Saturday, June 30, 2007

Revisiting ruined architecture

Ruined, before & after
St. Thomas, Ontario, June 2007 [Click all images to enlarge]

Air shows are notorious for the parking nightmares they create. I have none-too-fond memories of sitting for hours while waiting for volunteers to guide my car to a large field far, far away from the actual event site. Cars and airports are a lousy combination on a good day. On an air show day, it gets even worse.

So when organizers of this year's show offered free shuttle bus service from the community center, I thought it might help me avoid spending a couple of hours in gridlock. As we parked in the near-empty parking lot, our daughter looked across the field and saw an ancient-looking building that had clearly seen its better days. "Ruined" was the first word that came to mind when I followed her pointed finger. I smiled as I thought about how observant she has become, how much like me she is. Poor kid.

She then insisted that I take a picture of it before we got on the shuttle bus. So I did.

When we got back to the centre at the end of the day, the sun had now shifted behind the building. Dahlia stared at it again and put into words exactly what I was thinking: "That looks neat, Dad. Want to take another picture of it?"

Wise daughters should always be listened to. So I took my camera out and once again explored the decrepit facade.

Your turn: What stories do you think this building would tell?

One more thing: This sequence continues my different-time-of-day thinking that I introduced here. I hope you'll take a moment to look at both images more closely. I wonder what you'll find when you do...

Friday, June 29, 2007


The wheels on the bus go round and round...
London, ON, April 2007 [Click to enlarge]

The big yellow grocery store that opened near our house last year continues to be a great place to bring a camera. While picking up some milk, I thought I'd take another run at the grocery carts parked outside. There's a neat pattern to them when they're all stacked up, and they seemed to be asking for a shot (please click here for my first, much earlier attempt at grocery buggy photography.)

So I crouched down on the sidewalk and snapped away. No sooner had I racked off my first shot, I heard a voice behind me.

"I just have to ask why you're so interested in my buggies."

I spun around and saw a very official-looking man wearing a windbreaker with the store's logo on it. The owner. I was either busted or vindicated. I explained that I loved the aesthetic of the yellow. He and I bantered about what a cool store he had and how much I loved to shoot interesting pictures. He thought it was neat that I'd find stuff like that worth shooting. We parted with smiles on our faces.

Something tells me I'll be returning to this store. To shop AND to shoot pictures.

Your turn: The difference between a mediocre moment and one that inspires can be small indeed. This time out, the store owner kept an open mind, and I think I made his day. He sure made mine, and in doing so, he earned my future business. Got a similarly uplifting business story from your own experience?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

iPhone, you phone...

Can you tell I'm in an Apple mood? My phone's been ringing and my inbox has been buzzing this week because tomorrow's the day when the world as we know it will change. Freed from the shackles of electronic gadget mediocrity, June 29th, 2007 will go down in history as the day we emerged from the Dark Age of the Smartphone. All dates before this date shall heretofore be annotated as B.I. (Before iPhone), and Steve Jobs, the purveyor of all electronics that are good, shall be our new nondemoninational-in-black-jeans hero.

Oops, slipped into Apple Cultspeak for a bit there. Sorry about that.

(I'll drop the Your Turn in a little early so you don't miss it, as this is a super-long entry. Sorry.)

Your turn: Where do you stand on iPhone-mania? Is this all just a little much? Click the comment link below and sound off. But no profanity: my mother reads this every once in a while.

The good news in all of this - aside from the fact that we won't have to deal with iPhone craziness in Canada for at least another few months - is that I got some pretty neat media attention from the growing Apple iPhone mania. Here's the rundown:
  • Business News Network. I was on TV again earlier today, discussing Research In Motion, the fate of the BlackBerry, and the iPhone's impact on the other, more business-focused fruity device. I spoke to Kim Parlee, and the link to the interview can be found here.
"The iPhone's arrival is serving as a catalyst for the other handheld makers to finally get serious about their converged smartphone offerings," says Carmi Levy, senior VP for strategic consulting at AR Communications. "The smartphone is finally emerging out of its awkward adolescent phase."

[Snip]. Later in the article, when I was asked to comment on the Helio Oxygen device, I said this:

What's more, says Levy, "Helio's online/call center subscription model allows customers to bypass the typically Byzantine retail channel and provides more direct control over the service through the life of the device." Providing relief for mobile phone users fed up with the traditional carrier-dominated model, this innovative system "could be just as significant as any flashy hardware launch announcement."
  • The Ottawa Citizen. I spoke with Vito Pilieci, who wrote Canadian access to IPhone won't come easy. Also picked up by other papers in the CanWest chain: the National Post and the Victoria Times-Colonist. The Global National television network also ran it. Here's what I said:

    And getting it to work in Canada could be even harder.

    "I wish them the best of luck," said Carmi Levy, senior vice-president of strategic consulting for Toronto research company AR Communications Inc. "There is no guarantee that the product will work the way it is supposed to."
[Snip] Coleman noted that it is against Rogers policy to unlock the phones of other networks.

She refused to comment what Rogers employees will do if people manage to unlock their IPhones and demand that Rogers activate the phones on its network.

Levy agreed that opening the IPhone to work on other networks will be extremely difficult.

