Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On Einstein's bicycle theory

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
Albert Einstein
And so I move. Because staying in the same place for too long makes me antsy. Life's too short to waste on inertia.

Your turn: How are you moving your own life?

(Oops, almost forgot: Happy birthday to all the leap babies out there. How neat it is to have such a special birthday!)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Power the future

Engineering or art?
Ft. Lauderdale, FL, January 2012
About this photo: Thematic celebrates all things greyish this week. You can, too, by clicking here.
I'd like to play a bit of a game with this one, as I had no idea what I was looking at when I first came across it. Only the helpful museum information panel nearby filled in my otherwise clueless head.

Suffice to say, I gave thanks to some nameless, likely long-gone engineers for coming up with something so vital, and for taking the time to give it some aesthetic panache as well.

Your turn: What is this thing?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Thematic Photographic 185 - Greyish

Boca Raton, FL, January 2012

This week's Thematic theme, greyish, reflects the tone with which I've been viewing the world of late. Here in the Great White North, it's the middle of a winter that's been anything but wintry. A decided lack of snow has left the landscape muddy, washed out, seemingly colorless. Some days, life as a whole seems to reflect the view outside as we collectively plod through a time of year that many of us find endlessly dreary. Or something like that.

However we see it, I wanted to use photography as a way of exploring the mood, of turning the morose into something just a little bit brighter. Because even if it isn't brilliantly colorful and bright, it can have an appeal all its own. Beauty comes in many forms, after all, and over the next week I hope we'll all find ways to find it in the more subdued edges of the spectrum.

Your turn: Take a greyish picture - it can be monochrome, near-monochrome, or something that reminds you of the color and/or the tone - and share it on your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to spread the photographic goodness. Don't be afraid to invite a friend along, as we're always happy to welcome new folks to the Thematic fold. What's Thematic? Click here and all will be explained.

Bridge within troubled water

Delray Beach, FL, January 2012
About this photo: We're wrapping up this week's curved theme. There's still time to make a Thematic difference by clicking here. Our new theme, greyish, launches tonight at 7:00 Eastern.
Not a whole lot to say about this photo. I rather wear it on my sleeve that I dig the beach, that if I had my druthers I'd spend entirely too much time standing on the spot where land meets endless sea, and I'd watch the waves crash into the shore from sunup to sundown.

But I can't, because life doesn't necessarily allow us the luxury of time. So I'll have to content myself with frozen moments like this one. Moments that make me wonder about the wonder of it all.

Your turn: When you pause and wonder, what do you wonder about?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Slickly wet logo

Deerfield Beach, FL, January 2012
About this photo: It's curved week all week long - well, until Monday night, anyway. Click here to share your own curved vision.
I've been known to quickly grab pictures of parked cars. Just because. It doesn't have to be a spectacular or rare vehicle - this one's a 3-series parked outside a Dunkin Donuts, a really nice vehicle, but common enough that its mere presence doesn't necessarily stop all activity in the immediate vicinity. It can simply be the light, the moment, the mood, and before you know it I'm reaching for my camera and crossing my fingers I don't encounter the owner before he/she returns.

I tend to do this more back home than south of the border - sorry, America, I love you dearly, but you're just not as generally friendly as folks are back home in Canuckistan - but on this morning, the forces of optics and tone conspired to make this a shot I didn't want to miss. Say what you want about the typical BMW today, but their surface treatment makes for lovely photography if you compose just so.

Your turn: Why do cars make such great subjects?

Friday, February 24, 2012

On heroes

"Without heroes we are all plain people and don't know how far we can go."
Bernard Malamud

Your turn: So who's your hero? Why?

Whose bright idea was this?

Vanishing breed
London, ON, September 2010
About this photo: Thematic. Curves. Here.
As the world inevitably shifts away from energy-inefficient incandescent light bulbs toward compact fluorescents and, eventually, LEDs, I think about what we lose in the process. I'm all for greening the planet, of course, but sometimes there's a flip side that gets ignored in the rush toward supposed eco-friendliness. For example, when a conventional bulb blows, it really blows, often leaving a freaky-looking residue on the inside of the glass. But when a CFL blows, it leaves a trace amount of delightfully toxic mercury. Yum.

So for as long as we have incandescent bulbs around - not very, by the looks of it - I'm going to shoot them for posterity. And when they blow as spectacularly as this one, I might even share the results here.

Your turn: What else is disappearing from our modern midst? Does its disappearance please or bother you?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Standing at the edge

Feet first
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2011
About this photo: We're sharing curved photos this week as part of our latest Thematic theme. Just click here to get started.
First, disclosure: I own a BlackBerry PlayBook. Bought it just before the Christmas holidays, and I love the thing. I love my wife's iPad, too (shh, don't tell her) but my PB has a certain underdog's charm to it that I just can't ignore (oh, and I wrote this for the Toronto Star. Coolness.) It also has a couple of cameras, and has stepped in rather nicely as a second lens for those times when I just don't want to shlep my DSLR along.

