Friday, November 30, 2012

Shadowy craft on a lush planet

Cast a giant shadow
Chicago, IL
May 2012
Thematic. Fly. Here. Thank you.

I have a habit of working in places that are beneath approach paths to major airports. In high school, I always made sure I got a seat by the window so I could see the jets taking off from and landing at Montreal's Dorval - now Pierre Trudeau - airport. I learned plane spotting at an early age, and relished those moments when the teacher would stop talking to allow the deafening roar of fully-throttled aircraft to fade into the distance.

I was reminded of that earlier this week as I sat at my desk and worked away on one of my newly assigned projects. We're located a few kilometres west of Toronto's Pearson airport. A clearly large plane flew overhead, and I could practically feel the thrum of its high bypass turbofans straining to pull the craft free of the earth. It was a cloudy day, so I couldn't really see much. But I smiled at the memory all the same. Planes rule.

This particular plane, the 777 that had carried me from Shanghai to the very middle of the American heartland, rules as well. I was kind of glad I got to shoot its shadow as we approached O'Hare, and I quietly hoped the folks on the ground down there were looking up thinking much the same thing.

Your turn: What do you think when you look up and see a plane?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

It's a honey of an o

Frozen in flight
Laval, QC
August 2012

Note: This photo supports our latest Thematic theme, fly. To share your own, please follow this link home.
I'm a big fan of honey. There's something so peaceful about mixing it into my tea on a cold winter's morning. It isn't like dumping in a bit of sugar. You've got to deliberately squeeze it out, or use a spoon, and as a result the experience becomes a lot more tactile and thoughtful than the alternative. Yup, I'm odd that way.

The container itself also seems to play a role here. I have soft-shaded memories from childhood of the hive-shaped bottle sitting on the kitchen table. To me, honey always came in a hive-shaped bottle, and anything that used a regular old container just wasn't the same.

My mother-in-law has this lovely honey container that every time I see it takes me instantly back to that kitchen table from so long ago. Sure wouldn't want to be that poor bee, though. Talk about eternal frustration.

Your turn: What's the bee thinking?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Writing through the darkness

We interrupt this blog for a quick level-set. Janice is a friend of mine, someone who I got to know through my adventures as a media whore tech journalist. She builds the graphics that pace the news here in our burg, and I annoy her to no end every time I come into the TV station for an interview.

So the neat thing is that she writes a blog, My Place In The World - which you should bookmark/favorite and read. Often. The not-so-neat thing is that her dad had a heart attack this week. She wrote about it here.

Her news woke me up to my own father's journey through the murky world of cardiac illness. And how writing about it seems to help those of us standing around the hospital bed navigate the uncertainty. Stringing words helped me find my way through some very frightening, dark times - in fact, it was what pushed me back into writing in the first place. I have every hope the same thing is playing out in this case, too.

Life on the road

Once upon a time, I rode my bike to work. Depending on where we lived and where we worked, it ranged between a quick 4 km spin through the streets of midtown Montreal, to a 35 km stretch along the waterfront after we moved to the 'burbs. I rode because I could, because it added an almost indescribable dimension to the day, because I knew it was incredibly good for my long-term health, because it gave me two wonderfully Zen-like stretches of time during the day when the phone wasn't ringing and life wasn't intruding.

I haven't had much need for the commuter bags over the past couple of years because I've been working from home, but all that changed last week (click here if you're just joining the fun.)

The drive to the office is now 100 miles (160 km), and as much as I'd love to cover the distance on my bike, it'll never pass the "are you nuts?" test. So I've swapped two wheels for four, pedal power for internal combustion. I'm slowly getting to know the OnRoute staff on a first-name basis. Heaven help me.

I'll admit to missing my bike commute, the culture of preparing to ride, of getting my head in the game and methodically transitioning between the road and the office. I miss the feeling of moving myself long distances with nothing more than my legs, of being so in touch with the road as I moved between work and home.

But life goes on. And when opportunity called from the big city way east of here, I couldn't say no. With so much of our lives rooted in the community here in London, we won't be moving anytime soon, so I'll be driving. Watch this space over the next while as I share words, images and who knows what else from the stretch of highway 401 between Mississauga and London.

Your turn: Got any long-distance commuting tips? I'm all ears.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

O'Hare - bird's eye view

You'll need a map
Chicago, IL
May 2012
Please click here for more fly-themed Thematic

If I'm being brutally honest with myself, this picture is far from my best work. Very far. On so many technical levels - light, clarity, composition - it fails every bar I set for myself when I shoot and edit. Yet I kept coming back to it in my set from my Shanghai trip, because it somehow told the story of this place better than any picture I took on my long flights home.

Aside from using satellite mapping - Bing Maps, of course - you rarely get the opportunity to see virtually all of an airport's land mass. It really opens your eyes as to how remarkable these facilities are, and how lucky we are to encounter them every once in a while. I can't wait to return.

Your turn: It's been a while since we played the "first three words" game, and I realize I miss it. So let's dive back in, shall we? What are the first three words that come to mind when you initially see this pic? Don't overthink it - be visceral! Now...go!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Thematic Photographic 223 - Fly

Give props
London, ON
June 2012

There's a whole lot of wonderful associated with the world of flight. The physics of flight dictate a kind of spare approach to engineering. No room for extra flourishes or wasteful add-ons. Everything is structured and shaped with the sole intent of allowing these fantastic machines - and everything on board them - to get (and stay) off the ground, fly tremendous distances at ridiculously fast speeds, do so efficiently, and eventually return to earth safely and comfortably.

