Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On Carl Sagan, curiosity, and the lowly book

"What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic."
Please resist the urge to repeat "billions and billions" in that unforgettable tone of his. What Dr. Sagan brought to the world, aside from a remarkable scientific mind that expanded our view of the universe, was a challenge to everyday folks to look at their own universe with just a little more curiosity.

I miss his voice and I miss his insight. I wonder who else is out there to carry the torch of science for those who never saw themselves as scientists.

Your turn: So, who else is there? I'll start: Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Thematic Photographic 181 - Screens

Window on the world
7 miles above the planet, December 2011

I'd like to try something a little different with this week's Thematic theme, screens. So much of our daily lives revolve around flat panel televisions, computer monitors, smartphones and tablets, so I thought it would be neat to have a theme that focuses on these miracles of visually-focused electronics.

To me, technology has always been more than a simple gadget discussion. It's about how miraculous new inventions change the way we see and experience the world. I thought the screens that deliver those experiences would be a great place to start. Are you in?

Your turn: Share a photo of a screen, any screen, in any kind of scenario you think best reflects the theme. Post it to your blog, then leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Repeat as often as you wish throughout the week, and be sure to visit other participants to share the joy. Thematic Photographic is our weekly photo-sharing, learning and exploring extravaganza, and we'd love for you to take part. For more background on Thematic, click here.

On remembering to experience the now

"You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present."
Jan Glidewell

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Where the flight attendant almost busts me

Please take your seats
Somewhere over Ohio, December 2011
About this photo: Thematic. Movement. Here.
I keep coming up with new ways to get myself ejected from the grocery store, asked to leave the mall, and now, kicked off the plane. Thankfully I've only come close, without actually walking the plank. But I figure if I keep at it like I did on this flight, it's only a matter of time. Anything for the picture, right?

What does this have to do with movement? Simple: the camera was moving at nearly 800 km/h when this was taken. So was everything else in the picture. I didn't compose it, per se, as I didn't want to draw any more attention to myself than I already was. So I shot quick glances in all directions to make sure no one was paying too much attention, then quietly dropped my arm down into the aisle and began shooting.

By the time I was done, the drink cart was approaching from the back. And the flight attendant looked none too pleased. Still, she resisted the urge to dump apple juice in my lap. Or lecture me on the security risks of in-flight low-angle guerrilla photography.

It's another one of those click-and-pray shots, and while it won't win any awards (though this one did...more on that soon) it nevertheless brings me back to a moment that makes me smile. I hope it makes you smile, too.

Your turn: How does photography lighten your mood?

Always move forward

Behold the sign of the horse
Delray Beach, FL, December 2011
About this photo: This week's Thematic theme is "movement". Even though this Mustang is clearly parked, there's a sense of movement in its front fascia that never fails to stop me in my tracks. If you feel the need to move, too, please click here.
Our son is a huge fan of the Ford Mustang. No surprise, as this iconic vehicle has been the object of desire of red-blooded, American boys pretty much forever. Okay, since 1964. Never mind that our son is Canadian. Last I checked, his blood was red. And there's still something about the design, the brand, the way the thing sounds as it cruises on by, that turns his head in ways no Hyundai ever will.

So whenever I see one, I try to take a picture of it. I'm guessing that in the annals of parenthood, anything that gives you an excuse to talk is a good thing. And since I was red-blooded and near-American once upon a time, too, this is an easy thing for the two of us to just fall into.

Your turn: The inanimate objects that connect us. Please discuss.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

On meteorology

"We could all take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism."
Author Unknown

On living vs. existing

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
Oscar Wilde
It saddens me to think that Mr. Wilde may have been right. How many people around us, after all, are so wrapped up in the mundane details of making it through the average day that they forget to stop every once in a while to realize what a trip this life thing can be? A good shake to the soul might be in order, a reminder that we only see beauty if we first make the effort to do so.

From where I sit, it isn't a glass-half-full-glass-half-empty equation. My glass is half full of water, the other half air. How I choose to perceive it - as a source of life-giving water, an optical-photographic plaything, or anything else - is entirely up to me. Having that choice is priceless, and I'd hate to think I'd ever squander it.

Your turn: How do you spread joy?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Facebook goes public. Someone gets poked.

It's sorta-official: Facebook might file papers for its long-anticipated initial public offering (IPO) as early as next Wednesday. The "sorta" part is because Facebook hasn't actually announced it. The Wall Street Journal is reporting this, citing an anonymous source. In journalistic parlance, it's "a person familiar with the matter." Which could mean the janitor who cleans Mark Zuckerberg's office, his pool guy, a disgruntled former employee, or his mother who simply wants him to call her more often than he does.

Whoever this "person familiar with the matter" is, he/she has touched off a firestorm of coverage. The big number could fall between a $75 billion and $100 billion valuation, with the company aiming to raise some $10 billion from the offering. This would make it larger than the GDP of some small-ish nations. Or some larger ones with banking, um, issues (Greece, consider yourself poked.) And around the same size as McDonald's (grease?)

Sure, at this point it's all speculation and hearsay. But the Journal's been pretty bang on in the past, and if all this plays out, the monster deal will significantly change the way we view social media. Why? Because the little baby once used to find hot dates on an Ivy League campus is all grown up, and most of us these days are only too happy to immerse our lives in a growing wave of services we once dismissed as trivial.

