Saturday, January 31, 2009

Power and light

Simplicity in the morning
London, ON, January 2009

I've written previously about how little I like mornings. I enjoy my sleep, and don't much look forward to the moment when it has to end.

Despite this, I enjoy driving our kids to school. It's time with them that I never had when I worked outside the house, and even though it lasts for barely a half-hour and is often spent trying to keep coffee-drinking, thumb-texting motorists from slamming into us, it reinforces why the work-life balance I sought for so long is so welcome now.

After I walk them into the school yard and forlornly stare at them as they bounce off with their friends, I like to slowly walk back to the car. It's that morning thing again: rushing things won't get my day off to a better start. Sometimes I feel inspired to pull the camera out and capture something in the parking lot. Like all stretches of uninspired asphalt, it's a desolate place seemingly devoid of anything worth shooting.

But sometimes...

Your turn: Finding inspiration in an uninspiring place. Please discuss.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Because plumbers are people, too

You know that feeling of impending dread you get when you realize something in the house isn't working as it should? It's one of the worst places to be when you own a home. As you watch the [fill in failure mode here...icicle-bound furnace, leaky toilet, shattered window, backed up sink...] you begin to make a mental calculation of what all this is going to cost you.

So as I watched the drain in our kitchen sink gradually slow down over a period of weeks, I hoped, in that knowingly hopeless way that all unhandy homeowners do, that it would magically fix itself. Basic Drano delayed the inevitable, but when it completely stopped draining at 9:39 p.m. one night last week, I knew it was time to get jiggy with it.

I noodled around under the vanity and felt water on the outside of the pipes (uh oh). I looked up at the underside of the basket, where the drain joins the pipe, and saw light (double uh oh.) The threaded connector to the basket had rusted out and was leaking. Two problems in one...oh joy!

It was now 9:45. The hardware store closed at 10. I snapped a few photos of the pipes and sink and tore out of the house. Got there with a couple of minutes to spare, and a very helpful employee, Rod, talked me through everything I needed to know about replacing the basket and clearing the blockage using the little opening at the bottom of the trap. He called it something complex-sounding. I nodded like an obedient puppy before disappearing into the bitterly cold night.

Back home, I dismantled the whole enchilada and prayed to the plumbing gods that I'd somehow manage to get it all back together again. I opened the bottom thingie (scientific term, apparently) without crushing it with my pliers and rooted around with my trusty auger (so that's what it's used for!) We won't discuss what I pulled out of the trap, or how I almost gave up when, after test-draining it for the eighth time, I realized I had managed to move the blockage well downstream and virtually out of reach.

By now my hands were filthy, and my back was aching from twisting every which way under the cabinet. Yet for some reason I wasn't ticked off. I'm not sure why, but I felt like a kid playing with Lego. Adult Lego. Very expensive Lego. And the initial terror of flooding the basement and making my family homeless had been replaced with a "work the problem" mentality. I knew I could do this. It would probably be a little ugly, and any plumber worth his salt would laugh at my ineptitude. Manyana, I thought. This is what adulthood looks like. And I like it.

After a couple of hours of slow progress - using the auger, my finger and various other implements to gradually extract, um, stuff from the pipe - I finally managed to get it delightfully clear. Water flowed again. The dishwasher was no longer hobbled. My wife was happy. My kids weren't flooded out and homeless. I wasn't facing a huge plumbing bill.

It felt good to have fixed it with my own hands. For once, anyway.

Your turn: Do you DIY? Why/why not?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

On some wind and a prayer

Come sail away
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2008

Because we're keeping things simple this week, I wanted to share a memorably simple - or is it simply memorable? Whatever... - moment with you. I tend to get reflective whenever I stand beside a large body of water. This day was no different as I watched our kids bounce through the surf, seemingly absorbing the energy of this place. The complexities of life didn't seem to matter a whole lot here. In their place, I held on to a shortened list of priorities:
  1. Make sure they're safe.
  2. Make sure they're happy.
  3. Make sure they remember what it felt like to be here.
That was it. Everything else was immaterial.

So when this sailboat slowly came into view, I was immediately touched by how elemental it seemed. Some wind, a sail, a whole lot of water, and a bunch of time. Mix liberally and enjoy. I thought it might make a nice composition, something to help me return to that simple place in the weeks and months ahead, after we all returned to the real world.

Your turn: Where's this craft headed? Care to invent a story for the passengers?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thematic Photographic 34 - Simple

Looking back on a friendlier era
Delray Beach, FL, December 2008 [Click to embiggen]

This week's Thematic Photographic theme, simple, can take on many forms. It could be something physically simple - like a pencil or a child's favorite stuffed animal - or it could reflect a simpler time. It's painfully obvious where I'm going with the kickoff photo, but you are, as always, completely free to interpret the theme as you see fit.