Which is why I mention it in the first place, as I've begun processing the first sets of pictures and I'm rather digging how well this thing works as a camera (see here and here for previous examples of tablet photography) and suspect there's more goodness in store.

This time out, I was getting used to composition with the (relatively) ginormous screen. Whenever I could, I'd walk around with the tablet in my hands and experiment by pointing it anywhere and everywhere. Since my feet were conveniently just below my line of sight, it didn't take long for me to point the thing straight down.

I think the blue-haired lady in the lounge chair under the canopy is still shaking her head at the spectacle.

Your turn: Can feet be happy?

Finger this

It's been a quiet week on the blog thanks to a convergence of work, life and geekitude.

On the life front, we've been all over the place with the little man. His finger's causing him no shortage of annoyance and pain, but trooper that he is he's found his own way to push through it all. This morning's trip back to the hospital was a good one, with the plastic surgeon and physiotherapists setting him up with a new splint - properly fitted this time - and an exercise regimen.

Work's been delightfully challenging, too, as I've been in and out of studios at all hours of the early morning and late night - which is as I like it. I've also spent ample quality time with my laptop - which is also as I like it. Once I get past the shock of waking up in the middle of the night, the experience of writing quietly in my darkened kitchen, lit only by the soft backlight of the keyboard and screen is something I truly enjoy. It makes me feel like a writer, which I'm guessing is a good thing.

I've got a huge backlog of photos, ideas and writing for the blog, but I just haven't been able to carve out the time this week to do them any justice. So they wait, quietly, while I churn through all the other stuff on my plate. I'm looking forward to the weekend when I can get back to the softer, me stuff. I can't wait to see what everyone's been up to while I've been off on this double-edged tangent of mine.

Life's such a neat trip, isn't it?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On living, now.

"Death tugs at my ear and says: Live, I am coming."
Oliver Wendell Holmes

Media storm - PlayBook, Google's cookies & Anonymous

There are days when tech news seems to jump into the mainstream, when wherever you look there's another headline on a groundbreaking new product, an offensive piece of geek-infused legislation, a company that's taken a notable turn for the better - or worse. I've just had a couple of days like that, and it's led to some neat coverage and publishing:
  • Today's Toronto Star has a piece I wrote on the long-awaited software update for Research In Motion's tablet computer. PlayBook 2.0 upgrade gives RIM back its swagger. I chatted with some radio and television folks about it, too, including Global National's Sean O’Shea, CBC The National's Melanie Nagy, and the BBC's British World Service (!)
  • I spoke with Canada AM's Marci Ien about Google's major privacy faux-pas - the company bypassed the security settings in Apple's Safari browser and collected users' private information despite the fact that they had set their software to block such activity. Worse, Google did the same thing to Internet Explorer users. Video here, and a writeup on CTV's website - by John Size - is here. It includes a bunch of security tips, too.
  • I was included in a CTV National News report by Parliamentary Affairs Correspondent Richard Madan. The shadowy hacker group Anonymous threatened Public Security Minister Vic Toews in the wake of controversial legislation introduced last week that, if passed, would give law enforcement broad powers to track our online activities. Video is here.
Damn, this is fun.

On life, challenge, and discovery

"Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they're supposed to help you discover who you are."
Bernice Johnson Reagon

Monday, February 20, 2012

Thematic Photographic 184 - Curved

Ride me
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2011

I like bikes. I like riding them to places far enough away from terra firma that I feel like it's an adventure just to get back home. I like to stare at them, in all their mechanical perfection, and wonder how something so simple can be so life-changing. I like to reflect on how much of my own life has been touched by the very basic act of getting on, spinning the crank and letting physics to do the rest.

Yeah, I'm weird like that.

There's an aesthetic to the bicycle - even cheap, old, weather-beaten models like these two - that I can't stop coming back to, a seemingly riotous mixture of straight lines and curves that come together into something that easily converts small amounts of energy into relatively fast forward motion. It's a perfect way to kick off this week's Thematic theme, curves. Won't you come along for the ride?

Your turn: Thematic is a simple thing, really: I post a new theme every Monday. You post a pic with your interpretation of the theme, then pop back here to leave a comment letting everyone know where it is. Visit other participants and spread the photographic joy. Repeat as often as you wish, and feel free to pull in a friend or two. Click here for more background on how Thematic, our weekly photo sharing/learning activity, works. Otherwise, have fun with it. Because that is, after all, why we do this in the first place.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Talking head on a small screen

Lots of fun happening my crazy world of television this week. And given the chaos of life here in Levyland the past couple of days, I wanted to slow things down a bit and offer up a chance to grab a mug of tea and hang out in front of the telly. Or the computer screen that passes for a telly these days.

