Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Yesterday's data center

London, ON
April 2012
Click here for more Thematic "somewhat worse for wear"

Everything starts off shiny and new, but a few short years of everyday use turns them into yellowed shadows of their former selves. I find it interesting how some examples of human engineering - say an old, colonnade-style building or a turn-of-the-century pocket watch - seem to stand the test of time, while others, like 80s-era tract housing and most examples of modern technology, seem to wither almost from the moment we start using them.

I'm not sure why that needs to be the case, and it frankly saddens me a bit. Because at one point, this now-forgotten pile of computers represented a limitless future for countless students at this area school. It didn't take long for them to reach this sad state, part of an ever growing pile of uselessness.

The technologist in me understands why things turn over so quickly. The dad, husband, and everyday guy in me thinks it's a depressing comment on our modern-day priorities.

Your turn: Is it? Does disposability have to rule?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

On stormy reflection

"There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm."
Willa Cather

I'll try to keep track of which is which.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Thematic Photographic 219 - Somewhat worse for wear

Woodstock, ON
October 2012

The world is a tough, often dangerous place. It'll knock you and your precious things this way and that, turning you and them from pristine to worn in a never-ending process of erosion, destruction and decay. No sense lamenting it, mind you, as this is the way the world is supposed to work.

In many respects, we wear those experiences with pride. A scar, for example, is far more than a simple blemish. It's a story, and an invitation to share it with someone willing to take the time. It's history. It's what makes something - and each of us - unique.

So as I stared out the window at the well-worn freight train beside us, I smiled at the beauty inherent in something that's experienced the world so much more richly than something that just rolled off the assembly line. Fresh and new isn't always where we need to be, and for the next week, I hope we'll explore the things that may wear their years with a bit more grit.

Your turn: Take a picture that reflects this week's theme, somewhat worse for wear. If it's worn out, shoot it and share it on your blog. Leave a comment hear letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants and feel free to repeat the process through the week. Bring a friend along, too, if you're so inclined. And if you're new to the Thematic thing, just click here. You'll have fun. Really.

Thematic delayed. Blame Sandy.

It's been an interesting couple of days of social media watching. Lots of chatter about the storm, most of it innocuous and good natured. Drink your way through the next couple of days? Sure. Watch for the inevitable baby boom in 9 months? Why not? I grew up in Montreal, so storm mentality is nothing new for me. I almost draw comfort from it.

Then there are the folks who talk about their flight home as a death defying event worthy of everyone's intense prayers. Because a turbulent flight, or one that's delayed or cancelled because of the storm, is apparently a near-tragedy for some.

With apologies to those dragging themselves home after a long, exhausting flight, but I fail to appreciate the extreme gravity of your predicament. Because before you were so terribly inconvenienced at the airport, Sandy had raked island after island in the Caribbean. Dozens of people died, and countless more were left homeless. In many cases, they didn't have much to begin with.

Then the tall ship HMS Bounty went down this morning. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued 14 crew members from lifeboats, but 2 were washed out to sea. The search continues. With apologies to the harried frequent flyers, your plight doesn't compare. Then again, if Sandy teaches us anything, it might be that there's always someone worse off than you. Instead of whining on Facebook, perhaps you'd like to count your blessings instead.

Thematic will return later tonight.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Get your head out of the clouds

Dream big
Somewhere over Lake Michigan
May 2012
Click here to share your travel-themed Thematic

I was almost tempted to ask the pilot to stop climbing as soon as we broke through the cloud deck here, as it seemed almost dream-like to skim just above the marshmallow-like surface. In the few seconds I had before the rapidly climbing plane left this remarkable scene far below, I imagined what it might be like to reach out the window and feel it with my hand.

Of course we'll never be able to do that on any commercial flight thanks to the convergent rules of physics and the FAA. But who says practicality needs to dictate our every last thought? After all, we can't actually touch the stars, either (see physics, NASA and space-time continuum limitations), but that doesn't mean we should stop reaching for them.

Your turn: What are you reaching for?

On the blindness of daily vision

"You can become blind by seeing each day as a similar one"
Paul Coelho

Which begs the question of how we can see each day uniquely. Suggestions?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

On Frankenstorms and us

"Don't knock the weather. If it didn't change once in a while, nine out of ten people couldn't start a conversation."
Kin Hubbard
With once-again-Hurricane Sandy threatening to bathe the east coast - and, apparently, much of southern Ontario - in a delightful mix of wind, rain and mirth, I'm rather enjoying the online chatter as folks ratchet themselves into a tizzy over something over which they have no control.

I find it somewhat comforting, and more than a little quaint. Anomalous weather seems to create an automatic connector between absolute strangers, an instant means of turning an otherwise mundane, fleeting moment in the checkout line into an animated, day-brightening conversation.

Brief? Sure. Possibly forgettable? Maybe. But still, I can't help but think this is a reminder from Mother Nature to look out for those around us.

Maybe Frankenstorms have their redeeming qualities, after all.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Stalking from above

Crossing multiple paths
Chicago, IL
May 2012
Thematic. Travel travel. Here.

This scene brings me a certain degree of peace. I'm not sure if it's the geometry, the splash of color toward the bottom, or just the jangle of intersecting lives that this transient spot seems to represent. Perhaps it the flashback to the childhood me, playing with my toy cars and trucks, imagining a world bigger than my fat little fingers, reaching out and trying to control every last detail.

My fingers are no longer quite as fat, and I still couldn't control the goings-on down there. But as we climbed into the sky and left this place behind, I felt good that for a brief moment I was able to drink it in and make it mine. I wonder how many other folks on the plane were able to do the same.

Your turn: Who's down there? What's their story?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Confused about tablets?

If tablets like Apple's iPad confuse you, you're not alone. Amid the hype, it isn't always easy to understand what they are, what they're good for and how you can use them to move your business forward.

I'll be moderating Bell's next live Twitter chat next Tuesday, October 30 at 1:00 p.m., and by the time the hour is done, we'll have asked - and answered - every question imaginable. The goal? Make tablets simple for regular folks and small businesses!

