Monday, October 31, 2005

Kids and guns

When a colleague sent this to me - 8-year-old girl bags first bear of Maryland's hunting season - the other day, I admit my first reaction was to chuckle. I thought it was a joke.

Then I read into it and dug a little deeper. It was no joke. I guess the gun culture knows no bounds.

Kindly notice that I'm not drawing this discussion on national lines. It would be easy to say this is an American affliction, but that would be an overly simplistic view.

I'm not so naive as to believe that guns are the root of all evil. I'm also not so naive as to believe that gun violence would cease to exist if we added a layer of government bureaucracy to our lives under the guise of so-called gun control. The genie's out of the bottle, and she won't be returning to it any time soon.

But something's wrong with this. I look at my own eight-year-old daughter and wonder if I would ever be possessed to allow her to do the same. Short answer: no.

Your turn: Guns today. Discuss.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Homeward bound glow

Thanks largely to my recent reintroduction to the world of business travel, I often find myself away from home wondering what the end game of the travel game should be.

Travelling for work presents an interesting dichotomy:
  1. It opens up doors for career opportunities that you hope will allow you to increase your family's standard of living.
  2. It causes no end of stress to everyone you leave behind.
Balancing those two has been an ongoing challenge ever since the first spouse/parent waved goodbye from the front door. I don't have the answers, but I hope talking it through here might help those of us who often find ourselves on the move.

Earlier in my career, I went through a period where I was away from home every other week. It was a brutal schedule, and I hated every minute of it.

I often thought of bringing my Nikon SLR along, but inevitably decided to leave it at home because coddling my beloved camera on a work-related trip just didn't seem all that prudent at the time. So those trips went unrecorded.

Today, I carry my little digicam with me pretty much everywhere. Although it's not as artistically evolved a tool as the Nikon, it allows me to share a glimpse of my newly-alien world with everyone back home. A wireless laptop, headset, instant messaging software and free hotel lobby wireless allow me to deliver the message instantaneously. It's no substitute for being away, but it does fill in the gaps until I return.

I took this picture at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport early in the morning as I was heading home last month. The trip home is always especially special because we know what lies at the end: a warm welcome from the people who matter most. I tend to linger a little longer on the return legs as I look for touchstones along the way that will allow me to tell the story of my trip. I'm not as much melancholy as I am pensive...I want to remember what it felt like to anticipate my homecoming.

This image jumped out at me just as I cleared security and made my way to the subway that takes passengers to the gate. An endless stream of travellers was making its way down the escalators. No one looked up or paid attention to the surroundings. But I was intrigued by the blue glow from the lovely stained glass windows that had been installed in this unlikeliest of places. So I stopped - to raised eyebrows and all - and took a few pictures so that I'd better remember how I felt.

Your turn: How do you bridge the miles when you're away from home?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Catching up - Ink Blog entries

Every two or three weeks, I publish a column in the daily paper here, The London Free Press. It appears on the op-ed page, and from Tuesday through Saturday I comment - in 170 words or so - on whatever newsy stuff I think matters to our readers.

Since one of the reasons I keep this blog is to archive and distribute the work that I publish, I try to post page scans and text versions of everything that gets into print. I don't always do this as quickly as I would like (life's busy these days.) So what I've done is back-post the entries for my most recent "on" week - October 18 through 22 - and have included the links here.

I hope you'll go back and read 'em. These short snappers are designed to elicit reader response, so I hope you'll also take the time to drop a comment and let me know what you think.

Tue Oct 18 – Flu shots, please

Wed Oct 19 – Yummy pesticides

Thu Oct 20 – Bad Customs attitude

Fri Oct 21 – Capital budget follies

Sat Oct 22 – Tobacco plant closure

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Bath time

Tonight was bath night at the zoo. The two older kids have long outgrown the take-a-bath-with-a-sibling phase of their lives. While they were busy taking their own showers, I got to give the little guy a bath.

The ritual began with his frantic search for his froggy goggles. Then we picked out an appropriate towel - it had to be a solid color. He selected his pyjamas - blue one-piece jams that turn him into blueberry boy - and chose his bedtime music. After twenty minutes of meticulous preparation, he was ready to get into the bathtub.

But not to bathe. First he had to play for a few minutes. I figured a slightly later bedtime was worth it, so simply watched from the sidelines as he explored the tub and took himself on a pirate's adventure with the Tupperware bowl I had left on the side.

Eventually, I suggested we get washing before he turned into a prune. He reluctantly agreed, then helped me make his hair shmushy with his shampoo. He's getting more ticklish these days - he is his mother's son, after all - so I let him do his neck on his own, too. I admit I enjoyed trying to clean there, because his giggles were priceless.

After what seemed like nowhere near enough time, it was time for him to get out. I wrapped his wiggling, shivering form in his too-large, solid-color towel and sent him on his way to finish drying off.

It wasn't an overtly memorable event in his life. He's had plenty of baths thus far, and he'll obviously have many more. But as a vignette, a slice, I wanted to remember what it felt like to spend those few minutes with a little guy who so very much loves being a little guy.

Maybe those small moments are worth writing about after all.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Has it been that long?

His entry into the world was a little on the rough side. He hung around for 16-and-a-half hours of labor. When the usual route didn't work out for him, the Docs performed a crash c-section and fetched him. His head was slightly elongated when he came out, which the Docs attributed to his getting beaten around inside before they fetched him. To break the tension, they joked that we had a conehead.

