Friday, August 31, 2012

Paint by numbers

Shanghai, China
May 2012
Please head here to share your own parallelism-themed moment

I don't know what possessed me to keep taking pictures of the unheard workers of this giant city, the ones who swept, cleaned or, in this case, painted their way through the day, never once raising their heads in the process. I don't know what the story is here, but I do know I felt moved to record their existence because part of me felt no one else would.

I was a bit early getting down to the lobby of our very comfortable hotel, so I had some time to sit down and look around. Between its marble-clad hallways, artwork on every wall and spectacular fountains, they clearly didn't spare much expense when they built this place. As I sat waiting for my colleagues, I couldn't help but notice the dichotomy between the opulent interior and the poignantly quiet scene unfolding just outside the window, the single man painstakingly painting a curb with a degree of perfection that seemed to defy the on-the-surface menial nature of the task at hand.

I wondered who he was, where he lived, and if he ever wondered what it would take to live at a level that he could be a guest here. Are the differences between haves and have-nots this pronounced? I'm guessing the are, and I'm not so naive as to believe they're any different in China than they are back home. But somehow they seem to be a little more starkly obvious here, as if this emerging society hasn't yet quite figured out how to make the invisibles truly invisible.

Maybe we're all more alike than we let on.

Your turn: Are we alike or are we not?

On the non-voting epidemic

"A citizen of America will cross the ocean to fight for democracy, but won't cross the street to vote in a national election."
Bill Vaughan

Even though I'm Canadian, it's hard to avoid being touched by U.S. politics because the airwaves here in the Great White North are saturated with coverage. Similarly, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and all other forms of online electron-flinging have literally been taken over with back-and-forth debate.

It's all lovely. Really. Sure, the discussion, such as it is, is more often than not vitriolic, nasty, and ill-informed. But that's democracy, warts and all. The alternative - dictators killing their political opponents and destroying the cities and lives of the citizens they're supposed to protect - is infinitely worse.

Yet for all the torrent of invective flooding everyone's Facebook timeline these days, I'm struck by one statistic: 57% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the most recent U.S. presidential election. So for all the online argument going on, it stuns me that 43% of you will simply stay home.

Not to pick on the U.S., as low voter turnout is a curse in every modern democratic nation. But when contrasted with the degree of universal involvement in campaign-related debate - the never-ending Romney jabs, Obama slams, Ryan warnings, dog-on-the-car-roof jokes, you name it - it seems particularly galling that so many among us are perfectly happy to rage at the screen and at each other for months on end, yet won't put down the remote on election day to cast a ballot.

I'm not even sure I see eye-to-eye with Mr. Vaughan. Would today's average American (or Canadian) really cross the ocean to fight for democracy? Based on how most regular folks ignore the heroic service and sacrifice of our military men and women - and their families - I doubt that, too. The irony that so many of them died, and continue to die, to preserve a right to vote that so many of us simply toss away isn't lost on me, and it remains one of the saddest commentaries on how society has yet again lost its way.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Update: Gary Doyle (Twitter, Facebook) hosts a top-rated radio show on 570News in Kitchener, Ontario, about an hour east of my home in London. He also reads this blog (everyone wave!) He read this entry a few minutes after it went live this morning. A quick email to me and before I knew it, we had scheduled an on-air chat for just after 10 a.m. Just like that. Social media meets conventional media. The conversation was everything a conversation with Gary Doyle has always been: erudite, thoughtful, eye-opening. I learned a lot this morning. Hope you did, too.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Best seat in the house

Table for 4
London, ON
August 2012

I come from a city - Montreal - where the restaurant or cafe patio is part of the culture. Even on the hottest summer day, it's almost heresy to eat indoors. Air conditioning be damned, you will sit outside and drink it in, and you will like it.

The practical me often wonders what the appeal is, though. Between a hot sidewalk that practically radiates heat to cars whizzing by mere feet from your back, from pedestrians brushing past you to dogs sniffing your feet, I've never much understood the appeal. The wafting cigarette smoke (or worse) merely adds to the sweaty misery. Call me a killjoy, then.

Yet, on this day, in this place, this brightly colored table was just enough to make me, for a few seconds, anyway, consider plunking myself down and downing a cold one.

In the end, I passed on the drink, as sitting alone on a patio seemed just a little sad, but as you can see I still grabbed a picture before I headed on my merry way.

Your turn: The blonde lady in the pic is in an awful rush to get somewhere. Where's she headed and why the urgency? Play with it...

One more thing: Thematic. Parallelism. Here.


Curtain made of glass
London, ON
August 2012
Please click here for more Thematic parallelism

I did something neat one afternoon last week. I had a meeting downtown, and I deliberately parked a few extra blocks away because I wanted to get a little bit of walking in. Silly strategy for someone whose life revolves around sitting in an office chair and pecking keys all day, but it is what it is.

It was a lovely day, and in my backpack I had all the doodads required for a meeting. Including my iPad.

Now, I'm far from being an Apple fanboy, but I'd be lying if I said the photographer in me didn't squeal a bit with glee when I bought it. See, this thing has a pretty decent camera. Sure, it doesn't hold a candle to my DSLR. But when I'm working and this is all I've got because stuffing a full-blown Nikon into a small bag would make me look like an idiot, an iPad is a nice compromise. It's only a 5MP sensor, but the dynamic range is remarkable, and the control over exposure and focus is wondrously fluid. In short, it's a joy to take pictures with this thing.

Which is exactly what I did as I wandered back up Richmond Row. Oh, I'm sure I got some stares - composing with a 9.7-inch screen is pretty goofy-looking - but my, was I pleased with what I brought back. Looks like the iPad will be coming with me wherever I go.

Your turn: Have you ever shot with a tablet? What was the experience like? Does composing on a ginormous screen seem silly to you?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On Stephen Hawking, and direction

"Look upon the stars, and not down at your feet."Stephen Hawking, at the Paralympics
Indeed. The man's brilliance clearly isn't limited to astrophysics.