While the engineers who design aircraft probably don't give it much thought, the inevitable results of their efforts will almost invariably look pretty neat in their own right. So when I strolled down the assembly line at London-based Diamond Aircraft, it was hard to resist the urge to capture a few pixels.

Your turn: As this is the launch photo for our new Thematic theme, fly, your mission is simple: Take a fly-themed pic, share it on your blog or website, then pop back here and leave a comment letting folks know where to find it. Feel free to repeat the process through the week, and don't forget to visit other participants to share the joy*. Thematic is our weekly photo sharing activity, and you can learn all about it here.

* Please accept my apologies for not being a diligent visitor in recent weeks. I've been fairly consumed with the transition into my new role (click here for more), and as a result have had a lot less free time than usual. Thank you for your understanding - and continued support of Thematic. I should be back to a normal cadence in a few weeks.

Another brick in the wall

Vanishing point
London, ON
February 2012

I thought I'd sneak in one last-minute rectangular-themed photo (it's not too late: click here to share yours*) because I rather enjoy how photography can play with the concept of shapes. And with our minds, too.

Depending on how you choose to view this shot, there either is or is not a single rectangle here. Sure, the bricks themselves are rectangular on their respective, real life surfaces. But the angled perspective means there isn't a single rectangle on the two-dimensional photographic plane you see here.

So which one is it? It doesn't really matter: merely churning the possibility is fun enough for me. And I hope for you, too.

Your turn: Does photography make you look at the world differently? How?

* Our new theme, fly, launches in a short while - at precisely 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Got anything in mind?

Don't touch the electric fence

Should I even be here?
Port Stanley, ON
July 2012
Get your last-minute Thematic rectangular submissions in ... here.

The big beach at Port Stanley is bordered on its eastern side by an artificial breakwater. Like many others at other waterfronts, this one is off limits to the public. Unlike many others, it's about as welcoming as Alcatraz.

I thought we'd round out this week's exploration of all things rectangular with this one, because even though these shapes are so often associated with proper order and neatness, it isn't always the case.

Your turn: What's going on here that justifies the uber-security? I've never been able to figure it out. Got any ideas?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Almost vanished history

Traces remain
Stratford, ON
July 2012
Click here for more Thematic rectangular goodness

Southwestern Ontario is blessed with towns large and small that are filled with hundred-plus-year-old buildings. Some of them have been lovingly restored, while others seem to wear their years with a little more grit. Sometimes, if you look closely, you can see echoes of what once was.

Kinda makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Sunrise in a distant airport

Dawn breaks through glass
Hong Kong, China
May 2012
Thematic. Rectangular. Here. (No, it's not too late.)

Pictures to me are more than two-dimensional collections of pixellated light and color. If you do it right, they capture the spirit of what it must have been like to stand there when the scene was actually happening. They help you remember what it felt like to experience it first-hand. And if you do it really right, they give folks who weren't there at all pretty much the same feeling.

Because whenever I go somewhere, I feel somewhat responsible for sharing the experience with folks back home. If my family's going to make sacrifices so that I can be away, then the least I can do is bring them something a little more meaningful than an airport gift shop memento.

Which brings me to this shot, taken just after our monster Toronto-Hong Kong hop over the top of the planet landed in this amazing place. The members of our little group of intrepid Canadian journalists were more than exhausted, and I'm still not quite sure how we found our way through the terminal to the gate for our next and final flight to Shanghai. After we settled into the waiting area - bar none, the comfiest terminal I've ever experienced - I picked up my camera and wandered for a few minutes to take the place in.

The rising sun stopped me in my tracks. At first I was disappointed that I had to shoot it through windows that hadn't seen Windex in...well, ever. But then I backed away after realizing the imperfection was part of the story of this morning.

Imperfect. But memorable. Maybe that doesn't only apply to scenes from faraway airports.

Your turn: Do sunrises inspire you? Why?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

On paying the price for your dreams

Happy are those who dream dreams and are ready to pay the price to make them come true.
Leo J. Suenens

I like the sentiment here. Nothing is simply handed to us: everything demands at least some form of investment and sacrifice. I find that strangely inspiring.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Color in a colorless place

Concrete block
London, ON
June 2012
Please click here for more Thematic rectangular

Look deeply enough in the the margins and eventually you'll find something worthy of an extra look or two. It doesn't have to be spectacular. Nor especially tall. Or beautiful. Or opulent.

It can be as simple as a block concrete structure in the middle of a run-down, scrub-and-gravel-covered property hard by the rail tracks on the eastern edge of downtown. It can be as simple as an unassuming building that someone decided to paint in a decidedly assuming way.

But you'll never know it's there if you don't change your perspective. Because if all you're looking for is the spectacular, you'll miss it entirely.

Your turn: What else can you see in the margins?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Out of a job yet? Keep buying foreign.

I see these bumper stickers every once in a while. They're usually on an old pickup, an old Ford Tempo or an old Chrysler Neon. Common factor: old.