$100 billion is anything but trivial. And as Google panic-spends its way to parity, it's clear the social media future is Facebook's to lose.

Game on.

Your turn: Facebook...good or evil? Why/why not?

Play. Move. Live.

Pure joy
Delray Beach, FL, January 2012
About this photo: Thematic explores movement this week, and I hope you'll join us. Click here to get started.
There's something to be said for taking a few steps back so you can watch your kids be themselves. I don't do nearly enough of it during the day-to-day routine that defines our day-to-day lives. Too busy working, grocery shopping, shuttling and worrying to unplug and just enjoy them for who they are. That has to change, because moments like this one on the beach are fleeting.

There's also something to be said for doing instead of just standing on the perimeter looking in. So after I took this picture, I put the camera back into its hermetically sealed bag and dove into the surf with our kids. No pictures or video. Just a vivid memory of an all-too-brief afternoon on the beach when we disconnected from the real world and enjoyed the moment.

Your turn: When's the right time to put the camera down and dive in?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On darkness and light

"It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light."
Aristotle Onassis

Mr. Onassis's words resonate especially deeply with me today, and I'm not entirely sure why. As far as I can tell, I'm not surrounded by darkness. I'm riding a pretty fulfilling wave that sees me engaged in work that jazzes me and touches others. My creative voice has never been more vibrant.

Yet I'm keenly aware of how quickly life can turn, how cruelly it can all be taken away, how even when we're bathed with light it behooves us to know where the shadows are, as well. Because life doesn't follow a predictable path, and it probably doesn't hurt to know what we'll need to do if the darkness suddenly descends on us.

Your turn: Keeping the darkness at bay. How?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Vignette - a morning I don't want to forget

Men must live and create. Live to the point of tears.
Albert Camus
I was up at a ridiculously early hour yesterday. I hadn't slept as much as I simply lay in bed staring at the clock, so worried I'd oversleep that I simply avoided sleep entirely.

The two co-CEOs of Research In Motion had quit the night before. The tech world was buzzing and I had been asked to do an early morning interview with Canada AM. It's CTV's flagship morning show, and as much as I've for the most part gotten used to the whole being-on-TV thing, this is television on another level, the best on-air and production talent you can imagine. I was equally jazzed, humbled and honoured.

I quietly moved through the usual preparation. Shower, clothes on, pat the dog, kiss the sleeping munchkins, juice, read, read, read, then out the door. I've done early-morning interviews before, but this one somehow felt different. As I stepped off the porch, I felt as if I was drinking things in in something beyond HD. The air felt particularly crisp, the darkened landscape almost three-dimensional as my now-wide-open eyes took it all in. It had rained the night before, and the ground was still slick, a chilling wind whipping through the now-bare trees. It was weird, but in a good way...I felt so incredibly alive and in the moment.

On the drive down, I pulled up next to someone at a red light. For some reason, the traffic lights reflecting off the road caught my eye. I wondered if the person in the other car noticed it, too, or wondered how something as simple as a traffic light reflecting off of a wet road can seem worthy of attention at this ungodly hour. I felt like I had a secret, that that driver had no idea I was about to do something blindingly cool before most of the rest of the city would even be awake. I didn't even want to blink, didn't want to miss these few quiet moments of an apparently special day when I was going to kick open a few more doors for me and my still-sleeping family. I wiped away a tear, maybe two, because in an instant I knew that this was what "right" felt like.

It's moments like this that you want to stuff in a bottle forever, when you realize you don't know what you did to deserve it, but you're still glad you did whatever it was. Of course, moments don't work that way, and neither do bottles. But that doesn't mean we can't hope to find a better way to freeze the snippets that matter most.

Before long, I slowly drove up the winding road to the studio on the hilltop. The bright lights shone like beacons in the night, signalling a place I've somehow made my own in recent months, a place where I feel like I can turn pretty much every journalistic dream I've ever had into an amazingly fulfilling reality. We all have places where we excel, and this is one of them for me.

I headed inside and handed myself over to the care of a local producer who knows what I need before I even say I need it, and a faraway director who on mornings like this calmly speaks into my ear and won't ever let me drop the ball. Outside of the focused circle of bright light that surrounded me, the rest of the studio was hushed, dark, serene. I closed my eyes, took a breath, and waited for the countdown to hit zero. I was ready.

Your turn: What does "right" feel like to you?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Thematic Photographic 180 - Movement

Delray Beach, FL, January 2012
[Click photo to embiggen]
Quick note: The leadership change at Research In Motion continues to put its stamp on my existence. Click here to see the latest. Or read on for a little photographic diversion. Because when the big news stops, a little camera time is good for the soul.
Photography is an incredible thing. It can freeze virtually anything in its tracks, and in the process allow us to imagine movement when, in fact, there is none. It plays with the mind, brings it places far beyond the screen mere inches from our nose, forces it to ponder what it must have felt liketo be Right There.

It's always a wonder to me that I can stop time with a mere click. I can explain the physics of it, but that doesn't make it any less miraculous.

Your turn: For the next week, Thematic will be sharing movement-themed pictures. Either take one that suggests the theme and then post it, or find one you've already shared online. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the joy (and accept my apologies for being so slack lately on that last part. Time is not my friend these days. I'll work on that.) And above all, enjoy the process. Because this is all about loving what we do when we grab our cameras and head out who knows where.