Life moves too fast

Metro in blur
Montreal, QC
July 2012

This picture reflects how I feel these days: In perpetual motion. While my days have always been delightfully full, lately they seem to be, um, fuller. Which is a good thing, because I'd rather be chewing through a mountain of stuff than sitting in a quiet home office wondering when the phone is going to ring.

Thankfully, the phone always rings. Likewise, the inbox always fills up, the Twitter account constantly pings with activity, and I'm never alone despite the fact that I work with a dog at my feet. I'm rather enjoying this, even if I'm still having trouble balancing workload and sleep. Manyana...I'll figure it out eventually.

Your turn: How do you balance the work/life thing? What's your secret?

Yes, about this picture: We're exploring parallelism this week. Click here to share yours. And as I look at this shot, I realize how silly it was to be as close to the onrushing Metro (Montreal subway) train as I was. Sure, I was braced up against the end of the platform, but still, I'm expecting a call from my mother-in-law any minute now. Next time, I'll use a longer lens.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On the flip side of the space race

"Enough about Mars. Must get back to making Earth hotter, cutting science budgets, and killing each other over religious differences."Neil deGrasse Tyson, on his Facebook page (link), August 8, 2012, 11:26 p.m.
I've admired Dr. Tyson for years. Sure, he's an incredibly accomplished scientist, a leader in his field and a widely published writer and educator. What makes him a voice of our time, however, is his ability to relate pretty much any concept to the average person. His greatest gift is the way he communicates - which kinda resonates deeply with me, as well.

Even if you're not into science-ish stuff, he's one to watch.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Thematic Photographic 210 - Parallelism

Origami wannabe
Toronto, ON
July 2012

In the interest of not exceeding my already-enfeebled brain's ability to keep up, I'm deliberately keeping this week's theme fairly simple. If it's got parallel lines in it, or if it even suggests parallelism, I hope you'll share it.

That's it! My vacuum-headedness notwithstanding, I know you'll have as much fun with this theme as you did the last. I suspect it's one of those themes that subtly offers all sorts of opportunities to explore with a lens, and I can't wait to see what you all come back with.

Please, also, accept my thanks for making last week's "from behind" theme one of our most popular themes in a while. Could this be a Thematic renaissance? Time will the meantime, enjoy!

Your turn: Please take a parallel-themed picture, post it to your blog, and leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. If you've already posted something previously, feel free to share it, as well. Repeat as often as you wish, and if you want to invite a friend or otherwise spread the Thematic joy, go for it. Don't forget to visit other participants - that's the most inspiring part of the deal. Oh, and have fun with it. Because that's why we do it. For more Thematic background, click here.

Watching Venus transit the sun

Once in his lifetime
London, ON
June 2012

Remember when we all went gaga over the whole Venus-transits-the-Sun thing? I wrote about it here, and even managed to get a mostly non-sucky picture in the process.

Well, here's the thing: the sun shot wasn't my favorite one of the bunch. This one is. As I often do when I'm out with the kids and we're watching a certain thing - doesn't matter what that thing is, really - I like to fall back and watch them do the watching. It's a meta-type photo kind of deal, but I've come to appreciate how much richer a given experience can be when I look at it through their lens instead of one built by Nikon.

I had shared a ton of geeky background information on this once-in-a-lifetime event as we stood, awestruck, at the meeting point of a dead-end road and a soon-to-be-developed field. I had tried to explain to Noah why this was significant, and why it was worth dropping whatever we were doing and zipping over to this viewing spot. But it was still hard to tell just how he was processing the experience, how the memory was settling in his head in much the same way other images made their way into my own childhood so many years ago.

This picture begins to answer those questions for me. Somehow, I know he'll carry this forward, creating his own pictures in his mind's eye to keep the moment fresh and vital no matter how old he gets.

Your turn: Do you remember something notable from your own childhood? What made it worth remembering in the first place?

One more thing: This photo wraps up our week-long exploration of Thematic's "from behind" theme. If you'd like to submit your own last-minute shot, click here. Otherwise, I hope you'll pop back in later tonight, as our next theme, parallelism, goes live at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Don't let the afterburner grill you on the way out

Business end
London, ON
June 2012
Thematic. From behind. Here.

Did I mention I'm a bit of a plane freak? I know this particular model is ostensibly designed to kill people. But in the right hands, it also protects my nation's borders, builds careers, sustains advanced industries and inspires the next generation to raise the bar. So let's call the CF-18 a force for good and leave it at that.

And it's unbelievably cool to walk slowly around it and look for just the right angle. I'm not entirely sure I was able to accomplish that on this day. But it was a lot of fun to just stand in this aircraft's shadow and drink it in.

Your turn: The appeal of flight. Why?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Google predicts the future

Hardly a day goes by that we don't run into yet another way the Internet is reshaping how we live - and in this case, how governments can use search data to better predict economic trends.

I spoke about the issue with CTV News parliamentary correspondent Richard Madan, and his report aired on last night's CTV National News. Video here.


Almost decked by the Chinese Hooters guy

Sexy van
Shanghai, China
May 2012
This is a "from behind" photo. Head here to share your own.

You expect to see many things in China, but I never thought a Hooters restaurant would be one of them. While American brands like Starbucks, McDonalds and Apple seem to do well in cosmopolitan cities like Shanghai, Hooters didn't really come to mind as the kind of Westernized brand folks here would deem aspirational.

I guess I was wrong. Shows you what a Canadian geek-writer knows. (Here's their website. Don't forget to put your vote in for the 2012 Miss Hooters China contest.)

Whatever my preconceptions were, I suddenly decided I needed this shot. I was wandering down the street with my camera in my hand. Kinda hard for the foreigner with a big lens on a DSLR to be inconspicuous, and sure enough, the driver saw me as soon as I saw him. I didn't understand a word he said as he almost willed me away from his vehicle, but the stink-eye is a universal message.