Here's a quick summary of some of my more notable TV hits over the past week:
  • CTV Canada AM. Spoke with Beverly Thomson about Apple's present and future. Yes, it has one. No, it doesn't involve Doug Henning, illusions, or rainbows. (video here)
  • CTV Power Play. I joined host Don Martin and social media expert Shawna Newberry in a chat about the dust-up that saw Vic Toews, Canada's Public Security Minister, have nasty details on his divorce tossed anonymously all over Twitter. The upshot: All this has big implications for the future of politics. (Video here)
  • CTV National News. Richard Madan's piece on Bill C-30 - the anti-child porn/law enforcement online access legislation that touched off the Vikileaks kerfuffle - includes a clip. (Video here).
  • CTV Southwestern Ontario (Kitchener/Waterloo). I spoke briefly with reporter Nadia Matos for her piece on RIM's next PlayBook move. (Video here).
On reflection, it was a heck of a fun few days. Here's to more...

Why do we have 10 fingers? Redundancy.

So little man had a bit of a bad day. After his pinkie found itself on the wrong end of a playmate's knee, a scintillating evening at the ER confirmed what he'd been telling us all evening: it's broken.

Noah's reaction as soon as the doc delivered the verdict? He high-fived me. With his other hand, mind you. But he was so jazzed that he now had something in common with his older brother and sister that he was willing to overlook the immediate pain in favor of a little longer-term notoriety. He buzzed about how he was going to tell his friends, and bantered with the doctor about how it would all play out on Facebook.

In the overall scheme of things, this isn't earth-shattering. As jarring as an unplanned visit to the hospital can be, this one paled in comparison to the experiences of so many others. It wasn't remotely life-altering, and after a followup visit with the plastic surgeon later this week, it'll slowly evolve into a shrinking memory in his life's rearview. But still, the dad in me wishes I could have done more to prevent it in the first place. We want to protect our kids from everything and anything, yet this time as always, I realized yet again how futile that ideal can be.

Manyana. He survived. And with a great story to share with his friends when he heads back to school next week. And as he takes centre stage in the middle of his gaggle of buddies, I'm left with a delightfully rich set of mental images from this night: of a sweet boy in his pyjamas who calmly and politely answered every question thrown at him, and who managed to charm everyone he met along the way; of a kid who, despite a clearly painful injury, told me as I tucked him into bed that he was glad he got to have this adventure with his dad; of a kid who somehow manages to turn an apparent negative into an obvious positive.

Because that's the kind of kid he is, a perfectly empathetic, good-hearted mirror of my wife, a soul who never fails to make everyone around him feel a little bit better, whose sweetness defines him and makes me wish I could be more like him. And I got to experience this speed bump with him. Lucky me.

Your turn: Your wish for Noah is...?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Too little, too late

Don't want to sound like a party pooper. But if a fraction of the people pouring their souls out at Whitney Houston's funeral had stepped forward to help her through her drug-fueled descent - instead of buying the tabloids with the screaming headlines or furtively watching her shadow-of-her-former-self performance on a once-forgotten, now-prescient "reality" show - then perhaps we wouldn't be having a funeral today.

I'll humbly suggest it's time to rethink the the cult of celebrity at the core of an industry that seems to exist only to uncover the lurid details of those more famous than the rest of us. I'm not quite sure what the point of knowing about the state of Brangelina's marriage might be, or the reason Oprah's latest weight gain (then loss, then gain again...) has any remote connection to - or benefit for - my relatively anonymous life. But the tone, such as it is, of the celebrity news cycle is a pathetically sad comment on what we've become. If we cared at all, we'd spend less time peeking around corners and gossiping and more time helping those closest to us lead better lives.

Not that this will ever change anything, as it's only a matter of time before we watch celebridom "mourn" another lost-too-soon megastar. We seem to have no capacity to learn.

Happy (green) feet

Walk with me
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2011
About this photo: Thematic. Pairs. You. Here. Please & thank you.
These are our youngest son's flip flops. Not exactly ideal for long distance walking, working out or climbing a tree, but just perfect for an 11-year-old's vacation where the biggest decision of the day revolves around what to have for breakfast and whether we go to the beach or to the pool. He's a bright, brightly-spirited little guy, the kind of kid who almost glows with happiness from the moment he wakes up. So it was no surprise that he chose this particular color: No need to hide it. Life is good, so may as well wear something that reflects his mood.

He was getting ready to hit the pool when I quickly grabbed this scene. I wondered how long he'd be willing to wear bright-green, Kermit-class shoes before the inevitable conservatism of the later-teen years would kick in. I thought about how adulthood tends to tamp down our exuberance, to the point that an adult wearing flip flips like these would draw raised eyebrows - vs. the smiles that our son attracted that day.

I quietly hoped that regardless of age, he'd keep wearing green anyway. Because what other people think is immaterial. But what he thinks is everything. And if it means he keeps that vibrant spirit of his well into adulthood, then we'll all be better off.

