Sunday, October 31, 2010

Another brick in the wall

Stoic witness
London, ON, October 2010
[Click here to share your own yellow-themed vision]

I've always been quite the contrarian. When everyone's looking inward, I'm staring outward. When the gang's gathered together, I'm wandering around the periphery. It's not that I'm not interested in what everyone else is interested in; I'm not that antisocial. But I am more intent on finding the story not told, because I just don't see the point in rehashing the same old. Conventionality never was my thing.

And so while we were having a quiet meal at a local restaurant to celebrate the end of our daughter's Bat Mitzvah weekend (see here and here for more), I found myself staring at the surrounding brick walls. So many families both just like and nothing like ours had gathered in this very spot. I wondered if the folks who sat here on those earlier, unseen nights had felt as comfortable in their place in the universe as we did at that moment. I wondered what these walls would say if they could speak. I wondered about the unknown people who long ago built this wall, then moved on. I simply wondered.

It was a good moment, so I thought sharing this picture would extend that moment out to all of you as well.

Your turn: How do you know when all is right with the world? What does it feel or look like?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

What I learned from Toy Story

The claw knows all
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2008
[Click here to share your yellow vision]

One of my favorite scenes from one of my favorite movies of all time is the one where the Sheriff Woody tries to escape from one of those huge, crane-equipped toy games, only to be stymied by a horde of squeeze toy aliens, mindless three-eyed toys who worship The Claw as cult members would follow their bearded, shirtless, criminal-past "leader". It's a screamingly biting swipe at the risks we all face when we choose to drink the Kool-Aid.

Yet like all things in the world of Pixar, it's rendered with such a deft palette of words and pixels that kids think it's simply a funny bit with even funnier toys. Regardless, this scene was the first thing that came to mind as our kids walked past this machine in a Florida restaurant a couple of years back. And since these machines are kid-magnets and our kids are, well, magnetic, we had a heck of a time removing them from the establishment.

As the wretched Halloween "holiday" looms larger in our collective windshield, I believe this photo captures the spirit of it all quite nicely.

Your turn: Why don't I like Halloween?

Friday, October 29, 2010

What WikiLeaks leaks mean to the rest of us

Being a tech journalist makes for interesting days. I often wake up early and lie in bed, BlackBerry in hand, mulling over a constantly shifting landscape of topics. I narrow 'em down to the ones that jazz me most, and more importantly that I think will jazz readers. Then I put the pitch together, fire it off to my editors, and wait.

My wife, bless her, puts up with this tech-driven restlessness.

Some of my favorite topics are the ones that stick in my head for days, weeks or even months on end. WikiLeaks, a web site that publishes anonymously submitted, leaked documents, has been bouncing around the back of my brain for much of the year. I've commented extensively on it, but had kept my pen down until this week, after the site released some 77,000 "Iraq War Diaries" files. It dawned on me in the early morning darkness that this wasn't just about the military. It was about us.

Yahoo! Canada published my resulting article, WikiLeaks leak a wakeup call for business, today. A nice way to end the writing week, no? I hope you enjoy the read.

Your turn: Is WikiLeaks heroic or villainous?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thematic Photographic 121 - Yellow

Someone's dishes are gonna be dirty
London, ON, August 2010

Welcome to Thematic Photographic's yellow week. I've done this color before, but I enjoyed the week so much that I've decided to revisit it. Come to think of it, I'm somewhat partial to any color-based theme, so watch for more along these lines in the weeks and months to come.

This is an admittedly odd photo to kick off our theme. Then again, I have an admittedly odd way of looking at the world, so it's just as well that I had my camera with me after coming across this scene in a local parking lot. I can't even begin to explain how this yellow glove came to be here, and I'm not sure any of us really wants to know. But it was asking to be recorded all the same. So I obliged.

Photography, after all, isn't always about what we choose to capture. Sometimes, it's about the things that choose us.

Your turn: If you've done Thematic before, I won't stand in your way. Post your pic, leave your comment here, and have fun! If you're new to our weekly photographic share-fest, click here for more background on how it works. We promise it doesn't hurt.

Hatred lives among us...

The blogo-/twitter-/social-media-sphere is in an uproar over an Arkansas senior school board official's Facebook rant. Clint McCance, vice-president of the Midland School District, used his Facebook page to vent his homophobic, intolerant, hatred-filled spleen and, in doing so, ensured his rapid ascension to the throne of Internet pariah-hood. (Coverage here, here, here and here.)

Mr. McCance, apparently upset that everyone wore purple last week on Spirit Day in a show of solidarity toward gays and lesbians, said he'd wear purple only if gays and lesbians would "commit suicide," and that he would disown his kids if they told him they were gay. It got worse from there, in a pathetically error-filled tirade that isn't suitable for any workplace I've ever known.

Never mind that this man is responsible for educating thousands of kids in Arkansas (G-d help them all) and never mind that the school board didn't fire him outright. Okay, they couldn't fire him outright, as he's an elected official. But we've seen politicians get tossed out of office for far less.

This happened in an age where cyberbullying runs rampant, where too many kids of any background, let alone LGBT, feel so marginalized that they see suicide as the only answer. That a man responsible for guiding the educational future of so many children would go public with this kind of misinformed, misplaced rage is, from where I sit, a call to greater action.

CNN's Anderson Cooper took the high road in an eloquent and passionate response (see video). The rest of the Internet lit up in a similar fashion, as rational folks everywhere realized what true hatred looks like, and how much damage it can cause when it goes unchecked.

