Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Cyclical color in a snowy land

We woke up to this today. Not the bike sitting on the lawn, but snow. And even then, just a sprinkling, a taste of what's to come. And it'll probably melt off by lunchtime.

I don't tend to fret about changing weather. It's going to happen no matter what we do, so we may as well adapt and move on. Better to focus on the things we can change.

Still, I felt a slight pang of sadness on seeing my garish pink machine juxtaposed against the now-almost-monochrome landscape. Whether I like it or not, another biking season is inevitably drawing to a close, and with it, my self-powered radius gets a little smaller. One cycle begets another...I'm just glad I'm here to experience it all.

Your turn: What are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

On the not-so-lowly turtle

"Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out."
James Conant
I had a turtle once, long ago. She eventually outgrew every habitat we bought for her, and ultimately needed a ginorous aquarium. My old room had shag carpeting - blame my parents - with a bizarro blue/green pattern to it, and whenever she escaped, she'd disappear, chameleon-like. I'd have to lie carefully on the bed for fear of accidentally squishing her. Eventually, after feeling around the floor, I'd find her and return her. Until her next escape.

Long after she went to the great turtle riviera in the sky, I had an inspirational turtle experience in a faraway place. And to this day, these funny-looking, super-slow beings from a seemingly distant past still manage to fascinate me. I'm not so great at the neck-sticking-out thing, but I figure if a turtle can do it, I can, too.

Your turn: How do you explain the ongoing appeal of turtles?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Thematic Photographic 173 - Flash of Color

Duck, duck...goose?
London, ON, November 2011

I'm not particularly fond of this shot. I had just discovered this little spot by the river. It was one of those in-between moments where I had a bit of time to kill while waiting for the little man's choir practice to end. I lost track of time as I wandered the pathways nearby, and had begun putting my camera away after realizing I had wandered a little too far and would now have to double-time it back to pick him up on time.

Of course, that was precisely the moment the ducks chose to take off from the water and make a spectacle of themselves. I was completely out of position, completely unprepared and completely late. I grabbed my camera from the bag and wildly shot whatever I could until they disappeared around the bend.

I'll have to return to this idyllic spot sometime soon. Next time, I'll be ready for whatever the ducks have planned.

Your turn: Please share a photo that reflects this week's theme, flash of color. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Come on back through the week and visit other participants to share the photographic joy. Thematic Photographic is our little weekly photo-exploration exercise, and everyone who's interested in expanding their photographic world view is welcome to join in the fun. For more info on how TP works, click here.

May the Q be with us

Social media tools can be used for a lot of really ridiculous purposes. For example:
  • Playing endless rounds of FarmVille when you really should be working.
  • Bugging complete strangers to play endless rounds of FarmVille when they really should be working.
  • Sharing waaaaay too much information about your child's intestinal functions.
  • Sharing waaaaay too much information about your own intestinal functions.
  • Enlightening countless "friends" on the state of your relationship with your soon-to-be estranged mother-in-law.
  • Assuming Facebook "friends" are, in fact, friends.
At the same time, social media can be a force for good. To wit, an Ontario campaign to get CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi to do his live radio show, Q, locally. Mr. Ghomeshi is a multimedia superstar, an accomplished musician (Moxy Fruvous) and passionate mentor for Canada's next generation of talent. And he's got a lot of rabid fans who would give their eye teeth for a live-in-person visit.

The rules for this Internet era contest are simple: Mr. Ghomeshi and his show will visit the city that markets itself most effectively. So Facebookers, Twitterers and bloggers are now slugging it out online to get Mr. Ghomeshi's attention (London's Facebook page is here...bonus points if you follow the link and like it, double-bonus points if you start using the #JianinLdnont hashtag.)

True to our Canadian form, the campaigns are good-natured and light-hearted. Win or lose, I'm guessing the sense of community that's grown out of this large-scale process will pay off well beyond one radio show in one town. On second thought, maybe that's been Mr. Ghomeshi's goal all along.


Your turn: Are you involved in this? Got a link you want us to share here? Go for it...

I'll start the ball rolling:

Row upon row of emptiness

Before gametime
London, ON, November 2011

Quick note: This photo wraps up our "muted" theme - click here if you'd like to make one last contribution. New Thematic theme, "flash of color", launches tonight at 7:00 Eastern.
When a stadium - in this case, London's TD Waterhouse Stadium - is packed with screaming fans, it has an energy that can't be explained, broadcast or written about. You have to be there to truly experience it, to feel it with every sense you've got, and even some you don't.

When the stands are empty, however, it's easy to imagine a tuft or two of tumbleweed blowing almost silently past, a reminder that a house isn't a home until it's filled with people. None of this means there's any less meaning to the empty state (these places, after all, spend the vast majority of their lives sitting still, waiting for the crowds to arrive) but it does serve as a reminder to pay attention to the quiet as much as anything else.

