Friday, December 31, 2010

The sun sets on another...

Laval, QC, August 2010
About this photo: Thematic Photographic has been sharing our favorite photos of 2010, and we'll be doing this right through January 6th. If you've got some fave shots, click here to get started.
I'm cheating a little, as I featured a similar picture from this same shoot here. But I learned a long time ago that shooting more than one shot of a particular scene reduces the chance of coming home with nothing. Because if all you've got is one frame and it's a dud for whatever reason, you've got nothing.

This photo is quite likely one of my favorites of the year not simply because it reflects a fleetingly spectacular moment that I was privileged to see. No, there's more to it. I took it from my in-laws' balcony. Every time I'm there, I shoot sunsets, usually bolting from the dinner table to grab the moment before it's gone. My mother-in-law often watches through the window and suggests when I might want to head outside. Even if it comes in the middle of dinner. She gets it.

So this pic isn't my favorite simply because it's aesthetically pleasing. It lingers in the happy pile because it illustrates that photography has become so much more than a mechanical process for me. It's a way of connecting with family, friends, and all of you. It starts conversations, gets everyone thinking, inspires them to take the picture and turn it into action. And even if they never touch a camera, the process touches them in some way. Neat.

The seemingly simple process of lifting a box of electronics to my face and pressing a button now goes way beyond the creation of two-dimensional images. It's become a critical part of my narrative - and I strongly suspect of yours, too. That's also neat. I think that thought, coupled with this picture, is a nice way to close out the year.

Your turn: May the coming year bring only goodness to you and your family, and may we all continue to drink in the amazing things this planet has to offer us. I've never been one to make resolutions on arbitrary days of the calendar, but I've got hopes and dreams for the future. What are yours?

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Maple leaf's end

London, ON, October 2010
About this photo: This is one of my favorite photos of the year. Do you have one lurking in your files, too? How's about two? Or more? Click here if you'd like to share.
It's always sad to see the brilliant colors of autumn give way to crunchy, far-from-perfect leaves underfoot. When the bare trees cast forlorn shadows over endless stretches of leaf-choked lawns, you kind of wish for the color to return.

But that circle of life moves in only one direction, so you've got to work with what you've got. And when this one, withered leaf blew across the hotel parking lot, I knew it made no sense to wait for something brighter or less pockmarked. We had come to this.

So I hung back from my wife and kids, pre-set the camera to manual and tried to guess the necessary settings with my fingers as I sat down cross-legged on the pavement and lined up the shot. Sure, my wife was mortified and the kids tried to disown me. But if I didn't end up with a Michelin tread pattern running diagonally up my back, I figured I stood a pretty decent chance of capturing something worth remembering.

As the year ticks down to its inevitable end, I find myself thinking about what we lose along the way, and whether we're doing enough to hold onto the resulting memories after they're gone.

Your turn:
What does this photo make you feel?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Green Lantern revisited

This can't be good for my eyesight
London, ON, October 2010
[Please click here to share your own favorite photos of the year]

Remember this picture? Well, that wasn't the only green laser pic I grabbed that night. I'm not entirely certain why I kept coming back to the brilliant lights, but I tend to do that when I think I have even the most remote chance of capturing something unique. Call me rabid. I don't mind.

In the end, this night served up some neat results. The big one up top is one I can't quite explain - that texture between the two edges must have something to do with the smoke machine. Then again, there is no overriding rule that says every photo must come with a scientific explanation of how the optics came to be. Sometimes, it's simply enough to call it a pretty picture and leave it at that.

The squiggly-lined photo, on the other hand, is a little easier to understand. The light show included a green (no, I'm not sure why everything was green that night) laser that repeatedly swept the dance floor. This pic is the end result of my Hail Mary-ish attempt to capture it in some bizarro-artsy way. My technique was decidedly amateurish as I hadn't brought my tripod with me: I pointed the camera down, held my breath and stood as still as I possibly could while waiting out the long exposure. Yes, I got stares. No, I didn't pay much attention to my anti-fans.

I admit I get a lot of selfish joy from the process of taking edge-of-the-bell-curve pictures. When it's just me, my equipment and a story to tell, I enjoy the Zen-like feeling I get from immersing myself in the process. Nothing else matters, which is a nice way to keep the world at bay, even if it's only for a few minutes.

Your turn: Does photography relax you? How?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dreaming of fermented grapes

I never knew Manischewitz offered such choice. I seriously need to get out more often.

Your turn: Which one should I choose? Why?

Canadian pride

Red maple
London, ON
November 2010
About this photo: This is another one of my favorite pictures of the year. Coincidentally, Thematic Photographic celebrates our faves of the year, too. So can you: Just go here.
It's easy for Canadians to become jaded by the maple tree. It is, after all, one of our country's core symbols, the kind of thing that instantly reminds us of who we are and why we love this country.

Well, if you're not a Quebec separatist, that is. But that's an issue for another day. For the rest of us, it's an ever-present icon of the everyday.

The maple tree serves up enough natural reminders that the patriotic among us have lots to play with when autumn turns the landscape into an endless Crayola box. I remember this shot well. It was breakfast-time and I had just dropped the kids off at school. The sun was delightfully low, and the backlit leaves almost begged to have their picture taken before they took their final, one-way trip down.

Since I'm not one to disagree with a leaf, I soon found myself reaching into my camera bag. How Canadian of me.

Your turn: Why are national symbols like maple leaves and stars and stripes so important to so many of us?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Still hitting the bottle

Bright spirits
Laval, QC, November 2010
About this photo: This is one of my favorite photos of the year. Head here to share yours as part of Thematic Photographic's year-end extravaganza.
I wrote about this blue bottle of booze the other day. This is my other favorite bottle from that collection. It's too pretty to open up, too pretty to drink, too pretty do do much more than stick it in a sunlit spot and drink in the reflected light.

Does it make sense that I keep shooting hooch in bright sunshine? Probably not. But as I wiped the dust and fingerprints off the bottle and prepared it for its mini photo session on my mother's dining room table, I wasn't overly concerned about whether it made sense or not. Like the now-famous-to-me blue bottle, this one was also a silent basement sentinel while I was growing up. It sat on a shelf, nearly forgotten, ever since I could remember.

