Monday, December 31, 2012

Thematic Photographic 228 - Faves of the Year

Glide on
Delray Beach, FL
January 2012

We're going to make it super-easy for the next week's Thematic: pick your favorite pictures from the past year, then share them.

That's it! Let's go...

Your turn: Thematic is our weekly theme-based photo learning, exploration and enjoying thing. Pick a pic or two or ten that evokes - or merely suggests - the theme, then post it (them) to your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Pop into other participants because these things are more fun when shared. Click here if you'd like more background on how Thematic works.

Soccer? Football? Does it matter?

Blowing in the wind
London, ON
August 2011
Click here to get in your last-minute Thematic warmth

The ground outside is covered in snow, and the roads are just icy enough to make life interesting every time we take the car out. So of course my mind drifts to summery things because they give me something to focus on while I shiver my way through a Canadian winter.

Funny how that works, isn't it? As we sweat through summer, we ponder winter. And while donning parkas and boots, we think about soccer games and little drinks with umbrellas in them. I guess we're never happy with what we've got - a story for another day's writing, perhaps.

The logistics of life conspired against us this year, and we couldn't make it to a warmer place for the winter break. It is what it is, and if that's the biggest challenge we face, we're doing pretty well indeed. But as I close the door to the house early this morning and drive into the darkness, I'll settle into the drive across southern Ontario's hinterlands with a thermos of tea to warm me, a couple of hours worth of podcasts to keep me company, and images like this in my mind to remind me that everything is temporary, and more carefree days lie ahead for all of us.

A rather nice way to end a week of warmth, no?*

Your turn: What keeps you warm when the world is anything but?

* New theme, "faves of the year" launches tonight at 7 p.m. Eastern

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Egg bread to you. Challah to me.

Edible warmth
London, ON
December 2012
Please click here for more Thematic warmth

My lovely wife, bless her, makes bread. Not just any bread. Challah, a traditional Jewish egg bread that we eat to welcome in the Sabbath on Friday night. All together now: Yum!

I snapped this particularly lovely loaf as it was cooling on top of the stove. Our daughter helped make it this time - no one does sesame seeds quite like she does - and the house was soothingly quiet as we waited for it to be ready. The kitchen smelled oh so perfect, and a quick glance to the right revealed a snowy scene reflected in the moonlight just outside the frost-covered window.

It may seem trivial, but small, perfect moments like this make me realize just how lucky we are to have what we have. And to think all it took to open my eyes was a simple loaf of bread.

Your turn: The bread was gone by breakfast. When should we make the next one?

Saturday, December 29, 2012

On motivation and mediocrity

"People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents."
Andrew Carnegie

Glass. Blown.

Light and color
London, ON
April 2010
For more warmth-themed Thematic, head here.

I always feel a little happier when I see this particular shot. Bright colors in the brilliant sun make me feel all warm and fuzzy. What about you?

Friday, December 28, 2012

On passion, life, creativity and Greeks

"True creativity is impossible without some measure of passion."
Teresa Amabile
The other night, we were getting ready for tuck-in when I flipped the TV on and stumbled into the old John Cusack/Kate Beckinsale classic, Serendipity. You know how it is when you re-encounter an old friend on the broadcast-fed small screen: everything else kinda stops and you get sucked in.

Call me hopeless, but that's what happened.

And as often happens when you watch an old movie for the umpteenth time, you discover something new. This time, it was Jeremy Piven's character saying the following:
"You know, the Greeks didn't write obituaries. They only asked one question after a man died: 'Did he have passion?'"
That one made me stop and think. Because I'd like to think that we all have a certain amount of it in us, and that we'd recognize it long before anyone has to write - let alone read - our obituary.

Your turn: what are you passionate about?

One bright tree in the middle of the afternoon

Somewhere on the 401, somewhere in Ontario
October 2009
Thematic. Warmth. Here.

Please forgive the inelegant composition. I was a passenger in the front seat of the car on a relentlessly grey day that had reduced the world outside to a seemingly endless stream of monochrome dreariness. My wife was driving along the 401 and in my attempt to distract myself from this, I was idly fiddling with my camera and seeing what I could capture.

Not much, apparently, but this brilliant tree in an otherwise unbroken stand of green seemed to stand out, and in doing so practically begged for a shot as we zipped past.

In the end, the photo wasn't really worth keeping. But I kept it anyway, because that almost otherworldly color seemed to hold a message for me. That no matter how grey the world might have seemed at that moment, I still had to keep my eyes open for the flashes of unexpected brilliance. Because it was these little surprises along the way that would ultimately spark my ability to re-engage and move on from what at the time was a pretty major hit to my soul.