But something compelled me to keep going. I know: Dumb. Foreign country. No democracy. I'm a journalist (apparently a point of sensitivity here.) I was asking for it. But the gonzo devil voice on my other shoulder pressed on. So as he eyeballed me and scowled under his breath, I walked nice and far down the street, estimated the angle within which I'd be solidly in his blind spot, pre-set the camera, wheeled and fired off one shot.

It won't win any awards, but it helps me remember a moment. Which, I'm guessing, is why we all carry cameras around in the first place.

Your turn: Ever taken a picture you probably shouldn't have?

This old (brick) house

The stories these storeys would tell
London, ON
February 2012
Click here for more Thematic "from behind"

You never know what you'll discover when you wander around the back of a building. In this case, I suspect I uncovered a little bit of history. Precisely what these traces had to say was a bit of a mystery, but as I stood there with my neck craned way back, I realized it almost didn't matter. It was enough for me to close my eyes and imagine the stories this building - and the vanished one that apparently stood where I was now standing - could tell.

I guess I'll be peeking around the back more often, as despite the quiet here relative to the bustling street on the other side, there's clearly a lot more going on in this shady place where no one bothers to go. And a lot more stories to discover.

Your turn: Got any ideas re. what happened here?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong, already missed

If everyone who watched Neil Armstrong first step out onto the surface of the moon still remembers where they were, what they were doing, and what it felt like, then I'm guessing many of us are experiencing similar feelings today.

Neil Armstrong, who brought the Apollo 11 Lunar Module down on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969 and explored the surface with Buzz Aldrin, passed away today at the age of 82. We wish our icons would stay with us forever, but the universe doesn't quite work that way. Thanks to him and so many others like him, our universe is just a little bit bigger. Godspeed, Mr. Armstrong. And thank you.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Note: Mr. Armstrong's family has released a statement - link here. I'm especially struck by this passage:
"While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves. 
"For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink."

AppSung - The Aftermath

Shhh, don't tell our almighty deity, but I've been working on Shabbat (think Jewish Sabbath, day of rest, no work, no electricity, blah, blah, blah.) The Apple/Samsung verdict - see here for a roundup of last night's judicial fireworks - has made my phone ring. A lot. Here's a rundown of some of the media I've been up to:
Somewhere in there, I hope there's time for a nap.

Body by...Kia?

Give me something to grab for
London, ON
April 2012
Click here to share your Thematic "from behind" shot

Hang around camera folks long enough and you soon realize they can turn the roughest sow's ear into the loveliest silk purse with little more than a shift from here to there. Light is an amazing thing when it's forced through a glass-filled tube, and with a little creativity, photographers can completely change the look and feel of a given scene.

Not to imply that this particular vehicle was ugly to begin with. It isn't. If you're into the funky-efficient-box-on-wheels thing, Kia's Soul is your ride. No, it won't jump you to the front of the valet line. But caring what others think about your wheels is so 1990s, anyway. Despite its lack of Ferrari-esque curves or an exhaust sound that would start a party in a cemetery, it telegraphs its purpose quite nicely, and it never fails to make me smile when I see one on the street.

Come across a particularly well polished one after a rain, however, and it takes on a certain je ne sais quoi. I just love what water and flat light will do to a metallic surface, don't you?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Apple vs. Samsung - verdict is in

Breaking news just as the world preps for the weekend - isn 't that always the way?

A verdict has been reached in the Apple vs. Samsung case (Mashable link). Lawyers and the whole circus act are returning to the courtroom now for the delivery. Reports say Apple's lawyers look relaxed, Samsung's tense.

Why this matters: The outcome could very well determine how much you pay for that shiny new smartphone or tablet, and who sells it to you.

More here as we know it...

6:11 p.m. - The Verge has activated its liveblog of the verdict here.
6:25 p.m. -  The Wall Street Journal has posted a backgrounder - incl stream here.
6:28 p.m. - Added Storyful Twitter list here. ABC News reporter Karina Rusk live tweets.
7:00 p.m. - CNET liveblog here.

6:42 p.m. - Jury sides with Apple.
6:49 - Reading long list of devices. Jury rules Samsung infringed on most - but not all - designs (6 of 7 patents). Top gun devices mostly - Tab 10.1, SII. Bad day for Samsung, folks.
7:05: Huge hit for Samsung: $1.052 billion in damages. Note: Later reduced to $1.049 billion
7:11: NO damages from Samsung to Apple.

The Bottom Line:
  • Apple wins - but not everything that it had originally sought.
  • Samsung owes Apple $1.052 in damages. Samsung had countersued...and lost: Apple owes Samsung nothing. Update: Dollar figure reduced slightly, to $1.049 billion, following discrepancy review.
  • Samsung infringed Apple utility & design patents for some products - but not all
  • Apple utility and design patents, and "trade dress" have been upheld
  • Samsung diluted trade dress on some products - iPhone, iPhone 3 & Combination iPhone - but not others
  • Apple did not infringe any Samsung utility patents
  • Samsung violated antitrust law - it monopolized markets re. the UMTS standard
  • Apple and Samsung will likely file post-trial motions.
  • Next phase will deal with injunctions against sale of infringing Samsung products. Judge Joh says earliest this hearing can occur is September 20 - due to her schedule.
  • Major upcoming milestones, set by the judge:
  • Apple to file by August 29th
  • Samsung has 14 days to submit its response - takes us to September 12th.
  • Apple will have 2 days to submit its response - takes us to September 14th.
  • Injunction hearing scheduled for September 20th.
Post-verdict coverage summaries:
What-comes-next/What-it-means-type coverage:
Media Coverage:
  • I ended up doing a bunch of radio and television work in the aftermath of this story. Click here for more.
One more thing: Happy 1st anniversary to Apple CEO Tim Cook. One year ago today, Steve Jobs resigned. I was on-air this evening with Newstalk 1010's Ryan Doyle to discuss it.

BlackBerry Jam for Breakfast

Had an interesting day on Thursday, as I kissed my wife and kids goodbye in the morning, drove through the farmlands of southern Ontario (helloooo cows!) until my GPS eventually decided to direct me toward a conference center in Kitchener.