"You can bet your mortgage that Apple has locked it up," he said, adding that it will take talented hackers a long time to figure out how to take off the AT&T locks. "It's not something that I or my mother-in-law could do. Most people just won't want to spend the time, money or effort to do that."
  • Montreal Gazette. Marc Saltzman interviewed me for his piece, Why the iPhone is on hold in Canada. Also picked up by MSN/Sympatico. Here's what I said:
    "Like it or not, the U.S. market is an order of magnitude larger than the Canadian one - there are 10 times as many consumers there, as there are here - so it makes bottom-line sense for Apple to get things rolling in its most critical market before it turns its attention elsewhere," says Carmi Levy, a senior vice- president at AR Communications Inc., a Toronto-based marketing communications firm.
"Demand will also far outstrip supply in the first few months - so much so that Apple will likely not be able to satisfy the American market, let alone international ones," says Levy. "So by staging its launches on a country-by-country and continent-by-continent basis, Apple can create new hype cycles in phases around the world, and in doing so minimizes the risk of disappointing local fans with months-long waiting lists."

Can Canadians do this (use it in Canada with a transplanted SIM card) with the iPhone? Not likely, say the experts.

"While this is a fairly quick, easy and inexpensive option for most basic cellphones, it's a little more involved for a sophisticated device like the iPhone," explains Levy. "Apple's new offering extends well beyond basic voice or data service and as such its rich multimedia toolset might not be properly supported by a hacked SIM card solution."

Even if the technical issues could be overcome, Levy points out a more basic problem. "Simply getting an American-sourced iPhone for a SIM card transplant could be the biggest challenge of all - there's no telling how long the lineups will be at American stores after the device goes on sale."

"Maybe early Canadian adopters will want to call ahead," Levy adds, "on something other than an iPhone, of course.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Look up in the sky

Scene from a backyard
London, Ontario, June 2007 [Click to embiggen]

It's 7:48 p.m. I'm out back with the kids and the dog. The BBQ is slowly getting our dinner ready, its puffs of smoke gently making us hungry as we enjoy the beautiful evening. I look up in the sky and notice how the cloud formations are being backlit by the setting sun. It's been a warm, humid day, so the drama in the atmosphere is easy to spot even with the naked eye.

But naked eyes don't have terribly good memories. I'm sure I'll remember this moment, but it would be a lot easier if I had a picture to prompt me. Luckily the camera's just inside the patio door. I reach for it, flip it into full manual and slightly underexpose the metering to ensure the cool rays in the sky don't get washed out.

Our daughter says she thinks she sees a face as she squints in the same direction of my lens, but I'm not so sure. What do you think?

I take the picture, then go back to finishing up on the BBQ before our meal burns. Another small moment in our ongoing adventure.

Your turn: What are the first three words that come to mind when you first see this image? Don't think it over too much...just blurt 'em out.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Thrice around the sun

The journey continues...
San Francisco, CA, March 2007 [Click to enlarge]

Today is a very special day in Pitkinville: it's been three years since Written Inc. first went live. Since this is my first blog, it's also been three years since I became a blogger.

Funny, but it seems like I've been at it longer than that. I don't remember what it was like to not have my own blog. I say that with a smile on my face and warmth in my heart, because this has been a great journey for me. I hope you've enjoyed it, too.

What started as a simple exercise in learning the ins and outs of a nascent medium has evolved into a platform for my words and my images. I've become part of a vibrant community of writers, all of whom never cease to amaze me with their intelligence, creativity, humor and kindness.

I've learned that words and images, the basic building blocks of creativity in my world ever since I was a kid, can go much further than the yellowing pages of the albums that once represented the final resting place of so much of my work. I've learned that these new media can send a journalist's vision to places barely imagined the first day I walked wide-eyed into j-school.

I don't know where this ends, or if it ever really needs to end. Indeed, so many of the folks who I once read and who read me when I first went live are no longer blogging. Yet I feel no need to put my pen down. I write for a living, so not writing in this admittedly informal, self-edited capacity seems almost unthinkable. It's like the photographer putting down his camera (equally unthinkable), the cyclist parking his bicycle (ditto), the dreamer silencing his aspirations (yup, same thing.) This is me. And I'll keep writing and shooting as long as that fire to create and share continues to burn.

I love setting aside a few quiet minutes every day to share a thought or two, to upload a picture that means something to me, to share my view of the world and read the comments of once-complete strangers who I've come to know as friends. It isn't work, because I love being a part of this wild little world. I hope you love it, too. And I hope you're around to share future milestones with me. Thank you for being part of the journey thus far.


Your turn: In case you missed them, here are the links to my first-ever post, the first anniversary entry and last year's anniversary entry. If you have a moment, I hope you'll read them, then come back here and tell us why milestones matter, and why the blogging community often seems to be so much more than mere pixels on a screen.

About the image: This is a section of track for San Francisco's famous cable cars. I thought it would be appropriate to include now, as it symbolizes the journey, and the fact that the direction can change when you least expect it. It's also a pretty atypical picture, the kind of image that I tend to capture while I look where everyone else is not. Maybe that's my life's philosophy. Or not...whatever. Wherever I end up, I'll never be able to say it hasn't been a fun trip.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Snowbirds return to the skies

Canada's best, where they belong
St. Thomas, Ontario, June 2007 [Click all images to enlarge]

The Snowbirds are Canada's national precision flying team. The 431 Air Demonstration Squadron of the Canadian Armed Forces forms a crucial role in recruiting, and in representing Canada on the international stage. Like the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, the pilots who fly these aircraft and the ground crew who maintain them represent the best of the best, and are always an inspiration for anyone who sees them.

The Snowbirds flight at the St. Thomas air show was a special one for a sad reason: it marked only the second public flight since the team lost a pilot in a training accident in Montana in May. Capt. Shawn McCaughey's #2 aircraft departed suddenly from the formation and plowed into the ground. The 31-year-old native of Candiac, Quebec, just south of Montreal, was the sixth Snowbird pilot to die since 1972.