Well, Arkansas schools, here's your chance to check it before it gets worse, to set a precedent in the accelerating war against cyberbullying. In the growing fight to reintroduce tolerance and understanding back into the modern dialog. Don't let the Clint McCances of the world win. Don't let them take any more children away from us.

Your turn: Thoughts?

This just in: The idiot resigned in a live interview with Mr. Cooper. If you read into the words he used, though, it's clear he isn't truly sorry. He's only sorry he got caught. Some people never learn.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Loafing around

London, ON, August 2010
[Click photo to embiggen]
About this photo: We're wrapping up our "savour" week and getting ready for the new Thematic Photographic theme. It bows tomorrow (Thursday) at 7 p.m. Eastern. If you haven't done the savour thing yet - or even if you have and are still addicted to the insanity - click here to get in under the wire.
Bread may be the carb-laden enemy of new-millenium good health zealots everywhere, but there's nothing like hanging around the house as the bread machine works its magic. I grew up in a part of the world where bakeries were integral anchors of virtually every neighborhood, and to close your eyes and smell fresh-baked bread throughout the house is about as close to olfactory heaven as you'll get in this Age of Wonderbread.

So when my wife loaded up our bread machine and hit the on button, I waited patiently until she set the resulting loaf on the counter to cool. It seemed appropriate to remember the sight with a picture. Sadly, my Nikon wasn't able to capture the delicious scent.

Your turn: Do you make your own bread? Why is this simple domestic act so comforting?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Old enough to drive

A man-boy and his dog
Montreal, QC, December 2009

My wife and I have spent a good chunk of the day incredulously looking at each other and wondering both how and why time has to move as quickly as it does. See, 16 years ago today, we became parents after Zach spent the better part of a day trying to come into the world before surgeons decided to help him out a bit.

Our goal then was to ensure his path would be a little more smooth than his entry. And with a few exceptions - here, here and here - it's been a charmed life.

He's taller than I am now, a man-child with a wickedly sharp sense of humor and a refreshingly unique way of looking at the world. He's got mad chops with a lens, and despite playing the annoying big brother role to perfection, always seems to know when to cut the act and do the right thing. He's a good kid, a good brother, a good soul, and it frightens me beyond belief to know that he might be behind the wheel of my car before long.

Your turn: What advice do you have for our newly minted 16-year-old?

One more thing: My lovely wife wrote about Zach's big day here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bakerv or Bakery?

I see weird things all the time, like this descender-less sign at the local grocery store. And unlike the automatons around me who were mindlessly tossing apple crumb pie they seriously didn't need into their overstuffed megacarts, I looked up and pondered its significance for a moment before I, too, joined them in a quiet, shared celebration of all things apple crumb.

I don't know why the folks who designed and built this sign couldn't figure out a way to turn the bakerv into a bakery. But a small voice in my head - what, you don't hear voices? - said a silent thank you for this unexpected little surprise. And a silent thank you to the Research In Motion engineers just up the road who so kindly baked a camera into my BlackBerry. And a silent thank you to my wife who, even though she walked away as I composed and shot, didn't outright ban me from having this tiny moment of photographic joy.

Life's short. We've got to find joy wherever we can. I'm surrounded by it wherever I go, and whomever I'm with.

Your turn: Where do YOU find joy?

About this photo: We're savouring this week. What the heck am I talking about? Click here and all things heck - and Thematic - shall be explained.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Savour the vino

Oenophile's delight
London, ON, October 2010
About this photo: It's Thematic Photographic's savour week, so we're asking folks (including you) to share similarly-themed photos. How do you get started? Just go here.
Despite the fact that my name literally means "my vineyard" (it's a long story; click here for more on the name thing) I don't have much knowledge of wines. Part of it is my natural ability to get seriously looped on a shockingly small amount of alcohol. So when I'm out and about, I just don't drink because I never want to be caught on the wrong end of the driving/blood alcohol level/cop's-flashlight-in-your-face curve. I've seen first-hand what happens when folks think "they're OK" to drive, and it's horrific.

So I don't drink much. Which usually means I'm the designated driver. Bummer, I know. On the upside, while everyone else is busy getting hammered - or, given our era of apparent restraint, pleasantly pickled - I can wander the room with my camera, confident that I won't accidentally drop the thing in the punch bowl as I stumble for anything resembling porcelain.

And sometimes, I happen upon a little micro-scene like this. Which on this evening, reminded me of moments savoured with family and friends. There's something about the shape of a wine glass that speaks of warmth and community.

Your turn: The appeal of a glass of wine. Please discuss.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

One man's influence

It's a common truth that educators can hugely influence the trajectory of their students' lives. It's a similarly common truth that many of those students may not fully appreciate that influence until years later.

One of my mentors was a man named Arthur. Interestingly, he wasn't my teacher. He didn't even work at my school. See, I attended the St. Laurent campus of Herzliah High School, while Arthur worked as headmaster at the Snowdon branch. I knew of him long before I actually knew him. But as graduation approached and life decisions began to be made, I somehow found myself meandering through the halls of the "other" campus, talking to the guy who knew more about navigating post-secondary life than anyone I've met since.

His raison d'etre, it seemed, was to take every student under his wing and make sure we had everything we needed to kick it in our post-secondary career. He didn't just answer questions and provide pithy advice. He knew people at every school no matter where it was. Knew what they liked and didn't like. Knew how to talk to them. Knew how to write the perfect application letter to convince them to say yes. Knew when to suggest an alternative course of action if he felt you needed a nudge.

He was always there, too, never too busy to answer the phone or sit down with you if you dropped in unannounced. Never too preoccupied with the typical priorities of a senior administrative and academic leader to set everything aside and do whatever he felt you needed him to do. In Yiddish parlance, a mensch.

