Sunday, April 30, 2006


My first camera was a Minolta XG-1 that I bought with the money I earned from my first summer as a lifeguard. Although by today's standards, it's a laughably simplistic design, it was a wonder to me the first time I pried it from its box and cradled it carefully in my hands.

Between its myriad dials and displays and its balanced heft, it was light years removed from the instamatic 110s that I had inherited from my parents. I learned to hate the limitations of those little boxes even as I became ever more fascinated with the possibilities of film.

Yes, film. This rapidly-disappearing medium of photography was my stock in trade for a whole lot of years before digital came along. In some respects, it remains a part of my photographic history, for it forced me to plan every picture, remember how I obtained the shot, then wait patiently for the folks in the photo lab to do their thing.

The first few years that I had my camera, I was often disappointed when I first opened the envelope. The pictures never quite seemed to snap or pop out at the eye as I had originally envisioned. Sure, I had dialed in the right settings and done all the technical things a photographer should do, but something was missing.

While the composition was pretty much what I remembered from the viewfinder, the prints didn't make me feel that emotional twang that I felt in the nanosecond before I clicked the shutter. I had failed to capture the tone or atmosphere of that moment.

Tone. It's the difference between a by-the-rules piece of work and one that stands out just enough to stick in someone's mind. It's the piece of work that helps create a response that is felt as much as it is thought. It's what allows the creator of said work to establish a unique style in the eyes and minds of everyone who reads and views the resulting work.

I started to ignore many of the proper lessons I had read in the years since I began to shoot. I tossed out a lot of the common sense advice like never shoot into the sun, always use a flash indoors, sharply-focused pictures are always better than soft-focused ones, etc. I deliberately ignored my metered settings and trusted my gut instead. And if I blew it, then I could always toss another roll of film into the camera and try again.

I figured I'd never get that snap, that feeling, if I didn't try - and fail.

I took this picture in Montreal earlier this month. My wife had just lit the Passover candles with our kids. They had gathered around her in silence while she lit the candles and said the blessing. Then they each leaned in for a hug and a kiss when she was done.

It was a soft, glowy moment that I knew wouldn't last forever. They're growing every day, and there's no telling how many more warm holiday moments we'll have before they begin to head off in their own direction and make their own memories.

I turned off the flash, deliberately soft-focused the image and crossed my fingers. The result takes me back to that one moment in time far more effectively than a technically-perfect yet emotionally-empty image would have.

Your turn: Please tell us about one picture that takes you back to one particular moment. If it's posted online, please paste a link here, too.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Reflective pattern

We took well over a thousand pictures during our winter vacation to Florida. I've been slowly dropping them onto the blog ever since. But at the rate I've been shooting and writing, it would take until the next century before covering them all on Written Inc.

So in the interest of remaining on speaking terms with extended members of the family, I posted the entire lot of them to my Flickr site. The specific set from this trip can be found here.

The picture above resulted from my not-very-evolved strategy to wade into the surf, point the camera down and keep shooting until something decent-looking came up. Of course, the sun was so bright that I had no idea what I had captured until long after we got home (call it the curse of having blue eyes: I'm virtually blind in bright sunlight unless I'm wearing shades. And even then...)

I ended up with a few neat ones. I've previously posted and written about Shadowed layers and Lightning strikes. This is yet another view of something that ceased to exist a fraction of a second after I took it. I'm already looking forward to our next visit. I'll point my lens down again, and I'm sure I'll come home with entirely different views of a scene that most folks would just as soon not know ever existed.

Your turn: Do you do Flickr? If so, let me know. Add me to your contact list and let's get more photos seen by more people.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Incongruous menu

I spotted this when I was in Dallas recently. I assumed that whoever owns this particular establishment had difficulty deciding where to specialize.

The result, I think we can all conclude, leaves us with one question: why?

I felt nauseous all the way back to the hotel. No, I didn't partake of any of the cuisine - if you dare call it that - at this restaurant.

Your turn: What weird food combinations have you ever come across?

Thursday, April 27, 2006


I had to keep the kids away from the dining room table so they wouldn't eat the subject before I had a chance to take a picture of it. I know that wafers are crumb-producing, bland-looking, bland-tasting excuses to drink more tea, but I liked how they were sort of jumbled on the plate and thought the scene would make for an interesting shot.

Your turn: Should I try something similar with chocolate chip cookies? What other snack foods deserve their time in the photographic sun?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - war comes home

It's an on week for me at the newspaper, so I'm publishing column entries through Saturday. This piece is in direct response to the bombing in Afghanistan this weekend that killed four Canadian soldiers.

One of the victims was from the town of Wingham, which is a relatively short drive from where I live. As a result, a story with major national impact has had significant local impact as well. I could almost anticipate the knee-jerk responses to get our soldiers out of Afghanistan, so I thought I'd write something that at least tries to inject a bit more balance into the discussion.
Deaths offer no easy answer - or exit
Published Tuesday, April 25, 2006
The London Free Press

The deaths of Cpl. Matthew Dinning and three other Canadian soldiers in an Afghanistan roadside bomb attack makes it easy for Canadians to say now is the time to bring our soldiers home. If only it were so easy.