Looking back, time has done little to fix the soul part - loss changes you, period. But at least I'm able to appreciate the warmth of scenes like this. And all others like them that now fill my days. Color. Warmth. Life. Sounds good to me.

Your turn: Can color inspire you?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Eat a complete breakfast, because Mom said so

London, ON
February 2010
Click here to share your own vision of Thematic warmth
Mom always taught us to never skip breakfast. If we did, all sorts of stuff would happen to us, including, but not limited to, falling asleep in class, blackouts in the school yard and a minor military skirmish in deepest Tasmania.

In my world, you simply ate your brekky every day. Juice, cereal and milk when you were rushing to get to school, or oatmeal if you had the time to linger a little.

The scene to the left is one of those if-you-have-the-time breakfasts, the kind of thing my wife will throw together when the frosted windows barely conceal the wintry landscape outside. If you're really hungry, feel free to click the picture to make it bigger.

I don't fully understand the science of it all, but I really do believe that pancakes - or french toast, or oatmeal, or whatever else warms your insides - taste better on days like today. Because it isn't necessarily the stuff you eat that seems to make it special. Instead, the difference seems to lie in who makes it, why they make it, and how much fun it is to sit around the table and slowly start the day together.

In that regard, and so many others, I lead a pretty sweet life.

Your turn: What does breakfast look - or feel - like to you?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Golden glow over the wetlands

Subtropical in the late afternoon
Delray Beach, FL
December 2009

Thematic. Warmth. Here.

Every time I come back to this picture, I'm taken by the light. It's a deliciously soft, deep south, late afternoon light that seems to almost paint the landscape in unforgettable richness.

The place where this was taken, a wetlands preserve in Florida, is undoubtedly stunning in its own right. But layer on the right kind of light and even beauty can be elevated to another dimension.

I'm guessing this effect could be replicated in PhotoShop. But would that really be the same? I don't think so. Because standing there just before I took the picture, I almost felt out of breath from the scene unfolding before me. It's color and tone that you can almost feel. And it makes me more than a little sad that I can't simply go back to that spot, on a simple boardwalk in the middle of this remarkable place, more often.

Maybe soon. Until then, this photo will have to do.

Your turn: What's your favorite reflective place? Why?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

On being truly rich

"My riches consist not in the extent of my possessions, but in the fewness of my wants."
J. Brotherton

Makes me wonder a little about how we define things, and what we do when we realize those definitions may need an adjustment or two.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Thematic Photographic 227 - Warmth

Start the day right
London, ON
November 2012

Here in the northern hemisphere, winter's just begun. Almost as if on cue, the temperatures are consistently below freezing, and the lawns are covered in white. Not a lot, mind you, but enough to remind us that heading outside to walk the dog is now a multi-stage process of finding and donning parkas, boots and woolies. Because a Canadian winter is nothing to be trifled with.

Which brings us to this week's Thematic theme, warmth. I chose it because it's something we feel more than we actually see. And when you're taking a picture, optics are nothing if they can't make others feel something.

Here's the mug of tea my wife made me yesterday morning. We were having a rare interval of quiet in the middle of a phase of life that's offered precious little of it for months. Most days, we wake up before first light, and don't stop until long after the kids are tucked in. There aren't enough hours in the day to slow down and savour the warmth of simply being. So when a quiet Sunday morning offered this rare commodity up, I reached for my camera.

For the next week, I hope you'll share photos that evoke a sense of warmth. Because the season - and the general state of the world - almost compels us to find warmth wherever we can. I can't wait to see what you come up with.

Your turn: Take a photo that suggests warmth, then post it to your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants' sites to share the joy, and feel free to repeat through the week. Thematic Photographic is our weekly photo sharing/exploration activity (extravaganza? Perhaps...) and anyone with any interest in expanding their photographic horizons is invited to play along. Follow your mouse here for more background.

Carrying the weight of history

Old, yet still vital
Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, QC
August 2010

I have no idea how old this trestle is, but between the overbuilt stonework and unchecked flora growing from in between the cracks, I'm going to guess it's well into the triple-digit range. Which, frankly, delights me. Because in an era of throwaway everything, it's nice to see something built to last, and still performing such a vital function long after supposedly better, newer structures have been declared obsolete.

Your turn: Who built this? (Rhetorical question, of course. Have fun with it.)