Never mind that the concept of "domestic" or "foreign" no longer really exists. That the globalized automotive supply chain can mean a vehicle assembled just outside Detroit has a lower level of domestic content than one put together in Mexico. And never mind that this car was made in Sweden.

I was tempted to knock on the window and point that little factoid out. But I figured the passive-aggressive route - surreptitiously grab a pic and then blog about it in my typically self-righteous tone - was preferable. In any case, this was just too funny not to share.

Your turn: Thoughts?

For more Thematic rectangular - because what's more rectangular than a box-that-it-came-in old Volvo? - please click here.

On the people around us

"I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Maya Angelou

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Mayor McCheese gets into trouble

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this piece about London and read it on air when I guest-hosted on Newstalk 1290 CJBK (link). A few days later, I delivered the closing keynote at the DIG conference (link). In both cases, I made the case for a city that I think has long lived in the shadows of the national stage because we simply don't market ourselves as well as we could or should. I shared examples of companies and organizations that are doing world class work. But they don't get the recognition they deserve because we're stuck with a dysfunctional civic leadership and community leaders more comfortable in the last century than the current one.

Now, we've made the national news for a mayor, Joe Fontana, who today was charged by the RCMP (yes, those Mounties) with three counts: fraud under $5,000, breach of trust by a public officer, and uttering forged documents. If convicted on all three, he could go to jail for up to 10 years.

The allegations stem from a $1,700 cheque Mr. Fontana allegedly wrote to pay for part of his son's wedding in 2005. At the time, he was a federal Member of Parliament and a cabinet minister, and the RCMP alleges that cheque was paid with taxpayer dollars.

Fontana has steadfastly refused growing calls by some city councillors and a growing body of citizens for him to either step down while this process is ongoing, or resign entirely. His contention: he's got a lot of work to do for the city, and he refuses to be distracted from it. While I believe everyone is innocent until proven guilty, I feel his dogged determination to hold onto power at all costs is detrimental to this should-be-great city.

While our mayor twists in the wind, everything else is forced into a state of suspension. City Hall deals with gridlock because nothing else can be realistically debated. Civic staff are distracted because their leader isn't fully engaged in the process of, you know, leading. Citizens are ill-served by a process that is neither efficient or focused. This is not how a city is supposed to be run.

If Mr. Fontana truly cared about the citizens he feels he's working so hard to serve, he'd step aside and allow himself the time and energy to prepare and execute his defense. He'd let the city get on with the business of civic business in his absence. He'd have the humility to recognize he does no one any good by muddying the waters with his presence.

Selfishness in the top levels of leadership is hardly anything new, here or anywhere. Power does many things to people - and blinded vision is often one of the resulting symptoms. But when it sullies the reputation of a city that deserves so much better, I simply can't sit by and say nothing.

Mr. Fontana, you're not so important to the day-to-day or long-term trajectory of this city that your absence - temporary or not - will hurt us in any way. Your mere presence has become a liability. Have the courage to put the city's needs ahead of your own, and do the right thing by stepping aside.

Your turn: Thoughts?

But wait, there's more:
  • RCMP statement
  • The mayor has scheduled a press conference for 1:00 p.m. ET today. (AM980 report)
  • Aaaand the mayor has held his press conference, and he refuses to quit. London Free Press story here. He claims he has the support of the people. I scoured Twitter looking for examples of this support. I found no evidence of this. I did find, however, lots of angry Londoners. Maybe JoFo's supporters don't use Twitter. Right, Stephen Orser...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thematic Photographic 222 - Rectangular

Shapes and light
Delray Beach, FL
December 2009

I'd like to get back to shapes - specifically rectangles - with this week's Thematic theme because they're so elemental, so easy to just get into, and so much darn fun to play with when you've got a camera in your hands. And since my brain's a little preoccupied this week, I thought keeping things simple here would make sense, too.

P.S. Thank you for your patience this week. I'm a little late getting the Thematic train rolling. Life stuff. It's all good.

Your turn: Got a picture of a rectangle? Or a rectangular something or other? Or something that reminds you of a rectangle? Post it to your blog, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants and bring a friend along for the ride. Thematic is our weekly, non-competitive, fun-filled photo sharing/learning/exploring activity. Here's more background.

On doing what you love

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.”
I'm delightfully overwhelmed by the torrent of happies that ensued after I announced this, and I can't thank you enough for your comments here, on Facebook and on Twitter. I was so focused on work throughout the day that I didn't have a whole lot of time to read much of anything until this morning, but please know how deeply touched I am that so many folks took the time to write. You made a great day that much greater.

Day 2 at Microsoft picked up where day 1 left off - with tons of smart, dedicated people doing what smart, dedicated people always do - and it's clear I've found an amazing place to call my professional home. I'm still pinching myself, but at least now I'm off and running and immersing myself in a pretty remarkable work environment.

Thematic will resume tonight. My apologies for not getting it online last night. I got home later in the evening and subsequently ended up falling asleep somewhat unexpectedly. Or maybe it was expectedly. Long, eventful days will do that, I guess.

Your turn: What do you love to do?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Day 1 at Microsoft

Thought I'd mark the moment when I set off into the pre-dawn fog on the first step of what promises to be quite the adventure. Today's my first day working at Microsoft, where I'm going to be - wait, am - a PR Manager. (More background here.)