Largely because of him, I gained the confidence to ask questions, push myself into new academic and professional directions, and challenge myself to roll the dice even if others questioned my logic. I learned from him that the final choice is always yours.

Arthur Candib passed away this week after a long illness. When I opened up the e-mail from the alumni office, my heart sank. The simple dynamics of ages and generations teach us that we'll ultimately lose those who have guided us, but that doesn't make it any easier to swallow. The world lost a great man this week, a man who laid down roots within countless generations of students, all of whom have gone on to influence, improve and repair the world in their own unique way.

As the husband of a teacher, I appreciate deeply the influence that teaching souls like Mr. Candib (also known as "The Ace" to many who so often watched him hit it out of the park on their behalf) have on those lucky enough to cross their path. It's among the most precious of all legacies, because it continues to bear fruit long after the master has left us.

May his family derive comfort from all that he accomplished in his life. May his memory always be a blessing.

Your turn: Who influenced you? How/why?

Related links:

What do apples, berries and bubbles have in common?

I've had a productively intense week at the keyboard. The Toronto Star published my latest piece, RIM vs. Apple: Now it's personal, in today's (Saturday's) paper, while Yahoo! Canada Finance ran A business branding lesson from 'Officer Bubbles' yesterday and Macs, PCs not disappearing so quickly on Wednesday.

Please don't be turned off by the scary-looking headshot that now appears alongside my Yahoo! articles. PhotoShop can't work miracles in every case, apparently.

The neat thing about these articles is how much fun I have coming up with the ideas - often while walking the dog in the morning - then pitching them, refining them with my editors, researching the heck out of them, getting experts to weigh in and then, finally, writing and submitting them. Every article follows a journey that is at once similar to that followed by other pieces, yet in another respect completely unique. They're kind of like kids: they all seem to follow their own trajectory, they all seem to have their own story. They just don't talk back as much.

It's a privilege to be in the middle of an industry that's still figuring itself out, still deciding how all this technological wizardry fits into the lives of everyday people and companies, and how we're all being changed in the process. I get to tell their stories. It doesn't get any neater than this.

Your turn: What makes a good storyteller?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Thematic Photographic 120 - Savour

Far from Montreal
Delray Beach, FL, December 2008

Montreal is known for many things, especially foods that became famous in the shadows of the mountain from which the city takes its name. Like so many local favorites, these foods rarely translate well in other places. A Montreal bagel, for example, is just a roll with a hole in it when you buy one in Toronto (I'll duck now...those GTA folks don't much like ex-Montrealers slagging their bagels. But still...)

Smoked meat follows a similar trajectory. Only in Montreal is it as good and memorable as a Mordecai Richler novel. It's not so much a taste thing as it is an experience one. So if you have a Montreal-style smoked meat sandwich in the middle of, say, the suburbs of London, it isn't quite as rich an experience even if the taste and texture are identical.

Which explains why, when I return to my hometown to visit family, a smoked meat sandwich is always on the agenda. I know these things are terribly unhealthy, but sometimes, you've just got to live a little.

Your turn: This entry launches our Thematic Photographic theme, "savour", for the coming week. (Many thanks to Kalei's Best Friend for suggesting it.) To participate, just pick a photo that supports the theme, post it you your blog or web site, then leave a comment here so folks know where to find it. Repeat as often as you wish. Please click here if you're new to the Thematic Photographic weekly-photo-sharing-nuttiness thing.

About this theme: "Savour" could be food-related. Or something else. Whatever you wish, actually. We savor life, after all, so don't be afraid to push the limits a little as you decide how to interpret this one. And as always, enjoy the process.

Driving in a frozen wonderland

Bowling Green, OH, December 2008
About this photo: We're winding down our "turning colder" theme, but it's not too late to share your own. Just go here and dive in. Looking ahead, the new theme will launch later today - at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Our new theme, "savor", comes to us courtesy of Kalei's Best Friend.
We were on the first night of a long drive toward a warmer, sunnier place. We were originally supposed to leave the next morning, but an approaching ice storm prompted us to quickly finish loading the car and hit the road at midnight, four hours earlier than planned.

For the first couple of hours of the drive, we counted our lucky stars. In fact, the kids could actually see the stars because the sky was so clear. We relaxed as we crossed the border, pleased that we had seemingly skirted the storm. Everyone (well, except for me) fell asleep as we cruised past Detroit in the early, early morning darkness.

The moment we crossed the border into Ohio, the first snowflake hit the windshield. Now, I'm Canadian, so winter driving doesn't normally scare me. I'm used to it, and over the years I've learned how to adjust my driving style to the changing weather. Respect the environment around you and you'll be fine.

Well, that one snowflake soon turned into a raging ice storm. The road disappeared into a slushy, icy, snowy mass. The wipers barely kept up. I wasn't worried about my own driving, but the ignorance of those around me soon had me gripping the steering wheel a little too tightly for comfort. By the time we hit Bowling Green, Ohio - skater Scott Hamilton's hometown and a strangely traditional road trip stop for us - I was ready to call it a night. We pulled into a motel and tucked the munchkins safely into bed.

The world had turned to ice by morning. So while the kids stared out the window with wonder in their eyes, I headed to the parking lot to calculate how long it would take to hack back into our now-ice-encrusted wondervan. Luckily it wasn't that bad, so I had a few extra minutes to record the moment with my camera before heading back in for breakfast in the middle of a frozen wonderland. Our kids still speak of this day, and still see Bowling Green as a friendly oasis far from home.

