Friday, July 31, 2009

Where clean begins

Not quite forgettable
London, ON, July 2009 [Click to enlarge]
About this photo: It's laundry week all week long as Thematic Photographic explores the process of taking dirty clothes and making them clean again. I realize it seems odd, but if it challenges you to get out of your photographic comfort zone, then it will turn out to have been a worthwhile choice. You game? Click here.
You see things differently when you've got time to kill and not a whole lot to do in the interim. While I sat on an old church pew waiting for our clothes to finish tumbling, I found my eyes wandering around the laundromat. Where some folks might find a place like this to be forgettable, or even ugly, I would beg to differ. There's something honest about a place that doesn't pretend to be anything more than it already is, that goes about its business quietly without drawing much attention to itself.

The more I think about it, the more I realize the same kind of thing applies to people, as well.

Your turn: This scene could tell so many stories. Got one?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Vignette - Hung out to dry

Energy efficient
Montreal, QC, May 2008
About this photo: This photo supports this week's Thematic Photographic theme, laundry. Yes, I am indeed that weird. Head over here for the launch entry that (hopefull) explains my insanity. And have fun with it!
The scene: A sunny Sunday afternoon a year ago May. I'm on the slopes of Montreal's Mount Royal. I've just parked the car and am walking up the hill with my wife and my mother. We're headed to the hospital to visit my father, who's been here for much of the week, another chapter in an ever lengthening book.

It's a stunningly beautiful day that stands in stark contrast to the reason that we're here and the generally depressed state of the surrounding neighborhood. You don't walk alone here at night. And even during the day, you keep your eyes open. I'm feeling subdued as I fall behind my wife and mom, and as I look for some kind of goodness in a landscape that seems to offer none, my eyes fall upon a colorful third floor balcony at the back of an otherwise forgettable tenement. Laundry flaps in the wind, defying the drab of the surrounding area with a spirit that seems completely out of place in a place where no one seems to smile.

I know I'll fall further behind if I take the time to take the shot, but I decide I need to do something to break myself out of my melancholy mood before I head upstairs and attempt to accomplish the same feat with my father. It's never easy, of course, but no one ever said it had to be, right?

Your turn: Beauty in a decidedly unbeautiful place and time. Please discuss.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thematic Photographic 60 - Laundry

Round and round
London, ON, July 2009 [Click to enlarge]

You find the most extraordinary things in the most ordinary of places. I wrote about the laundromat here, and in the weeks since we welcomed our bright red washer and dryer set into our home, I've thought about this unassuming fluorescent-lit place in an unassuming strip mall near a busy midtown intersection. Like so many of life's experiences, this one changed me just a little.

I understand how you might conclude that I've lost it. Wouldn't be the first time, I wager, and likely won't be the last, either. That's all part of the fun, as life wouldn't be quite as enjoyable a trip if we always looked at it from the same perspective.

So I'd like to turn our lenses on laundry for the next week. It's the kind of thing we do often but rarely think about - and certainly never photograph. It doesn't garner headlines, merit celebrations or otherwise draw attention to itself. It lives in the fringes of our homes, in basements, mudrooms, closets or, in many cases, down the hall or street.

But without it, the things we take for granted simply don't happen.

Your turn: Have fun exploring this week's theme. At its simplest, take a laundry-themed picture, post it to your blog, then paste a link - or a mention - in a comment here. Sharing and hilarity shall ensue. Here's more info on 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...laundry!
  • 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.

Spray me

London, ON, July 2009

It doesn't get more elemental than water. With it, we have life. Without it, not so much. Optically, it's quite likely one of the most diverse subjects for a photographer - or any other artist, for that matter. It's also hellish to capture cleanly, especially at close range. Exposure, focus and composition are especially challenging when an alternately reflective and transparent stream threatens to douse your lens.

Which explains why I enjoy it as much as I do.

Your turn: Would it be as much fun if it were easy? How does water inspire you?

Almost forgot...

This photo begins the long, slow process of winding down our most recent Thematic Photographic theme, elemental. You're still welcome to submit something by clicking here.

Tonight at 7:00 EDT, I'll be posting next week's theme. It will be...laundry.

I know, I'm odd that way. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nortel's post-bankruptcy popularity

Sometimes, you have to disappear for a bit to get folks to appreciate you. Nortel's learning this the hard way after a years-long streak of bad luck and stupidity (mostly stupidity) that saw it lose $7 billion, tens of thousands of employees (and their pensions), and any credibility it once had as Canada's high-flying poster child of technological leadership.

The beleaguered company finally declared bankruptcy in January, and now a veritable circus has erupted around the sale of its remaining assets. This week, the battle revolves around the Wireless unit. Interestingly, everyone wants in, and as always, I've got some rather pointed opinions on what it means to Canadians, and why this issue represents something of a turning point for the future of tech in this country. If we get it right, we essentially still have a future on a global scale. If we botch it and give away the farm, we open the door to a gutted tech landscape and a branch office mentality for time immemorial.

Simple, really, and now would be a really good time for some leadership from the folks we elected to, you know, lead.

[Oops, sorry I got a little carried away there. I guess I care about this stuff. Lots.]