Our kids sat right behind the thin yellow rope facing the flight line and watched as the ground crew saw the nine aircraft off. At various points through the day, I tried to explain to them why our nation had such a team in the first place, and why it was important to have folks like this to inspire the rest of us. In the end, they simply needed to sit on the tarmac and watch these heroes go through their paces both on the ground and in the air. By that point in the afternoon, I didn't have to say a word: they just watched in awe.

I captured the top-most image during one of their many precision maneuvers. What sets the Snowbirds apart from other precision flying teams is their equipment. They do not fly front-line fighter aircraft that have gobs of power and the latest in digital fly-by-wire flight control systems. They fly the CT-114 Tutor (also known as the Canadair CL-41), a two-seat trainer aircraft whose performance is best characterized as modest.

These planes were designed and built before I was born, and their replacement has been a matter of hot debate - which tends to get hotter whenever there's an accident. Our traditionally cash-strapped military hasn't committed to replacing them anytime soon (see here for some late-breaking news that outlines how the Air Force was urged in 2003 to replace these planes ASAP, and has thus far done...nothing.) But when either disbanding the team or equipping them with less expensive propellor-driven aircraft was suggested, you could hear the opposition from one end of the country to the other.

So while the debate rages, young soldiers who any parent would want his/her children to emulate continue to fly these relics of a bygone era, and they continue to make them dance in the sky in ways that make the rest of of us not just enjoy the performance, but feel it down to the base of our spine every time they fly past. It's as much an emotional journey as it is a physical one, one I'm glad my children got to experience as they sat on the hot asphalt beside the yellow rope.

Your turn: Iconic members of society. Please discuss who you think merits the term, what makes him/her/them iconic, why we watch, and what we can learn in the process.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Old meets new

A Harvard and a Hornet
St. Thomas, Ontario, June 2007 [Click to enlarge]

The T-6 Harvard was a widely used trainer during the Second World War. This robust airframe was produced in massive numbers, and as a result remains a popular heritage aircraft today. Here in Canada, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) used them as well, and they were painted in an incredibly rich shade yellow. To this day, when they show up at an air show, everyone knows them.

I tried to capture the color of this fantastic bird, but was challenged by the insane crowds of people on the tarmac, and by the fact that it was the end of the day and my kids were ready to go home. I got lucky when I realized it was parked beside the CF-18 Hornet, Canada's front-line fighter aircraft (think Canadianized, three-generations-behind F/A-18 and you're not far off.) I composed tightly and shot very quickly before scooping up the munchkins and heading out to the shuttle bus.

Your turn: Color. Why does it affect us so deeply? Do you have a color story to share?

One more thing: A total of four Harvards participated in the aerial demonstrations that day. Whenever they took to the skies, they made a distinctive sound that rivalled the big jets for impact on the crowd. When he first heard them, our youngest son said they sounded somewhat flatulent. So without skipping a beat, he spent the rest of the day calling them "the farting planes." Certainly not what their designers had in mind, but sweet all the same. The life of a six-year-old...

Caption This 24

Please come up with a caption for this photo [See below for instructions]
Mississauga, ON, May 2007 [Click to embiggen]

I snagged this photo on my way to China. I was on the first leg of the trip, from London to Toronto, and took this as we were on final approach into Pearson International Airport.

This is one of those fun geometry-type pictures that I love to take. And I'm hoping you'll be able to give it a name.

Before I turn things over to you, please take a moment to congratulate Leo for the winning caption for last week's image of an older man walking through Shanghai. "Just one step at a time" captured what I felt as I captured this image in the first place. This poor man seemed to be taking his steps as individual actions instead of the consistent flow that most of us normally follow. The other pedestrians, and indeed the world, seemed to be passing him by.

Thanks, Leo, for such a great caption (and my apologies for not posting a link to your blog. I couldn't find one. I'll add the link if you e-mail me.)

Your turn: If you're new to the Caption This thing, click here for the rules. Otherwise, click the Comment link and share as many suggestions as you've got. Co-workers, in-laws and even family pets are always welcome to join in the fun. And if you want to post multiple entries, go for it. The more the merrier. I'll post the winning caption next Sunday.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Air show kids

I'm making good on my somewhat benign threat to moblog from the air show. I managed to convince all three kids to tag along after overcoming their concerns over noise. We're on the shuttle bus back to the parking area...I hope this mobile geek blogging stuff works.

This is what they look like after climbing over, into and through every last military vehicle on static display, after eating their way through the knapsack that I had stuffed with snacks, after endearing themselves to every event volunteer they encountered. Oh, and they managed to see some neat planes, too.

After all that, I'm sure they'll sleep well tonight. And when they wake up tomorrow, I hope today's adventure becomes a happy forever memory for them.

Your turn: Please share a happy forever memory (I really like that term, can you tell?)

Friday, June 22, 2007

The journey begins

Dash 8, awaiting flight
London, ON, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

I have this compulsive need to mark the milestones of every long distance trip. Before I drive anywhere, I quietly stand beside the car and, with my hand on the tail light, hope for a safe journey. As I board a plane, I place my hand on the outer skin and feel the rivets. Often, when I'm in the gate area, I'll take a picture of the plane I'm about to board. I'll repeat the process on the way home.

There isn't anything unique about these rituals. But they're important to me for some reason that I can't easily explain.

This trip was decidedly longer than my usual jaunt. I was about to fly halfway around the world. I was still in my "home" airport, about to board a puddlejumper that I had taken so many times before. Familiar territory and familiar equipment. For that moment, anyway.

And as my little plane sat in the early morning light, I thought it would make an ideal first picture, something to remember as I kicked off a trip I wouldn't soon forget; a piece of home that I'd carry with me as I ventured into the unknown.