Your turn: If you've got a photo of something simple in your archives or in your imagination, I hope you'll share it on your blog, then leave a link to the entry in a comment here. For further background on how Thematic Photographic works, read on. (For a peek at last week's entry, click here):
  • Every Wednesday evening, at precisely 7 o'clock Eastern, I post a new Thematic Photographic entry.
  • Each entry has a unique theme. This week's is...simple.
  • You post a similarly themed image over on your blog.
  • You paste a link to your entry in a comment here.
  • If you've already posted something that fits (on a blog, Facebook, MySpace, wherever) simply post the link to the existing entry. Old or new, all photos are welcome.
  • You may post as many photos or links as you wish. For the next week, I'll be supporting this theme with a related picture/posting each day. I encourage you to do the same. This is all about sharing, so feel free to share to your heart's content!
  • Please share this link with friends, too, and encourage them to join in. The more, the merrier.
  • And please accept my thanks for your enthusiasm. Your participation has made TP a true highlight for me each and every week.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Meet Darwin

Say hello to my little friend
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2008 [Click to enlarge]

I've always wanted a pet dolphin. I know the logistics of my wish are simply impossible for anyone short of Donald Trump to fulfill. And even if I could afford a tank big enough to hold one, my wife would likely - and rightfully - veto any adoption proceedings.

But seeing one amble past the beach just after sunrise is a blessing that's difficult to describe. We named him "Darwin" because it just sounded right. He hung around for a bit, playing in the distant water, almost asking for us to appreciate his presence. We did, and won't soon forget our chance encounter where one world ends and another begins. Safe travels, our mammalian friend.

Your turn: This photo supports the most recent Thematic Photographic theme, surprise. To share yours, please click here. Our next TP theme goes live tomorrow (Wednesday) at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. If you'd like to chew on next week's theme, it's simple.

No, really, that's it: simple.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Seeing things in rock. Next Geraldo.

Do you see what I see?
Deerfield Beach, FL
December 2008
Click all images to embiggen]

Continuing this week's surprise theme - and building on the I-see-things-in-the-rock storyline I started here - I wanted to share these two images captured while I was at the beach.

At regular intervals, the powers-that-be have installed these large piles of rock (yes, I'm so geologically precise) to, I guess, prevent beach sand erosion and give naughty teenagers a really painful place to make out.

Quick pause for a bit of edumacation: Because I play a journalist on television, I looked it up. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection's (FDEP) Bureau of Beaches and Coastal Systems has something called the Beach Erosion Control Program, or BECP (say it 10 times fast...go!) For more background on this, click here. Kinda puts a new spin on that beef burrito you left in the sand after your last game of drunken hacky sack. End pause.

In the late afternoon sun, you see things in the rock faces that you just wouldn't see earlier. (Please, no drinking jokes. I stuck to juice that day.) Next time I'm there, I think I need to eyeball every last rockpile from one end of the beach to the other. Maybe not.

Your turn: Do you see anything in this pic? Do you see two things? Are your eyes hurting from squinting so much? Should I stop this now?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Caption This 105

Please caption this image
[Click here for Caption This instructions]
Deerfield Beach, FL
January 2009

About this photo: We're exploring surprise-themed pictures all week long in support of Thematic Photographic. If you've got a photo that just kinda happened out of nowhere, I hope you'll click here and share it with us. But first, we caption...
There's something innately sad about an old television. So when we pulled into the parking spot late at night and saw this formerly miraculous piece of technology sitting unplugged and alone in front of the faded garage door, my heart gave a little pull as I made a mental note to capture it the next morning.

Tomorrow came and before I knew it, we heard the garbage truck rumble down the street. I scrambled outside, barefoot, camera in hand, and waved at the very friendly garbageperson. He smiled back and bowed graciously as he asked what I use my camera for, where I share my pictures and what I prefer to shoot. We chatted animatedly - an amazing thing, this spontaneous connection with total strangers - and he offered to position the crane just so for the perfect shot.

I got the shot. And a memory of a unique individual that won't soon fade.

Your turn: Please suggest a caption for this photo. Play as often as you like, and feel free to be as creative, funny or poignant as you wish. Anything goes! For more background on how Caption This works, please click here. Can't wait to see what y'all come up with this week!

About last week's photo of a forgotten gas pump: I wish I could have spent more time in this place. I don't know why broken down urban architecture fascinates me so. I'm not morbid or perpetually depressed. I simply find that my mind races when I'm immersed in landscapes like this. Thanks for indulging my slightly out-there passion. Oh, almost forgot this week's honorable menschens (slap!) Here we go...
  • Terri: "It's been a gas."
  • Awareness: "Out of gas."
  • David's "Drive like its only $1.999!" and Terri's "Fill'er up like it's 1999" (both so Prince-like!)
  • Christine Gram: "Busted."
Pamela takes it with "Fossil Fuel." Those two words sum up how I felt as I quietly wandered this ruined patch of the planet. I hope whoever takes over this property turns it into something a little friendlier for the rest of us.

Pamela is a grandma who lives in the U.S. northwest and never fails to provoke thought on her blog, The Dust Will Wait. I find her an absolute delight to read, and am sure you will, too.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Think Different + 25: the Mac marks a major milestone

January 24, 1984 was a big day for geeks. That's when Apple introduced the Macintosh, an odd-looking computer that redefined how we use technology.

Up until the Mac's arrival, computers were arcane pieces of technology that demanded a fair bit of expertise from their users. The Mac rewrote the rules, introduced the masses to the mouse, the graphical user interface and a consistent approach to software design and data portability.

Contrary to popular belief, Apple did not invent all these capabilities. Rather, it packaged them in a platform that moved all these technologies from the lab to the average person's desktop. The Mac made computing human-scaled, and the rest of the industry has been tremendously influenced by this unassuming beige box ever since.

It seems like yesterday that the Mac was the droolworthy object of desire of a much younger me. Time indeed flies when you're having fun.

Happy birthday, Mac. May we have countless more years of thinking different ahead of us.