As often happens when a major tech/business story flares up, my phone's been ringing with requests asking me to help make sense of it all. Earlier today, I spoke with CBC Newsworld's Nancy Wilson (can't find the video, but they quoted me here), 570 News Kitchener's Gary Doyle, CHQR Calgary's Dave Rutherford, and, coolness of coolness, am scheduled to do a live interview with CTV's Canada AM tomorrow (Wed.) at 7:10 a.m. EDT.

I guess it'll be a long night of catching up on the regular work that still needs doing. No rest for the wicked...

This just in: Video of Wednesday morning's Canada AM interview with Seamus O'Regan is available here. Don't say you weren't warned :)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Storm's coming

London, ON, August 2008
About this photo: It's elemental week, all week long, here at Written Inc. Click here to get into the elemental groove.
The first photos I ever took were stark black-and-whites using a simple - and simply bulletproof - manual-everything rangefinder camera that my grandparents might have been comfortable using. I was at camp, and the leader of the photography unit handed me the camera and told me to come back in two hours with no more pictures left on the roll. With 36 scenes to capture and a nearly empty stretch of green mountain terrain north of Montreal, off I went.

First lesson: no color, so I couldn't use it as a crutch to make an otherwise lousy composition seem interesting. All I had was basic light and basic composition - and absolutely zero ability to master either.

I long ago lost track of the photos I took that day, but I do remember willing myself to keep it simple, to not get too ambitious, to keep the scenes in my viewfinder from overwhelming a camera I didn't know, film that was color-blind and a newbie-photog's sense of...well, nothingness.

To this day, I remember what it felt like to strip it all down to the most bare of essentials. I had no choice, of course, because I may as well have been flying blind. But these days, with equipment that would seem Star Trek-ian to the teenaged me and a few years of making mistakes under my belt, I still most enjoy those moments when I get to boil it all down to its lowest common denominator.

Your turn: Simplicity is...?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Attention to detail, lacking

Semi-truth in advertising
London, Ontario, March 2007

About this photo: Our Thematic Photographic theme this week is elemental. As a writer, the fundamental elements of my existence are proper spelling, grammar and general attention to detail. Increasingly, it seems, these elements are in short supply. Which leaves you with a choice: Either wonder why this is so, or head over here and share your own elemental vision.
Not a day goes by that I don't see a sign somewhere that contains some sort of obvious error in spelling or grammar. I hate to sound like a writer who's always perfect - I'm not, after all - but it's almost as if people don't take the time to care about the quality of their work. It's not as if this is a tiny typo buried in the middle of a sea of text. It's a seven-word poster! You think SOMEONE would have proofed it.

Or maybe I'm just expecting too much in this apparent age of mediocrity.

Your turn: Am I justified in being frustrated? Or should I simply accept that mediocrity is the new normal in the modern world?

Note: Caption This will return next week.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

New beginnings

Life, defiant
London, ON, April 2008

Nothing ever really ends. It may cease to exist as we know it, but eventually something else will rise in its place. Even the old tree trunk around the corner that we walk past every day has its own sense of continuity. The obviously large tree that once stood here and provided shade to the neighborhood is long gone. But the incubator of life at its base remains, and is arguably more vibrantly active now than it's ever been.

As I stood in a cemetery with my wife last week just before her cousin's funeral, I thought about how a mere few weeks ago we had visited him in the hospital, chatted with him in a delightfully sunny waiting room, heard the spirit in his voice as he shared how he had proven his doctors wrong by still being here after their even most optimistic prognoses. I took pictures that day because I feared we'd never see this cherished man again. And sadly I was right.

As I review the photos from this visit, now ephemeral pixels of data that are seemingly the only tangible pieces of him that we have left, I feel thankful that I got to know him and this part of my wife's family. His tree is indeed no longer standing, but I know the trunk he left behind is already teeming with potential, feeding on what he left behind.

Your turn: How do you remember those we've lost?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Out of gas

Pumped out
Williamsburg, KY, January 2009 [Please click to enlarge]
About this photo: This week's Thematic Photographic theme, elemental, invites a broad range of interpretation. If you're feeling elemental, head over here to share your own vision.
I had come to this mournful, forgotten place in the middle of a long journey because I didn't know if or when I'd ever be back. And if I ever did return, chances are this place, an abandoned gas station beside a cemetery, would be gone. Such is the ephemeral nature of life.

Your turn: There's something elementally sad about this scene that invites the mind to wander. Feel free to wander in a comment...

For another perspective from this shoot, please click here.

Where I call Nortel a squirrel

It's been a fun week in medialand for me. The various bits and pieces of former Canadian tech industry superstar, Nortel, are on the block. As everyone circles around like vultures, positioning for the inevitable kill, I've been watching the proceedings and trying to make sense of it all.

Research In Motion (the BlackBerry company) made things interesting this week by going public with claims it was being shut out of the process. The auction for one of the units, wireless, goes ahead today, albeit without RIM. I expect this to get even more entertaining well into next week, and quite likely beyond.

On Tuesday, I was interviewed by BNN's Michael Kane on his show, Lunch Money. I also spoke extensively with CBC Radio in both Ottawa (where Nortel looms large on the business landscape) and nationally (where, I guess, they also still loom large.) By far my favorite quotes came out of discussions I had with Reuters through the week. I hope they make you smile:

July 24. Nortel, A Fallen Canadian Icon, Starts Asset Sales. Byline Pav Jordan (New York Times link)
"The carcass of one of the leading high flyers for much of the last decade and a half is now up for grabs and to the victor go the spoils," said Carmi Levy, an independent technology analyst.