Oops, almost forgot: New to Thematic? Click here and all will be explained. Well, almost all.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

RIM leaders quit. Future remains uncertain.

So it's finally official. Research In Motion's co-CEOs and co-chairs Mike Laziridis and Jim Balsillie are stepping down from their posts (press release, WSJ, Globe & Mail, National Post). Current COO Thorsten Heins has been elevated to CEO, while former Royal Bank of Canada Barbara Stymiest becomes RIM's first-ever independent board chair. The now-former leaders will remain as members of the board.

What does it mean? Well, without much new products in the pipeline - new BlackBerry smartphones based on the next-generation BlackBerry 10 aren't due until the second half of this year, and the PlayBook is still languishing in the tablet-market equivalent of oblivion - not much. RIM needs renewal, and the leadership changes are only the first step in this process.

Worse, while I'm sure Mr. Heins is a superbly experienced industry vet - he was most recently RIM's COO, and has been in the telecom space for 30 years, including a stint as CTO at Siemens - he remains a RIM insider. If the company had been truly serious about reinventing itself, it would have looked to someone from either another company or another industry entirely. It's been done before - think Ford and ex-Boeing chief Alan Mullaly - and it could have been leveraged here, too.

I'll have lots to say on this in the days ahead, including a hit with CTV's Canada AM at 7 a.m. Eastern tomorrow (Monday). I'll add links to this entry as they hit the web.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Where I'm writing:

My articles for Yahoo! Canada:

Where I've been quoted/interviewed:

  • I chatted with Beverly Thomson on this morning's CTV Canada AM. Main story link here.
  • Spoke with CKCO Kitchener's Abigail Bimman via Skype for their 11:30 p.m. newscast.
  • Havard Gould included my comments in a piece he aired on CBC's The National.
  • Spoke with Kieron O'Dea for a piece for Global National.
  • Bantered with CTV News Channel's Jacqueline Milczarek and Dan Matheson.
  • Appeared on TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin.
  • Spoke with Aaron Rand of Montreal's CJAD, because radio in my old hometown is just that special.
  • I spoke with the Toronto Star. RIM's Mike Laziridis and Jim Balsillie resign. byline Michael Lewis.
Additional links/resources:

Where so many others have walked

By the day's early light
Pompano Beach, FL, December 2011
About this photo: We continue to explore anything that glows, and we hope you'll consider doing the same. Just click here to join in.
There's a certain sense of peace associated with walking along a quiet beach just after the rising sun has begun to paint the sand. What was cold to the touch just a few minutes ago is suddenly alive with radiated heat, as if a ball of hot gas some 93 million miles away can somehow bring immediate heat to your feet - and by association, your soul. Amazingly, that's exactly what happens as the sun rapidly transforms this place from the murky colors of pre-dawn to something that's decidedly more alive.

It's a change that you can feel as well as see. And as I focus in on the sidelit relief of the sand, I notice the traces of countless unseen souls who've walked here before me, and I get the feeling that I'm not the only one who's been drawn here. I wonder who all these other people are, and whether they felt the same sense of reverence that I'm feeling now. I wonder if they wonder anything at all, or if they're simply content to spend a few quiet minutes here before rejoining the real world as it shakes off the night and prepares for whatever it is that comes next.

I don't know what awaits me as the sun continues its relentless journey toward the top of the sky, but that hardly seems to matter as I slowly turn for home. My wife's probably awake by now. And breakfast awaits. I quietly think to myself that more days should start like this. Maybe...

Your turn: What does your ideal start-to-the-day look like?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

How are you changing the world?

While walking the dog earlier today, I found myself wondering about the whole meaning of life thing. My inbox has had more than a few sad messages from afar this week, reminders that this gift we've all been given is both fleeting and finite. It made me think.

And as my mind wandered back, I was reminded of the late Steve Jobs, and his well-documented desire to leave a dent in the universe. His dent is an obvious one, but what of the rest of us? What are we - individually and collectively - doing to change the world? How are we leaving it a better place than when we first got here? I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Friday, January 20, 2012

On work-life balance

"One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one's work is terribly important."
Bertrand Russell

I thought this would be a fine way to end the work week - after all, we all need the occasional reminder to stop taking ourselves so seriously and learn the definition of manyana.

Your turn: How are you planning on ending your week?

A place where nobody goes outside

Who sits here?
Pompano Beach, FL, December 2011
About this photo: Thematic is glowing this week. You can glow, too, by following your mouse here.
Oversized balconies overlooking the pounding surf as the sun begins its daily climb above the horizon. Not a soul to be seen aside from the occasional runner dodging the last gasp of each wave before it crashes for good against the slick sand. I look up and wonder why more people who stay here don't grab a mug of something comforting and head outside to take in the view. Because I think I'd have a permanent outdoor spot for my own mug of something comforting if I lived in this phenomenal place.

For now, I'll have to be content with the way the early morning light plays on the concrete. The sun really does paint differently down here. Pity no one else is outside to notice.

Your turn: Are you an outside or an inside person?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Is this what an alien invasion looks like?

Glassblower's delight
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2011
[Please click here for more glow-themed insanity]

You find some really surreal sights in some really surprising places. Any guesses where I found this one?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On playing, aging, and death

"Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing."
Oliver Wendell Holmes

(I'm guessing this applies to both genders, too.)