Your turn: Are you a Mac or a PC person? Why/why not?

Thin Lizzy

Small, curly and sorta cute
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2008 [Click to embiggen]

Continuing this week's theme of "surprise", I was minding my own business on a boardwalk overlooking the beach when I heard some muttering coming from behind me. It's a funny thing, this muttering: we seem to be born with a sixth sense that allows us to detect when something's not quite as it should be. People's voices change as soon as they see something that deviates from the routine, and this bright morning by the ocean was no different.

I knew something was going on. So I turned around and saw some folks pointing down at the ground. My sun-blinded eyes at first couldn't see anything. But it didn't take long before this little fellow (fellowette?) came into focus. Sweet, isn't it?

I know it's just a lizard, and this part of the world probably has more of 'em than it needs. I know its brain is barely the size of an apple seed. But I still felt a twinge of sadness go through me as I wondered whether it feared suddenly being in the middle of so many pointing fingers.

Balancing my wish to remember the moment with a wish to not impose any more stress on him/her, I gingerly reached for my camera, zoomed in as best I could and squeezed the shutter a few times before watching him/her skitter into the sandy grass.

Your turn: Meeting up with animals. Please discuss. (Bonus points if you touch on the title of this entry.)

One more thing: More Obama/BlackBerry fun abounds. I'll be on the 6 and 11:30 p.m. newscasts tonight on Kitchener-Waterloo's CKCO CTV affiliate.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obamaberry, B'rackberry*, whatever

So President Barack Obama gets to keep his BlackBerry after all. Cool. Cooler is he's got the same one that I do, an 8830 World Edition. I'm not sure why that excites me so. It's not like it's an iPhone, and it doesn't get me any more attention at parties. But I'll take anything I can get, and having something in common with the hippest leader in the hemisphere is a decent place to start.

But coolest is I got to chat, quickly, about it on CBC's The National earlier today. Ron Charles interviewed me for his piece that aired on our national public broadcaster's main evening newscast. I did the hit from our local Coffee Culture - seriously the best office-away-from-home you could ever ask for - and was privileged to have our youngest son with me (story for another day.) Here are links to a few resources where I've been quoted/interviewed:
Your turn: After generations of presidents who wouldn't know an e-mail inbox from a U.S. Postal Service logo, what do you think about a leader who's clearly pushing to be the most wired - and wireless - honcho out there?

* With thanks to my old friend from the old country, Gary Rush, for loaning me the word, "B'rackberry".

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Going up on a wall

In this week of surprises, I'm pleased as punch to share this one: a local studio, ArtVenture, is organizing a photo exhibit of my work. (Pause. Breathe. There, I'm good.)

The exhibit is called "Photography For The Rest Of Us" and it runs for three weeks between February 1 and 21.

If you're anywhere near my burg during that time, I invite you for a personal, guided tour anytime you wish. And if you're not, rest assured that many of the 20 photos that will be on display have been or will be shared in this space as well.

Here's the link to the posting on

Thank you to everyone who drops by for your ongoing encouragement. The incredible community that's grown out of this silly new media experiment of mine has given me the incentive to see where this photography thing can take me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thematic Photographic 33 - Surprise

Rock face
Renfro Valley/Mount Vernon, KY
December 2008 [Click to enlarge]

About this photo: This week's new Thematic Photographic theme, surprise, touches on moments that seem to happen, almost magically, out of nowhere. Have you ever taken a picture of something neat, something unexpected or just something that stuck in your mind as totally worth remembering because it was so improbable? If you have, I hope you'll share it with us. Please scroll down for more details on how TP works.
The scene: It's just after 5 p.m. We've left the massive blizzard and ice storm now battering our hometown behind us and are finally enjoying the relatively warm and dry I-75 deep in the Kentucky mountains. The combination of an 8-year-old-boy and too much apple juice at lunch means another unplanned pit stop. Which is fine, because we're all exhausted, and a few minutes of walking around a parking lot will be good for me.

We take an exit carved out of rock and soon find ourselves in a shadowy spot behind an old Shell station. As Debbie heads inside with the kids, I get out of the car for a quick stretch. As usual, I find myself staring at everything. There's an old restaurant perched precariously on the edge of the hill that looms over my head. That same hill casts a deepening late afternoon shadow over the parking lot, painting everything with a curious mixture of blue-gray that on any other day would seem dull.

Despite being out of the way, this place is hopping. Pickup trucks endlessly pull up to the pumps and local folks chat with each other as they make their way to and from the cashier inside. I'm in a different world than I'm used to, and I realize I could get used to being here a little while longer.

My eye catches something on the sheer rock face at the edge of the lot. It's getting darker by the second, and I'm not sure why I keep staring at that spot. But there's something there. My brain chews on it for a while before it spits out the obvious: a face!

And no one seems to notice. Deep in the middle of seemingly nowhere, in the shadows of an old, bustling gas station, I seem to have found a piece of geological coolness. I feel like I have a big secret as I reach for my camera and fight the deepening light to capture the moment. When Debbie and the kids return, we discuss the happenstance of this experience, and we all agree it was a good thing Noah had that extra bit of juice at lunch.