The occasion: Research In Motion's BlackBerry 10 Jam World Tour. This travelling series - it's been to New York, Beijing and my hometown of Montreal, among others - came to RIM's back yard to get developers excited about the company's upcoming new operating system, BlackBerry 10, and the devices based on it.

Why does any of this matter? Simple: No apps, no glory. If RIM doesn't get developers on-board and developing great software for its new devices, no one's going to want to buy the devices in the first place. Apple's App Store - 650,000 titles and counting - and Google's (half a million so far) serve notice that mobile platform success isn't just about sexy hardware. It's apps. And numbers count.

I got to chat with senior RIM leaders on what to expect. I mingled with the developers themselves, many of whom were pretty jazzed about what they saw.

I wrote this article for Yahoo! Canada: RIM's BlackBerry Jam Woos Developers

I chatted with CTV Kitchener's Max Wark for his report. Video here.

When I was done, I headed back to the CTV Kitchener studios to chat with BNN's Michael Hainsworth about what I saw and what I thought. The video is here.

Eventually, I pointed my car toward the setting sun in the west and returned home, again through the gorgeous hinterlands, and again waving to the cows wandering semi-aimlessly through the bucolic landscape. It was a very good day. Wish I could have more just like it.

Lance Armstrong: Doper?

Apologies for the brevity: I'm juggling a lot of stuff today, so not a whole lot of time to write here. But I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention the news that's stunned the sports world: Lance Armstrong is being stripped of his seven Tour de France titles by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA)  after he decided to stop fighting allegations that he had doped his way to the podium.

This isn't just about sports. In fact, the little trinkets and trophies ultimately mean nothing. It's about an icon who battled back from life threatening illness and became a hero to cancer patients, families and communities everywhere. If we can't believe in people like Lance, who can we believe in?

I shudder to think that a child in a hospital bed somewhere might feel that she's lost her hero. I shudder to think of her family, trying to explain the unexplainable, to a child who needs all the heroes she can get.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

On the why of fun

"When you stop doing things for fun, you may as well be dead."
Ernest Hemingway

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Big Apple goes stale

Needs a polish
Colborne, ON
July 2012
Click here to share your Thematic "from behind" photo

If we're being brutally honest, this place - The Big Apple - pretty much defines kitschy. Situated hard on the side of Canada's busiest highway, the 401, it's a familiar sight whenever we drive to and from Montreal. Most of the time we just sail on past with a perfunctory wave out the window. When they were younger, the kids called it "The Big Red Apple", and the name has stuck ever since.

We had a bit of extra time on this trip, so we stopped knowing full well what awaited us. The kitsch - courtesy of a newly expanded gift shop filled with enough maple leaf-stamped Made in China merchandise to kill a Mountie - almost gave me a rash. We avoided the apple pie because, well, the ones on display looked kinda sad. The entire complex, built haphazardly over the years as one fad - petting zoo - was overtaken by another - mini golf - before it, too, became yesterday's news (you had to ask: go karts.)

We got here when there were no tourist busses in the parking lot, so the place was even emptier than usual. Which made it even sadder. The coup de grace? The bathrooms were pretty rank, which is pretty much my kiss of death: I just can't tolerate that kind of messiness when I'm on the road.

It was almost too easy to be cynical. But as I watched our little people explore this bizarro place and followed them around as they chattered to themselves about how bizarro it was, my sentiment changed. They were being their articulate, curious and downright funny selves as they took deliberately touristy pictures, scrambled up the scary stairs inside the apple and posed for pictures in front of the 70s-era After School Special-type edumacational posters plastered around the interior. It soon became about them and not about this place. I rather enjoyed that shift in perspective.

As we filled up the car and headed back out to the highway, we all agreed that it made sense to put this place permanently on the once-upon-a-time list. Just like Sesame Street or some other icon of their childhood, it just didn't feel the same when viewed under the harsh light of adolescence. The real world made that gigantic apple seem just a little bit past its prime. Okay, a lot past its prime. Still, sometimes you just need to drop in one last time before you turn the page on another chapter in your growing family's life.

Your turn: Do you remember a roadside icon of your own childhood?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The invisibles

Steps to a better life
Shanghai, China
May 2012

They're everywhere here, workers in uniform cleaning this city's seemingly endless expanses of concrete and asphalt. Heads cast down, focused on the one job this society deems worthy of them, they're a constant presence on the streets of this teeming city.

Yet for all their ubiquity, no one gives them a passing glance as they rush off to another meeting, read their smartphone, share the latest gossip with co-workers during a cigarette break. Not that they could connect even if they tried, as the street cleaners' eyes never approach horizontal, so intent are they on the job at hand. Inevitably, someone in uniform - security? Cop? Military? I can never tell - stands idly nearby, making sure they're doing their assigned work.

In the end, the city is as immaculately clean as you could ever imagine. But at what cost?

One more thing: This photo supports our "from behind" Thematic theme. Click here to share yours.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Thematic Photographic 209 - From behind

Got sunblock?
Stratford, ON
July 2012

I'd like to try something a little different with this week's theme: from behind. We've been conditioned to take pictures from the front - think about it, when we pose, we stare straight at the camera - that we've virtually forgotten what goes on on the other side. For the coming week, I hope we'll walk around to the back and see what we can find.

There's a practical benefit to shooting from the so-called wrong perspective: you can get away with pointing your lens at perfect strangers in public spaces. On this day in a nearby town known for its world famous Stratford Festival, I found it amusing to come across this scene almost in the shadows of one of its marquee theatres. I guess stories are just as likely to unfold off the stage as on it.

Your turn: First, what's this guy thinking? Second, I'm hoping you'll share your own Thematic vision this week. Take a picture from the back, or of the back. Of what? Could be anything, and I'm betting you'll all find neat ways to interpret it. Post the results to your blog, then leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Repeat often through the week, and bring friends along, too. If you're new to our weekly photo-sharing activity, click here. Have fun!