Your turn: How do you hold onto your own childhood?

Friday, February 17, 2012

On light and darkness

"In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present."
Francis Bacon

Destination unknown

Two ships
London, ON, October 2010
About this photo: We're doing the pair thing all week long. We hope you'll do the same by clicking here.
Most mornings, the first thing I do when I stumble bleary-eyed out of the house is stare at the sky. I don't think there's a defined reason for it: I just think it's a nice way to transition from the closed-in world of the house to the wide-open one that surrounds us. It's another one of my not-a-morning-person coping mechanisms, because if we're being brutally honest I'd prefer to hang around the house a little longer and pat the dog. Like I'm doing now.

My lack of morning acuity notwithstanding, there's always something neat going on in the atmosphere above, and sometimes it's even worth reaching for the camera - always close by - and remembering the moment. On this morning, it was the color that grabbed me first, that deep orange/salmon that only an early morning in a polluted part of the world can produce. But once my cones (or is it rods?) absorbed the otherworldly hue, I got to wondering about the long-gone planes that had left these parallel trails in the sky. Where were they now? Where were they headed? Who was on them and what was their story?

No clue, of course. Which is perhaps as it ought to be. Because in the end not everything needs an answer. And some things deserve to remain open-ended. Because that first-thing-in-the-morning moment, even for a wake-up-hater like me, is a great time to ponder the what-ifs of life.

Your turn: The first thing you do when you get out of the house in the morning is...?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Gary Carter: He'll always be The Kid

Gary Carter died today. He was 57, and had been diagnosed with brain cancer last May. If you grew up in Montreal, Gary Carter WAS baseball, the catcher of our late, much-missed major league team, the Expos through a large stretch of the 1970s and 80s.

I was probably too young to appreciate the subtleties of what made him great on the field, but I do remember, vividly, the energy he brought to the game. He loved to play, loved the city that embraced him for so many years, loved the people who hung out beside the dugout at Jarry Park and, later, the Olympic Stadium, hoping for a wave, a smile or, if they were lucky, an autograph.

In an age of spoiled athletes who all too often forget where they come from, Mr. Carter remained rooted to the city where he came of age, remained connected to the fans who looked up to him for so long. He was the standard-bearer for how a professional athlete should conduct himself both on and off the field. When he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he did so as an Expo - so far, the only one. Two weeks before he died, he insisted on attending the season-opener for the college-level team he coached. In so many ways and at every stage of his life, he was the very definition of class.

It's never fair when a life so vital is cut down so soon. You have to wonder about the cruel twists of fate that take the best among us and subject them to a cruelly painful, soul-destroying demise. Years ago, my wife lost her uncle to this insidious disease. He was a strong, vibrant man who we barely recognized by the end, and even today what he went through simply makes no sense. We named our daughter after him, and every time I look at her, I think that maybe the spirit of those we've lost continues to live on in the vibrancy of those who follow in their footsteps. In the unexplainable, we look for signs of hope.

Related links:

On being your own driver

"If you don't design your own life plan, chances are you'll fall into someone else's plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much."
Jim Rohn

I'm slowly coming to the realization that relying on others to pursue your dreams is like asking others to drive your car. Why would they when they're busy enough driving themselves?

Patience and politeness can only take you so far. Eventually, you've got to grab the wheel and point yourself where you want to go. No one else will ever care about your journey as much as you do.

Your turn: How are you driving your own life?

Desperation in the greeting card aisle

I post this for no other reason than I thought the spectacle of men buying Valentine's Day cards at the very end of Valentine's Day itself was more than a little funny. And just a little bit sad.

Never mind one of them could have bopped me for grabbing this scene with my smartphone's camera. Some things are worth taking the risk.

Your turn: What are you celebrating today? How will you celebrate?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

On remembering happiness

"Even if happiness forgets you a little bit, never completely forget about it."
Jacques Prévert

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Birds of a feather

Follow me
London, ON, November 2011
About this photo: Thematic explores pairs this week. You can, too: Just go here.
For as long as I can remember, I've been somewhat critical of Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day and any other manufactured day designed to sell more stuff to folks who neither need nor want it. I'm not opposed to the act of celebrating the people closest to us, of course, but I do have issues when it's commercialized to the point of triviality, and to the point that we lose sight of the need to celebrate outside of these predefined dates.

Hallmark doesn't need to tell me I love my wife and kids on March 3rd. Or May 19th. Or any other day that I'm lucky enough to have with them.

Still, I saw this picture and thought it fit the sentiment of this particular day. Beyond the flowers, the chocolates, and the desperate clump of men who were crowding the card aisle at the pharmacy just a couple of hours ago, today is a reminder that life isn't lived alone. That we're connected to each other - whether we like it or not. I'm sure neither one of these birds will ever be buying a cellophane-wrapped card for each other. But their unspoken partnership (you follow me, and I'll try to make the journey easier for you) somehow speaks to me.