Your turn: Please share a "surprise" moment or image with us. Here's how Thematic Photographic works:
  • Every Wednesday evening, at precisely 7 o'clock Eastern, I post a new Thematic Photographic entry.
  • Each entry has a unique theme. This week's is...surprise.
  • You post a similarly themed image over on your blog.
  • You paste a link to your entry in a comment here.
  • If you've already posted something that fits (on a blog, Facebook, MySpace, wherever) simply post the link to the existing entry. Old or new, all photos are welcome.
  • You may post as many photos or links as you wish. For the next week, I'll be supporting this theme with a related picture/posting each day. I encourage you to do the same. This is all about sharing, so feel free to share to your heart's content!
  • Please share this link with friends, too, and encourage them to join in. The more, the merrier.
  • And please accept my thanks for your enthusiasm. Your participation has made TP a true highlight for me each and every week.

Treasure hunter

It's gotta be here somewhere
Deerfield Beach, FL
December 2008
[Click to embiggen]
About this photo: We've been exploring "aged" photos all week long, and this one completes the cycle. I'll be posting a new Thematic Photographic entry tonight at 7:00 Eastern, but wanted to get one last one in before we switch over. Our next theme? Surprise. No, I'm not holding back on ya. The actual theme is "surprise"...scenes and photos that come about in an unplanned, fatefully cool manner. If you can't wait till tonight, head over here.
Every time I go to the beach, I come across at least one person - often more - with a metal detector. Almost like clockwork, they'll show up toward the end of the day as regular beachgoers are packing up and heading home. Also like clockwork, I'll feel a slight twinge in my heart, hoping that they're here because it's a fun way to stay active and not because they actually have to.

There's something sad in the way they methodically walk the beach, endlessly waving their detector back and forth. Their eyes are focused downward, almost deliberately avoiding contact with anyone around them. This is as solitary and quiet an activity as you'll see in a place that otherwise seems to encourage togetherness and noise - well, at least for my kids. Even they stop in their tracks as this gentleman slowly shuffles past and whisper in our ears:
  • Noah: "Is there buried treasure on this beach?"
  • Dahlia: "What's he looking for? I hope he finds it."
  • Noah: "If he finds something, can he keep it?"
  • Dahlia: "Is he okay?"
Our daughter's last question lingers with me long after I've snapped off a series of pictures before he disappears down the beach, sealed in his headphones and completely unaware of my kids' fascination. I find myself hoping that even if he finds nothing under the sand, he nevertheless goes home with something - indeed, anything - that makes the time spent by the water worthwhile.

Your turn: Looking for the needle in a haystack. Please discuss.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

History in the social media age

Like most of the rest of the free world, I find myself watching the inauguration ceremonies in Washington. For some reason, technology and culture always seem to influence my thinking at moments like this. Today's no different. Here's a snippet...

One of the benefits of being alive at this point in history is the pace with which technology evolves - and the pace with which this evolution is reshaping how we experience the world.

That reshaping touches us every day in fairly mundane ways, of course, but we tend to notice it most around significant historical events. You know where you were on 9/11. You remember how you first heard about the Challenger explosion. You remember when a friend first used Facebook to share pictures of her newborn child...right from the hospital.

Today's another one of those milestones in technocultural history, where the shifting mix of media richly colors how we experience the day. Already in the run-up to today's inauguration of Barack Obama as U.S. President, I touched off a bit of a kerfuffle on my Facebook page with a status update yesterday. Here's what I said last night, tongue firmly in cheek:
I hear tomorrow's some kind of important day. Can't quite put my finger on it...
Before long, contradictory responses zinged across the page. Politics conflicted with the personal as folks from many of my circles intersected in a spontaneous argument over the significance and meaning of America's new leader.

This kind of discussion would not have been possible when the last president was crowned. The game seems to change, radically, with each major historical milestone. Indeed, one wonders how technology will influence our discussion four years from now.

Your turn: How will it evolve? Where's the new/social media revolution taking us?

One more thing: Do you do Facebook? Twitter? Click the links to if you find yourself in need of even more static from me.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Old media meets new...

Read it in the Saturday paper
London, ON, January 2009

Woke up on Saturday to a cool surprise when I opened up our paper, the London Free Press. A passage from this humble little blog had been included in the Best of the Blogs roundup.

Thanks to the paper's senior online editor, Dan Brown, for making my day. His blog, Cool Blog Name to Come, is a great window into the blogosphere here in my quiet (okay, not so quiet) burg.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Caption This 104

Please caption this image
[Click here for Caption This instructions]
Williamsburg, KY, January 2009
About this photo: Thematic Photographic explores "aged" photos all week long. If you've got a similarly-themed perspective that you'd like to share - and I hope you do - please head over here. But only after you share a caption, of course. On with the show...
It's day 2 on our way home from Florida. The rain-soaked fog of the night before has turned into monumentally blinding fog through the rolling hills of northern Georgia and the mountains of Tennessee. By the time we get to Kentucky, my knuckles are white from the drive and I'm ready for a break.

As we get off the interstate, my wife notices an abandoned old gas station just off to the right. From the moment she mentions how neat it would be to get pictures of it, my mind races. On the one hand, we're in the middle of a 2,400-kilometer drive and we hardly have time to waste on photo shoots of ruined urban architecture - or much else, for that matter. On the other hand, when else are we going to have the opportunity?

My understanding wife agrees to let me run across the way for a quick photo shoot while she picks up some mid-trip snacks with the kids. Her last words of advice to me as I giddily set off: "Don't get into a fight with anyone when you're there."