As before, simply point Twitter toward the #BellBiz hashtag - or simply click here. We'll have more details up on the Bell Business Blog, as well.

If you've got any questions you'd like included in this week's chat, feel free to leave them in a comment here, or include it in a tweet with the #BellBiz hashtag.

Look forward to seeing you there!

Black & White

Where the rubber meets the road
Shanghai, China
May 2012
Share your own Thematic travel-themed pic here

Someone's been burning donuts when the rest of us weren't looking...

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Say goodbye to the day

Stratospheric sunset
Somewhere over the Pacific
May 2012
Thematic. Travel Travel. Here.

I'm no fan of the airplane window. Its primary job isn't to provide optically perfect visibility for aspiring airborne photographers. Instead, it's built to be strong enough to not blow out and ruin everyone's day. I'm fine with that compromise, and am willing to put up with scratched, nose-printed-from-last-decade plastic if it means I'm not forced to deal with the rather fatal effects of explosive decompression.

So as we sliced through the atmosphere somewhere in the middle of the Pacific, I managed to set aside any thoughts of accidental death and instead thought about the privilege of being able to fly to the other side of the planet, to sit miles above nothingness and watch magic unfold far below and far away. I thought about moving so fast and so far that sunsets and sunrises no longer aligned with my own internal clock. I thought about how the sky looked so different from up here, almost mythically painted, than it ever did from the ground.

And I thought about my family who awaited my return, the stories I'd tell them, and the scenes I'd share with them just after stepping in the door. Because you can travel the world and see magic and wonders, but the real highlight of any journey is reconnecting with those who taught you to see that magic and wonder in the first place.

Your turn: How do you share your travels with others?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Living under the bright lights

Don't have a whole lot of time to contribute anything meaningful to the blogosphere tonight. It's been a busy day in Carmiland, and it promises to get busier still over the next little bit. Apparently, a computer company named for a fruit accidentally left its top selling product in the dryer for a little too long. It ended up shrinking, so they were forced to sell it for less than the full-sized one.

Or something like that.

Anyway, I was on-air live with CTV News Channel's Amanda Blitz and Todd Van Der Heyden (video here). Tomorrow morning, I'm back in the studio to chat with Canada AM at both 6:00 and 7:15 a.m. Eastern. At 7:50, I'll switch gears into radio for a talk with CBC Ontario Morning's Wei Chen. Tomorrow's hits touch on both Apple's iPad mini, as well as Microsoft's Windows 8 launch, set for this Friday.

I wrote an article somewhere in there. About the shrunken product from the fruit company. And what it means. It should publish tomorrow. Then I'll write another one. Because that's what I do.


Your turn: What does it mean?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Thematic Photographic 218 - Travel Travel

Wet. For now.
New York, NY
March 2012

When I was a kid, the local television station, CFCF - now known as CTV Montreal - had a show called Travel Travel. Aside from the fact that the producers must have suffered from a terrible case of doubliosis, it was a good example of creative local programming. Each week, one of the hosts would be off to an exotic destination. Local travel agencies and related businesses/advertisers were happy, as was the crew that got to travel to every corner of the planet.

The local production gravy train is pretty much done for good these days, but it's hard to forget the impact Montreal media icons like Don McGowan, Al Dubois and Suzanne Desautels had on an entire generation of viewers. In one of those serendipitous twists of life, Suzanne co-hosts the Ric & Suzanne Show on CJAD 800 in Montreal - and every Friday at 1 p.m. I chat tech with them. Neat.

Your turn: For the next week, please share pics you've taken while travelling. That's it. They could be from halfway around the world, or a staycation in your own town. If it suggests "travel travel", we hope you'll share it. Just post it to your blog, leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it, visit other participants, repeat, and grab some friends, too. Because Thematic is more fun when you're surrounded by good folks. Still wondering how it all works? Click here and all will be explained.

Lance Armstrong loses Tour de France titles

So the International Cycling Union has voted to strip disgraced American cyclist Lance Armstrong of his 7 Tour de France titles. This is based on evidence that he orchestrated a sophisticated doping regimen within his team.

My first thought when I heard this was that he had already lost the crowns. Odd how that works.

I wrote about this last week, so I won't belabour the point. But I can't help but think that this is a particularly obvious consequence of the win-at-all-costs ethos that seems to drive sport as well as life in general. The concept of gentlemanly/gentlewomanly competition seems to have been lost somewhere along the way. Pity that.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Is Starbucks overpriced?

Expensive taste
London, ON
October 2012

I'll admit part of me doesn't really get the whole Starbucks thing. When something as basic as a cup of coffee costs as much as twice that charged elsewhere, you'd be forgiven for hoping the thing dispenses fairy dust on its way through your digestive system. That it requires you to learn an entirely new language to order without embarrassing yourself is another tip-off that this is as artificial as artificial, margin-boosting pretension can get.

And yet, here we were on a Saturday night, one of those unplanned, errand-running slices of time that somehow turned into an ersatz date. Because you never want to miss an opportunity to go on a date with your wife. The more blue collar Tim Hortons seemed a little, I don't know, too blue collar, too fluorescent, too cafeteria-ish. Besides, their WiFi never works properly and the largely septuagenarian staff there think wireless networking is the work of the technological devil.

And despite the fact that here in Canada there's now a Tim's on every other corner, the nearest one was about 800 metres away, as the crow flies. And it was cold and raining outside.

So Starbucks it was, and despite the outrageous bottom line, my barely suppressed desire to call it freakin-huge instead of venti, and the fact that every last table was occupied by zombie-eyed, laptop-toting hipsters watching Gangnam Style video parodies on YouTube, it was the right place to be.

After a few minutes, a table opened up and we scooted into the dim corners between the zombie-eyed YouTubers. And we chatted. And we shared a blueberry scone. And we people-watched. And we chatted some more. And we just...enjoyed.

