Sunday, September 30, 2012

That was the day that was

I thought it would be fun to timeline my day on Friday (I wrote about it here). Why? Because it was insane. And hellishly fun. All at the same time. I've set the 6 interviews in blue. Here goes...

  • About 12:30 a.m. - we pull into the driveway in front of the in-laws' building just outside Montreal. We'd been on the road for a good chunk of the day. Sometimes, you just need to pile the kids into the car and go for a drive, and thanks to life's twists and turns, this was one of those times. So we drove.
  • 1:30 a.m. - the car is unpacked, the kids are slowly settling into sleep. I haul out my iPad and download Bad Piggies, the followup to the Rovio megahit game, Angry Birds. It was launched on Thursday, and it's already #1 in Apple's App Store. It's for work: I'll be talking about it on-air in the morning (I know...crazy-neat), but first I must play it for a bit to get my journalistic head in the game.
  • 1:45 a.m. - Enough play. I suck at it, anyway. Debbie tucks me in. I put my head down for a nap while my wife reads. Why is she awake? Because I'm nervous we'll both sleep through whatever alarms we set. I had originally proposed simply staying up. She proposed this method instead. She's a lot smarter - and more generous - than I am. (Flashback: When we were dating oh so many moons ago, she used to wake herself up at 2:30 a.m. so she could call me to make sure I was awake in time for my 4 a.m. shift in the newsroom. History repeats, and she's awesome.)
  • 3:15 a.m. - She wakes me up, then tucks herself in. I pull out my laptop and write like the wind.
  • 3:58 a.m. - File my first article of the day (exhaustion makes me write faster, apparently. Who knew?) Dump one last round of overnight feeds and research onto my iPad (note to self: Readability rules), then throw both devices into my backpack, toss on my clothes, make myself look as pretty as my Gumby-like hair and off-centre-and-oversized nose will allow and head for the door.
  • 4:30 a.m. - Get into the car. It's clear and chilly, and the gigantic, Wallace-and-Gromit-with-cheese moon is painting the road with light. The air seems to crackle with expectation. I select appropriate tunes for the drive into the city, program the GPS and slowly roll onto the street.
  • 5:16 a.m. - Arrive outside CTV Montreal's studios. Connect with producer and settle into the green room.
  • Just after 6:00 a.m. - CTV's Canada AM - interview with Marci Ien. Video here.
  • 6:25 a.m. - Pull out my laptop again and hammer out second piece of the day, this one for Yahoo! Canada.
  • 7:17 a.m. - Bounce emails back and forth with 570News's Gary Doyle. Book radio hit for just after noon. Pull out headphones and select new playlist to pace the next little bit.
  • 7:54 a.m. - File article 2 - Yahoo! soon publishes it: RIM stock soars but rough ride isn't over. Geek factor: There is no wireless here. I pull the microSD card out of the BlackBerry, throw it into an SD card adapter, pop it into my MacBook, save the article to it, throw the card back into my BlackBerry, then email it from there. Could I have Bluetoothed it? Um, yes. But this seemed more visceral, like I was actually accomplishing something. I make weird decisions when I'm tired.
  • 7:56 a.m. - Switch gears into gamer/Bad Piggie mode. Ironically, on the drive in from London, we got stuck in traffic for a while on the 401 in Toronto. As we slowly idled along in the left lane, a huge truck slid in beside us and kept pace with us for about a half hour. In the back of said truck? Countless baby pigs, their pink snouts sticking forlornly out the too-small slits in the trailer.
  • 8:15 a.m. - CBC Ontario Morning - spoke live with Wei Chen about those frustrating iPad-bound pigs. Audio here. FWIW, I truly suck at the game. It's a lot harder than Angry Birds, and I share my ineptitude on-air.
  • 8:30 a.m. - Close my eyes for a few minutes. With both articles behind me, I figure I can cruise for a bit. My conscience soon has second thoughts...
  • 8:40 a.m. - Realize it probably doesn't look too good for the strange guy to be lying with his feet up on the green room furniture. I make a mug of coffee in a very sweet-looking Canada AM mug. I resist the urge to bring one home. But I do tweet the pic. Tweeting is good for the soul on days like this.
  • 9:30 a.m. - CTV News Channel - interview with Jacqueline Milczarek and Dan Matheson. (Sorry, I can't find the video just yet.)
  • 9:50 a.m. - Wander into the newsroom and Margaret - my den mother for the day who ensures I have everything I need, then produces everything from the remote site before and during my on-air segments - logs me into her own PC and lets me use it. Seriously, how cool is that? We discuss the limitations of Internet Explorer 7 and I recommend installing Chrome and Firefox on every machine she uses.
  • 10:16 a.m. - Bounce email messages back and forth with reporters for upcoming interviews. BlackBerry battery is holding up nicely under the strain, but I brought along a second, fully-charged batter just in case. Also keeping the phone tethered to my laptop to trickle-charge while I work. Scourge of the modern era: Managing juice when you're on the go.
  • 10:42 a.m. - Throw some pitches together on my BlackBerry and send them into my editor. Because freelancers like me are always pitching. It's like breathing.
  • 10:45 a.m. - Pull together showprep - basically notes and links and other resources - for my 1pm segment with CJAD (see below). Coolness factor: They've moved their studios since I was last here, and they're now directly across the street from CTV.
  • 11:30 a.m. - Write this blog entry. From my BlackBerry. Because I like to type with my thumbs.
  • 12:05 p.m. - 570News Kitchener - interview with Gary Doyle. Podcast here. How to describe Gary: Everything I've ever loved about talk radio, he exemplifies.
  • 12:15 p.m. - Finish up showprep, touch base with Margaret to let her know I'm popping out to head across the street.
  • 12:20 p.m. - I'm a bit early. Receptionist says I'm welcome to wait till my producer is off-air at 12:45. I decide to take a stroll through the neighborhood.
  • 12:30 p.m. - I find myself standing under a very large bridge - the Jacques Cartier Bridge. I take pictures with the iPad. Well, first I have to figure out how to crank the brightness on the iPad up because it's really sunny and I can't see a damn thing. I duck behind a rusty Dumpster because I figure it's shady enough there. Somehow, I fat-finger my way through and make it work.
  • 12:35 p.m.  Almost trip over a piece of shattered concrete as I walk under the bridge to compose my next shot. It dawns on me that perhaps I shouldn't be standing in a concrete-falling zone (old bridge + rusty rebar + stupid Montreal maintenance practices = a sudden feeling of nausea as I slowly step back.)
  • 12:40 p.m. - On the stroll back to the radio station, I have to decline another interview request because I'll be completely out of position. I don't like saying no, but at some point, when you're running right near the edge of what most folks would consider sane, you just have to leave some things for another day.
  • 1:00 p.m. - CJAD Radio 800 Montreal - weekly tech segment with Ric & Suzanne (Ric Peterson and Suzanne Desautels). Podcast here. I'd hang out in the studio indefinitely if I could: Seriously cool space. With seriously cool people. Newsrooms have always felt like home to me, and this station gave me my first exposure to this incredible world.
  • 2:15 p.m. - Back at CTV to record clips for the CTV National News. I work with Parliamentary Correspondent Richard Madan, and the report is included in the 11 p.m. newscast. Video here.
  • 2:45 p.m. - After saying goodbyes and thank-yous to the CTV Montreal team - it takes a lot of heart to allow a total stranger to just wander in and consume resources for much of the day - I head down to the car. I get momentarily distracted in heavy traffic and take a wrong turn that sends me over the bridge (southbound...I need to go north.) I eventually straighten myself out, only to run into the kind of traffic that reminds me why I so enjoy living in a smaller city where rush hour is little more than 10 cars at a red light. But I've still got good tunes, the sunroof is open and I'm pretty pleased that I've managed to carve out another pretty unique day. I still don't know where all this is leading, but I'm glad to be on the journey.
Your turn: Crazy? Or what?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Rogers goes down. Ears turn red