No worries: the place is as devoid of life as the cemetery next door. I walk its crumbling, rusting remains, doing my best to grab every last perspective in the shortest amount of time. In the end, it takes me 11 minutes to bring home 45 pictures. We may get into our driveway a little later than planned, but something tells me it's immaterial. With my wife's blessing, I seized the day and got to experience something unique in a faraway place. Now, I hope you'll help me put words to the images. Please read on.

Your turn: Please suggest a caption for this photo. You can be funny, poignant, or any other emotion you wish. You can submit one or you can submit dozens. All I ask is that you keep it family-friendly - our youngest son reads this! - and that you have fun with it. I'll announce a winner next Sunday. And as added incentive, all winners from this point forward will be added to my new-and-improved blogroll. I'll also add you to my "Follow" list. (Sorry, no free iPods...gotta feed my kids first. But if any sponsors are reading this, e-mail me.) If you're new to Caption This, click here for a glimpse at where it all started.

About last week's picture of a munchkin's hands: I liked this photo as soon as I shot it. So did everyone who visited, apparently, because the submissions were many and varied. Here's this week's honor roll of honorable menschens:
  • Mel Fraase: "Okay, now did you want your sandwich with butter or without?"
  • Me: "Today a sandcastle, tomorrow the world."
  • Judy: "The sands of time stop here."
  • Robin: "Mr. Sandman's hands."
  • Photowannabe: "The sands of time."
  • Hilary: "True grit."
  • PastorMac's Ann: "Instruments of construction...or destruction."
Strange Pilgram's "Nitty-Gritty" takes it this week. If you haven't yet seen her site, you must. She blogs from Italy, and her perspectives on life there are not to be missed. Click here to send her some bloggy appreciation from all of us at Written Inc.

Blast from the past

Not-so-obsolete nuke
Dalton, GA, January 2009

This is the microwave oven that greeted us in the otherwise new-looking hotel we stayed at on our way home from vacation earlier this month. Our kids weren't quite sure what to make of the dials and the lack of anything resembling a keypad or digital display.

I looked around the room because I thought Christopher Lloyd's Doc Brown character from Back to the Future was about to jump out from the drapes and freak me out with a ginormous "Great Scott!" before sweeping me away to his Mr. Fusion-equipped DeLorean DMC-12 for a quick trip back to the 1970s when these kind of radiation-leaking appliances were commonplace.

The irony of my taking this picture: our so-called "new" microwave heated its last (kosher) burrito as soon as we got back to the house. First order of business the next day was to buy a new one. So much for the supremacy of today's technology.

Your turn: Old technology that turns out to be better than the new. Please discuss.

One more thing: This photo is of something aged. So's this week's Thematic Photographic. Please go here for more. New Caption This goes up later today. Assuming the snow doesn't get me first!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Burger King vacates its throne

I've never been overly fond of fast food restaurants. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to appreciate everything that's wrong with them. Sure, they provide predictably consistent food at reasonable prices. But the cost on so many levels exceeds any net benefits these places may have.

Stand outside a drive-through at one of these places around dinnertime and you'll see a snippet of what I mean.

So I admit to having a bit of a negative bias every time I cross paths with a commercial or an ad for one of these places. Ronald McDonald is not my kids' friend, Wendy does not care about childhood obesity and the Burger King is not a benevolent leader of a peaceful kingdom. Feel-good spots with gently emotional piano chords playing over soft-faced parents sharing their deepest feelings about the impact of these familiar places on their family life won't change my mind, either. They exist to sell more lousy food to a population that can ill afford it. What else is there to say?

News this week that Burger King was ending its Whopper Sacrifice promotion made me smile a little bit. Whopper Sacrifice was a promotion that asked users to install a Facebook application which gave them credit for a free burger for every 10 friends they deleted from their friends list. To add insult to injury, the application would send these newly unfriended friends a cheeky message. Your so-called friend traded you for a sandwich. Nice.

I can go on about the privacy implications of this application, but that's not what's really at issue here. To put it bluntly, this was a mean-spirited way of promoting an artery-clogging sandwich. I guess the folks at Facebook eventually agreed, because they disabled the app last week.

Call me naive or just plain McCain-esque for the way I cling to my old fashioned beliefs like Linus holds onto his blanket. But using nastiness as the basis for a marketing message just doesn't do it for me. I know a lot of lazy marketing-minded folks out there will disagree with me. They'll say you need to amp up the volume if you're going to be heard in today's cluttered messaging environment.

My contention: you can connect with your audience just as effectively by not resorting to the kind of behaviors that would have gotten you permanently relocated to the hallway outside your Kindergarten class. And if you're not creative enough to manage that, maybe you're in the wrong field.

By my estimate, there are just over 23,000 folks out there who defriended over 230,000 folks out there and will soon be eating the fruits of their ill-gotten labor. From where I sit, I wouldn't want to be friends with any one of them.

Your turn: Am I too much of an Andy Rooney-like curmudgeon here?

Friday, January 16, 2009

Welcoming trees

Mournful greenery
Lowndes County/Valdosta, GA, I-75 northbound, January 2009 [Click to enlarge]
About this photo: This week's Thematic Photographic zooms in on "aged" photos. If you have one in your archives - or are conjuring up a scene in your mind - please head here to share your vision.
Just over the Florida-Georgia border, the Georgia Welcome Center offers delightfully clean bathrooms - complete with hurricane-force hand dryers that delighted our youngest son - along with homey wooden rocking chairs and benches, and enough pamphlets to clog the van for the rest of the drive home. It's offers just the right amount of temporary comfort when you're far from home.