I still don't get Starbucks. I can't imagine spending 7 bucks for glorified coffee on anything remotely approaching a regular basis. But on this once-in-a-while rainy night, I'm glad we found ourselves here. Because sometimes a bit of a treat is just what the soul needs.

Your turn: How do you treat yourself?

About this photo: We're celebrating Thematic's "drink up" week. You can, too, by heading here. New theme launches tomorrow (Monday) at 7pm Eastern. Suggestions welcome.

More Twitter Chat Goodness - BYOD style

Our first #BellBiz Twitter chat last week* was such a rousing success that we've decided to do it again. This week's subject is something near ad dear to all of us: BYOD.

The bring your own device trend is all about employees bringing their own technology - smartphones, tablets, laptops, whatever - to the office and expecting to use it for work. This is influencing how companies of all shapes and sizes buy, maintain and pay for technology, and figuring out how to squeeze the most out of BYOD can make any company more efficient and competitive.

So if you're wondering what BYOD is, whether or not you should be diving in, or how to get the most out of it without exposing your company to unnecessary risk, mark your calendar for:

Tuesday, October 23rd
From 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. Eastern

Point Twitter toward the #BellBiz hashtag (or simply click here) and join in. Got a question? Send it to the same hashtag in advance and we'll include it in the discussion. Look forward to see you there!

But wait, there's more: We've published an updated entry on the Bell Small Business Blog. Click here for more. We've also created a LinkedIn event here.

*We originally wrote about on the Bell Small Business Blog here, and here on Written Inc. After the chat, we summarized it here. Check out the Bell Small Business Blog for the latest news.

Floating city

Late afternoon by the water
Toronto, ON
October 2012
Thematic. Drink up. Still on. Here.

Each boat here has a story. Then again, we can say the same about each pedestrian in the shot, as well. It's just a simple shot of a simple corner of the Toronto waterfront on a late afternoon, almost perfect angles, curves, painted light, reflections and shadows. Or maybe it's not so simple.

Either way, it felt good put an otherwise busy day on pause for a few minutes and watch this bucolic little slice of the planet unfold just below my window. I've got to start remembering to take moments like these, because they seem to disappear all too quickly.

Your turn: How do you hit pause in the middle of an otherwise busy day?

Saturday, October 20, 2012

On treasuring the now

“Because we don't know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really…How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”
Paul Bowles

Friday, October 19, 2012

RIM vs. New York Times vs. journalistic integrity

The New York Times kicked off quite the ruckus this week with its article, The BlackBerry as Black Sheep. The piece essentially described these smartphones as being so behind the times that people who own them are ashamed to carry them.

The journalist in me cringed when I read it, as it represented just the kind of drive-by, shallow journalism that tabloids were once known for. Essentially, come up with a provocative topic/treatment, find a narrow band of sources to support your thesis, write it up in a cheeky tone, publish, watch the sparks fly.

That there's no sense of balance, depth or even a need to inform seems to get lost in the process. The context of the story is virtually ignored in the rush to sensationalize. All that matters is jacking readership stats to drive advertising. The Times, once a bastion of journalistic integrity, scored big with a piece of link bait. I don't begrudge them for trying to goose readership. In and of itself, this is a necessary process to ensure the medium's survival. But not at the cost of your soul.

However you feel about RIM or its products - disclosure, I own a BlackBerry Bold 9900, as well as loads of other devices with Apple and Microsoft logos all over them - I feel it's disingenuous to leave your journalistic ethics at the door and write something so deliberately inflammatory. It shames us all, the folks who pick up pens for a living and string words together. We all end up looking like hacks.

To his credit, RIM CEO Thorsten Heins fought back with a perspective of his own: The Maker of BlackBerry Defends Its Smartphone. I discussed this on-air last night on NewsTalk 1010's Friendly Fire with John Downs and Ryan Doyle. My thesis:
  • Folks who define themselves solely by the technology they carry really need to get a life.
  • If a client is going to drop you because you carry a certain piece of technology, find another client.
  • Technology is not "good" or "bad". Its success depends on how well it aligns to your particular needs. If a BlackBerry continues to meet your needs, then no article in the New York Times can change that. For all its iOS-driven wonder, the iPhone isn't ideal for everyone, either. Different strokes.
Your turn: Thoughts?

Don't drink this

Energy, visualized
Delray Beach, FL
January 2012
Thematic. Drink up. Here.

Recipe for a better life:
  1. Get yourself to a beach, preferably one with good waves.
  2. Stand near the water's edge.
  3. Stare into the surf.
  4. Stare into the surf some more.
  5. Close your eyes. Listen, feel, even smell. Get all your other senses in on the action.
  6. Stare some more.
  7. Resolve to return here more often.
There, doesn't that feel good?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Beer on a wall

Hidden mural
London, ON
October 2012
Click here for more Thematic drink up

Take a detour off of one of London's busiest arteries and you might find yourself face-to-face with this delightful piece of urban commercialism. I'm not sure how many people get to see it, as the wall is largely hidden from a nearby parking lot and not near any remotely busy areas of vehicular or pedestrian traffic. Yet here it sits, cheek by jowl with a similarly cheeky painting of a dog and a fire hydrant (that one's coming soon.)

I like this. I like how it's deliberately tucked away, waiting to delight the few who venture here. I like how it's free of graffiti in a city that otherwise seems covered with it. I like that someone thought just enough outside the usual advertising box, and came up with something that makes you stop for a bit.

I didn't really have time to stop on this day as I walked the last couple of blocks to my car. Deadlines. Ticking clocks. Life. But I couldn't not stop, either. So while the unshaven guy wearing ripped jeans sat in his rusting, idling Escalade, door open and bad music blaring, eating what looked like a burrito, I grabbed the best angle I could because his iron beast was otherwise taking up two parking spots.

I'll have to come back to this wall soon. Who knows what I'll find when I do. Either way, I expect to be delighted, Corona Extra, Escalade, burrito and all.