News from Pitkinville - okay, southern Ontario, but Pitkinville sounds so much more sardonic - is that Rogers, the largest telecom company in the known universe, is experiencing a major outage. As a result, Internet users in Canada's most populous zone are stuck sending each other messages via carrier pigeon.

I know this to be true because I learned it all on the Internet - TechCrunch article here. Which, for me, apparently still works. Because I'm not using Rogers. Please don't hate me.

Your turn: What do you do when your Internet goes down? I lean toward reading, walking and speaking with real, live people. What's your backup plan?

Update - 9:00 p.m. - Heard from Melissa James on Facebook. She sat on the phone waiting for someone from Rogers. When she got through, this is what she was told: "It'ss not just Rogers customers, but Bell and others because it's a DNS problem. If you type in Google's IP address ( ) and it appears, your service with your provider is fine, just the internet (DNS) is down." This is confirmed by one of the top telecom analysts I know, Mark Tauschek: "Apparently DNS is the culprit - try and for DNS servers." So...change your DNS settings and you should be fine.

Update - 9:04 p.m. - Stuart Clark and Derek Silva - more uber-geeky members of our city's technology elite, and friends of mine - share this advice: Use OpenDNS's DNS servers. & Derek - head honcho of Orpheum - also says "it's just Rogers' DNS servers that are flaky, not the network itself."

Update - 9:12 p.m. - Tom confirms the following: "Using openDNS settings and and working well now."

Update - 9:15 p.m. - CTV anchor Tony Grace just tweeted this: ROGERS OUTAGE: MP @tonyclementcpc, tech expert @carmilevy & others among the many tweeting about a widespread #Rogers internet outage today.

Update - 9:17 p.m. - Leanne Fenton reports from London: "Cable seems back with a reboot and twitter is working on WIFI for the 1st time in hours... Still sketchy access on most sites tho."

Update - 9:20 p.m. - Stuart Clark just posted this update to his blog.

Update - 9:27 p.m. - Just noticed the one tweet from Rogers on this issue. Follow @RogersHelps and re-read that single tweet if it'll make you feel better.

Update - 9:29 p.m. - Hallie Moyse, in whose house I pretty much grew up, reports possible spread to Montreal. Tracking comments on my Facebook page here.

Update 9:31 p.m. - Oops, I spoke too soon. @RogersHelps just tweeted again. TWO tweets. I hope they're paid by the word.

Update - 9:34 p.m. - TechCrunch reporting service returning for some. Article updated here.

Update - 9:50 p.m. - community thread here.

Update - 9:53 p.m. - Darrell Etherington is the Toronto-based TechCrunch writer who's covering this story. Follow him on Twitter at @drizzled.

Update - 9:55 p.m. - Rogers reporting the following from its Twitter account (link):

"Internet issues some wireline / wireless customers were experiencing should now be resolved. We apologize for the inconvenience."

What are you seeing?

Street sweeper man

So clean you can eat off of it
Shanghai, China
May 2012
Thematic. Grounded. Here.

This city seems to be filled with nameless, faceless workers who keep the streets, sidewalks, staircases and other outdoor infrastructure clean. Or maybe it's just a matter of perception, as I stayed in a part of Shanghai, Pudong, that is the city's financial district, with some of the world's largest skyscrapers competing cheek my jowl with upscale malls filled with the creme de la creme of American and European brands.

Maybe other parts of the city, the ones that look less like tomorrowland and more like the rapidly disappearing traditional China, don't have their public surfaces swept on an almost constant basis. Maybe this kind of thing is only for the benefit of foreigners.

Whatever. I still found the sight of this man, toiling away alone far below my hotel window, to be somewhat sad. I know he's working, and I know he's contributing to the lives of others in a certain way. But I wondered if this is really what he wanted to do, and I hoped when he got home, he was surrounded by a family that welcomed him, encouraged him to smile, and connected with him in ways the scurrying office workers and foreigners who ignored him on his perfectly clean stretch of sidewalk did not.

Your turn: Who is this man?

Friday, September 28, 2012


I'm having one of those days. You know how it goes, where the next day begins before the previous one ends, where you keep eating into sleep until sleep simply has no room on the clock.

Thankfully it's a good day, and I'll share more on it later. For now, I'll leave you with an image from early this morning. I drove out through the darkened suburb at barely 4:30 am. I had already been up for close to a couple of hours, and had already finished and filed my first article of the day. My wife, bless her, had earlier watched over me while I napped for a little over an hour. Why? Because I was afraid we'd both sleep through the alarms. She's amazing like that.

As I turned onto the highway on-ramp on this cool, clear ungodly-early morning, an enormous, yellow moon stared out at me. It seemed to bathe the road in warm light. Indeed, I'd never seen so much light at this time of night. It struck me as beautifully odd and oh so memorable.

So I filed it away, snapping my mental shutter (no jokes, please) so I wouldn't later forget what it felt like to be precisely in that place, alone at the wheel on a magically lit road, at precisely that moment.

The rest of the drive into town was similarly rich, recorded with a level of hyperawareness that seems to kick in when I'm heading out to do media work while the rest of the world sleeps. It's all potential, then, and no one else around me knows what's about to play out. It's like I've got a neat little secret. And it makes me smile a little as I cruise through the night, and get ever closer to my destination.

More soon. The clock tells me my phone is set to ring again in a few minutes. Time to spin up and get ready.

Your turn: ever have a day that stood out from all the rest? What made it extraordinary? Can you paint the picture?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Shaped by nature. Then wiped away.