Your turn: What is the appeal of quiet?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Help Desk Rules

I've been a geek as long as I can remember. And part of being a geek is being the go-to guy for friends and family whenever they've got a question or a problem with technology. I'm cool with that, of course, as it's my basic nature to want to help. Heck, once upon a time, I ran actual help desks for actual companies. So it's clearly in my blood, and I'm always happy to pitch in.

There's a "but" coming, though. I knew you could sense that.

First, a bit of a level-set: The vast majority of folks are nice as can be. They say please and thank you, and I know they genuinely appreciate whatever I can do. I'd spend every spare minute working with these people, because it makes me feel great to know I can get them going again. They represent 99.9% of the folks I deal with. So, no, chances are you're just fine.

Unfortunately, some folks - let's call them the other 0.1% - aren't fine. Sometimes, they're not as nice about the whole process as they probably could be. Sometimes, they can be annoying, selfish, or a little bit of both. And because I'm Canadian, I'm going to assume they have no awareness of their oafish conduct (or read this blog, or subscribe to my Twitter feed, or...) So please indulge me for a bit as I run down a few common-sense rules to keep in mind when approaching your friendly personal help desk person:
  1. Be polite to me. Say please, thank you, and any other word of kindness you can come up with. I don't need you to fawn all over me, but I could also do without outright rudeness, too. I'm also not averse to the occasional smile when we speak. Show that you care. And even if you don't, please pretend to. Because I have a lot more fun working with friendly folks than unfriendly ones. Oh, and don't ever - and I do mean ever - treat me like the hired help. Please.
  2. Be polite to my family. I'm usually not the first person to reach the phone when it rings (shoot me, I'm slow.) If my wife answers, for example, and you rudely brush her off in your panicked quest to get to me, I can guarantee you she won't be pleased. Neither will I. Believe me when I say I completely understand your frustration. We've all been there, after all. But don't take it out on anyone around me. Oh, and don't treat my wife like the help, either.
  3. Respect my time. If you call me all breathless because your kid flushed your BlackBerry for the third time this week, please listen to my initial response. If I tell you I'm preparing for a conference call in three minutes, kindly recognize that my need to earn a livelihood for my wife and kids trumps your smartphone emergency. Similarly, if I tell you the flu-like symptoms I've been experiencing preclude my talking on the phone right now, please let me get off the phone before I lose my lunch in the middle of the living room. Allow me to set a time and method that'll let me ponder your issue and get back to you in an appropriate manner. If you make me miss that call - or that interview, or that tuck-in - we're going to have a problem.
  4. Respect my sleep. Kindly limit your calls to the usual times when my family would likely be awake. 7:05 a.m. on Sunday or after midnight during the week? Unless someone died, my phone really shouldn't be ringing then. I'm pretty sure your frozen iPad can wait till morning. Much later in the morning.
  5. Get back to me. Please have the courtesy of letting me know at some future point in time how everything worked out. Did my suggestions solve your problem? I can't tell you how many times I've carefully crafted detailed answers in email only to have the recipient never respond in kind. See Rule #1: I don't do this for anything in return, but even a quick "thank-you" or "got it" would be enough. I have negative free time as it is. If you can't take the time to close the loop, I can guarantee you I won't make the same mistake twice.
  6. Listen to me. If I ask you to try something, try it. Time and again, I'll make suggestion after suggestion, only to have my advice ignored. Inevitably, the phone rings a few minutes, hours or even weeks later because It's Still Not Working. I'm trying to help you. If you have no intention of listening to me, please let me know in advance so I can reallocate my time accordingly.
  7. Don't monopolize me. If you bump into me when I'm out and about, please try to avoid peppering me with one question after another, or buttonholing me with stories of your latest tech disaster. When you steal me for the 20 minutes when I'd rather just be chatting with my wife or watching my kids do whatever it is that they do, you're stealing 20 minutes I'm not going to get back. I don't want to sound rude, but this is my only free time. And I don't really care how many hours you've put into the latest Call of Duty episode, or that you're still mulling over that laptop purchase you've been nagging me about for the last six months. I'll nod my head politely because, well, I'm being polite. But secretly, you're really ticking me off.
  8. Don't one-up me. I occasionally get questions from folks who want to prove how tech-savvy they are, and more nastily want to knock the vaunted geek guy down a peg. Go ahead and have your fun, but recognize that I do this because I really want to help, not because I need to get into a pissing match with anyone. If you're going to violate the spirit of the thing - namely that I just want to help good folks who want and need it - then find someone else's time to waste.
  9. Don't try to grow my market. I often get calls and emails from people I don't know. Or from someone who lived three doors down from me when I was a toddler and heard from a friend of of a friend that I know a thing or two about computers. If you're a well-meaning friend, please don't give out my contact information to anyone because "Carmi will help anyone." Feel free to let me know who these near-strangers are, and allow me to decide how to proceed.
  10. No proxies. Don't leave detailed messages with my wife, my kids, or my mother. If you have a question for me, then ask me directly. Please don't rope anyone else into it and please don't force any of them to take down detailed messages outlining the recent changes to your registry and their potential impact on system performance.
  11. No guilt. If you leave me a message and I don't get back to you Right Now, resist the urge to leave a second, nastier message. And when you get me live, do not berate me for not being immediately available. I work long hours. My schedule is often rather unpredictable. I'm usually fighting one deadline after another. I'm not always successful in doing so. Sometimes I get home long after the kids are in bed and wonder what the hell happened that day. I'm likely not ignoring you. Rather, I'm simply doing what I need to do to get by. Kinda like you. Don't guilt me for not dropping everything to rocket your request to the top of my priority list.
  12. Don't slag me if it doesn't work out. I'm not omniscient. Sometimes, I can't fix it. Sometimes I'll recommend that your 13-year-old first-generation Pentium machine running Windows 98 really should be put out of its misery because, no, it just can't handle the latest version of PhotoShop. Respect my judgment when I tell you your only viable option is a trip to the Best Buy for some new hardware.
  13. If you know someone better, please feel free to call him. Or her. Everyone's got a brilliant-but-socially-challenged teenaged nephew who "just knows everything about computers." If you're going to ask me for help out of one side of your mouth, and brag about how he'd solve your little problem "in two seconds flat", then please feel free to redirect your request his way*. If he's a wiz with Windows 98-running Pentium machines, he's your guy. And no worries, I promise I won't be offended.
  14. Pay it forward. As you've likely guessed, I'd never charge friends or family for any of this, as it's just not my thing to think of this as anything but a freebie. That said, I hope my taking the time to help makes enough of an impression that those I help are inspired to assist others as well. Say yes when others ask your for help, any help, and step forward to offer whenever the opportunity presents itself. It's a pretty good feeling, and the world needs more sharing.
I'll apologize if some of this makes me seem more than a little curmudgeonly, as this is clearly not my intent. But if you ever find yourself in the position of asking a friend for any kind of assistance, I hope you'll keep this stuff in mind. Little things matter, and being nice makes all the difference.