Your turn: Ever find something neat in an out-of-the-way place?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lance Armstrong quits Livestrong

As a cyclist who most years logged more kilometres on two wheels than on four, I've followed Lance Armstrong's career with great interest. Who, after all, could not be moved by the story of a man who beat cancer, became the world's dominant cyclist by winning its toughest event for seven years running, and created and led a foundation that's generated huge amounts of funding and, just as critically, support and inspiration for those whose lives have been touched by cancer?

He was always larger than life, a swaggering, focused force for the things we all hold near and dear. We wanted to believe. In his cause. In him.

Sadly, it's become nearly impossible to believe. While he had been dogged throughout his career by allegations of doping, he steadfastly denied them, saying he had never failed a test in his life. Earlier this year he decided to walk away from his appeal of a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency agency investigation, a move that led to his being stripped of his Tour de France titles.

Now, he's resigned as head of Livestrong, the organization he founded to help cancer survivors and fund research into a cure. He's still denying it all, but in the face of a huge trove of evidence released last week, it's clear this was far more than a few European riders ticked off at the American interloper. The allegations point toward a systematic process designed to fool the system and gain competitive advantage. It made doping the norm, not the exception, in a sport that's already endured more than its fair share of shame.

I still want to believe, of course. Because the Tour de France championships mean nothing. They're trophies, mere doodads awarded for crossing a line first. It's the folks who revolve around his foundation who concern me most. When you're diagnosed, you need all the inspiration you can get. You hold onto those icons of goodness, the heroes who've been there before and can show you the way now. You need to believe. In something. In someone.

Lance Armstrong, who was that someone for so many for so long, no longer is. Victims of cancer, their family members, their friends, and their support systems now have one less hero. And I'm sure they all, like me, wish otherwise.

Sure, he's human. And like the rest of us, he's flawed. Yet doping scandal and all, he's managed to create an organization that's raised massive amounts of money for cancer research, and awareness for the rest of us. A world without him would be far worse off.

As some among us revel in dragging the one-time do-no-wrong rider's name through the mud, I hope we'll instead focus on the elusive concept of balance. There's no excusing cheating in sport. Ever. But to a kid in a hospital wondering about what comes next, perhaps any hero, flawed and all, is preferable to none in the first place.

On finding wonder everywhere

"Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn, whatever state I am in, therein to be content."
Helen Keller

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

#BellBiz - trending in Canada

A few days ago, I posted about a Twitter chat that I was hosting on behalf of the Bell Small Business team (link here.) We held the #BellBiz session today, and I'm thrilled at how it played out.

First, lots of people showed up. Lots of really smart people. Industry experts from Bell, IDC Canada and Research In Motion. Business owners. Folks who use tech every day, and whose professional lives depend on making the right choices. They had questions, they shared their expertise, they helped build a virtual community out of little more than a string of tweets.

But here's the neat thing: a string of tweets can be a very powerful thing.

By the end of the hour, we were a trending topic on Twitter. Not just in Toronto or Ontario. Across Canada. More folks joined in, shared their perspectives, added to the knowledge flow. We kept trending. The hour ended, and we headed back to work, heads overflowing with ideas from the intense, eye-opening discussion. This is what happens when great folks get their hands on great technologies, great social media tools.

Now that we've held our first Twitter live chat, we'll regroup, learn from the experience and apply those learnings to our next chat. It's scheduled for next Tuesday, October 23rd, between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. Eastern, and you are, of course, once again invited to share in the fun.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Thematic Photographic 217 - Drink up

Some kind of thirst
Shanghai, China
May 2012

Say what you want about fruity flavored and colored drinks, but I think they look pretty neat.

I wasn't feeling the need to consume any of these, as we were scheduled to fly the next day and I didn't really want to spend a dozen and a half hours suspended above the planet with an alcohol-fed headache. Besides, I'm not much of a drinker to begin with (seriously, ask my wife.) Still, this artfully displayed sea of glasses seemed worthy of some lens love, especially given the challenge of shooting handheld in low light. I just couldn't resist.

For the next week, I hope you'll do the same. Our new Thematic theme, drink up, celebrates any form of consumable liquid. Given the fact that this is how we survive, I'm guessing you'll be able to come up with more than a few ways to photographically skin this proverbial cat.

Your turn: Take a picture of something drinkable - or remotely related to the concept - post it to your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants, repeat the process as often as you wish, and invite a friend to join in. And, most important of all, enjoy the spirit of photographic sharing, as that's why we do the Thematic thing every week in the first place. What's Thematic? Click here and all will be explained.

Dalton McGuinty quits. Ontario yawns.

Big news from the land of politics tonight: the premier of our lovely province of Ontario, Dalton McGuinty, has stepped down as leader of the provincial Liberal Party and as premier. He's also prorogued the legislature, saying the opposition is not allowing the government to function.

Fun, fun, fun. All that's left now is for tout la gang to confirm an election date. The geek-journalist in me loves this stuff. Don't you?

Democracy rules!

Now trending on Yahoo! Canada

Cool geek-writer fact of the day: the fifth most popular article on Yahoo! Canada Finance today is mine. I love when folks read my stuff, are moved by it, feel the need to respond to it. I love when something that flows from my fingers makes total strangers think. It's why I became a journalist, and thanks to ever evolving tools that let this whole process play out in real time, readers and writers have never been more connected than they are now.

A quick dive into the comments section of some of my articles betrays the darker side of all of this, the anonymous trolls who seem to derive strength by reaching up from mom's basement and snarking on everything and anything that crosses their belligerent world view. Wait, that's giving them too much credit, as I'm guessing most of them don't have much of a world view to begin with. Whatever.

Here's quick rundown of some of my recent articles published by Yahoo! Canada:
More to come, as it's already shaping up to be a busy week.

When sunflowers bloom

Mr. Golden Sun
London, ON
September 2010
I've been trying to get better at the bring-flowers-home-for-no-reason thing, but I'll be the first to admit I've got a ways to go. It simply isn't always on my radar, or the practical me sees them at the last minute and thinks they're a little frivolous.