In the end, the actual object being photographed may be somewhat ordinary and forgettable. But circumstances often render the moment significantly more worthy of a unique memory.

And so I squeezed off this reflective, deliberately-low-key-to-minimize-the-glare vision.

Your turn: Do you remember starts and finishes? Why?

One more thing: There's still more method to my photo-madness. I'm posting this today because I'm hoping to spend the day with at least one of the kids at the Wings 'n Wheels air show in nearby St. Thomas, Ontario. Ideally, It's one of those experiences that I know they'll cherish simply because it was cool, it was different, and we got to go through it together. I'll try to moblog from the site, too. More soon...

Big sister, little brother

Getting ready
London, ON, April 2007 [Click to enlarge]

Before the big dinner at our house, Dahlia helped her little brother, Noah, get his favorite new shirt all done up. His first attempt ended up with the buttons aligned just a little off, so in stepped his motherly big sister to save the day.

She's always been like that. From the moment he was born, Dahlia's been there, helping him in whatever way she sees fit. The tone in her voice changes when she shifts into big sis mode. I love watching her empathy in action, because it reinforces that we've done something right.

I love moments like this because they give me hope that our kids will grow up with a strong sense of needing to look out for each other. I don't believe that siblings are close simply because they're siblings. There's so much more that explains why this dynamic takes root in some children and not in others. Looking at my own kids on this special evening, I knew they were off to an excellent start.

Your turn: Brothers and sisters looking out for each other. Nice thought, isn't it?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Pearl by day, Pearl by night

Pearl base in the daytime
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click all images to enlarge]

Time of day plays an enormous role in the tone of a picture. I'm rarely in the same place enough times to test this theory, especially when I'm attending a conference where the schedule is intensely tight and my time is incredibly short.

This trip was an exception. I got lucky by being able to return to the same spot along the river, directly across from Shanghai's fast-growing financial district. I first wrote about the Oriental Pearl Tower in this entry (click here to go back and read it. I'll wait. Really!) When I saw the base of this incredible structure, it occurred to me that it might be an even more interesting view than the big skyline-type view in the typical tourist shot.

I liked how the unique fixtures just above ground level interacted with the immediate area, and the river on which they fronted. You could tell that whoever designed this didn't just want to isolate the structure from its neighborhood.

And again at night...

Your turn: Do you often go back to a given scene to shoot it at different times of day? Do tell...

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Power, light and guidance

Show me the way
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

When you look up in Shanghai, you notice the preponderance of wires hanging over your head. They seem so haphazardly strung, almost as if they were installed by a part-time electrician rushing to finish his work before reporting to his regular full-time gig installing hydraulic clutches at the scooter factory.

The first time I noticed this, I was a little nervous. 220 volts of electricity running through a rat's nest of cables can have that effect, I guess. But over the next few days, sights of randomly installed wires simply faded into the background, just another touchstone in a landscape so very different from the one I was used to.

Your turn: Look up. What do you see?

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Not quite a towering inferno

Building on fire
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to get closer to the sun]

Never mind that my hotel room was facing west, opposite the sunrise. I wanted a sunrise picture anyway. Sunset was out of the question because I was usually busy with work and other scheduled stuff whenever the sun went down. So it was morning or bust if I wanted some pics of the gasbag.

I can't explain why I'm obsessed with sunrise/sunset images...I must have been born under one or something - so when I noticed that the glass on the building facing my room was turning funny colors, I put two and two together and got my camera ready.

Sure enough, it was perfectly positioned to capture the sun through the smoggy-hazy atmosphere. I hate to say it, but pollution makes for lovely photography. I'll duck now.

Your turn: Do you have a memorable sunrise moment? What is it about this time of day that attracts our/your attention?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Backlit photographic mystery

What is this?
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to embiggen, but not if you're from Shelbyville]

I'm pleased to share another in a series of informal images that are difficult to identify and make very little sense, but that have still found their way into my photographic archives. In other words, the kind of image that I might not have taken when I was shooting film. Yet another way in which digital has changed the way I take pictures.

Your turn: Can you identify this picture? Take your best shot. Take as many shots as you like: I'll post the response, as well as details on how this picture came to be, in a week. Have fun!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Caption This 23

Please come up with a caption for this image [See below for details]
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

Some of the most compelling images from my recent trip to China were of the people I randomly caught in the street. Some were quirky, some were sweet, while others were funny, and even a little bit sad. But few came close to haunting me. Except for this one

I don't know what compelled me to raise my point-and-shoot camera when I saw this man shuffle past. I didn't think twice...I just shot. One second, one image, and then he was gone, the folks who either looked or looked away also vanishing into oblivion.

Your turn: Please pop into comments and share your caption suggestion for this image. You can post as many as you want - extra points for keeners, don't ya know?

One more thing: Rules for Caption This, a weekly feature on my blog, can be found here. Last week's image of a parent-and-child street sign garnered many wonderful responses. In the end, there can be only one winner because, well, just because. And that winner is Rachel, who pens the excellent blog, Sliding through life. Her caption, "Together we can," hit a nerve with me. Thanks, Rachel...and good luck, everyone, this week.

Oops, make that two: Although I'm not a huge fan of commercially-focused holidays, I can't ignore the fact that Father's Day gives us a chance to stop for a moment and think about the connections we make with our children and with our parents. Once we get past the holiday hype, this is a holiday whose real worth is measured by the time we spend together as a family. And if that inspires us to hold times like this dear for the other 364 days of the year, then I'm willing to overlook the Hallmarkness of it. Yeah, I invented another word. Oops. Off I go to contemplate what the morning will bring as our three excited kids wake to a day of adventure with their mom and dad. Whatever day it is, I'm lucky to have all this.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Tail numbers

Four tails
Toronto, ON, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

While walking to my gate for leg #2 of a 3-leg journey to China, I stopped by a large window after noticing how the tails of three parked Air Canada aircraft aligned so nicely. As I was idly tossing the scene around my head, a fourth aircraft made its way into the scene. I hurriedly grabbed my camera out of its bag and waited for the magic moment for the tails to align.

