • I now write for the organization featured in the billboard just above his head (latest piece here.)
  • The NASDAQ reflection on the right? I'd been there before in another one of those surreal New York moments.
  • I waited to meet one of my Budweiser friends. None showed up. Two years later, I'm beginning to doubt I have any friends at Budweiser
Whoever this guy is probably had no idea I was even there. I wonder if his ears are burning right about now.

Your turn: What's he thinking?

Friday, December 23, 2011

On life, defined

"Life is relationships; the rest is just details."
Gary Smalley
I kinda liked this one, especially given how much up-close-and-personal time we're all about to get over the next week or so. It's a perfect time to think about the connections we make along the way, and why they matter so much - to us, and to everyone whose lives we touch.

Whatever you're celebrating, may you do it surrounded by the folks who matter most. By Dr. Smalley's logic, that's all we need to worry about.

Your turn: A connection that mattered to you. Please discuss.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

No longer strangers


Boys at play
London, ON, July 2011
About this photo: We're staring at strangers this week. What the heck am I talking about? Click here and all will be explained.
Our kids played soccer this summer, an experience they still talk about and look forward to repeating next year. As much as they revelled in the game itself, and as proud as we are that they took to it with such spirit and drive, I think they got a lot more out of the experience than that.

They connected with kids who started out as strangers to them, yet over the summer managed to coalesce into a tightly knit team. They made friends. They became part of something unique and something they were proud of. Our daughter, who started high school this year, got to know a few kids who are now her classmates. I have no doubt that the experience helped ease her entry into the often-frightening world of the Grade 9 student.

We may be exploring the sometimes distant world of strangers within this week's theme, but it took a summer on the pitch with our kids to teach me that not all strangers are destined to remain that way.

Your turn: Connecting with strangers. Please discuss.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

On the true bastardized meaning of Christmas

"Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like."
Will Rogers
Why are we so concerned with what others think? I realize we all want to be accepted, to a certain extent. But somewhere along the way we seem to have lost the script.

Wouldn't it be neat if we spent less energy worrying what folks think of our cars, our clothes or the last tchatchkeh that we bought, and more time simply trying to be better people with what we've already got?

Yup, thought so.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Thematic Photographic 176 - Strangers among us

He walks alone
Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC
July 2011

For a whole lot of reasons, some legal, some moral and some practical, I don't normally take pictures of strangers. Lots of photographers carry release forms with them in case they see a stranger doing something interesting. They'll then ask said stranger to sign said form if a photo is ultimately taken.

I can't be bothered. Which, I'm guessing, makes me a photo-criminal of the highest order and an enemy to all who simply want to walk the streets freely without fear of having their optical bits sucked through a lens, captured by an electronic sensor and recorded for all of time on a memory card.

To compensate for my apparent disregard for the privacy of others in public spaces, I do the following, in order:
  1. Try to shoot away from strangers
  2. If this proves impossible or impractical, I try to shoot them at angles or in ways that make identification difficult.
  3. If this proves impossible or impractical, I make up some sort of excuse to assuage my guilt and add some humor to the situation. That way, if they ever happen across their picture online, they'll laugh so hard that they'll forget to sue me.
I haven't been sued. Yet. So I'm guessing it's working. So far, at least. Will my luck run out? Not sure. But for the next week, I'm hoping you'll join me on my troublemaking little quest.

Your turn: Take a picture of a stranger, any stranger. Post it to your blog. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the photographic joyousness of it all. Click here if you're new to Thematic Photographic. And for the love of all that is or once was Kodak, have fun with it. Because that's why we do this Thematic thing, right?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

On waiting for the right things

"If you spend your whole life waiting for the storm, you'll never enjoy the sunshine."
Morris West

Home of the Big Gulp


Someone's thirsty
Minneapolis, MN, February 2011
[Please click here for more Thematic oneness]

I'm a huge fan of water towers, yet I don't think I really understand why. Maybe it's because they connect us to a time that no longer exists. Perhaps it's because of the way they loom like beacons over otherwise empty landscapes, signposts for long-distance travelers in a nearly forgotten age before GPS.