What does it mean? I'll let you know once I get there and immerse myself in a company I've studied, admired, written and spoken about for as long as I can remember. I'm honored to have the opportunity, and intend to grab it as tightly as I can and do everything in my power to turn it into something remarkable.

In the meantime, I'm overwhelmed with your messages and good wishes, and can't thank you enough for helping me along on what's become a pretty incredible journey. From the looks of it, it's about to become a lot more interesting.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Introducing: My favorite parking spots

The view outside
Delaware, ON
November 2012
It's been a fun, fun morning, with me running les enfants to a program in the countryside west of London (Circle R Ranch, if you're from the 'hood.) It's just far enough from home that I decided to stay here till the program's done, because wouldn't you know it they need me to carpool back to town. Imagine that: no one's walking the bazillion kilometres back home.

It is, if we're being geographically precise, in the middle of nowhere. Which, coincidentally, is exactly how I like it. I thought I'd celebrate our Thematic windows theme (click here to share yours) with this view out the window. I found it inspiring, and I hope you do, too. I'm also introducing a new occasional feature, called My favorite parking spots. It is as it sounds: shoot a picture whenever you park in a place that jazzes you, then share it. Let's see where this goes.

Your turn: So what's the prettiest place you've ever parked? Got a pic?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

So this happened...

Try hard enough for long enough and eventually good things begin to happen. I've always believed it, and always tried to live my life according to it. Sometimes, I've even gotten kicked in the teeth because of it.

Not this time.

The logo? It belongs to Microsoft, and that's where, effective Monday, I'll be working. Because sometimes the planets align just so.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Window on a crumbling landscape

Art still lives here
London, ON
March 2012
Thematic. Windows. Here.

Flat out, I love this scene. Every time I see it, I'm snapped right back to that cold late winter Sunday afternoon when I took it.

This place is as desolate as it seems, a facade of crumbling, overgrown brick in the back of a forgotten alleyway in a part of downtown that most people simply avoid. Yet here in the middle of pretty much nowhere, I stumbled across a flash of artistic loveliness that suggested once upon a time someone cared enough to try to make a difference.

I wish I could have gone back in time, as I would have said thank you to whoever painted this for proving me wrong. See, when I set out on my walk I figured I'd never find inspiration in the crumbling ruins of a down-on-its-luck part of town. This scene proved otherwise.

Your turn: Ever been pleasantly surprised by beauty in a place where you'd think it wouldn't otherwise exist?

Looking for budget help?

I'm queuing up our next #BellBiz Twitter chat topic for next week, and it's a good one for every small business that's gotten stuck in budget hell: How do you plan for next year's budget? What software is out there? Should you subscribe to a web service? Or outsource it? What pitfalls should you watch out for, and what happens if you mess it up?

Participation is simple: Just follow the #BellBiz Twitter hashtag on Tuesday, November 20th at 1:00 p.m. We'll be chatting online for about an hour. Bring your questions and bring your curiosity - we'll fill in the gaps.

See you then!

On darkness and light

‎"The gates of darkness will never be closed to the smugglers of light."

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Someone never read the help desk rules

A while back, I wrote an entry called Help Desk Rules largely out of frustration with folks who have nothing to do with me their entire lives, but then make a beeline for me to help them when they've got a technology problem or question. I thought it was a pretty funny piece of writing, and it's become something of a fan favorite around here. I'm guessing the person who sent me the following message never read it. Here's what he wrote, in its entirety:
for a friend w bberry. how to find a french character set to type messages with
No please, no thank you, not even an attempt to use the shift key. It came from someone who's more acquaintance than friend, so we can't even use the excuse that a good friend was using some kind of I-know-you-really-well shorthand. It's really someone who seems to have forgotten the basic rules of Kindergarten.

I didn't answer this, and have no intention of doing so. I'm well aware of the fact that it would have taken me fewer keypresses to actually answer the question than to write this blog entry. But that wouldn't have been as much fun. Sometimes, you just have to raise your voice a little in the hope that someone out there is listening.

I'm on the fence re. whether or not I send the link to this entry back to the person who sent it. What do you think?

Neighbourhood oasis of light

Open 24 hours
London, ON
November 2012
Please click here to share your own window-themed vision

Downtown is a fascinating place. Just a couple of blocks away from the big, bright, glitzy convention centre where I had just delivered a keynote talk to a whole whack of the region's tech elite (click here for more on that) the largely residential neighbourhood was shrouded in a damp, cold, almost mirthful darkness.

Across the street, a man emerged from a post-war house with a red Coleman cooler and headed for his car idling under a maple tree in the side yard, his tired face illuminated by the headlights as he struggled across the driveway. Another couple sat invisibly on a nearby porch, trading low-volume but still-angry barbs over a friend who owed them money. A couple of kids wandered down the sidewalk, carrying their skateboards and discussing what they had had for breakfast that morning.

On the corner, the convenience store stood like a single beacon of light in an otherwise hushed stretch of near-downtown road. The parking lot was nearly empty, the rent-a-sign on the corner advertising some food/drink combo that would drive the average armchair dietician into fits of rage.

All I had was my iPad, but I still wanted to capture the feel of this place, this time, graininess and all. I long ago learned that the best camera is the one you have with you. On this night of contrasts, it would have to do.

I quickly composed the shot, then hurried back to my car and headed home.

