Thursday, June 30, 2011

On being (forever) young

"It takes a long time to grow young."
Pablo Picasso

Your turn: How do you grow young?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On connecting with Steven Tyler

"Life is short. Break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that makes you smile."
Steven Tyler
I've never been a huge fan of the Aerosmith frontman. Perhaps that's a little unfair. I've never much fancied his music, so I've tended to shy away from learning anything about the guy beyond reading the occasional headline about his latest bout with rehab.

But here's the thing: Strip away the larger-than-life rock star persona and he's actually quite an inspirational human being. I think I need to look beyond my heavy metal prejudices a bit: I may learn something in the process.

Your turn: Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by someone you otherwise may have shied away from?

Monday, June 27, 2011

Thematic Photographic 151 - Rough

London, ON, March 2011

I'm going to try shifting Thematic's schedule a bit: Launching Monday evenings should get the week off to a good start, and give us all a little happy on a day that so often seems to offer the exact opposite. And since it's been a rough time for many of us, rough is our theme this week.

As you mull over your own Thematic contribution this week, I hope you'll keep in mind that rough can be something physical, or it can be virtual. As ever, how you interpret it is entirely up to you. This is about creativity, not judgment.

Your turn: If you know Thematic, don't let me stop you. If you're new to our weekly photo-sharing activity, click here for more background. If you're not a RTFM type, post a rough-themed pic to your blog - or find something, even if it's older, that's already online - then leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the joy. Repeat as often as you wish.

One more thing: Many thanks to On My Soapbox for suggesting this week's theme. If you've got a theme you'd like to see us explore, feel free to suggest it in a comment.

On being the light

"We cannot hold a torch to light another's path without brightening our own."
Ben Sweetland
I sure wish more citizens of our planet took these wise words to heart. Don't you?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Look to the sky

After the rain falls
London, ON, May 2011

To say it's been a rough week would be an understatement. Our barely-a-puppy dog is now our diabetic-barely-a-puppy. We wake up at 5 every morning to stick him with a needle - which, as you can guess, he absolutely relishes, to the point that he now helps us get the insulin into the syringe. We then watch his every move, wondering if he's drinking too much or not enough, going outside enough or not enough, or even breathing too heavily or not.

He's not his usual boisterous self. Sure, he's as sweet as he's always been, and as our good, dog-authority friend said, dogs don't have the "woe is me" gene so he has no idea he's got a dark cloud following him around by virtue of a genetically defective pancreas. But he's just, I don't know, off. Doesn't hog our pillows as soon as we get out of bed. Doesn't jump onto the couch when we're sitting on it. Doesn't play with his stuffed snowman with quite the same oomph of a crazy schnauzer.

We're worried. And I know some non-pet-types are probably laughing by this point, as he's a dog. Not a human. Not a father or grandfather. But an animal. He can't speak, can't type and can't help cover the monthly bills. He takes up space, ruins our sleep patterns and wrecks the house.

But he's mine. And ours. And he matters to our kids. And in doing so he's become an integral part of who we are, of our family history. And as we take him back to the vet for a day-long series of tests tomorrow, we find ourselves wondering and worrying about this little thing who's already had enough tsuris (difficulty) in his life. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make this all go away. But that's not how life works.

Instead, we walk him a lot more than ever before. Which gives me lots of time to stare at the sky and wonder. Which leads me to these clouds. Because I spotted them last month after one of the more vicious electrical storms in recent memory. Apocalyptic floods, falling tree limbs, you name it and these clouds unleashed it on us.

And when it was done, there was this. Perhaps impossible-to-forsee goodness can indeed emerge from the darkness. The only way to know is to keep looking for it.

Your turn: Focusing on the good. Please discuss.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

On one tough little girl

"Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That's what little girls are made of; the heck with sugar and spice."
Bethany Hamilton
Our daughter has a big week ahead of her as she graduates from eighth grade and sets her sights on high school. I've often said she's got a spine made of titanium because she's sandwiched in between two brothers. She's learned to fend for herself, to carve out her own space and ensure her voice doesn't get lost in the sibling-driven near-chaos.

She balances toughness and incredible compassion - watching her with friends, young children and even animals is a sight to behold - in a way that makes me wonder what I did to deserve such a remarkable kid. She reminds me so much of my wife, and makes me look at my own life and wonder if I, too, can't be just a little kinder to those around me.

We worry about our kids' futures, of course - that's practically a rite of parenthood, isn't it? - but she inspires a certain extra layer of confidence in me: I know deep down that she'll always figure out a way through, that she'll always manage to keep her head on straight even as the world around her does everything in its power to throw her off.