One more thing: This photo winds down Thematic's industrial disease theme. There's still time to share your own - just click here and have at it. New theme, warmth, goes live tonight at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

An industrial past, reclaimed

Windows 1.0
Minneapolis, MN
February 2011

Thematic. Industrial Disease. Here.

Not all offices are created equally. Some are custom-built from scratch to offer up all the latest technologies and amenities that their forward-facing owners can come up with. Others are hastily converted retail spaces that offer up about as much inspiration as a Soviet-era missile silo. And then there are the converted old factories that wear their years on their sleeves, challenging all who work there to ponder the history around them.

I think many of us have had plenty of exposure to all of them, and it often seems to be the historic refurbs that get the most attention. This particular office, in a converted factory in Minneapolis, houses an advertising agency. And on a visit there last year, I couldn't stop staring at the lovingly preserved details - like this exposed brick window frame - that turned a onetime sweatshop into a place that now inspires the creative fires of some of the highest profile marketing campaigns in the country.

I've always admired the foresight of those who, when faced with the usually less expensive option to tear down and build new, instead decide to strip away years of neglect and create something uniquely spectacular from the bones of the past. They literally don't build them like they used to, and holding onto these slices of otherwise-lost architecture seems so right even when every spreadsheet column screams otherwise.

Maybe industrial disease isn't a disease at all.

Your turn: Where do you like to work?

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Fill the air with...
Milton, ON
November 2012
For more Thematic industrial disease, click here.

Sometimes on my way to work, I jump off the highway a few exits early to avoid the inevitable traffic that seems to worsen the closer you get to the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). They call it "volume", the inevitable combination of too many cars and not enough road capacity to handle them all.

I feel more than a little guilty that I'm now part of the problem, but life doesn't always have perfectly carved borders, and if commuting means being able to provide more for the folks back home, then that's a tradeoff I'm willing to make. And based on the traffic most mornings, I'm not alone. .

On this particular grey November morning, I could see the smoke plumes long before I approached the plant that produced them. And as soon as they appeared, the little voice inside my head went "ping", and I knew I needed some kind of picture. I always build in lots of buffer time into the drive, so I wasn't rushed when the plant loomed in the windshield and I pulled over.

I shot quickly, silently thanked the road planners who ensured this particular stretch of Steeles had an especially wide and flat shoulder (maybe they were photographers, too) and then just as quickly jumped back in the car and finished the journey.

I wonder what other photo surprises await me the next time I head to work. Any guesses? Any suggestions what I should look for along the way?

Friday, December 21, 2012

On leaving your mark

"They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel."
Carl W. Buechner

Your turn: I touch the lives of those around me by...?

The world didn't end...

The Mayans were wrong, as were all the doomsday adherents who swore six ways from Sunday that December 21, 2012 would be the planet's last.

Well folks, we're still here. I realize we still have a few hours to go, but please forgive me if I claim premature victory. It's Friday, and I'm feeling giddy.

I'm not one to gloat, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to the backtracking tomorrow. It's like when American pastor Harold Camping kept claiming the world was going to end. Then it didn't. So he'd make some excuse, set another date, and then make up a whole new set of excuses when Lucifer once again failed to descend. It was pathetic on one level, yet so embarrassingly entertaining, like watching a Kardashian Christmas.

I accept that the world will always play host to the odd individual who lives a little closer to the edge of the spectrum. I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry, however, when I realize how many others among us seem to hang on their every word. Maybe we're all doomed, after all.

Your turn: So when's the next big Apocalypse scheduled for? Who's up for a party?

One more thing: Since we're all still here, and still conceivably capable of taking a picture, feel free to share some industrial disease by clicking here. Thematic will continue, end-of-the-world notwithstanding.

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Not quite Thomas
London, ON
July 2012
Thematic. Industrial Disease. Here.

Earlier this week, I was cruising to the office in the car, enjoying the dark solitude of the two-lane highway that stretches between London and Woodstock 45-ish km to the east. I love these early morning drives because they really give you the time to ponder the little mysteries of life that you just can't ponder in the middle of a hyper-busy day.

I wasn't going particularly fast, maybe 80 km/h, as I approached a railroad crossing that in my entire time driving this route had never been activated. I wondered if the line had been abandoned, and if so who was responsible for maintaining the uprights that still stood tall beside the road.