Transient waves
Delray Beach, FL
January 2012
Please click here for more Thematic grounded

My favorite spot on any beach is the zone right by the water where the waves break and eventually wash up on the sand. The scoured zone is constantly being shaped and reshaped by the never-ending force of the wave action, and it never looks the same way twice. I could stand there all day as the water washes over my angles and gradually pulls my feet down into the oozy muck. Good times.

What I especially love about what's left behind is how it seems to lack scale. This particular shot happened to be shot from about eye level. But without too much additional imagination, it could just as easily be from a plane flying above a desert.

We really do live on a beautiful planet, and sometimes the proof is quite literally at our feet. If you do one thing today, please take that extra moment to look for it.

Your turn: So...what's down at your feet right now?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Where's my rice? Oh yes...

A strange place to eat
Toronto, ON
July 2012

I've just spent the day not eating, so I hope you'll forgive my choice of photo for this week's theme, grounded (click here to share yours.)

I rather liked the look of the white plate with the yellow rice - it seemed to have such a nice, simple balance of geometry and color - and needed a convenient place to set it down so I could take the shot. I might have plunked myself right down there when I was done, but our friends were already seated at the table, and they might have thought me a little weird had I not joined them.

I know what you're thinking: they already thought I was weird. And yes, you'd be correct.

Your turn: What else should I add to the dish?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Thematic Photographic 214 - Grounded

London, ON
July 2012

It occurs to me that we are incapable of defying gravity (forgive me, I'm dense.) Sure, we can get into a plane and fly, or if we're really, really lucky, we can go into orbit and float around for a while. But we're still subject to the same fundamental force, and we're still doomed to spend most of our life on the ground.

So if we're stuck down here, I thought we may as well celebrate it for a bit. Hence this week's theme, grounded. As you can see from the photo above, it should include some form of ground. In this case, it's a grassy soccer pitch. How you choose to interpret it is entirely up to you. And there are no rights or wrongs, just enjoyable moments as we individually and collectively try to interpret the theme.

Your turn: Please take a picture that evokes this week's theme. Share it on your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to spread the photographic joy. Also feel free to repeat the process through the week. Pulling in friends is also highly encouraged. We're like that here. If you're new to Thematic Photographic, please click here for more background. And please have fun, as that's the entire point of all of this.

On lots of science, but little wisdom

"The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom."Isaac Asimov
 Too bad this can't be reversed.

Smart phones, dumb social media and a post-RIM future

It's been a good few days in televisionland. On Friday, CTV's John Vennavally-Rao included me in a report he filed for the national newscast on the iPhone. My bit touched on RIM's BlackBerry outage in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and how the timing for this outage was probably not ideal. Video here.

I was back at it on Saturday, this time for Richard Madan's report on the Dutch party that got completely out of hand because of social media. The event, an echo of the Project X movie, illustrates the dark side of social media. Video here.

Tonight, I'll be part of a panel on TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin. Our topic, Innovating Success, deals with the future of the Kitchener-Waterloo region in the wake of RIM's downsizing, and it's quite an honour to be included with such an accomplished group (Iain Klugman from Communitech, Mike Kirkup of the University of Waterloo's VeloCity, and the University of Toronto's David Wolfe. Video here.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) morning, I'm on-air with CTV's Canada AM at 7:40 a.m. Eastern. Talking about Research In Motion as developers gather in San Jose for the BlackBerry Jam Americas event, and as the company gets set to release its quarterly earnings report this Thursday. Video here. Story here.

Busy week. Man, this is fun.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Three years on...

My father died three years ago today. They say time heals, but aside from not knowing who "they" are, I'm going to politely disagree with them.

Time tends to file down the edge of the shock of loss. It dulls the rawness into an ongoing form of numb. It gives you perspective to figure out where you go from here. But it does not heal, for healing implies a return to what you were before. And that's just not how it seems to play out.

But the flip side of being given the gift of life in the first place is that we will have to deal with its loss - both of those who matter to us and, eventually, of our own. So we treasure what we have as long as we have it, mourn its loss when we no longer do, and do our best to avoid regretting any of it along the way.

I'd rather it be this way than any other. At least we're here to mull its meaning and learn for the future. At least I still have so much in my own life, compared to others who do not.

Your turn: How do you move on from loss?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