Indeed, that was the neat thing about all of my father's bottles: I don't remember him bringing any of them home. From my perspective, they were always there, fixtures that simply never changed. Which was a good thing for a kid like me who had always craved stability. Knowing that something had always been and would always be was something I held onto. In my naive, child's mind, stores didn't go bankrupt, couples didn't divorce, boo-boos always healed and nobody died.

We all know how the world really works, of course. Indeed, I was here in the first place on this brilliantly sunny afternoon because everything had changed. And those childhood assumptions no longer applied. But watching the brightly reflected color on the table, I felt that at least one touchstone from long ago was still very much the same. Only better, because it was no longer dusty, no longer sitting on a basement shelf.

Your turn: Do you have a memory of childhood that brings you comfort today?

Sunday, December 26, 2010


We all have our favorite animal species. Mine? Depends on the day. Or my mood at any given moment. Or the current contents of my uber-cool Windows Phone 7-powered smartphone. Whichever way I'm leaning on any given day, I guess I've got a soft spot for anything that isn't human. Maybe I've got animal DNA mixed in with mine.

Wherever it comes from, it means I find scenes like this to be strangely amusing. And I don't necessarily need to know the full backstory to appreciate the moment.

Your turn: What should this little guy's name be?


A sleeping dog lies
London, ON, September 2010
About this photo: This is one of my favorite photos of the year. Coincidentally, that's what Thematic is celebrating, too. Go here to share a fave of your own.
I don't write about our dog, Frasier, as often as I perhaps should. I don't mean to ignore him on the blog. Indeed, he's anything but ignored in the day-to-day life of our house. He's the centre of the kids' world, the object of their constant attention, and their absolute favorite reason for getting up, for coming home or just being themselves on the living room floor.

He's our fixture, our loyal buddy, the sweet-looking being who follows us around the house and never lets us forget how much we need him. I don't have a whole lot to add to this picture because this is him: Rested and content. I wish I could grab a little bit of his spirit for myself.

Your turn: The appeal of a pet dog. Please discuss.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Generation next

You discover many things when you put a camera into the hands of a child. First, you realize cameras are very, very breakable. Which, depending on how much you spent on it and how badly you want to upgrade can be either a good or a bad thing.

But once you get over the whole fragility issue, you realize the advantages far outweigh the risks. They see things we'd miss. They're not encumbered by expectations of what is and is not considered normal. They're inherently more curious than we are, and see the camera as a means of exploring their world.

In many cases, they may not fully understand what they're shooting. But they know it looks neat, so they take the shot, anyway. We hear the "I liked it, so I took it" explanation quite often in our house, and we smile every time, because we don't ever want to crush their growing sense of wonder. Adulthood already does it to so many of us. It beats that childlike curiosity into submission and turns too many folks into scowling, darkened shadows of their former selves.

I'm just naive enough to believe that shoving a camera into my kids' hands and telling them to wander the neighborhood is one way to keep them thinking like kids for a little while longer. It's a lesson I may want to adopt for myself as well.

Your turn: How do you keep curiosity alive in you?

Here at the Palasad

Well waxed
London, ON, July 2010
About this photo: We're sharing our favorite photos of the year, thanks to an extended Thematic Photographic theme. You can, too, by simply clicking here.
First off, if you're celebrating Christmas, I hope the day has dawned merry and happy for you and your family. I hope the spirit of this holiday lasts well into 2011, and that you always look back at this day with a smile.

Second, I've posted this particular picture because the colors sorta reflect the day, and I've loved the warmth of this scene since I first shot it last summer.

It was our youngest son's birthday party, and he had decided to hold it at the Palasad. Our kids love this place, a restaurant/bar/bowling alley/pool hall/party place. Remarkably, it serves its multiple audiences without any overlap. Happy hour takes place right alongside a bunch of 10-year-olds shnarfing birthday cake in between frames. If you ever watched 'Ed', the comfy vibe of this place might seem vaguely familiar.

As the kids did their thing, I wandered around the periphery and looked for opportunities in the dimly lit corners. I didn't have to try too hard to find inspiration. I could probably spend days here finding similar moments (wait, maybe I have.)

Your turn: If the folks who've walked this floor for so many years could talk, what would they be saying?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Can Santa fly?

Six years ago today, I posted a funny little missive outlining the physics of Santa Claus. It used some basic principles of science to debunk the myth of the fat old guy who flies behind reindeer and scoots down your chimney.

It was as funny as heck then, and it's just as funny now. Since I haven't found anything funnier in the ensuing years, I hope you'll pop back in time and get a good laugh out of it.

Just click here.

Your turn: Department store Santas. Yay or nay? Why/why not?

Morning rituals

London, ON, October 2010
About this photo: We're sharing our favorite photos of the year as part of a very special Thematic. Please click here to participate.
To some, it's just a mug of coffee. To me, it's coffee that my wife made. Which makes it uniquely special, because to me, at least, it's far more than percolated beans with a bit of milk and sugar.

It's a little thing that connects us, a moment between sleep-time and our pedal-to-the-metal day that reminds us why our family matters as much as it does. Because before we had kids, before we needed to shuttle them around town, before we tended to their every need before we tended to our own, we sat together over mugs of coffee or tea at our quiet kitchen table.

Even if not a word was said, the conversation was always glorious. Still is.

Your turn: What's your morning ritual? Why does it matter to you?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Alcoholic blues

Would you drink this?
Laval, QC
November 2010
About these photos: We're sharing our favorite photos of the year for the next little while, and this photo is one of my faves. Please click here to share your own.
I grew up with this bottle. It sat on a shelf in the basement of the home where I grew up, slowly gathering a thickening layer of dust over the years. My dad collected all sorts of exotic bottles of liquor. Didn't drink them: Just added them to the collection after picking them up on his travels or receiving them as gifts.

This bottle, in particular, always fascinated me. How couldn't it? It was - and apparently still is - a particular shade of blue that almost seemed to be its own light source. While I played in the dimly lit basement, I'd occasionally glance over at the dusty bottle, wondering how neat it was that someone, somewhere, decided to make something that looked so lovely.

I couldn't imagine that anyone would ever want to drink it, though. Staring at it and appreciating it for its pure aesthetics seemed enough for me.