Your turn: Thoughts?

* This, and all scenarios touched on here, actually happened to me. Names and other identifiable specifics have been deleted to protect the oafish.

On the wisdom of Pooh

"There is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."
Winnie the Pooh

I always loved Pooh. And Eeyore. And the whole 100 Acre Wood thing. Wouldn't the world be a better place if we were more like them?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

To drink or not to drink

London, ON, November 2011
About this photo. Thematic. Muted. Here.
On a forgotten stretch of wall along the forgotten underside of the football stadium on the university campus here, you can drink all the water you want. Or not. Water fountains have always made me a little nervous.

I was here with our daughter to watch her high school football teams play in a couple of season-ending championship games. It's her first year in high school, and she couldn't wait to see her classmates hit the field. She's a kid who understands the meaning of spirit, so despite the cold, windy greyness that blanketed the day, we headed off to the stadium and settled in for some ball.

I learned a number of things on this day:
  • Hot chocolate isn't just a tasty-if-fattening treat. It's a mode of survival for Great White North football fans.
  • Some parents make the ugliest fans. Leaning over the railing and screaming at your kid to "stop being a wuss" won't win you the parent-of-the-year trophy.
  • Marching bands are a wonderful addition to a day at the stadium.
  • Not so much when they're sitting right behind you.
  • Bare metal bleachers are a bad idea. Forgetting pillows and/or blankets? Even worse.
  • Dogs can be football fans, too.
  • I can think of few people I'd rather hang around with than this kid. I knew this before, of course, but it's nice to be reminded.
Two thrilling, down-to-the-wire victories later, it was time to head home. By this point I couldn't feel my fingers, but I didn't care as it had been a thoroughly sweet day with my munchkin. As we walked among the boisterous crowd out the back of the stadium, the sun came out and cast a shadow against the bare concrete block. Dahlia almost instinctively slowed down, knowing full well that I couldn't resist taking one last shot.

She gets me.

Your turn: So do you drink from public water fountains?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Growing in no one's garden

In the wild
London, ON, November 2011

The more time I spend outside in the murky grey weeks between the brightest autumn colors and the first snowfall (can't believe I just said that), the more I realize how much color remains. I know it isn't that brilliant, smack-you-in-the-face intensity of a tree seemingly on fire with red, but that doesn't mean it can't have an impact all its own.

It's a more subtle kind of color, a quieter message, a softer form of loveliness that doesn't reach out to us as much as it quietly asks us to lean a little closer. So on this not-so-bright, not-so-warm Sunday morning, I buttoned my coat up, tightened up my scarf and shuddered as the dampness reached inside anyway. And I slowed down, because I found I had to look harder to find what I was looking for.

As I composed the photo you see above, it occurred to me that the whole subtle-color thing extends well beyond photography.