I'm sure I'll have more to share in this space in the days ahead. But for now, I didn't want to miss an opportunity to mark an important milestone for a kid (oops, young lady) who's never content to simply go through the motions.

Your turn: How do you balance toughness and compassion?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Don't you mean Dr. Moreau?

Who parks here?
London, ON
October 2010
About this photo: We're still sharing signs as part of our latest Thematic (link here). To be perfectly frank, it's been a busy, stressful week around here, so I simply haven't had time to ponder and prepare the next theme. Suggestions welcome.
Universities aren't known for being places of overt humor. So when small examples pop up - like this one in, of all places, a parking lot - I think it's our responsibility to put them in some sort of box so we can remember them.

Since I first shot this, one of the buildings beside this delightful chunk of concrete and unkempt grass has been demolished as part of the university's never-ending need to change. I don't know if this even exists any more. Note to self: go back and check.

And if it doesn't, I hope that whoever rebuilds this otherwise forgettable place in future finds a way to once again give this sign a home. Or otherwise figure out how to make total strangers smile as they go through the paces of their day.

Small thing, yes. But something that matters nevertheless.

Your turn: Ever come across a small thing that made you smile while you were out and about?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

On picking ourselves up

"We stumble and fall, and how, miraculously, we can stand up."
Maya Angelou

For some reason, these words ring especially strongly in my head tonight. Persistence is a remarkable thing, no?

Your turn: What else is remarkable to you?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Iron Maiden would be proud

I'm not entirely sure what compelled me to take this picture of my trip odometer. I'm not especially into numerology - or gematria, if you're being ancient and biblical - but there's something fun about strings of like numbers. And when you happen to be in a place where it's convenient and safe to stop and grab the shot, you figure it must be some kind of sign.

Seize the day and all that, right?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Old and yellowed

Community portal
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2010
About this photo: We're still sharing sign-themed pictures as part of this week's Thematic. New theme goes live tomorrow (Wednesday) night, but for now we're still in a sign-ish kinda mood. Are you? We sure hope so. Click here if you are.
Once upon a time, before the virtual replaced the physical, bulletin boards like this could be found in front of every apartment building, grocery store and community center from here to Poughkeepsie.

Wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. These things still exists in some places. Like condo developments in South Florida that cater to the greying edge of the demographic bell curve. And the tired old grocery store where I sometimes shop. As long as the tired old grocery store remains open, that is.

There's a sadness to scenes like this that starts and ends with the light. Yellowish and sickly, eerily reminiscent of the tone of the opening scene of Joe vs. the Volcano. It was an otherwise forgettable movie, perhaps best known as an early Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan collaboration before their collaborations actually found a real audience. But that scene, where the legions of workers slog themselves through the grey murk of the most depressing of all mornings, stands in my mind as one of the most brilliantly packaged pieces of cinematic atmosphere I've ever seen (link here.)*

Which is my way of saying this bulletin board evoked the same kind of sadness. People looking for something. Sales, connections, help. Little snippets of ripped paper suggesting, perhaps overly hopefully, that some of them found what they were looking for. Others, apparently, are still waiting.

Your turn: Who uses this bulletin board? If you had to pick one person, what would his/her story be?

* An additional scene - when he arrives inside the office - is similarly depressing, and similarly great cinematography. Link here

On user-friendliness

"The real world is not user-friendly."
Kelvin Throop III
I'm beginning to think Mr. Throop may have been onto something. There are days when I just wish the merry-go-round would slow down just long enough for us to catch our breath. Not too much to ask, I hope.

Your turn: How do you suggest we make the world a little more user-friendly?

Monday, June 20, 2011

This is a test of the emergency broadcast system

Long commute
Toronto, ON, November 2010
[Click here to share your own sign-themed Thematic]

I always wonder when I see stuff like this if there's someone on the other end of the sign, sitting in some yellowing-fluorescent-lit control room, perhaps, watching for the desired result. Probably not.

I'm willing to bet that this thing had been showing "Test" since the dinosaurs last roamed the earth. I'm also willing to bet that the sign isn't connected to anything, that it came preprogrammed with this one word to fool the unwitting transit-taking public into believing that anyone really cared.

Or maybe it really was broken. I guess I'll never know.

Your turn: What are they testing for? Is the next train ever going to arrive?

Puppies don't get sick, do they?

Apparently, they do.

Some of you may have read about our dog, Frasier. He's a miniature schnauzer who we rescued a few years back (see here for his first entry, here for second, and here for everything else), and is about to celebrate his fifth birthday.

He wasn't feeling so well last week, which in and of itself wasn't alarming. After all, he's quite the inventive garbage-eater, always figuring out a way to sneak past the ever-evolving and multiple layers of babyproofing we've thrown up around the house. Sometimes as a result of his exploits, he'd spend a few days with the doggie equivalent of a boo-boo tummy. He'd lie low, give us his pathetic look, and eventually just bounce back.