Your turn: What does your neighbourhood look like right now?

DIG 2012 Conference Keynote - London/Silicon Alley

I was privileged to be asked to deliver the closing keynote at this year's Digital Interactive & Gaming (DIG) conference here in London. The event, now in its fifth year, has grown into a major convergence point of talent and engagement for the region's growing and increasingly influential gaming and tech community.

My topic was a fun one: London? Silicon Alley? Believe it.

The thesis was a simple one: London's got a ton of incredible things going on just beneath the surface, and it's up to us to bang the drums a bit - okay, a lot - more loudly to market ourselves far beyond our borders.

I managed to cobble together the guts of my talk, and have included it here below. I invite your thoughts - whether you're a Londoner or someone who lives far away - on how you'd use simple, individual acts to build a stronger tech, business or general community. Links/action items are included at the very bottom of this entry.

I'll apologize for the length - and for the fact that there's an exercise at the end. Here goes...

I want to start today with a story of a place very far away from here. A place we might not think has a whole heck of a lot to do with London. But it does.

Silicon Valley.

I know it seems like a reach. Hear me out.

A few months ago, I found myself researching a story on Silicon Valley. The region was in the middle of Facebook IPO hype. Everyone was lost in the euphoria of a thousand Facebook employees suddenly becoming millionaires. I spoke to real estate agents, car dealers, jewelry store owners. They were all waiting for some kind of huge payoff as all these suddenly-rich staff fanned out across the Valley, flush with stock-fuelled net worth, and spent themselves into oblivion.

Fast forward a few months and we all know what happened. The IPO tanked. Facebook turned out to be more hype than anything else. The Fisker Karma dealer that I spoke to isn’t selling any more Fisker Karmas. In fact, most of them ended up destroyed on a dock on the east coast, a victim of superstorm Sandy. Or they spontaneously combusted. And for the first time in a long time, Silicon Valley real estate values aren’t rocketing to the moon.

What does any of this have to do with London? More than you might think. Because London has at least some of the ingredients that make Silicon Valley a destination for technology and technologists, a crucible of innovation that, over time, has become its own force of economic gravity. We may not have the extreme ups and downs of massive IPOs and Wall Street pressure. But the core values of great people, innovation, education, entrepreneurship and community are possibly better distributed here than in any other community in the country.

There’s no reason London can’t be Canada’s version of Silicon Valley. That’s why I’m here today.

[Defining SV]

The term, Silicon Alley, without the V, has been coined in the past to refer to places that, like the original Silicon Valley, have become hubs of technological excellence, with larger-than-ordinary concentrations of investment and development, all within a very startup-friendly landscape. Here in Canada, the obvious candidate these days is Kitchener-Waterloo Region. In the past, Ottawa has worn the title. Further south, New York has been referred to as a Silicon Alley, as well.