I guess my timing was just right, because suddenly, the lights lit up like a Christmas tree, flashing brilliant red as I approached. I was just close enough that I wasn't sure whether I should brake or continue. Stopping would have involved a near-panic stop, so I kept going. I was clear through the other side of Woodstock by the time the adrenaline levels in my body returned to normal.

I guess it was anything but abandoned. Something to keep in mind next time I take this road. Like, tomorrow.

Your turn: Things that surprise you. Please discuss.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

On daring for more

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."
Theodore Roosevelt

Bridge to the past

Girders in green
Montreal, QC
September 2012
Please click here to share your own industrial disease Thematic

The Jacques Cartier Bridge was opened in 1930. Construction began in 1925, which means it was probably designed a few years before that. As I stood under its massive understructure, I thought about the now-vanished engineers who, long before computers transformed the industry, conceived this...thing with nothing more than slide rules, pencils and graph paper. Amazing.

And yet here I stood, almost a century after this process began, watching once-unheard of amounts of modern traffic continue to course over this vital artery. Bridges are indeed the connective tissue of island cities like Montreal, and it's hard to stand under one and not be awed by the historic significance borne on the shoulders of people who knew their creation would far outlive them.

Cool beans.

Your turn: Got a bridge near you that you'd like to talk about?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Godspeed, Chris Hadfield

Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield (bio) - who incidentally comes from Sarnia, just a bit down the road from London - makes history early tomorrow morning when he leaves the planet* along with two other members of his Expedition 34/35 team aboard a Soyuz rocket bound for the International Space Station.

The neat thing: Hadfield will next March become commander of the station, a first for any Canuck. Here's a guy who represents the best of what this country is capable of, not only in terms of absolute achievement, but also the spirit with which he's always carried himself. Listening to him speak, it's hard to come away from the experience and not want to push your own envelope just a little further.

Safe flight, Commander Hadfield. Canada's watching and cheering.

Watch the launch live on SpaceflightNow. Liftoff is scheduled for 7:12 a.m. Eastern, Wednesday, December 19.

On doing nothing

“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”Aristotle
I'd rather stick my neck out and deal with the consequences. Living below the radar isn't really living.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Thematic Photographic 226 - Industrial Disease

Late afternoon in the yards
London, ON
December 2012

With deep respect to Dire Straits, I've always found a perverse sense of joy in exploring post-industrial sites, urban ruins, and other parts of the planet that others might find gritty, dumpy or otherwise worth avoiding. Thing is, I like how they look, feel and even smell. There's a certain sense of what once was, mixed in with what might someday be. Or not, because there's plenty of grinding sadness and loss in these places, too.

Which brings us to this week's Thematic theme, Industrial Disease, and how you can be a part of it. Here goes...

Your turn: Please post a pic that evokes the theme - however loosely. Pop it onto your blog, website, Tumblr page, wherever folks can find it online. Then leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants to spread the optical goodness. Thematic is our weekly photo sharing/learning/enjoying extravaganza. For more background on how it all works, click here.

Glass not quite half full

Delray Beach, FL
January 2011

Thought I'd squeeze in one last shadow-themed pic - see here to squeeze in one of your own - before we launch some Industrial Disease in a little over an hour.

Why this pic? Because we've been sharing shadows all week and most of them have been dark-toned, reflecting a general absence of light. Makes sense, of course. But this shot seems to defy convention. There's just enough brilliance mixed in there that maybe the darkness isn't as dark as we once thought it was.

Hmm, maybe this isn't about simple juice glasses after all.

Your turn: How does this scene make you feel?

Shadows in the sky

Beacons for a safe arrival
London, ON
March 2011

Quick note: this photo ends our week-long exploration of Thematic's shadows theme. If you'd like to share your own, just head here. New theme, industrial disease, launches tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
This is the view skyward from a spot just in front of our house. And although these days it's pitch black when I first back out of the driveway and start the long journey eastward, I wanted to share this shot as it's reflective of what goes through my mind before I get underway.

That's because I've got a fatalist's view of the commute, and I never view the drive as routine. I get that it's a pretty long trip - 160 kilometres, or about 100 miles - in a region where the weather can turn a routine drive into a white-knuckled nightmare before you even know you've got a problem. I hear reports of accidents in the region, and as I count my blessings that it wasn't me I also reflect how easily it could be. I'm already churning the drive in my head long before I step out the door into the cold, dark pre-dawn.

And every time I do, I look up at the blackened sky and stop for a second or two to just take it in. Along the way, the sun will give me a fiery light show somewhere after Woodstock. But for that moment, it's a perfect, inky, velvety, star-studded carpet. And I'd like to think that it'll guide me from above and ensure I make it safely not only to my destination, but back home again at the end of the day.