Your turn: What do you see when you slow down and lean in?

One more thing: Click here for more muted Thematic.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

On living life well

"Life well spent is long."
Leonardo Da Vinci
Conceptually, I'd like to believe in Mr. Da Vinci's words. I'd like to think that the only thing that should matter is not how many years we're given, but what we do with them. I'd like to think that a relatively brief life packed with accomplishment, substance and inspiration is preferable to a relatively long one spent in the lonely shadows of mere existence.

I'd like to think a lot of things on this murky morning, but this will have to do while I get on with the business of trying to make my own years count just a little more.

Your turn: How are you ensuring your own life is spent well?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Muted landscape

Just passing through
Somewhere in Tennessee, December 2008
About this photo: Thematic explores muted this week. You can, too, by clicking here.
The scene: We're on our way to Florida in the days before flight. The wondervan is packed to the gills with our kids and their gear. And us. I'm hanging in the passenger seat, playing with my camera in the few-minute window before I get nauseous and have to put the thing away. My wife's a great driver, but I still hate being a passenger, so little diversions like this are good for my sleep-deprived soul.

The sky is oddly threatening, alternating between thick cloud and slices of brilliant sun. The highway - known as I-75 - runs through the rolling country, hills swelling on either side of the vehicle. At first I curse them - nicely, of course, lest the children hear - because I really want a decent picture of the sky and blurry land isn't really helping. Then I figure by silhouetting the streaking landscape, I may just get the shutter speed high enough to freeze everything and make it look like I wasn't just crossing my fingers and shooting out the car window.

As I work through the settings and review the results of each flight of photos, the sun pokes through the clouds with rays that remind me of G-d peeking at us from above. I'm not one to sprout Scripture or anything, but there's something remarkably humbling about watching this kind of show from on high. I line up for one last round of pictures and wonder if moments like this are less random than fate.

Your turn: The first three words that come to mind when you see this picture are...?

One more thing: I've got a thing for edge-on pictures that reduce the landscape to a flat strip of barely-there features. I caught this one in Colorado, and it remains one of my all-time favorites.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On bleeding a certain shade of blue

"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
Dante Alighieri
I keep waiting for the furor over Penn State to die down. Alums and other stakeholders have been going on national television to whine about how their school's legacy has been destroyed. Fans of Joe Paterno have agonized over his firing. Fans have been going to football games amid fears of pre- and post-game violence. Or they've been boycotting them. Whatever.

Newsflash, people: I realize there's an entire case yet to play out in court, but the allegations, if proven, involve perpetrators and their victims. If found guilty, the perpetrators deserve to be punished. The victims deserve all the support their communities, friends and families can provide. This is pretty much all that matters here. Everything else is merely a circus-like distraction.

If you got your degree from Penn State, or if you tailgated in the school's blue-colored uniforms before a game, I'm quite sorry to inform you that you really shouldn't be ripping your own clothes and claiming victimhood. Your degree isn't devalued by the alleged acts of a sexual predator you probably never even met. Your favorite team isn't sullied by the fact that those in positions of responsibility may have turned the other way and not done all they could to stop the abuse. Oops, alleged abuse.

Yes, the institution has some 'splaining to do insofar as whether it did enough to protect its students and stakeholders. It also needs to change itself to ensure this never recurs. But, again, and I direct this at the Penn State grads from 1972 claiming this has destroyed their lives, this has nothing to do with you. Please get on with your lives and leave the airwaves to an expected wave of Regis-wannabes and clones of The View. Or is it The Talk?

So, the lesson here is simple: Fight acts of darkness like these with everything you've got. Be there for the victims and do everything you can to build a better world where kids aren't victimized by those in positions of power, and those in positions of power don't protect the abusers. Do something to fix whatever you see that's broken - tikkun olam, remember? - but please stop saying any of this has anything to do with you. It doesn't. Get over it.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Disclosure: I attended two Montreal-based schools, Dawson College and Concordia University, that were the scenes of deadly shootings. Both were perpetrated by freaks who were clearly off the scale of normal behavior. Neither incident made me any less proud to have been associated with these institutions.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thematic Photographic 172 - Muted

Getting ready for winter
London, ON, November 2011
About this photo: We're launching our newest Thematic theme, muted, and we hope you'll join in. Click here for more background.
I'll start by apologizing for not being the most gracious of blog hosts of late. I haven't been visiting other Thematic participants this week. Come to think of it, I haven't been visiting anyone else's sites, either. I hope you understand, and I hope you continue to take part in Thematic even if I'm laying low for a few more days.

I went for a walk in the woods by the river yesterday, ostensibly to clear my head and reconnect with the forces of life that tend to go unnoticed in the urban everyday. I noticed how far beyond peak color we are, and how the now-almost-bare branches seem to be waiting for the inevitable first snow. As if they're ready for winter, ready to be buried for a while.