Your turn: Am I being too much of an anti-holiday curmudgeon here?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Thematic Photographic 183 - Pairs

The Dairy Queens
Delray Beach, FL, December 2011
About this photo: We're kicking off our new Thematic theme, pairs. Scroll down to participate - you know you want to!
I discovered something about myself when we were away: I really like stealth photography. I know I've always had this thing about shooting folks in public, that I've been hesitant, for reasons of privacy, legality and personal safety, to point my lenses at strangers. For reasons I can't quite explain, that's beginning to change.

I brought a tablet along for vacation - a PlayBook, because I'm just that geeky - and realized what an incredibly efficient and unobtrusive camera it can be. We're not at the point yet where the act of holding a tablet up just so is enough to attract attention. So for all most people know, you're reading Really Close To Your Face. If they notice at all. Which these two ladies did not.

They remained immersed in their fascinating world for as long as we were there, never once losing pace with either their ice cream or their discussion. I wondered if this was a regular thing for them - it sure looked that way - and whether or not they ever tried a different venue. I suspected not, as this formica-clad slice of frozen comfort seemed just right for the kind of moment they were having. Dairy Queen is never quite home, but for a few minutes on an otherwise lonely night, it'll do just fine.

Of the thousands of pictures I took while we were away, this ranks among my favorites. There's just something about this moment...

Your turn:
I chose the pairs theme because sometimes, things just go better when they've got a partner. There's a certain symmetry associated with being part of a twosome, a sense of balance that the singular sometimes seems to lack. I hope you'll join in: Just take a pic, post it to your blog (or find one you've already posted), leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it, visit other participants and generally enjoy the vibe of it all for the next week. Thematic is all about exploring our photographic potential, and if this is all new to you, click here for more. Otherwise, I'm looking forward to seeing what you've got!

Here at George's Grocery

Smallville revisited
Deerfield Beach, FL, December 2011
About this photo: Thematic explores the nutty world of the grocery store for just a few more hours. Click here to get your retail vision up - or pop back at 7:00 p.m. Eastern (hey, that's tonight!) when we launch our all-new theme, pairs.
Tucked into the back of a commuter rail station is a sliver of history that's almost too easy to miss if you aren't looking closely enough. It's called the South Florida Railway Museum, and I went there with the boys and my father-in-law on one sunny afternoon because boys and trains have always been an ideal combination.

The museum, lovingly built and maintained by teams of dedicated volunteers, grabbed their attention as soon as they got inside. Imagine a bunch of guys who've spent their lives working the rails - and in some cases second or third-generation railway workers - spending their free time building intricate displays in miniature. Their mandate: Tell the story of how trains helped build the south, of how transportation has influenced the lives of those who may have never even set foot on a train.

The kids loved the trains and the intricate settings, of course, and spent an inordinate amount of time observing them from every possible angle. But it was how they listened to these passionate industry veterans that really got me. Everyone had a story, everyone wanted to share it with us, and our sons were only too happy to soak it all in.

We hung around for a good chunk of time, always finding something new to see and discuss. It was the kind of low-key place that turned into a delightful find, the kind of place I hope to return to on our next visit to see how their next set of upgrades turns out. For the museum, like life itself, is a never-ending work-in-progress. I'm guessing the lessons our sons picked up from this visit extended well beyond trains.

Your turn: Have you ever discovered something really neat in a decidedly out-of-the-way place?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

On what life owes - or doesn't owe - us

“Life's under no obligation to give us what we expect.”
Margaret Mitchell
These wise words ring so much more strongly in light of the modern assumption among some young 'uns that the world somehow owes them something. You can see it in the words that some choose to use:
"They should..."
"I deserve..."
"That's not fair..."
Well, here's a news flash: Life owes us nothing. It's up to us to squeeze the most out of our time here. And if life doesn't serve it up on a platter, it's perfectly acceptable for us to go out and seek what we feel we deserve. Active, not passive. No one's fault but our own if we fail to drive our own destiny.

Your turn: How do you get what you want most out of life?

Someone deserves a ticket

I think I'm feeling a little ornery this week. First the shot of the discarded coffee cup on the floor, and now one of this doofus parked right next to the fire route sign.

Maybe I shop at grocery stores* that attract mindless, self-centred noobs who are too lazy to find a real parking spot or dump their trash in a garbage can. Maybe I subconsciously seek out the selfish among us so I can have a moment of quiet, sanctimonious superiority as I walk by. Maybe our neighbourhoods are destined to be taken over by those who flout anti-idling bylaws, fire zone parking rules, common sense and basic decency, and we should just give up and accept that we'll simply never win.

Either way, I don't know if the guy in the driver seat saw me pull out my BlackBerry and take this admittedly lameoid shot. I'm betting he didn't, as looking out the right-hand side of the car to read signs and look out for the welfare of others seemed anathema to him. I'm sorry I didn't knock on the window before I disappeared into the night. If anything, it would have been a timely reminder to an apparently oblivious soul that life isn't always about him.