But the more I think about it, the more I come to appreciate that a little frivolity isn't necessarily a bad thing. That bringing flowers home "just because" isn't anywhere near frivolous and, if we're being honest with ourselves, is one of those tickets to that better life we're always searching for.

So, no, buying a dozen roses every other day might be a little ridiculous - especially given the fact that life is filled with all sorts of more pressing expenses. And I'm not about to explain to the kids that the pantry's bare because I just had to buy another bunch. And, no, I won't make them eat the blooms, either.

But an occasional bouquet tossed into the grocery cart can't be a bad thing for the soul. And if it teaches the little ones that a detour from the coldly logical path is called for every once in a while, then perhaps the sunflower pictured here will not have withered in vain.

Besides, the smile I got when I walked in the door made it more than worth it.

Your turn: What kinds of things do you do "just because"?

About this photo: We're winding down our fall colors theme. There's still a bit of time to share yours: just click here. We'll launch our next theme, drink up, at 7 p.m. Eastern. Oops, that's tonight: I'd better get cracking!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On leadership, inspiration, and you

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."
John Quincy Adams
There's that word again: inspire. Hmm, I'll mull that one over as another new week dawns.

Your turn: What word will you be churning over in your mind as you begin another week?

Felix Baumgartner skydives into history

Many thanks to the weather for being so cantankerous for the past couple of weeks, as it pushed Felix Baumgartner's skydive from the edge of space to today - a Sunday, when everybody's home to watch it.

As of now, he's lifted off in his ginormous helium-filled balloon from his home base in Roswell, New Mexico, and is slowly ascending to around 120,000 feet where he'll jump out. If he succeeds, it'll be the world's highest and fastest - supersonic - freefall. He's wearing a space suit, and has enough GoPro cameras on him to keep YouTube in business for the next decade or so.

Here's a quick rundown of some key links to the Red Bull Stratos attempt:

Interesting fact: Dr. John Clark is also an advisor to the team. His wife, Laurel, was aboard Columbia when it disintegrated on re-entry in 2003. While this project is a huge marketing coup for an already brilliantly marketed energy drink maker, it is also intended to develop better tools, designs and processes to enable high-altitude survival for astronauts and aviators. Science can be so inspiring.

Your turn: Are you watching? What do you think?

Update: Whew...he made it! Here's a quick list of coverage from the big event:
We'll leave the final word to Mr. Baumgartner himself. Just before he stepped into history, he had this to say:
"Sometimes you have to go up really high to understand how small you are."

Ready for a questionable harvest

Field of potentially shattered dreams
Ingersoll, ON
October 2012

The colors of fall* aren't always spectacularly bright. More often than not they're subdued, and they serve to remind us, subtly, that winter is just around the corner, that an ending is fast approaching

And autumn truly is an ending, of sorts, of a time when we can simply go outside in what we're wearing without pulling on parkas, boots and mitts, when we don't need to worry about leaving enough time in the morning to dig the car - or a wayward kid - out of a snowbank.

And if you're a farmer, it's a time to bring the crops in, then hunker down for the long, cold season ahead. The fields in largely farm-dominated southern Ontario now bear the marks of a summer that was too dry. And as I blasted past the evidence on a fast-moving train, I could almost imagine seeing the farmers themselves, shaking their heads as they fired up their combines and wondered if the fields held enough to see them through the coming winter.

I sure hoped so. I'd hate to think of places like this ceasing to exist.

Your turn: Autumn is about more than just colorful leaves. What does it mean to you?

* You're still very much welcome to submit your fall color-themed pic to this week's Thematic. Just head here to get started.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

World in motion

Ground rush
Ingersoll, ON
October 2012
Thematic. Fall colors. Here. There's still time.

I attended a writer's summit in Toronto last week and once I added up the cost, time and hassle of driving into the big city, I realized it made a lot more sense to take the train. Because I was packing light, I left my camera behind. The iPad was going to be my only photographic weapon for the entire trip. Admittedly, I was only going for a couple of days, but it made for an interesting experiment all the same.

The first thing you learn: the thing has no manual controls over anything. I'm sure if I had thought of it, I might have downloaded an app or two that added some customization to Apple's decidedly bare-bones baseline. But that would take planning, and I was - and presumably still am - not up to the task.

Once I realized the combination of fast-moving train, absent shutter speed or aperture controls, and decidedly wimpy hardware doomed me to, um, less than perfect exposures, I got into the spirit of the thing and started to compose with the device's limitations in mind. Before long, I was doing the deliberate-blur thing. With my BlackBerry showing a real-time GPS map, I was more or less able to figure out where the next farm was going to be. Yes, I got some stares.

I couldn't plan this one, a nicely composed window of distant picket fence and field amid a close-in rush of green and red. It sure won't win best of any show, but it reminds me of why we do the photographic thing in the first place. It isn't necessarily for the perfect outcome, though that's always a nice bonus. It's for the memory of the experience, the freezing of the moment in our memory. I'm glad I froze this one, as it was a good day, and a moment I wanted to bring home to my family.

Your turn: Why do you shoot?

Friday, October 12, 2012

On life and pride

"I hope you live a life you're proud of."
F. Scott Fitzgerald

Your turn: How do we know?

Heads up: Live Twitter chat this Tuesday

This just in...
  1. Bell has posted this entry to the Bell Business Blog. Click on to go straight to the blog at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Be sure to include the #BellBiz hashtag on everything you post.
  2. Bell's just launched its Salute to Small Business Contest. You could win $25,000 in business services. Find out how here.
I'll be doing something really cool this coming Tuesday, October 16th at 1:00 p.m. It's a live Twitter chat for Bell Small Business (#BellBiz) and we'll be talking about operating systems - is there a so-called best one? How do you choose what works best for you?

IDC Canada's program manager for PCs, Tim Brunt, will be our special guest as we explore the ins and outs of choosing the right OS for your needs. Follow IDC at @IDCcanada, and don't forget to follow our sponsors, too, @Bell_SmallBiz.