I guess I just like the geometry of aircraft tails. Yeah, I'm strange that way. Must be my Canadian roots.

Your turn: Do you find aircraft interesting to photograph? Why/why not?

Restaurant in flames

Dinner is seared
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

While waiting for dinner to be served at the hotel restaurant, I noticed the very large flames coming out of the very cool-looking oven in the middle of the very open-concept kitchen area. I had to get a closer look, so I took my camera with me and went for a little walk.

I propped the camera up on the counter and took a couple of pictures with the remote control. A really tall guy in a really nice suit walked over to me and started chatting with me about how neat the ovens are, that he understood why I'd want to take pictures of the very flamey scene.

He was exceptionally friendly. And as it turned out, he was the director of the hotel's restaurants. As it also turned out, he had just bought the same camera, a Nikon D80, as mine. So we yakked and yakked about the neat things we did with our equipment. I carded him, and he carded me back, so it looks like I'll be sending him the link to this entry.

Small world, eh?

Your turn: Ever have a neat moment with a stranger simply because you pulled your camera out?

Friday, June 15, 2007

Waiting for the light to change

The machine stops
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

Sometimes, I take a picture and what makes it cool only dawns on me long after I've put the camera away. As an example, I offer up this image of a knot of folks on scooters waiting for the light to turn green.

As I crossed the street and grabbed this image, I failed to recall that this was a highly atypical view of a typical Shanghai intersection. This is a city whose chaotic traffic makes Manhattan, Montreal and London look positively tame in comparison. Red lights are often mere suggestions as drivers jockey for position and lean on their horns almost as if it's a national sport.

People don't get angry, mind you, and there's pretty much no yelling. But it's still hugely entertaining to watch.

So when I saw this near-silent group waiting patiently for the light, my brain failed to process the fact that no one here waits patiently for anything. I guess I was slow that day. I blame the jet lag.

Your turn: Traffic in your burg. Please discuss.

One more thing: I buried a literary reference somewhere in this entry. Wanna guess what it is?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The pause that (universally) refreshes

Neon. American. Commercial.
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

I've always loved pictures with strong colors and geometries, and I knew this fit the bill as soon as I saw the red glow reflecting off the street. It's difficult to explain how overwhelming a six-storey neon Coke sign is to the jet lagged eye, but I hope this zoomed-in view provides a taste.

Your turn: Is this making you thirsty?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

One man only

Early morning walker
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to zoom in]

This stretch of pavement is usually choked with people. But not at 5:36 a.m. At this time of day, the streetscape enjoys an all-too-brief break from the frenetic activity that usually defines it.

The sun rises very early here, around 4 a.m., thanks to the Chinese government's policy of using one time zone for the entire country. It's tough to figure out the exact sunrise because the sky becomes increasingly choked with smog the closer you get to the horizon. But when it's bright enough to shoot without using ridiculously long exposure times, it's easy to assume that the sun's already up, somewhere behind that skyborne wall of gray-brown.

From 66 floors up, I wonder where this person is going. I realize I know so little about the realities of life on the street as I enjoy the perks of a luxurious, westernized hotel. I wish I knew more of the language so that I could get a little closer. I'd like to appreciate more thoroughly what it is to live here. Maybe on my next trip.

Sometimes, a 300mm lens is long enough to capture the picture, but not necessarily the story behind it.

Your turn: So, your turn to take over...what's this guy's story?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Young faithful

Puppy awaits his masters
London, ON, right now

It's 8:05 p.m. The kids are riding their bikes in front of the house. Frasier sits on his leash by the curb, waiting for everyone to return.

This isn't a huge moment in anyone's life. It's merely a moment. But as I sit on the lawn and watch our brood enjoy a warm evening under a clear blue sky, I decide that even suppposedly "mere" moments deserve to be remembered and recorded.

Your turn: If all the bits and bytes work as they should, this entry will float from my Motorola Q and onto my blog, thus making this my official moblogging (mobile blogging) debut. What other vignettes from afar should I capture next?

TV interview available here

The Business News Network television interview that I touched on in yesterday's entry is now available online. The show was called The Business News with Howard Green. Click here to load the entire hour-long broadcast stream. Use the slider at the find the interview within the show. It's starts at about 36:13 in and runs to 45:07.

Cool note: it was a round-table that included industry analyst Rob Enderle. This was my first time speaking directly opposite this well-known analyst.

Your turn: Apple's massively hyped iPhone ships in the U.S. on June 29. What's your take on it?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Green chair on Dufferin

Streetscape, sitting down
London, ON, April 2007 [Click to enlarge]

Quick note before I continue: If you hang in till the end of this entry, you'll see a pretty neat media announcement. Seriously. I don't use the words "pretty" and "neat" together in a sentence unless it's really pretty. And really neat. OK, on with the show...
A couple of months back, I found myself cycling to my now-former workplace through a gradually worsening drizzle. I was in the home stretch, accelerating through the final kilometer so that I could avoid further soakage (there I go inventing words again.) The slick roads demanded my attention, as did the rain-speckled watch on my right wrist. It was 9:11 a.m. I was late. Oops.

A slash of unreal green suddenly appeared in the gray distance. As I approached, I saw a discarded wooden chair sitting by the roadside. It wasn't garbage day in this sector, but someone obviously couldn't wait to get rid of this broken relic.