Fast forward a whole lot of years and I found myself in at my mom's early last month going through some of my dad's things with her. She's been slowly winnowing things down, and on this visit, she made her way to the liquor collection. I helped her distribute what she could to friends - yes, I filled the hatch of my car with booze and, yes, I've included the picture here, too - and ended up bringing a few representative and well-packed bottles back to London with me.

Not because I'll ever drink them, but because they were a part of my childhood and it brought me a certain degree of comfort to know I had held onto these things that had brought my father a certain degree of comfort, too.

That I was able to set up a quick photo shoot on my mother's dining room table and end up with a wicked cool shot that instantly takes me back to my childhood was, and is, a welcome and unexpected bonus. Life and loss still suck, but I'm learning to find snippets of brightness amid the murk.

Your turn: Do you remember a seemingly ordinary object from your childhood?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bust the glass ceiling

Toronto, ON, July 2010
About this photo: What's your favorite photo of the year? Click here to share yours. We'll be doing this through New Year's and beyond.
The average modern-era shopping mall was built for one primary purpose: To separate you from your hard-earned cash. I'm under no illusions when I walk through the doors of one of these retail temples that every architectural element is there to support that one, bottom-line ideal. No matter how pretty it may seem, there's a profit motive lurking in the shadows.

As cynical as I seem to have become, I still rather enjoy the occasional road trip to a mall. There's a certain energy to these places, a buzz that can be , if not outright infectious, at least a welcome diversion from an otherwise yawn-inducing Sunday afternoon.

On this particular Sunday afternoon, I had come to Yorkdale Mall in Toronto with my brother-in-law. We were Applenauts in search of the Apple Store - he needed a dongle for his iPad, while I needed to simply drink in the atmosphere of the place. Before we even got to the mythical home of Steve Jobs, the atmosphere was already perking our mood. The mall's undergone some serious expansion and renovation in recent years, and the showpiece is a glass-covered walkway along the eastern edge.

On a sunny day, it's little short of spectacular, and it's what attracted me to it in the first place. The resulting curved-geometric shot is one of my favorites from 2010 because it's starkly simple and bright - just the thing to look at on a dark, Canadian-winter afternoon.

I doubt I'll ever fully discard my cynicism, but there's nothing wrong with spending some time in a place that looks like this, feels alive and provides just the kind of backdrop for an adventure with someone who gets it.

Your turn: What's the appeal of glass?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Annals of parenthood: Eclipse edition

Waking up your kids at 4:30 a.m.: Free.
Watching the lunar eclipse with them before shuffling them back to bed: Priceless.

So I'm apparently a bad dad because I woke the munchkins up in the middle of the night so they could see the lunar eclipse. Make that two of our kids, as our daughter quite clearly did not want to be moved. But the boys trundled out front and saw the spectacle with me.

The wakeup call cut into their sleep and made for some additional grumpiness around the breakfast table. But I think they're glad they made the short trip with me. Somehow, I hope they remember that life's made up of the small moments that you strive to hold onto. Because simply letting them slip by unnoticed seems like a wasted opportunity.

Your turn: Holding onto the small moments. Please discuss.

The fringes of our lives

Hanging around
London, ON, September 2010
[Please click here for more Thematic favorite photos of the year]

Visitors to a synagogue may notice the prayer shawls, known as tallit, that most folks wear here. I've had my own since I was a kid, and the one I now wear my wife bought for me when we got married. There's a huge amount of tradition wrapped up in these otherwise unassuming fabric creations.

My favorite memory? When I was a munchkin attending services with my dad, I'd stand beside him, too short to see over the crowds. It was very claustrophobic down there, and also kinda of boring for a little guy. No Nintendo DS to pass the time.

So I played with the fringes on my father's tallit. I'd wind them between my fingers, playing quietly with them to keep from bothering him. He never told me to stop, and every once in a while he'd look down and smile, so I'm sure he liked it. Our daughter is now 13, and earlier this year she received tallit of her own to mark her Bat Mitzvah. As much of a young lady as she's become, we both still have recent memories of her playing with my fringes to pass the time, occasionally looking up at me to make sure it was still OK. And I'd smile back at her to let her know it absolutely was.

After all, if it connects our generations together, it must be a good thing.

Your turn: What does "from generation to generation" mean to you?

Monday, December 20, 2010

A new vision

The devil's in the details
Laval, QC, August 2010

This is another one of my favorite photos from the past year (please click here to share yours.) It makes the cut for a number of reasons. First, I've always had a thing for car headlamps. And since the style these days is to dress 'em up with even more complex designs - seriously, it's like jewelry for cars - I've got lots of new subject matter to work with. Second, I like the meta story behind this particular shot.

We were visiting my in-laws and mom in Montreal, our first big road trip in Debbie's new car, Chloe. I found myself hovering around the car more often than I usually do, looking for interesting angles and reflections. This one made me wonder if one of the designers wasn't a frustrated sculptor in a previous life.

Your turn: Click the photo to enlarge it. What's going on here? Use your imagination :)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The joy of keeping quiet

One of the things I like about my wife is her ability to have a conversation without necessarily saying a word. We can sit at the breakfast table in rapt silence for what seems like an age, reading the paper, catching up on an article on the BlackBerry, sipping coffee from an overly large mug. Every once in a while, she'll toss a quick glance over my way. I might return it. Or I might not, depending on how deep I am into whatever I'm doing. The dog will usually sit beside one of us, hoping against hope that he'll catch a special treat from above. Not likely, little buddy, but we appreciate your hanging around all the same.

Despite the quiet, there's a lot going on here. But the fact that it is quiet is what makes it something I look forward to. She gets it, that not every waking moment needs to be filled with noise. That "making conversation" isn't something that anyone needs to do. Ever. That communication extends to levels far beyond words, and more often than not it's good for the soul to leave words behind in favor of other ways of connecting. That the human mind and soul need periods where nothing is said, to breathe, to catch a beat, to just be, without any kind of artificial interruption, to prepare for whatever comes next.

I'll never understand why some people feel the need to fill the air with noise or why some people feel compelled to be constantly heard. I'll never understand how I got so lucky to have met someone so different from the norm.

Don't mind me while I sit here, quietly, in appreciation of another quiet start to the day.

Your turn: Why does quiet time appeal to you?