Your turn: How do you stay young?

As the end approaches

Soon to fall
London, ON, October 2011
About this photo: Thematic. Glow. Here.
In a matter of hours, we've gone from delightfully and unseasonably warm to brutally cold, icy and snowy. Twitter's heating up with complaints from the winter-unconverted. As I sit in the predawn house listening to the winds howl just outside my window, I readily admit I wish I could be back on a beach, my toes digging into the warm sand as the rest of me does not a whole lot else.

But wishes are just that. And it'll be a while before I'm warm. So for now I'll content myself with this dying scene of a dying season, of a moment where if I blinked my eyes just so, I could hold onto the last slivers of warmth before this leaf finally fell and the darkness once again took over.

There's beauty in the darkness, too. We just have to look a little harder for it.

Your turn:

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Wikipedians hate SOPA, PIPA, and liver

The Internet is abuzz with buzz over the mass protest against the proposed legislation - the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act - that are currently working their way through the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, respectively. Wikipedia goes dark tomorrow in support of a growing protest designed to get the proposed legislation squashed. Copy-and-paste-addicted high school students everywhere should be suffering withdrawal symptoms by lunchtime.

Supporters of the SOPA and PIPA legislation say something's got to be done to rein in piracy, to give law enforcement the ability to reach beyond national borders and shut down copyright violators who use servers stashed in the Cayman Islands to avoid prosecution. Opponents say these acts, if signed into law, will drape a layer of draconian, Big Brother-ish censorship and centralized control that will destroy the open and collaborative Internet as we know it. A number of high-profile sites, including the English-language arm of Wikipedia, will go dark tomorrow to protest the acts and encourage users to fight them. Still others, like Google, will remain operational, but till add content onto their home pages to help spread the word.

Who's right? Well, everyone is. Copyright owners - like Hollywood studios and record labels all the way down to the suburban-dwelling guy who writes on his MacBook late at night and shoots pictures by day - deserve to not have their stuff surreptitiously ripped off and made available for download by shadowy web services in a shadowy country (on a shadowy planet...) People and organizations who create content deserve fair compensation - profits, salaries, careers, whatever - in exchange for their efforts.

Likewise, content distributors - carriers, web sites like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter and distributors like Internet service providers - deserve to do business over an open, collaborative, creativity-inspiring Internet without fear of being waylaid by an endless wave of lawsuits brought forward by the same litigious doofii who turned the McDonalds drive-through into a never-ending source of cash for ambulance-chasing (and coffee-dropping) lawyers everywhere.

There's got to be a middle ground somewhere that at least keeps some of those involved happy some of the time. There's also got to be recognition that it's a problem that will likely never completely go away, that the cops-and-mouse game of stealing electronic content or otherwise using it inappropriately will never end, that technology will always be a step or two ahead of the legislation designed to control - and make fair - its use. Similarly, the planet deserves a solution that replaces today's ineffective patchwork of national legislation with something that allows law enforcement to prosecute criminals wherever they may be.

But as long as partisan bickering dominates the agenda, it's hard to see any of this improving anytime soon. Which is a pity, because the utopian promises of technology deserve a fair shot at coming true. Like reaching for the stars, we know we'll never quite get there. Indeed, we won't even get close. But just striving for fairness and balance should be enough no matter what side of this issue you may be on.

Your turn: Got any SOPA/PIPA thoughts? Hope you'll share 'em. I'll post links of my own later on.

Related links:
Seriously...this stuff is neat.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Thematic Photographic 179 - Glow

Pompano Beach, FL, December 27, 2011, 7:12 a.m.

Our new Thematic theme, glow, should be a fun one. If it glows, emits light in some way, or even figuratively suggests the concept, then go ahead and share it. That's it!

This particular shot was taken 12 minutes after this one. At the time, I promised to share more, and I may have some additional perspectives from the beach through the coming week. Let me know if you get sick of them.

In the meantime, I suspect you all know what the Thematic deal is, and what your mission, should you choose to accept it, will be over the next week. If not, click here for details. And have fun with it, because that's what Thematic Photographic is all about.

Your turn: Shoot, share and comment. Repeat. And smile.

The one posed shot of the year

Sitting still. For now.
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2011
About this photo: This pic wraps up our week-long exploration of the "after dark" theme - here. Our new theme, "glow", launches later today, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
It isn't often that I get them in the same place at the same time. Even more rare is having them do so without some kind of mugging for the camera. Which is no surprise given virtually every picture of me at their ages had me making some kind of funny - or in some cases not-so-funny - face.

I've ruined more pictures than I can count, and am likely the one responsible for my mother's grey hair. So it's somewhat poetic, nay fair, that our children should do the same thing to me. Still, they consented to this one moment of family normalcy when I told them their grandparents would be really, really happy. I also bribed them with chocolate, and am perfectly willing to accept my unparent-of-the-year award in exchange for that moment of photographic/familial desperation.

It's rare that I do the posed photography thing. But every once in a while, it's good for the soul to freeze them in place as a reminder of how you got so lucky to have them in the first place.