He was small: 6 pounds, 5 ounces. And in the ensuing days he lost more weight, had trouble breathing and spent time in the NICU in an oxygen tent. We didn't get much sleep as we hovered over his little form under the harsh lights. We sang to him, spoke to him, and let him know we couldn't wait to bring him home.

Which we did after a few frightening days. When we finally left the hospital, I drove like it was my first time in the car: scared. I kept the hazards on, and refused to get onto the highway because I was so nervous with him in the car. Debbie kept her hand over his face to make sure he was still breathing.

He's obviously grown in a lot of ways since his first few days on this planet, and every milestone he's experienced since has represented yet another in a long series of firsts for our family.

He turned 11 today. No longer a little boy, stretching just a little harder than we'd like into his teen years. We wish time didn't go so fast. We wish it would slow down just long enough for us to savor each moment before it races off in that same direction: forward.

I feel old, yet I can't imagine life without him. And as he matures, I love seeing how his insight grows, too. He's a good soul, just like his Mom.

His arrival made us parents. I wish I could put into words what it's like to watch him figure out how to navigate this chaotic world. But vaunted writer that I am, I can't. I'm capable only of the occasional snippet that, I hope, inspires others to look at their own children and try to do better.

Happy birthday, little man. May your next 11 years be even more exciting than your first.



Tuesday, October 25, 2005

On loss

News item: The United States has recorded its 2,000th death in Iraq since hostilities began.

As tragic as the total number is, this is as good a time as any to reflect on what it means:
  • 2,000 families have lost a loved one.
  • 2,000 brothers, sisters, moms, dads, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, friends...all gone.
  • 2,000 people frozen in time, who will never fulfill their destiny.
  • Countless others left behind, their lives going on, somehow, without them.
Tim Harper is a columnist for the Toronto Star. He wrote this piece, Matt Kimmell's funeral, that tells one such story. I had difficulty getting through it as I thought how easily it could be any one of us. Or any one from my own little world.

I guess if we all spent enough time searching, we could find similar stories about the other 1,999. Of course, by then, that number will have tragically grown even larger.

Your turn: Why?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Adventures in home ownership

673rd in a series...

There’s a right way to change a bulb in an electric stove. Then there’s my way. Here’s how things played out when the culinary light left our world this weekend:

Step 1: Open stove door and observe that the bulb has shattered, leaving a jagged base stuck in the socket. This will happen when the bulb is as old as the oven: 9 years. It served us well.

Step 2: Gingerly touch the edges of the bulb’s base. Oh yes, they’re sharp.

Step 3: Fetch a Winnie the Pooh band aid while my wife and I discuss alternative means of extracting the bulb remnants.

Step 4: Wife suggests a potato. We have none. Perhaps a crispy apple will do the trick. I pull one from the fruit drawer and begin carving it carefully so that it will fit into the hole.

Step 5: Watch sadly as the apple fails to grasp the ragged edges. Too mushy. Apple juice streams down the back wall of the oven.

Step 6: Grab the nearest pair of pliers and begin to gently twist the bulb.

Step 7: Notice with consternation that the soft metal has begun to buckle and flake off.

Step 8: Stop using pliers to turn the bulb. Start using them to rip the bejeezus out of the bulb.

Step 9: Observe many small metal fragments cascade into the stove. Children gather by the kitchen table to watch the unfolding spectacle – not unlike spectators at an accident scene. Daughter asks if it hurts for Daddy to be half inside the stove.

Step 10: Bulb tugging activity intensifies as I become increasingly frustrated. Sweat pours from my brow. It’s me vs. the stupid shard of metal.

Step 11: Did I gouge out some of the porcelain surrounding the socket?

Step 12: Enough of the metal is now gone that the bulb begins to turn on its own. In a fit of victory, I give one last yank.

Step 13: Large sparks shoot out of the socket as the bulb breaks free and I fall back. On my duff.

Step 14: Wife checks that I’m OK. Wife is heard to utter, “Uh oh” as she looks up at the stove’s digital clock and sees…nothing. It’s dead.

Step 15: I wonder aloud if perhaps I should have unplugged the oven before embarking on this adventure (I told you I’m not handy.)

Step 16: Concerned that perhaps the oven is no longer getting power, I reach, like a moth drawn to the porch light, into the socket and touch it.

Step 17: My fingertip and arm confirm that 110 volt AC current is indeed flowing through the socket.

Step 18: Make the long trek down to the electrical box in the basement. Dollar signs dance in my head as I wonder how much this might potentially cost us.

Step 19: Reset the breaker – it had tripped, but only sorta halfway. Good thing I didn’t pursue electrician school.

Step 20: Return to kitchen to a relieved wife. The clock works. We're saved.

Step 21: Vacuum up the stove, screw in the new bulb, and smile to my once-again happy family as light returns to our midst.

Your turn: I know some of you have your own home repair stories from hell. I hope you’ll share one in a comment.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Read this - Christine's blog

Last week, I started a new tradition here at Written Inc. I call it Read This, and it's my attempt to highlight web logs that I think deserve to be read more widely. The first entry is here.

This week's blog is Mommy Matters. Christine manages to juggle the complex demands of familyhood in the wake of a big move that took her family to a new state. It's a reality to which I - and I'm sure many of you - relate all too well. And she writes about it so eloquently that you won't want to stop reading.