Your turn: Do you have a special place far from home? What makes it special?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Apple hates RIM. Doesn't bother me a bit.

Apple had a big day today. It announced some neat new machines (which I now want), demonstrated some cool new software (which I also want), and gave us a sneak peek at its upcoming operating system, OS X v10.7, better known as "Lion" (do I have to state the obvious?)

The announcement, and the escalating war of words between Apple CEO Steve Jobs and Research In Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie, and this week's release of Apple's most blockbuster quarterly financial results ever, made for an interesting day in my world. I did two television interviews (CTV News Channel's Jacqueline Milczarek and BNN's Michael Hainsworth - video here - and a radio hit as well, with Sue Smith of CBC Radio Montreal's Home Run - audio here.) I also wrote an article, which I'll link to once it goes live.
Update, Thursday, 12:29 a.m.: The article, Macs, PCs not disappearing so quickly, is now live on Yahoo! Canada Finance.
I also confirmed my writing docket for the next couple of days, so tomorrow will dawn just as full of promise as today did. May I continue to have the wherewithal to turn that promise into something neat.

Your turn: How do you define a good day?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Google's stealing your data!

Okay, so the headline's a little hyperbolic. The truth of the matter is a programming glitch by a Google engineer in 2006 went unnoticed when the company later sent camera-laden cars driving up and down Canadian (and presumably American, European and other) streets for its Google Street View service.

The glitch resulted in the cars collecting far more than 360-degree pictures of their surroundings. They also captured Wi-Fi signals from folks like you and me (story here). And when those routers were not properly secured, said Google cars recorded personal information like names, e-mail addresses, proper addresses, phone numbers, and in at least one case the names of folks participating in a medical trial. Can we say oops?

Google has apologized for the oversight (months ago, actually) and has committed to righting this wrong by destroying the data, promising never to do it again and assigning a team of Googlers to wash and wax Canadian Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart's car.

So I'm stretching that last part. But Stoddart was ticked. And she called Google on it after thoroughly investigating the incident (press release here.) Media folks got wind of it, and before I knew it I was speaking with the good folks at the CBC. First I chatted with Sue Smith on CBC Radio Montreal's Home Run show this afternoon, then I ducked into the studio to chat with the national television news team for tonight's The National. If you're around a TV, the fun begins at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on CBC NN, and at 10:00 p.m. on the main CBC television network. I'll post links to the video here as they become available.

Your turn: Is an apology enough? Why is privacy such a touchy issue in the Internet Age?

This just in: Coverage of the Russell Williams court case (he's the monster making international headlines because he commanded Canada's largest air force base and flew heads of state around the globe while leading a double life of sadistic rapes and murders) forced CBC to cut the piece short. So my clips ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor. Which in the age of digital doesn't really exist, but you get the picture. Life in the media biggie. The phone will ring again soon.

Do you Yahoo? I do!

The journalistic adventure continues. I've begun publishing with Yahoo! Canada (pause, breathe...this is just too neat for words!) and my first piece - Can RIM survive the Apple onslaught? - went live earlier this afternoon.

I'll be pitching and writing tech-business pieces for their tech and finance sections. If you're already on my source radar, I'll forewarn you that you'll be hearing from me more often. If you're not already on my source radar and you want to be, don't be shy: I need a large supply of smart, opinionated folks to keep the article pipeline both filled and moving forward.

Your turn: I'm always on the lookout for tech ideas that folks want to read about. Feel free to leave 'em in a comment, e-mail (carmilevy AT gmail DOT com) or even a tweet (@carmilevy).

Monday, October 18, 2010

Snow's coming

Reflectively retro
Stratford, ON, January 2010
[Click image to enlarge]
[Click here to share your "turning colder" vision]

I felt it when I left the house before first light this morning, a snap in the air that confirmed, once and for all, that I won't be wearing my shorts and sandals again for a while. I'm not complaining, though. It felt good. I was barely awake, and not entirely happy to be starting my day before the rest of my body felt it was ready. So a little fresh air on my face was a good thing, a gentle reminder from Mother Earth that I needed to pay more attention to the cold feeling on my skin, the sound of the breeze through the trees, even the smell of the fallen leaves.

It reminded me of this day last January, when I stood in a snowy parking lot and prepared to take my car home from Stratford, a city about 45 minutes away from here. The weather was closing in and the last thing I needed was to be in the middle of the hinterlands in a snow squall. But I wanted to remember what it was like to be in the middle of snowy perfection, so I shot quickly before jumping in and heading home.

I need to get out more. The cold does me good.

Your turn: Can the cold be good for our mood? How?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Turning colder. Literally.

Airflow device
Richmond Hill, ON, April 2010

Please accept my apologies for the very literal interpretation of this week's "turning colder" theme (wander this way to share your's the most fun you can have with your lens cap on.) I just couldn't resist sharing this photo here when I cruised past it in my archives, and I hope it brings a smile to your face as it did mine.

Your turn: Photography often forces us to contort ourselves into odd positions to get the shot. This time out, I was flat on my back on the ground as my mother watched from across the room with the oddest look on her face. You'd think she'd know me by now, eh? Anyway, what's the weirdest position/place you've folded yourself into to compose a picture?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Barren topography

Satellite image
London, ON, February 2010
[Click photo to embiggen]
About this photo: Thematic Photographic focuses in on "turning colder" this week. If you'd like to focus on it, too, please click here.
I'll let you guess where I found this remarkable little world. You'll laugh when I tell you.