The 16 Canadians who have died in this mission to Afghanistan won't be the last. Expect more small towns to grieve their lost sons and daughters in a war whose boundaries remain unclear to those of us who don't serve.

Our soldiers are in Afghanistan to help rebuild the country and establish a foothold for democracy. That's easier said than done in a region wracked by generations of war, tribal conflict and poverty. Afghani drug-growers, warlords and terrorists thrive on this chaos, and won't easily be cowed.

Dinning died for a mission that he believed in. Turning tail and running would betray the dreams of those who have died. Yet sustaining open-ended losses won't realize that dream any sooner.

Canadians must begin discussing how to quantify our successes in the region, and how much we're willing to lose before we've decided enough is enough.

Your turn: Do we bring them home or do we keep them there? At what point does the global community of nations' obligation to help those in crisis cease? How do we define justified and unjustified sacrifice?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Rental car hell

Just got back from my quick trip to Canada's largest metropolis. The trip is 200 km each way, which gave me ample time to ponder the lessons of renting a car in the new millenium:
  • The car they give you is never as nice as the car you actually want.
  • Your vehicle will lack certain key features.
  • You will wind your own windows (Wayne's World anyone?) adjust the passenger-side mirror with your fingers, and almost lock the keys in the car thanks to the state-of-the-art manual door locks.
  • The stereo will eat your carefully-burned CDs.
  • You will be reminded why you hate radio so much.
  • You will learn to appreciate the sounds of silence. Well, relative silence, anyway. It is, after all, a Chrysler Neon (SX 2.0, rattletrap, whatever.)
  • The gas pedal will feel as if it's attached to an industrial-sized spring that exerts twice as much back-pressure on your foot as it should.
  • Your car will have no cruise control.
  • Your leg will, as a result, start to throb about 20 minutes into the drive.
  • The brakes will squeal. Loudly.
  • You will wonder when they will fail.
  • You will keep your hand on the emergency brake lever, just in case.
  • The wheels will need an alignment. Badly.
  • Consequently, you will exceed 120 km/h at your own peril.
  • You will also enjoy inadvertent slamoming within, and sometimes outside, your lane.
  • You will eventually pull off the highway and take the regional highway the rest of the way home: the lower cruise speed dramatically improves your chances of getting home in one piece.
  • The ventilation system will have two settings: sub-arctic springtime cold, and Soviet-era gulag cold.
  • You will wonder why you left your mittens at home.
  • The fan will begin to howl like a banshee just after your leg goes numb from that crazily-sprung gas pedal.
  • Your fellow traffic-jammed motorists will stare in your direction, wondering where the banshee noise is coming from.
  • Yes, that is pity on their faces.
  • Funny smells will come from the vents, prompting the classic mind game where you try to figure out it it's coming from the outside, or from the inside.
  • That last stench was definitely an inside job.
  • The vehicle will consume fuel like a drunken sailor. The fuel guage will do its dive whether you're feathering it or kicking the bejeebers out of it.
  • So you take the bejeebers route. It's more fun that way.
  • The engine will almost stall at the most inopportune of times: in the middle of packed intersections, when slowing down to get off the highway, when the big semi grows ominously in the rearview mirror.
  • When idling - which you will do often because this is Toronto and it invented the all-day traffic jam - the engine will tick like an Iraqi roadside bomb.
  • You keep the door unlocked (manual, remember?) just in case you need to bail out quickly.
The good news is I somehow made it safe and sound and will be returning this lame excuse for a motorcar tomorrow morning. The trip was otherwise a huge success. Global VP of a really big company. Briefing. Informative discussion that should lead to more dialog. Yadda, yadda...all cool stuff in the life of an analyst.

I just wish I had a car that didn't make me fear for my life en route.

Your turn: I'll let you guess how the conversation at the car rental place will proceed. Anyone want to venture some choice dialog?

Monday, April 24, 2006


I don't have anything witty or pithy to say insofar as this image is concerned. I simply wanted to pull something happy from the archives after a decidedly ridiculous day during which I accomplished precious little.

Correction: I actually did accomplish something today. I drove two hours away from home where I'm staying in a smoking room - didn't you know I'm starting a new habit? - of a hotel in downtown Toronto. It was either that or reload the rental car and look for another place to stay. Not gonna happen.

This image reminds me that there are nicer places, nicer times and nicer experiences than the one I'm having now. It takes me back to the day on our vacation when I took it, when nothing else mattered beyond making sure we had enough sunblock on the kids. That alone is worth a smile.

Your turn: What is it about Mondays that makes 'em such depressing days? I usually don't subscribe to the whole "I don't like Mondays" maxim. But today's been a pain and a half. May it end soon.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Unreal color

The color parade continues...

As soon as my mother dropped this cake onto the dining room table, I knew I needed to remember it somehow. The colors don't, to the best of my knowledge, occur spontaneously in the natural world. At first, I refused to even consider eating a slice of this thing for fear it would mess up my insides.

I eventually had to bite the bullet when the kids' unfinished plates made their inevitable trip to Daddy's spot. Yes, I eat my children's leftovers with frightening frequency. No, I have not gained any weight in the process. No, I have no idea why that is so. Lucky, I guess.

But back to this cake. I haven't photoshopped the colors. I haven't punched the light levels. This is as it appeared when it first emerged from its cake cozy. Nuts, isn't it?