Your turn: What's the right way to respond in a case like this?

* It's Thematic's grocery week this week. Click here to dive in.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Whitney Houston Dead at 48

I know this seems odd, as I typically don't write about anything from the Entertainment Tonight, TMZ or E! side of the planet. Celebrity worship seems to be such a phenomenal waste of time, energy and resources. Yet, when an incredible talent dies way too young, Mary Hart notwithstanding I think it merits pausing and reflecting. What an unbelievable waste of a life.

Meeting the future of journalism

I meet some really fascinating people in my life as a journalist. They're folks who know what stories need to be told, how they need to be told, and how the results will touch the people who read, hear, view or experience the final result. As I've grown my own career in the space, I've counted myself lucky to cross their paths, as I never fail to learn something from them every time I do.

I was privileged to meet CKCO/CTV Kitchener's Matthew Kang last week over tea to discuss a project, RE4MAT, he's currently building. I do lots of interviews, but rarely do I get to chat with other journalists about the future of the profession, and ways up-and-coming members of the profession can help steer us all toward a brighter future. I got to have that discussion with Matt, and I'm glad I did, because he's up to something that bears watching.

I've long believed that technology, which over the past couple of decades has largely rewritten the rules by which news is gathered, built, distributed and paid for, is more a force for good than anything else. As much as it's apparently damaged so many news organizations - with newspaper advertising in freefall, television stations pulling back broadcast hours and radio networks consolidating themselves into centralized shadows of their formerly-local selves - it's also opened up incredible new opportunities for those willing to open their eyes.

Matt's eyes are wide open, and it was refreshing to shoot the breeze with him on what works, and what could work better if we join forces to influence the right kind of change. He interviewed me for a longer-form piece he's just published online. The company being profiled is an innovative Waterloo region company called BufferBox, and I'm sure he's got a lot more compelling stories in the pipeline. For now, I hope you'll do two things:
  1. Watch the video (link here), as it's a refreshingly innovative way of covering a refreshingly innovative startup. Also add his Re4MAT Tumblr page to your radar, as more is on the way.
  2. Please share a comment below on how initiatives like Matt's make you feel about the future of journalism in the Internet Age.
I'm virtually certain I'll be having more discussions with Matt on where this profession's going, and I'm equally certain I'll come away then, as I did this time, feeling like I'd learned something in the process. As I headed home that night, I couldn't help but think that our profession's future was in pretty good hands.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Friday, February 10, 2012

On evil and responsibility

"He who does not punish evil, commands it to be done."
Leonardo Da Vinci

Dear world,


Thank you,


Dead fish society

I find scenes like this immensely funny, but I'm not entirely sure why. I think it might have something to do with my aversion to eating food that's shaped like the animal it once was. If I see a breaded piece of fish that's in the general shape of a fish, I can't eat it. It's fishsticks or bust for me, baby.

Your turn: Got any food-eating quirks?

One more thing: Head here for more grocery-themed insanity. I can't guarantee that additional fish won't be harmed in the process, however.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

On Gilda and the unfairness of life

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I've learned, the hard way, that some poems don't rhyme, and some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.”
Gilda Radner
One of the lessons we try to teach our kids, time and again, is that life isn't fair. As much as we want to cushion them from the bumps and bruises of life, it gets harder to do that as they grow and expand their sphere of influence. They're tough, smart, sensitive kids, so I know they'll ultimately figure it out. But seeing them slowly emerge from the cocoon of their younger years, where life was infinitely more predictable, isn't always easy.

We want to reach in and fix everything, just like we did when they were a lot smaller. But sometimes, we have to sit back and let it play out as it's meant to. Even if the outcome can't be tied up in a pretty little bow.

I'm guessing it'll make them stronger adults, because they'll be far more in tune with the world around them than they might have been had mommy and daddy swooped in every time a rogue wave rolled over them. I'm guessing this is how they learn to truly live. Perhaps Gilda was right, after all.

Your turn: Was she?


I've been noticing this kind of thing a lot more often lately, empty coffee cups left wherever their piggish drinkers left them. I'm guessing whoever these boorish shoppers are, they can't be bothered to hold onto their leftovers until they can locate a garbage can or recycling bin. I'm also guessing that their arms, wrists and hands are so crippled by years of remote control button-pressing and smartphone game-playing that the weight of an empty cup could be enough to send them to the emergency room. Poor dears.

So they leave them on grocery store shelves for the inevitable garbage elves to take care of them. Or they simply drop them on the floor - as is apparently the case here - where they end up forlornly rolling around the aisle.

I know it may sound trivial of me, but this is the kind of selfish act that really makes me doubt the future of the human race. If some folks are so wrapped up in themselves that tossing their garbage wherever they wish doesn't prompt a second thought, where else in life are they making similarly self-centred judgment calls? It's such a me-focused way of being and, frankly, it saddens me.