I hope you'll drop in and see how she and her brood are doing. Please tell her Carmi says hi, and if you've got a few free minutes, visit her husband's blog as well. Even if you're not an ex-submariner, you'll get his writing, too.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Damn Cigarettes

I've long harbored resentment toward the tobacco industry. Sure, one can argue that smokers do it to themselves. They choose to start smoking, so whatever ailments eventually bring them down are pretty much their own darn fault.

But I believe that we all have a responsibility to do work that benefits the world around us. The tobacco industry does none of this. Its product kills. Its makers cynically fight efforts to hold them at least partially accountable for some of this cost to society.

I attended college in the shadow – and smell – of Imperial Tobacco’s main plant in Montreal. I now live in the middle of southwestern Ontario’s tobacco belt, which has long lived the good life thanks to the proceeds of cash-rich tobacco crops.

Now, a community reels as its high-paying (average: over $84,000/year) jobs are about to go up in smoke. I feel immensely sorry for those who will lose their jobs. But I felt compelled to say it now because I didn’t see anyone else saying it: the industry has had decades to change direction. People who work for tobacco firms have had just as much time to find similarly lucrative work.

I feel awful for their loss, but at the same time I figure society gains from the gradual drawing down of big tobacco’s ability to foist its killer products on us. Eventually, we all win.

Disclosure: I am the son of a man whose longtime smoking habit put him on a trajectory of chronic cardiac disease, multiple surgeries and a reduced quality of life. It has shaped my life – and that of our entire family – in ways I would rather have avoided. So I guess you can say I’ve got a bit of a chip on my shoulder.

Tobacco closings have silver lining

Published Saturday, October 22, 2005

The London Free Press

Imperial Tobacco’s announcement that it’s closing its Aylmer and Guelph plants leaves me feeling ambivalent.

As a wage-earning, bill-paying member of my community, I feel empathy for the 635 employees who will lose their jobs. The affected communities will suffer and I wish we could all cushion their blow.

But as much as we feel for the employees, tobacco remains a killer. We’ve had stark scientific evidence of this for over 40 years. Consumers seem to have gotten this message, as Imperial’s cigarette sales have tumbled 38 per cent since December 1994.

The closing of the plants hardly comes as a surprise. Those have relied on the tobacco-driven economy had ample warning to wean themselves off the business benefits of this legalized drug.

While these communities prospered, thousands of Canadians were dying premature deaths as a result of their addictive output.

These closings, then, come with a silver lining. And a lesson: When you make a deal with the devil, you may occasionally get burned.


Weird search engine fun

Like most folks who maintain a web log, I like to track the statistics to see how many people visit me, and how they get here.

Like most stats services, mine provides the URL of the referring site: the last page the visitor was on before clicking on the link to my blog. So if someone found me using a search engine, I know what search terms were used, and how my page ranked.

So I'm not sure what's more disturbing:
  1. The search terms used by this one particular visitor this evening;
  2. Or the fact that my site ranked 8th for that search string from the MSN Search site.
Here's the string: photos of man caught making love to wife's friend


The Internet never ceases to amaze - and sicken - me.

Your turn: What's the strangest search term that you've ever found in your own stats reporting?

Maelstrom of margarine

I am not a morning person. At the time that I took this picture, I was sitting at the kitchen table and wishing that I could still be in bed and finishing off yet another happy dream.

So I pointed the lens down at this oil-laden landscape in the hope that some photographic silliness would help jump-start my day. I don't think I succeeded, but I really like this picture for reasons I cannot explain.

Your turn - 2 parts:
  • What three words cross your mind as you see this picture?
  • Please suggest other breakfast foods that might look nice - or simply odd - in pictures. I'll shoot my favorite(s) and post it (them) here tomorrow.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Taxpayer's Lament

I'm nothing if not a passionate advocate for the little guy. Although I’m a big believer in the basic tenets of democracy, I feel today’s governments at all levels have become too large to truly understand and appreciate the perspectives of those who elected them in the first place – and who pay their salaries and related expenses.

he inability to prioritize expenditures isn’t limited to The Simpsons’ Mayor Quimby. And I wanted to send a message to London’s City Hall that it’s time to get real about funding the stuff we need and dumping the stuff we merely want.

The whole concept of wants vs. needs seems to be lost on today’s governments. I wanted to remind ‘em a little.

BTW, this piece comes with a cool geeky back story: I wrote and filed it wirelessly late Wednesday night from the hotel's lobby. I read the paper off of my PalmPilot - which I had synced just before settling on the topic. I'm getting used to the virtual office thing. I can think of worse ways to get work done.

London faces tough budget decisions

Published Friday, October 21, 2005

The London Free Press

It’s good to see the city seeking public input as it tries to pare down the wish list of capital projects for next year’s municipal budget.

We are no different than any other city: relentless downloading by provincial and federal governments has severely strained London’s ability to provide a full range of municipal services while keeping tax rates in check. It’s been a losing battle for years, and it won’t get better.

Piled on top of this government-caused mess is a global economy that grows more tenuous with each passing day.

The time for municipal austerity is now. Whatever we don’t absolutely need should be pitched – now. Extra overpasses are nice, but not critical to the city’s well-being. Widened roads make little sense in a city where rush hour is 11 cars at a red light. The police headquarters expansion might need a rethink if costs continue to balloon.

City leaders must learn to ignore the special interest groups who scream the loudest. The taxpayers who pay the bills deserve no less.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Nasty Officer

Some days, ideas for my column just fall from the sky.