I wondered whether or not to shoot it. I hardly had the time, and an ever-growing To Do list awaited me at my desk. But the bright green chair burned in my brain as it quickly slipped behind my right shoulder. Logic told me to keep turning the pedals, but emotion said it would bug me all morning if I didn't take the shot. I convinced myself that I could shoot quickly and be on my way in mere seconds, so I carefully squeezed the brakes and looped back.

In the end, I got to see an old street through a frame that wasn't there the previous day, and would likely, I thought, be gone by lunch. Sure enough, as I cycled home later that day, the chair was gone. I'm glad I took the chance.

Your turn: When time is short, do you stop and shoot? Why?

One more thing: I no longer commute to this office, because I no longer work there. Click here and here if you're just joining us and haven't heard about the big changes in my career over the last month or so.

OK, I lied, here's a second thing: If you live in Canada, you may want to tune into the Business News Network (BNN, formerly known as Report on Business Television) later today (Monday) at 7:05 p.m. ET. I'm being interviewed by Howard Green and will be talking about Apple as its Worldwide Developers Conference gets underway. This interview will mark my first major TV hit under my new role. I'll post a link to the interview once it's available on BNN's web site.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Caption This 22

Please name this picture [See below for details]
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

It's difficult to look at a sign like this and not feel a happy warm thought. The pedestrian mall where this sign was installed was choked with people, but what stuck in my mind was how family-friendly it was, with places to sit, covered/shaded areas for protection from the sub-tropical sun and easy-to-access tram service (driven by crazy people, but that's a story for another day.) I took these kids-on-the-street images not too far away from this sign.

The question is, can you come up with a cool name or caption for this image? See this entry for all the details of how Caption This works. See here for last week's entry. Speaking of which, please drop by JC's site, Castleruins, to share a congrats or two for this winning entry: Uh-oh, she's gonna blow!

Bonus points if you bring a friend or reluctant family member along: I'm not above bribery, after all. As always, you can submit as many comments as you'd like.

Happy captioning, everyone. I'll post the winner next Sunday, along with yet another CT entry.

Your turn: Submit your best caption(s) and may the best blogger win. Oh, and have fun with it.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Pier 14

Late afternoon shadows
San Francisco, CA, March 2007 [Click all images to enlarge]

The sun does remarkable things when it first appears in the morning and again when it winks out at the end of the day. The low-angled light paints memorable pictures in ways that just aren't apparent around midday. So when I walked onto San Francisco's Pier 14 in the late afternoon and saw the shadows, I knew I had stumbled on something worth capturing.

I also have a particular fondness for repeating patterns (see here and here for past examples) so I hung around the railings for a little while longer and appreciated their shape.

While I was there, a couple of businessmen walked up to me and asked me if I was some sort of famous photographer. They seemed genial enough, so I bantered with them for a bit while I shot. They offered to take my picture, but I politely declined: first, I prefer to be behind the lens and not in front of it. Second, the thought of handing my camera to complete strangers makes me cringe. Not gonna happen. Ever.

So off they went. And when they got out of frame, I took this image of a seemingly abandoned stretch of land that wouldn't exist without the genius of some marine engineers and the dedication of a group of long-gone construction workers. Jutting out into an endlessly beautiful body of water, it's the kind of place I'd come back to again and again if I lived here.

Your turn: Where do you return to time and again for inspiration?

Friday, June 08, 2007

A river runs through it

S curve
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

I evolved a little tradition when I was in China. I'd wake up really early - which wasn't overly difficult given how messed up my internal clock was from being in a time zone 12 hours ahead of home - and head up to the top floor of the 66-storey hotel. From there, I'd scan the city and capture the hazy images of a megalopolis getting ready for another busy day (see here for another image shot from here.)

Beyond the overt goal of bringing back some decent pictures, I felt like I was committing the feeling of this place to memory - if such a thing is possible (is it? Do share...) This early-morning experience allowed me to pause and reflect in the midst of what was - and remains - an experience of a lifetime.

The river that gives this city its life seems almost peaceful as the rays of smog-blocked sun begin to wash over its surface. Although I'm sure anyone foolhardy enough to swim in it would likely grow a third arm, it was postcard perfect from my quiet little spot in the sky.

Your turn: Do you stop and reflect on a place when you're travelling? How do you slow things down so you don't forget what it felt like to be there?

Flattened fish

Fishy perspective
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click for bigger fishies]

Remember the original Superman movie when the nasty guys were cast away from the planet Krypton? One of the enduring images from that film was when they were floating end-over-end through space, seemingly stuck inside a gigantic pane of glass. Or so it seemed: special effects were so primitive back then, and I was just a kid. So maybe my memories got fuzzed up in the process.

Wikipedia, keeper of all modern knowledge and then some, says it's something called the Phantom Zone. Um, OK.

Either way, the hotel I stayed in had this amazing aquarium in the rotunda where the conference was being held. It was composed of four enormous square glass pillars, all connected overhead by four similarly massive constructs of glass. Imagine the Arche de Triomphe, rendered completely in glass, reduced in size, then plunked down in the middle of a hotel lobby. Bad analogy, I know, but it was still the neatest aquarium I've ever seen.

This photo is a low-oblique view of one of the overhead segments. I am vertically challenged on the best of days, so this is as close as I could get to the fish when they decided to head up top. I really like what the angled glass did to the swimming creatures. I hope you do, too.

Your turn: The appeal of an aquarium. Please discuss.