100 Things - Part 3

  1. This is my third such top-100 list (you'll find the first and second lists here and here, respectively.)
  2. A bunch has changed since I last wrote one of these.
  3. I lost my dad. The kids lost their grandfather. Three years ago tomorrow.
  4. Our immediate and extended families have been changed forever. That's to be expected, I guess.
  5. Change can be a good and a not-so-good thing.
  6. We've experienced both sides of it.
  7. We choose to focus on the good.
  8. It's been an important life lesson for our kids.
  9. Still, I wish it could have waited a bit longer.
  10. Okay, a lot longer.
  11. The bubble of childhood doesn't last as long as I'd like.
  12. Both theirs and mine.
  13. Navigating that dark period made me realize how many remarkable friends we have.
  14. It also deepened how I feel about my wife. Of course I loved, appreciated and worshipped her before all this happened. But she somehow found a way to further wind her way around my soul.
  15. I'll never be able to thank her enough.
  16. I still work from home.
  17. Our dog, Frasier, often lies by my feet while I write.
  18. He's the sweetest soul.
  19. Except if you're a squirrel or a chipmunk on the other side of the patio door.
  20. His bark could wake the dead. A mile away.
  21. So when I do radio interviews from the house, I have to sit in my wife's car in the driveway.
  22. I'm guessing live radio and a howling schnauzer don't go all that well together.
  23. Sometimes I do live television interviews via Skype.
  24. I can't use the car for those. It would just look too weird.
  25. So I set up shop in the living room.
  26. With the dog.
  27. Where I live in fear he'll go ballistic while I'm on-air. (Please see squirrel.)
  28. I've learned how to pat him with my foot or arm without it showing up on camera.
  29. More on the dog in a bit. I suspect he'll merit his own 100-things list before long.
  30. And you thought media work was so glamorous.
  31. I often trundle out to the car in the early morning murk, in my jams.
  32. I tote along my iPad, a cordless phone from the house, and a smartphone.
  33. I think some of the neighbors think I'm a spy.
  34. I'm not inclined to set the record straight. I find it funny when they stare.
  35. I'm still shooting pictures with reckless abandon.
  36. It often takes me longer to get where I'm going because I just have to stop to get that shot.
  37. My wife still has the patience of a saint.
  38. I often like to wander through my photo and written archives.
  39. I've never kept a diary or a journal, but I surmise the archives fulfill a similar purpose.
  40. There's something cathartic about seeing snapshots of your past. I can't explain it, but the albums - printed and electronic - keep calling my name.
  41. Sometimes I think I see the world through a rectangular grid.
  42. On reflection, maybe that's not an entirely bad thing.
  43. It simplifies things, forces you to break them down into bite-sized chunks.
  44. I like simple. It brings me comfort.
  45. I love to sleep. I'd stay buried under a comforter until noon most days, if I could.
  46. With the dog. He sleeps at our feet.
  47. I know most dog trainers would likely be aghast at that. Oh well.
  48. We've never had illusions of him winning best in show, anyway.
  49. We just like having him close by. We think he likes it, too.
  50. I love to write even more than I love to sleep.
  51. So most mornings, I wake up super-early - 4:30-ish - and pad downstairs to my office. Writing vs. sleep. Was there ever any doubt?
  52. Writing alone, before the rest of the world wakes up, is one of those joyous slices of time that makes you glad you became a writer in the first place.
  53. There's nothing like going heads-down, just you, your glowing keyboard and display (okay, displays), and some tunes on your headphones. The words almost seem to form themselves in your head before they slip out through your fingers.
  54. I like hearing the birds begin to sing just before the sky slowly flickers to life.
  55. It's more than just a time cue to finish up and get on with the day.
  56. It's a reminder that there's more to life than our own projects and deadlines.
  57. The planet has its own rhythm. It's not a bad thing to listen in on it every once in a while.
  58. I find that a little humbling. Also not a bad thing.
  59. By the time the article in question is finished and sent on its way, the house begins to stir. In my world, there's no better way to start the day.
  60. I've been a cyclist for much of my adult life. I've always loved the freedom of powering myself across the landscape.
  61. I'm ashamed to admit I've spent a lot less time on my bike over the past couple of years.
  62. Truth be told, I'm afraid of being mowed down.
  63. Almost every ride I take, some idiot in this often-backward town yells at me to get on the sidewalk.
  64. Squeezing me into the side of the road is another fun redneck-Ontario pastime, apparently.
  65. I'm still taking license #s (I'm talking about you, black Jetta, Ontario plate BLAM 495.)
  66. Because data trumps boorishness. Every time.
  67. I wonder when the idiocy will stop, when motorists and cyclists will learn to respectfully share the road and look out for each other.
  68. Probably never.
  69. I hate that I've allowed fear to get in the way of something I've loved to do for so long.
  70. Thanks to my wife's encouragement, I still hit the road. I'm still afraid. But at least I'm out there.
  71. Some journeys you simply must continue. This is one of them.
  72. The best way to end a writing day: roll the bike out of the garage, fire up the GPS, then roll through the hinterlands that surround our city, with only the farms and some cows and horses as company.
  73. There's something magical about flying down a country road, tall fields of corn rustling gently just feet to your right, the sun's rays streaking down through the clouds just above the horizon, with miles and miles to go before you turn for home.
  74. I think it's almost as good for my mind as it is for my body.
  75. Some of my best ideas flow when I'm cranking along some quiet back road. Among the corn.
  76. We often speak of getting off the so-called grid. I suspect this is what it feels like.
  77. The rest of the world can wait a little while longer. Life doesn't end just because I'm far from home.
  78. I wish more folks got that. The world would be a much less stressful place if they did.
  79. Our dog is now six years-old. He's become a sick pup, as Diabetes is a relatively high risk with schnauzers.
  80. Watching our daughter give him his insulin is a humbling exercise. He knows what's coming, trusts her implicitly, waits for her with a look in his eyes that convinces us all that he gets it. And gets her, too.
  81. The boys feed him, walk him, talk to him and fret over him.
  82. They wouldn't be the people they're becoming had it not been for him.
  83. His getting sick has been, perversely, a blessing in disguise for our kids and for our entire family.
  84. As challenging as it can be to live with a diabetic dog, I wouldn't change a thing. If we could go back in time, knowing what we know now, I'd rescue him again.
  85. The expense, uncertainty and worry often make me nervous. It seems like so much intervention for an unknowing little pup.
  86. Still, for as long as we have him, we'll cherish him.
  87. Because life isn't about how many days you're given. It's about what you do with those days.
  88. We're not fans of wasting any of them.
  89. With him or with each other.
  90. I wish people were more like dogs.
  91. They're so non-judgmental and happy.
  92. You can even see it in the way they walk: bouncy, carefree.
  93. I always believe in the best in people.
  94. Until they prove otherwise.
  95. I still don't get - and probably never will - where mean-spiritedness comes from.
  96. Back to the using-every-day-wisely thing, it saddens me how some folks waste the time they've been given.
  97. We can choose to either cave to it, or move past it. I choose the latter.
  98. No choice, really. Otherwise, the darkness wins.
  99. Brightness is so much more inspiring, don't you think?
  100. I'm done. The bike awaits. Wish me luck.
Your turn: Should I keep doing lists like this? Do you have a list you'd like to share, too?

Gangnam style? No, gangsta.

Quick, to the getaway vehicle!
Shanghai, China
May 2012
Thematic. Retro. Here.

Retro takes on many forms, but this is not quite what I expected as I wandered over to the waterfront in the shadows of Shanghai's main financial district.

As far as I could tell, this was a video shoot, and that gun was decidedly fake. But until I figured it out, I admit my blood pressure may have climbed a few points.

Your turn: Care to take a crack at a plot point or two for this movie?

Friday, September 21, 2012

I did not wait in line

I didn't camp out on a cold sidewalk for days on end. I didn't join the legions of fans willing to put their lives on hold for the privilege of being the first of their friends to have the latest doodad. I watched it play out on Twitter, in the fleetingly few moments when I wasn't otherwise running on the treadmill that qualifies as my everyday. And I don't think I missed a whole heck of a lot.

Call me a curmudgeon. Call me an enemy of neighborhood kids everywhere. Call me an inveterate protector of my lawn (and please get off of it) but I never quite understood the appeal of waiting in line when, two weeks later, I could walk into any store, pull the latest object of mass market lust out of an overflowing pile of inventory, pay for it and be on my way in under 15 minutes.

I don't get the need to be the center of attention. I don't get the need to break an existing contract and spend hundreds of dollars in termination fees all for the sake of an extra row of icons and a slightly better camera. I don't understand why we define ourselves by the stuff we buy. I don't get the need to worship at the altar of consumerism.

Sure, I buy my fair share of so-called stuff. But I don't show my shiny new doodads off at parties. I use them. Hard. Often to the point of wearing them out. Because shininess isn't the point. Living a better life is. And I don't much care whether the things I hang off my belt or toss into my backpack define me as so-called cool or something decidedly less worthy of adulation. They're tools. Nothing more.