After taking this shot, I managed to find a proper spot to dispose of this absently tossed cup. I never did find whoever did the tossing in the first place, but I'm pretty sure there are plenty more Tim Hortons coffee addicts out there who'll be doing exactly the same thing on my next trip to the grocery store.

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

One more thing: This photo supports this week's Thematic theme, groceries. Click here to join in the fun.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

On leaving something behind

"We all die. The goal isn't to live forever, the goal is to create something that will."
Chuck Palahniuk

So I stay up late and wake up early. And live in the shadows of my laptop's screen. And brainstorm. And pitch. And research. And write. And strive for more. For myself. More importantly, for my family. Fingers on a backlit keyboard, stringing words together while they sleep. Hitting another deadline before they wake up.

Because I can't imagine what it must be like to move through life and not have anything to show for it when I look back. To some, what I create is just a collection of words. To me, it's become life itself.

Your turn: What's your legacy? Why does leaving one matter in the first place?

Monday, February 06, 2012

Thematic Photographic 182 - Groceries

Putting the carts before the horse
Delray Beach, FL, December 2011

We're returning to our photographic roots, somewhat, with this week's theme, groceries. That's because it wasn't long after I started writing this blog that I thought photography would be a neat addition to the narrative. And not just any photography, but everyday photography, the kind where I'd venture into the bastion of the everyday, the grocery store, and look for ways to make the mundane seem interesting.

Along the way, I adopted terms like fruitography and almost got kicked out of the Wal-Mart. I scared grandmas and annoyed more than my fair share of teenaged stockboys, not to mention one really intimidating-looking fish guy. And all for the love of food. Shooting food (and tomato juice, and water, and Popeye). And sharing it here.

So for the next week, I hope you'll return to the grocery store and bring back your own magical views of this not-always-magical place. Because photography isn't just about the Eiffel Towers, Niagara Falls and Grand Canyons. Because anyone can take a spectacular shot of a spectacular subject. It's turning the ordinary into the memorable that keeps me coming back for more. I hope it does you, as well.

Your turn: Shoot a grocery-themed pic and share it on your blog. Or point to something you've already shared. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants and bring along a friend. We'll be doing it all week, so try the veal and grab your camera. Or click here if this Thematic thing is new to you. It won't hurt a bit.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

The not-quite blue screen of death

If you've used Windows for any period of time, you've likely become familiar - perhaps intimately so - with its blue screen of death. The BSOD is a sad fact of life for many, a reminder that the operating systems that define our personal and professional computing experiences are incredibly complex beasts with millions of lines of code that occasionally cough up a hairball. And when they do, you either get a BSOD or some similarly cryptic, technologically fatal, scary-to-the-folks-who-just-want-to-get-their-work-done message.

In this particular case, you're looking at my old work laptop. Either the hard drive was failing. Or the drive controller was failing. Or the chunk of the OS that communicates with the storage hardware was having a bad day. Or an internal cable was loose, fraying or fried. Or the Fijian god of motherboard bandwidth decided today was the day to revoke some juju.

Whatever it was, this hangar queen of a machine was soon returned from whence it came, replaced by another, significantly more reliable, Dell. I haven't see this message since. Whatever happened to that slacker dude who did their "Dude, you're getting a Dell" ads, anyway?

Your turn: Your worst computer ever was a...? What made it so lousy?

Surfing for porn at Mickey Ds

Wireless Bubbeh
Delray Beach, FL, January 2012
About this photo: It's screens week all week long, and you're invited to share your own. Just click here.
You can tell I've been on a bit of a surreptitious-photography jag lately (here), and I'm guessing it'll continue for a bit because strangers can be so gosh darn fascinating. Like this sweet lady who I spotted across a crowded McDonald's restaurant. Wait, it's not a restaurant, but we'll argue that one another day. Back to the story.

I never did get to see what she was up to, but by virtue of the rather cheeky title of this post, I smiled as I imagined her hoovering the nastiest kinds of multimedia content through the free Wi-Fi connection, and all for the price of a medium soft drink - oops, "pop" - that she nursed along for at least 45 minutes.

Regardless of whether or not she's an in-public porn addict, it's still nice to know the technology revolution hasn't passed her by.

Your turn: The coolest place you've ever used free public WiFi is...?

Saturday, February 04, 2012

On security. Or the lack thereof.

"The more you seek security, the less of it you have. But the more you seek opportunity, the more likely it is that you will achieve the security that you desire."
Brian Tracy

Friday, February 03, 2012

Marlboro Man

Delray Beach, FL, December 2011

What does this picture have to do with this week's "screens" theme (more here)? Simultaneously nothing and everything. There isn't a screen in sight here. No laptop, smartphone or tablet. I'm guessing this gentleman is about as likely to tweet his whereabouts as I am to sit down next to him and light up a cigarette.