One more thing: The Space Shuttle Atlantis is scheduled to fly tonight. I'm a space-head, and I get excited whenever humans leave the planet. Yesterday's entry, Divine Vessel, referred to the English translation of the name of China's Shenzhou manned space capsules. I thought it would be appropriate to slip in a bit of a Chinese-spacey reference. Go flight, and godspeed, Atlantis.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Divine vessel

More than just wine
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

I'll fess up now: I like simple images. Strong shapes and colors often seem to be more memorable than jumbles of either. So as I sat at dinner with the other members of Team Canada, I found myself looking at my wine glass and wondering what it was about the backlighting that made it look so darn cool.

Your turn: What does photographic simplicity look like to you? Is this image really as simple as it first appears?

One more thing: Feel free to share a thought on the title of this blog entry. I'll give you a cryptic hint: There's a Chinese connection. I've also explored wine glass stems before. Do you? Will you?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A scene from an airport

Liquid metal?
Toronto, Ontario, Canada, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

The scene:
May 11th, 6:22 p.m. EDT. I've just deplaned from one of the longest direct flights in existence: a 14+ hour monster of a hop from Shanghai to Toronto. I've already said goodbye to the rest of my Canadian travel companions, most of whom live in the Toronto area. I'm alone in Pearson International Airport, and I've got a few minutes to kill before I report to my gate for the last quick flight to London, a mere 170 km away.

I am, in a word, exhausted. But I still find myself fascinated by the architecture of this new terminal. I used to fly through the very old, very dowdy, and now very decommissioned Terminal 2. So the spanking new Terminal 1 is a revelation for my tired eyes.

I see a relatively simple water fountain and decide it's worth trying to shoot. It's little more than water cascading down the inside of panes of glass, but its simplicity draws my eye. I drop the camera bag and all my assorted travel fixins to the floor and pull out the Nikon with the long lens. I'm standing about 20 feet away from my target, smack in the middle of a well-travelled pedestrian corridor. I garner a lot of funny stares for breaking the flow of traffic, but I'm too tired to really care. No one's wearing a security guard's outfit, so I'm good. For now, anyway.

I try a few different aperture/shutter speed settings to ensure I bring at least one workable image home. Five minutes later, I'm done. I toss the camera back in its bag, hoist everything back on my shoulder and slowly trudge to my gate. Another quick moment in a long trip that seems to have had many rich opportunities.

Your turn: What three words come to mind as you look at this image?

One more thing: I've gone lens-happy in airports before. Water seems to be a recurring theme. See here and here for more.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Publish Day - David Garrett

Recently, I wrote about the passing of David Garrett, an author and journalist I was privileged to call my friend. A few weeks ago, I was contacted by the editors of Certification Magazine to write a tribute to him in place of his regularly-scheduled monthly column. The June edition of the magazine is now out, and the piece can be found here. It is titled, simply:
David Garrett, 1973 – 2007
This article also marks the first piece published under my new role/title. Something tells me he'd find that neat, too.

Stay tuned after the piece for Your Turn.
Editor’s Note: In April, the editors at Certification Magazine were shocked and saddened to learn David Garrett, our columnist and a frequent contributor, had died. He was 33. We asked Carmi Levy, a friend of David’s and fellow author, to write a tribute in place of David’s monthly column, Consultant’s Corner.

The only certainty in life is that someday it will end. Because no one is supposed to get out alive, you’d think people would be better able to accept the finality of death.

But some deaths hurt more than others. When someone dies before we assume folks are supposed to go, we feel as if something has been left on the table.

David Garrett’s passing at age 33 left a lot of things on the table. He wasn’t just a columnist for this magazine and a keen observer of that murky topical zone where technology and culture intersect. He was my friend. As a senior analyst for a technology research firm, I had lots of professional reasons to cross David’s path. He often called me to get my perspectives on articles he was writing. From our first conversation, it was obvious he liked what he heard because he kept calling me back.

After giving him the pithy quote that he needed to plug into an article, we’d often keep talking about technology and the fact that we both spent so much time explaining it to the masses. About family and the fact that technology made it easier to stay in touch with them, even when we were far away. About friendship and the powerful connections he made with people he would have otherwise never known.

Writers often use small groups of trusted friends to “blue sky” their future ideas, to refine what they’re going to work on and get a feel for whether an idea should see the light of day. It was during our regular after-interview chats that some of his — and my — best ideas for future writing were hatched and refined. It was always fascinating to speak with someone whose mind was always on, always searching for that next big thing to figure out with his pen.

As such, David wrote prolifically. A book he co-wrote, “Herding Chickens,” gave guidance to project managers in a voice not often heard in this typically staid discipline. His columns and articles were widely published in a range of tech media.

As with any other tech writer, David explained “the what.” Unlike most other tech writers, he dug deeper, explaining why all this mattered, and what it meant to the rest of us. While the rest of the tech press was focusing on outright performance of the latest widget, David was researching what happened when said widget made it into the real world and was used by mere mortals. Martha in accounting mattered more to him than Intel’s latest announcement.

I was privileged to meet him when we were in Florida a couple of years back. When we realized I was going to be vacationing near his home, we arranged to meet for lunch. He came to my in-laws’ house with gifts for my three children — stuffed animals they cherish to this day — and we spent hours chatting about whatever it is that writers chat about.

Ever since, we never spoke without him asking about my wife and children. After I published a column about our youngest son, he sent me a painstakingly created, framed, four-color treatment of the picture I had used to accompany it. He was empathetically kind in a way that most people these days are not.

David had moved back to Atlanta a few months before his death. His father was ill, and he needed to be there for him. This was typical of him — thinking of others before thinking of himself. He maintained a heavy writing schedule despite the obvious weight on his shoulders. The conversations never changed, though. He still wanted to know about everyone else’s life and hesitated to share the challenges of his own.