Your turn: Go ahead and guess where. Closest one wins the right to choose next week's Thematic Photographic theme. Enter as often as you wish - click the Comment link below to get started.

Been writing

It's been a busy time in my writing world, and things are beginning to move in a very interesting direction. Probably the most exciting news over the couple of months involves my writing articles for The Toronto Star, Canada's largest newspaper. I've been so focused on - and having so much fun - pitching, researching and writing that I haven't taken the time to catalog what I've published so far. So if you're in the mood to get your geek on, here's the rundown:
  1. (Aug 20) - Can staid BlackBerry survive the smartphone wars?
  2. (Aug 29) - Why Intel's deal for McAfee will shake the laptop landscape
  3. (Sep 03) - Fighting for the cloud: Behind the duel for 3PAR
  4. (Sep 19) - Is it the end of the line for the landline?
  5. (Sep 24) - Twitter hack is a warning for social media users
  6. (Sep 27) - A first review: PlayBook gets RIM in the tablet game
  7. (Oct 8) - Microsoft needs to get serious about mobile phones
  8. (Oct 10) - Airlines use Twitter, other social tools to revolutionize customer service
  9. (Oct 15) - Future of television is online and on-demand
Your turn: What tech thing or issue should I write about next?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Over the foggy hill

London, ON, February 2009
[Please click here for Thematic Photographic's "Turning Colder" theme]

Ever notice how a foggy morning seems to seep through however many layers you may be wearing? You can bundle up as much as you want to, but you'll always feel a certain chill as you step out into the near-silence that accompanies a pea-soup environment.

That's how I felt on this morning. According to the thermometer, it wasn't especially cold. It was actually above zero thanks to an unseasonable warm trend. Which is how the fog came to be, I guess, as the blanket of snow that had blanketed our burg for months sublimated in the suddenly warm air.

So I took a walk before we all had to head for the day that awaited. And as my bones chattered inside my warm coat, I buried my hands deeper in the pockets and wished for more mornings exactly like this one.

Your turn: How do you keep warm?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thematic Photographic 119 - Turning Colder

Ice, ice, baby
In support of Thematic Photographic's "Turning Colder" theme
London, ON, September 2010

Lately, I've been wearing sweaters and coats on my nighttime walks with the dog. Even then, it often isn't enough to ward off the chill. Same thing in the morning, where you can almost see your breath. Summer was officially over in the Northern Hemisphere a few weeks ago, but only now is it really starting to hit home.

It isn't anywhere near freezing yet, and we're nowhere near the bite of a true Canadian winter. But it's coming. You can feel it in the air, see it on the frost on the windows in the morning, hear it in the trees as they slowly (or not-so-slowly) shed their leaves and get ready for the inevitable.

So I thought we could explore this change a little bit over the next week. I realize exploring temperature with a camera seems a little out there. But isn't that the whole point of photography? To make those around us feel something a little more intensely through a shared scene?

As you choose your pictures this week, keep in mind that you don't necessarily need to stick to ice-and-snow pictures. As ever, feel free to be as abstract or as interpretive as you wish. There are no rights and wrongs here. Creative thinking has no boundaries.

Have fun.

Your turn: Share a photo that supports this week's theme, "turning colder". Leave a link to it in a comment here. If you've got something archived online, share that, too. Play along as often as you wish. Thematic Photographic rules (well, not really rules...more like suggestions) are here. All TP entries are found under our handy dandy TP label here.

About this photo: John Labatt Centre. Goalie's crease, just before the start of the London Knights game. Not long before the lady from the JLC confronted me and told me to put my camera away because the lens was too long. Oops.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Of Chilean miners and life in general

I'm on my way home from far away, thumb typing this in an EOA parking lot waiting for the rain to die down a little before I finish the drive. But I've been noodling this thought in my head and didn't want to lose it:

As the rescue of the Chilean miners nears what appears to be an absolutely perfect conclusion, I find myself thinking that this can't just be about 33 guys stuck underground for a couple of months. The rescue, the global resources required to collaboratively plan and execute it, and the worldwide attention now focused on a very deep hole in the ground all seem to beg for a greater meaning.

I believe in the concept of Tikkun Olam - Hebrew for "fix the world" - and we teach this to our children. I can't help but think that the lesson for us all in the return of these men to the rest of the planet lies in us figuring out how to use their inspiration to fix our own corner of the world.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Where the branch ends

London, ON, September 2010
[Click here for more branch-themed insanity]

As you can tell from this shot, I'm a fan of texture. Soft light combined with soft surfaces can create the kind of texture that can actually make you feel something that isn't even there; a neat optical trick given the fact that typical picture is little more than two dimensions of unreality.

This is the kind of picture I like to return to later on, as it brings me a sense of peace that comes in handy when the planet seems to have other plans.

Maybe "unreality" was a little harsh, because the feelings are real indeed.

Your turn:
Why does the dark appeal to us?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Where birds are welcome

A place to call home
London, ON, July 2010

About this photo: It's "branched" week all week long here at Written Inc., as Thematic Photographic celebrates anything remotely woody that grows toward the sky. Please click here to share your own branched vision. Happiness shall ensue.
In the backyard of our friend's home, there's this tree that sits in the middle and casts a delightfully soft shade over the seating area. It's the kind of place where we've spent many quiet afternoons and evenings, just chatting about whatever comes up. It's a comforting, happy place.

They hung a bird feeder there this summer, and as the sun slowly settled toward the horizon one particular day in July, I found myself staring at the two kinds of wood - before and after - and feeling comforted as much by the sight of this combined source of life as I was by the banter of voices floating over from nearby.