Your turn: Would you eat this? Can a weirded-out culinary color scheme make you shy away from certain foods?

Aquatic color

Yet another color-related photographic perspective. Third in a series. Click here and here for previous entries. Let me know if you're getting sick of them.

When you walk into a restaurant and it has one of those giant aquariums in the waiting area, do not be intimidated by the dinnertime crowds. Do not be afraid of the hostesses who give you dirty looks for spending just a little too much time staring at the fish.

I grabbed this image while waiting for a table on a recent work-related trip to Boston. The place was jammed with people, and it took them a while to seat us. So to make the time go faster, I took out my camera and explored the aquarium. This one gets to me because of its subtle colors and textures.

I didn't think any of them would come out. Aquariums are notoriously difficult to shoot well. Frankly, my hit rate was way down because I spent so much time hoping the fish would stand still. But the still-life stuff came out pretty neat.

Your turn: Anyone who's been reading me long enough is likely familiar with my belief that beauty exists in the most unexpected places. Where else can it be found when you're out at night? I'm looking for inspiration, and I know you'll be able to share some in a comment.


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.

Continuing my musings of color from my previous entry...

Anyone who knows me knows that I've become a bit of a tea drinker in recent years. Now that my career is firmly built around writing, I take comfort in a great many little rituals to help inspire the little voices in my head that do the heavy lifting.

Tea is one of these rituals. It gives me a few minutes to carefully prepare the mug and make sure it's just so. It allows me to get away from the keyboard, to think about how I'm going to structure that next block of prose, to toss some phrasings around my head and decide which ones work, which ones should be tossed and which ones can be tweaked before I get back to my computer.

It also allows me to wrap my hands around something warm. When I type, my fingers tend to get very cold. I have no idea why this is so: perhaps I type too quickly, or perhaps this is nature's way of saying I need to gain a few pounds. Either way, a warm mug of tea is just the ticket to keep my mind and my fingers limber.

This image came about by accident. My Mom had made me a mug, and I was letting it sit - as I always do - so that it would gradually cool from just-too-hot to delightfully warm. As I chatted with everyone else around the table, the sun did its thing in the sky and placed a little sunbeam through my mug. The low-key color and shading caught my eye, so I quietly eased my way out of the conversation and waited for the right moment to shoot.

The result isn't bright yellow. It doesn't jump out at the eye and scream for attenion. Instead, it just sits there, interesting in its own right, waiting to be discovered by the eye, to be enjoyed quietly while the rest of the world churns on. Which pretty much confirms the whole tea ritual thing in the first place.

Your turn: Please tell us about one of your rituals of life. Why does ritual matter to you?

Friday, April 21, 2006

The cure of color

While nursing this nasty cold from home today, I've been thinking about how a quick jolt of bright color always manages to lift one's mood.

I captured this while on a walk last week outside my parents' apartment. It's a lovely neighborhood, tucked on an island among other islands. It's got water, trees, ducks, and a never-ending collection of pretty views.

Of course, leave it to humans to muck it up. A nearby set of buildings surrounds a courtyard that must be one of the worst examples of 70s-era landscape architecture. It's little more than a concrete canyon that is as welcoming to people as a bureaucrat is to change.

I kept the camera tucked away until I came across this chain barrier beside the road. It had been freshly painted, and as a result it stood out from the sterile, monochromatic environment. I thought it was worth remembering.

Passers-by stared at me as I snapped away. I was able to fling one-liners at them in French, which is always a joy. Now they think us crazy Ontarians are about to invade with our lenses.

Maybe we are.

Your turn: Do you have a bright swath of color - or a colorful experience - to share here or on your own blog?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The circle begins anew

Arriving home after being away for any length of time is always an exciting time. One set of eyes in our van - the driver's - stays glued to the road as we navigate the last few kms off of the highway and up the main boulevard to our neighborhood. The other eight eyes scan outside and look for any changes since our departure. Little voices pipe up from the peanut gallery:
"Hey, the Burger King closed down."
"Why is the gas station being dug up?"
"Ooh, there are tulips growing in our garden? Where'd they come from?"
When we left London last week, the landscape was gray and barren. The snow had already melted, but nothing green or colorful had yet sprouted.

The world at home changed in our absence. The trees along the main road toward our house were decidedly green-tinged as we picked our way through traffic. My wife pointed out each tree that had seemingly exploded with life. The kids chimed in with their own observations of new flora.

Not wanting to plow into someone's rear bumper, I resisted joining them. So I mused about it instead. It's not as if life's starting from scratch, I thought. It's simply been dormant for a few months, lying invisibly below the surface. Spring's seeming rebirth is more a continuation of the circle of life than the beginning of something brand new.

I quicklly banished the logically technical train of thought as I enjoyed the singsong chitchat. My kids were excited about the changing world around them. Nothing else mattered.

Your turn: What does spring look like where you are? What does it mean to you?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Let them eat cake

Family is a wonderful thing. My wife and kids make my world go around. No one else on the planet understands my peculiarities as well as they do. No one else quite gets what makes me predisposed to shooting the craziest vignettes of modern suburban life. No one else quite appreciates the weirdness that is me, and lets me get away with it day after day.