Your turn: Do you have a travel ritual?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

On little things that aren't

"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."
Robert Brault
Not that I'd ever want to contradict or otherwise betray Mr. Brault's beautifully eloquent reflection, but I'd like to suggest it isn't a "may" proposition, but a "will" one.

I'll venture that little things are big things, and it saddens me to think so many of us miss that subtle point in our own day-to-day lives. Time to change that reality a bit.

Your turn: Today. One little thing. What was it?

Shadows on the water

Energy visualized
Delray Beach, FL
December 2009
Thematic. Shadows. Here.

It's been a tumultuous time in the planet's history, with horrific crimes being committed against children on both sides of the planet, in Newtown, Connecticut as well as Nanchang, China.

While the crimes themselves are numbing, the level of tragedy almost incomprehensible - who shoots 6- and 7-year old kids multiple times? - I admit the discussion after the fact has left me more than a little rattled. While the shooting has renewed calls by many to do something concrete to stop this epidemic from continuing, it has also sparked response by many that you don't dare - now or ever - politicize the deaths of children, that mourning must take precedence over all.

I don't disagree with the need to mourn. I disagree with mourning to the exclusion of a focused, apolitical and community-minded national effort to fix this.

I also don't disagree with the right to bear arms: you want to carry a gun? Sure. But your responsibility doesn't end there. I disagree with a gun lobby so focused on protecting individual rights to purchase and carry weapons that they ignore the obligation to build an infrastructure that gives individuals and society the discipline to use them properly.

I disagree with so-called freedom-loving, G-d-fearing people turning thermonuclear at the mere questioning of the status quo, as if discussion were somehow undemocratic.

The photo above reflects how I feel today. There's energy below the water's surface, driving the waves in patterns that are at once predictable, yet so complex that they may as well be random to us. We don't fully understand the mechanics, but we can't ignore their impact. And to venture out on them without appreciating our vulnerability strikes me as somewhat arrogant.

The dialog has to start now. Who's in?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Newtown, Connecticut Shooting - No Words, Many Words

Here we go again. Another day, another mass shooting. This time, Adam Lanza mowed down 26 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School - including 20 children - as well as his own mother before he turned the gun on himself. There literally are no words to describe a nightmare like this.

In fairness, these mass shootings don't only happen in the U.S. - remember Polytechnique, Dawson College and Concordia, all in my own hometown of Montreal - but the U.S. leads the world by far in their frequency. And I can't believe I'm the only one who's troubled by this.

So I tweeted the following - and also cross-posted it to Facebook:

And wouldn't you know, but it touched off quite the debate on Facebook (read the entire exchange here...feel free to send me a friend request or subscribe to my feed if you can't read it.)

Now, a quick level-set: I'm all up for a good debate. I'm not so arrogant as to believe that I'm always right, or that someone can't come along and open my eyes to a new way of looking at things. That's why I write, why I blog, why I engage at all on social media. Because fascinating moments of learning happen when you get into it with people who don't necessarily see things the way you do.

But then I saw this, and my curiosity was piqued:

Feeling that, perhaps, Mr. Hanson, who has followed my work online for a number of years, misunderstood where I was coming from, I answered him:

And he answered back, confirming that indeed he had misunderstood my intent:

And so on:

And so on:
To the point that things got uglier:

Until I summed it up and tried to end this now-circuitous exchange:

Am I glad I raised the issue? Sure. Am I saddened that society can't seem to put its head together to come up with a collective means of dealing with this growing, unspeakably tragic epidemic? Of course. Does it pain me that not everyone shares this view? You bet.

And as long as this inertia persists, we'll be face palming ourselves in horror time and again. At what point do we all rise up and say enough's enough?

I'm guessing never. And while nothing can ever approach the tragedy of children murdered in cold blood, our collective unwillingness and inability to finally do something about it has to rank as equally tragic, for it dooms future victims to a similar fate.

Raising the issue today may indeed be inappropriate. But inaction of any kind is a significantly more troubling path.

Friday, December 14, 2012

When gouges in the ice = perfection

Carved ice
London, ON
December 2010
Thematic. Shadows. Here.

As the clock ticks down to the seemingly inevitable cancellation of the entire National Hockey League season, I'm reminded of the fact that hockey continues to be played in rinks across the land. Kids gather for chaotic games shinny on neighbourhood rinks that they painstakingly maintain themselves. Moms and dads play with their kids on homebuilt sheets of ice in the back yard, while minor leaguers play to packed houses in smaller communities, ever hopeful that they'll someday get their shot.