On getting old

"It's paradoxical that the idea of living long appeals to everyone, but no one wants to get old."
Andy Rooney

Planes, trains and automobiles

Chicago, IL
May 2012

When you fly, you get to see the ordinary from a very extraordinary perspective. It opens your eyes to break free from edge-on, and you find yourself wishing you could hang around a little longer before heading off to wherever you're headed. Alas, when it's an Airbus A320 climbing out of one of the busiest airports on the planet, speed matters a little more than one passenger's desire to grab a few pictures. So on this day, as I had done so many times before, I shot quickly, and left the sorting out process for later.

And what did I realize later on? That even the largest objects - bridges, buildings, trucks, containers, rain lines - look toylike from way up here. Shocking, I know. I wonder if anyone down there was looking up, thinking the same thing about our plane.

Your turn: Who's down there? What's their story? (Pick one and have fun with it.)

One more thing: This photo closes out our grey-themed Thematic. You can still share yours by heading here. New theme, from behind, launches tonight at 7:00 p.m. ET.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The silos that divide us

High Capacity Storage
London, ON
June 2012

About this photo: Thematic celebrates the color grey this week, as we attempt to prove it's a lot brighter than anyone ever thought. Got something to share? Head here.
Somewhere east of the average town's centreline, where the railroad tracks go, there's a collection of architecture that time seems to have forgotten. Living in our leafy suburbs or densely packed downtowns, it's easy to forget that everything we have was built on an industrial past, but a short ride beyond our usual haunts will easily remind us that cities don't just materialize out of the countryside. They're built. And the stuff that builds them isn't always as pristine as the PR folks would like us to believe.

PR folks, notwithstanding, I've always loved the feel of buildings, streets and neighborhoods that thrived long before any of us got here, that seem to wear their age with more than a little bit of defiance, that seem somewhat ghostlike and out of place in a modern world that doesn't quite know what to do with them. In many cases, they continue to function - in this case, storing bulk goods for loading and unloading the adjacent rail yard - but no one in our own circles seems to know anyone who works here. In effect, they've been disconnected from the souls of the very cities they helped create.

That doesn't make them any less worthy of exploring with a lens. In fact, I need to get back here more often to dig a little deeper. You never know when all of this could simply disappear.

Your turn: Places that time forgot. Please discuss.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

When the sky brings fear and promise

London, ON
June 2012
Click here to share your own grey-themed vision. It won't hurt.

Since moving to Canada's so-called Thunderstorm Alley, I've learned to enjoy the drama of a good storm. I feel a certain sense of comfort as the dark clouds roll in, almost as if they're closing in the otherwise infinite sky, like some sort of atmospheric blanket. The sky seems touchable, tangible, and even a little protective despite the fireworks that it promises to bring.

You knew I was odd, right?

Anyway. There's always a flip side to a good storm, a yin to the thunder and lightning's yang. And when, unexpectedly in the seconds before the clouds threaten to release enough water to float Noah's Ark, the sun comes out and lights the otherwise grey scene with a brilliance you couldn't even coax out of a purely blue sky, you know you've just witnessed something special.

What does this all teach us? A rumbling of thunder doesn't necessarily portend something to fear. Opportunity often lies in the otherwise hidden valleys, and it's up to us to look up - or in - to find it despite all that's swirling around us.

Your turn: Do storms scare you? Or draw you in? What do you like to do when you first hear the thunder in the distance?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Facebook sucks - on Wall Street

Apologies for the link bait-ish headline. I'm testing some different approaches to SEO. Please don't mind my geekitude.

There. Onward...

You've really got to feel for Facebook. From darling to has-been in three months. Okay, I don't feel too badly for the company, as a good chunk of its employees are making out like bandits in the wake of the company's IPO. And we won't exactly be holding a tag day for founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg anytime soon, either.

Still, as I wrote yesterday, investors hammered the social media giant's stock yet again yesterday as the first of many lockup periods came to an end. I chatted about it in a couple of interviews:

  • CTV News Channel. Spoke with Sarika Sehgal yesterday live from the street in front of London's city hall. No dogs sniffed at me this time. Video here. Don't mind the delay. We were using a neat new technology to communicate back to the mother ship. Neat, except for the fact that its processing overhead introduces a bunch of pregnant pauses into the proceedings. The price of pushing the bounds, I guess.
  • CTV Canada AM. Chatted with Beverly Thomson on the country's #1 morning show. Video here.

There are further dark days ahead for the company. Indeed, Facebook isn't alone, as other onetime-darlings like Groupon and Zynga seem to be floundering, as well. That's what happens when overhyped expectations meet with brutal reality.

Your thoughts: How long does Facebook have before it gets eclipsed?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A director is born

Big day for our little man today, as he came home from camp. He was a little dirtier than we remembered him when we dropped him off, but that's nothing a good long shower and hug session with his dog won't fix. Besides. boys are supposed to get dirty at camp, and I'm pretty sure that ragged-around-the-edges look makes him look even sweeter.

I fully expect him to bubble endlessly over the next few days and weeks, and we wouldn't have it any other way, as we can't wait to hear every last detail of his adventure, right from the horse's mouth. For now, please enjoy his first-ever movie, The Avengers vs. Mad Dog, which he storyboarded, wrote, produced, directed and edited at an Apple Camp session last month. As always, he took the experience and made it very much his. And we couldn't be more proud of him. Welcome home, Noah. Frasier missed you. So did we.

Your turn: Noah's already mulling over topics for his next film. Suggestions welcome.

Facebook lockup ends. World shudders.

Okay, so the world isn't going to grind to a halt because Facebook insiders are allowed, as of today, to sell their shares (up until now, they were banned from doing so to prevent an imbalance in the market caused by hordes of employees and senior executives suddenly dumping their shares on the market.)

There are valid reasons for all of this, of course, and I'm sure some Wall Street wizard would be more than happy to walk us all through the financial intricacies of Facebook's initial public offering and the significance of the end of the lockup period.