Patchy clouds

Kate Bush's Big Sky
London, ON, July 2010
About this photo: This is one of my favorite pictures from this past year. Please click here to share your own and see what everyone else is up to.
Some pictures are really simple. I noticed the sky as I arrived at home and parked the car. I didn't think there was any particular story to tell from the scene unfolding above, but I did know that it looked really unique, and if I dallied for too long it would soon be gone.

So I got out of the car and shot it quickly as my onrushing kids looked on. As we headed into the house, we talked about why I sometimes like to remember ordinary things, and that I don't always need a real important reason to do so. Almost as soon as we were inside, I looked back and noticed the clouds had already begun to shift. I closed my eyes and quietly hoped they had tucked this moment away among all the other moment we've accumulated since they were born.

Your turn: Why do we need to remember the everyday?

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A particular shade of yellowish

Touch the resonant sky
London, ON, July 2010
About this Photo: We're sharing our favorite photos of the year as part of a special, extended Thematic Photographic. I won't use the word "extravaganza", you I think you know I really want to. Anyway, please click here to share your own fave pics from the past 12 months. Extra points if you bring a friend.
It's a warm summer's night, and after I walk the dog, I notice the sky is glowing that unique golden hue that suggests something cool is going on overhead. I grab the camera and half-jog my way to the park so I can have an unobstructed view.

I'm not disappointed. While I can't explain the meteorological machinations that are driving tonight's show, I can certainly stand there, alone in a field, and silently mouth "wow" to myself as the clouds continue to shift. As I walk over to a nearby building to use as a brace in the fast-fading light, two teenaged girls stroll past, looking suspiciously at the guy carrying the chunky camera. Once they're sure I'm not an axe murderer, their eyes return to their smartphones as they continue half-chatting, half-texting with friends unseen.

Eventually, the sun slips below the horizon and the yellow fades to deep blue. I walk slowly home, wondering why more folks around us don't pull their faces away from their screens just long enough to witness the magic all around them.

Your turn: What do we miss by being so wired? Or wireless?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Here at the oasis

Got dino juice?
Port Huron, MI

Photo below shot from the now-departed wondervan
January 2010, Wyoming, ON

I've loved this photo from the moment I took it for a couple of key reasons:
  • I've always had a thing for pool-of-light-type pictures. Gas stations, normally written off as architectural blights on an already-blighted suburban landscape, seem to take on an ethereal tone after dark. The lighting serves as a temporary, welcoming respite from the numbing monotony of the road. I often stop and drink in the sight before we head back into the murk.
  • This was our last stop before we crossed the border and drove into the teeth of one of the fiercest winter storms we've ever witnessed. We barely made it into our driveway, while others lucky enough to have not slid into a ditch or a snowbank pulled off the road and stayed in motels or in the homes of Good Samaritans. It was one of those white-knuckle experiences that we'll all remember for a good long time.
  • Earlier this week, the scene repeated itself in this same region just to the west of our hometown. Squalls sweeping in off of Lake Huron obliterated the landscape, trapped hundreds of people in their cars for days at a stretch and touched off a military rescue operation from the big base in Trenton, Ontario that involved a C-130 Hercules and a bunch of helicopters. Pictures like this remind me how quickly things can change in this part of the world, and how deeply we need to respect the elements.
So to some folks it's just a picture of a gas station. But to me, it's the kind of image that, despite the overt cold of the frozen pavement and wisps of snow, makes me feel warm inside.

Your turn: As you can tell, this is one of my favorite photos of the year. Do you have any faves of your own? Click here to see what the fuss is all about.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Thematic Photographic 128 - Favorite Photos of the Year

Time passed it by
London, ON, October 2010
Quick note: Thematic Photographic is our regularly scheduled non-competitive photographic sharing and learning activity. For more background on how it works, please click here, or read on and all will be explained.
We're going to have some fun with this theme. First of all, it's going to run for THREE weeks instead of the usual one. Second of all, the theme, Favorite photos of the year, is a lot more wide-open than it typically is.

Basically, if it's your favorite photo, we want you to share it. Even if you just like it a lot, we want to see it. And we want you to keep sharing as many faves as you've got. We'll be doing this until Thursday, January 6th, inclusive, so you've got lots of time to reach into the archives and come up with pics that really touched you and everyone around you. And we want you to encourage new folks to join in. Because we're that needy.

Why this theme and why now? Because following specific themes week after week means some pictures inevitably get left out. We can interpret 'em six ways from Sunday, but sometimes a picture just doesn't fit. So it sits. And sits. And gathers dust. And is eventually forgotten.

This prospect makes us sad, and we don't like sadness here at Written Inc. So we want you to go through all the pictures you've taken this year and pull out all of the ones you love the most. Post 'em to your blog, then leave a comment here letting us know where to find them. If you posted them already, share the link, anyway, because going back in time is a good thing. Repeat as often as you want, because this'll be going on for three weeks. So you'll need a lot of pictures - and maybe a bigger boat.

Are you game?

Your turn: Thematic Photographic is our weekly photo sharing activity here at Written Inc. If you're familiar with how it works, feel free to dive right in. For background, please click here. Oh, and have fun, because in the end that's the only thing that matters!

One more thing: This scene first appeared here. I just love when you get to look at the same slice of the planet from different perspectives. Don't you?

Still more words on tech

Almost as soon as I hit the Publish button yesterday, Yahoo! Canada published a couple more of my articles:

I also noticed that my 8-dying-industries piece was featured on the home page. I'm just that juvenile that stuff like this give me an extra shot of happiness.

Your turn: I'm still taking tech story suggestions. I write what my audience needs - and whether you like it or not, you're all members of my audience. And I couldn't be more delighted.

One more thing: New-and-improved Thematic launches tonight at 7:00 Eastern. It's time to pull out our favorite pics from the past year. I know you've got a few hanging around.


We made them
London, ON, October 2010

I thought I'd wind down this week's "family" theme (go here if you want to squeeze in a last-minute pic of your own) by closing the loop a bit. We started the theme with the five of us, and I'll end it with the three folks we've been busy raising for 16, 13 and 10 years, respectively.

Not a day goes by that I don't shake my head at some point and wonder how we ended up being the parents of three intensely uniquem bright and engaging children. Once upon a time, they didn't exist, and now, an entire world, our world, revolves around them.