When my parents would pop us into the station wagon to visit family in faraway places, I remember staring out the window and watching for familiar landmarks along the way. Bridges, buildings, mountains, restaurants and, yes, water towers all told me just how many more miles we had to go, and whether I risked missing anything by nodding off. It's different today, as we drive with enough technology to calculate our position to the closest meter.

I'm not entirely convinced it's a better way to go, though, as there was a certain magic in the air when one of these things emerged from the murky sky and cast a shadow over our passing car, the faded name of some small town half-painted, half-baked on its rusting reservoir. Even if we were still far from our destination, or home, it made me feel just a little better to know where we were.

So when the adult me stares up at what some might view as a relic of a bygone era, I can't help but remember what it felt like so long ago. It's somewhat humbling. Comforting, too.

Your turn: What things, when you see them, trigger memories from long ago?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Cross the line


Borders
London, ON, April 2011
About this photo: Thematic. The one. Here.
We all have floors like this in our distant or not-so-distant past. Hardly a school exists without the kind of hard linoleum gym floor that jocks just love and the last-picked long since learned to loathe.

If you close your eyes just so, you can hear the squeaking of sneakers, the bouncing of balls, the too-often-ignored screams to pass the ball, shoot the puck and call the penalty on the other guy. Memory can be a powerful thing, no?

Friday, December 16, 2011

One big boy

Little man got a new pair of glasses today. When Debbie emailed me his picture from the optometrist, I wanted to reach through my screen and squish his cheeks. I don't know when he got so big, but I'm tickled deep down that he's growing into a sweet-natured, smart-minded mirror of my wife.

Life can sometimes throw dark days at us. Today definitely wasn't one of them. Lucky me.

Your turn: I'm going to need new glasses in the new year. Style suggestions welcome.

About this photo: It's Thematic's "the one" week this week. Click here to jump into the photographic insanity.

On courage, fear and opportunity

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear."
Ambrose Redmoon
It's been a week of days that start long before sunrise and end long after the kids are tucked into bed, of late-night writing jags and late-afternoon sprints across town before I jet off to something else barely 10 minutes after I get home. I've logged more than a few sessions in front of a camera, and the early morning treks into the studio have given me ample opportunity to wonder about the wonder of it all.

As I looked at the red light in the leadup to my most recent interview and listened to the producer in my ear count down the time until we were live, I thought about my first-ever television hit just a few years ago. I remember the sick feeling I had in the pit of my stomach, the furtive wish that I didn't melt down on-air, the hope that I'd remember to say all the right things.

In the end, I needn't have worried. I set the nausea aside and focused on just getting it done, and getting it done well. Which I did - or at least I think I did - and as I drove home afterward, I had to resist the urge to high-five total strangers at every red light. Amazingly, the phone kept ringing, and my media adventure continues to this day. I'm no longer afraid as the clock ticks down to air, but I can still understand why some folks might find it more than a little scary. You're always a flipped switch or lost thought away from losing it.

Which got me thinking about fear as I cruised the dark, wet streets this morning and turned into the parking lot, the studio's exterior lights blazing. I guess a while back I decided I wanted to ride the media wave so much that swallowing those pre-air jitters was an easy, or at least worthwhile, thing to do.

And let's face it, it's a thrill to start the day talking about things I love with really smart people who also love what they do. I'm sure there's a little bit of fear still lingering deep down. But it pales in comparison to the soul-stirring joy I feel when everything's clicking along and you know you've just laid down some seriously cool TV.

Not a day goes by that I don't realize how lucky I am.

Your turn: Why are you lucky?