So we've been spending time visiting extended family in Montreal this past week, and one of my not-quite-immediate family members really ticked me off (yes, dear readers, I do get ticked off on occasion. Please don't be shocked) when he uttered this unforgettable phrase as I bent down to take another picture of another piece of cake:

"Don't you ever think you have enough stupid pictures of cake?"

Maybe it was the choice of words. Maybe it was the condescending tone of voice. Maybe it was both. Whatever, it bugged me.

I shrugged it off at the time, but the phrase stuck in my craw for a while. So I'm writing about it now - as I share another stupid picture of stupid cake.

Hindsight is always 20/20. We always come up with the brilliant retort hours or days after the events that incited them. Here's what I wanted to say: I guess I'll stop writing about things that interest me once I think I've got enough in the archives. I guess I'll put away my camera for good once I think I've taken enough pictures of the kids. I guess I'll stop recording the world around me because small-minded doofs would rather criticize my own pursuits than engage in their own.

Yeah, I'm ranting. Sorry.

Thinking rationally now, I will, in fact, never stop recording these seemingly "stupid" things. Film is cheap. Digital memory is infinitely cheaper. Come to think of it, so is a stack of pens, a lifetime's supply of ink, a cupboard full of paper pads, a laptop and an ever-bulging hard drive.

Memories, on the other hand, are precious and fleeting. What I choose to capture is pretty much up to me. Thank goodness I ignored this person's similar advice when I was younger. To think of all the fun I would have missed had I actually believed that creativity must come with a box around it.

Your turn: Do you let the opinions of others shape what you choose to capture and how you choose to capture it? Oh, and while you're at it, does this picture make you hungry?

One more thing: Expect more pictures of cake in future. And dogs. And little people. And flooded rivers. And...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A little man's question

Five-year-old boys have incredibly fertile and inquisitive minds - so much so that I often have difficulty keeping up.

Our little guy was playing with some stuffed animals today when he suddenly stopped, looked up at me and asked how dogs and cats hug each other.

Your turn: How does a parent answer that one? What other doozies have your kids flung at you? How did you respond?

Monday, April 17, 2006


I left the car in the driveway this morning for the walk to my parents' house. I had a bunch of things to finish off, and the wireless cloud and blessed child-free silence at their condo was too much to resist. The weather was just this side of cool, and I thought the clear air would do wonders for my mood.

Along the way, I crossed a couple of bridges and had to stop to admire the view. As a child, I would often ride my bike through this part of town, pedalling too quickly to appreciate the vista. As an adult, I'm usually driving our kids through here as we shuttle between parents and in-laws. I never seem to stop and stare. This morning, I did.

The river is running a bit high these days thanks to the spring runoff. It's nowhere near the flood levels that other parts of the province are experiencing, but it makes for interesting perspectives: like trees completely surrounded by water. Come back in a few days and it'll likely look completely different. Think of it as mother nature's ever-changing mind.

My wife's first thought when she saw this picture was that the trees are guarding the water. Wise woman, she.

Your turn: On your next walk, what scene will stop you in your tracks? Why?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Spilled water

We all ridicule our mothers for putting plastic over everything in sight. Who among us doesn't have a memory of a living room virtually encased in the stuff? It kept the furniture looking brand-new for pretty much forever, but only because our little-kid grubby hands never actually touched the fabric. And I won't even begin to talk about what it did to the back of our shorts-clad legs on a summer's day. All together now: ew.

The other night, I noticed some water on the table - plastic-over-embroidered-tablecloth, of course - and decided to have some middle-of-the-meal macro fun before wiping it up. Needless to say, my extended family now has yet another reason to look at me funny. Oh well.

Your turn: Was your parental or grandparental living room wrapped in plastic? Do tell.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Publish Day - Reflecting on Passover

Sometimes, this writing thing allows me to do some very neat things with a pen.

For the second time in a few months, I was asked by my editor to submit a column covering my thoughts and perspectives on a major Jewish holiday. The first piece, The puzzle of passing down faith, was published on December 24th (read it here). My column on Passover was published in today's London Free Press.

The column is entitled Passover marks journeys old and new, and it can be found here. I've also pasted it below:
Passover marks journeys old and new
Published Saturday, April 15, 2006
The London Free Press
Byline: Carmi Levy

MONTREAL, Que. - Passover, like so many Jewish holidays, is ultimately about a journey. It is a story that, although its roots are thousands of years old, continues to resonate in the lessons we teach our children today.

In its most outward guise, Passover, which started Wednesday at sundown and runs through next Thursday, commemorates the exodus of Jews from generations of slavery in Egypt.

It is perhaps best known as the holiday during which we're not allowed to eat bread. Instead, we eat matza.

During the Jews' hurried escape into the desert, they did not have time to wait for their bread to rise.

To keep one step ahead of pursuing Egyptian soldiers, they ate it flat and crisp. We remember their flight by eating matza today.

The Jews wandered in the desert for 40 years before finally making it to the land of Israel.

Passover commemorates the journey on a number of levels: the physical journey, the spiritual journey from an oppressed to a free nation, and the personal journey we take as we lead our own lives within our community.