This week, I'm on the move, flying to Boston on a media tour. As my colleague and I were waiting in line to check in at the airport, I was telling her how challenged I was coming up with a really strong story idea for my upcoming deadline. She told me not to worry, that ideas always materialize when I least expect them. How little did I know that my next piece would literally write itself as I passed through Customs.

What I learned from this experience is you must always keep your eyes and ears open. Writers can gain inspiration from anything and anyone, even the sad-looking civil servant sitting behind a wicket at the airport.

Strange ‘Customs’ for such a close ally

Published Thursday, October 20, 2005

The London Free Press

BOSTON, Mass. -- Washington, we have a problem.

The Customs officers charged with deciding who can and cannot get into the United States are apparently in need of an attitude adjustment. At least that’s my conclusion after encountering the mother of all attitudinally challenged officers in Toronto while flying to Boston yesterday for some business meetings.

First, she ignored my approach to her wicket, preferring instead to stare down at her feet while I stood in front of her and wondered what I should do next.

When she finally woke up, she berated me for not having the right kind of birth certificate, for smiling for my driver’s license photo, and for filling out my customs documentation in the wrong coloured ink.

She eventually waved me away with a terse, “Go,” and ignored my wishes for her to have a nice day.

Canada remains America’s largest trading partner. Treating visiting Canadians like cattle is a ridiculous way to attract visitors – and their currency. Perhaps they might consider charm school instead.


Safe at home

I got home late last night and promptly tucked my weary head into bed. Travel doesn't agree with me. I'm a very comfortable flyer, but I don't enjoy being away from home and off my routine.

So coming home and waking up with a kindergartner's head resting on my shoulder was a very grounding experience for me. The early-morning patter that echoed through the house as we all got ready for work and school was music to my ears. I'm sure I'll view the morning routine less poetically next week, but being away for a bit sure does heighten one's appreciation of these little things.

I think today's picture is a cool one. I was lucky to have a brief while to walk around Boston's Back Bay and downtown core around the Prudential building. This one's taken from an alley behind the Sheraton, and includes both buildings in stark, geometric relief. Who says modern architecture is uniformly boring?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Publish Day - Ink Blog - On Pesticides

I'm not a tree-hugging, granola-crunching, scooter-driving enviro-zealot. But I do care about our planet, and I do care about the future of our children.

So when I see lawn care folks criss-crossing the neighborhood and wearing space suits while they spray the grass, I worry. When we have to stay off the lawns for days afterward, I worry.

Although I’m no scientist, my journalist’s and parent’s gut tells me drenching the yard with unpronounceable chemicals in the pursuit of The Perfect Lawn is most definitely a Bad Thing – all caps deliberate.

So I wrote this:

Pesticide bylaw’s troubling issues

Published Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The London Free Press

Although I’m happy to see opponents of pesticide spraying working closely with lawn-care industry representatives to hammer out improvements to London’s proposed pesticide bylaw, I still worry it will result in a watered down end result.

Each side has quoted conflicting statistics that alternately claim

pesticides are either as non-threatening as a spring shower, or are the urban equivalent of a toxic waste dump.

While the truth likely lies somewhere in the middle, two stark facts remain: The people who spray the lawns in my neighborhood wear heavy protective gear while doing so; and the signs they leave behind forbid using the lawns for at least three days.

If the stuff is so safe, why all the precautions?

In raising our kids, we err on the side of caution until we know better. I don’t understand why we – and our elected leaders – have been so quick to accept the lawn-care industry’s claims at face value.

The relentless pursuit of a perfect lawn just doesn’t seem worth the risk.


Update: After this piece was published, I received an e-mail from a woman who says she's a biologist who works in the lawn care industry. As you can appreciate, she disagree with my perspectives on this issue. Her points were very well taken, and I was glad she took the time to share her thoughts with me. I'm sorry I neglected to ask if she would be confortable having her child stand under a stream of her firm's lawn care solution. I guess now we'll never know.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

When in Boston... is apparently compelled to take a screenshot while blogging wirelessly from the hotel lobby.

I'm here in this wondrous city in advance of some work-related meetings scheduled for tomorrow. I found a free hotspot and am sucking the daylights out of its available bandwidth.

I have so much work to do before I tuck in, but I couldn't be here and not snapshot it in some way.

Being away from home - again - reminds me of why I love being a part of it in the first place. It's an often chaotic, noisy, toy-strewn, place. But it comes with lots of little-people hugs at bedtime, and a rhythm of life that no antiseptic hotel can ever hope to replicate. I've been chatting via MSN Messenger with my wife, but it's just not the same as having a late-night mug of tea with her at the kitchen table.

My wife told me our little guy wanted to know how I was going to hug and kiss them goodnight from so far away. She said she'd give them an extra hug and kiss, and explicitly told them they were from me.

Sadly, we often miss the true value of something only after it's been out of our life for a bit. I miss my brood, and can't wait to be home so I can deliver the kisses and hugs in person.

Wherever you're travelling, please do it safely so that you can return to your own center of warmth.

Your turn: How do you bridge the distance when you have to be away from your family?

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Flu Shot

Here's the first entry of the fourth "wave" or "flight" of Ink Blog column entries that I publish every two or three weeks in the London Free Press.

I wrote this after hearing from yet another person how he absolutely couldn’t be bothered to get his flu shot this year. He said he hated needles, and never gets sick anyway. As if to convince us that everyone else is nuts, he finished off by saying every time he’s ever had a shot in his life, he’s gotten sick.