One more thing: I'm back on-air first thing Friday morning - 7:40 a.m. Eastern - with CTV's Canada AM, talking about Facebook's new Timeline feature. But first I've got to drive through the darkened, wet streets of my pre-dawn 'burg. I seriously can't wait.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On Andy's culinary curmudgeonliness

"I don't like food that's too carefully arranged; it makes me think that the chef is spending too much time arranging and not enough time cooking. If I wanted a picture I'd buy a painting.”
Andy Rooney
It's been just over a month since the world lost one of its favorite realist-curmudgeons. I always enjoyed his essays, as his voice seemed to inspire my own minutae-focused world view. Since it isn't very likely we'll see another like him anytime soon, if at all, I've been trolling through some old Rooneyisms to remind myself why his curious mixture of observational journalism was, and is, such a treasure for us all.

This one makes me hungry.

(Oh, and get off of my lawn. Please.)

Your turn: Who inspires you? Why?

Destination unknown


One craft, many lives
London, ON, October 2011
About this photo: Thematic explores "the one" this week, and you're definitely invited. Click your (one) mouse right here to get started.
One of my earliest memories was lying on the lawn and staring up at the sky. Contrails fascinated my toddler mind, as I couldn't begin to imagine that the tip of each one was a massive, hugely sophisticated machine capable of carrying hundreds of people thousands of miles. At first blush, it was simply a moving line in the sky, just the thing to attract, and keep, my attention.

I know a lot more about those machines now, but that fascination has never really left me. I'll often stop what I'm doing just to stare, to squint a little more intently, to try to identify the aircraft type and its possible route or destination, to wonder about the myriad lives passing almost invisibly far above my head. The Internet has made the process magically interactive - bless you, Wolfram-Alpha - but it's still a beautifully simple thing to just stand there and wonder.

Your turn: What other things make you stop and wonder?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

On how to really build a castle

"If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put foundations under them."
Henry David Thoreau

Monday, December 12, 2011

Thematic Photographic 175 - The One


A dog's territory
London, ON, August 2011

I'm a pretty simple guy, so I tend to feel most comfortable when I boil really complex things down to their most basic elements. To that end, photography is a lot like life: Focus on the one thing that interests you most, and forget about everything else. You can always tell those stories in another picture. Besides, I get annoyed with our modern era's near-obsession with cramming as much as possible into every available space. Too much, too fast, and anyone who thinks we've become a multitasking society is seriously deluded.

So this week, I'd like to slow things down a bit with our new Thematic theme, "the one". It's as simple as it sounds: Share pictures that focus on one thing only, or otherwise suggest a single, simple something. And from where I sit, life doesn't get any simpler than a happy dog sitting on his lawn. For him and for me, this moment was as singularly pure as it gets.

Your turn: Find a picture that just screams "one" to you, then post it to your blog and leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Previously posted content is also totally workable. Visit other participants to share the joy, and repeat as often as you wish all week long. If you're new to Thematic, our weekly photo sharing and learning activity, please click here.

Sort of red. Definitely bright.


Natural spectrum
London, ON, August 2011
About this photo: This picture wraps up our week-long exploration "seeing red". Still have something to share? Go here. Otherwise, we'll be launching our new theme, "one thing", tonight at 7:00 Eastern.
I doubt there's a shred of red in this picture, so by all accounts I'm probably cheating on my own theme. But I've got two excuses:
  1. I'm not color blind, but I often have difficulty identifying or differentiating subtle shades. I couldn't tell you if it's green or aqua, for example, or red or orange. I know what you're thinking: What a great trait for someone who, um, takes pictures.
  2. Sometimes, mixtures of colors remind me of a particular shade, even if that shade isn't overtly included in the picture at all. Let's call it suggestive color, shall we?
So given my inability to differentiate colors and my love of the optical spectrum, this one said "red" to me even though I can't find one red petal in it. It's in the same general region of the spectrum, so that ought to be good enough. That and it's Monday morning, I've got two sick kids in the house and we all need a reason to see something lovely.