It's a world that gives me slivers of grey hair, tiny-but-growing wrinkles at the corners of my eyes and a general feeling of fatigue that never seems to go away. But I wouldn't trade it for anything. Because of the three mini-Levys in this picture, our family's life has taken on a life of its own. They define who we are, challenge us right up to - and beyond - our perceived limits and never let us forget how much they matter.

Watching them interact with others and with each other is a joy to behold, and I'm glad we've been blessed with the opportunity not just to be parents, but to be their parents.

This is what family means to me, and it's been a privilege to explore it with you all this past week.

Your turn: How do you define the word "family"?

One more thing: Our new Thematic Photographic theme launches tonight - 7:00 p.m. Eastern, so I hope you'll come on back and make this next theme one to remember. What is that theme? Ooh, I suspect you'll like it:

Favorite photos of the year

Even better, we'll be exploring this theme for three consecutive weeks (!) So start churning some ideas around what you'd like to share, and pop back in after 7 tonight to start sharing. This is going to be fun.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Yahooliganism with a pen

Folks who like Yahoo! - the Internet services company and not the thing you scream when you hit the top of the wave only to realize you don't know how to surf - are called Yahooligans. I'm not sure why, but it's a neat word. Since I now write for this organization, I guess that makes me a Yahooligan, too. Even neater.

I've been busy with my pen lately, and the following pieces are now up on the Yahoo! Canada Finance site:
I also keep a running tally of articles published to-date on this page. Enjoy!

Your turn: What should I write about next?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Above the welcome mat

Good to be here
Richmond Hill, ON, April 2010
[Please click here for more family-themed Thematic]

As a parent, you always hope your kids find a way to click with your siblings' kids. It doesn't always happen, of course, but when it does it's a joy to watch them interact with each other. Our kids are a bit older than our nephews, so whenever they see them, it's a fascinating opportunity to see them play the role of big cousins. They look up to our kids, hang on their every word, talk about them after they're gone.

It heartens me that our kids have made the connection. This is their family. So when we pulled up to their house and found this sign on the front door, I had to smile.


Your turn: Who matters most to your kids? Why?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Can Facebook get you fired?

I had an absolutely fascinating discussion with Jeff Allan this morning about the case of two British Columbia car dealership employees who were fired after posting nasty things about their bosses on Facebook. Jeff hosts a show on Kitchener's 570News radio station, and they often have me on to talk about all things tech and what they really mean to us.

The employees in this case appealed the decision, saying it was related to their involvement in getting the dealer unionized. The BC Labour Relations Board rejected the appeal, so they're still very much fired, ostensibly for assuming their Facebook rants - which included thinly veiled musings about committing violent acts against dealership managers - were somehow privileged because they weren't delivered on-site, or they were said outside of business hours.

Naive only begins to describe these two - and pretty much everyone else who fails to understand the power baked into social media tools like Facebook, Twitter and even blogs (like, OMG, this one!) Time and again, people think they can say what they want online, and do so with complete impunity. Right.

News flash, folks: Anything you can and do say in the court of social media can and will get you fired. Before you click Publish or Send, ask yourself if what you're about to commit to Internet eternity will do you and your career more harm than good.

In other words, think.

Your turn: Thoughts?

- Jeff's blog
- Podcasts from past shows

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Magic at the kitchen table

Color my world
London, ON, February 2009
[Click here to share your own family-themed scene]

Family is defined by more than mere names in a family tree. A corporate org chart, for example, only begins to scratch the surface of what makes a particular organization unique. The day-to-day activities, the one-on-one interactions, the feel of the place...those really tell the unique story of a given company.

And so it is with families. You can't tell a whole lot about them until you hang around for a while. And if you hung around ours, you'd notice how closely everything seems to revolve around the kitchen. It's the first thing you see when you come into our house (weird, I know) and it defines the atmosphere of our home.

Debbie, who would be a chef in another lifetime, creates magic from any ingredient she touches. The kids do their homework here. The dog stands under the table hoping manna will drop from human-heaven. When I need a change of scenery, I often bring my laptop here to write by the window. And this is where the kids learn to stretch their artistic wings with their mom.

Which is what they were up to on this day. Just an ordinary afternoon in our house. But a special one all the same. Because it told another few paragraphs in the unfolding story of us.

Your turn: What does an ordinary moment look like in your home?

One more thing: The backdrop I use for my Twitter account (link here) is my daughter's creation. She finished it during the session pictured above.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

50 years on...

My parents were married 50 years ago tonight. If it's a bittersweet milestone for me, it's certainly more than that to my mother. Every time I see 50th anniversary notices in the paper - amazing, people still put these notices in newspapers, but that'll be something to discuss another day - I cringe a little for everyone who fell a little short, for whom time ran out.

I've heard so many empty phrases from so many well-meaning people in the 14+ months since we lost my dad. Life goes on. Time heals. As you return to life's routine. As much as I appreciate the sentiment, I admit they make me cringe a little. But here's the thing: There is no right thing to say. Come to think of it, there's no wrong thing either. Those folks who get it are the ones who are there for you, in the day-to-day, long after the newspaper pages with the cliched comments printed on them have turned yellow.

I wish my parents had been given 50 years. But like all things related to life and death, we don't have much choice in the matter. I can either mourn the fact that they didn't make it to the arbitrary 50, or I can celebrate the fact that they had almost-49, and in that time accomplished some amazing things. They led a life that mattered, and left behind a legacy that anyone just setting out on the marital journey would love to have. Indeed, 18 years into my own marriage, I wish to have as much impact in my life as my parents had in theirs.

Whatever the end result, it won't be defined by an arbitrary, final number. It'll be defined by what we do with the time we've been given. And I'm thankful that because of what happened 50 years ago tonight, fate decided I'd be granted at least some chance to give it my best shot. That I've been given any time at all is a blessing.

Your turn: Making the most out of the time we've been given. Please discuss.

Did you brush?

Waiting for her to finish
London, ON, September 2010
About this photo: Thematic Photographic celebrates family this week, and the furry being waiting for Dahlia to finish getting ready for bed is an integral part of our little family. If you've got a family-themed photo you'd like to share, please head over here.
Frasier is a remarkably social dog. He doesn't like being alone - we figure it's a response to his spending the first few months of his life locked in a cage and ignored for much of the day - so he follows us around the house and plunks himself close to us, often uncomfortably so, when we finally sit down.