Because the moment people like me for what I have, instead of for who I am, I may as well call it a day.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

On maps and journeys. Oh, and iPhones

"Even with the best of maps and instruments, we can never fully chart our journeys."
Gail Pool
With the iPhone 5 scheduled to hit store shelves tomorrow, geeks everywhere are already lined up on autumn-chilled sidewalks for the privilege of being the first of their friends to buy something that everyone else will be able to grab from a ginormous pile of inventory barely two weeks from now.

As they ratchet their tents down and plan their next Starbucks run, many of these line-waiters are doubtless complaining about the new Maps app. Long story short: Apple and Google are no longer friends, so Apple's replaced the Google-powered old Maps app with something it cobbled together on its own. The initial version is somewhat underwhelming, and listening to folks carry on about its shortcomings, you'd think we were all reverting to paper-based maps (which I still can't re-fold...please discuss.)

Of course Apple will improve the offering, and mapgate will eventually join antennagate in the dustbin of geek history. But for now, I found this quote amusing given the timing.

Your turn: Have you ever lined up for lots and lots of hours, or even days, for something?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The mixtape is dead

Analog tunes
London, ON
July 2012
Please click here to share your Thematic retro

I'm just as fascinated by what happens at the trailing edge of tech as I am by the leading edge. In our crazy rush to touch the future, we leave stuff behind. Even more telling, we often forget what we've forgotten until it's too late.

To wit, the cassette tape. Back in the day (seriously, way back), I spent too many nights painstakingly putting together just the right mixtapes. You had to pick the right tunes, in just the right order, and you had to record them just so. And if you didn't have the album or CD, you recorded it off the air. Good times.

The 12-year-old me listened to them at home or on my, gasp, Walkman. A few years later, they came along with me as I hit the road in mom's Pinto (don't laugh; it worked. Some of the time.) If I close my eyes, I can still see the carefully Sharpie-scripted titles on each label, each one indelibly connected to a slice of time in my life, a trip we took, a moment in my developing relationship with the girl who eventually overlooked my mixtape looniness and married me anyway.

In retrospect, the audio quality was abysmal. And it only got worse over time as the tape stretched, degaussed and greased itself into the sonic equivalent of hell. Today, we download or rip tunes, assemble them into a playlist, sync our media players or phones and call it a day. It's so much more convenient, and the quality is worlds apart from those basement-borne creations.

Yet somehow, I don't feel as attached to my playlists as I did my mixtapes. They may have been as annoying as sin, especially when they either melted on the dashboard or spit themselves out of the tape deck in an inglorious riot of stringy, crinkly brownness. But we put so much more of ourselves into them than any iTunes-toting kid would do today. I don't think today's technology will ever come close on that front.

So when I saw this new-looking TDK cassette - essentially identical, down to the brand, to the ones I once owned - sitting on a desk in a local studio, I had to snap it. There's no telling when even these pristine examples will disappear for good.

Your turn: What other technologies are we losing to time?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

On the power of storytellers

"Those who tell the stories also rule the society."
The journalist in me once believed this to be at least somewhat true. I saw a career in media as a calling, a privilege, a means of helping entire communities see the world around them more clearly. Yup, I've always been an idealist, and I guess I always will be.

The Winnipeg Free Press laid off 7 folks from the newsroom today. This is the second round of cuts there this year, and union officials there fear there's more to come. As is so often the case, journalists seem to pay for the industry's inability to find its way in an Internet/wireless/mobile/social-enabled age. Conventional advertisers drift away from ever thinner product, which hits revenue, which prompts more layoffs, which further thins the product, which...

I still believe in the privilege of those who tell the stories, that the work we do matters on a number of levels. I'm just no longer convinced the model we've been following is the one that'll ensure the survival of conventional media. Indeed, perhaps the notion of a conventional media at all is now something best left to history.

More to come on this. It's too fundamental an issue to ignore. And as I spend my days learning, writing and speaking about ever more capable tools of communication, I've got to believe that we're sitting on a treasure trove of potential. If only we have the courage to break the media decline/layoff/decline cycle.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Update: I spoke about this live this morning with CBC Radio One's Terry MacLeod on Manitoba's Information Radio. Will post a link to the audio if/when it gets posted.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Thematic Photographic 213 - Retro

My little pony
Stratford, ON
July 2012

It's hard to describe that nostalgic feeling you get when you see something from your past. Time has a way of softening perception. We forget what we hated about whatever it was - in this case, the lousy fuel economy, non-existent safety features and abysmal reliability - and instead revel in the relatively simple joy of tooling slowly down a small-ish-town street with the top down. While words may fail us, that feeling deep down in our soul makes it clear: it's nice to look back every once in a while.

For the next week, I hope we'll share some retro pictures that evoke a similarly soft-focus view of the past. If it's from the past and it makes you feel good, we want to see it.

Your turn: Post a retro-themed picture on your blog, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the photographic joy, and feel free to submit as many times as you wish - serial participation is highly encouraged. It's all about sharing and learning. We call it Thematic Photographic, and there's more background on it here.

The towers that connect us

Pearl of the sky
Shanghai, China
May 2012

I'd like to end off this week's "at an angle" theme* with a shot of something that isn't angled at all. The tower in the shot above, the Oriental Pearl communications aerial, is as straight as can be. But perspective can be a very neat thing, and standing ever closer to its base made everything look just a little off kilter to me. Straight tower. Twisted me. Truth be told, shooting this made me nauseous.

I've shot this tower before - see here - and that's the thing I love about photography. Different day, different place, different experience - as long as you have your camera with you, you can record not only what it looked like, but what it felt like to be there.

Your turn: Do you return to the same places? Do you like to re-shoot the same subjects?

* We're still taking submissions for last week's at an angle theme - here. New theme, retro, launches tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

They didn't say please

Money talks
London, ON
August 2012
I read recently that the urban landscape is vastly over-signed, that things would be so much simpler if we removed the vast majority of them from our midst.

I can't say I disagree, because even a simple walk down the street makes me feel like I'm back in kindergarten. Signs of every color and shape bark at us from every possible angle: walk here, don't walk there, do this, don't do that, give us money, forbidden... I get a headache just thinking about it.

I realize our planet is populated by a certain percentage of people who perhaps - now, to say this in a politically correct manner - need a little assistance figuring things out. So for them, a sign here and there is probably not a bad idea, as it could, say, keep them from careening into a cul-de-sac at superhighway speeds.

But for those of us with more than enough common sense to think our way through the day, it's a little annoying. Then again, this was a neat sign, so maybe I'm being unnecessarily ornery. Yes, that's it.

Your turn: The funniest sign you ever saw was...?

One more thing: This photo supports Thematic's "at an angle" theme. We're still taking submissions - here.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

McCormick/Beta Brands factory burns - No more cookies for you

I'm beginning to wonder if there's some kind of higher-order reason or power that governs some of the things we do.