When I first set out for my walk through this greyish landscape, I thought it would be devoid of beauty. I thought blazing autumn color was the only thing worth capturing. It didn't take long to realize I was wrong. Beauty takes many forms, and when it's a little more subtle after the leaves fall and turn a crunchy brown, you just have to look a little harder for it.

It was worth the time. I think I'll take another walk next week. Who's game to join in?

Your turn: Take a photo - muted theme, which can be interpreted any way you wish - and post it to your blog. Or find something muted that you may have already shared. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants and repeat as often as you wish all week long. For more background on how Thematic Photographic, our weekly photo-sharing extravaganza, works, click here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bridge over some kind of water

It is neither white, nor stone. Please discuss.
New York, NY, March 2011
About this photo: We're celebrating classic this week, and from where I sit few examples of large-scale engineering are more classic that a sparingly designed suspension bright like the Whitestone Bridge seen here. To share your own classic vision, please click here.
Pre-takeoff is an interesting time to be in a plane. Wait, I lie. Any time is an interesting time to be in a plane. Cave-dwelling terrorists and terrorist-wannabes notwithstanding - and for the record, let's state right now that these morons are laughing at us every time a shoe-bomber, underwear-bomber or eyeglass-bomber forces another hideously expensive and inconvenient security layer onto an already-overburdened means of travel - there's a cool feeling of anticipation associated with the few moments before hundreds of thousands of pounds of super-high-tech airplane leaves the earth for a few hours.

I like to stare out the window before the pilot floors it and points us toward the sky. Call it tradition or habit or just plain geek-OCD. Whatever it is, it grounds me and, as a bit of a bonus, often presents decent-enough photo opps. Airports aren't always the prettiest landscapes - and LaGuardia probably takes the cake for ugliness - but even the most forgettable facilities seem to offer up enough diversity to make the effort worthwhile.

For Exhibit A, allow me to present the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge. It's a structure I know well from childhood, as we crossed it every time my parents drove us to visit my aunt and uncle. Even if it was the middle of the night and we were sleeping, my father would wake us up so we could stare wide-eyed at this enormously beautiful Depression-era achievement as we slipped beneath its huge cables and towers.

Othmar Ammann* designed this bridge. His work literally dominates the New York area, with a total of seven major spans, all of which reflect a simple elegance that was a total departure from earlier heavy-set approaches to bridge building. I've fast-shot his work before (The George Washington Bridge, blog entry here) and if I'm lucky, I'll get back down there again soon for some more quality time with these icons of engineering history.

Your turn: Got a building or structure that sticks out in your mind? Why?

*Mr. Ammann also wrote an influential study of the collapse of the Quebec Bridge, which I was lucky enough to visit this summer (here). I find it enormously neat how all these little things manage to connect themselves.

On what hopefully lies beyond

"While we are mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil."
John Taylor

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saying goodbye to the day

In the fading light
London, ON, September 2011

It's been an odd few days around here, the upshot being that I haven't had a whole lot to say. Sometimes, life just does that. It tosses you an unseen curve and you're left standing there wondering what the hell just happened. And when the answers don't come, the little voices inside my head sometimes decide to take a bit of a siesta.

All of this leaves me staring at cursors on blank screens for extended periods of time. And wondering when the muse will kick back into gear and turn me once again into a writer. Or at least a wannabe-writer. Because sometimes it's okay to wobble a little bit. I'm lucky enough that every time that seems to happen, things snap back into place soon enough.

It's when that loop doesn't get closed - for me or for anyone who matters to me - that I begin to worry. But for now I can't control any of that. It is what it is, and I'm glad I'm still here to ponder it.

Your turn: How do you get back on your game after you've been thrown off of it?

One more thing: I'm not feeling particularly Thematic right about now. In case you are, however, it continues here.

Friday, November 18, 2011

On grief

"Man, when he does not grieve, hardly exists."
Antonio Porchia

I'm beginning to think that life is a constant process of managing - and learning to live with - loss. No wonder so many of the well-aged wear the years so haggardly on their faces: They've lost so much, and so many, along the way.

Your turn: Is there a silver lining to grief?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A star you can touch

Steal me
London, ON, June 2011
About this photo: It's Thematic's classic week. Head here to jump in.
Thank you all for your kind thoughts in the wake of yesterday, a day many of us would rather forget. A friend from high school, comedian and writer Stewart Silver, passed away very suddenly, and we're still trying to understand something that, frankly, can't be understood.

This is the first loss from my high school class, and the statistical reality that not all of us will live full lives is now sickeningly real. I know that the proverbial clock begins ticking the moment our lives flicker into being, but that still doesn't make it any easier to logically comprehend. It just isn't logical to begin with.