Passover's rituals and rules are rich with stories like these. Our modern-day, tech-savvy kids are fascinated by what life must have been like for their ancestors, and how the learnings from that time are remembered in their actions today. It allows us to reinforce that these seemingly dry traditions of their heritage really do mean something to them.

Our children have been looking forward to Passover for weeks. After learning about it in school, they've come home virtually every day asking my wife what she's going to make them when Passover arrives. Visions of Mom's "Famous Sponge Cake" have been dancing in their heads.

The switchover to matza means no bread in the house for the entire holiday. It means our kids get to eat foods that wouldn't otherwise make it onto the menu the rest of the year. Our normally-picky children seem to step out of character as they eat things they normally wouldn't touch.

We had plenty of time to discuss the meaning and lessons of Passover while driving to Montreal earlier this week. The strength of family sits at the very core of Jewish life, and my wife and I have tried to use holidays to bridge the physical distance between our kids and their grandparents.

The kids bubbled with excitement all the way here, wondering what their bubby (grandmother) had cooked for them. They needn't have worried: Pretty much every food in my mother-in-law's kitchen made it to the table that first night.

Much of the holiday's focus revolves around the Seder, the ritual meal held the first two nights of Passover. Seder is the Hebrew word for order. By following the story of Passover through the Haggadah, we retrace a ritual that hasn't changed in thousands of years. Everyone takes turns reading passages from the book as we gradually work our way through the story of the holiday. Our kids' eyes light up when they realize Mom and Dad and their grandparents have been performing the Passover Seder since they were children, too.

This year, our eldest son, Zach, 11, participated in the reading for the first time. Although he is normally quite reserved, he came alive as he shared in the experience with his family. Dahlia, 8, also jumped in, carefully reading the sometimes-arcane ancient language.

My wife and I watched them with pride, knowing that this marked another step on their own journey to adulthood, to staking out their place in a chaotic, difficult-to-navigate world.

The Passover Haggadah offers them the structure and guidance to make it through the Seder in a phased, methodical manner. Not every holiday comes with a ready-made manual, and certainly few things in life are so well documented.

But for this phase of our children's journey, they had all the guidance and help they needed.

Your turn: No matter what holidays you celebrate, how do you get your kids excited about them? How do you ensure traditions are successfully passed down to the next generation?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Shades of blue

I'm shameless whenever I stay in hotels. I take pictures of the shampoos and other doodads that they leave for guests. Some establishments are downright artistic in their packaging - I guess there's only so much you can do to differentiate a room, a bed and a dresser, so you turn to the toiletries to make your mark.

Score one for the Hampton Inn: they know their consumables. That, and they offer free wireless in their rooms (bless them.) A pox on any hotel that continues to charge for it. Or, horrors, charges for basic wired access. Or, horrors-cubed, doesn't offer Internet access at all.

Your turn: The neatest hotel I ever stayed at was...? And that would be because...?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Look up, way up

For as long as I can remember, I've had this habit: I stand on the sidewalk, tilt my head way back, and stare up the sides of tall buildings. The differential sense of scale seems at once awe-inspiring and humbling - an interesting combination.

So when I was in Dallas a couple of weeks ago, I found myself doing a lot of looking up while walking to and from the various conference events. Note to self: this behavior is potentially injurious to life and limb; ensure you are NOT moving before looking skyward. Stay away from traffic, too.

I like this image because it suggests otherwise-anonymous examples of post-modern boxes can actually be interesting to look at if you take the right perspective. There's just something captivating about the geometry of these two forms.

Your turn: What do you see when you look up?
Your turn: Can you place the childhood television show roots of the title of this entry?

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Shuttle era + 25

Do you remember where you were when NASA's first space shuttle orbiter, Columbia, launched? I was a kid, and I remember vividly what it felt like to sit on my parents' living room floor and watch the otherworldly sight of an all-white, asymmetrically-powered rocketship rise into the heavens. I remember the late, great ABC news anchor, Frank Reynolds, repeatedly whispering, "Go, baby, go" under his breath as Columbia cleared the tower and pitched into the roll program that oriented it for its climb to orbit.

That day, April 12, 1981, was 25 years ago today. And the rose-colored promise of the space shuttle era on that morning a generation ago has since been somewhat grounded by failed ambitions, two disastrous failures and a general sense that none of this matters to the public as much as it once did.

The remaining fleet of three orbiters is now grounded while engineers try - again - to solve the flyaway foam problem that doomed Columbia. The shuttle has a dozen and a half flights or so left before the winged birds are retired for good.

Yet whenever I think of the shuttle, I take myself back to that magical Sunday morning in my parents' house. The chills ran to the base of my spine, and the future seemed wide open with promise. I often catch myself wishing every day would hold similar promise.

Your turn: Why does all of this inspire us so?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - biker murder

By now, the entire world knows that eight men were shot to death in what is now the province of Ontario's worst mass murder in its history. Their bodies were discovered in four vehicles abandoned on a farm side road near the town of Shedden. They're calling it the Bandidos Massacre, since all the victims - and the four men and one woman who have been arrested - had ties to the motorcycle gang of the same name.

Some folks are calling it the Stafford Line killings because that's the name of the road in Elgin County where the bodies were found. Whatever they call it, it's an immensely sad chapter in a story that never seems to run out of victims.