Um, right.

I suspect he was simply afraid of getting a needle – most overly-macho men typically overcompensate on the excuses when trying to justify their refusal to roll up their sleeves. But I frankly didn’t have the energy to argue with him.

So I published it in the paper instead:

Don’t fear flu shot as vital season nears

Published Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The London Free Press

I’ve never much liked birds. Try to pet them and they peck your finger. Forget to lock their cages and they fly away. Park under a tree and they’ll happily redecorate your car.

This year, it appears birds can kill us, too.

Headlines warn of an impending avian flu pandemic. Chickens in Europe and elsewhere are being methodically destroyed as officials try to keep the deadly infection from spreading.

This coincides with the advent of our annual flu season. Already, doctors everywhere are gearing up to deliver vaccinations to those unafraid of a little needle prick.

I’m under no illusion that my regular flu shot will protect me from the avian, or bird, strain.

But I remember Toronto’s SARS experience well. Ignoring a public health crisis, wherever it is, significantly increases our chance of becoming victims.

Proactive health management must start at home. We’re all at risk if our neighbours fail to pay attention.

You can never be too prepared. Please get your flu shot, and stay home – and alone – if you don’t.


Monday, October 17, 2005

Sign of the times

Quiet scenes always seem to attract my lens. There's something oddly poignant about what happens to places designed for boisterous activity when everyone goes home. It's like watching empty baseball stadiums, hockey arenas and swimming pools. Somehow, places like this don't wear their silence well. They need life, and the gloom of a setting sun doesn't seem to fit the scene.

As autumn's chill deepens, I look at pictures like this and wonder how long it will be before we can return here with our kids. After a few months of winter, the warmth, and the children it attracts, will no doubt return.

Thinking longer-term, I wonder how many more years they'll be young enough to want to return at all. I guess we have to enjoy it - and them - as long as there is enough of the child in them to want to come back to this place.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

"Evolution" entry gets picked up!

I've got some neat news as a followup to the entry I posted earlier today, entitled The evolution of newspapers.

The Washington Post uses Technorati to display who's linking to their stories in near-real-time. It looks like Written Inc. has hit the top of the list for both stories that I quoted and linked to earlier today.

Here's the graphic from the original piece. If you click over to the page for the related online chat with the reporter, Written Inc. will show up there as well. The Technorati feeds for each piece, respectively, are here and here.

Damn, this is neat!

The evolution of newspapers

As a journalist with deep roots in the world of technology, I find today's discussions on the future of newspapers in an increasingly electronic, online world to be fascinating.

I'm lucky to be right in the middle of the discussion: I write for a newspaper, I maintain a blog, and my comments on technology and its implications have been published and broadcast widely in recent months.

And as much ink has been spilled about whether the newspaper as we know it will even exist - either in its current form, a modified one, or at all - in a few years, the discussion is far from over.

Frank Ahrens is the Washington Posts's media & entertainment industry reporter. He penned a piece - Ink and Paper or 1s and 0s? - in yesterday's paper. Subtitled Nervous, Newspapers Look to Technology for Alternate Ways to Put the News in Your Hands, the piece does a great job talking about the core issues that are driving the change in newspapers, and some of the future technologies the editors of tomorrow will use to deliver the news to our doorstep.

The Washington Post often has reporters go online to hold chat/Q&A-type sessions with readers. The transcript of this particular session is stored under the Newspapers: The Future headline. Note to any editors who read this: the Post's implementation is leading-edge. Read and learn.

It's important stuff, because we all need some sort of window on the world. And even if we don't subscribe and pretend not to care, the evolution of all media ultimately affects us all.

For a somewhat different perspective on this issue, David Carr published a piece entitled Forget Blogs, Print Needs its own iPod in the October 10th New York Times. The Post is also ran this piece on the 12th: Wall Street Journal To Narrow Its Pages. I'll post links to more pieces like this as they hit print - or the web.

Your turn: Where are newspapers headed? Why? What will have to happen to ensure their survival and growth?

Technorati tag:

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Read this - Heather's blog

I suspect I'm not doing enough to shed light on some of the great bloggers who comment here, and whose sites are linked to in my blogroll.

In the end, it's all about community, so please consider this my first attempt at bringing attention to writers who clearly deserve a wider audience. Approximately once a week I'll post a link to a blog of particular note. I do hope you'll spread the fun by following the link and telling the blogger in question that I say hi.

To wit, allow me to introduce you to Heather. This entry on her excellent blog, Blog, Blah, Blah, will make you laugh out loud. The rest of her site will keep you similarly compelled. Please drop by and send her my best.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Batmobile loses 2 wheels

Little man forgot his backpack and lunch box in the house this morning. In a five-year-old's life, this would normally make for a very sad day. Although adults can just as easily pick something up or skip lunch altogether, the Rules of Kindergarten dictate otherwise.

My wife got ahold of me as I was on my two-wheeled way into town (bless the inventor of the cell phone.) I doubled back and found his stuff waiting patiently in the front hall.

When one commutes by bicycle, bags and racks are key. I'm one of those OCD types who can't stand to have a bag on his back. They limit my mobility and vision, they're hot, and they mess up my center of gravity. In a pinch, I'll wear one. But it's generally best to keep cargo as low as possible on the frame of the bike. So I set out to find places to stuff my son's gear.