And it has these freaky trees that seem to frame the parking lot. They hover over the parking spots like protective old men. Indeed, it's hard to imagine a time when these trees weren't here. They seem almost Pre-Cambrian. I wish we had more time to hang around and absorb the spirit of the place.

Your turn: An oasis in the middle of a long journey. Please discuss.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Steve Jobs, Nortel, a plane crash and Ricardo Montalban

It's been a nutty week. I'm coming down from juggling a zillion pieces of work and life, so I thought I'd toss a few milestones onto the screen because months from now, I think it'll be cool to look back at the week that was and remember what it was like to sit here on a cold winter's night and reflect on it all. Let's dive in, shall we?
  • Steve Jobs took a leave of absence from his job at the top of Apple. I'm already willing to lay odds - as if I'd even know how to do that, but work with me here - that he won't be back. And what of Apple's future? Whatever it is, it's just gotten that much more interesting to follow. Which means life's going to be more fun for me in the coming months. I chatted with BNN's Michael Kane about this on Jan. 5th. Here's the interview.
  • Nortel sought bankruptcy protection. This is another one of those things I've been chirping about for a while. It was only a matter of time before this train wreck of a process ended up here. And while it's sad for employees, shareholders and anyone else who appreciated Nortel for its role as a telecom pioneer in a country long seen as a world leader in ths space, it's difficult to ignore just how Darwinian the modern business world has become. And if you've become weak, stuff like this happens. Oops, almost forgot: I spoke with BNN's Michael Kane for his show, Lunch Money yesterday (spacecase that I am, I can't locate the clip - if anyone finds it, let me know) and Janet Babin interviewed me for National Public Radio's Marketplace (click here for story page and link to audio report.)
  • Ricardo Montalban passed away. While he may be best known for making "Corinthian leather" part of the modern lexicon, his most notable achievement is busting through Hollywood's stereotypes and becoming one of the first latino leading men in an industry that up until then didn't diverge much from the white guy motif. He'll be missed. The Cordoba? Not so much.
  • US Airways Flight 1549 crash-landed in the Hudson River, and everyone survived. Sometimes, you've just got to believe that miracles really do happen. Maybe I won't give up on the planet, after all. (More directly, I hope this convinces you to read the safety card, watch the demo, count rows and otherwise focus on the things you need to focus on the next time you get on a plane. The in-flight magazine can wait.)
Your turn: How's your week been so far?

One more thing: We're still taking Thematic Photographic submissions. The latest theme: "aged". Surely you can come up with something old, melancholy, wrinkled or otherwise forgotten. Head over here to get started.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Thematic Photographic 32 - Aged

Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2008 [Click to embiggen]

Last week's Thematic Photographic theme, new, resulted in so many evocative submissions that I thought we'd explore the opposite theme this week. But "old" doesn't really fit in this politically correct era. And my wife would smack me. So "aged" it is.

I'll go into detail on this photo in a future entry this week. For now, I hope you enjoy the mournful texture. And I hope it inspires you to share your own perspective on "aged" in the days to come.

Your turn: Got a photo somewhere - in your archives, in your head, wherever - that just screams "aged"? If so, this is your chance to share it. Once you've posted it on your blog, leave the link in a comment so that everyone can see it. Serial TPers are most definitely welcome. New to TP? Here's how it works:
  • Every Wednesday evening, at precisely 7 o'clock Eastern, I post a new Thematic Photographic entry.
  • Each entry has a unique theme. This week's is...aged.
  • You post a similarly themed image over on your blog.
  • You paste a link to your entry in a comment here.
  • If you've already posted something that fits (on a blog, Facebook, MySpace, wherever) simply post the link to the existing entry. Old or new, all photos are welcome.
  • You may post as many photos or links as you wish. For the next week, I'll be supporting this theme with a related picture/posting each day. I encourage you to do the same. This is all about sharing, so feel free to share to your heart's content!
  • Please share this link with friends, too, and encourage them to join in. The more, the merrier.
  • And please accept my thanks for your enthusiasm. Your participation has made TP a true highlight for me each and every week.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - New life together

Just married
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2008

About this photo: We've been sharing new-themed photos all week in support of Thematic Photographic. Today's shot touches on a new life for two strangers who happened to cross my path just before New Year's. Click here if you'd like to participate in the "new" theme. Scroll down if you'd like a sneak peek at the next Thematic Photographic theme.
When you're at the beach and you spot a bride and groom walking on the boardwalk, there's only one thing to do: grab your camera and run after them. Why? Because neat stuff like this happens so rarely. Because photography captures moments and freezes them forever. Because you never want to forget what it felt like Right Then.

So, with the blessing of my more-than-understanding wife, I sprinted in bare feet and just managed to breathlessly call out to them before they turned the corner on the next leg of their life's journey. I'm glad I did, and hope this is only the first of many such happies for this blessed couple.

Your turn: Ever have a truly spontaneous moment with your camera?

Almost forgot: At 7:00 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, I'll be posting the first entry for the new Thematic Photographic theme. They stay up for an entire week, so you'll have lots of time to share one photo - or as many photos as you wish. To give you a chance to rev up your creative engine, I like to advance-post the theme. So without further ado, the new theme will be...