Example: Just over a week ago, I had a meeting about 40 km outside London. On my way back, I took a route through the eastern part of town that I normally wouldn't visit. It's a somewhat gritty, somewhat down-on-its-luck center of manufacturing. They make Kellogg's cereal not far from here. And in this building, the former McCormick-Beta Brands factory, they made cookies. I wrote about it here.

Delicious memory, I know, but not such a delicious present. See, the building closed down a few years ago, and it's sat abandoned ever since then. Wait, not quite abandoned, as squatters have turned what was once a jewel of a building into something everyone said they wanted saved, but no one seemed willing or able to do. I had always wanted to come down here to grab a few photos. Urban ruins fascinate me, because despite their rotten edges, I've always seen a core that's worth saving. They literally don't build them like this anymore, and when we lose them, we lose them for good.

Other cities have succeeded in saving their industrial relics and converting them into loft residences, office space and other appropriately modern facilities. Walking through one of these saved-from-the-wrecker's-ball offices makes you realize just how special these places are, and how lucky we are when someone has the vision and the capability to make it happen. This rebirth isn't limited to these structures themselves: entire neighborhoods around them regrow as, as well, thanks to anchors that attract attention and investment.

Sadly, a fire broke out at the McCormick-Beta Brands plant earlier this evening, barely 9 days after I took these. The photo currently running in the London Free Press article - see here - captures part of the scene  in my photo on the left.  I felt a decided sense of loss as I realized the not-quite-urgent process of turning a forgotten hulk into a potential crown jewel would now likely never see the light of day. We've got to do better.

Your turn: How do we prevent this in future? Is there an answer to cost-effectively turning the giants of yesterday into the communities of tomorrow? Or am I just dreaming in Technicolor?

On the two faces of courage

"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."
Winston Churchill

Where golf begins. And ends.

Line up the shot
London, ON
June 2012

Thematic. At an angle. Here.

If you're a golfer, please don't hate me for what I'm about to write. I like golf, I really do. Just not enough to do it again.

In fairness, I've been out on a real course with real clubs, real carts and, yes, real balls. I enjoyed the experience of hanging out with friends on a perfectly turned out summer's afternoon. There was something cathartic about strolling through the carefully tended landscape and waiting for the occasional groundhog to waddle into the woods before we lined up our shots.

But for all the bucolic loveliness that is golf, it is overshadowed by my inability to properly aim the ball. I worry about clobbering someone, myself, or perhaps one of those sweet, oversized rodents. Mini golf is more my speed. The velocities and distances are generally a lot lower, and I'm not forced to define myself by my score or some arbitrarily defined - and super-non-PC-in-2012 - "handicap".

I know if I keep at it, I'll get better. But with an already-full life, I just don't see that happening anytime soon. For now, at least, I'd rather troll through the trails near our house without worrying where I parked the golf cart.

Doesn't mean I couldn't find an interesting way of looking at the course, though. You don't have to play something to appreciate its appeal.

Your turn: Do you golf? Why/why not?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Dirty, yellow and fluorescent

Grand Bend, ON
July 2012
Please click here for more Thematic "at an angle"

With everyone drooling over the iPhone 5, I thought I'd swim upstream with something, ah, a little less aesthetically pleasing. Beach towns like Grand Bend are lovely places to spend time, but it's just as true some of the shops and eateries along the main drag leaving down to the waterfront are more than a little gritty.

Of course, that's all part of the appeal. Pristine and upscale just wouldn't feel the same.

Your turn: What's your favorite slightly worn place to pass the time? What draws you there?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The damage

I lied. I said I'd stop talking about the iPhone (article summary here) but the world had other plans. More interviews ensued this morning. More writing, more publishing, more trying to run the gauntlet despite a lingering cold that probably should have kept me in bed. But that wouldn't have been anywhere near as entertaining.

For funsies, I thought I'd summarize the media work I've done this week, because if I don't gather it into a tight little ball, I worry I'll forget what it was like to be in the middle of an amazing media storm. Well, until next time anyway. Here goes:

As luck would have it, it's never really over. I've got my weekly tech segment with CJAD Montreal's Ric & Suzanne Show scheduled for tomorrow at 1, as well as another chat with Newstalk 1010 later in the afternoon. I'm guessing there will be more...just another snippet in the jagged path that is my life. Quite the roller coaster these days!

On swimming in the deep end of the ocean

"We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop."
Mother Teresa

More iPhone, then I'm done. I swear

It's been a crazy time around here, and the zaniness will continue this morning with a round of interviews that'll include CBC Ontario Morning, CJAD in my hometown of Montreal and CTV's Canada AM.

The bad? Little sleep, early wakeup calls and the challenge of keeping the rest of my life somewhat in balance while I work my way through the storm.

The good? Tiptoeing out of a darkened house with my laptop and phone in hand to do the first radio interview of the day. It's dark as sin, and I'm thinking how anti-glamorous this media-from-home thing can be. Then I look up at the still inky-black sky. The tiny sliver of the moon hovers in beyond-hi-def perfection, surrounded by a carpet of planets and stars that seems more brilliant than I can ever remember. It's dead-quiet as I stand there, completely alone, and wonder how I came to be in this time, in this place, drinking in this impossible beauty.

It's almost air time, but I thought you'd enjoy that tiny little moment on a not-so-tiny (well, for me, anyway) day.

If you're in a reading mood, I wrote the following two articles, too:
Your turn: Look up at the sky. What do you see?

One more thing: Speaking of impossible beauty, it's my wife's birthday today. Her blog is here, and her Facebook page is here. She's lovely, and I'm lucky to have another year with her.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Apple iPhone 5 - and me

I'm a little indisposed today, part of my grand media experiment. You may have heard that Apple's introducing a new iPhone today. It's called the iPhone 5, and from the looks of it, it's the best iPhone ever.

What, this surprises you?

In all seriousness, it's a great phone. It'll sell millions. Folks will line up for days. Unfortunately, it isn't enough.

Maybe I'm dealing with the effects of a nasty cold that's walloped me this week, but I don't think all is peaches and sunshine in AppleLand. I'll expand more later. But for now, I'm juggling myself through a day where I'm spending more time on-air than off. And I'm hoping I don't start to sneeze or hack up a lung on-camera.

More in a bit. For now, I'd like to know what YOU think about Apple's new baby. Too much hype? Or just what consumers need?

I'll run down the media appearances later. For now, I'm camped out in CTV London's studios. And so far they're tolerating my interloper-ness. Nicest folks. Seriously.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Same thing. Different view.

Grand Bend, ON
July 2012
Click here for more angled Thematic
Just because you have a picture of something doesn't necessarily mean you've told its story. And even then, you can never be sure.