I managed to get his lunch bag into one of the bags clipped onto my rear rack. But the backpack was just too big, and wasn't going anywhere. So I slipped it onto my back and set off. By the first set of lights, I had forgotten I was even wearing it - little people, apparently, travel light.

A few minutes later, I noticed motorists and pedestrians were looking at me funny. Some were smiling. Others waved. A couple of drivers even honked. I wondered what all the commotion was about.
Time out for some context-setting: I am not a morning person. I process more slowly in the few hours after I awake. Today was even worse because it was a very foggy morning. I'm not sure what that has to do with my aversion to mornings, but I felt it important enough to include here. Let's continue...
It eventually dawned on me that folks thought a grown man wearing a Batman backpack on a bicycle was a pretty odd thing. I smiled at the thought and cruised the rest of the way to school.

In the end, a little guy had his lunch, and I got to enjoy a few minutes of utter silliness in what is usually a depressingly mundane vehicular battle to get into town. And I made a few strangers smile.

A good day all around.

Your turn: Ever done anything that makes complete strangers break into ear-to-ear grins?

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The hellish life of a Smurf

Thankfully, our kids came along long after the Smurf craze subsided into history. Despite their so-yesterday pop culture status, the little blue people continue to show up in the most interesting places.

For example, major news organizations are leading their kicker* segments with news of a UNICEF campaign in Belgium designed to raise awareness of the former child soldiers in Africa. So far so good - worthy cause, important message, all the stuff you expect of a UN outfit.

But they've decided to create a commercial in which Smurfs are bombed. I guess we're supposed to equate the child-soldiers with the smallish blue, language-challenged munchkins.

Anyway, the AP story is here. The video is here and here. Here's another blogger's assessment of the whole thing. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Next up, Barney learns how to plant roadside explosives and the Teletubbies strap on ammunition vests.

Your turn: Does this represent appropriate use of a character of childhood? Do you believe it will ultimately help those former child-soldiers in Africa?
= the sort-of funny, slice-of-life kind of story that media outlets like to toss into the less-travelled regions of the news package to fill space and lighten things up. Television news outlets usually run them as the last piece of the night (hence "kicker"...the last kick at the can) and newspapers like to toss in one- or two-graf funnies to fill space and break up what might otherwise be seen as an overwhelmingly bad news day.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Catching up - Ink Blog entries

I've been super-slow in getting my recent columns from the London Free Press posted to the blog. They seem to have changed the way they update the columnist pages on, which has resulted in my page there going stale.

Bummer, I know. But I'll just pick up the slack on this blog.

I have back-posted the entries from August and September. Since the newspaper's archived links to my older longer-form pieces have also been broken by the latest updates, I'll be gradually moving the full content here and changing the sidebar links to point internally. This promises to be a pretty sizeable chunk of work, so I'll proceed in pieces over the next few weeks and let you know when it's done.

Thanks for your patience. I'll go hang the construction sign now (ah, makes me nostalgic for the early days of the web, but I digress.) Feel free to comment here or on any of the individual entries that I've linked to below. Your feedback here will help evolve this important experiment in editorial opinion writing.

Here are the internal links to the Ink Blog entries for the three waves I've published to-date. Enjoy 'em:

Wave 1:
Tue Aug 23 -Launch day - buck-a-litre gas
Wed Aug 24 -Canada's new Governor-General
Thu Aug 25 - Conserving electricity
Fri Aug 26 - Taxpayers getting fleeced
Sat Aug 27 - Supplies for Students
Wave 2:
Tue Sep 06 - Cuba's gesture muted by media
Wed Sep 07 - Faster, wider roads getting us nowhere
Thu Sep 08 - Don't take away local school control
Fri Sep 09 - Don't dismiss West Nile's danger
Sat Sep 10 - Ford plant fight makes little sense
Wave 3:
Tue Sep 27 - Slayings may spur new look at noose
Wed Sep 28 - A new recipe for London developers
Thu Sep 29 - City officials should 'pedal' bicycle plan
Fri Sep 30 - Talented young kids just 'Grand'
Sat Oct 01 - Readers cite concern about developers

Monday, October 10, 2005

Word verification - back in place

The grand experiment is now over. After, oh, 16 hours, I have reimplemented word verfication on the blog. (Click here for the original entry.)

Almost from the moment I removed the feature, I have been getting slammed with comment spam. What's worse, it's been hitting older entries as well, making it even more difficult to hunt down and remove.

I know there are a number of things I should be doing, such as:
  1. Implementing Haloscan commenting.
  2. Moving the blog to an entirely new platform.
  3. Setting up my own domain.
Although all of these remain on my wish list, the thing I lack at this time is...time. Using the Blogger service is a relatively low-overhead means of maintaining this blog. I don't have the free time to move everything over - not now, anyway, but hopefully soon.

Until then, I'll apologize for forcing you all to type in wacked-out key combinations when leaving comments. Blame the scum among us who insist on ruining what should otherwise be an enlightening, inspirational experience.

Thank you for your understanding.

Along came a...

My wife and I awoke to much commotion this morning. Three worried little voices drifted up the stairs and into our bedroom. Most of the conversation was unintelligible from our vantage point beneath the pillows, but the word "spider" definitely stood out.

I was halfway out of bed when youngest son began his trek up the stairs. He had been elected by his older siblings to let us know that a spider had been sighted in eldest son's room, and Daddy was required to dispatch the errant arachnid.