It's a nice counterpoint to our previous theme. Speaking of which, we're still accepting contributions to last week's "new" theme. Click here for that, and drop back in Wed. at 7 p.m. for something aged.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Canada, our home and blame-it-on-someone-else land

Ooh, I'm in a bit of a snit. Here's the long-story-short/point-form version:
  • Three young men died in a horrific car wreck in the cottage country north of Toronto last summer. The fourth passenger, a young woman, survived (story).
  • The vehicle's occupants had just had lunch at a golf course bar.
  • Forensic tests later determined alcohol was a factor in the crash.
Now, the Ontario Provincial Police and the province's Alcohol and Gaming Commission have just completed an investigation, and the company that owns the golf course bar as well as a number of employees there have been charged with a range of offenses, including permitting drunkenness on licensed premises and supplying liquor to an apparently intoxicated person (story). If they're found guilty, the charged companies could be fined up to $250,000. The individuals could spend a year in jail and be fined $100,000.

I know it's considered de rigeur these days to place the onus for monitoring alcohol consumption on the establishments that serve said alcohol. I know it's fashionable to subsequently charge and/or sue said establishments if - oops, when - sauced customers get behind the wheel and kill/maim themselves or others. But fashion's never been my thing, and this is one trend that'll get us into even more trouble.

See, it shifts accountability away from those who make the conscious decision to drink. And then, conceiveably, drive. It makes it easy for them or their estates to blame someone else.

It should be quite simple: If you choose to drink and drive and then subsequently pile your vehicle into a river, a hydro pole, a pedestrian, whatever, the only moron responsible for the outcome is you. Any other legal treatment of behaviors like this makes it that much easier for even more doofii like you to perpetuate the carnage and subsequently think you can lay it on someone else's shoulders.

This was doutbless an awful tragedy that has left permanent wreckage in its wake for too many people to count. But it wasn't an accident. And sadly, the person who chose to drive died along with two of his buddies. While laying blame at the feet of others does nothing to change the outcome, it lays the groundwork for other potential time bombs to end up in a river somewhere because they think it's someone else's responsibility to keep them in check.

One shudders to think how much more fair society would be if people simply took accountability for their actions. We can always dream, eh?

Your turn: Thoughts?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Caption This 103

Please caption this image
[Click here for Caption This instructions]
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2008
About this photo: We're exploring "new" as part of this week's Thematic Photographic, and after you've submitted a caption for this photo, I hope you'll click over here and share a photo or two for the latest TP theme.
Hard to believe it's been three weeks since I last posted a new Caption This entry (here's #102). I let a bunch of things slide over the holidays because I needed to relax. I tossed all my technology in a bag and spent most days not knowing what time it was.

I know that's not exactly the ideal way to build blog traffic, but I'm learning that life doesn't always have to revolve around being tethered to a laptop. Or a BlackBerry. Or anything with an on/off button, a battery and an AC adapter.

What I will remember is spending countless hours in a pool with our kids - mostly spent underwater while they "surfed" on my back - and coming home with just as much color on my face as my wife (most years, I was as pale as I was when I left because I spent most of our vacation working. No more.) I'll also remember sleeping in, waking up late, and welcoming the day cradling a mug of coffee in my hands and chatting about anything and everything with mishpacha (family) while the kids quietly - or not so quietly, whatever - played.

On the beach this day, I captured this photo that, in my vacation-softened mind, says "new" better than anything I brought home. You never quite know what a child's hands will get into. And no matter how dirty they get in the process, you always know they'll help him/her explore something new and wonderful. Kinda appropriate for this week's "new" theme, no?

Your turn: Please come up with a witty, fun or memorable caption for this photo. For more background on how Caption This works, feel free to click here. Otherwise, hit the Comment link below and submit as many as you possibly can. We encourage serial submitters, after all.

About the photo of a forlorn staircase at night: I like shooting in low light because it paints even the most ordinary scenes with additional poignancy. This same spot during the day just isn't as memorable. Honorable menschens go to these amazingly patient folks:
Salubrina: "Time steps on."
Judy: "Stairway to heaven?"
Moon: "Wouldn't want to be here alone at night"
Terry: "Riser."
Sara: Moi: "Shadow play."
Sara's "Stairs to no where" stuck in my mind, because I've never seen anyone actually use these stairs, and I have no idea where they lead. Maybe someday I'll find out, but for now, thanks to Sara, these stairs now have a tagline. Sara grew up in the U.S. but currently lives in the UK. Her blog, Garnet's Life Adventures, is a delightful reflection of her journey, and is always a fulfilling read. Please visit her to see what I mean.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

New talent

My daughter's eyes
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2008
About this photo: Thematic Photographic zooms in on "new" all week long. If you haven't shared yours yet - or even if you have and you want another shot - head over here to get started.
No excuses: my wife and I are a bit on the artsy side. After spending their entire lives watching us do weird things with cameras, pens, paintbrushes and pencils, it was only a matter of time before our kids started clamoring for tools of their own. We're only too happy to oblige.

While we were away, they spent a lot of time using my wife's point-and-shoot camera. And as they did, I just as often found myself following them. My daughter reminds me so much of my wife when she's creating something. It's a privilege to be able to stand quietly off to the side and watch her do her thing.

Your turn: When the next generation learns from the previous. Please discuss.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Welcoming the new day

Sunrise, reflected.
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2008 [Click to enlarge]

About this photo: As part of Thematic Photographic this week, we're exploring "new". What does new mean to you? I hope you'll be able to answer with a picture - or many pictures! Please click here to see the kickoff entry. I look forward to seeing what you've got!
Every year we've gone to Florida, I've talked about heading to the beach and catching a sunrise. And every year, it's remained just that: talk. I guess when you're on vacation, the last thing you want to do is drag yourself out of bed at 6 a.m. and head out in the dark.