"Even though Nortel has been a laughing stock for much of this decade, that hasn't stopped some of its most vicious competitors from emerging from the woodwork to claim their prize."
July 23. Nortel looks to be worth more dead than alive. Byline Susan Taylor.
"There's a lot of delicious irony associated with what's happening now," said Carmi Levy, an independent technology analyst. "Everybody shows up for the funeral, but no one goes to visit the patients in hospital before they actually die."


The current heated interest in Nortel assets demonstrates the company's R&D might, but it also underscores its big strategic blunders, Levy said.

"When you're restructuring, learn which horse to back and don't back the wrong one," he said.


"You cannot be in perpetual restructure mode and you cannot change your restructuring strategy on a whim," Levy said.

"It was almost a squirrel-like leadership strategy (at Nortel) - look here, look there - you almost can't focus on one spot for too long."

The strategy was toxic when mixed with Nortel's ultra-conservative customers, who make multi-year, multibillion-dollar bets with their purchases, Levy said.
Great fun, this! I expect there's more to come over the next bit. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thematic Photographic 59 - Elemental

Someone was here
Montreal, QC, July 2009

It's a tradition when visiting a Jewish cemetery to place a rock on top of the headstone. It reminds others who may come afterward that someone had come to visit, that the person buried there has not been forgotten, that the continuity between generations that is so fundamental to our existence remains unbroken.

For ages, I had been tossing around the idea of visiting my grandparents' graves. They passed away long ago, and my memories of their resting places were limited to tear-filled funerals during which I was in no mood to take note of nearby landmarks or other identifying elements. Earlier this month, on a visit home, I got my chance. I'll share more about the experience in a future post, but I wanted to use this picture to kick off our latest Thematic Photographic theme, elemental.

What is elemental? My good friend, Mojo, suggested it, so I'll let him describe it:
My idea springs from the traditional "Earth-Air-Water-Fire" quartet, but it could be spun to include anything on the Periodic Table or further anything that is an elemental piece of some bigger thing. Like... Tinker Toys or Legos... or Chocolate chips. (Or eggs if you feel inclined to run afoul of the supermarket gestapo again...)
Your turn: As you consider your own spin on this very neat theme, please take a moment to thank the man himself for letting me use his idea this week.

If you're new to the Thematic Photographic experience, read on. Otherwise, happy shooting!
  • 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...elemental!
  • 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.

Bird on a stone

Montreal, QC, July 2009 [Click image to enlarge]

My father and I had come to this place looking for relatives' final resting places. Online database searches helped us find and honor virtually every grave on our list. Except one.

The rain, which had started as a light drizzle as we arrived in this particularly old section of the cemetery, slowly intensified to the point that I all but ordered my father back to the car. He was doggedly determined to find it, but I figured the risks of my increasingly frail dad falling on the uneven, slippery ground simply weren't worth it. We would return another day. My long lost cousin would still, silently, be here.

As I turned for the car, I noticed a flock of seagulls (go on, say it) had landed on a nearby set of headstones. One bird, in particular, stood there and shrieked at no one in particular. I didn't quite know what to make of the moment (maybe you do...) but I knew I wanted to remember what it felt like to witness it.

Your turn: So what do you make of this moment? Odd, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Shaggy wants his van back

Mallorytown, ON, July 2009 [Click to embiggen]

It's nice to know in this era of CAFE efficiency requirements and emissions standards, kids can still cruise the countryside in vehicles that bring back fond memories of afternoons spent with Scooby Doo.

I've often wondered why Velma never got the credit she deserved. Or what became of Fred's ascot. Or what was baked into Scooby's snacks that made him so unbelievably manic. I so miss the innocence of this lost era.

Your turn: We're still sharing odd-themed photos. Click here for the Thematic Photographic entry that started it all. We'll launch a new theme tomorrow, but I haven't settled on it yet. Got any suggestions?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Apollo 11 moon landing + 40 years = 0

If you've been living under a rock, you may be oblivious to the fact that 40 years ago today, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon.

Apollo 11 was a defining, iconic a moment in human history, and true the the hearts of pessimists everywhere, it marked the beginning of the end of American global leadership. It didn't take long for jowly Dick Nixon to disassemble all that had been so painstakingly assembled over the previous decade, for the beancounters to take over the job of inspiring the nation, and for dreams to take a back seat to visionless reality.

I know I'm too young to be a curmudgeon, but that didn't stop me from exploring the topic in my latest Wide Angle Zoom column for Betanews, We won't get 'mooned' again, or, why space still matters. I hope you enjoy the read and share a thought or two.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Caption This 130

Please caption this image
[Click here for Caption This instructions]
Toronto, ON, August 2008 [Click to embiggen]

Yes, that thing that's apparently dangling in the sky really is what you think it is. I don't think it's real, though, but I stood below, craning my neck into the sun for at least 10 minutes trying to figure that out.

As best I can figure, someone at the balloon company had - and presumably still has - a sick sense of humor.

Works for me!

Your turn: Please come up with a caption for this photo that's funny, charming and memorable. We'll be taking submissions all week, and you can enter as often as you like. Best one wins. Click the comment link to get started. For more background on how Caption This works, click here.