But as I stared at him from afar, all I could think of was how he needed to be screened for cancer. Yes, I'm just that weird, worrying about other people's health. The scene, in the sickly greenish light of an outdoor strip mall overhang, seemed just a little sad on the surface. For all I know, this guy was enjoying a blessedly quiet few minutes away from his shrew of a wife/girlfriend/mistress.

But none of that mattered as I preset the camera on look-into-your-neighbor-in-the-next-county zoom and got myself into that Zen state that allows low-light, longish exposure shots in low light. I had to shoot fast and still to avoid being picked off. Perhaps he could outrun me. Either way, I didn't want to find out the hard way.

Your turn: What's his story? Why would a scene like this attract your eye?

Thursday, February 02, 2012

On mistakes and honor

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing."
I'm pretty sure I'm making a lot of mistakes these days, judgment calls where I'm bound to cross some line, tick someone off, leave some wreckage in my wake.

But here's the thing: I'm perfectly OK with it. When life swirls around in a tightening vortex that forces you to alternately run like hell and hold on for dear life, you know you won't always have the luxury of time to stand at the fork of a decision and mull over your choices until you're absolutely sure you know which direction is best. Sometimes, all you can do is glance, pick, and run with the current. You'll figure it out eventually.

And even if you don't, you're on one heck of a ride, so who really cares about perfection, anyway.

Your turn: Your biggest mistake ever was...?

The biggest screen of all

What's the score?
London, ON, October 2010
About this photo: Thematic. Screens. Here.
Scoreboards used to be single-purpose: they displayed the score, maybe the time, and that was about it. Old display technology was typically hard-wired, monochrome - usually some shade of neon or, gasp, made up of a bunch of incandescent light bulbs. None of this gazillion-pixel/LED/HD nonsense that the young whippersnappers talk about these days.

And while you're at it, get off my lawn.

Oops, tangent. Sorry.

These days, an arena or stadium can't do without a Jumbotron or its equivalent, a full-color, full-motion panel that makes your screen at home look like a postage stamp. London's John Labatt Centre is no different, and the scoreboard over centre ice more than holds its own in the multimedia sports space.

So there I was at the London Knights game last Friday with my family when, during a break, the camera swung in our general direction. I'm not sure what overcame me, but when I realized the thing was about to point at me, I thought it would be neat to have a little fun with the fans. Our son, Zach, and I mugged for the camera and made complete doofuses of ourselves, to the point that it stopped panning and stayed locked on us until play resumed.

The television crew covering the game recognized me and tweeted about it, which touched off a friendly storm of tweets flitting back and forth across the arena and beyond. We laughed for the rest of the game, confident that this complete abuse of technology had made others smile, as well. As a bonus, the Knights won in thrilling fashion. Sometimes, life is good, even if you have to make a bit of a fool of yourself in the process.

Your turn: Ever make a big-time spectacle of yourself? Do tell!

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

On intention and destiny

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”
Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

I've often said that life's a journey. Mine's taken a few interesting twists lately, and I'd be lying if I said I knew where all of this would end up. But I do know me and my family are headed someplace neat, and like the late, very much missed Mr. Adams, I feel perfectly at ease with where I am right now.

Your turn: Where do you need to be?

Near-supersonic networking

Taking flight
At altitude, December 2011
About this photo: Thematic celebrates screens this week. If you've got a screen-related pic you'd like to share, head here.
The good news: Our flight offered free wi-fi. The bad news: It expired after 30 minutes, at which point I'd be asked to fork over for the privilege of annoying my seatmates with my incessant Internauting.

My workaround? Simple: Collect every wi-fi-enabled device in my bag, and simply sign in anew when each half-hour ran out. By my count, I had five devices - laptop, two tablets, BlackBerry and iPod touch. - which got me 2-and-a-half hours of connected goodness on a three-hour flight.

Now, let's be clear that I am no fan of in-flight connectivity. Up until recently, in-flight aircraft represented the last bastion of near-silence for the over-wired. No pinging texts, no filling inboxes, no online games. Just the blessed peace and quiet associated with forcibly-disconnected flyers reading, napping or, horrors, chatting with each other. I lament the fact that society feels the need to fill every nook and cranny with high-bandwidth connectivity. Sometimes, it would be nice to simply pull the plug for a bit.

But, hypocrite that I apparently am, I was willing to set aside my anti-wireless-at-altitude stance for a chance to email silly pictures of myself to everyone I knew. Because as a one-time thing, it was a heck of a lot of fun. And as I happily skipped from one device to another to slurp up my half-hour snippets of free wireless, I couldn't help but think that, used with care, this could be a neat addition to the human landscape.

Who was I kidding? Between Alec Baldwin playing Words With Friends and the kid across the aisle using his iPad to record obscene-sounding bodily functions, I think we're all doomed.

Your turn: Wi-fi in flight. Good, bad, or indifferent?