But here's the thing: All of that is horsepoop. All that matters here is that Facebook has significantly underperformed leading up to, during and following its IPO. The company has repeatedly failed to convince investors that it's the real deal, that it actually has a realistic plan to convert all of that massive hype that initially had the company valued at $100 billion into long-term revenue generation and growth. Instead, it ticks off consumers and everyone else with privacy and data stewardship policies that align rather nicely with Brezhnev-era Soviet politics (thanks, Zuck, for constantly changing my settings on my behalf. Great fun finding out why everything I read is suddenly visible to the world.) And it introduces online gambling - poker, slots and probably horse racing with whips before long - in the UK because clearly the world needs more online gambling.

It's a company that is so spectacularly undeserving of merit on so many levels that it's a wonder it's been able to even sustain its currently lame share valuation ($21.20 as of market close yesterday, down from the $38 strike price at IPO.) I simply don't see the kind of maturity here that justifies the company's continued dominance of the space five years out. By then, something better will come along, and the 955 million subscribers - including the huge swaths of fake users, disgruntled users and just plain apathetic ones - will happily shift away from the time sucking walled garden that is Facebook to something that's a little more respectful of who they are and what they need out of a social media platform.

I just don't think Facebook has the culture to be that social media provider of record for the rest of us. The clock is ticking, and lockup period or no lockup period, Facebook's future looks bleak from where I sit. The only thing that changes today is a bunch of folks get to cash in - which means they'll be more focused on their own bottom line that on their jobs. And the vortex continues to spin faster...

Your turn: Thoughts on Facebook?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Stairway to heaven? Not quite.

Cast in not-quite-stone
Toronto, ON
February 2012
Please click here for more grey-themed Thematic

This edge-on shot reminds me of the now-famous photo of Apple's MacBook Air. Except for the fact that a) it lacks a MacBook Air, and b) it lacks anything approaching the artistry of the original. I suppose I could always reproduce the shot, but then I'd end up with a me-too photo and a scratched laptop. No thanks.

Still, I kept coming back to this stairway as we watched a friend's son's hockey game, and I grabbed this quick shot before we left. Of course, the parents in the stands seemed to find it mighty odd that a strange guy was pointing a camera away from the ice. But there's a certain je ne sais quoi about stairs in any form, and I wasn't about to let this industrial concrete example fade into memory.

Your turn: Where do these stairs lead? Go on, be creative!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Don't mess with the RCAF

I was pretty lucky to be invited to the Air Cadets squadron year-ending event in May. A highlight this year was when a graduate of the program, now a CF-18 pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force, flew his bird in for the weekend. The Hornet sitting as a backdrop to the parading cadets served as a powerful reminder of how much potential they all have within them.

Indeed, another graduate of the program, Jeremy Hansen, is Canada's newest astronaut.

When the cadets had finished their parade and the dignitaries were done speaking, everyone was allowed to approach the aircraft and chat with the pilot. Listening to him walk every last visitor through every switch in the cockpit, it was one of those moments where you felt your country was in great hands. The true north strong and free, indeed.

Your turn: What do you love most about your country?

One more thing: Please click here for more Thematic grey.

On living. For real.

"Don't be afraid of death; be afraid of an unlived life. You don't have to live forever, you just have to live."Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting
Words to live by. I think I need to ponder them a little while longer.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Thematic Photographic 208 - Grey

Under tension
Shanghai, China
May 2012

We're going back to colors for this week's Thematic. Actually, it's more the absence of one. Or an in-between kind of color, as grey is one of those colors that always seems to be wavering between one optical state and another.

I love the shade because it's moody. It makes you think. It makes you slow down a bit. It makes you feel something you might not have otherwise felt. Photographically, it forces you to lean a little more heavily on composition. Because vibrant color won't jump in and rescue a lousy shot.

Your turn: You know the drill...just post a grey-themed pic to your blog - or find something you've already posted - and leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Repeat as often as you wish over the next week, and feel free to bring a friend along for the ride. Visit other participants to spread the photographic goodness. If you're new to Thematic, our weekly photo-sharing-learning activity, just click here.

Google shows MOTO employees the door

You never like to see anyone lose his/her job. When 4,000 folks at a once-storied American company are given pink slips, it's that much more difficult to swallow.

Hard as it is, though, that's reality in tech today. And Google's announcement of layoffs at its Motorola Mobility subsidiary - it bought the unit for an eye-popping $12.5 billion last August - is hardly a surprise. The MOTO unit has been under siege for years, with accumulating losses and barely-there market share that literally compelled Google to do something. Face it, when you make a $12.5 billion bet, there's got to be a payoff somewhere.

I wrote this article for Yahoo! Canada Finance: Google’s Motorola layoffs signal the future of hardware

I'll be on-air live with CTV News Channel (web, Twitter) just after 3:30 p.m. Eastern today, and will post a link to the video afterward.

Update: I spoke with Todd Van Der Heyden about this, but I can't seem to find the video online. Instead, here's a link to an interview I did last week with CTV News Channel's Jacqueline Milczarek and Dan Matheson about Apple's and Google's increasingly nasty relationship (video here).

Your turn: Would you buy a Google-branded smartphone or tablet?

Hideous? Your call.

Body by...Rustoleum?
London, ON
June 2012
Please click here to share your last-minute mobile device-sourced Thematic.
New theme, grey, goes live tonight at 7:00 p.m.

I've never been one who much cares about impressing others with the car I drive. Sure, I want to avoid owning a clapped out 1978 Ford LTD as much as the next guy, but I find it laughable that so many people think they'll be universally admired just because they pull up to the curb in a [fill in your favorite make/model here].

As long as my wheels are relatively reliable, safe, and they get me and my family where we need to go in one piece, and in relatively decent comfort, I'm good. If anyone admires or despises me for my wheels, I've got bigger problems on my plate. I'll let my sparkling personality, not my wheels, speak for me, thank you very much.

(FWIW, I love my car. It fits my family and my bike. It has a sunroof. It uses gasoline efficiently. It starts when I need it to. It doesn't wake the neighbors when I come home late at night.)