About last week's photo of my kids at the grocery store: I love taking them shopping, even if it means a more expensive - and sometimes annoying - trip in the process. I remember going grocery shopping when I was a kid, and it was always such a vividly detailed experience for me. I hope our kids feel the same way. This week's honorable menschens are:
  • Thom: "Look Ma...was this the same price when you were my age?"
  • B13: "When mom said fruit juice, she didn't mean peach schnapps... put it back!"
Mojo takes it with "Eggs, wasn't it?" It's something my daughter would certainly say, and she'd say it with that adult-like, all-knowing tone that only she's capable of. If you haven't visited Mojo's blog, Why? What Have You Heard? you're missing out on photography that regularly makes you think, and a world view that'll make you wonder who you're not out there taking more of it in. When I want to raise the level of my game - both through a lens and as a person - I simply follow his lead.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bizarro store window

Yes, your butt looks fat
Toronto, ON, May 2008

I risked a ticket while sitting in stop-and-go traffic to grab this shot of one of the most wacky-looking window displays I'd seen in a while. I don't even know what this store sells, but I'm guessing I'm not part of its target market.

Your turn: I suppose this qualifies as odd. Have you shared yours yet? Head over here if you haven't (and even if you have!)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite, the last giant

I'd be remiss if I didn't mark this day in some concrete way. Walter Cronkite died today at 92. His passing wasn't unexpected, as he'd been ailing for some time and his family had recently confirmed that he could go at any time. Regardless, he was the last of a generation of journalistic giants who defined the medium of television for decades and who set the tone for virtually every broadcast journalist who decided to go in front of a camera.

He was and always will be the gold standard of what a broadcast journalist should be. Long called the most trusted man in America, he brought an integrity to the chair that no one has ever quite been able to approach, let alone match. It was a cruel irony that he was succeeded as CBS anchor by a self-absorbed tight-end who never learned to take himself any less than uber-seriously. In contrast to his lightweight successor, Walter probably knew Kenneth's life story as well as the frequency he sought. Indeed, it so often seemed there wasn't anything Walter didn't know.

And if, as so many of us suspect, the seeming omniscient poise of the anchor was simply accomplished through the illusion of television - great writers, great production staff, great attention to detail at every level of the chain - then so be it. He was the epitome of someone perpetually at the top of his game, and his passing leaves an enormous void in an industry that's lost its way, and in a society that once relied on that industry for guidance.

Rest in peace, Mr. Cronkite. Thank you, and goodnight.

"...and that's the way it is..."

Wienermobile crashes into house. BBQ at 11.

I couldn't make this up if I tried. The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, the bane of PETA and vegans alike and an enduring icon of Americana, paid an unscheduled visit partially into a Racine, WI house earlier today when its driver accidentally hit the gas instead of the brake.

Please don't think I troll the Internet looking for wiener-themed stories. I occasionally peek through my stats to see what search terms bring folks to my blog. I noticed an uptick just now in "wienermobile crash". Since I had written about this very same thing last year (it crashed into a ditch, click here for original entry) folks looking for news of today's incident found me, too.

So...two accidents in just over 17 months. My bologna has a first name. It's called driver's ed.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The odd perspective of a child

Squeaky clean
Laval, QC, July 2009

A funny thing happens when I hand my camera over to our eldest son, Zach: I realize his sense of composition at the age of 14 far exceeds mine at that age. It's quite a kick to watch him wander around a scene, measure it with his eyes, figure out the one perspevective that'll have the most impact and then shoot it. It's quite a kick to imagine how good he'll become if he decides to pursue this seriously.

He's very thoughtful behind the lens, which isn't odd at all considering where he comes from. But things do tend to get a little wonky when he's in a comedic mood and wants to get a reaction out of his audience. Which is as it should be. I'd have him no other way.

Your turn: Do children look at the world differently than we do? Why might that be so?

For more odd-themed insanity, please click here for the launch entry for this week's Thematic Photographic.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Thematic Photographic 58 - Odd

Your throne awaits
Montreal, QC, August 2008 [Click to embiggen]

I take a lot of weird pictures. The kind of pictures that make folks stop and stare as I'm shooting them. The kind of photos that prompt the Doubting Thomases of our world to accuse me of wasting film (ha!) and time. Well, folks, it's my time to waste, and it turns out I rather enjoy wasting it. I'm odd that way.

Besides, I'd rather have a bizarre shot than no shot at all.

So for the next week, I'm hoping we'll all share some oddball shots that get the raised eyebrow look from friends and strangers alike. If it's just weird enough to be memorable, please share it on your blog and drop a link in a comment here. The more oddness, the better.

Your turn: Got an odd picture? (I'm willing to be you have lots, actually!) Do you know what Thematic Photographic is all about? Then start sharing. Need a TP primer? Read on:
  • 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...odd!
  • 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, July 14, 2009

Passing through

Union Station, down low
Toronto, ON, March 2009 [Click to enlarge]
About this photo: We've been exploring distant-themed photos all week long as part of Thematic Photographic. I may have another one in me before we wrap things up and launch the new theme tomorrow night. What will that new theme be? Scroll down to find out. Or click here to submit something distant. I know you've got it in you :)
They don't make big public spaces like they used to. I doubt anyone stands in the middle of a modern-day mall and takes in the scene as I did on this morning in Toronto. I had just gotten off my train and was heading for the exits when I realized how delightfully empty the space was.