Your turn: What do you think happened next?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Where the lights are always on

White, not green
Toronto, ON, December 2009
About this photo: We're sharing "after dark" photos for another day - new theme launches Monday at 7 p.m. Eastern - so you've still got a snippet of time to share your own. Here's where the fun begins.
I had been in the big city for the day because while most of my work as a journalist is somewhat virtual - television hits done from remote studios, stories emailed to editors, and even pyjama-clad radio interviews phoned in from my driveway and - sometimes you need to be front-and-centre. This particularly clear and cold December day was one of them, with a corporate video shoot that I definitely couldn't do from my home office. Or in my jams.

After the session was done, I had a bit of a walk back to my car. So I slowed my pace down a bit, held my camera in my hand and waited for ideas to present themselves. It didn't take long for this abstract-looking building to grab my attention. I couldn't stop thinking about the psychology of modern living that treats empty, fully-lit office buildings as entirely normal elements of the nighttime sky. Owners claim it's in the interest of security, but it still strikes me as a typically arrogant disconnect from respectful use of often-non-renewable resources.

Still, there's an abstractness to this scene that stopped me in my tracks on the sidewalk. I can rail about eco-unfriendliness until the cows come home, but on this night, it meant getting a shot that wouldn't have otherwise been possible. That would have to be good enough as I tucked my camera back away, buried my near-frozen hands deeply in my pockets and headed for home.

Your turn: Who works here?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Little yellow taxi

Latka's ride
Delray Beach, FL, January 2012

A little man's toy taxi car. A warm evening out. A long lineup that had us chatting outside for a while. All ingredients for an impromptu shoot.

My cousin suggested I make it look like it's in the road. Not wanting to use an actual road - my wife probably would have had a kanipshen at the sight of me shooting in the middle of traffic - I instead found this relatively well-lit curb in the adjacent parking lot. Before you could stick your thumb out and flag a real cab down, I was contorting myself in between an inconveniently placed stand of prickly bushes to set up the shot, my cous suggesting angles and perspectives.

Other restaurant-goers walked by and stared at the spectacle of a grown man crouched on the ground. I'm sure at least some of them were mildly amused. Or alarmed - I'm not sure. My wife, chatting with the rest of our family, was blissfully unaware, though I suppose I'm pretty busted now, as she reads the blog.

The shot was challenging, as I couldn't use the spontaneous camera-bag-as-tripod trick I had used in our Thematic "after dark" theme launch pic (here). So I was stuck handholding down to a third of a second, which allowed me to once again get in touch with my Zen side.

The results? Well, they made a little guy happy, especially when we returned his toy to him. And in the end, that's all that really matters.

Your turn: Do you attract attention when you're shooting in public?

Local tie-in: The taxi in the shot is a model of a Ford Crown Victoria, which until a couple of months ago was manufactured just up the road from us, at the Ford Talbotville assembly plant. The factory is now shuttered, its former workers trying to stay afloat in an economy that doesn't seem to have as much room for middle-class manufacturing as it once did. I found it neat that our little cousin's favorite toy had such a local connection to us.

On Ghandi's view of conscience

"The human voice can never reach the distance that is covered by the still small voice of conscience."
Mahatma Ghandi

Friday, January 13, 2012

They dream in neon

Light bright
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2011
About this photo: Thematic. After Dark. Here. All are welcome.
Three hungry kids. A roadside, drive-through restaurant that we've driven past hundreds of times but never thought to visit because it seemed so forgettable. A warm evening in a place where we nevertheless wish we could linger a little longer.

As we waited for our food, I pulled out my camera and started exploring the architecture of the place. On the surface, it was a nondescript white concrete building with garish lighting, an exhaust-filled outdoor seating area and a walk-up window staffed by employees who seemed to wish they could be anyplace else. Fluorescent light spilled out the service window and onto the time-worn sidewalk below. A forgettable oasis of cookie-cutter mediocrity in a place that doesn't seem to care one way or the other.

But the details told a different story. A place where light rewrites the nighttime landscape, and where color beats back the sun during the day. And when the two intersect, even this place can offer up the kind of sight that just doesn't happen back home. Because we would have missed this neon light show had we simply let our first impressions guide us elsewhere.

Your turn: The first three words that come to mind when you see this photo are...?

On the (apparent) speed of light

"Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it."
Terry Pratchett

Thursday, January 12, 2012

On reciprocal happiness

"Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting a few drops on yourself."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

A ghost of a life

Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2011
About this photo: We're sharing "after dark"-themed pics all week long, and you're most certainly invited. Click here to see what the fuss is all about.
This is probably the worst and saddest photo I took while we were away. Worst because I literally shot it from hip-level, without bothering to meter, check focus or even compose. I practically closed my eyes and squeezed it off because I had no time to do anything else. It was one of those moments where you either shoot quickly, quietly and now, or risk losing the moment forever.

It's the saddest picture because it paints a visual of loneliness that I've always imagined in my mind's eye but could never quite touch. I can't stop thinking about the sound of the key in the door on that dark, shadowy concrete balcony, the stooped posture of the lone woman, the fact that I had seen so many like her in this place that they had all begun to blend together in my mind. I imagined what awaited her on the other side, a quiet prison of blank walls and loneliness. The sadness stayed with me long after I had put the camera away.

The result is grainy and lousy. But I can't stop looking at it or thinking about it. Which is I guess what photography is supposed to do.