Well, this time he didn't just get better. He was drinking voraciously. He wasn't himself. We knew.

The vet confirmed it this weekend: furball has diabetes. Which means we've begun to inject him with insulin, and our schedule now becomes a little - okay, a lot - more involved as we time his shots, meals and snacks around his twice-daily dates with a needle.

We've been through this before - our cat became diabetic a few months before we lost him. But he was older, and you sort of expect stuff to happen to an older pet. Frasier's still a pup, still has years ahead of him. We weren't ready for this vibrant dog to suddenly turn into a sick dog.

But that's the thing about life: You just don't know what it'll throw at you. You can be fine one day and sick the next. Or not here at all. It applies just as much to animals as it does to humans. It's never predictable. It never has anything to do with how nice or not nice you've been. It's never fair.

But it is reality. And part of me feels like fate has let this sweet thing down, like we rescued him from an abusive home only to have this - this - happen to him. But see my previous paragraph: We don't control what happens to us, or to our dogs. We only control what we do next.

Harsh as it may seem, it is something we will deal with as a family. I'm already using every alarm and timer on my Timex Ironman Triathlon watch to track every event during his now tightly-scheduled day. I'm always following him through the house to make sure he's not getting himself into trouble. I know where the honey is in the pantry in case he becomes unresponsive and needs us to force-feed it to him. I'm learning how to hide my own fears whenever we discuss his health with the kids, how to share everything we can with them without scaring them in the process.

Unfortunately, they know what it's like to lose both pets and people. They understand how chronic illness can paint the tone of a family, can color its days and add an invisible weight to everything we say and do. They've grown up with it, so this is almost old hat to them. I think I'm worrying for nothing. And I wish they could worry about other things, instead.

But here's the thing: For as long as we have him - a day, a year, a decade, whatever it is - he's their dog, their unconditional best friend. And while he may seem a little fragile as he gets used to his new reality, he's still the very center of their world, still the loud-mouthed dog who howls at everyone he meets and jumps all over anyone who'll let him. Noah gave him a hug as he got out of the shower and headed to his room for tuck-in. He lingered over his ears for a little longer than usual, giving each one a kiss before he wandered off. He spoke to him as he always does, gently. And the dog looked at him as he always does, gently.

Nothing had changed. At least not the things that mattered to them. Maybe that's what we'll focus on in the weeks ahead as we get used to the next chapter in this dog's life.

Your turn: Got any words for Frasier?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

On why Fathers Day sucks for some

"He didn't tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it."
The calendar reminds us that today is Father's Day. Allow me to apologize in advance for what I'm about to say.

Today isn't about store-bought presents or kitschy ties. It isn't about forced sentiment or cramming good wishes into a 24-hour period to the detriment of the 364 other 24-hour periods that make up the current year.

If you've read me for long enough, you may recall that holidays like Fathers Day don't really do it for me. Sure, I loved the way our youngest son threw his arms around me when I came downstairs this morning to give the puppy his shot. Any hug is always a good hug. I'm thankful for the day ahead, which we'll spend together doing the quiet, weekend-ish things that families do. Days like today remind me how lucky I am to have what I have.

I also appreciate the additional opportunity to stop and think about my own late dad, and the things he taught me that show up in my own style of parenting. I stop and think about him every day, of course, but it doesn't hurt to have a day like this, too, to reinforce the notion for those who may need a bit of a push.

Still, I'd like to think that we don't need piles of flyers on our doorsteps and endless reminders on-air and online to remind us of the need to appreciate one another. And that we don't have to build it up, save it up all for one day, only to let it lapse as soon as midnight takes us into the next non-celebratory day.

Somewhat unfairly, because that's just the way life works, not everyone has a dad. And if you don't, how does it feel to watch everyone else bask in the glory of it all while you bask without him? Sure, you've probably gotten used to the myriad realities of loss by now, but do you really need to endure the kind of day, each and every year, where it's thrown at you from all sides?

I realize that sounds harsh, and I don't mean to be. But forced commercialism always seems to betray harsh dichotomies and moments, stark differences that wouldn't be quite so stark if we were simply more caring to everyone on every other day of the year, if we relied our ourselves instead of a flyer to keep the goodness flowing, in a balanced way, all year long. How hard is it, after all, to kiss the top of your daughter's head and tell her you're proud of her, on an average day and for no real reason?

It shouldn't be. And we shouldn't need special days.