Your turn: How can you explain a flower's ability to make us feel just a little brighter?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

On loss, time and perspective

"When you are sorrowful
look into your heart
and you shall see that
you are weeping
for that which has been
your delight."
Khalil Gibran
You can't feel loss unless you had something to lose in the first place. And as I've so often written in this space, I'd rather have it to lose and lose it than not have it at all.

Life isn't permanent, but it's the best gift we'll ever have. Seize every day with those who matter most, and never fear losing whatever it is we treasure above all. Because to never lose is to never truly live.

Your turn: How do you make your memories happy ones?

One more thing: Please accept my apologies for the slightly dim tone of this entry. It's been a melancholy day. More here.

Holding on for dear life


Hiding in plain view
London, ON, November 2011
[Click photo to embiggen]

At first glance, you'd hardly think this scene has anything to do with our "seeing red" theme (here). In fact, the branches first caught my eye because of their geometry and depth. I was so captured by it that as I composed, I idly toyed with the idea of shooting it in black-and-white*.

But it was windy and my fingers were cold, so I really wanted to get the shot over with before stuffing my hands back into my toasty warm pockets. Annals of photography, folks: I just wanted to keep my digits warm.

Anyway, I didn't notice the tiny remnant berries until later, when I got home and saw the pictures up on my monitor. They reminded me of some plucky survivors, holding on against hope, long after anyone else would have given them up for dead. The thought made me smile, because we could all use a little inspirational defiance every once in a while.

Your turn: Holding on despite it all. Please discuss.

--
* When I feel that a particular scene would render better in b&w, I deliberately throw the camera into b&w mode. While I've been known to convert color pictures to b&w after the fact, I prefer to shoot them native because that way the camera's sensor is properly calibrated for the task at hand. I've long suspected you lose a hint of sensitivity when you shoot in color and then compensate for it later in software. Consider this example #592 of my retentive nature.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Media storm - drunkenness, megadeals & online privacy

I had a pretty good media week this week, with my name popping up in all sorts of fun places. Notably, I got my hideous mug on television a few times, including the following interviews on Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart's release of new guidelines to ensure online advertisers play nice with our private information:
  • CBC News Network. Spoke to Reshmi Nair. Video here. And here.
  • CTV's Canada AM. I chatted with Scott Laurie. Video here. I also spoke with CTV News Channel's Jacqueline Milczarek just after that, but I couldn't find the video online.
  • The Toronto Star. Privacy online (byline Francine Kopun)
BlackBerry maker Research In Motion had a lousy week, too, as two high-ranking employees got drunk on an Air Canada plane and forced it to land in Vancouver. The over-300 passengers on board were put up in hotels and forced to endure an 18-hour delay before continuing their flight to Beijing. The now-ex-employees were subsequently fined $72,000 by the airline. Then a BlackBerry promotion in Indonesia turned into a stampede. Then I talked to Canada's leading wire service about how all this stuff hurts the brand:
Other notable hits from the Toronto Star this week include:
The last two stories dealt with the purchase of the majority of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd. (the owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors, the Air Canada Centre, among others) in a groundbreaking telecom convergence move. I published the following two pieces on Yahoo! Canada to try to make sense of the deal:
To say this is fun would be something of an understatement. To say I don't feel privileged would be a lie: Every time the phone rings, the red light goes on or I click Send to an editor, I pinch myself that things are evolving as they are. May it be so for us all.

Your turn: What's your dream?

Blood on the street


The color of stop
London, ON, December 2011
About this photo: Thematic explores the "seeing red" theme this week. You can, too, by pointing your mouse here.
It had been a restless evening. Although the house was peacefully quiet, with the kids tucked in and the happily-walked dog already snoozing on the living room couch, I was churning way too many things in my head. Upcoming deadlines, longer-term deadlines, life and career stuff...the kinds of things we were always taught not to sweat, but still manage to sweat, anyway.