Your turn: The saddest photo you ever took was...?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On heroes

"Without heroes we are all plain people and don't know how far we can go."
Bernard Malamud

Your turn: Who's your hero? Why?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Waiting for the world to wake up

Barely first light
Pompano Beach, FL, December 27, 2011, 7:00 a.m.
Click photo to enlarge
About this photo: We're exploring the after dark theme this week, and I figure the moments just before sunrise just barely qualify as after dark. Way after dark. What's in your collection? Click here to share it.
As I wandered alone onto the darkened beach in anticipation of sunrise, I was struck by two things:
  1. I'm the only person around insane enough to be out here in the chilling wind as blowing sand threatens to add a new design to my lens filter.
  2. I'd come out here every morning, earlier even, if I lived closer.
If we're being rational - work with me on this one, as you already know rationality isn't my strongest suit - this wasn't the best morning to shoot the sunrise. As I first got outside, I felt like kicking myself when I saw the sky: The clouds pretty much wiped out the building light show and the blowing sand coming in from the south (right-of-frame) limited my available angles.

I worried about destroying my camera in pursuit of lousy pictures, and toyed with heading back inside. But the little angel on my other shoulder reasoned it's not as if I get out here all that often. So I decided to stick it out and see how things evolved.

Initial photographic disappointment notwithstanding, it felt strangely comforting to feel the constant, salt-stained wind in my face as I watched the horizon come alive. The longer I stayed on the slowly brightening sand, the more I realized just how wrong my first impressions were. The winds were blowing the clouds into italicized patterns on the horizon that pulled the eye in and wouldn't let go. Instead of blocking the light, the clouds played games with it. They seemed to partner up seamlessly with the gradually rising sun, painting its rays in ways I would have completely missed had the skies been clear.

I took a lot more pictures after this initial view, and I'll post them soon. For now, though, I wanted to share a moment that seemed to start out like a washout but ended up even more rewarding than I had originally imagined. Sometimes, you just have to give things some time to see where they'll take you. Otherwise, think of what you would have missed.

Your turn: Ever have disappointment turn into something great?

On seeing through the darkness

"No matter how dark the moment, love and hope are always possible."
George Chakiris

Monday, January 09, 2012

Thematic Photographic 178 - After Dark

Another one rides the bus
Delray Beach, FL, January 2012

Welcome to our new Thematic theme, After Dark. Despite the fact that photography is all about light, and nighttime doesn't always offer up enough of it to make the craft worthwhile, there's plenty of opportunity to get the shot if you're willing to give it a little extra thought.

For example, this old Volkswagen Bus. We were waiting for our table at a popular local restaurant. This being Florida, we were sitting outside and enjoying weather that was infinitely better than the 43 cm of snow being dumped on our hometown some 2,400 km away. I spied this delightfully well preserved Volks across the street and despite the fact that I had no tripod, figured it was at least worth a try.

I crossed the busy road, dumped my camera bag on the sidewalk and got to work. I used the bag as a makeshift tripod , reasoning with myself that the necessarily low angle would seem more dramatic. I used the remote control to set off the 4-second exposure - I didn't want to go too much longer as I wasn't sure how stable the fabric bag would be as traffic whizzed past. I also wanted to get back before my ever-suffering wife realized I was gone.

In the end, I got the shot, my wife liked it, and we had a lovely time at the restaurant. And I realized just how much fun an after-dark shoot could be. As we explore the theme over the next week, I hope you realize how much fun it can be, too.

Your turn: Take a photo after dark (nighttime works, as does any other way you define "after dark"...have fun with it) and post it to your blog. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants and come back through the week to add to the fun. Thematic Photographic is all about stretching our photographic horizons a little. For more background on how it works, click here.

Where shall I fly today?

Skimming the waves
Pompano Beach, FL, December 2011
[Click photo to embiggen]
About this photo: We're still sharing favorites from 2011, and you're invited to do the same. Just click here. New theme, After Dark, launches tonight at 7:00 p.m.
Anyone who's hung around here for a bit knows I'm somewhat manic about bird pictures (see here, here and here for previous examples.) I don't really understand why this is so: They just pull my attention skyward whenever I'm around them.

I'm not a real hard-core birdwatcher, though. I wouldn't know a yellow-bellied sapsucker from a Monrovian miniature spotted quail. I've tried reading books on bird-spotting before, but it's always ended up in a fog of combined boredom and frustration. Here's all I know:
  • They fly.
  • I can't.
  • I find that neat.
For the sake of convenience, I usually end up shooting whatever's nearby, which typically ends up being the ubiquitous seagull. Scoff if you must, but damn, they can fly. Chasing them with a lens always teaches me something new about the craft. And it makes me feel good while I'm doing it. Which is kinda the point of this living thing, after all.

Your turn: Where's this bird going? Where would you go if you had the native ability to fly?

Sunday, January 08, 2012

What massive looks like

Give me strength
Quebec City, QC, July 2011
About this photo: This is one of my favorite pictures of the past year. Do you have one? If you do, I hope you'll share it. Click here to start.
Ever notice how if you stand near a really giant piece of engineering you eventually feel its presence in your bones? I can't quite explain why, but large structures created by humans seem to have a gravity all their own.

And so it was with the Quebec Bridge, which I probably could have hung around all day if time and my wife permitted. But she's wise in ways that I'm not. And practical (again, in ways that I'm not.) And our merry family had a museum to tour, animals to meet and experiences to experience. So I zoomed in for a few last grabs before we headed inside.