Another subtle reminder from the universe that it's the simple things that matter most.

Your turn: Where's your favorite quiet place? What makes it your favorite?

One more thing: My lovely wife wrote about our daughter's big weekend on her blog. Click here to see what she had to say.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Pools of light

Apologies for being so brief. It's been an eventful weekend in our daughter's life - she celebrated her Bat Mitzvah yesterday - and we're still hanging with friends and family, enjoying the rest of the long weekend with those who've had a part in her growing into the accomplished young lady that she is now.

It's also Thanksgiving here in Canada, and looking at my house tonight, filled with good people and good spirit, it dawns on me that we have many reasons to be thankful.

I took this picture earlier this evening. I had walked to the store to get some milk. An ordinary moment at the end an extraordinary day. I thought it was the kind of scene that Dahlia would appreciate, the kind of moody landscape that's all too often overlooked in the rush to complete errands and get home.

Our daughter's growing into a centred, grounded, confident person who doesn't miss details like this. She appreciates the small stuff, cares for those who can't care for themselves, and seems to convert stress into utter confidence. I'm already learning much from her.

More soon.

Your turn: Why are life milestones so important to us?

Saturday, October 09, 2010

At the root of it all

Hold on
London, ON, March 2009

So it's a root and not a branch*. They're quite closely related, after all, as one sucks up the water and nutrients that the other needs to grow, while the other absorbs the sunlight and carbon dioxide necessary to drive the photosynthetic process that keeps the whole thing alive. They need each other, so I thought it might be a nice gesture to give the lowly root its due.

That plus I really liked this picture as soon as I saw it on the camera's screen. The colors and textures are especially Zen-like. Sometimes, it really is as simple as looking at something that makes you feel a bit better.

Your turn: Look down. What's there?

* This photo supports our weekly Thematic Photographic theme, branched. If you've got something that fits the theme - new, existing, whatever you've got - please head over here and share your vision.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Meteorological pea soup

A walk in the fog
London, ON
February 2009

I live in the London that gets no attention or respect, the so-called "Other London" that is always followed by an explanation. "The one in Canada," "No, not that British one," "The sleepy little burg two hours west of Toronto."

Often in conversation, folks will express surprise that I don't have a British accent, or that the phone connection sounds great for a transatlantic call. That's when I know it's time to fess up and admit that my life is a lot less glamorous than they had been led to believe.

No matter, though, as our quiet, mid-sized town has just enough of the real London in it. We have a Thames River, a street grid with names like Oxford, Adelaide, Dundas, Queens and King, and thanks to some really lousy geography, fog. Lots of it.

Fairly regularly, we wake up to a pea soup world that, just like a massive snowstorm, kids love and adults hate. I used to just grumble and hope it would burn off by the time school and work rolled around, but eventually I stopped whining about the minor inconveniences like incompetent drivers (hint: slow down, turn on your lights, put the cell phone down and pay attention to what's going on around you) and a dog who wouldn't leave the house because his neighborhood looked completely surreal (solution: I started carrying him to the corner.)

A foggy morning offers a brief opportunity to shoot the world as it's rarely seen, to experience a time when everything slows down and goes quiet. If it falls during the week, I don't have a lot of time to play with; usually just enough for a quick walkabout before I rejoin the fam for the daily morning crunch. But I'm learning that sometimes we need to take the time regardless. Because before long, the fog's gone and what made the moment special quickly fades into the past.

Something tells me I may have stumbled onto a metaphor for life.

Your turn: Taking the time, even if you don't really have the time to spare. Please discuss.

Touchstone in a studio

Her on-air debut
London, ON, January 2010

[Click here for Thematic branched]

This is the view from the chair at the University of Western Ontario's television studio. The state-of-the-art facility belongs to the journalism faculty and is primarily used to train the media pros of tomorrow. Lucky for me, it's also a full-broadcast-capable resource, so I often find myself sitting in the middle of this place, talking to interviewers in faraway places about topics that are almost too cool for words.

Po, the littlest Teletubby, hangs off of my omnipresent camera bag and serves as a reminder that you can never take life too seriously (see here, here and here for more.) Almost three years ago, I had another sidekick here; I had taken my dad to sit in on an interview with the CBC. I probably shouldn't have done the interview in the first place, as it was our son's bar mitzvah the next day, and on this evening, we were scheduled to be in the middle of a house full of out-of-town visitors for the traditional Friday night dinner.

But I didn't want to say no to an opportunity to work with our national broadcaster, and I thought it would be neat to let my father peek into my rather nutty little media world. How often, after all, was he with us and healthy enough to ride shotgun on a local adventure?

So off we went to the studio, and as I settled into the chair he chatted like a kid with David, who has run the facility and the program for more years than I've been around. He asked countless questions as David flitted between the floor and the adjacent control room, working remotely with the folks in Toronto to adjust sound and camera settings. He beamed as he took in what was going on and how it all seemed to seamlessly come together.

With a thumbs-up and a sideways-glance-smile, the studio went silent and the interview began. I could feel my dad watching, and the five-minute hit flew by. Another thumbs-up from him after the red light went off: A great interview. The car was a happy place as we finished up and headed, late, to the dinner. My wife was, um, slightly displeased when we arrived, but in retrospect I'm glad I stretched the schedule a bit. (Life lesson: Hold onto the small moments.)

Tonight, we gather again for the Friday night dinner before our daughter's bat mitzvah. Three years on, my dad won't be there, and if I get called for an interview, I'll be going alone, as I now do every time. But the next time I watch the red light go on, take a deep breath and answer that first question to get into my groove, I'll silently think back to the time I got to make my father proud.