I remembered something I saw from my earlier outing with the pup. I had changed up our route a bit and wandered near a traffic light. The roads were damp with the remnants of the first wet snowfall of the season. I didn't see the lights as much as I noticed their reflection on the mottled pavement. I made a mental note to return if I had the chance.

And I did. Never mind that it was still spitting outside - sometimes you just have to follow your muse whenever the moment is right. I slung the camera under my coat, tightened the lens hood and stepped into the damp, miserable night. As I walked, I checked the wind direction to keep the flakes off of my lens, then shot quickly when I got to the corner.

I'm guessing I shoot for a number of reasons, the least of which is getting the picture. Sometimes I just need some quiet time to think. Sometimes I just want to hold onto that moment. Sometimes just getting out there despite it all is enough of a reason.

Your turn: Now that you know why I do the photography thing, why do you do it?

Friday, December 09, 2011

Big red fast cat


Blink to pass
Mahwah, NJ, July 2011
About this photo: Thematic is "seeing red" this week. You can, too, by heading here.
There's something about red cars that sets them apart. I'll admit a little bias, as I once owned a bright red vehicle (here) and spent entirely too much time keeping it - nay, her, Henrietta the Honda - bright and shiny. The sober grey car that came next never seemed to tweak the heartstrings in quite the same way. If at all.

So when I found myself face to face with this lovely Jag a few months back, it didn't take much prodding to get the camera out. Maybe they knew I was coming.

Your turn: What is it about red that makes it...different?

Thursday, December 08, 2011

On the fragility of freedom

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same."
Ronald Reagan

Where the steel rails never end

I took this picture earlier this week on the platform of London's Via Rail station. It's a jewel of a facility whose construction began the transformation of the city's once-derelict downtown - well, it's still kinda derelict, but we'll leave that discussion for another day - and has been a regular backdrop to our family's adventures.

It was a dimly lit early morning, mixed with the kind of grey, snow-tinged dampness that signals winter's impending arrival. I had just walked my mom to the train and, as has become my habit, was standing on the platform waiting for the train to leave. I don't know why I do this, but I feel funny just turning around and walking away. My mom, bless her, had taken a seat on the other side of the train and had no idea I was there, but that's not the point - it made me feel better to be there, so I stayed.

It didn't take long for the platform to empty out, and soon enough I was standing completely alone. It was a strangely peaceful moment to be in a place of such transition, so close to to many who were going so far, yet still wrapped in near-absolute silence. Soon enough I'd be back in the car on my way to another busy day, but for now I wanted to remember what it felt like to deliberately put the world on hold for a bit.

Your turn: Being alone. Please discuss.

One more thing: What does this really grainy pic from my smartphone have to do with "seeing red"? The rail lights way beyond the end of the tunnel were what first attracted my attention. Squint hard and you'll see 'em. Click here to share your own red or reddish view of the world.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

On the promise of everlasting childhood

"In my soul, I am still that small child who did not care about anything else but the beautiful colors of a rainbow."
Papiha Ghosh


Your turn: How do you hold onto your childhood?

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

On journeys

"When the road ahead seems too long, look back to see how far you've come. For, even if the hill before you is steep, the view gives you hope to finish the journey."
Daniella Kessler
Ms. Kessler's words feel somewhat more substantial to me tonight. I've been thinking about journeys for the past few days, especially the really extended one I seem to have been on over the last few years of my professional life.

At various points, it hasn't been clear to me where all the twists and turns would lead me. It's not as if the road I've been on has been remotely conventional - I'm still looking for that manual for geeky journalists in the Internet Era - and I've often wondered if I should have simply taken the easier path. Wouldn't it have been easier had I stuck with the Mother Corp cubicle?

Easier? Perhaps. Memorable and fulfilling? Doubtful. I was born a writer, and it made no sense for the adult me to fritter away that gift. I needed to follow that little voice that kept telling me to listen to my gut (and my wife.)