Why am I doing this? Well, recently, I started blogging for the Bell Business Blog (link here) and the goal is simple: help business folks squeeze more value out of their technology. It fits right in with my world view, and we're already hearing back from folks who appreciate less hype and more guidance. That's what we're all about.

I've compiled a quick FAQ to help get you all in the groove:

What's a Twitter chat?
  • It's a live exchange between folks on the popular social media platform.
  • You may have participated in chats before, but this one's out in the open, and everyone's invited.
How do I attend?
  1. At 1 p.m., open your Twitter client or head to the website.
  2. Do a search for the #BellBiz hashtag.
  3. (Or, if you want really simple, forget steps 1 and 2 and just click here.)
  4. Keep hitting the Refresh button (or F5 in your browser) to see what everyone else is saying.
  5. Include the #BellBiz hashtag in your own tweets to ensure you're part of the conversation.
What happens then?
  • We'll chat for about an hour.
  • The sessions will be archived and uploaded later on to the Bell Business Blog.
Who's Bell Canada and why should I care?
Bell is Canada's leading telecommunications company. Once upon a time they were simply the phone company. Now, they're also an Internet and wireless provider and content distributor. They also own the CTV network whose studios I sometimes like to live in.
Do I have to be Canadian to participate?
No. We Canucks love to share, and this session is open to the world, as business technology best practices are universal.
Can I bring a friend?
The more the merrier. Leave a comment here if you wish. Or tweet me. Or leave a note on my Facebook page. Or ping me in LinkedIn.
With the launch of Microsoft's Windows 8 looming later this month, we've all got questions about staying put, upgrading, or finding some kind of middle ground. If your business productivity depends on your technology - and whose doesn't? - I hope you'll rebook your lunch hour on Tuesday and join us. It'll be fun!

Spectacular fall from grace

Remember the fallen
Laval, QC
October 2012
Thematic's fall colors submissions still being accepted here

There's a certain amount of irony in a leaf's final days of existence. Only at the very end of its life does it morph into something so spectacularly shaded that it'll stop you dead in your tracks while you're walking. Unfortunately, by then it's already begun to shrivel up and die before your very eyes.

I'm sure it didn't take long for this leaf to be swept by the blustery winds into the nearby river, or under a bush, or into the shadowy spot behind the rusted Dumpster behind the parking garage, where it would inevitably shrivel some more into a forgotten, crispy brown shadow of its former self. We knew we had to shoot fast on this miserable, grey afternoon, because it wouldn't be long before this was all gone.

Life begins, grows, ages and ends. A leaf is no different than we are. Getting another year to appreciate the cycle is a blessing in itself.

Your turn: So where did this leaf end up? Make up a story, k?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What I did last week...(some of it, anyway)

Oops, forgot to post this earlier. Here's a roundup of some notable broadcast work from last week:

I popped into CTV for an interview with Canada AM's Marci Ien. CTV ran this story on its website. The video link is embedded in the page, or just click here.

Todd Van Der Heyden has a weekly Tech Talk panel discussion on the latest goings-on in the industry.  We talked about Amazon's possible new smartphone. Todd had me and Elias Makos on last week, and the video is here.

My weekly Friday tech segment with CJAD Montreal's Ric and Suzanne is available here. I was also back on-air later that afternoon to weigh in on the Twitter scuffle between the Montreal Gazette's food critic, Lesley Chesterman, and Maclean's Magazine over its Top 50 Restaurants in Canada list. The magazine left some key Montreal eateries off the list. Ms. Chesterman was not pleased. Social media fireworks ensued. Great fun was had by all.

I also spoke with Sun News Network's Caryn Lieberman about whether or not Chinese telecom vendors are a threat to our national security. It's complex, vexing issue, and one that won't have any clean answer anytime soon. Definitely a story to follow.

Your turn: What else should I be writing and talking about? What geek topics bug you?

On friendship, without strings

"'Why did you do all this for me?' Wilbur asked. 'I don't deserve it. I've never done anything for you.'

'You have been my friend,' replied Charlotte. 'That in itself is a tremendous thing.'"
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web
Your turn: Why is your best friend your best friend?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Stripped and exposed

Waiting for the season to end
Laval, QC
October 2012
Thematic. Fall colors. Here.

For all the what-once-was sadness of a now-dried-out blade of wheat grass, there's something somewhat, I don't know, comforting about finding it against a deep green backdrop.

I believe in context, in days where dark, threatening skies, or deep snowdrifts from massive blizzards seem to wrap themselves around us, as if to remind us that nature rules the roost, and that we all have a place to seek shelter no matter how cold the winds may blow.

I like knowing that the dark stand of trees behind this otherwise exposed blade of shrivelled grass will continue to protect it from the wind, the rain, and whatever else the changing seasons choose to throw at it.

I know it's just weather, but there's a story here, a narrative of the earth that I wish more of us listened to. We're often so focused on basics of day-to-day life that we forget to stare at the grass and wonder what's protecting it from the storms not yet seen. On this day, at least, I had my answer.

Your turn: Does approaching bad weather bring comfort to you? Why/why not?

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The next generation goes shooting

Laval, QC
October 2012
Please click here for more Fall Colors Thematic

It had been a miserable day both inside and outside. Spitting rain had scuttled our planned walk outside, and the kids were itching to stretch themselves beyond their grandparents' apartment. It's a lovely place to be, of course, but not big enough to contain the energy of my cooped up munchkins.

Eventually, with the sky still a threatening grey and the wind spitting a light drizzle, we decided to chance it. The kids grabbed their cameras and we headed for the walking paths that trace the riverbank in this bucolic corner of an otherwise bustling suburb. The goal: fill their memory cards with memories.

I hung back a little as I watched them get into their groove. It's easy for me to pick out what I think is most worthy of a picture, but a little more difficult for me to say nothing as I watch them work through the process on their own. It was a joy to watch, as they bantered between themselves about the things they saw, and the way they wanted to record them.