It's actually the sweetest thing when he scrunches his little body into yours just to let you know he's there. We do, little buddy, and we're glad you like us. We like you, too. Lots.

Your turn: What do pets add to a family?

Friday, December 10, 2010


In tune with each other
London, ON, September 2010
[Click here to share your own interpretation of family]

Despite 1950s and 1960s America's best efforts to convince us otherwise, there is no one definition of family. The so-called nuclear family is laughably staid and non-representative of reality, a throwback to a time when greater sophistication in media technology and use allowed us to shape the perception of our world in ways only previously dreamed. Problem was the Beav's mom was unlike any woman, then as now, on the planet. And no amount of tinkering by a producer could change reality.

Ideals have a funny way of falling from the sky when we least expect, don't they?

Which leads us to this picture. Our daughter and youngest son sing in the choir, and here they were final-practicing before the Jewish New Year service. The kids had formed a remarkably cohesive unit as they got ready for their big debut, and as I stood at the periphery of the sanctuary and listened to their not-so-little voices carry, I closed my eyes and tried to pick out each child.

I couldn't. They were so in sync that they seemingly became one voice. It was lovely, both to hear and to feel.

I was in choir this year - the grown-up one, according to the kids - and we followed in my late Zaideh (grandfather) Akiva's footsteps, as he also sang in choir in Montreal. I remember my childhood self going to synagogue with him and sitting in the front row as he got up in front of everybody and sang in perfect tune. I guess he was already teaching me then how richly varied the concept of family could be. Wise man, he was.

Your turn: How do you define family? (Oh, and when you're done, I hope you'll pop over to my wife's blog - link here - as she's joined up with this week's Thematic, too.)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Thematic Photographic 127 - Family

Laval, QC, August 2010

I've chosen "family" as this week's Thematic Photographic theme* because everything in my life resolves around mine, and I suspect I'm not alone in this. Sure, everyone's definition of family is different and not everyone may see their own family through quite the same lens that I do. But if diversity is the fuel of life, then gloriously diverse families are its spark. And its reward, come to think of it.

Besides, the end-of-year period is a natural breakpoint to pause for a bit and think about what matters most. To me, the answer is simple: Them.

Your turn: Thematic Photographic is all about participation and sharing, so I hope you'll all use the next week to participate in this theme and share your own visions of what family looks like - and, more importantly, means - to you. Enjoy this one. I know I will.

*Thematic Photographic is our weekly photo sharing/learning activity. All you need to do is post a pic related to the theme to your blog, then come on back here and leave a comment letting everyone know where to find it. Feel free to use new stuff, pics from the archives or even entries you posted long ago. Anything goes. To add to the fun, visit other participants, and repeat as often as you'd like - we encourage that sort of thing around here. For more background on Thematic, please click here.

Erase the dark

Inspired hydration
London, ON
October 2010

I'd like to close out our Thematic night theme (click here if you've got any last-minute submissions to share or if you'd simply like to comment on everyone's nighttime awesomeness) with a thought. Namely, night isn't so much about the darkness as it is about finding our way through it.

More specifically, night, to me at least, is all about finding the light and focusing it in such a way that we can continue to function within the broader darkness. That if we don't actively use the light for some value-added purpose, we run the risk of being lost in the murk, or losing our way entirely.

So I've chosen to end the theme with a picture that doesn't so much reflect the night as it reflects the direction we all seek. Light represents warmth and hope. It represents the spirit that pushes for the next big thing, that seeks to overcome adversity, that challenges cruelty and negativity, that looks out for others. If we're being overly simplistic, light is good. And since we all spend so much time bending it through lenses, I'm glad we were able to spend this past week looking at it from a slightly different perspective.

Thank you all for indulging me. Both this past week, and into the future.

Your turn: What does this drink celebrate?

One more thing: Thematic Photographic launches its next theme, family, tonight at 7:00 Eastern. Hope you'll drop by and join in.

Snowpocalypse - over

Environment Canada has just lifted the snowsquall warning that's hung over the region like a bad hangover for the past, oh, four days (earlier entries here and here.) Whether you call it Snowmageddon, Snowpalooza or, my personal favorite, Snowpocalypse, we all agree it was quite the adventure while it lasted.

The kids are back at school today, leaving the house strangely and, I admit uncomfortably, quiet. The city is gloriously coated with a thick blanket of snow - and areas barely a half-hour's drive east or west of here are completely clear. It was a neat few days, and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Back to work. And life.

Hackers revolt

It was a fascinating day in my hybrid world of media and tech yesterday. The WikiLeaks saga dragged on, with still more releases of secret/stolen documents. Of course, over time, I suspect the shock value of learning what this diplomat thinks about that country is beginning to wear off. But that's just me.

No, the real news yesterday revolved around a shadowy group, known as Anonymous (catchy, I know, and oh so Google-able) that launched Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks against MasterCard and Visa. They creatively called their escapade "Operation Payback". The end result, the websites were either slowed to a crawl or were down entirely for part of the day.

The financial organizations' crime? Earlier this week, they stopped allowing credit card-based donations on the WikiLeaks web site. So this group, which has no apparent leader - but does have a 22-year-old guy in London known as "Coldblood" claiming to be a spokesperson - decided to take action against them to protest against censorship on the Internet. Previously, this group, which numbers about 1,000 members worldwide, took on, among others, the Church of Scientology and Gene Simmons of the rock group, Kiss.
All told, a pretty good day. Now let's see what today brings...

*The interview was a little shorter than usual, as they had to quickly cut me off and jump to a news conference where Toronto's top cop, Bill Blair, talked about his department's handling of security during the G20 conference in Toronto. There's something neat about live television because you never know what'll happen. It wouldn't be as much fun otherwise.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Take back the night

Bright lights in a dark sky
Arva, ON
July 2010
About this photo: It's Thematic Photographic's night-themed week. All week long, we're sharing photos from the darker side of the day. You can, too, by heading here.
I've shot fireworks before - most recently this past Canada Day - and I've got to admit it'll probably never get old.