All these months later, I can still feel it in my bones. Can you?

Where I explain what the hell that was

Light, water and memory
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2011

Earlier today, I posted this picture and asked you what the hell it was. You're all excellent guessers, and I'm glad you had such a good time with it. Turns out you were all pretty darn close. Here's the deal:

We were sitting poolside watching the kinderlings swim in the mostly darkened pool. Being Canadians in a strange land, they were happy to swim after dark, long after the locals had gone inside and tucked in for the night. It was New Year's Eve, and the Canucks didn't much care that it was nowhere near warm enough to go for a dip. Annals of parenting, no?

As the kids swam, I found myself fidgeting with my camera, concerned about not having something unique to remember this night. I wandered to the other side of the pool and found myself staring at the reflected light - from above and under the water's surface - and thinking how neat it would be to shoot it in the abstract.

The answer hit me pretty quickly: Relatively long exposures - 2 to 4 seconds would do it - combined with sweeping the camera in a constant-speed arc from left to right. I've tried this painting-with-light experiment before, but was never happy with the outcome. Time to change that. So while my wife and our cousins chatted poolside, I started waving my camera around. I'm sure had anyone seen me, they would have called security.

Thankfully they didn't. Thankfully we returned home with as many children as we had when we left. Thankfully I ended up with a neat new set of abstracts to enjoy. And an additional incentive to continue shooting weirdly well into 2012.

Your turn: Do you do oddball things with your camera? Do tell!

What the hell is this?

On the last day of the year, I found myself feeling a little playful. So I threw the camera settings into pray-this-comes-out mode and went to work.

Anyone want to guess what this is? I'll post the full rundown tonight, but I'm curious what you think. The crazier the better.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

On roses, gardens and living

"One of the most tragic things I know about human nature is that all of us tend to put off living. We are all dreaming of some magical rose garden over the horizon, instead of enjoying the roses blooming outside our windows today."
Dale Carnegie

Friday, January 06, 2012

Watching the waves roll in

Don't get wet
Ft. Lauderdale, FL, December 2011

We've been away for a bit, as the ebb and flow of life over the past year made some quiet time pretty much mandatory for us all. We should be pulling into the driveway right around the time this post hits the blog - the wonders of modern technology.

While we were gone, I sat beside the ocean and stared at it for seemingly endless periods of time. Every once in a while, I'd pick up my camera and take a picture. Or two. Or two hundred. It depended on my mood, which became a lot mellower the more I did this. I also mellowed as I watched our kids recharge their own batteries. They're good souls, so much like my wife that it scares me sometimes. But not too much. Either way, it was good to spend copious amounts of unstructured time with them.

I don't know when we'll be able to do this again. Life's ebb and flow gets less clear the further out you look. But we'll always have moments like this - captured by a lens or our own mind - to refer back to when things seem a little darker than we'd like.

Your turn: How do you recharge?


Twisted sister
London, ON, March 2011
About this photo: Thematic. Favorites. Here. Just for you. Just because.
I had a few extra minutes before picking our daughter up from a playdate, so I parked the car near a local creek and reached for my camera. The day was miserable - grey and dull, with enough muck on the ground to make the entire photo expedition a questionable thing to do. But I clambered down the embankment anyway because, well, I'm not entirely sure why. If we're being straight-up here, I'm not ever certain why I grab the camera and head out.

I don't necessarily need a reason. It's almost like that Field of Dreams voice that whispers, "If you build it, he will come." Now, let's be clear: I'm not a farmer, I have no hankering to play catch with Shoeless Joe and I don't hear voices. But there's a pull that every photographer I've ever spoken to seems to understand. That feeling you get when you're looking at something, and you just know you need to record it in some way. It's a calling, a gravity, a need. So you listen to it. And you shoot.

And today, this twisted mess of branches was my gravity. It may have been very much dormant, a seemingly lifeless tangle of wood, with no direction and no focus. Yet to me it said one word: Life. The scene was random, imperfect, not always pretty. But still something I needed to remember.

Your turn: What "calls" you?

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Tightly woven

Step on me
London, ON, May 2011
About this photo: We're still sharing favorite pics of the year, and we'd like you to do the same. Click here to get the party started.
This picture exemplifies some of the ridiculousness that drives me. I'm sure no one ever got down on the floor and shot the carpet this closely, and I'm pretty sure no one ever will. I think they're missing out on some serious fun.

I've never viewed photography as a craft of "musts". When I go somewhere, there aren't any pictures that I absolutely must take, or poses that everyone feels compelled to bring back from their travels. So you won't see iconic pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge in my archives. Oh, I DO have pictures of that bridge, but not like any you've ever seen.

Because I'm a little different. I see the world differently. And I use my camera to share that kinda off-base perspective with everyone around me. Sometimes it scares them off. Sometimes it ticks them off. But that's OK with me, because it leaves me more time for the folks who get me, who smile at my weirdness, who shrug with a smile at strangers when I get up on the chair at the restaurant to capture the hanging lamp from just the right angle.

Because the world's a wonderful place. And I'd hate to see the same thing every time I open my eyes.

Your turn: How do you see your world differently?

CES is dead. Pass it on.