The pics I've seen so far are good enough that we're already counting the days until our next walkabout. They have an eye for detail that I simply didn't have at their age. They're thoughtful with a scene in ways that make me wonder just how good they'll get if they stick with it.

In Yiddish, it's called shepping naches, or deriving joy from the achievements of your children. On this day, I shepped naches. Only it wasn't simply based on the electronic bits they managed to record through their lenses. It was the way they went about it, the spirit they showed each other, the smiles on their faces and in their voices.

It was a delightful slice of time, and I got to drink it in from a few feet behind them. May we have plenty more photo walks ahead of us.

Your turn: When did you pick up a camera for the first time?

Monday, October 08, 2012

Thematic Photographic 216 - Fall colors

Nature's paintbrush
London, ON
October 2012

Click photo to embiggen

I've chosen fall colors as this week's theme because, well, it's fall, and for most of us it's getting pretty colorful out there. Although I've started things off with an admittedly cliched perspective of the season, I hope we'll use the coming week to explore the full range of color-based themes. Perhaps it's an absense of color, or a tone, or something that remotely evokes autumn. And if you're in the southern hemisphere, I'm sure you'll find even more creative ways to share. Whatever it is, please feel free to take this theme wherever you'd like.

Your turn: Post a photo that supports this week's theme to your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share in the photographic nuttiness that is Thematic Photographic, our weekly photo sharing activity. Feel free to add as many entries as you'd like through the week, and we always encourage new folks to join in. If you're new to all this, click here for more background. Enjoy...and thanks!

Someone forgot the Windex

Who's behind the mirror?
Toronto, ON
October 2012
Thematic shiny contributions being accepted here
New theme, fall colors, launches tonight at 7
I grew up in a house where you didn't take multiple pictures of the same subject over time. "I already got that one" was a common refrain as the camera remained in its dusty corner because one picture of last year's birthday cake was more than enough. That attitude, which I never really understood, felt to me like a validation of the live-your-life-as-a-checklist ethos that ultimately leads to things like bucket lists.

I don't have a bucket list. I do what fuels my passion, and I'm perfectly content to do it again if I think there's a way to experience it differently, more completely. Learning is built on the foundation of earlier learning, so why would we ignore what we've done - or what others have done - previously?

Which brings me to this office building in downtown Toronto. It stands just across the street from Union Station. Coincidentally, that's where I got off my train earlier this week on my way to a conference. So as I exited the station, I found myself staring almost straight up, realizing I had never quite seen the light in quite this way before. Sure, I had been here before, and taken pictures of this very same building. But it never looked quite this way. I was using a different camera this time. I was in a different mood. The weather was different. In short, the opportunity was completely unique.

We've been exploring shiny all week (not too late to share yours here), and as we close out the theme, I realize we could explore the same subjects forever and never quite reach the point where we've completely figured them out. The light will always be different. The moment will always be unique.

Maybe this isn't just about photos, after all.

Your turn: Do you return to the same subjects? How do you find the new?

Sunday, October 07, 2012

After the shine is gone

Dirty money
London, ON
September 2012

Shininess can be a temporary thing, as the perfectly reflective surface of something new slowly - or not so slowly - gives way to the scratched, dulled and otherwise marred surface of something that's gone a few laps. If you look carefully, you might be able to see flashes of its former brilliance. But otherwise, it's usually a one-way trip to forgetaboutmeville, where no one bothers looking or caring anymore.

There are enough analogies here to fill a Dumpster (itself a perfect example of unshininess, but we'll leave that one for another day.)

While I realize the $10.56 Cdn. on display here may no longer be the object of a currency collector's desire, it has just as much ability to fill my kids' piggy banks as the shinier, perfectly turned out stuff. Which reminds me to never underestimate the hidden power of things that may have faded, things we might otherwise dismiss.

Or people. Hmm...

Your turn: Scratches and grime can tell a story. What would the story of these coins be?

One more thing: We're still taking Thematic shiny submissions. It won't hurt a bit. Just go here.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Steel weapon lying on a busy street

It came from space
Shanghai, China
May 2012

About this photo: Thematic celebrates all things shiny this week. Click here to share your own.
On a broad, long boulevard that seems to run almost endlessly through the financial district, this delightfully out-there piece of public art is visible virtually from one end to another.

I still can't quite figure out its back story, but part of me thinks that's perfectly fine. You don't need to know every last detail about a given something. Sometimes it's enough to simply appreciate something for being remarkably different. Sometimes it's enough to be glad you had the opportunity to experience it at all.

Your turn: Anyone want to guess what the artist had in mind? Go nuts!

Friday, October 05, 2012

The joys of indoor plumbing

Water, water everywhere...
Shanghai, China
May 2012
Click here for more shiny-themed Thematic
Click photo to embiggen

I dig faucets (see here and here for earlier examples), so it should come as no surprise that I got up close and personal with this one, too. I found this one, conveniently enough, in my hotel room. It was a pretty lovely hotel, too, so in the tiny snippets of free time that we had in between conference events, I'd wander the halls looking for things to shoot.

It's funny how you can find memorable beauty literally under your nose. But only if you pause long enough to discover it. Otherwise, stuff like this slips by with barely a murmur.

Your turn: How do you remember the ordinary? Why is the ordinary worth remembering in the first place?

Catching up - Yahoo! Canada writings

I've been a busy writer over the past little while, and I realize I've fallen way behind in summarizing my work online. To make sure I don't lose track of what I've been up to, here's a rundown of my more notable recently published pieces for Yahoo! Canada Finance:

Hope you enjoy reading 'em as much as I enjoyed researching and writing them!

Steve Jobs - a year

Hard to believe it's been a year since Steve Jobs passed away. Apple is running a tribute to him on its homepage. CEO Tim Cook posted this note, as well.