Sometimes it takes a lot of pictures, from a lot of different angles, to really get a sense of whatever it is that you're trying to record. That's kind of what I was thinking as I walked up to the automated beacon at the end of the breakwater on the souther edge of Grand Bench beach.

I had already taken a photo of it that day (see here) and didn't expect to learn much more by walking right up to its base. But as I got closer, the thing that had looked so upright, flat and routine from a distance seemed to take on an entirely different life.

First, it stank. I mean, really. I didn't want to know what had gone on here, but I knew I had about 2 minutes before I had to bail. Or hurl. Second, it had texture. I guess standing way out in a Great Lake will do that to you after a while.

In the end, I stuck around for 3 minutes before my nose called uncle. But I'm glad I did, because otherwise this seemingly undifferentiated structure would have remained just that, undifferentiated. Instead, it became something real, with a dimension that distance and 90-degree angles simply couldn't reflect. Sometimes, you have to move around to see the same thing in different ways.

Your turn: Seeing the same thing from a different perspective. Please discuss.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Thematic Photographic 212 - At an angle

Please don't fall
Grand Bend, ON
July 2012

The more time I spend on this planet, the more I realize that most things aren't quite where they should be. They're often askance, askew or simply crooked. Or maybe I'm just looking at them from the wrong perspective.

Regardless, it's hellishly fun to play with angles within a medium limited to two dimensions. If the straight-on picture is considered boring or routine, does an angled shot make it all worthwhile? We've got a week to find out, and I suspect our new Thematic theme, at an angle, is going to be an interesting one.

Your turn: Please take a picture of something at an angle. It could be leaning. Or it could be straight and you've simply twisted your head a bit. If it looks like an angle - or even suggests it - pop it onto your blog. When you're done, leave a comment here letting other folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the photographic loveliness of it all - as that's the point of this exercise, to learn and to share. For more background on how Thematic works, point your mouse here.

GoDaddy hacked by Anonymous. Danica Patrick not pleased.

It's a bad day in webland as GoDaddy, one of the largest and best-known domain registrars/hosts anywhere - Danica Patrick, anyone? - has apparently been hacked by a member of the shadowy Anonymous group who calls himself Anonymousown3r and says he's the group's security leader. Okay, whoever this doofus is, millions of websites, including some big ones, are either down or severely compromised.

GoDaddy, you may recall, is the outfit that uses provocative messaging to get folks to pay attention. Because T&A is an integral part of hosting a website, right?

Suuuure, it is.

I'm guessing some budget priorities are about to shift. Less money for spandex, more for security. Danica can go back to driving. Or whatever.

Your turn: Thoughts?

One more thing: Welcome, Googlers. I know you came for the GoDaddy. Hope you'll stick around for the (virtual) Chardonnay.

Rust in peace

Windows into a lost era
Montreal, QC
July 2012

Most working waterfronts have these relics of an almost-lost past, silos designed to store whatever bulk goods are carried on the freighters that sail up and down the watery highways that define the North American landscape.

The ships, often little more than hulking piles of rust, once carried most of the cargo needed by a growing continent. But times have changed. The 18-wheeler now seems to dominate, and the watery highway has now been replaced by ribbons of asphalt. The ships continue to sail, but there are fewer of them, and the ports that once fed our day-to-day lives now seem almost completely removed from our reality.

As a result, structures like this one are increasingly left to the ravages of time. Or demolished. Either way, they won't last forever. And if we don't take the time to capture their slow decline now, there may not be a next time.

Your turn: How do we decide what's worth saving? Or bringing in the wrecking ball?

About this photo: We're wrapping up Thematic's weathered and worn theme today. There's still time to get in your last-minute submissions - just go here. New theme, at an angle, launches tonight at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

On persistence

"A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence."
Jim Watkins

And so I persist. Because life is a marathon and not a sprint.

I'm guessing if you're reading this, you do, too. Which begs the question: what does persistence look like to you?

When seals fade

Montreal, QC
July 2012
For more weathered and worn-themed Thematic, please click here.

Gotta give props to whoever decided the sheet steel outer wall of a well-worn warehouse on a pier was worthy of a little artistic love. Art can happen anyplace as long as we allow ourselves to let our imaginations roam a little. Clearly, someone did. And despite the obvious effects of sun, wind and countless Montreal winters, thousands of people strolling by a once-derelict stretch of waterfront now have another reason to smile.

Your turn: What's the most surprising place you've found something artistic?

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Because Mother Nature always wins

Reclamation project
London, ON
September 2012
Thematic. Weathered and worn. Here.

Stare long enough at the average big box store's parking lot and you might be lulled into believing that humankind will ultimately succeed in paving over the entire planet. Don't believe it for a second. Sure, we may yet get cover every last square mile in asphalt, but nothing says it'll last forever.

Exhibit A, this stretch of once-pristing pavement. It's been barely a few years since this place was a hub of activity, a few years since this yellow line defined one of the most coveted spots outside the factory, a few years since the last cars left for good and turned this place into a ghost town. In that blink of history, nature's apparently had no problem starting to reclaim what was once green.

It gives me hope for the future. You?

But wait, there's more: We've been to parking lots before; here, here and here. Enjoy!

No more cookies for you

Shattered gem
London, ON
September 2012
Weathered & worn Thematic is still very much on. Here.

I grew up in Montreal, a city that for decades seemed content to let its architectural legacy slip invisibly into oblivion. Thanks largely to civic leadership that seemed hell bent on paving over the past in a relentless pursuit of a supposedly more efficient future, entire neighborhoods were razed with barely a thought about what was being lost in the process.

London isn't quite on that level. Yet. Developers here aren't joined at the hip with city councillors. We lack that deliberate middle finger attitude toward preserving history. But that doesn't mean we don't have a problem.

It's more one of benign neglect, of hoping a lovely old building will somehow rescue itself after the original owners move on and aren't replaced. There's no active intervention, no marketing, no community discussion, no leadership. Instead, gems like the McCormick Biscuit Factory above are left to rot until it's far too late to redeem them. The list of buildings lost in this way in recent years continues to grow as the rest of London pretends they don't exist.

This building turns 100 next year, and was once known as the Sunshine Palace thanks to the glass block and terra cotta that define its exterior envelope. It closed for good four years ago after the latest owners, Beta Brands, pulled the plug, and has been deteriorating ever since. I stopped by there on the way back from a meeting this week, and couldn't shake the feeling of sadness as I slowly walked around the property. Or the stench of squatters responsible for much of the damage.

Other cities seem to care more. They make it easier for developers to buy up industrial relics and convert them into vibrant residential anchors. They realize how important these places can be in the fabric of cities that stand out, that don't just look like yet another endless stretch of suburbia. The ingredients are all here: It simply takes a bit of will to change the future.