Or newsprint: this story has essentially pushed all others out of the front section since it broke on Saturday. Since this is a writing week for my column in the London Free Press, I felt this topic would resonate with readers. I deviated somewhat away from the somewhat standard "how awful" responses that one typically sees following this kind of thing. Here's what I wrote:
Biker ties shouldn't devalue victims
Published Tuesday, April 11, 2006
The London Free Press

You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief when it became apparent that Saturday’s mass murder near Shedden had been linked to biker gangs.

Fellow shoppers at my neighbourhood grocery store agreed that all murders are tragic, but it’s somewhat easier to accept when the victims may not have led lily-white lives.

If this logic holds true – and I hope it doesn’t – then we seem to accept that some lives are worth more than others. By extension, some of us merit justice, while some of us do not.

This justice-for-some mentality sets a dangerous precedent. If anything, it ensures justice will be meted out only on behalf of victims we deem worthy.

Whatever these eight murder victims did in the days and years leading up to their violent deaths should do nothing to diminish the value of their existence.

Murder is still murder regardless of who the victim may be. We harm society by writing victims off simply because we looked down on how they led their lives.

Your turn: Biker gangs...what's the solution?

Monday, April 10, 2006

Quote - on journeys

Every once in an overly long while, I post a quotation that inspires me. I hope this one inspires you as well. I chose this one because lately I've been embarking on more journeys far from home.

One thing I've noticed about travelling alone is that you can spend hours without uttering a single sound. I often find myself reflecting on the bigger picture during those very long periods of self-imposed silence. My mind often drifts the thousands of miles back home, trying - unsuccessfully - to bridge the gap and stay close to those who truly matter.

I often wonder if it's worth it.

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in seeing with new eyes."

Marcel Proust

Your turn: How do you view the world differently when you're far from the place you call home? Does being away from all that matters prompt a redefinition of the term "home"? What is "home" to you, anyway?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Murder, close to home

I live in an anomalous city called London. It's in southwestern Ontario, about midway between Toronto and Detroit. I use the term "anomalous" because despite its size - around 350,000 people - it feels small. The attitude in the street and at City Hall is decidedly small town. The streets are still fundamentally safe at night. Our neighborhoods are, for the most part, picturesque examples of what a mid-sized city in a tier 1 nation can offer.

The cliches that ran through our minds when we decided to move here continue to resonate:
  • It's a great place to raise kids.
  • We don't have the same problems as big, bad cities like Detroit.
  • The things that happen there just don't happen here.
Illusion is a wonderful thing. It is also incredibly transient.

By now, many of you may have read about the discovery of eight bodies in and around four abandoned cars parked by a farmer's field in a tiny burg called Shedden. It's being called one of Canada's worst mass murders in a decade, and Ontario's worst ever. Media worldwide are running this story on their front pages. Rumors are now flying about organized crime and biker gangs. As I write this, police are laying siege to a suspected biker's home a mere few kilometers away from the murder scene.

The crime scene is about a half hour's drive southwest of my house. I have cycled past there on many occasions, racing through the rolling countryside and wondering why more people don't choose this lifestyle. The discovery brings home the sad reality that crime of all kinds can happen anywhere. No one region is immune. Ignoring reality doesn't change this stark fact.

In the days, weeks and months to come, we'll learn more about the intricacies of this case. We'll learn who the victims were, and why - and by whose hand - they met their end. We'll hopefully witness the deliverance of some semblance of justice, and we'll all go back to our lives as this case - for everyone but the victims' families, that is - gradually fades into history.

However it plays out, we can safely consider the illusion shattered. Wherever we live, there is no such thing as sanctuary.

Your turn: Is society losing its innocence or is this simply media spin at its finest?

Capturing the journey

I learned early on that the journey is often as - if not more - important than the destination. How we get somewhere is an important part of the experience of being away.

I ofen read stories about the early days of commercial aviation, and I am struck by the degree of romance that was attached to this then-nascent form of travel. It was a huge deal to go anywhere on a plane. Service mattered. The people who worked for airlines were respected. Pilots were worshipped.

Fast forward to today and the airline industry can rightfully be described as fractured. Massive, long-term financial hardship has forced airlines to cut service to the bone. Staff members are no longer revered as they once were. Instead, they're just as likely to scowl at you as you settle into your cramped seat beside the less-than-floral washroom.

Dining aloft has devolved from full-course meals served on real plates to $5 boxed lunches that may or may not have been packed last week in a faraway land.

But somewhere in this post-deregulated world, I still find some amount of joy in transiting long distances in a plane. Airplanes are kinda cool, after all. These hugely expensive examples of leading-edge technology are fascinating to watch. Whether they're being loaded on the ground or being firewalled as they scream off the runway and grope for altitude, it's clear that these machines are not your father's Oldsmobile.

With that in mind, many of my in-transit photos often focus on the shapes of these machines.

The out-the-window image was about as lucky a shot as I've ever taken. We were pulling into our gate at Logan when I first spotted the aircraft approaching overhead. I turned the camera on, hoping to grab the shot. Digital cameras are notoriously very slow to start up. I pointed the camera up and held the shutter down, hoping against hope that the thing would wake up before the aircraft sailed past us. It just made it. Somehow, the plane didn't blur as it sped overhead, either. Luck.