I never met the man, yet the things he did were strongly influential on my life. My first exposure to an Apple II Plus at the back of a high school computer lab set me on a course that eventually led me here. I wonder if a different machine from a different man or a different company would have had the same effect. We'll never know, of course, but the connection alone is enough to convince me that this business is about far more than machines, anyway.


Related links from the blog:

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Newspapers are dying. I'd like to change that.

Long story short: I didn't get my newspaper today.

Long story long: read on...

Newspapers have been part of my morning routine ever since I can remember. As soon as I could read, I'd grab the paper and voraciously consume it over breakfast. It was almost against my wannabe-kid-journalist's religion to be at the table without a broadsheet spread awkwardly in between the cereal boxes and juice glasses. A bare table seemed so, I don't know, naked, and left me with nothing to do, nothing to ponder, nothing new to talk about.

Eventually, I grew up. And by the age of 10, I was pulling a wagon filled with papers on my first paper route. First, I delivered for the now-defunct Montreal Star, an afternoon paper, and eventually shifted into early mornings for the still-at-it Gazette. I can still feel what it was like to step out of the house into the cool darkness of an early summer morning. Sure, like any kid I would have rather been sleeping. But once I got out the door, I was ready to wander the neighborhood, drop off my papers, then head home for breakfast. And a read, of course.

Fast forward

Old habits die hard. I still treasure the experience of reading the paper at the kitchen table. I know the world has changed: the paper's a little - okay, a lot - thinner and the writing isn't always as inspirational or educational as I remember. The Internet Age has upended the very nature of what we read and how we read it. I can just as easily flip open my iPad and sit it down next to my orange juice glass.

But here's the thing: The iPad doesn't cut it as a rich, immersive, breakfast table experience. I can't feel the paper in my hands, and it doesn't echo back to those moments in childhood where my future journalistic seeds were being planted. It doesn't connect me to the writers, the newsroom, the community in anywhere near the same way.


So this morning, when I got up early and drove out to the TV studio for an early interview, I had something to look forward to in the mailbox when I got home. The interview went exceptionally well (CTV Canada AM, as wonderful a team as you could ever hope to work with) and I was feeling pretty good about myself as I turned for home and watched the sun break through the clouds. Problem was, when I parked the car and headed in, the mailbox was empty. For the umpteenth time since we moved here, the London Free Press had failed to deliver our paper.

Now, in the overall scheme of things, this is barely a blip. It's a first-world problem of the most trivial order, something I should be able to overlook without much of a second thought. I still had lots of food in the kitchen, a lovely roof over my head, a wife I adore, kids I love beyond reason, a delightfully mischievous dog who greeted me from his perch in the middle of the kitchen table, and a day filled with all sorts of promising work. I should have been able to move past the simple absence of a newspaper. I should have simply picked up my iPad and read it online. I didn't. For two reasons:

  1. I pay for the paper. And trivial or not, it bugs me that I'm paying for something, then not getting that something. Sure, every time we call with a complaint, we're told "our account will be credited." But it never is - we pay the same each month, and they never extend the terms or drop the rate - and I'm left wondering why I'm paying some Quebec-based corporation for the privilege of being ignored two days out of six.
  2. Their website sucks. I mean, seriously, it's gawd-awful. They recently redesigned it, part of a corporate-wide initiative to move the needle beyond circa-1998 web standards. You'd think it would render nicely on an iPad. Or a MacBook Pro, or any of the other myriad screens/devices/platforms/browsers I have in the house. You'd think wrong.

So I did what any frustrated tech/journalist/subscriber would do. I tweeted:

Normally, I'd call the customer "help" line, but I didn't because: 1 - I had a deadline, and 2 - they wouldn't help me at all. It always plays out the same way, and I always end up having wasted my time complaining to someone who doesn't much care, and has no inclination or ability to resolve this issue once and for all.

A few minutes later, however. I heard back from Pat Maloney, a reporter:
To which I responded:
To which he responded:

Ironically, Pat did know what to say. And his decision to respond - despite the fact that he's a reporter and has no connection to Circulation - was a pleasant surprise, a confirmation that someone there still cares. And based on his writing and previous conversations/interviews we've had, I know that he does.

And that's the rub. I'm an atypical customer of an organization that's trying to navigate a fundamental, wrenching change to its very business model. Unlike most other customers, I'm a passionate consumer of the product, with a deep appreciation of its history and what it has brought - and continues to bring - to the community. Hell, I even used to write for these folks - I freelanced op-ed columns for a while. I want to be a happy customer, to receive fair value for what the paper is trying to sell, to continue to support its presence in and contributions to our community. And at every turn, I'm stymied.

Give it up?

My wife has been suggesting for years that we should just quit, get rid of our subscription. She, understandably, is tired of the indifferent customer service, the constant gutting of a vehicle that once represented the best this city could offer, the valueless back-and-forth every time they fail to deliver, the excuses piled on top of excuses that do nothing to reinforce the notion that this is a business with a future.

So on the far-fetched assumption that anyone from the London Free Press, Sun Media, or their parent corporation Quebecor actually reads this, here's what I'm hoping happens:

  1. You call me. Or comment here. Or tweet me. Or post something to my Facebook page.
  2. We discuss what is, apparently, a serious issue with your ability to fulfill your mandate.
  3. We shed light on how you intend to improve not only your ability to deliver dead trees to my doorstep, but how you plan on ensuring your continued relevance to both folks who want you to succeed, as well as folks who long ago gave up on the notion of subscribing.
  4. Similarly, we shed light on how we, as concerned community members, can contribute to this process. We are ultimately in this together.

I realize it's the height of arrogance to take what would normally be a simple customer service issue and turn it into a major kerfuffle. I also realize it's a somewhat edgy move to air this in a public, social media-based forum. But this is far more than a simple customer service issue, and I am so passionate about the future of media in this city that I'm taking a somewhat unconventional route to get the attention of an organization that to-date hasn't been as responsive to my - and London's - needs as many of us would like. The discussion's got to start somewhere, so why not here?

I'm waiting. Surprise me.

All the best,