I think most folks fall into the car-doesn't-exclusively-define-me category. But then you cross paths with the folks who seem to have been born with an extra look-at-me gene. Some of them can easily afford a really nice car, and some of them...can't. And they'll either buy way beyond their means, or try to convert a more modest vehicle into something it clearly wasn't intended to be.

I'll never know what the owner of this Mazda MX-3 Precidia was thinking, but the word "why?" keeps popping into my head. Did someone think this was impressive? Will this help him (I'm totally betting it's a him) get the girl?

Didn't think so.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

On the necessity of darkness

"Only in the darkness can you see the stars."
Martin Luther King, Jr

Walk this way

Smart floor
Shanghai, China
May 2012

Maybe I need to get out more, but when I saw these signs embedded in the floor, I immediately wondered why every publicly-accessible building with traffic, lineup and flow issues doesn't also have them.

I found these at the airport just outside Shanghai, and although I'm sure they didn't make the endless lineups move any faster, they gave travellers something to wonder about as they snaked back and forth between the meticulously arranged barriers.

If they allowed Google+ there, I'd give these things a +1.

Your turn: How do you make being in a lineup tolerable?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Living in a hospital's shadow

Montreal, QC
July 2012
On a sunny Saturday afternoon last month, we took our kids to the hospital to visit their grandmother, Debbie's mom. I'd like to say that we barely know this place, but I'd be lying.

Both Debbie and I were born here. After that, it was all downhill for both of our extended families: I spent a good chunk of my childhood here, my late father's litany of illnesses played out here over 12 deteriorating years, and now this, another chapter to add to a book that already contains too many.

Our kids are old pros at this by now. They know what questions to ask, how to behave, even how to say just the right thing to brighten up an otherwise gloomy hospital room. Like most kids, they've learned, conceptually, that life often is not fair. But here, over the course of years of coming here - Dahlia's first trip here was 10 days after she was born, just before my father's first bout of heart surgery - they've been able to see first-hand what unfairness looks and feels like. They get it, and this is one lesson I wish could have waited just a little longer to be learned.

I've long struggled with how best to record this journey, this place that's now colored three generations of our extended family. On this day, all I had was my iPad to capture the uniquely depressing tone of this darkly lit rabbit warren masquerading as an ER. In the end, it was all I needed.

I'll have more reflections from the hospital in a future entry. For now, suffice to say it's a place I hope we won't see anytime soon, but fear my hoping so won't be enough to keep us away. Life seems to have its own script, after all, and we're not always in full control of the pen.

Your turn: Do you have a hospital memory? Why do you suppose these places hold as much influence over us as they do?

On the age old power struggle between fire and water

"Fire burns; water erodes. Say what you will about fire's speed and efficiency, but I've never seen anyone put out a river."
Greg Jensen

Friday, August 10, 2012

Whatchu lookin' at?

Nice to meet you, Surly
London, ON
May 2012
Thematic. Smartphones. Here.

I couldn't resist a little more airport-smartphone fun as I gradually made my way back home from a faraway land (see part 1 of this journey.) I was in the lounge at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, waiting for the final short flight before home. I was chatting with my wife via Skype - thank you, oh blessed free Wi-Fi-granting angels, wherever you are - and noticed brown t-shirt guy was staring intently at me. I'm guessing he had never seen someone use a laptop in an airport before.

Quick level-set: I was speaking quietly, I had my earbuds in, and I had at least one or two seats of buffer around me in all directions, so it's not as if I was carrying on a loudly obnoxious conversation in full view of everyone. But I'm guessing he was bored, and the not-so-subtly-grabbed stares were starting to bother me a bit. So as I chatted with my wife, I furtively pulled out the BlackBerry - using the fake-like-you're-reading-email technique described in my recent entry from this trip - and snapped away.

If he noticed me, I'll never know, but the guy next to him sure caught on (I know, I seem to be making a habit of getting busted-by-eye-contact by the person next to the main subject - see previous.) Turns out he wasn't on my flight, so once I boarded, our paths diverged, likely forever. Or until Google rolls out its next generation of facial recognition software, merges it with supercharged search and forever changes the calculus of shooting strangers in distant places.

Until then, I think my little not-quite-a-camera camera is going to be busy.

Your turn: What's white-t-shirt-guy thinking?

Baby doll at the airport

Connected mom
Chicago, IL
May 2012
Please click here for more Thematic - or to share your own

Major advantage of shooting with a phone: Prospective subjects don't always catch on that you're taking a picture. If you squint your eyes just so and cock your head the side like a doofus, they must might think you're opening up your inbox. If they notice at all, because nobody bats an eyelash when someone pulls out a mobile device. Yank out a DSLR in the middle of an airport, however, and you may as well be setting off fireworks.
Major disadvantage of shooting with a phone: The shutter response is so slow that by the time the thing is ready to fire, the Mayans have come back from the dustbin of history and revised their calendar (we're all going to die May 1, 3247 now, by the way.)
So as the lineup at the gate to my flight out of O'Hare started to move, I found myself praying that my phone would grab a frame or two fast enough to remember this delightful moment of family peace in the middle of a bustling terminal. I think ice cream lady on the left was totally onto me, but baby mom was too into her conversation to notice.

A moment in the life...


Your turn: What kind of roadblocks do you run into when shooting with a camera that's baked into a phone, tablet or other mobile device?

Thursday, August 09, 2012

On life behind the camera

"If I didn't have my camera to remind me constantly, I am here to do this, I would eventually have slipped away, I think. I would have forgotten my reason to exist. And I still need the camera because it is the only reason anyone is talking to me."Annie Leibovitz
Ms. Leibovitz's words resonate with me. Every time I hold my camera, every time I sit down in front of my laptop, set my fingers on the keyboard and close my means so much more than work. It defines who I am, and the life I lead.

I guess I'm just lucky.