Your turn: What three words come to mind when you see buildings like this?

Additional background:

Friday, September 07, 2012

On making the right kind of entrance

"There are two types of people: Those who come into a room and say, 'Well, here I am!', and those who say, 'Ah, there you are.'"
Frederick L. Collins

I try to be like the latter. I do everything in my power to avoid the former. You?

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The postman always rings twice

Hand delivered
London, ON
August 2012
Thematic celebrates old and worn. You can, too, by heading here.

The march of technology means lots of little touchstones are almost constantly disappearing from our midst. Problem is, they do so fairly quietly, so we often fail to miss them until they're gone for good.

I admit I hadn't given the letter slot much thought until I took a detour while walking back to my car. Tired of the bustling main drag, I ducked down a tiny side street where century-old homes came right up to the sidewalk line. I slowed down and drank in the richness of this place. I particularly enjoyed how the front doors practically touched my nose...they don't make streetscapes like this anymore.

This letter slot struck me as particularly time-worn. Sure, it was crookedly mounted on an equally crooked door, and I'm betting it didn't do much for the house's insulation value. But I could still imagine what it must have sounded like each day when the postperson (another soon-to-disappear icon, I'll bet) dropped the day's load of letters into the unseen vestibule behind the door.

I know supermailboxes are more efficient. But they're just not the same.

Your turn: What other touchstones of the past are we losing to modern life?

Tie me up

Strength over time
Grand Bend, ON
July 2012
Please click here for more weathered & worn Thematic

Whenever we head to the beach, I always try to take a bit of time to walk down to the stuff that sticks out - jetties, piers, breakwaters, docks, whatever we call them. I can't quite describe the appeal, but they seem to have a time-worn texture to them. They sit here in the middle of nowhere, exposed to the elements for decades, most of the time simply ignored by a world with better things to do.

I'm going to guess it's been a very long time since a ship tied up here. Yet it still makes me stop and think about who put it here, why, and what's happened here between then and now. It isn't anywhere near past its prime as long as it retains the capacity to make us look back and wonder.

Your turn: Are you drawn to things that are seemingly obsolete? Why? What's the appeal?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

On art and morality

"Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere."
G.K. Chesterton

Which begs the question: where do YOU draw the line?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Quebec: Once again, the dark side beckons

Ancient. Survivors.
Montreal, QC
July 2012
Click here for more weathered & worn Thematic

As I write this, voters in Quebec - where I was born and raised - are casting ballots in the provincial election that, in all likelihood, will spell the end of the rule of the Liberal Party and its leader, Jean Charest, after 9 years. If you don't live there, I know what it means to you: meh. If you're Canadian, however, it could mean the beginning of yet another chapter of game-playing with our country's future.

I'm going to way-oversimplify this, so forgive me in advance. Here goes: Quebec is the only province in Canada where the majority of residents speak French as a first language. Long-festering feelings that the rest of primarily-English Canada treated them like second-class citizens gave rise to the separatist movement, spearheaded largely by the Parti Quebecois political party. They first came to power in 1976, under leader Rene Levesque, on a platform of separating the province from Canada, their way of preserving the French language and culture in a North American milieu.

Yes or No

The PQ has held two referendums on sovereignty since then - in 1980 and in 1995 - and in both cases voters said, no, they wanted to remain in Canada. They've voted the PQ and Liberals into office sequentially since 1976, and every time the PQ takes over, fears of yet another run at leaving Canada surface.

Throughout the current campaign, PQ leader Pauline Marois hasn't exactly endeared herself to members of minority groups, and has made it fairly clear that the French majority makes the rules. To wit, here's a fairly typical gem of hers:
"It is the responsibility of everyone that wishes to call Quebec their home to learn and assimilate the local culture, not replace it with their own."
Lovely. And this in a province where the schools your children may attend are determined by what language the parents were educated in, and where they are from. And stores are only allowed to post signs in the official language of French (Canada's bilingual, remember) and, if they violate the language laws, the so-called Language Police swoop down and charge them. Where a province crippled like all others with the modern vices of too much demand and too few resources spends billions on legislating language and prosecuting violators.

The exodus continues

My wife and I - both fluently bilingual, and she's a French teacher - eventually grew tired of the cultural, language and borderline-xenophobic games, and finally left soon after the 1995 referendum. Of my high school class, the vast majority have left, as well. Montreal was once a city of boundless opportunity, a cosmopolitan city of the future. After the PQ swept to power, waves of well educated anglophones headed west, primarily to Toronto. Head offices of major corporations and the country's top banks soon followed. If you ever wonder why Toronto became the business hub of the country, now you know. I'm not sure they ever sent a thank you card, though.

We decided we wanted to live in a place where the priority was building businesses, building communities, and raising families. The endless political, language and cultural wars became tiresome for us. And I suspect another generation of folks just like us is already getting ready to call the real estate agent, book the moving van and get the hell out of Dodge. Or whatever the Pequistes choose to call it from here on out.

Unfortunately for those who escape, Quebec's inability to get with the program - or to willingly work with the rest of Canada to address its persistent feelings of being left out - sucks the life out of the rest of the country, too. Political uncertainty destabilizes not just the Quebec economy, but the national one. It discourages foreign investment and diverts resources away from the issues and projects that will benefit citizens the most. Many Canadians, fed up with Quebec's generational tantrums, have stated publicly they'd like to be rid of the province entirely. Unfortunately, separation would throw the entire economy into a tailspin - as if it isn't there, already.

Back to the brink

Anyway, apologies for the ramble. Tonight, the PQ stands poised to kick the Liberals out of office. Mind you, the Liberals, dogged by persistent corruption scandals and a grinding protest by students against tuition hikes, didn't do themselves any favours. Like the good politicians they were and are, the pig-at-the-trough mentality eventually caught up with them. But as we once again listen to voters justify their choice by saying they didn't vote FOR the PQ as much as they voted AGAINST the Liberals, I can't help but think that the subtlety of democracy is completely lost on them. After all, what you're thinking matters little once you've let the wolf in the door. The wolf doesn't much care why you let him in, and will proceed to happily do whatever it is that wolves do best.

Vive le Quebec libre, indeed. What an unbelievable waste of political capital. And what a sad comment on an entire society's inability to do what it needs to do to keep pace with the rest of the continent. While they bicker over perceived slights to their beloved language and culture, Rome - or in this case, Montreal, or Quebec City, or virtually any other city in a place that could have and should have had it all - burns.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Update, 9:06 p.m. ET: The PQ has been declared the winner of today's election. CTV story here.

Update 2: ...and some nutjob opened fire backstage in the theatre where the premier-elect was giving her victory speech. One man is dead, while another is in critical condition. Story here. Beyond sad.