Your turn: If you've got a memorable small moment with someone who mattered, I hope you'll share it here.

This just in: So just after I clicked the Publish button on this entry, my phone rang. It was the CBC, and they wanted to talk to me. My wife raised her eyebrow when I told her I wanted to do this one. I told her to trust me, and she did. So I went into the studio earlier this afternoon. The serendipity of working with the CBC again today seems almost too perfect. Maybe I wasn't alone after all.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Thematic Photographic 118 - Branched

Reach for the sky
London, ON, March 2009
[Click photo to embiggen]

If you're new to Written Inc., we do a weekly photographic shareathon kinda thing called Thematic Photographic where I post a theme, and everyone shares perspectives based on that theme. Head here for the rules. We promise you it won't hurt.

For this week's theme, branched, I've decided to take some inspiration from the trees that have always inspired me. I spend a ridiculous amount of time outdoors - dog and the math - so I often find myself staring at trees and bushes, trying to figure out if they're worth a few megabytes on my camera's memory card (short answer: Often.) I also live in the Forest City, so it's only fair that I give branches their due.

As you explore the theme, keep in mind that a branch need not be limited to something that originated as a seed in the ground. As always, how you interpret a theme can be as out-there as you wish. The goal here is to stretch a little. I know you'll have as much fun with this theme as I have.

Your turn: Shoot a branch-themed pic, post it online, then post a comment here telling us where to find it. You can also share stuff from your archives - whatever's easiest. Rules here. TP-themed entries here. No wagering, please.

Field of dreams

Nature's parallelism
Richmond Hill, ON, November 2009

I thought I'd round out this week's parallel-themed adventure* with a shot of how nature views the concept. I tend to use photography as the adult equivalent of a child's security blanket: It brings me comfort to hang out behind the camera, then slowly flip through the results of my work later on.

Moments like this one, where the world as I've captured it in two dimensions is as perfectly balanced as it's ever going to get, are especially Zen-like. You wonder what it took for nature to paint this place just as is it now. And when even that becomes too mind-boggling a process, you settle for a simple, under-your-breath word. "Cool".

The folks at Discovery Channel put it best: The world is just awesome.

Your turn: An assignment. Go outside or look out the window. Right now, if at all possible. What do you see?

* Parallel theme is here if you'd still like to share. New theme goes live tonight at 7:00 Eastern. What will it be? The hint lies in the photo above.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Temple of transportation

Pillars of society
Toronto, ON
December 2009
[Click here if you're feeling parallel-ish]

Toronto's Union Station is the city's equivalent of New York's Penn Station, a grand-looking building in the middle of downtown that handles all intercity and commuter train traffic. It was the transportation equivalent of the centre of the world before airplanes took over the travel landscape. Even now, there's a majesty and reverence, a sense of history to this place that even the most soaring airport terminal can't touch.

There's an unwritten rule that buildings like this can't merely be large. They must also be grandiose, iconic, memorable, sporting the kind architecture that causes weary passengers to stop and take it all in even if they've been through this place a dozen times in the last month. Union Station qualifies in spades.

It's a place I'd explore indefinitely if I had the time. I've been here before (see here) but even now know there's plenty of photographic potential left in this place before I decide I've had enough. Indeed, there are so many ways to look at this grand dame of early 20th century design that it's entirely possible I'd never run out of inspiration.

Something tells me each of us has at least one place deep in our souls that we'd return to again and forever, if only we could.

Your turn: So what's your forever place? Why?

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Don't invade my privacy

Canada is fairly privileged to have a Privacy Commissioner who walks the walk. Her name's Jennifer Stoddard, and she's spearheaded a range of high-profile initiatives designed to protect our privacy and confidentiality in an age when data is so easily compromised.

If you're not already familiar with her work, she was the one who doggedly pursued Facebook and forced the social media giant to rein in its initially chaotic privacy policies and tools. Because of her, Facebook has improved how it handles confidential data not only in Canada, but around the world.

Stoddard has a global reputation, and she's not resting on her laurels: Her office just released a report that highlights how government agencies are dropping the ball on privacy. I spoke with CTV News Channel's Sandie Rinaldo this afternoon (interview video here, CTV's full story page here) about what it means for the rest of us, and how we can take steps to protect our data on computers and mobile devices.

Your turn: Ever had private information go where it shouldn't have?

One more thing: I also spoke with the Canadian Press about Rogers purchasing Atria Networks for $425 million. Story (this one's from the Lethbridge (AB) Herald) is here.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Over the bridge to somewhere

Watching the cars go by
Laval, QC, August 2009

[Click photo to embiggen]

I'm cheating a little here. I posted a similar picture - taken just four minutes after this one - last year (see entry here). Before you report me to the blog-repeat-police, hear me out: I often wrestle with the fact that new folks drop by every day and may never see some of my favorite moments buried deeply in the archives. Yet some shoots and subjects almost beg for an occasional revisit. So forgive me if I indulge in another look at a moment that meant something to me.

That, and this is another parallel view. Score!