Only after did I realize I had also gotten the control tower into the image. Sometimes, the stars simply align.

Similarly, the second picture resulted from my fatigue on the way home. I had been randomly pulled out of line by the security screeners. OK, maybe it wasn't random. Perhaps they were ticked that I took a flash picture of my Po doll just before my luggage went into the scanner. I was wanded, frisked, patted down, and generally made to feel like the criminal that my high school English teacher always thought I'd become.

After my hands-on episode with Louie the gloved TSA security agent, I was somewhat rattled. I gathered my stuff and walked with a colleague to the gate. As I was looking down most of the way, I noticed subtle images of aircraft on the floor. I was intrigued, and not just because I thought it would look neat in my kitchen. I knew I needed to shoot them, but close-up images in the middle of a heavily-travelled airport corridor would not be easy. I didn't care.

When we got to the gate, I dropped to the floor, pulled out my camera and started composing the macro images. People stopped and stared. One lady looked up from her laptop and played 20 questions with me. Everyone seemed happy: things like this never happened in airports. When I was done, I showed some interested folks the images on the camera's screen. They all agreed it was cool - the reflected lights made it look like it was rolling along a runway. I bet it made for interesting conversation at a few dinner tables across the nation that evening.

Once again, I was lucky. I should carry this thing in my pocket more often.

Your turn: The luckiest image you ever captured was...?

Saturday, April 08, 2006

A photographer's dilemma

Click the images to view higher-resolution versions.

Boston is a wonderful city for pedestrians. Every corner opens up a new view on something that makes you want to stop and stare for a while. Walking to a given destination with a specific time in mind can be difficult because of all the stops along the way. But it's so worth it.

So there I was on Friday, walking through a packed Quincy Market and wondering how to find the water. Anytime I'm in a place that's alongside the ocean, a lake or even a river, I do my best to spend some time on the waterfront. I know it sounds odd, but there's something cathartic about being there, on the edge of the land looking out at the watery emptiness.

The color of the water, the smell of the air, the snap of the wind in your hair, the sound of the breeze, the birds and the lapping waves. This unique sensory soup makes you think. It pushes all the conflicting messages of our supercharged lives out of our immediate view and forces us to simply spend some quiet time, alone. It allows us to wonder why we don't do relaxing stuff like this more often. Why is that?

After a few minutes of quiet time by the water's edge, I checked my watch and started to walk back. I had colleagues to meet, a plane to catch, and a family waiting at home.

I stopped to shoot a water fountain in Columbus Park on the way back. Lucky me for stumbling across something so genteel in the middle of a beautiful park. The rotunda was filled with pedestrians from all walks of life. A mother pushing a stroller alongside her friend. A group of tourists taking in the scene. An older couple spending some couplehood time by the water. I took out my camera and trained it on the fountain.

When I was done, I turned around and noticed him. A homeless man was asleep on the bench. I stopped dead in my tracks. A beautiful scene, filled with beautiful people enjoying a beautiful day, all completely ignorant of the low-key tragedy of this one person's life.

I wasn't sure what to do: shoot the scene so that I could tell the story of how cruel and unfair life can seem almost within the same frame, or keep my camera tucked away because I wouldn't want to upset him.

I hemmed and hawed for a bit, wondering what to do. I politely turned down the tourist group's offer to take my picture - stranger-pix always come out lousy, as if people don't know how to compose - and pretended to look at other points of interest for fear of attracting attention to my intentions.
When everyone walked away and I was alone, I decided to shoot. I set the camera up, turned, and clicked off a few images in rapid succession. When I was done, I put my camera away, looking surreptitiously around to ensure no one saw. I silently apologized to the still-sleeping form, hoping he wouldn't feel animosity toward me if he knew, hoping he would know that I'd try to poignantly and sensitively relate the tone of this tiny moment in time.

I don't know whether or not I succeeded - and I still can't rid myself of the feeling that I have somehow violated this individual's life - but I felt I needed to at least try to tell a snippet of his story.

Your turn: What would you have done? Would you have taken your camera out or left it in its bag? Is the value of telling this story greater than the potential for morally injuring the subject of the photograph?

One more thing: I've uploaded the photostream from my trip. Click here to explore my Flickr companion site or simply pop into the sidebar and click on the More of carmizvi's photos link. If you'd like me to pull any of them - along with expanded stories - into the main blog, please let me know.

The day breaks reflectively in Beantown

Boston, April 7, 2006, 6:07 a.m.
View from my hotel room.

I got home from Boston late last night. My first flight was delayed, which caused me to miss my connecting flight to London - though I did get to wave at the Dash-8 as it took off and banked over the shuttle bus that was taking me to the terminal.

The delay gave me time to sit quietly at the gate as I awaited the next flight home. I thought about what I was bringing back with me, and what I learned while I was away. I think I figured it out:

Although business travel can wear on the body and mind, I try to make the most of the experience by focusing on the fact that I'm in a cool, new place that allows me to tell cool, new stories upon my return.

My philosophy is simple: if you don't take the time to get out of a conference room and explore a bit, you've missed a great opportunity to learn and to broaden your perspectives a little. You've missed the chance to get yourself lost in a neighborhood that looks completely different than any you're used to. You've missed the chance to bring back visions and images that may inspire your friends and family back home.