So what have we got that all these other storied places have? What makes us similar to Silicon Valley and the wannabe-Alleys near and far? Lots, apparently, because the basic ingredients don’t vary much from place to place, and it turns out we’ve got lots of them in spades:
  1. Great educational institutions pumping out focused talent that can hit the ground running in any number of fast-moving tech sectors. Both Western and Fanshawe have feverishly refined their programs in recent years to align more closely to increasingly tech-heavy market requirements. Sure, they’ll teach you to code. But they’re also integrating the arts, humanities, other competencies to facilitate the kind of renaissance-person skillsets tomorrow’s economy demands. Western’s Research Park (link) has been recognized as the top incubator in the country, a place where ideas take root and are nurtured into greatness. Our very own EK3 Technologies grew up there, and is now on display in every Tim Hortons on the planet. The park is also home to the Stiller Centre for Technology Commercialization, a renowned biotech incubator, and the UnLab provides a unique space for hackers, makers and even more than a few socially-aware podcasters.
  2. Business community infrastructure that takes that talent and gives it guidance, resources, incubation. TechAlliance works with startups to nurture them from their earliest phases, help them grow into prosperous, dynamic contributors to the local economy. It advocates for our tech stars in the London and Southwestern Ontario region, ensuring their – and our – voices are heard and prospective participants in our economy – investors, entrepreneurs, students, you name it – know who we are, what we’re about and why we’re unique. The London Economic Development Corporation – for whom we owe this incredible event – has overarching responsibility for driving business development within and beyond the community. As a center of excellence, the LEDC attracts and situates businesses, then works with them to drive growth, collaborates on ways to keep them here so that they can attract even more like-minded organizations in future.
  3. Government support that provides critical funding and connections to other like-minded individuals and businesses both here and in other communities. Cyborg Trading Systems, a leading developer of trading systems for global-scale financial organizations, recently benefitted from this unique depth of government-business partnership. If you don’t know this company, you should. What they do is way beyond Wall Street – their systems automate trading and risk management, and give companies in this brutally competitive sector the information edge that makes the difference between profitability and growth… and failure. And just last month, they won a major federal grant to further grow its operations here in London. 
Who else is out there? You’ve been seeing them, hearing them and speaking to them all day long, and I’m willing to bet your head will be buzzing for weeks to come. I’d like to outline some key contributors to the tech community here – and please accept my apologies for leaving anyone out. There are just too many good ones out there: 
  • Phoenix Interactive – Before this company came along, bank machines were green-screened monsters that everybody hated. Phoenix turned the industry on its ear, shifting to user-friendly, Windows-based interfaces that revolutionized the financial self-service industry. While everyone else was focusing on hardware, Phoenix had already recognized the gamechanging potential in software, and has been actively partnering with financial institutions around the world ever since to advance the self-service state of the art.
  • – If you’ve watched a television commercial at all lately, you’ve seen’s work. It’s grown from humble London beginnings to become the world’s leading marketplace for voice-over talent. Using agile development tools and advanced web technologies, has outflanked traditional talent services based on conventional technology. By accelerating and enriching the connections between those seeking talent and those who have it, is an ideal example of leveraging technology with efficient intelligence to knock off industry giants. Along the way, the company’s been recognized for innovation, balanced management practices and strong community involvement. Hard to believe they’ve been around for only 9 years.
  • Big Blue Bubble Casual gaming is big and getting bigger, and Big Blue Bubble isn’t just riding the wave: it’s driving it. With some of the top mobile gaming titles in Apple’s iOS App Store and on Google Play, this London developer continues to expand its influence on the community here. Unlike many other dev shops, though, Big Blue Bubble develops across all major platforms, including PC, Mac, and even Nintendo’s Wii.
  • Big Viking Games is leading the trend toward Facebook- and social media, mobile-based gaming. Their list of staff perks reads like it came from Google – unlimited snacks and an in-office concierge and barista – and they just moved into new digs. Never mind that they were founded…last year. You’ve got to move fast in this business, and Big Viking is typical of London tech players built to take advantage of this new, ever accelerating landscape. 
  • Digital Extremes – quite likely the granddaddy of them all here in London. They’ve built an international reputation for game platform development, with titles like Unreal, Bioshock and Retro Pinball. They’ve been leaders in the online game movement, and have been repeatedly recognized by the industry – and here at home – for setting the bar for other game devs to follow.
  • Rtraction – Digital agency is a term that a lot of conventional agencies like to throw around a lot. Rtraction doesn’t have to throw around anything – digital agency IS its DNA. The company works with a wide range of clients to transform their business vision into web, online, mobile and wireless reality. They’re out there in the community, using conventional media – and events like DIG – and social media to raise the volume on critical technology and policy issues. They’ve become a magnet for talent not only here, but throughout the region.
Disclosure: Earlier in my career I’ve worked, proudly, with the following two companies… 
  • Autodata – Who here has bought a car in the last…oh…decade? Show of hands, please. Who used the web to do research before heading down to the dealership? There, you’ve been touched by Autodata. This company sells vehicle build-and-price solutions to virtually all major global auto manufacturers. Virtually every car company website you visit today is powered by Autodata code. They’ve built massive data warehouses of every imaginable data point and configuration for every possible vehicle on sale today, and as a result lead the global automotive data industry with dominant market share wherever they compete.
  • Info-Tech Research Group – The result of a case study submitted for a class at Ivey, founder Joel McLean turned a paper into a business that has challenged industry stalwarts like Gartner, Forester and IDC to rethink the way companies buy and use technology advice. Technology can be a hard thing for non-technology companies to figure out. Info-Tech’s analysts simplify the process, publish content that helps businesses figure it out, and consult directly with clients to advance the state of the technology advisory art. Its research products are used by thousands of companies worldwide to get more from their technology investments. The company has used its close ties throughout the London community – education, business, government – to bring on the right talent at the right time, and to exploit market opportunities that might have otherwise remained invisible. 
If I really wanted to, I could go on all day. Samsung’s going to build advanced solar modules here. EXP, a geotechnical, earth and environmental and structural services consulting firm, runs two fully-equipped lab where it does groundbreaking research. I haven’t even touched our incredibly vibrant medical research and services sector, which continues to lead the region by attracting talent and investing in world-beating, lifesaving research. On the services front, we’re home to G.E. Healthcare, 3M and Trudell Medical International, among others. Our hospitals and affiliated research centers continue to shine as well: Just this year, the world’s learned about huge advances in HIV treatment, created right here. And this week, a science fiction-like treatment that uses advanced imaging to help locked in patients communicate with the outside world.


The final piece of the London puzzle? Community. No one does community like we do. From social media meetups to podcamps to podcasts, you’re sitting in the middle of one of the most connected, social-forward regions in the country. Our hashtag, #LdnONT, has become a veritable signature of what’s going on in this city, and where the next big thing is coming from. An incredible new community resource, London For The Win, consolidates the key organizations, initiatives and events in one place, and invites members of the community to add their own – crowdsourcing raised to the next level.

Friends and colleagues who live in K-W and Toronto can’t believe we enjoy this level of engagement. Sure, like us, their citizens are actively tweeting, Facebooking, Blogging, and Tumblring. But they haven’t connected the dots on a grassroots level to the same degree that we have here in London. They haven’t branded themselves online as deeply as we have.

You can argue that they don’t need to, that because they’re so big to begin with that the need simply isn’t as acute as it is here. You can also argue that their geography gives them an advantage. The GTA is the centre of the known universe, while K-W lives on the edge of that orbit. London, in comparison, lives in a world of its own, in the middle of Southwestern Ontario, not close to much of anything.