When I'm feeling challenged by the universe, I tend to pull back into the things that bring me comfort. Family, writing, photography, media. I idly tickle my laptop's keyboard, waiting for the moment when the words begin to flow. I look through pictures I've taken and try to remember what it felt like when I was looking through the viewfinder. Tonight, I came up with this one, as it isn't only a classic icon of the automotive industry. It's a reminder of a warm late-spring evening spent waiting for our daughter to return home from a faraway trip.

Memories of moments like this mean so much more when you realize how easily it can all be taken away.

Your turn: What do you cherish?

Friends don't die, do they?

In the ideal world, they don't. But this is the real world, and yesterday's news that a friend from high school had died confirmed just how unfair the real world can be.

I have no words to explain how a guy who's always looked out for others, who had carved out a tremendous reputation as a comedian and writer, who was on his way to New York to do even bigger things, can suddenly be removed from the earth. We can ask "why?" until we're blue in the face and the answers will never come.

I'm glad I got to see him when he came to town to perform. I'm glad our lives crossed when we were kids, and again as we segued into adulthood. I'm left thinking he had so much more to do.

I hugged my family a little tighter last night, and again when they woke up today. I'm thinking about everyone whose lives we touch, and am wondering if we're all doing enough to stay connected, to let them know they matter. Because they do. He did.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011


It's been an insane week, with my family wondering where I've gone and my dog enjoying the empty spots where I usually sit or sleep. Which is my lame excuse for not having anything more fascinating to share this morning. I had all sorts of grand plans to wake up early and write brilliant stuff for the vlog. Instead, I did a couple of live interviews with Canada AM before heading to the office. Another day in the life...and I wouldn't change a thing.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On vision

"The question is not what you look at, but what you see."
Henry David Thoreau

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thematic Photographic 171 - Classic

They don't make them like they used to
London, ON, June 2011

This is probably the loudest vehicle I've ever heard. Since it's a convertible, I'm guessing the guy who owns it has probably suffered hearing damage by now. I'm also pretty sure as it slowly cruised through the parking lot, I could see the roiled air behind it, likely a byproduct of incomplete combustion and fuel "economy" that probably never managed to scrape its way out of single digits.

None of that matters a whit, of course, as I'm sure everyone who saw the car that day probably wished they owned it. Classic cars will do that to even the most green of anti-motorheads. They just have a presence about them that newer vehicles - appliances, really - don't.

Your turn: Thematic celebrates all things classic this week. Cars, architecture, people, whatever. If you think it qualifies as classic, shoot it and share it on your blog. Then leave a comment here letting us know where to find it. Visit other participants and generally share the photographic joy. We'll be doing the classic thing all week. For more info on how Thematic Photographic, our weekly photo-sharing extravaganza, works, just click here.

I think I'm seeing things

St. Laurent, QC
October 2011
About this photo: We're wrapping up "drink up" week with this photo (more here), and will be launching a new theme, "Classic", tonight at 7:00 Eastern.
When you shoot fast-moving water, like this fountain at a mall that my parents used to drag me to when I was a kid, you never quite know what you're going to get. So no surprise here that I ended up with, well, I'm not entirely sure what this is, but I do know it's neat.

I had dragged our kids here on this grey, blustery afternoon and while they rested, I pulled out the camera and started to shoot. The mall, Place Vertu, is something of a Tier B facility: a 70s-era centre that hasn't aged all that well, and now sports more than its fair share of empty storefronts. If we're being brutally honest, it's a depressing place to shop.

But the kids didn't care, and neither did I. It was a grand day out, and it doesn't necessarily matter where you go, as long as you do so together.

Your turn: So what the heck is this?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

In its dying moment

Washing ashore
Delray Beach, FL, January 2011
About this photo: Thematic. Drink Up. Here.
In fairness, this isn't water that you'd want to drink. Sure, we've all probably had the occasional involuntary swig of ocean water - usually after an unplanned encounter with a wave - but it isn't anything that should be consumed in anything approaching mass quantities.

Still, the visuals of glass-like waves washing onto an equally flat beach always make me a little thirsty. And feeling the water rush around my planted feet and pull the sand from underneath my toes is a little addictive. So I stand there for a while, slowly sinking into the soft, wet sand. It's a feeling that'll never grow old.

Your turn: What's your favorite spot on the planet? Why?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Getting pensive on a rain slicked runway

Get me a squeegee
New York, NY, March 2011
About this photo: It's Thematic's "drink up" week. Right here.
There's a certain sense of peace associated with sitting alone in a plane as you head back home from a business trip. You've already dashed through traffic to get to the airport and run the security gauntlet. Your luggage is (hopefully) packed safely in the belly of the beast and all you need to do now is hold on during the takeoff run, then wait for the pretzels to be delivered once you reach altitude.

This particular day may have been miserably cold and damp, but I still couldn't help but smile as I sat in the middle of a packed alloy tube. Because what awaited me at the other end of the journey reminded me that going to a new place every once in a while may be good for the soul, but coming home to a family that matters more than life itself is even better.