A picture was, of course, in order.

Your turn: Why are public spaces like this so...distant?

Ah yes, next week's theme: Thematic Photographic launches a new theme tomorrow (Wednesday) night at exactly 7:00 p.m. EDT. The theme for the coming week will be:


If it's a little bit strange, a little bit funny, a little bit out of the ordinary, we want to see it. Can't wait to see what y'all come up with!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Keeping it clean

The scene: a wooden bench at the Laundry Cafe here in London. My wife and I are here doing laundry. I'm tapping this out on my BlackBerry. Why? Please read on...

Sad news from our basement this week: Our dryer stopped drying. We knew this day was coming, as it had been slowly losing steam over the past number of months. The standard 40 or 50-minute cycle had crept up to 60, 70 and then 80 - the most the poor dial could support.

Eventually, even 80 minutes was insufficient. And we kept adding time. And adding, and... When we hit two-plus hours per load, we knew it was time.

So off we went in search of something newer, something capable of swallowing the clothes of three growing kids, their parents and the dog (he has a hoodie. With a maple leaf on it.) Something manufactured after the Paleozoic Era that used less energy than Hoover Dam could crank out would be a bonus as well.

We found a lovely red set that seems to fit the bill. I hate to admit how excited we are at our impending ability to do copious amounts of laundry. Of course, our new wondermachines arrive on Friday. So Debbie and I looked at the mountain of dirty clothes that blocked the light down the middle of the laundry room and decided a trip to the laundromat was in order.

I must admit I'm enjoying being here. There's a cross section of humanity that provides endless opportunity to observe - the middle-aged guy who played pinball until the machine went dark, the near-shaven-headed dude in cargo shorts who can't tell the difference between whites and colors, the bored 12-year-old boy whose scowling, cornerback-esque mother dragged him here against his will, the modern-day Cheech and Chong wannabes who seem fascinated by the unique facets on a Canadian quarter coin, the sad-faced, long-haired woman using the payphone who doesn't seem to have smiled in years, who wears a windbreaker on a warm, humid night and who wears a weight on her shoulders that can't be seen, but can be clearly felt.

By the yellowed old newspaper articles on the wall, this place has been around for at least 20 years. It looks it, wearing its age with a quiet sense of pride. The multicolored brown tiled floor is a relic of the 70s. The hastily painted blue wooden magazine rack clings to dog eared copies of magazines that are probably out of print. The sofa in the corner is just dirty enough to make you think twice about sitting in it. The gray/white plastic on most of the commercial-grade machines has faded to a pale yellow. Thankfully, the dark green, bright yellow/orange and red walls perk up the mood.

Life happens here in all its mundane, forgettable glory. Yet I find myself not wanting to forget what it's like to be here, to observe strangers trying to mind their own business, to spend quiet time with my wife in a place few would ever think to go on a date. Yet a date, strange as it may seem, is what this evening has turned out to be, and as the last dryer finishes its last tumble and the last house fly continues to buzz around my ankles, Debbie's already gotten more than enough change for a return trip. The pile on our basement floor demands it, and I'm only too happy to spend another evening here drinking it all in.

Your turn: Finding magic in an unexpected place. Please discuss.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Caption This 129

Please caption this image London, ON, January 2009

I often like to hang back and just watch our kids be themselves. When I'm taking pictures of them - or of anyone else, for that matter - I don't pose them. I'm content to silently capture the moment without trying to influence its outcome. I realize that means our family pictures are far from conventional. But we're far from a conventional family, so I guess it's all good.

On this day, Dahlia and Noah were out on a grand grocery store adventure with me, trying to work our way through my wife's shopping list, and trying to not miss too many of the things on it. As often happens, we were slowed immensely by the overwhelming variety of products on the shelves - does the world really need a full dozen varieties of marmelade? - but they didn't seem to mind at all.

Indeed, I can't wait for our next trip down the confusing aisles. It's always more fun when they're around. And more expensive.

Your turn: Please suggest a caption for this photo. It can be funny, witty or just plain thought-provoking. Click the comment link to get started. And if you haven't yet shared your distant-themed pic for this week's Thematic Photographic, it's not too late (is it ever, come to think of it?) Click here to get themed.

About last week's photo of an F.15C screaming over a couple of kids: Ann's "A fly-by shooting" works on so many levels that it's a natural choice for this week's win. If you haven't read her blog, It's Always a Production, you're missing out. With seeming ease, she shares slices of her family's life, and she shoots like no one's business.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The week that was...

It's been a busy couple of weeks media-wise, so to make sure I don't forget everything I had on the go, I wanted to post a few notable links from the last little bit. Let's roll...

Published in Betanews (Monday & Thursday Wide Angle Zoom column):
Published in TG Daily (weekly analyst opinion column, publishes Monday):
Published in
Quoted by/in:
More to come...this is too much fun!

Friday, July 10, 2009

The distance that divides us

Kindness from afar
Toronto, ON, March 2009 [Click to enlarge]

A couple of months ago, I published this photo of a homeless man on a frigid Toronto street corner and a kind soul who somehow made his life a bit warmer, if only for a moment. As is often the case, I try to capture multiple perspectives of a given scene to ensure I don't return home empty-handed.