I love my kids immeasurably and I know they love me, too. My wife is their hero, too, and their grandparents, as is every other friend and family member who's touched their lives in some way. This is all just as true today as it was yesterday, and as it will be tomorrow, the day after, and always. Why we have to stick it in a box defined by gifts and gotta-make-'em-or-else phone calls is beyond me.

Tomorrow is always another day. And I'll still be a dad, then. And my wife will still be a mom. There should be no such thing as a non-celebratory day, and we should all be invited to the party whenever it ends up happening.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Related links:

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Please do not adjust your set

Cable boo boo
London, ON, October 2010

It's been a lousy few days around here, so let's play a game, shall we? What first three words come to mind when you see this picture?

Of all the words to misspell...

...did it have to be the four-letter d-word?

I'll never understand people's apparent aversion to proofreading. It's one thing when you're publishing online - and can change it on the fly - and quite another when it's painted on a metal plate and bolted onto a golf cart for all time.

I'm guessing this course doesn't have too many LGBT members.

Your turn: Have you run into any spelling faux-pas in your own travels?

Friday, June 17, 2011

RIM approaches the edge

Research In Motion is Canada's leading tech company, the inventor of the BlackBerry and the smartphone category it once dominated.

Then, in a stunning oversimplification, along came Apple and Google and changed the name of the game. The BlackBerry's uniquely secure and robust messaging was no longer enough. Apps were the thing, as were touchscreens and sleek and sexy industrial design that caught attention and spawned coolness. BlackBerrys have been getting better all the time, but they're no longer cool. It isn't enough to evolve the design. Only revolution, apparently, will do, and resting on your geek laurels is quite the no-no in this industry.

Since the iPhone's debut in 2007 and Google Android's emergence two years later, the clouds over the BlackBerry patch have been darkening. Yesterday, they turned black after the company announced disappointing results: lower profit than the year-ago quarter, shrinking market share and, almost unthinkably, impending job cuts.

To say this has had a seismically frightening impact on Canada's tech industry would be an understatement. This is Nortel all over again, another sign that we depend too heavily on the fortunes of too few superstars. Mom taught us never to put all our eggs in one basket, yet we've done exactly that. Again, And that basket's in trouble.


I wrote the following piece for Yahoo! Canada Finance:
I'll be speaking with Calgary radio station QR77's Angela Kokott at 7:40-ish pm, and then off to the studio for a live hit with CTV News Channel's Marcia MacMillan at 9:00 p.m. (all times Eastern. Update: Video stream here.) I spoke with the Globe and Mail's Gordon Pitts for this piece:
And with the Kitchener-Waterloo Record's Chuck Howitt for this article:
And with 570 News's Mike Farwell:
(The Record is RIM's hometown paper, and 570News is their hometown talk radio station.)

Your turn: The company still made $695 million last quarter. Is it fair that investors can turn a massively profitable company into a pariah? Does the system work?

On doing good

In the wake of the rather embarrassing and sad riots that rocked Vancouver following the Canucks Stanley Cup final loss to the Boston Bruins, I've been troubled by the kind of human behavior, the total lack of caring, that leads to things like this in the first place.

On last night's news, a reporter caught up with a 20-year-old guy who had just been charged for participating in the riot. His total lack of remorse and WTF-ish attitude threw me off, as if he'd happily dive in again if the opportunity presented itself.

I felt a chill as I watched him speak. I worry for our future if this is what surrounds us.

Maybe the Rev. Tutu's words will help counterbalance all of this week's bad karma:
"Everyone do your little bit of good where you are; its those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world."
Your turn: Thoughts?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Thematic Photographic 150 - Signs that make us wonder

We come across signs every day. Most of the time, they barely register beyond subconscious thought. We automatically acknowledge them before moving on with the important business of, well, moving on.

But sometimes we see a sign that makes us think. Or shake our heads. Or crinkle our brow. And for the next week, I'd like us to explore the signs around us that didn't quite make the grade.

Why signs? Because there are so many signs (sorry) of incompetence around us that it saddens me to think that no one celebrates the crapitude that created them in the first place. I think a little photographic love will give us all a few reasons to smile in the days to come.

Your turn: Please post a picture of a less-than-stellar, funny or just plain sad sign on your blog. Or find one that's already been posted (as old or as recent as you want.) Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants and share as many pics through the week as you wish. Interpret to your heart's content, as there are no rights and wrongs in Thematic. It's all about fun, sharing and stretching our photographic boundaries. Are you in?

Leaving the nest

Peanut goes to Washington
London, ON, June 2011

The house has been strangely quiet this week, ever since Dahlia left for Washington on her school's Grade 8 trip on Sunday. Little brother, Noah, has been wandering around the house, not quite sure how he should fill his free time now that he doesn't have his big sister to share it with. He looks up to her like I wish every little brother would. On Sunday, as he waited for her to e-mail us that she had gotten there safely, he idly brushed the dog's head and quietly told him he missed her.