Indeed, hockey hasn't disappeared from our landscape. Only the particular brand of it played by a particularly well paid contingent of players, for teams owned and managed by a particularly greedy bunch of businesspeople. The concept of "for the love of the game" apparently means nothing to any of them, which is shameful on so many levels.

Whatever. I took this just before the local Ontario Hockey League team, the London Knights, dropped the puck on a game at what was then known as the John Labatt Centre - and is now called Budweiser Gardens. The seemingly random carvings in the ice were from the kids from local minor hockey leagues who had skated during the pre-game show, and to this day remind me that simple is always better, and dreams always start at a very young age.

Your turn: For the love of the game. What does this phrase mean to you?

Someone's giving you the finger

Touch me
Toronto, ON
August 2008
To share your Thematic shadow vision, just click here.

The neatest sights often lie mere inches under your nose. And when the sun shines through a kitchen window and lights up what would otherwise be an entirely everyday scene, your only option is to break out the camera and have some fun with something that probably hasn't been shot before.

Who would have thought you could have so much fun with a yellow rubber glove?

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

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On finding courage

"Courage is found in unlikely places."
J.R.R. Tolkien

Your turn: Such as...?

Shadows of lives lived

London, ON
March 2012
For more Thematic shadows, please click here.

Architecture wears its age on its sleeve. Just look at any building - a house, an office, whatever - and in a subconscious blink you can instantly tell around how old it is simply by way it's built and accessorized.

This old house does little to betray its postwar, East London roots. The rusting, bent railing begs questions of how it came to be this way, and what stories took place on these time worn, humble steps. It also makes you wonder about the people who lived here, and where they ended up.

There's a story in everything, and our challenge is to take the time to drink it in and wonder, in the things we can see, about the things we cannot.

Your turn: Who lived here?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

On learning to appreciate kindness

"When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people."Abraham Joshua Heschel
Poignant, this. If only we learned to admire kindness sooner...

Monday, December 10, 2012

Thematic Photographic 225 - Shadows

Lit by the setting sun
London, ON
March 2012

Shadows aren't always the easiest optical phenomena to shoot. If you expose for the dark spots, you risk blowing highlights everywhere else. But dial down the exposure and your shadows could become featureless black holes. Oy, the can't-win feeling of stress.

But that's the neat thing about photography: you're always trying to figure out some sort of compromise. And if you do it right, you end up with a picture that makes you think. For the next week, shadows are our challenge. And much thinking will be done in the land as a result. Are you ready?

Your turn: Take a picture either of a shadow, or of something that evokes a shadow. Getting it right isn't the goal here. Enjoying the process, on the other hand, is. Post the shot to your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants and feel free to post more contributions through the week. We won't complain if you bring along someone new, too. New to Thematic? Click here and all will be explained. Can't wait to see the amazing things you do with this theme!

Look both ways

Not quite walking the line
Delaware, ON
November 2012

I'd never dare shoot something like this in the big city. But out in the country, where you can see and hear traffic for miles around, it seemed like a worthwhile risk.

It was such a crisp day to be walking around that just looking at the picture brings me back to what it felt like to breathe in the air. It was a really good morning.

Your turn: What's your favorite kind of weather? Why?

One more thing: In addition to helping me see just how big my ears are, this photo also closes out our "mellow yellow" Thematic Photographic theme. There's still time to get in a last-minute submission by clicking here. Our new theme, shadows, launches tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

On finding the right path

"If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn't lead anywhere."Frank Clark
Yup. Adversity makes the end result worth it. Otherwise, where's the value, learning and satisfaction?

This little (sponsored) light of mine

Show me the HP way
Shanghai, China
May 2012
Thematic. Yellow. Here.

I think more cars should have subtly etched logos in their headlight covers. I don't know why, but it seems like a cool thing to have, no?

Saturday, December 08, 2012

On piercing the darkness

"The darkness of the whole world cannot swallow the glowing of a candle."
Robert Altinger
This resonates with me, because the individual, in the face of overwhelming adversity - or overwhelming anything, if we're being realistic - often wonders whether a small gesture against the tide is even worth attempting.

Mr. Altinger's words remind me that indeed it is. Because a whole lot of seemingly small, seemingly insignificant gestures can very quickly add up to something much more powerful than they might have initially seemed.