I was raised to believe the typical life should last about 70 or 80 years. Against that base line, David’s 33 years are significantly tragic. I think of the words he would have written and the lives he would have touched.

But as initial shock gives way to resignation, I realize his passing heralds a beginning of sorts. In his relatively brief life, David brought together a huge cross-section of professionals, writers, academics and technologists who have been grieving virtually via e-mail, blogs and instant messaging. He always had hoped his circle would somehow create something greater than the sum of the parts he worked so hard to piece together. He left a lot of things on the table. Something tells me the work is only just starting.

Carmi Levy is senior vice president of Strategic Consulting for AR Communications Inc., a Toronto-based marketing communications company specializing in strategic consulting and marketing services. He can be reached at
Your turn: Thoughts?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Curvy rear view

Air Canada Airbus A340 awaiting departure
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

By now, my little addiction to all things aviation is pretty much an open secret. When I'm in airports, I often risk the wrath of security personnel by taking out a fairly conspicuous camera and pointing it at the lovely expensive machines parked just outside.

I thought about whether I should do this in a Chinese airport. After a recent trip to Boston, I read in the paper online about someone who was detained by Logan Airport security for taking pictures of aircraft. This individual was taking pictures a short walk from where I had taken this image that same afternoon. I shuddered as I thought that it could have been me.

So here I was in China a few months later, and the scene presented itself anew. The good angel said I should respect local rules and customs and keep the camera down. The bad angel said the aircraft waiting to take us home was just too photo-worthy to miss. I had never flown a 340 before, and its curves were just so...I don't know, European! In the end, the bad angel managed to get me to snap off a quick sequence while I waited in line for the last gate-level security check. Not one official so much as batted an eyelash, but the passengers in back of me seemed to find my in-terminal photography session to be quite entertaining.

Your turn: To shoot or not to shoot. That is the question... Where do you stand on the issue?

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Caption This 21

Please name this image [See below for deets]
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to enlarge]

I am fascinated by the unpredictability of the slice-of-life shot. When people are simply going about their business and a camera quietly records the scene from far away, the results are often so much more entertaining than when the camera is obvious to all.

I shot this one from the window of the bus on the way in from the airport (see here for another image from the same series.) What stuck in my mind was how different the look on each person's face was, and how I could spend hours staring at this picture coming up with stories for them. But this is Caption This. It's not about me: it's about you. It's your turn to come up with some witty words for this image.

But before you do, I need to ramble a bit. It's Sunday, and I'm in the middle of a major life change, so I figure I can spill a few more words before I turn things over to you. Here's the deal: Photography tells the stories of lives; of people we know and love, as well as of complete strangers we'll likely never see again. I wonder where these folks are now, and what they're doing, and what they'd think if they knew that for 1/500 of a second at 5:22 on the afternoon of May 7, 2007, an unseen stranger from far away captured a fleeting moment as they waited for the light to change.

Your turn: I'm hoping you'll take a crack at the stories of these folks. How would you caption this image? See here for instructions on how to play Caption This. Submit your best shot - or many best shots - in a comment here, and I'll post the winner next Sunday. Fame, fortune, and my eternal adulation await.

Oh yes, last week's winner! Remember last week's image? Leanne coined the topper of a very strong bunch of submissions: Do you think he knows his fly is open? When I first took the image, I was stymied by the presence of all sorts of people in the foreground - Shanghai is, after all, an amazingly crowded place. I couldn't crop the guy on the right out, and Leanne's submission was the only one that recognized this seemingly foreign presence. I liked the dimensionality of her words, and I hope they inspire you to come up with something similarly scintillating for this week's image. OK, I'm done yakking. Over to you...

Saturday, June 02, 2007

A good yarn

Colorful scene from a market table
Shanghai, China, May 2007 [Click to embiggen]

I walk more slowly than most. When I was a kid, it was because my hips were screwy. Eventually, that got fixed, but I continued to walk like a turtle. See, I'm an observer. I stare at things as I walk by. I often pause to mull over a given scene while whoever I might be with continues ahead.

I know that this can be annoying. Perhaps to keep the annoyance to a minimum, my wife has evolved The Look. I know that whenever she gives it to me, I've pushed it too far, and must get my legs moving again.

But this day - May 8th - was my birthday, and I found myself half a world away from her, walking through a market teeming with scenes that competed for my eye's attention. This colorful slice beckoned from a nearby table. I captured it quickly before scooting to rejoin my colleagues.

Your turn: What captures your eye as you walk along a busy street?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Carmi has left the building

Had an interesting day at work today. After giving my notice a couple of weeks ago (click here if you're just joining the fun), I started in motion a chain of events that led up to today, my last day as a full-time employee of Info-Tech.

My wife came by the office at the end of the day after picking up our two youngest at school. Of course, they wanted to come into the building to see it for one last time. They wandered upstairs with me and helped me carry the last couple of armfuls of things from my office. The "I love you, Dad" mousepad that my son had made me a couple of years back was the last thing I picked up. He said he was glad that I used it, and glad that I was bringing it home to my "new" office.

We said our last good-byes, my soon-to-be-former colleagues smiling at the sight of two munchkins who sorta looked like me. Their voices echoed through the usually corporate surroundings, adding a small touch of innocence to a place that's usually home to intense work and focus.

As we walked out of the building, they waved goodbye to it, their voices echoing off of the grand columns of the lovingly restored mansion. It may have been my name on the employee's list, but in the end this transition is as much theirs as it is mine. May our journey always be charmed, and may I always be able to find the wisdom to guide my family on its journey.

Your turn: How should I spend the weekend?

Update from the world of media: Tekrati is reporting my departure in this entry: Carmi Levy departs Info-Tech Research Group. Neat!