I think that's because it's so unpredictable. Shooting these barely controlled explosions is such a crapshoot, which is what I think makes it as much fun as it is. There are no guarantees. You just set the camera as best you can - all manual, baby; green-zone full-auto shooting just won't work - and hope you get it right for this particular kind of rocketry.

Most of 'em end up riding the curved edge of the virtual round file, but some of them end up surprising you. And that's the joy of it all: Capturing a moment of complete surprise, and drinking in the fact that you managed to snag an absolutely random painting in the sky.

Even neater: It lasts barely a couple of seconds before disappearing forever. You get one shot.

Your turn: Do fireworks hold lessons for our everyday lives?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Snowpocalypse continues...

...or is it Snowmageddon? Snow-a-rama? Snowopolis? I've seen various terms tossed around on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere, so I'm not entirely sure that any one of them applies more than any other. But just having the discussion in the first place strangely brings me comfort.

My language issues notwithstanding, I thought this picture was kinda neat. I had been shovelling a bit around the driveway, and accidentally brushed my elbows against the ginormous snowpile on top of my car. (Disclosure: I really like pristine, undisturbed snow. I feel a little jot of stress when a perfectly formed surface of snow is ruined. It strikes me as needlessly messy. My name is Carmi and I am snow-retentive.)

After staring at the results for a few minutes - a very cathartic few minutes - I concluded that my Henrietta now reminded me of one of the human-faced vehicles from the Pixar movie, Cars (and, presumably, the upcoming Cars 2.) Maybe that snow-retentiveness of mine is starting to ease.

Oh, yes, the snowpocalypse: The entire city will spend another day in hibernation tomorrow. It's Snow Day #3, and our children are beside themselves with joy. I admit I like it, too. This is one of those tremendously rare experiences that they'll hold onto well into adulthood, and I'm enjoying watching it through their eyes.

Your turn: Do you remember a major weather event from your childhood? Do tell!


London, ON, December 2010

This was my BlackBerry camera's view out the kitchen window yesterday morning. I went back to the window this morning to shoot an update, but it hadn't changed a whole lot. Okay, the snow was higher, but it seemed like more of the same. Which it is.

Today's our second consecutive snow day, thanks to a storm that dumped an all-time, single-day record 80 cm on us yesterday and continues unabated today. When lake effect storms set up off of Lake Huron to our north, they often create thin systems, known as streamers, that pump intense snow squalls from the lake right through our region. What's amazing is how localized the storms are: head 30 miles east or west of us and there's barely a wisp of white to be found. Yet here, white dominates all. It's a pretty spectacular landscape.

The kids are thrilled with their surprise vacation, and I have to admit I don't much mind as my typical work-at-home commute involves putting on slippers, grabbing a mug of something hot and heading downstairs to my home office. As long as I have a working phone and Internet connection, I'm good. I like the sound of having them around, too.

The dog loves bouncing his little self through the snow, often getting lost in the drifts as he uses his head like a plow. No, I can't explain it, but it's really cute to watch. Less cute is the impact on others. Transit service ended at 8 p.m. yesterday, and is scheduled to stop at 3 p.m. today. They've scrapped it outright for tomorrow because the busses kept getting stuck. Businesses and institutions across the region are shut down. Folks who get into trouble are having great difficulty getting help.

I remember monumental storms when I was a kid. They were great opportunities to take a time out from life and just enjoy an extraordinary day. I remember drifts up to the roof and getting lost in snowbanks. I remember the wind and I remember the feeling of battening down the hatches with my family. I remember knowing my parents would somehow figure it all out. I remember that curious mixture of comfort, safety and giddy excitement. I can't help but think that this entire experience is creating similar memories in our kids, which makes me almost wish this storm would go on for a little longer yet.

Your turn: Finding the positive in severe weather. Please discuss.

Looking through an open window

Exposed ceiling
Toronto, ON
December 2009
[Click here for more night-themed goodness]

I think photographers need to have a little bit of voyeurism in them in order to be successful shooters. It helps to be curious enough about what's going on around them to want to shoot pretty much anything, even if what they're shooting doesn't qualify as worthy by the standards of most average folks.

But that's the thing about photographers: They're anything but average. When those middle-of-the-bell-curve types are averting their gaze, photographers are lifting their cameras, tweaking settings and figuring out how they're going to take the shot.

As so often occurs, the moment in question can be a simply forgettable place at a forgettable time; the kind of scene that we see so often that our minds almost automatically tune them out. They're routine, so they don't need to be recorded.

But a funny thing happens in my brain when I'm walking alone down the street of a city that isn't mine. I notice the routine and I look toward the everyday. Even something as ridiculously plain as light spilling out the window of an apparently converted loft on a slowly gentrifying block somehow convinces me to grip the lens a little bit tighter before I lift it and compose the moment.

Almost a year after I took this shot, I still can't explain why I took it. But not every picture needs an explanation. Sometimes it's enough that you liked the look of the scene.

Your turn: Does every picture need a reason? Why/why not?

Monday, December 06, 2010

Before the darkness falls

Day's end
London, ON, April 2009

About this photo: It's night week all week long, thanks to our latest Thematic Photographic theme. Just click over here to get involved. It's the most fun you can have with a lens.
Day doesn't just turn to night. Someone doesn't just flip a switch and the light doesn't just disappear. What happens in between day and night often represents the best show that the sky can put on. All we need to do is remember to look upwards.

Something tells me that's a lesson that extends well beyond basic skywatching.

Your turn: Wherever you are, please find the sky and look at it for a bit. What do you see?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Boulevard of broken dreams

East of Adelaide
London, ON, October 2010
[Please click here for more night-themed Thematic]

This used to be the centre of the retail universe, an uptown, upscale magnet that drew shoppers from across the region, consumer-pilgrims for whom London was a virtual Mecca. This stretch of Dundas Street, east of Adelaide, was pretty much the only place to see and be seen for generations who were young here once.

It's been decades since this once-proud district began its long, slow, apparently one-way descent into irrelevance. Larger-scale shifts to suburbs and malls were part of it, of course. But ill-conceived municipal planning didn't help: Londoners still remember the s-curve debacle that in one fell swoop cut off traffic from the area and added fuel to shoppers' flight to the edge of town.