This particular photo was taken a few seconds earlier in that morning's sequence. I had just noticed this unfolding story, but had not yet worked up the courage to approach them more closely lest I interfere in the process. I used distance to give myself a bit of time to figure out what was going on, and how to best - and respectfully - record it.

I thought it would be appropriate to include it as part of this week's distant theme, as it reflects the distance of the big city - everyone else moving about uninterrupted and unaware - while a single man struggles to keep it all together. Thankfully he had an angel to watch out for him, someone willing to cut through the distance that usually divides us so.

Your turn: Personal distance. Please discuss.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Lost on the grass

All alone
London, ON, May 2008
About this photo: We're sharing distant-themed photos all week long as part of Thematic Photographic. If you're feeling distant in any way, we hope you'll share your photo by heading over here.
Someone in our family celebrated a birthday yesterday. His third, to be precise. Not that he'd know it, but he must have sensed the greater than usual frequency of hugs and kisses from his human family. I know this because every time someone held him, he lay his head down on their shoulder in Finnigan-esque style.

Frasier is quite the good-hearted soul, and he's burrowed himself rather nicely into the fabric of our family since the day we brought him home just over two years ago. We still don't understand how his original family was able to neglect such a wonderful pet, but we're thankful that the planets aligned and allowed him to find us.

As I watched our kids buzz around him from the moment he woke up to tuck-in time, I found myself wishing every birthday he has from now on - and indeed, every day in between - could be as charmed as yesterday was.

The world would be a happier place if everyone in it could feel that kind of unmitigated adoration. Sure, it's a distant dream, but one I hold onto nonetheless.

Your turn: A dog's life. Please discuss.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Thematic Photographic 57 - Distant

Row, row, row your boat...
Laval, QC, August 2008

We all have distant pictures in our photo albums. Usually from vacation. Usually taken by our parents. Usually featuring one of them in the middle of a wide vista - a town square, perhaps, or maybe the beach. Said vista is usually so wide, in fact, that said parent is reduced to a tiny speck smack in the middle of the picture. Squint your eyes just so and you may be able to make out a limb or two, but otherwise that person could very well be a paper cutout and you'd never know the difference.

As you consider your options for contributing to this week's "distant" theme, you hopefully shouldn't have to go to that extreme. But I do hope you'll keep those horrific old pictures - now yellowing and fraying in dust-covered photo albums in some forgotten box in the attic - in mind, because that's what distant is all about.

I hope you'll share pictures with a bit of foreground, with a bit of distance, with a bit of big picture feel to them. Take off the blinders and look at the big world...or look at something from a couple of steps further back than you normally would. Either way, I want you to take this theme and make it your own, to have a little bit of fun with the camera as you try to put your own spin on this week's Thematic Photographic journey. I know you have it in you, and I can't wait to see what you come up with.

Your turn: In addition to your actual Thematic Photographic submission(s), I'd like to ask you for your thoughts on this theme. Too weird? Kinda fun? Sorta strange? Let me know what you think.

If you're new to Thematic Photographic, 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...distant!
  • 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.

A Michael Jackson perspective

I'm generally not one to follow the celeb headlines because, frankly, I don't think any of the Entertainment Tonight-sanctioned "news" qualifies as such. But with the mega-hype surrounding Michael Jackson's recent passing, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention this:

Three kids lost their father.

That is all.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Hornet's nest

Roiled air
St. Th
omas, ON, June 2009 [Click all images to enlarge]

Jet exhaust can do serious damage to anyone who fails to pay sufficient attention on the ground. But if you're positioned just so, the optics are fantastic. It gives a dreamy quality to any scene, and makes me imagine, if only for a second, that there's an invisible hand painting the scene just for me. It's incredibly temporary, of course, because the effect is gone seconds after the aircraft either continues on its way or shuts down its engines.

But for that one fleeting moment, it serves as another example of how aviation serves up textures that simply don't appear anywhere else. Makes me want to live in one of the houses on the road opposite the airport entrance. That way, I could see scenes like this anytime I want.

Your turn: Temporary art. Please discuss.

About these photos: The topmost photo is of a Canadian Armed Forces CF-18 Hornet. This particular aircraft is part of the aerial demonstration team, and is painted in colours honouring the first century of flight. The second photo is of AT-6 Harvard WWII-era training aircraft bathed in the Hornet's exhaust as it headed out for a demo flight. I just love the old-meets-new spirit of this shot.

Finally, the F-86 Sabre, known as Hawk One, is seen returning from its demo flight. The Golden Hawks preceded the Snowbirds as Canada's national military precision flying team, and they flew the F-86, a frontline fighter still widely viewed as one of the most successful designs of the early jet era. This plane was rebuilt from basically nothing and is as close to a flying miracle as this country has ever seen. To learn more about this project, click here.

One more thing: (I'm starting to sound like Steve Jobs!) Thematic Photographic launches a new theme at 7:00 p.m. EDT tomorrow (Wednesday). What will that theme be? I'm glad you asked:


What could that mean? Many things:
  • Far away
  • Lots of foreground
  • Pushed back
  • Etc.
If it evokes feelings like this, shoot it and share it. New entry goes up tomorrow...see ya then!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Mirror on a memorable day

Reflective wing
St. Thomas, ON, June 2009 [Click to embiggen]

I've flown this model of plane, the Dash-8, so many times. But never did I stand under its wing and marvel at the difference a simple paint job could make.