For his part, the dog isn't quite himself, either. She usually walks him in the morning before leaving for school, so his morning routine's been off just a bit. He hangs around the kitchen while everyone grabs breakfast and loads up backpacks, unsure of who he should beg to take him. Every once in a while, he saunters back into the living room and toward the stairs leading to the second floor. I wonder if he thinks she'll magically appear.

This is her first trip away from family, her first time so far from home without us. She isn't alone, of course. She's with her teachers and her classmates, and her e-mails home tell of an action packed schedule, a happy-but-tired group of kids, and an adventure none of them will soon forget. It's the kind of life experience every 13-year-old wants. It's the kind of life experience this particular young lady will uniquely make the most of. Will somehow make hers.

She'll be home late tomorrow, no doubt changed by the experience of seeing so much so intensively so far from her usual routine. I'm guessing she will have grown. I'm guessing it won't be the last time. I'm guessing this is the way it should be.

Until then, though, I'm guessing I miss her more than a little bit, too.

Your turn: Do you remember your first trip away from home? Do tell!

One more thing: Last chance to squeeze in a family-themed pic before the new Thematic theme goes live tonight at 7:00 Eastern. Head here for family. Or hang around till the new one pops up. We'll make the tea.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

When the mail stops flowing

Ooh, just heard that Canada Post, which has been hit by rotating, city-by-city strikes as it tries - and apparently fails - to negotiate a new deal with its unionized workers, has locked its workers out and is suspending service across the country.

That's right, folks: No mail.

Don't get me started on how badly both sides need to reset their expectations in light of a drastically changed world. The days of uber-well-paid letter carriers who can easily coast from high school to retirement to huge pension are long gone. Reality dictates a reboot not just in Canada, but among postal systems around the world.

One wonders if the leaders on either side truly appreciate this. Probably not.

Your turn: Do you still do snail mail?

Monday, June 13, 2011

On making days count

"I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult."
E.B. White

Your turn: Did you have a hell of a good time today?

Watching her watch me

Through her eyes
London, ON, May 2011
About this photo: It's "family" week this week here at Written Inc. And if you'd like to share your own family-themed Thematic entry, just head here.
I sometimes wonder if I'd be the person I am if my wife and I hadn't crossed paths. Probably not. She's the one who quietly - and sometimes not-so-quietly - lets me know that I need to keep wielding my pen, that I need to continue pursuing my passion to write, that I need to keep doing what I love, that it will ultimately pay off despite my worries that I should have stuck with a more conventional path.

But the thing is, I'm not conventional. And before I met her I often wondered if that was my Achilles Heel. She convinced me it's perfectly fine to follow a path of your own design. And if I want to get artsy with her sunglasses, she's perfectly fine with that, too.

Your turn: Do you annoy people with your lens? How?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The moron who slept on my shoulder

I wish I had sharper elbows
On a WestJet 737-700, January 2011

Forget the doofus on the right for a moment. I'd like to focus on the idiot who slept on me for a good chunk of the flight. Let's rewind a little, shall we?

The scene: We're in line at the Miami International Airport gate, getting ready to board our flight home. Behind us, a child yells repeatedly, "Poppy, poppy, poppy!" Said child's volume becomes louder with time as whoever this "Poppy" guy is is clearly not showing his face. Out of the corner of my eye, I spot a man hiding behind a concrete pillar, fiddling with his BlackBerry, headset deeply embedded in his ears as he either focuses intently on a last-minute conference call or tries to memorize the lyrics to the new Death Cab For Cutie single. I can't tell which, but after the little munchkin breaks away from his harried mother and another blessedly silent child, and makes a beeline for Unshaven BlackBerry Guy, it's clear they're family.

Not that this guy could care one way or another, because he shoos his son away without so much as a look, whispering under his breath that he should stay with his mother. Then he goes back to his conference call. Or Death Cab For Cutie. I still can't tell. The little one tries the same thing at least two more times, with the same whispered, non-eye-contact response every time.

By now our kids are watching this little family circus, trying not to let their amusement at this annals-of-parenting moment be too obvious. We've tried to teach them to be discrete while in public, and today the lessons seem to be paying off (we'll leave their cringe-inducing sibling-terror inside the house for another day.) They exchange quick glances with me, my wife and each other. Not a word is spoken, but from the looks on their faces, it's obvious they think this guy's an idiot, too. But we'll be boarding soon, so it won't be long before they're all distant memories, an interesting ending to a great vacation.