So tonight I wrote some more. In a few minutes, I'll do some live radio from my driveway. Tomorrow morning, I'll get up really early and drive through darkened streets to a brightly lit studio where I'll have the privilege of appearing on a top-rated national morning show. None of this is linear, or even logical. But it's me. And it's turned into a hell of a journey.

Your turn: Where is your journey taking you?

Monday, December 05, 2011

Thematic Photographic 174 - Seeing Red


Nature's brilliance
London, ON, November 2011

Red isn't so much a color as it is a culture. You feel it before you see it, and it sticks with you in your mind long after your eyes have moved elsewhere. If any color can raise the temperature of our soul, it would be red.

The onset of autumn makes it harder to find, but I've got immense faith in our loyal Thematic fans, and I know the next week will be filled with lots of red scenes.

Your turn: Take a picture that evokes the "seeing red" theme. It could simply have something red in it, or it could suggest the color. Or whatever: Remember the rule of Thematic, that it's entirely up to you to interpret a given theme. No rights, no wrongs. When you're done, post it to your blog (or find something you may have already shared) and leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants and rook distant family members into joining the insanity. Thematic is our rather informal and fun weekly photo-sharing-exploration thing, and you can learn more about it here.

Shattered dreams


No longer whole
Quebec City, QC, July 2011
Please note: This photo wraps up our "flash of color" theme. Our next theme, "seeing red", launches tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Last-minute submissions for "flash of color" are being accepted here. Otherwise, hope you'll pop in tonight for some reddish fun.
I'll admit this picture isn't the happiest one in my archives. It suggests irreversible breakage, ignorance of social norms, urban grittiness, some kind of loss. It's always jarring to come across glass on the ground. I worry the kids or the dog will cut themselves on it. I wonder what went on in this place before we arrived. I wonder if anything else will happen here if we hang around for too long.

Yet in the scattered remnants of what once was and will probably never again be, there remains a certain something that almost forces me to stare. The glass glints in the sun as it sits on sun-baked asphalt that's probably a decade past its best before date. There's nothing about this general area that suggests it's anything but a rough-hewn stretch of a forgotten street in a dusty part of town, but I still can't stop looking at the bright green slices at my feet.

Maybe there's hope in this reflected color. Beyond this particular scene, in everything I come across, maybe I need to be looking more carefully for other signs of hope. I let that thought sink in as I slowly walk away and rejoin my family.

Your turn: Where do you find hope?

Sunday, December 04, 2011

On some more Pooh wisdom

"'Sometimes, the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.' said Pooh."
A.A. Milne

Hanging on

Last of their kind
London, ON
November 2011
About this photo: Thematic. Flash of color. Here.
You've got to admire things with pluck, gumption and determination. They aren't always pretty, but they always manage to attract attention and make us think.

Like the homeless man who sells tattered newspapers by the bus stop, the off-tune accordion player who partially blocks pedestrian traffic on a busy downtown corner, or the abandoned building with particleboard for windows, they all manage to retain a certain sense of vibrancy and purpose even if we hold our noses a bit as we walk on by.

But that's the thing with life, is that despite all our attempts to drown it in perfume, cover it with makeup and otherwise smooth its rough edges with some sort of slick packaging, it somehow manages to remind us that things aren't always fully baked - or entirely fresh - under the surface. It is what it is, and it's up to us to either hold our noses and pretend we don't notice, or breathe it in a bit and realize that life, defiant, can be more fulfilling than life, blinkered.

On this blustery morning in the woods, I decided that this cluster of unspectacular, admittedly plain leaves was just plucky enough to merit some quiet thought. And a picture. Because I would have missed the moment had I held my nose and kept on walking.

Your turn: What kinds of things make you stop and think?

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Lessons my dog has taught me

I haven't written about our dog in a while because I'm guessing most of you don't want to read about his latest bout of mischief - the meticulously chewed and redistributed garbage, mangled shoe or half-eaten chocolate marble cake - or follow his roller coaster ride of diabetic fun. So I've made the executive decision to keep the canine volume level a little lower than it would otherwise be.