Your turn: What does coming home mean to you?

Do they really drink like fish?

Saint-Leonard d'Aston, QC, July 2011

I've always wondered if fish drink the water in which they swim. Sure, they use their gills to extract oxygen from the water, but I'm thinking about gulping it in as they swim along in much the same way a dog hangs his head out of a moving car's window and breathes in the onrushing air.

I don't know why I have thoughts like this. I just do.

Your turn: So...what's the verdict? Do fish drink?

One more thing: It's Thematic's "drink up" week and we're really hoping you decide to take a (photographic) swig. Click here for more.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why we remember...

...because so many sacrificed so much so that we could have the freedom to lead the lives we lead. If you want to see what a real hero looks like, hang around your local war memorial around 11 o'clock this morning.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

On friendship

"I don't need a friend who changes when I change and who nods when I nod. My shadow does that much better."

Tea time in London

Hold on
London, ON, September 2011
About this photo: It's Thematic's "drink up" week, and everyone's invited. Click here to share your own.
Some things are felt at a different level than everything else. Tea, for example, fits this bill, as it isn't enough to just drink it. It must be carefully prepared, steeped, hovered over, then held closely in your hands for a good long while. I'll drink it only after the mug has gently warmed my fingers and, if I'm hanging around like-minded folks, only after we've had a chance to chat about anything at all.

We've got these delightful glass mugs that for some inexplicable reason make the whole experience feel even more genteel than it already is. I can't explain why some mugs seem more special than others, and why such small details of the tea-drinking ritual can have such a powerful impact on how the whole thing feels.

But who am I to question any of this? It feels right and it hurts no one. So please don't mind if I wrap things up and head down to the kitchen once again. The day is beginning and our kettle awaits.

Your turn: Why are rituals so important?

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

On being penny-wise, but pound-foolish

"If you need a machine and don't buy it, then you will ultimately find you have paid for it, but don't have it."
Henry Ford

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Promise me you'll never get drunk

Is this what the world has come to? First de-alcoholized beer, then decaffeinated coffee, and now this. As if a world of de-this, non-that and un-everything-else hasn't sucked enough fun out of the living process.

Slight disclaimer: despite my name meaning, literally, "my vineyard", I'm not much of a drinker. And I get that some folks might want to toast in the new year, or whatever, without worrying about running afoul of a DUI-seeking Officer Bob. More power to whoever has the good sense to drink responsibly. Or not at all.

But still. Call me odd (go ahead, you know you want to) but I don't much see the point of faux-anything. Don't want to drink? Have some OJ. Can't handle the caffeine in your coffee? Green tea beats the bejeebers out of artificially decaffeinated java any day. We're so intent on having our sugar-free cake and eating it, too, that we close ourselves off from whatever else may be out there.

That, and this stuff probably tastes like swill. Where's my apple juice?

Your turn: Am I being needlessly curmudgeonly? What would Andy Rooney have said?

One more thing: We're drinking up this week. Head here to be part of the Thematic goodness.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Thematic Photographic 170 - Drink Up

Made from apples
Laval, QC, October 2011

Our youngest son loves apple juice. But not every brand. So when his grandmother bought some before our visit last month, she ended up stuck with this large jug of the stuff when it turned out to not be to the young man's liking.

No worries: I'll drink anything. And, apparently, take pictures of it. And for the next week, I hope you'll do the same. Thematic's new theme is "drink up", and it's as simple as it sounds: If it's in liquid form and more or less consumable, we want to see it.

That's it! Go nuts!

Your turn: Take a picture of something drinkable, then share it on your blog. If you've already posted something that fits, feel free to share it, too. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants for more sharing and photographic joyness (and, apparently, word-invention.) Repeat as often as your shutter finger can handle. The insanity continues all week. If you're new to Thematic - our weekly photo-sharing/exploring/learning extravaganza - go here and all will be explained. Otherwise, go for it...and thanks!

Life. Defiant.

Growing in a hostile environment
Quebec City, QC, July 2011
About this photo: We're wrapping up our week-long exploration of the bricks and mortar theme today, and will be launching a new theme - drink up - tonight at precisely 7:00 Eastern (Standard). But I still wanted to get one last photo in. You can, too, by heading here.
Life has a funny way of popping up where you least expect it. Like in the middle of a desert, at the bottom of the deepest part of the ocean, and here, in the middle of a centuries-old wall designed to fend off invaders. I'm willing to bet that no one ever watered the mortar here, or came back every day and spoke to the wall in the distant hope that life would magically appear. Instead, it more or less happened on its own, for reasons that the average passer-by would never really understand.

But understanding isn't the same as appreciating - and you don't need to necessarily understand the minutae of science to appreciate the wonder of it all. And as I stand here on a hot summer day and stare at this flourishing life, I feel as if there's a reason for me to be in this spot. I guess every once in a while we all need to reflect on the small and the not-so-small miracles that govern our daily lives. I guess it's good for the soul.