Fat chance. The line begins to move. Death Cab For Cutie must be one hell of a band, because Unshaven BlackBerry Guy sprints into line just before we get to the check-in counter. The little screamer jumps all over him as escapee-dad tries to give his stuff to the agent. He continues to ignore his family all the way down the jetway (maybe Death Cab For Cutie has given way to Good Charlotte by now. Still can't tell, but I digress.) The child's voice echoes, unanswered.

We board, and as luck would have it, the apparently single mother sits down in the row behind us. The father, still trying his utmost to ignore the presence of his family, sits beside me on the aisle. The kid continues to scream "Poppy!" Even better, now he's sticking his hands through the opening between our seats - right about near my right ear - to get this moron's attention.

You know where this is going, don't you? We take off, kid is kicking the chair and screaming, mother has given up trying to rein him in, and I wouldn't be surprised if she's looking up divorce lawyers on her own mobile device. As we climb into the sky, dad is still on his BlackBerry as he simultaneously manages to insinuate himself into my seat, as well (by now you should have concluded that Mr. The World Revolves Around Me grabbed the armrest as soon as he sat down and refused to give it up. Gotta position those BlackBerry thumbs, after all.)

I'm usually pretty patient, but eventually I get tired of the idiocy. So I tell him to get up - politely, of course, but I'm beyond asking - and head to the back of the plane where I ask the flight attendants if sending e-mails contravenes their in-flight protocol. Indeed, it does. They ask if he's using flight mode. I confirm he's as connected as he's ever been, and they promise to deal with him promptly. I ask for a bit of a delay to ensure he doesn't think I've ratted him out. They smile knowingly and thank me repeatedly. I guess they wanted to have some fun with him, too.

As I settle back in, he is, of course, still tapping away. The slowly ebbing frequency and strength of the seatback kicking confirms that his son is on the wrong side of the childhood energy management curve. Since he's making no effort to hide his screen from me - it's practically in my lap by the time I decide to memorize his every keypress - I figure I'm entitled to a little fun. By the time the flight attendant makes her way to our row and scolds him for using his Berry in-flight, I've managed to capture his name, e-mail address, home phone number, mobile phone number and company and job title. Can someone say "safe mobile security"? I knew you could.

When his twiddle-less thumbs finally run out of things to do, he falls asleep on my shoulder, thus giving me the perfect excuse to snap his picture to remember the moment.

Gratuitous? Sure. A little mean-spirited? Of course. But if I can't have a little fun poking fun at those who clearly couldn't care less about the needs of others, then what's the point? Maybe he'll see this someday and realize he's got a wife and kids who actually deserve better.

Probably not. But one can always hope.

Your turn: How do you deal with idiots?

Friday, June 10, 2011

On listening

"There is no such thing as a worthless conversation, provided you know what to listen for."
James Nathan Miller

Puppy feet

Leaving his mark
Deerfield Beach, December 2008
Click here for more Thematic "family"

We often say our youngest, Noah, has puppy feet because they seem too big for the rest of him. Lately that's become somewhat less pronounced as the rest of him begins to catch up with his big, stinky, oh-so-squeezable feet.

He only moves at one speed, warp, so when he plays all you see is a blur if you focus on his feet. But every once in a while, he slows down just enough to be captured. In this frame, he was grabbing the last of the late-afternoon rays before we packed everything up and headed home. By the time I took this shot, we had given him at least a half-dozen five-minute warnings, and he was still nowhere near done. When we hit the beach, he knows our time there is limited and precious. So he makes the most out of it.

Watching him on this day, so did I.

Your turn: How do you make the most out of limited time in special places?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

On (wishing for more) time

It's slowly becoming apparent to me that time is something we never seem to have enough of. I try to use whatever time I have in the most efficient way possible, but even then I'm getting to the end of each day wishing it could be just a little bit longer.

So tonight, as I sit beside the soccer field and watch our daughter play, I'm going to try to slow it down a bit, even if it's just in my mind, because she won't be playing soccer forever. And I, like everyone who reads this, only have a finite number of days to work with.

I thought these words from Mr. Norris might sum up the spirit of this entry:

"How you spend your time is more important than how you spend your money. Money mistakes can be corrected, but time is gone forever."

David Norris

Your turn: So how are you going to spend your time?

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Thematic Photographic 149 - Family

The next generation
London, ON
November 2010

They can go at it like cats and dogs, largely because they're such individually bright, focused kids. Yet when the chips are down, they're there for each other, and it makes my heart melt to see them figure it out for themselves.

They make for a crazy, chaotic household that's often noisy and unpredictable, but I can't imagine what life was like before we had them, nor would I want to. It's full, and it's full of meaning, because it's no longer about simply getting ourselves through the day. Rather, it's about getting them through the day, and preparing them for whatever the next day may serve up. And the next, and the next...