Small things. Big difference. And all we need to do is stop long enough to realize the wonder of it all.

Your turn: Ever see something familiar in a totally different light?

One more thing: We're still taking aviation photos as part of this week's Thematic Photographic. Please click here to get started.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Caption This 128

Please caption this image
St. Thomas, ON, June 2009
About this photo: It's aviation week all week long. To take off with Thematic Photographic, click here.
The scene: Traffic into this year's airshow in St. Thomas is unbelievably heavy. It's taken over 2 hours to cover the final 5 km. By the time my daughter and I finally get to the airport entrance, Ontario Provincial Police wave us away from the parking area. I park the wondervan on the side of the main road in front of the airport, hoping quietly that no one will tow me away.

As we climb out and join up with friends who coincidentally arrived at the same time we did (quick aside: G-d bless the iPhone and the BlackBerry) we see a streak from the right. My jaw drops: It's an F-15. Make that three F-15s - F-15C models, the uncompromised definitions of the penultimate dogfighter for over a generation. It dawns on me I haven't seen Eagles fly since before we had kids. They are, frankly, soul-shattering to watch.

Unfortunately I'm stuck on the side of the road, on the outside looking in, in the middle of a wandering - and apparently unaware - crowd. I yank my camera out of the bag, adjust settings and start shooting. No planning, no anything...just wildly following these streaks in the sky and hoping I can stop them just long enough to get something.

They're flying so low that I end up with some neat juxtapositions. Telephone poles, hangars, and in this case, kids. As the Eagles light off their afterburners and turn for home, I think to myself that it just wouldn't have been the same had we already been patiently waiting for their arrival beside the flight line. Sometimes, outside looking in is the best place to be, even if it doesn't seem that way at first.

Your turn: Please suggest a snappy caption for this image. Enter as often as you wish and don't be afraid to involve friends and family members, too. We'll be taking suggestions all week. Click the comment link and go to town. If you're new to Caption This, click here for some background info.

About last week's smokestacks photo: The colder it gets, the better the smoke and steam, so I'm sure it'll be a while before I can capture anything remotely like this. As ever, you all rose to the occasion. Honorable menschens go to these great folks:
  • Terri: "Clouded Judgement"
  • Pamela: "Hackey Stack."
  • Dana: "Fabricating Formations."
  • Mojo: "Designated Smoking Area."
  • Mel Fraase: "Three Stacks to the Wind!"
Michael Manning takes it with "When will we learn?" Michael is a journalist and one of my earliest, inspirational reads upon becoming a blogger. You owe it to yourself to read him - just click here.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Vapor trails

Hornet, abstracted
St. Thomas, ON, June 2009

Every once in a while, you luck into a shot that's different than anything you thought you were going to bring home when you first set out that day. This one shouldn't be that shot. It's a heavy crop, shot almost into the sun. The surface details are pretty much lost to pixellation.

Which is why it's burrowed its way into my head since I first started reviewing the days results. It's as close to impressionism as I'm ever going to get with a camera, and I hope you enjoy this one as much as I am.

Your turn: A shot that came out of the blue. Please discuss.

One more thing: If you're wondering what the deal is with all the planes this week, click here. Thematic Photographic shall explain all.

Friday, July 03, 2009

My Mythbuster adventure

Sometimes, choosing the right topic can lead you down an interesting path.

The scene: Early this past Monday morning. I'm up before dawn, mulling over topic choices for my Betanews column (recap: I write the Wide Angle Zoom column that publishes Mondays and Thursdays. Here's the home page.) I come across a story about Mythbusters star Adam Savage's recent trip to Montreal - my hometown - and how he inadvertently racked up an $11,000 roaming bill after surfing the web for a couple of hours.

He ended up using Twitter to garner support for a rapid-fire campaign to get the charges reversed. And it worked, so I thought his innovative use of social media - and the fact that we've all been there with our wireless carriers - might make a fun topic to explore. I also appreciate his show's ability to deliver great science broadcasting in a refreshing and engaging way. He's a huge favorite in our house. So over breakfast, I quickly write and submit my piece, which is soon published here: Myth-busted, or, Would AT&T have forgiven Savage's bill if he wasn't a TV star?

Later that day, my phone rings: a producer for CBC Radio's Home Run program read the piece and thought it might be fun to set up an interview with host Bernard St-Laurent. Neat. Even neater, they've snagged an AT&T rep AND Mr. Savage himself for interviews which they'll run through the afternoon.

Here's my interview:

Your turn: Have you ever gotten a surprisingly large bill from your wireless carrier? Or from any other service provider, for that matter? What did you do? How did things turn out?

One more thing: More aerobatic goodness coming tomorrow. For now, head here for our latest Thematic Photographic theme.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Ugly is the new beautiful

St. Thomas, ON, June 2009 [Click all images to enlarge]

About this photo: Thematic Photographic celebrates aviation all week long. If you've got an aviation-themed photo (or two...) to share, please click here to participate. We'd love to see what you've got.
It's long been considered the bastard stepchild of the US. Air Force fleet. It isn't remotely sleek or supersonic. For much of its existence, it's fought against endless internal campaigns to have it permanently grounded in favor of faster, sexier and, yes, more expensive aircraft like the F-16.