This is what's left, a time-worn streetscape pockmarked by empty storefronts, empty lots, squatter-occupied buildings and the general stench of obsolescence. Those who live here wish they didn't. Those who live elsewhere harbor no desire to be here. Successive generations of neighborhood and business associations, projects and initiatives have tried to inject life into this modern-era ghost town, but the pictures continue to speak for themselves.

This place needs more time. More thought. More planning. More luck. More of everything. The optimist in me hopes it finds all of these things. Because even the forgotten deserve a second chance to be remembered.

Your turn: Do places like this have a chance? If so, what will it take?

Friday, December 03, 2010

Out of business

Down to the concrete slab
London, ON, February 2009
About this photo: It's Thematic Photographic's night-themed week. If you've got a pic that was taken at night, or simply reminds you of it, please click here to share it.
Ongoing economic uncertainty means scenes like this remain common across the urban and suburban landscape. There's a poignancy to gigantic spaces that used to be such vibrant centres of commercial activity. They were once micro-communities unto themselves, islands of connectedness that never seemed to stop moving.

This place, for one, had most definitely stopped moving by the time I found myself on the outside peering in. It was a bitterly cold night, and the forlorn light filtering out onto the snow-covered parking lot was almost an invitation to take it all in. Since it isn't my nature to be rude, I accepted the invitation and trained my lens on the remnants until the cutting winds not-so-subtly whispered it was time to head home.

Your turn: Why do some nighttime scenes seem so sad?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Thematic Photographic 126 - Night

Lunar soil
London, ON, September 2010
About this photo: We're kicking off our newest Thematic Photographic theme, night*. What's Thematic Photographic? Simply put, it's our weekly, absolutely non-competitive photo sharing activity. To participate, post a similarly-themed pic over on your blog or site, then leave a comment here to let folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share in the goodness, and repeat the process as often as you wish. We also won't complain if you invite someone new to the picture party, too, as this is definitely a more-folks-is-better activity. More details available here, otherwise have fun with the theme!
The scene: I'm walking the dog on a cool late summer evening. He's his usual frenetic self, following his snorting nose from one tree to another, catching up on all the neighborhood doggie news as only he can. As we turn for home, I see the moon rising just above the horizon. I can almost touch it and feel the craters with my fingertips. I've never been much of an astro-specialist when it comes to photography, but I decide if I'm ever going to try, now's the time. So I encourage Frasier to skip to it so I can grab my camera and give it a go.

I won't be displaying the results at the university's next astronomy convention, but I'm still pleased I was able to bring something home that reminded me of that particular experience. Life moves so blindingly fast sometimes that I find myself struggling with sign-posting everyday moments along the way. Using the camera helps me ensure these moments don't dissolve into a sea of forgettable sameness.

This photo is one of those attempts to leave a stake in the ground. I hope it works.

Your turn: Does it? Do you use your camera to remember the everyday? How?

About the theme: There are no real rules when it comes to choosing photos to go along with a given theme. If it moves you and it's either closely or even remotely connected, toss it in and see what happens. Thematic Photographic is about expanding our optical horizons and having a bit of collaborative fun along the way. It isn't rigid, it isn't judgmental, and it isn't limited in any way. So if you took it at night, think it reminds you of the night, seems a little dark in terms of visuals or tone, or whatever, hit the publish button and see what happens. We can't wait to see what you come up with.

At the Stonecutter's Arms

Touch this
Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC, August 2010

Thought I'd throw in one final sepia-toned shot before we call an end to this rather well-received theme (here's where it all began.) It's been a wonderful week, thanks to everyone who's contributed, but all good things must eventually come to an end. Thankfully in my world, every ending is followed by another beginning, so tonight at 7 Eastern, we'll launch yet another theme: Night.

The neat thing about this shot is that I grabbed it in color and didn't post-process it. Sometimes, the light has a mind of its own before it works its way through the lens, onto the sensor, through the camera's circuitry and ultimately onto the memory card. I guess it was just a monochrome/sepia kind of scene to begin with.

Your turn: Now that we've had a week of sepia-toned goodness, it's time to reflect. What's the appeal of a scene without color?

One more thing: The title of this entry has a musical connection. Care to take a guess?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Vanity fair

Did you wash?
Montreal, QC, August 2010

It's hard to believe in the age of pervasive digital everything that photography was once a rarely used, rather expensive pursuit. Cameras came out only on special occasions, and the only pictures that resulted were rather conventional and repetitive. We're all familiar with the result - namely posed shots of groups of people standing next to each other and smiling uncomfortably into the lens - and aside from the folks actually in the shot, no one ever wants to see any of these pictures again.

Digital has turned the act of pressing the shutter into something less noteworthy. We no longer question whether or not it's worth it before we give our fingertip that final push. We shoot first and worry later, if at all. This has a bit of a dark side, of course, as we risk not thinking through a given scene because "we can always play with it later." Once upon a time there was no going back once we took the shot. Now, of course, everything's editable. Still, this is a minor quibble, for anything that encourages more creativity can't necessarily be a bad thing.

In my own case, I find myself taking far more everyday-mundane pictures than I ever did in the era of film. I use the process not as a final canvas - which film was - but as a place to begin exploring. I'm less afraid to experiment - and fail - because I figure I'll learn something new along the way.

On this day, we were visiting friends, and the still-life-timelessness of the washroom that faced the family room was too good to pass up. In the end, the scene isn't spectacular, it isn't huge, it isn't iconic in any way. But it's as real as it gets to the folks who live here. And after years of being passed over in favor of two-dimensional head shots, it was this washroom's turn to pose.

Your turn: As sepia winds down, I hope you'll pull out an ordinary-themed pic of your own. Just go here to get started. New Thematic theme launches tomorrow (Thursday) at 7 p.m. Eastern. I'll announce precisely what that theme will be in the morning...still mulling it over, and still open to suggestions.

Light me up

Diffused light
Toronto, ON, August 2010
[Click here for more sepia]

The Festival of Light, better known as Chanukah, gets underway today. Why does this matter? Because it isn't only grey outside my window; it's grey everywhere else. It isn't always something we see, either. It's a feeling, a sense that we can be better to each other, that we can try harder to look out for the other guy instead of for ourselves, that we can be less quick to judge and more quick to let our gentle side come out.

It's not that difficult. It starts with a little light.

Your turn: Fixing the world. In your world, where does it start?