I'm tired just thinking about it. But I'd have it no other way.

Your turn: I'd like to explore family this week, and I'm hoping you'll join me along the way. Thematic Photographic rules, as such, are here. Otherwise, please leave a link in a comment to a family-themed pic you've posted somewhere, and let the sharing begin.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Gratuitous dog porn

Okay, not quite porn. Please get your mind out of the gutter. I'm sharing this tonight for a couple of reasons:

1 - It's been a while since I played games with the search engines. It always makes me smile when entry headings like these generate bizarro search hits for months. Then I feel bummed that there are so many sickos out there. Can't have it all, I guess.

2 - It's been a crazily long day. I had every intention of posting a new Thematic theme tonight. But thanks to a late night meeting and a laptop waiting for my mind to fill some documents with somewhat connected words, cogent, coherent posting will have to wait till tomorrow.

For now, please accept this humble grainy self portrait with our beloved canine, Frasier. Why the dog pic? Because no matter what kind of day I've had, he'll be there at the door when I get home, and he'll shuffle up next to me wherever I end up. He is goodness personified, and I can't imagine him not being as tightly woven into our family's fabric as he already is.

An amazing thing considering he doesn't speak a word of English. Yet somehow, we communicate perfectly.

Your turn: Ever notice strange search terms turning up in your blog/web site stats?

On making today count

Sir Bob Geldof's not-liking-Monday anthem may have become a musical icon for a generation, but it hasn't changed reality for most of us. Weekends end, weeks begin, and the proverbial ratrace continues.

I thought this thought might help us start the week in a somewhat more pleasant manner. Mother Teresa always did have a way of seeing the opportunity in everything:

"Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin."
Mother Teresa

Your turn: Mondays. Please discuss.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Please avoid amputating your digits

Not that this has anything to do with anything, but I found myself rather disturbed on a recent trip to the local grocery store - Loblaw Great Food, if we're being precise, but it'll always be Loblaws, with an s, to me.

What's so upsetting at the grocery store, you ask? Well, this: A self-serve bread-cutting machine.

Now, I completely understand the modern-day need, nay, mania, to shave costs and identify efficiencies everywhere and anywhere possible. A slight reduction in non-value-added headcount can mean eight cents less on fresh asparagus. I get it.

But the question we face isn't whether we expect stores to watch their pennies - we do - but what they and we are willing to give up in the process. I'm going to vote against giving up fingers or thumbs just so the store can go without an employee trained in the fine art of retaining his or hers. Call me squeamish. I can deal with it.

For generations, we've handed loaves of bread over to these fine, indeed brave individuals, then watched with a curious mixture of fascination and horror at their ability to carve it all up with speed and safety. To the best of my recollection, no one was ever injured in the process, and the bread always tasted especially good when we got it home.

Now? I'm almost afraid to ask what's in store. I imagine hordes of the great unwashed, throwing their loaves willy nilly onto the machine, brazenly ignoring the well intentioned and laid out instructions. I also imagine particularly adventurous, if not entirely intelligent, shoppers experimenting with the machine, seeing what other non-yeast-based confections will survive the trip through the blades.

It's a recipe for disaster. And I have no interest in being around when it plays out. I think it may be time to find an alternative to bread. Or a store that still employs bread-slicers. I'll take the eight-cent hit on asparagus for now.

Your turn: Is this a cut too far?

On physics, philosophy and life

For a physicist behind some of the most remarkable scientific discoveries of our time, Albert Einstein's philosophies were surprisingly evolved as well. I get the sense that he had it together in so many ways, as evidenced by this:
"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving."
Your turn: I think today's going to be a lovely day for some biking. And some hanging out with a woman who strangely wants to spend her life with me. And three folks who look, sound and walk like we do. How are YOU going to, as Albert suggests, keep moving?

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Bridge to the past

Historic green
London, ON, April 2009

This isn't the first time I've shared the story of London's Blackfriars Street Bridge (see here and here for earlier entries) and it likely won't be the last. That's because it manages to survive and thrive in an era where we're just as likely to tear down and rebuild an anonymous box. And taking a trip through neighborhoods of anonymous boxes and arriving at something that was old before my grandfather was born is a trip worth taking.

You get to touch history here, just walk right up to it on its rough-hewn wooden deck and run your fingertips along the mottled, rust-tinged green iron beams and stringers. If you close your eyes and scrunch them just so, you can almost feel what it must have been like to be in this very place all those years ago.

As long as this bridge continues to exist in some form, it gives us the opportunity to have moments like this. When we lose structures like it - as we recently lost the Sarnia Road span - we lose something more than metal and wood.