It's been a busy couple of weeks on the writing front, with my latest piece for Yahoo! Canada now live on the Insight blog:
CES ends an era: Are big trade shows headed for extinction?
In the same vein as video killing the radio star, the Internet is making these annual, expensive and disruptive treks to Vegas an increasingly questionable proposition. Sure, it's a heck of a lot of fun, but is it the best way to spend scarce marketing dollars?

The world has changed. Industry trade shows need to change along with it. Or risk disappearing altogether.

Happy reading! More on the way...

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Facing a very large planet

What's out there
Delray Beach, FL, January 2011
About this photo: Thematic. Favorites of the year. Here.
Say hi to our three kids, seen here frolicking at the edge of a calm ocean almost exactly a year ago today. A number of things strike me as I look at this scene, prime among them the fact that they're three relatively young kids at the edge of a very large sea. It reminds me of the very large world that awaits them, and how they'll grow up to meet whatever challenges it throws their way.

I wonder if they'll always look out for each other in the surf as they clearly did on this day, and whether I've done enough as a dad to instill in them enough menschkeit - basically, goodness - to do just that as they grow into the adults they're destined to be.

Your turn: Do you still play in the surf? Or wherever else?

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Looking back with Canada AM

The fun never seems to end these days: I was on-air with CTV's Canada AM this morning to talk about the biggest social media hits and misses of 2011. Anthony Weiner's weiner? Check. A 10-year-old Lady Gaga protege? Got it?

I spoke with Scott Laurie, and as ever, the experience was a highlight. There are days that I still can't believe I get to do this.

Video is here. Happy watching!

Your turn: What - or who - would you add to the social media hit/miss list?

Tempest in a RIM-tinged teacup

Rumours are swirling that Mike Laziridis and Jim Balsillie, co-CEOs and co-chairs of beleaguered BlackBerry maker Research In Motion, are about to get booted out (Financial Post article, Financial Times piece.) Well, as co-chairs, anyway. It seems they'd remain as co-CEOs, with Barbara Stymiest taking over as RIM's first-ever independent board chair.

Is it too little, too late to save the company? Or is it the first of many necessary steps to turn the tide? Time will tell. And I'll be watching. And probably writing.

In the meantime, RIM slashed prices of the PlayBook tablet to $299 for the 16, 32 and 64 Gb models. Hmm, I wonder which one I'd get! Get 'em while you can. Marketing craziness aside, they're excellent pieces of technology. Disclosure: I bought one (cheap) and love it.

Drawing lines in the sky

Orbital dance
London, ON, March 2011

The bright streak is a long-exposure shot of the International Space Station flying over my house. The less-bright streak is the Space Shuttle Discovery after she undocked for the last time on her final flight. Like her sister ships Atlantis and Endeavour, she's now being decommissioned in preparation for life as a museum exhibit. Glorious, no?

Yet on this cold night, she was in her element, orbiting at 28,000 km/h in the environment for which she was expressly designed. She was only a dot from where we stood on the sidewalk, but what an amazing dot she was, and what an amazing line she drew across the sky to inspire our kids to shoot for their own stars.

Your turn: What, or who, inspires you? Why?

One more thing: To share your own favorite-photo-of-the-year, click here. It's a Thematic extravaganza, and it runs through next Monday.

Monday, January 02, 2012

A river runs through it

Somewhere over southwestern Ontario, March 2011
About this photo: It's Thematic's "favorites-of-the-year" fest, and you're all invited. Click here.
Sometimes circumstances force you to take a picture rather quickly without taking the time afterward to savor it. You grab it, leave it on your memory card, and move on to whatever else happens to be grabbing for your attention - like, in this case, the flight attendant waving at me to put my stuff away in preparation for landing.

When I finally got around to backing the picture up, I felt more than a little humbled. At first glance, this is a simple late-winter scene of the landscape that surrounds my city. But it isn't really all that simple. It's a reminder of the incredible forces around us that shape our world, and the inspiring artwork of nature that results from processes born millions of years before we existed. If only we take the time to notice.

Your turn: Where does this river lead?

Sunday, January 01, 2012

I'm #3!

Every once in a while, stuff happens that makes me realize I lead a really cool existence. For example, ReadWriteWeb ranked one of my quotes as #3 on a top-10 list for 2011.

Seriously. Cool. Here's the link.

Even cooler: Jason Calcanis was #4. Unreal company.

The little mermaid

Delray Beach, FL, January 2011
About this photo: Thematic. Favorite photos of the year. You. Here. Please and thank you.
Quick forewarning that over the next day or two I'll be posting a couple of beach-themed perspectives on the little people who turned us into parents. Why? Because for better or worse they never cease to force me to ponder what the heck I'm supposed to be doing on this planet.

And as much as they complain about my incessant pointing of lenses in their general direction, they eventually relent and let me grab a few megapixels of them being themselves. Because even they seem to sense that this life thing is fleeting, and we can't let moments like these slip unnoticed into the past.

On this sunny afternoon, I'm glad our daughter let me take the camera out. It's been a year since this was taken, and I can already see how much she's changed. She's less little-girl and more young-lady, more forward-looking than back. She's started high school, made new friends, pursued new interests and become more independent than even she suspected she could.

This picture freezes her in a moment before all that change happened. It doesn't stop time, but it does make it easier to accept just how blindingly fast it seems to be moving.

Your turn: How do you use your camera to remember?