Your turn: Have you seen an unexpected little miracle lately?

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Is the princess up there?

Quebec City, QC, July 2012

Have you ever wanted to live in a house with a tower in it? I have, though I'm not quite sure why. I'm not a long-haired princess - at least I don't think I am - and I have no need to scan the neighborhood at night for potential invaders. Yet the romance of this architectural form persists. And every time I see one, I wonder what it must be like to live there, and whether whoever does live there appreciates its uniqueness.

So until this design flourish comes back into vogue - everything eventually comes back, after all - I'm just going to keep my hopes up. And next time I'm back in this magical town, I'm staying here. Sure, it's an iconic, super-expensive hotel. But sometimes it's worth a bit of a splurge to play the princess game. I wonder what my wife would say.

Your turn: What's going on in this tower?

On courage

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, 'I will try again tomorrow.'"
Mary Anne Radmacher
Your turn: How do you define courage?

Saturday, November 05, 2011

The wall that shaped us

Touch interface
Quebec City, QC, July 2011
About this photo: It's bricks and mortar week over at Thematic, and we're still taking contributions to the photographic cause. Right here.
There's a humbling feeling associated with standing in front of a piece of engineering that was built hundreds of years before any of us existed. This is part of the wall that protected the old city here from attack, a fixture that's as fundamentally responsible for the history of this country as anything else. It's one thing to read about it in a high school class - as I did so many years ago - and quite another to come here, stand in its very shadows and touch it with my fingertips.

Your turn: What does history mean to you?

Thanks and Godspeed, Mr. Rooney

Andy Rooney died last night, barely a month after he retired from his weekly 60 Minutes essays. I grew up on his curmudgeonly form of narrative, observational journalism, and often wondered what it would be like to sit in front of a camera and share what I knew and felt with an audience.

Journalists never forget those who inspired them. As I've developed my own voice over the years, his own voice has echoed in my head, almost as a challenge to focus on the common sense that typically eludes so many of us.

I miss his voice already.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Friday, November 04, 2011

On progress

"Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress."
Alfred A. Montapert

A day at the beach

Where I'd like to be
Grand Bend, ON, July 2011

Some days, I just want to be sitting by the water. Make that most days. I love what I do and wouldn't trade the joy of the day-to-day for anything else. But there's a certain degree of soul restoration associated with being in a place like this, and I don't think I'm doing enough to spend enough days here.

Gotta change that. For now, this very effective placeholder photo will just have to do.

Your turn: Where do you dream of being?

One more thing: We're sharing brick-and-mortar-themed pics and experiences all week long. Go here to share your own.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

The alleyway of potential doom

Free Parking
London, ON, May 2011
About this photo: It's Thematic's bricks and mortar week. What does this mean to you? Good question. Click here and all will be answered.
There's a certain something to an old, ignored alleyway that gets me every time. Sure, these places can be somewhat eerie and more than a little foreboding. Walking into one alone is probably not the smartest thing to do, yet that's what I'll often do if I'm in the right mood.

I think the risk, however small, is well worth it, because these places have a texture and a feel that just doesn't exist anywhere else. They represent the urban landscape at its best and its worst, often at the same time. They're usually completely silent, but there's ample evidence that this hasn't always been the case. I can close my eyes and imagine who painted the graffiti, and what these bricks would say if they could speak.

I haven't been beaten up yet, so I'm guessing there are more than a few such walkabouts in my near future.

Your turn: When taking pictures, do you ever go places you probably shouldn't go?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

On sweat

"Nobody ever drowned in his own sweat."
Ann Landers

I've often heard that sweating is a sign of good health. I'm about as unqualified as anyone I know to either validate or invalidate this, but I'm inclined to agree with the late, great Ms. Landers. There's something soul-stirring about literally and figuratively flooring it in the course of everyday life. Afterward, when you're all spent from the effort, it's quite the experience to look back and reflect on what you've accomplished. It just feels right.

It's a little thing. Or maybe it isn't.

Your turn: What does really hard work look - or feel - like, to you?

Bridge over polluted water

Rooms without a view
Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC, July 2011
About this photo: Thematic. Bricks and mortar. Here.
It's weathered countless winters here at the western tip of the island of Montreal, braving the oncoming ice and carrying heavy rail freight on its way to who-knows-where. I used to come here often, as this quiet college/touristy village is probably one of the prettiest places in the region, and it was - and is - the perfect turnaround point on a long bike ride.

Still, I never noticed the access doors at the base of each pier. I'm not sure what purpose they serve, but seeing them for the first time this summer made me wonder about who would use them and what they'd find inside.

Intriguing. I doubt the concrete box they eventually build to replace this structure will offer up similar mysteries.

Your turn: What's behind these doors?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

On regret

"Never regret. If it's good, it's wonderful. If it's bad, it's experience."
Victoria Holt