I took two great walkabouts while I was in Boston this week. I captured well over 350 pictures (advice to all: carry big memory cards and lots of replacable NiMH batteries) and am starting to upload them to the companion Flickr site - find it in the sidebar to the right, and click More of carmizvi's photos to view the photostream.)

Each image has a story associated with it. Admittedly, most are mundane. But a few are poignant, and every one serves as a window for my family, a glimpse at what I was experiencing when I couldn't be home with them. I somehow felt connected with my family as I took each picture. I tried to remember what was going through my head as I tripped the shutter so that I'd be able to talk to it when I got home. It's not just a picture; it's a story that I hope others want to hear.

They say storytelling is a dying art. I'd like to think that it's alive and well, that it's simply taking on new forms as technology and business force us to connect with each other in increasingly creative ways.

Your turn: What stories will you bring back the next time you're away from home?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Into the sky once more

As morning breaks, I find myself once again packing my bags and heading out the door. I'm flying out to Boston for a couple of days, and hope to get at least an hour or so to myself so that I can walk around and explore.

I'll be back tomorrow night, which means I'll be away from home for only one sleep. Despite the brevity of the trip, I still find myself wondering what I'll miss, regretting that I'll lose a tuck-in at home. Even one night away from home is too much.

About the picture: Taken from my parents' balcony just after sunset. As I took the picture, I thought about the distant contrails and what they represented. For some passengers, it meant they were almost home. For others, quite the opposite.

May the trails you streak across the sky ultimately take you home to what matters most.

E-see you from America.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Crack the sky

I'm still sifting through the images from my trip to Dallas. I captured this one on the last leg of my flight home, just a few minutes after I grabbed this image.

They say that photography is about being in the right place at the right time. Although I believe this to a certain extent, I also wonder about higher forces that put the photographer there in the first place. I look at this image, for instance, and wonder if fate had anything to do with it.

After all, pictures taken through plane windows are usually lousy thanks to the scratched plastic-enhanced optics and the bouncy nature of flight. Yet this one managed to come out fine. Lucky, I guess.

I get to witness some pretty neat things through my lens. May this always be so.

Your turn: What three words first come to mind when you see this image?

One more thing: The title is a musical reference. Can you place it?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

We'll return after these messages...

If you live in Canada and have access to Report on Business Television, I'm scheduled to be interviewed this afternoon at 4:40 Eastern. I'll be discussing Microsoft's deal to sell half a million Windows Mobile 5.0-powered handsets to the U.S. Census Bureau.

This deal is widely viewed as Microsoft's strongest move yet to break the hold of Research In Motion on the mobile market. I've spoken with ROBTv before about the BlackBerry, mostly regarding the now-settled NTP patent lawsuit. Now the focus shifts to the market, and it seems a major battle is brewing.

I'll post a link to the interview later tonight. Hope you can watch!

Update 1:02 p.m.: Ah, I love having egg on my face. The interview is a no-go. The studio where it would usually be done from is unavailable. So, no TV today. I suppose I could simply pull this entry down and pretend like it never happened. But I'd rather leave it up as an example of how things often work out in this biz. There's never a dull moment.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Stating the obvious

Sometimes, we come across a sign that stops us in our tracks. These days, people sue for virtually no reason - McDonald's and hot coffee, anyone? - so it's a logical assumption that retailers are simply covering their assets by posting signs like this.

Although I understand the logic, what this trend says about the spirit of society is more than a little depressing.

Your turn: Have you come across any similar stating-the-obvious-type signs?

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Smooth surface, hard journey

Last month, I posted some photos and thoughts that I captured while visiting my father in the hospital. Utenzi suggested I grab a floor's perspective of something on wheels. Looking through my archives, I realize that I had captured something very similar.

The wheels on this IV pole seem to tell a story. My question to you is this: what story do they tell?

BTW, if you haven't yet visited Utenzi's blog, please do so. In a world of compelling reads, his ranks right up there on the must-read list.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

On a wing...

The best thing about travelling for work is the trip home. Knowing what awaits when I land is enough to make even the most crowded, turbulent flight a happy one.

I took this somewhere over southwestern Ontario. I was on the last leg of my journey home from Dallas. I was in a Saab 340, whose small size and extreme noise and vibration were partially offset by the leather seats. The sky was a dull gray, but I held my camera in my hand, just in case.

I'm glad I did, because the sun briefly peeked out and changed the scene from drab to poetic. I knew this was a moment I wanted to remember.

It may just be a wing on an old, noisy plane, but it brought me home to three excited kids waiting at the airport, and a tired wife who was glad I was home.

Your turn: Got a homecoming story to share?

Where do you want to go today?

March 28, 2006, 4:09 p.m.
Detroit-Metro Airport
Po waits for her luggage. She also shows her affinity for mid-range ERP and CRM applications from a certain software vendor.

Part of a continuing series of gnome-like character observations in the airports of the nation.

Your turn: What do you think Po did when the luggage didn't show and her Dad almost missed his flight home? What should Po have done? Should the Teletubbies be muzzled forever? Would you smile if you saw this scene in an airport?

So many little time.