With that in mind, the darkness never stands a chance.

If you celebrate Chanukah, may all those little lights combine to cast a warming glow over you and your family. If you celebrate something else, my wish for you is exactly the same. Because we're all connected, and we all need better ways of lighting up the darkness.

Your turn: How do you find that light?

Come sail away

Wind powered
Port Stanley, ON
July 2012
Please click here to share your own yellow-themed Thematic

They don't go tremendously fast. They're pretty labour intensive to both maintain and operate. They're hardly practical or affordable for average folks. Yet when a sailboat unfurls its sails and captures the wind, it looks and feels like pure magic.

Even standing on the shore watching this old boat silently slip past, you know something special is going on. Practicalities aside, life on the water would be a neat way to experience the world, don't you think?

Friday, December 07, 2012

On living in the past. Or not.

“It’s not that I want to live in my past, it’s that I want my past to live in me.”
Elie Wiesel

Millions of years in the making

Amber spectrum
Shanghai, China
May 2012
Please head here for more Thematic mellow yellow

You don't necessarily take a certain photo because it's significant or because it tells an important story. Not every photo needs to have that much weight on its shoulders. Sometimes you take the shot because you simply like the look of it.

I think this is one of those photos. It brings me comfort.


Thursday, December 06, 2012

Last of a dying (yellow) breed

When I arrived home one morning last month and found this on the front step, I have to admit I just stood there and stared at the thing for a couple of minutes. The yellow pages were once, very long ago, a kitchen staple. In the pre-commercial-Internet era, this pub WAS the Internet, a gateway into what was out there and how to find it. We'd keep it stored alongside the white pages, and the two were frequently hauled out whenever we needed to reach out and touch someone.

But that was then. Today, changeable information no longer lingers in dog-eared annual publications. It's updated in real-time, accessed from whatever device happens to be closest at hand. Like the TV Guide before it, this chunk of a dead tree seems to have no place anymore. Yet here it was, mysteriously in front of my house.

I didn't immediately chuck it into the recycling box. For all the limitations of paper as a near-real-time medium, nothing tops a meandering browse through the low-quality newsprint. It's like a virtual cruise through parts of your community that you haven't seen in a while. Or ever. And no electronic tool will ever replicate the experience.

Something tells me we'll miss this when it's gone for good.

Your turn: Will we? Why/why not?

One more thing: Thematic. Mellow yellow. Here.

#SubaruDrive heads-up

I'm doing something supremely cool at work tomorrow (oops, it's today already...I've GOT to start getting to sleep earlier.)

Anyway, my sleeplessness notwithstanding, Microsoft Canada is holding an event on Thursday morning in its parking lot at its Canadian head office in Mississauga. Subaru Canada is bringing a bunch of cars. We'll put some journalists and analysts in them, and turn them loose on a slalom course.

We'll let them experience Subaru's lifesaving EyeSight technology first-hand, and we'll discuss how Microsoft technology - namely Lync - helps Subaru do some pretty agile stuff in a massively competitive automotive market.

We're calling it the Subaru Drive event, and I'll be tweeting from the @MicrosoftCanada Twitter handle, using the #SubaruDrive tag throughout the morning.

Tune in if you can - I promise it'll be fun. In the meantime, enjoy this bit of automotive photographic loveliness, otherwise known as the Subaru BRZ. Yes, I want.

(As an aside, I shot both of these with my Windows Phone. Mobile photography rocks, no?)

Your turn: Your favorite car is...? Because...?

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

If you build it, they will come

The future of health care
Montreal, QC
July 2012
To share your own mellow yellow Thematic, click here.

Construction sites offer an almost limitless number of opportunities for photographers. Their transient nature makes them a compelling target of opportunity, because if you don't go Right Now you'll miss it forever. For the entire duration of a project, every day offers up a buffet of optical choice, only to be replaced by an almost completely different buffet the next time you visit.

This one's a neat one, as it's an extension to the Jewish General Hospital, the place where my wife and I were born - though not on the same day. It's also where her mom had been admitted this summer, and where we had gone to visit her.

Thankfully, patients weren't being seen in the building you see here (sorry, couldn't resist.) In the years since I lived in the now-long-gone paeds ward, they've added on so many new wings that it was initially hard to figure out where I once was. But a funny thing happened as we got off the 6th floor elevator and turned toward her room: it all looked incredibly familiar. After I was all fixed up, the hospital had closed the paeds ward and converted it to geriatrics in a poignant comment on the evolution of today's society.