Which means that we have to try that much harder. That because we’re not gifted with a sense of critical mass – or centre of gravity, if you will – to begin with. So we have to use creative, agile methods to create it out of thin air. As a result, #LdnONT is our calling card, and it gives us a starting point, of sorts, to speak a little bit louder. And resources like London For The Win represent resources where we rally around, and figure out what we want to focus on next.

[Talking to Outsiders]

As I look around the room, I realize we all understand this. We work in or around the gaming industry. We’ve committed a day away from our offices and our classrooms to be here, so obviously we’re all deeply invested. Look to your left and to your right and there’s a better than even chance that you already understand the value proposition of the person sitting next to you, or the organization that he or she represents. And if not, a 30-second discussion should bring you both up to speed.

But what happens when we leave here later tonight? How do we take the message of London’s gaming and tech industry, the fact that we are worthy of being called Silicon Alley, that we are doing some incredible things, and that we do stand on an equal plane with other technological centres of excellence both in Canada and elsewhere? If you’re an employer, how do you convince students about to graduate that this is where they should stay? If you’re a student, how do you know where to look, who to talk to and what to ask? I want you to keep those questions in mind for later, but for now, consider this:

[Making the intangible tangible]

Everyone knows what a bank does. They make themselves lots of money. We also know what a manufacturer does. They make stuff we can all hopefully afford. But does the average Joe – not the mayor, but a real average Joe – understand what a development shop does? It can be such an intangible thing to an outsider. I try to explain game development to my Luddite, disconnected mother and her eyes just glaze over. What about an average non-techie member of the business or broader community?

If we do a better job sharing our vision with them, we naturally increase the number of people willing to go to bat for this region, willing to share the stories that we’ve shared all day today. The story of London as Silicon Alley becomes not one circulated within the gaming and tech communities, but within the wider one, as well. Keep that in mind the next time you bump into someone at the grocery store and they ask you what you do. There’s huge opportunity to sell this, sell us, outside of our own, admittedly geeky circles.

[But – still silence]

So, let’s look at London again. We’ve got a bunch of great companies. Staffed by a bunch of great people. Supported by a range of incredible community, government and quasi government organizations. We’ve used social media to create a culture of connectedness within the community that makes it easy for businesses and those who work for them to grow. The core ingredients are there – and they’re wonderful ingredients indeed. But we’re still not known beyond our borders as the place to be if you want to do tech. Kitchener-Waterloo still gets all the national headlines, and the real Silicon Valley still grabs everything globally.

Why is that?

Simple: Marketing. Or PR. We don’t do as much of it as we should. And they do.

As an industry, we’ve done the great, fundamental work to build our businesses, crack into global markets and take no prisoners along the way. We’ve topped the App Store charts and set new standards for interactive and online gaming excellence. Our research continually breaks new ground in any sector imaginable, from medical to manufacturing. But we haven’t had the conversations with our neighbors to really clue them in on what we’re up to.

I’ll politely suggest that we may want to consider doing just that.

Because while we haven’t been marketing our tech prowess to the regular folks in the broader economy or out on the street, we’ve become known for things we’d rather not be known for. Bananas being tossed on the ice? Check. Ginormous sinkholes in the middle of the downtown core? Yup. Bridges that like to dance and sway in the wind? Got one of those, too. City councilors who want wireless scramblers installed in council chambers so citizens can’t tweet during session? Unfortunately, yes.

Nothing any other city doesn’t have to deal with, mind you, because every city, every region, every organization has to deal with its own share of issues. But it’s distracting all the same.

Of course, none of this takes away from the goodness going on in our tech economy, but it can mask it to a certain extent, because no one really pays a whole lot of attention to that snazzy new app or killer Facebook game when everyone’s busy debating the merits of banana peels, and what happens when you throw them into sinkholes

[Shift the Agenda]

For the London region to take its rightful place as an emerging player in Canada's tech landscape, we’ll need to do a better job shifting the agenda in a somewhat different direction. When I tell my kids that some of their favourite games on the iPad were coded right here in London, they refuse to believe me. When we were shopping for a car, they laughed when I told them I had had lunch with the lead developer of the configuration engine that we used to spec out and price out my wife’s car before we bought it. They couldn’t believe that the big, flashy website, with its ultra-sophisticated back-end that turned the act of buying a car into near Disney-like entertainment, was created in a low-slung commercial-industrial building on an unassuming street in London’s east end.

[Highlighting the Small Fry]

Walk any street in any part of the city, and there are businesses already doing just that. There are lots of low-slung, unassuming buildings throughout London. With lots of incredible, world-beating work being done inside them.

Hang around any office – gaming or not, tech sector or not – and chances are there’s someone with a regular 9-to-5 job who goes home at night and codes an iOS or Android game in his or her spare time. Off the top of my head, I can rhyme off at least half a dozen friends who are already doing just that.

Are they on the radar? Should they be? In most cases, they aren’t. And in most cases, I think they should be, because a lot of them are pretty accomplished in their own right.

But here’s the thing: we’re so dialed in as a social media-enabled region that it should be a relatively simple thing for those same one-off developers to use that network to connect to the resources they need. And they need lots of stuff.

Like any developer, they need: technical guidance, testing assistance, marketing help, and ongoing business mentorship. They need people and organizations to take them under their wing and help them evolve their weekend coding efforts into sustainable businesses. Silicon Valley was born in countless garages, but eventually those little garage-based outfits became powerhouses like HP and Apple. That same psychology applies now, and here, as well.