Faucet by Delta

Clean as a whistle
London, ON
April 2012

In retrospect, taking this picture in a public washroom may not have been such a great idea. There wasn't anyone else around, and the place was so neat that I felt compelled to remember it. But I'm guessing a stranger happening upon my impromptu little photo shoot might have thought I was some kind of weirdo (shh...I know...)

Fortunately no one showed up, so I got away with it. This time.

Your turn: Do you ever shoot pictures when perhaps you shouldn't?

About this photo: Like all pictures we're sharing this week as part of our latest Thematic, this one was taken with a smartphone. If you've been shooting with a mobile device of any form - smartphone, tablet, even that dumb old Nokia flip-phone that you hold responsible for your lifelong Snake addiction - then head here to share yours.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Folded neatly

Where can I learn to arrange my laundry so perfectly. Gap U?

(Click here for more Thematic photos from a smartphone. Or to share your own.)

On doing (no) harm

"Until we stop harming all other living beings, we are still savages."
Thomas Edison

Who's walking who?

Follow me
London, ON
July 2012

Frasier the psycho-schnauzer has been relatively absent from this site of late. That doesn't mean he's been quiet. No worries on that front, as he's barked and howled his way into notoriety throughout the neighborhood. It's more than a little embarrassing, as he goes ballistic whenever a stranger approaches. Once he has a chance to say hello, he's perfectly fine, and will happily play with whoever he meets. But those first few seconds are enough to scare away most sane people. I can't say I blame them.

Truth be told, he's a big suck, an overgrown baby who loves nothing more than to be surrounded by his humans, to play, to flop his head down in one of our kids' laps, to fall asleep wherever we may be.

I quickly snapped this on a recent walk, as I realized I didn't have any decent dog-walk pics of him. I can't pull off the trick with a regular camera, as he's so strong and so quick that I'd probably drop my camera if he decided to chase a jackrabbit while I was composing (seriously, don't ask.) So the BlackBerry was pressed into service. Thankfully, he was calm enough and the camera was able to keep up. This time.

Your turn: Where should we walk next?

About this photo: As part of this week's Thematic, we're sharing pictures taken by smartphones, tablets or other mobile devices - the cameras we use when real cameras aren't available. Got any you'd like to share? Just go here.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

On technology being evil. Or not.

"I think that technologies are morally neutral until we apply them. It's only when we use them for good or for evil that they become good or evil."
William Gibson

Monday, August 06, 2012

Thematic Photographic 207 - Pics taken with a smartphone

Rocky Mountain High
Alberta, Canada
May 2012

For the coming week, I'd like to focus on the how of photography instead of the what. This week's theme - pics taken with a smartphone - won't dictate a real subject. Rather, if you took it with a smartphone (or tablet, or basic feature phone, or any other mobile device), we want to see it.

Why the heck am I doing this? Because I've realized that for all their limitations - lousy lenses, terribly small sensors, horrid dynamic range, slow response times, icky color rendition, etc. - smartphone cameras can be coaxed into taking fairly decent pictures on those rare occasions when the conditions are just right. More importantly, because they're often the only cameras we have on us when we're out and about, we either learn to live within their constraints or we come home with nothing.

On a recent flight, I had been shooting out the window with my DSLR. But as I noticed the battery level dwindle to the danger zone, I pulled out my BlackBerry and put it to work. No worries: It was in airplane mode. Looking back at the results, I was pleasantly surprised that this photo-challenged smartphone - to be kind, it isn't the best mobile camera I've ever used - managed to avoid mucking up the scene with muddiness and blur.

My theory? Shooting with a limited-function camera can't help but make us all better photographers. I hope we get to explore this one over the next week, and hope you'll all join in.

Your turn: Pull out your mobile device (smartphone, tablet, basic cell phone, whatever you've got) and start shooting. Whatever you shoot is entirely up to you. Post it to your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Play as often as you like, and bring a friend along, too, as we encourage serially promiscuous photography. For more background on how Thematic Photographic - our weekly photo-sharing activity - works, please click here.

On swallowing defeat

"Defeat is not bitter unless you swallow it."
Joe Clark
That Mr. Clark was a wise man who learned well from his own failures.

Where the planet is covered in green carpet

Puffy and white
Somewhere over Illinois
May 2012

It's been a wonderful week of cloud-themed photos - please click here for some last-minute sharing of your own, and feel free to drop in on the other participants, too - but like all good things, it must eventually come to an end.

I grabbed this one on final approach to Chicago's O'Hare Airport. As you fly over the planet, you realize just how different the topography is as you skip from place to place. Part of it has to to with geography, geology and climate, of course. But sometimes, human influence can be just as transformative, as well (for earlier examples, click here and here) which can make for some interesting times beside the aircraft window.

I had never seen the planet look quite this way before. The wisps of clouds in the corner made it a no-brainer to shoot. I wonder what else I'll see next time I'm in the sky.

Your turn: Who's down there?

One more thing: I've been experimenting with non-traditional cameras lately, so I'm thinking next week's Thematic theme should be this: Pics taken with a smartphone. Thoughts?

Curiosity lands safely on Mars

Don't have a whole lot of words right now, but suffice to say it feels wonderful to see the Curiosity rover safe and sound on Mars. For the official timekeeper-types among us, touchdown was 1:14:39 am EDT (0514 GMT). Initial analysis of the landing data by the flight team shows a virtually perfect mission. In Olympic terms, my friend Ben was right on the money: They stuck the landing.

Here's the first pic. Here's the second. And here's the third. (And there's even a montage.) From the rover itself (if you're not following it on Twitter, click here now.) NASA has compiled the first pics from the rover here.

Sometimes, the world can be a remarkable place, filled with some remarkable people. Tonight, we got to see into the world of some of the best there are.


Update 1: I tweeted this just now, but I wanted to share it here. Since I asked you for your thoughts, it's only fair that I share mine, as well. Here goes:

Dear U.S. lawmakers:

Please send more money. This is how US will still lead the world. Otherwise, we're toast.



Update 2: Miles O'Brien, one of the leading space journalists anywhere, wrote this excellent piece on his blog. A must-read.