But every once in a while, I'll have an epiphany of sorts that reaffirms why I'm glad we have him, and why the world seems just a little kinder because of him. I had one of those moments as I was walking him the other night.

He was being his usual schnauzer self, wandering haphazardly all over the place, following his nose in search of whatever it is that jazzes him. It had snowed earlier that day, and he was burying his snout in the little bit of white stuff that remained, snorting repeatedly as he tried to burrow his blackberry-button nose as deeply as physics and soil composition would allow. I wasn't in much of a rush, and it was just crisp-cold enough that I was perfectly content to listen to him shnorkel his way underground for as long as he wished.

Eventually, he tired of the game and sauntered off toward the house, looking quickly back to make sure I was following before he continued his half-bounce, half-trot down the sidewalk. He was happy, perfectly content to be exploring his neighborhood, and all I had to do was read his body language and follow along.

We've been worried about him ever since our vet confirmed his diabetes, concerned every time an infection or some other ailment pops up and necessitates another trip to see Doctor Tom. He's five years-old, seemingly too young for any of this, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't wonder about his long-term prognosis. Will he live to a ripe, healthy old age? I fear he won't, and I kick myself for even thinking it. Or writing it here.

But on this day, on this walk, he wiggled his little rear end and drank in the experience, which pretty much mirrors every walk we take. He's blessed without the ability to worry about the things that lie beyond the horizon. Instead, he cares only about whatever it is that lies under the snow at the tip of his nose. And whoever's holding onto the other end of his leash.

We may not have as many days with him as we had hoped when we first brought him home. But somehow, he's teaching us to get the most out of every day we've got.

I could learn from him.

Your turn: What can we learn from animals?

Friday, December 02, 2011

On your life's mission

"Here is the test to find whether your mission on earth is finished. If you're alive, it isn't."
Richard Bach

Red-tipped glory


Fragile
London, ON, November 2011

I chose "flash of color" as this week's theme (please see here for more) because there's something refreshing about seeing a wisp of brightness where you otherwise wouldn't expect to find it. When I set out on my Sunday morning walk in the woods, I expected it to be a sea of grey, a desolate, shadowy place devoid of any memory of the lush color that had blanketed it barely a few weeks earlier. The approach of winter tends to strip the landscape of its in-your-face vibrancy, so my intent was to capture the bleakness.

So it was quite the pleasant surprise to see so many tiny examples of color. You couldn't see them from far; if you stuck to the broad view, they remained hidden. But walking closer to a tuft of stripped-down bushes revealed sights like this, tiny red sprouts that hung around long after the leaves around them had turned brown and been blown away.

The wind was blowing a chill through my coat as I took this scene in. I waited for the branches to stop dancing, but eventually realized Mother Nature had no intention of hitting the pause button just for me. So I took the picture anyway, tightened my scarf and kept walking, the memory of this once-hidden perfection serving as a reminder to take the time to look more closely. Otherwise, I might never have known what I would have missed.

Your turn: How do you make sure you don't miss the small stuff?

Thursday, December 01, 2011

On kindness

"Three things in human life are important: The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind."
Henry James

Your turn: What's the fourth thing?

Chasing cops


Flashy
London, ON, November 2011
About this photo: It's Thematic's "flash of color" week, and you can share your own flash of color by heading here. It's all perfectly legal.
Despite all the freedoms we supposedly enjoy in a country like Canada, there's always a moment of doubt when I train my lens on a police officer, cruiser, or any other subject remotely related to law enforcement. I may have all the rights in the world - as a citizen and a journalist - to record matters of public record, but that doesn't mean I can't be told to put the camera away and leave the scene.

It's happened to me, but I still can't leave well enough alone. Because regular folks deserve to know what goes on around them, even it's not always pretty or lawful.

Your turn: Do you ever get into trouble for taking pictures?