Your turn: Do you ever hang out on or near a bridge? What's the appeal?

Friday, June 03, 2011

On rainbows

"The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain."
Dolly Parton
Your turn: What's the appeal of dancing in the rain?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Published in the New York Times? Not really.

One of the neat things about writing is you never know where your words will end up. Blogging, in particular, seems to add another dimension to the proceedings, as the various intersecting and overlapping technologies that govern life on the Interwebs can often snag your work and fling it over to some fascinating places.

Like today, when I noticed a blip in traffic from the New York Times. I followed the link home and found this page. Some bot or similarly automated snippet of code had dug up yesterday's entry - Because planes don't just fall from the sky - on Air France Flight 447 and tossed it into a roster of links alongside pieces from CNN, Salon and Business Week (and, to make sure my head still fits through the door, The Cranky Flier, The Scotsman and The Daily Irrelevant.)

So I'm not about to go bragging about my great big break. Life isn't about the big breaks, after all. It's about laying the groundwork, small break by small break, for whatever goodness eventually gets built on top. And in the absence of a contract from the Grey Lady herself, a random pickup like this will get added to the slowly growing pile of neat things that have happened to me since I decided to pursue a writing career.

Your turn: Do you write? How has it jazzed your life?

History on wheels

Old, big red
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2008
[Click all photos to enlarge]
About these photos: Thematic Photographic explores "well aged" this week, and I thought this lovingly preserved set of wheels qualified in spades. If you've seen something - or someone - with experience through your lens, please head here to let the sharing begin.
I often wonder if the folks who designed and assembled this car a lifetime ago knew that decades later it would become an object of desire for those who appreciate history. Just as often, I shift my timeline a little and wonder if the folks who designed and assembled my neighbor's Chevrolet Impala ever wonder the same thing. Then I wonder if said Impala will ever become as unique in some future time as this vehicle is in ours.

Probably not.

There aren't any formulae that dictate what becomes collectible and what becomes forgettable junk, but I'm willing to go on record as saying a nearly invisible design that sells in the six figures to folks who buy cars by the pound won't likely show up on a far-in-the-future high-end auction turntable. No disrespect to the Impala, but it just doesn't have "it". Whatever "it" is.

I realize this may make me seem like a bit of a hypocrite, as I once wrote about making the Toyota Yaris seem sexy (oops, make that twice.) I guess the Impala can be sexy, too (even caught my rental in this moody nighttime shoot) but neither of these vehicles will ever be considered a collectible antique. I guess it depends how you choose to look at it. And you can find loveliness in something even if someone doesn't ever want to pay ridiculous sums of money for it.

Whatever the subject - old, lovely car or new, kinda-forgettable-but-still-potentially-sexy-t0-us one - I keep learning new things as I spend more time staring through my lens. Funny how that works.

Your turn: What does photography teach you?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Because planes don't just fall from the sky

Sense this
Miami, FL
January 2011

Two years ago, today, Air France Flight 447, an Airbus A-330 with 228 people on board, crashed into the Atlantic Ocean en route from Rio De Janeiro to Paris.

State-of-the-art jetliners don't just fall out of the sky for no apparent reason. Indeed, finding out why an accident happens at all is crucial to future flight safety. Every crash teaches the industry something they didn't know previously, or initiates dialog and debate that inevitably leads to safer aircraft and procedures.

The trouble with Flight 447 was the maddeningly long time it took for searchers to locate the cockpit voice and flight data recorders at the bottom of the ocean. These devices, fitted with sonar pingers that emit sounds for upwards of 30 days after a crash, were finally found last month when a painstaking search process finally found the bulk of the wreckage. Thankfully, investigators were able to extract the data from the black boxes, and they've been slowly filling in the gaps of this ill-starred flight.

I know that commercial flight remains by far the most statistically safe form of travel. I know that I'm infinitely more likely to get smacked by a semi on the way to the airport. But I'm sure some of the passengers on this flight felt the same way when they boarded: You just never know. And any time some investigative justice is served on the cruel forces that seemingly randomly end the lives of hundreds of people who simply wanted to get home, it's a small victory for the rest of us.

Your turn: Do you feel safe when you fly? Why? Why not?

About this photo: The Air France crash investigation has zeroed in on the pitot tubes. A possible failure in these critical speed-sensing devices may have resulted in erroneous and conflicting information being fed to the flight computers - and sadly, at the time of the crash, Airbus had already warned its customers that the tubes installed on A-330s were subject to freezing and should be replaced. When you look at the outside of a plane, the tubes look so inconsequential. Yet it's often the smallest component that has the most significant impact. If only they had been replaced before that flight...