This year, my wife insisted that I follow through. She also volunteered to join me, and wouldn't take no for an answer. Bless her.

So there we were, heading out in the pre-dawn murk, parking on a deserted beachfront street and planting lawn chairs into the cold sand. On the way there, I told her how little I cared about capturing the quintessential sunrise picture. Maybe I'm changing as I get older, but I no longer feel compelled to return home with a specific picture of anything. I get what I get, and whatever it is, it is. Just being beside her was enough for me.

So as you can see from the photo above, I didn't shoot a conventional view. I liked how the sun reached across the water. Wherever we sat, that reflection pointed at us. Never mind that shooting directly into the sun was photographically futile. It also didn't reflect how I felt that morning.

You feel small when you're on a quiet beach with someone who matters more to you than you've ever been able to express. You start thinking about what it all means, about why you're lucky to be in that place at that moment. You know there's a real world behind the beach that's just filled with all kinds of sadness and strain. You know you'll have to get off the beach at some point and deal with it all. But for now, it's enough to appreciate the moment for what it is: perfect.

Your turn: A moment that you'll remember. Please discuss.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Thematic Photographic 31 - New

Baby steps
Deerfield Beach, Florida, December 2007

Three-and-a-half months after suffering a seriously broken leg, our son Zach took off his air cast and gingerly ventured onto the beach. He was afraid of what might happen, fearful of reinjuring himself in the surf. But after we encouraged him to give it a try, he followed us into the water and realized it was time to start his recovery in earnest.

It's been just over a year since I captured this image, yet every time I look at it, I think of how powerfully it represents a new start for him, an opportunity to shed the shackles and take on the world once more. It's an appropriate kickoff image, I think, for this week's Thematic Photographic theme, "new".

New can mean so many things to us, depending on how we choose to look at the word. Over the next week, I hope you have fun exploring the theme and sharing what you've come up with.

Your turn: Got any pictures in your archives - or in your head - that scream "new" and are just begging to be shared? Click the Comment link below and have fun. If you're new to the game, read on for info on how this thing works:
  • Every Wednesday evening, at precisely 7 o'clock Eastern, I post a new Thematic Photographic entry.
  • Each entry has a unique theme. This week's
  • You post a similarly themed image over on your blog.
  • You paste a link to your entry in a comment here.
  • If you've already posted something that fits (on a blog, Facebook, MySpace, wherever) simply post the link to the existing entry. Old or new, all photos are welcome.
  • You may post as many photos or links as you wish. For the next week, I'll be supporting this theme with a related picture/posting each day. I encourage you to do the same. This is all about sharing, so feel free to share to your heart's content!
  • Please share this link with friends, too, and encourage them to join in. The more, the merrier.
  • And please accept my thanks for your enthusiasm. Your participation has made TP a true highlight for me each and every week.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Blink and she's gone
Delray Beach, December 2008 [Click to embiggen]

While we were away, I rediscovered my need to grab alone time wherever and whenever possible. I've always appreciated the soul-restoring effects of getting away for a bit, mind you, but had fallen out of practice in recent months as supposedly more serious priorities ate into my unstructured time. My loss, as it turned out.

On this warm, bright morning, I slung my camera over my shoulder and set off for a short walk through the neighborhood. I had spotted a deteriorating, formerly grand old house on a road nearby, and with thoughts of Great Expectations and Miss Havisham dancing through my head, ambled across the street.

Along the way, I passed a set of water fountains and remembered my earlier adventures with dancing liquids (see here, here and here for other entries.) Since water had always been good to me, I figured it would be worth a slight change in plans.

I sat on the edge of the pool and paused for a bit. As I set up for the shot, I wondered about the ephemeral nature of water, about how the scenes I was about to capture in the following milliseconds would likely never repeat again.

All the more reason to take the time. You never know what you'll see along the way. And what you'll miss if you stay in.

Your turn: How do you carve out alone time? Why?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Is this thing on?

Rolling in
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2008 [Click to make tidal]

A couple of weeks after deciding to make this my first truly unplugged vacation in, well, ever, I'm faced with the daunting task of reconnecting with the real world. It's not going well.

Since getting home late Saturday night, we've wrestled with the inevitable fatigue associated with a consistent - and delightful - lack of structure. But the fridge and pantry needed to be filled, the suddenly inoperative microwave needed to be replaced and the kids needed to be made ready for school. The real world doesn't take vacations, so when you decide to get away, you inevitably pay for it when you get back. Karma.

I learned many things during this journey, much of which I'll share in the days and weeks ahead. There's so much to say...

Some quick housekeeping: Thematic Photographic returns on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. The theme will be (indeed, is, since I announced it last week before I decided to park the laptop for the rest of the trip) "new". Caption This returns next Sunday with an all-new entry. I know I slacked off while I was away. But now that I'm back, I'm glad I did. I need to become more comfortable letting things go every once in a while so that the rest of me can breathe. I know it made a difference to my family to have me there in spirit as well as in body. In the end, it was good for my soul to ditch anything not related to the here and now. I'm only sorry I didn't figure it out sooner. Oh's a learning experience, right?

Your turn: Sitting on the sand watching the waves roll into shore. What does this moment feel like to you?