What gets me about this series is three things, actually:
  • I got to experience it with my son. He's been bitten by the photo bug and happily grabs the camera on occasion for some exploration of his own. I started shooting at the age he's at now (15) and creatively he's already light years ahead of where I was when I started. It's scary, in a good way, to think where he'll end up if he follows his passion.
  • We were able to see in photos what we could not see in real life. Long exposure opens a window into ethereal views - ghostly light trails and all - that simply don't exist when you take them in with the naked eye. Photography isn't always about reality, and few shots drive this home more forcefully than nighttime long exposures.
  • We recorded an ordinary bridge - plain deck, no superstructure, no unique identifying features of any kind - in a way that made it memorable to us. This unassuming hunk of concrete, asphalt and steel, mindlessly crossed by thousands of people every day, is now special to us. I like that he remembers it that way.
Your turn: Why does the night hold such appeal to us? How is it that the simple cover of darkness can turn an ordinary place into something less so?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Ride on

This way
Laval, QC, August 2010

The day has dawned cold, grey and wet. I can live with the temperature and the color of the sky. But the moisture thing is another story. I'd rather not bundle myself and my cargo into a human Ziploc bag, then curse the very existence of the planet as road spray works its way into the very fiber of my being. It's a miserable way to travel, and I'm just not into it when I can just as easily take my car and avoid yet another head cold.

Yes, I've become soft and lazy. Discuss.

To compensate somewhat for the guilt I now feel as I pick up my car keys and head out the door, I'd like to share this scene with you, shot from my in-laws' window. I enjoy shooting from tall buildings primarily because I do not live in one. So being way above the ground gives me new opportunities to look at the world. And on this day, I looked way down and saw a freshly paved road with a newly painted bike path running against traffic. Ding!

Would I ever ride on this path? Quebec (and, by inclusion, Montreal-area) drivers, are widely thought to be among the most aggressive on the planet. So no thank you. My let's-get-hit-by-a-car adventure years ago came courtesy of just such a wrong-way path that converged with an arguing-with-his-wife-and-forgetting-to-see-that-stop-sign man. This place is chock full of these death traps, which if you follow the stats are 55 times more likely to turn cyclists into hood ornaments.

So I'll follow the experts' advice and take my chances riding in the lane, along with traffic. I'm sure the honking and the cursing will begin shortly. For the record, I can hear it, but I'm not listening.

Your turn: Why can't motorists and cyclists get along? I still can't figure it out, and I wish I knew why.

One more thing: This is a parallel-themed photo. It's parallel week. You know what to do.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Little brick schoolhouse

London, ON, May 2009

Buildings built for public service, like this school here, aren't known for being architectural wonders. For the most part, they're built-to-a-price boxes that serve the purpose for which they were designed. They're virtually all alike, and in their relentless sameness, they lack the ability to inspire.

That's the conventional view, anyway. And it's that conventional view that results in no one ever giving these buildings a second glance. It's a perspective that conditions us to simply accept that we'll never find anything worth remembering here. So we don't take the time.

That, my friends, would be a mistake. Because the whole idea of living - at least as I understand it - involves a little envelope-pushing. Why would I join the herds standing around the latest Frank Gehry creation, for example, gawking in amazement at what he can do to a three dimensionally-curved surface?
Disclosure: I've stood gawking in front of a Gehry creation before - see here for an up close and personal view of The Experience Music Project in Seattle. The experience (ha!) was sublime, and I'll remember it always. But that doesn't mean life stops there. End tangent.
So by avoiding the non-Gehry, non-tourist-trappy, non-spectacular things, we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to tease something from nothing, to squeeze creative blood from stones that, at least initially, show no desire to give anything up.

Anyone can shoot spectacular. But can we make the mundane just as worthy of the attention of others? I'd like to think we can.

Your turn: Why do we avoid plain? Why shouldn't we?

Oh, and while you're at it: Please check into this week's Thematic. I could make some joke about being in a parallel universe, but that would be corny.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The lowest price is no longer the law

Final letter
London, ON

May 2009

[Click all photos to embiggen]
About this photo: Thematic Photographic explores parallel this week. Got anything that remotely qualifies? Feel free to follow your mouse here if you do. Or even if you don't, as we're an equal opportunity photographic nurturer.
Before Wal-Mart paved the low-cost superstore landscape in Canada, there was Zellers. Well, if we're being absolutely precise, there still is a Zellers. But it's difficult to understand how it can compete against the menace from Bentonville when the average store is a haphazardly stocked zoo with employees who, when you manage to find them, don't seem to know how to connect you with the things you need.

In 21st century retail, it's the little things that matter. And a store that abandons its "lowest price is the law" tagline but neglects to paint over the shadows that remain when the sign is removed sends quite a different message to customers and potential customers. It suggests it doesn't sweat the small stuff. That it misses the subtle details of customer service that today's consumers look for and, indeed, expect. I'm all for supporting Canadian business, but it's hard to feel enthusiastic when it routinely drops the ball on the most basic things.

But the store anchors the southern end of the local ginormous mall, so it's difficult to miss when you're there to gawk at the lap-walking seniors as you munch on something decadent from Cinnabon. When I found myself in the parking lot one morning last year, I thought I'd have some fun with the sign high up on the wall. Corporate ineptitude aside, there's a stark simplicity to the Z that just works - and I'm not just saying that because my middle name starts with a Z.

I attracted plenty stares from strangers who probably wondered what I was doing standing in middle of the parking lot with a DSLR in my hand, but I didn't let that stop me. I figured whoever the store hired for security was probably too busy watching Family Feud on the wall of screens in the electronics department.

Eventually, I tired of exploring this antediluvian retail aesthetic and headed home. I found the whole experience a tad depressing, for some odd reason. So when I got back to the house, I plunked myself down in the kitchen and tucked into my danish from Cinnabon. Nothing like a little sugar therapy to ward off the gloom cast by a business that time apparently forgot.

Your turn: Businesses that fail to keep pace. Please discuss.

Oops, almost forgot: Happy new month! Because new years only come once a year, but we get 12 new months.