Yet the A-10 Thunderbolt II - also affectionately known as the Tankbuster and the Warthog, and less affectionately as the Devil's Cross by its enemies - has survived and thrived as the world's most robust and survivable close air support platform. Built around a frighteningly powerful 30 millimetre gun, this is likely the last thing you want flying overhead if you're not on the U.S.'s side.

As much mayhem as this thing can cause, it's the toughness and simplicity that impress me. Everything's designed to be field serviceable. It can take hits and keep on flying - a capability proven time and again in the Persian Gulf, where A-10s with giant holes blasted through the airframe have brought their pilots home safely.

And those pilots? Probably the most genial and capable aviators you'll ever meet. I believe the world would be a better place if everything in life were designed as thoughtfully as this machine.

Your turn: Why do ugly ducklings fascinate us so?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Thematic Photographic 56 - Aviation

A Snowbird rolls
St. Thomas, ON, June 2009 [Click to enlarge]

They almost didn't make it to the air show. The Snowbirds team had been grounded all week after a routine inspection had discovered a serious fault in the ejection system. Left unchecked, it could have had catastrophic results in the event of an in-flight emergency. Given that eight Canadians have died in accidents since the team was formed, Armed Forces leadership kept them on the ground until the issue was resolved. The team obtained clearance to fly the evening before, and flew out to the show to everyone's relief - and because we're Canadian, appreciation.

As I've done every time I've seen them fly, I took a bunch of pictures of them in formation. They're lovely, I suppose, and I couldn't return home without these now-standard views of our beloved national icons. But it's the moments before they take flight that always cause chills down to the base of my spine and, I'll admit, a tear or two.

As these aircraft, all older than I am, slowly make their way across the tarmac and past the surrounding farmer's fields, I feel an intense mixture of fear for these brave souls, awe at their unbelievable level of skill and pride in a pretty neat country. There's something about the slow taxi, the roiled air trailing out behind and washing across the otherwise bucolic landscape, that reinforces why these machines that can leave earth, and the folks who fly them, are truly special.

Your turn: Thematic Photographic takes to the sky for the next week. If it has anything - however remotely - to do with aviation, I hope you'll share it in a photo. Here's how TP 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...aviation!
  • 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.

Painted sky

Oh so pretty
London, ON, August 2008 [Click to enlarge]

This just in: My appearance on CTV News Channel, originally scheduled for tonight, has been scrubbed (see here for original entry.) So many things have to come together in television that sometimes, things just don't work out. No worries: there will always be more interviews, as I've always got something to say. Thanks to you all for your great suggestions, and if you're north of the border, have a wonderful rest-of-Canada Day.
Over the past week, we've been sharing cloud-themed visions as part of our never-ending Thematic Photographic insanity (see launch image here, other photos here, here, here, here and here.) I chose this theme last week because I've been sticking my lens into the sky ever since I can remember, and every time I think I'm covering old territory, I manage to capture a scene completely unlike anything I've ever seen.

I know there's a lesson in there for all of us. Namely, there's no such thing as exhausted territory when it comes to photography (or anything else in life, for that matter.) Just because you may have taken a picture of Subject X at some point in the past doesn't mean you can't shoot the same subject and come home with a uniquely different shot. In fact, coaxing the new out of something familiar is a skill in and of itself.

To close out this week's theme, I wanted to share this photo as an example. Like so many other cloudy photos, I took it from my back yard. I had never seen this kind of light before that evening, and haven't seen it since. It makes me think this all has very little to do with photography.

Your turn: I hope this series has motivated you to pick the camera up more and doubt the integrity of the subject less. When in doubt, shoot it. What, then, will you be shooting next?

My country's birthday

Looking good for 142
London, ON, October 2008 [Click to embiggen]

A Canada Day Challenge for my readers: I'm chatting about Canada on national television tonight. I need your help mulling over talking points. Details in the "Your Turn" below.
July 1st is always a happy day around here as we celebrate Canada Day. In our typically Canadian fashion, we don't go over the top in marking the day. We don't want to draw too much attention to ourselves, and instead would rather enjoy the day surrounded by the folks who matter most. Why? Because our country isn't the super hot, uber popular homecoming queen type who all the jocks want to date. It's more like the reserved, subtly pretty nerdish girl who most everyone ignores until the teacher assigns a pop quiz for the next day and they need her notes.

A stretch, I know, but it illustrates an interesting point: everyone seems to love this country. Every time I'm in the U.S. or speaking with Americans, I often find myself on the receiving end of unprompted gushings of admiration for our nation and the unassuming folks who live here. They love our friendliness, our beer, our music (less Britney, more Jann Arden) and our overall vibe.

So do we. And although we don't always take the time to celebrate our Canadian roots, today's as good a day as any to give it a shot. Wherever you're from, I hope you take a moment today to reflect on what makes your own life such a blessing.

Your turn: I need your help. I'm appearing on a rather fun-filled segment on CTV News Channel tonight (Updated time: 8:15 p.m. EDT, then repeated overnight every half hour - if you're in hoserland, that is) with author and financial planner Theo Caldwell and publisher Howard Bloom. We'll be discussing what Canada means to us, how we feel about our country, what we love about it, what we'd change, etc. If you're Canadian - heck, even if you're not! - what comes to mind when you think about this great, maple leaf-wrapped nation? I'd love to hear your thoughts...