I followed little man to his big brother's bedroom. All three of them stood in a wide circle around the uninvited visitor.
  • "Squish him," said little man.
  • "I want to see him when you're done, just to make sure," said young lady.
  • "He was walking around on my socks!" said son the elder.
Eldest son helpfully provided me with a tissue. I crouched down and the spider cooperatively crawled right on. Because he was in the middle of the floor, I didn't have to worry about any kamikaze rappelling down a hastily-created web strand.
Time out for some context: if at all possible, I generally try to remove insects without shmushing them in the process. I know some situations simply beg for a bug-smacking, but sometimes, I can squeeze in a respect-for-all-life lesson if the little critters cooperate.
This morning, this guy did. I carefully walked the guy outside, followed Pied Piper-like by our brood. As I set him down on the lawn in front of the house, little man said that was too close. So my pyjama-clad daughter skipped alongside me as I walked across the street and gently released our friendly spider on the lawn that abuts the Rockwell-esque school that faces our house.

Happy little voices echoed across the street as our little lady skipped back into the house, her pink socks clashing against the gloomy gray of a quiet long weekend morning.

Happy travels, little fella.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Word verification - removed

Utenzi - his excellent blog is located here - raised an interesting point in this entry. Namely, he contends that Blogger's word verification feature is an annoyance for visitors.

He raises a valid point: bloggers of all stripes must walk the fine line between the following two seemingly opposing concepts:
  1. Efficiently protecting against the human and technological nasties that threaten our sites daily.
  2. Keeping things easy-to-use for visitors.
Word verification was introduced a couple of months back to quell the recent swell of garbage comment spam entries that suddenly cropped up on blogs. It isn't the first such threat to arise, and it certainly won't be the last.

I added it to the site as soon as I started to receive my own unwelcome visitors. But Utenzi's words have struck home. It amounts to punishing visitors because of the idiocy of others.

So if you're OK with it, I'm going to run without word verification for a bit. I'll see how much comment spam comes in. Some of it might be amusing, after all. I'll delete it, of course, but I hope its temporary presence in my comments section doesn't bug you too much. On the flip side, it'll be easier for you to leave comments. So feel free to go nuts!

Your turn: Comment spam - good or bad? What would you do to a comment spammer if you could meet one in person?


Up here in the Great White North, we find ourselves enjoying an early-autumn long weekend. Yup, it's Thanksgiving in Canada. We do things earlier here because we simply want to be different from our American neighbors. For example, we punctuate our sentences with "Eh", worship at the altar of Tim Hortons, and use bizarre metric measurements like kilohectolitres instead of miles and pounds.

I'm not a big fan of turkeys. Aside from their uselessness as house pets, childhood memories of plates heaped with dry, tasteless "meat" persist into my present. I can think of many other ways to express my thankfulness beyond eating a lousy meal.

But turkeys apparently like me. On a bike ride to the beach with some colleagues last month, we stopped at a farmer's market to rest. As we set off, someone looked back and noticed that a group of turkeys had emerged from the woods. The birds were walking, rapidly, toward us.

I don't know about you, but overly-proactive turkeys kind of freak me out. So I rode away a few meters, and instead of continuing to ride like most logical folks would do, stopped, pulled out my camera and recorded the scene as our feathered friends continued to close in.

This is about as near as I dared let the most curious one get to me before I stuffed the camera back in its holder and left a dust cloud in my wake.

I am thankful I didn't get pecked to death.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Holidays come early

I've often written, cynically, about how the retail world exploits holidays for financial gain. In doing so, I've concluded that in their singleminded pursuit of maximized profits, they have wrung out every last bit of significance from every holiday on the calendar.

I still feel that way, but there's a somewhat more positive flip side...

While walking into the supermarket a few weeks ago, my son and I stopped to admire a bin of giant orange members of the squash family. His face lit up as he talked about how much fun this and other holidays are to him, and how much he enjoys when everyone dresses up, decorates their homes, and generally smiles through what would otherwise be a cold early-autumn day.

Retail madness aside, when a kindergartner is given more time to dream about what will be, it can't be an entirely bad thing to have pumpkins show up when we're still wearing shorts.

Friday, October 07, 2005

The weakest link

I discovered this suspended cobbling of hardware on a local bar's outdoor patio. The place has the coolest name, too: The Alex P. Keaton.

Your turn: I feel the need to photograph other everyday examples of hardware. Any suggestions?

Quoted - Fortune Small Business

I've fallen significantly behind in getting news of my recent media whoredom posted to the blog. I'll do my best to catch up when I find the time - I've been busy chatting with reporters lately - but for now here's a neat one from Fortune Small Business Magazine:

Stream Line: A small bank saves big by switching to Internet phone service
The byline is Cindy Waxer.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Canine naming convention

Hypothetically speaking, of course, what would you name a dog - male, female, your pick - if you were to adopt one and bring it home?

Would you be considered insane for even contemplating such a thing?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Leafy droplets from Sobeys

The Sobeys grocery in the northern part of town is a great 24-hour store that sets itself apart by being family-owned. As a result, it offers the kind of personal experience that you don't seem to get in stores of this size.

It isn't always the least expensive place around, but as many of you have kindly commented under my recent supermarket rant entry, absolute dollar savings mean little when the experience is hellish.

One nice byproduct of this particular store's focus on quality is its produce section. The stuff is usually really fresh, brilliantly displayed - and lit - and regularly sprayed by a fine mist.

The results, as the leafy image above can attest, are pretty darn delish.

(Click the image for the really big picture.)