If one of the goals is to grow the gaming and tech sector by using our differentially effective social media capabilities to tap into grassroots developers, then I’d humbly suggest we’re more than ready to move on this front.

Here’s where you come in: If you know someone who’s got a pet project on the side, feel free to reach out to them – I’ll suggest Twitter, but it’s entirely up to you – and see if you can offer your own little bit of mentorship.

At the end of it all, Silicon Valley didn’t just happen. It grew out of a unique-in-history set of circumstances. People, plus location, plus education, plus community engagement, plus investment plus business support and mentorship, plus a healthy dose of risk-taking. But in the 15-ish years since I moved here, I’ve had the unique pleasure of watching a similar set of ingredients quietly take root here.

I know we don’t have the beaches or the California sun. Or that uniquely American sense of brashness. But that doesn’t mean we can’t create our own centre of gaming and technological excellence right here in the London region. Indeed, we already have. And we, in this room, already know this. The opportunity now rests with us to spread the word beyond this place.

Thank you

But wait, there's more...

After I was done speaking, I sprung this on my unsuspecting audience. Their responses were amazing. Here goes...

Normally I’d open the floor to questions, but I’d like to try something different. We’ll get to Q&A in a bit, but I’d like you to indulge me first. I’m a believer in lists. They help focus my efforts and stick to my priorities. Since I’m a business of one, a daily list keeps me from wasting precious resources on stuff that doesn’t matter.

I think we, as a gaming and technology community, need a list now, too. I’d like you to look to your left and say hi to the person sitting next to you. If you’re at the end of the row, tap the shoulder of the person ahead of you. Can't pair off? Go threesies.

Please take a couple of minutes to decide ONE THING that we should be doing to raise London’s profile as a Silicon Alley economy. What’s the ONE THING that YOU would do within the next month to raise the volume, so to speak, and build London’s eminence as a tech-forward place to both do business, and to establish yourself after you graduate?

We’ll give it a couple of minutes. Then we'll walk the mic around the room to allow everyone to share their ideas. Please also tweet them to  @DIGLondon and the #DIG2012 hashtag. We’ll compile the list and post it to the website.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

On shooting for the stars

"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you will land amongst the stars."Les Brown
I had a shoot-for-the-moon kind of day today. And it was good. Very good.

More soon. I promise that'll be good, too.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Shattered window, shattered life

Makes you think twice
London, ON
March 2012
Click here to share your own Thematic Windows

I guess a part of me will always feel the urge to stop and report from the scene of a major accident. A journalist's DNA being what it is, I often find it difficult to hold myself back when something so significant happens right in front of my eyes.

On this bright afternoon, two vehicles rather violently ended up in the same place at the same time, and it's clear this Hyundai Accent ended up on the losing end of a battle that no one ever really wins. Ambulances and police cars converged on the scene. Drivers and passengers were taken to hospital. Cleanup crews and tow truck operators were left to mop up the scene and get traffic flowing again. For anyone driving by, the world quickly moved on. For anyone in either vehicle, the world had changed.

I flitted among the mess, grabbing whatever pictures I could as I tried to pry details from the commanding officer on-scene. I shared what I could with the local television station, tweeted it out, then headed home.

Months later, this picture still haunts me. Was that the impact of someone's head? What - and who - else got damaged as the vehicle went from high speed to no speed in a blink? Would the occupants of both vehicles ever get into a car again without thinking of this day? Would they be the same?

I've been there, and silently, as this picture snaps into focus, I still wish them safe travels.

Your turn: Does driving scare you?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Thematic Photographic 221 - Windows

Windows to history
Kitchener, ON
July 2012

I'm looking forward to this week's Thematic theme, Windows, because it's so ripe for wide-open interpretation. In and of itself, a window usually isn't much to look at. It's transparent, near-invisible. But pull back a bit and suddenly the story becomes a bit richer.

This lovely set of upper-floor windows sits just above a Home Hardware store in Kitchener, a city about midway between Toronto and London. My wife and I had come here on our way back from dropping the little man off at camp. We didn't have anything scheduled for the rest of the day, so we took our time on the return leg and enjoyed the somewhat quiet journey.

It was a warm day, so we took a rest on a well placed bench on the sidewalk out front (note to city planners: buy lots of benches. They rock.) Inevitably I ended up staring at the facade, and just as inevitably my fingers fidgeted on my camera bag. As I composed the shot, the store's owner came out from his shop. I half-expected him to challenge me - sorry, but my big-city roots continue to betray my general sense of cynicism - but instead he was smiling. He noticed my Nikon, mentioned he owned one, too, and a delightful bantering session ensued.

In the end, I got my shot, but also came away with a life lesson that mattered far more than any collection of pixels on a memory card ever could. No offense to the big box stores at the edge of town, but I don't think I would have been able to have this moment of connectedness anywhere else. Score one for small-ish town life, and keep your hopes up that it continues to survive in an ever more bottom line driven society.

Your turn: You know the drill...take a picture in support of the theme, post it to your blog, pop back here and leave a comment letting folks know where to find it. Repeat as often as you wish through the week and feel free to bring along a friend or two or three. If you're new to Thematic Photographic, our weekly photo sharing/learning/enjoying activity, just click here. Thanks!