Monday, October 03, 2005

Starting to change

We're enjoying an unseasonably warm stretch in this part of the world, which makes it easy to forget that the first few leaves of autumn have already begun their lonely trip onto the ground and eventually into oblivion.

So as we headed in from playtime on the lawn before supper last night, I grabbed the camera, parked myself under the canopy of our beloved maple tree, and tried to capture some images of how a late afternoon sun paints the backside of its remaining leaves.

Soon these leaves will be gone as well. When the canopy of green is replaced by a blanket of white, I'll look at these pictures and remember how warm my face felt as I took them.

Your turn:
  1. This picture makes you feel like...
  2. And here's another photographic challenge (sorry, I can't resist): grab your own camera, look for an image that says "autumn" to you, and post it to your own blog. Drop a comment here when you do to ensure we know where to find it. Happy shooting!
Click the image for the requisite extreme closeup.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Bigger is definitely not better

Let me know if this scene looks familiar:

You go to the grocery store to pick up some stuff. You're rolling through the frozen foods aisle, trying to avoid being distracted by the endless stacks of whatever confections that a fleet of 18-wheelers can offload 24/7 through the store's loading dock.

You're surrounded by hordes of similarly-distracted shoppers, all pushing oversized carts, just like you. As you stop for the thirteenth time in the last two minutes to wait for someone to mull over national brand vs. store brand marmelade, it dawns on you that there isn't enough room for everyone.

It's not that the store isn't big enough. Indeed, today's supermarkets occupy more real estate than a small airport. But as exponential as the big box store's growth curve has become, the actual amount of roll-around room inside seems to get smaller at the same time. Call it the new retail square footage math.

That's because although the new aisles are extremely wide, store planners insist on plunking down point-of-sale displays for everything under the sun wherever they think they'll attract the most attention: at the end of aisles so it's impossible to turn the corner without whacking some unseen shopper, or right in the middle of them so that only one cart can pass in any direction.

Which explains why I spent more time "excuse me"-ing than actually shopping today. I was as gracious as I could be, but I couldn't help but think we were all being inconvenienced by store managers who really didn't know - or care - about our shopping experience.

I know it's trivial. But we all experience stuff like this, so I figure we all relate. Note to store owners: North American shoppers hate bumping tushies with fellow shoppers. They'll go elsewhere if the store is so cramped that they can't navigate inside.

There, I've ranted. What say you?

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Visiting the dead fish

Groceries are never a boring affair in our house. Our two youngest accompanied me this afternoon on a walk to the nearby A&P to pick up a few things. We left the car at home because it was a lovely day, and I figured a bit of fresh air would do us all some good. So we set off in the stroller - little man in it, and young lady perched on the big bar on the back (bless Perego!)

When we got to the store, I pulled out the list and started to orient myself to the task at hand (hey, this is serious wife has really high shopping standards, and woe is me if I fall short, but I digress.) As we rounded the back of the first aisle, they both caught a distant glimpse of the magical aquariums. Suddenly, nothing else mattered:
She: "Ooh, I see the lobster tank!"
He: "Yah, and let's go visit the dead fish, too!"
She: "I love seeing the dead fish?"
He: How do you know they're really dead?"
So we detoured away from our regular rounds and observed our now-departed swimming friends. I (of course) had a camera handy, so I took some surreptitious pictures. The kids were fascinated at the sight, and suggested which fish from the bunch might look best in pictures. They also kept watch in case a rogue employee rounded the corner and threatened to bust me. We managed to escape unharmed this time.

I hope you had already eaten your dinner when you first loaded this entry. My apologies if you didn't.

Your turn - a weekend 2-parter:
  1. The first three words that come to mind as you see our two friends on ice are...
  2. On your next visit to a grocery store, I hope you'll consider bringing your camera. Take a picture of anything that tickles your photo-culinary fancy. If you remember, drop a comment here to let us know where to find it. If you already have such an animal (ha!) on file, you've just saved yourself a trip down grocery lane. Happy food shooting!

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Developers Part 2

My grand experiment to incorporate feedback into Ink Blog seems to have worked. I received some pointed messages from readers, so much so that I was able to build a followup piece to Wednesday's entry around their perspectives.

Not a day goes by that I don't thank goodness we live in a time and a place that makes it easy for those who publish to interact with those who read our work. I'm just now starting to apply my learnings from the blog world to my work in the traditional media one. And the deeper I get into it, the more I realize the two are inextricably linked.

(BTW, no word from city hall yet. Nice to know they're so responsive to their citizens and the media.)

Here's the piece:

Readers cite concern about developers

Published Saturday, October 1, 2005

The London Free Press

I’m apparently not the only one who questions the influence some area property developers have on London city hall.

When I wrote in Wednesday’s Ink Blog column that some developers’ recipe for success seems to be to run properties into the ground before asking city hall to pay for repairs, I hit a nerve with readers.

Marg Johnston e-mailed me and said she’s tired of the city’s and developers’ aggressiveness.

“I classify the two together, as each has a hand in each other’s pockets,” she wrote.

Steve Ronson said developers must be more accountable for their own properties.

“I do not favour public money being spent to restore these landmarks. Once a building has been designated as historic, the owners must be held accountable for good maintenance,” he said.

Readers want to know how city hall will reduce developers’ influence on municipal government while protecting taxpayer interests.

Come to think of it, so do I.

So consider this my formal invitation to Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco and anyone else at city hall to share their thoughts on this page. Inquiring minds want to know.