As we got further down the hall, I realized that this was exactly where I had stayed when I was a kid. And although the rooms themselves had been heavily renovated and the numbers on the wall were all new (617 is now just a memory), this had been my home away from home long ago.

As the kids chatted with my in-laws, I slowly paced the halls and tried to remember what it had once looked - and felt - like. I wandered into a waiting room and looked south toward the St. Joseph's Oratory and St. Mary's Hospital (where our eldest was born.) The photo on the right encompasses the view I had, then and now.

As I turned my eye back inside, I realized how much had changed. The playroom was now a sunroom, complete with old furniture covered in cracked vinyl upholstery. The sounds of kids had been replaced by those of folks at the other end of life's spectrum, a hallway now crowded with haphazardly strewn walkers, hampers and charging medical equipment. It saddened me to think of how much need we now have for places like this, and how glad I am that we have them in the first place.

The yellow supports in the photo above will eventually give way to new spaces for health care, research and outpatient care. Future generations of patients and families will have their own connected moments with this place. Some will be happy, though most, I fear, will be anything but. You can paint them any color you want, but sooner or later we'll all find ourselves here for one reason or another.

Your turn: Got a hospital story to share?

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

My Canadian Tire experience

I drive a car. Not because I particularly enjoy the experience - I don't - but because I have to. Because self-determined mobility is key to my ability to build a career that provides for my family.

So when something needs fixing, I need a relatively stress-free means of getting it taken care of. Because life has enough stress in it as it is.

So last week, when the headlight on my car burned out, I called the local Canadian Tire to get it fixed. Now, normally I'd change my own headlight. But my car is built in such a way that I'd have to remove a chunk of the bumper to make that happen. I wield a keyboard for a living: mechanical/handy stuff just isn't my thing. (And, no, I won't be buying this car again...who designs cars so stupidly?)

When I called the store, the attendant told me they weren't taking appointments, but I could come in as a walk-in. Fair enough. So off I went to the store. When I showed up, the attendant behind the counter - the same one who I had spoken to on the phone - rolled her eyes when I explained why I was there. She said nothing as she scrunched her face up, walked over to one of her colleagues and asked him to sign me in, then waved me halfheartedly in his general direction as she rushed to the back of the store.

Thankfully her colleague was nice enough. He explained what they needed to do and what it would cost before getting the keys from me and giving me an ETA.

Later, when the work was done, I had the good luck to have the same eye-roller. She didn't make eye contact, didn't smile, didn't say thank you. Just scowled in my general direction, mumbled the final amount, took my money, printed the bill, shoved it - and 5 cents in Canadian Tire Money - at me and walked away.

Now, I'm not an unfriendly person. I was perfectly approachable both on the phone and in the store. I tend to overdo the nice-guy thing when I'm out and about because, well, it's the right thing to do. So to come across someone who so doesn't get it, who so ruins the experience by treating me with near-hostility is, to be honest, perplexing. And it makes me pretty angry that I'm handing over my money to a store whose employees don't seem to give a damn about their customers.

I get that not everyone has good days. I get that we're all human, and we can't be Miss Mary Sunshine every minute of every day. I also get that when you're in a public-facing role, you need to either suck it up and figure it out, or find another job that allows you to scowl with impunity.

As you can imagine, I didn't confront her or anyone else in the store. Instead, I turned to Twitter and Facebook:

In doing so I touched off a bit of a discussion. Lots of friends weighed in, often sharing less than complimentary views on their shopping experiences here. It got me wondering about the choices we make as consumers when we reach for our wallets, and the strategies used by retailers to connect their brands to us.

It also got me wondering how quickly it can all unravel when they trip up on something as fundamentally simple as recruitment (hire the right people), retention (keep them, keep them motivated), training (give them the tools to build lasting, meaningful customer relationships), and rewards (recognize them for excellence and help them build themselves and your business in the process.)

I'm not saying that everyone at this particular store is unworthy of employee-of-the-month honours. Indeed, I've had lovely discussions with some of the cashiers there. But the negative experiences under this brand's banner are frequent enough - for me and for my social media peeps - that it's obvious Canadian Tire, both at a corporate and a store level, is facing some fairly obvious brand management issues. You can spend all you want on wall-to-wall holiday season advertising, but it all falls apart if your front-line staff members consistently treat customers like they don't want them to be there. And it happens often enough to me and those around me that when I shared my latest experience, no one was surprised.

To its credit, Canadian Tire tweeted a response later that evening:

I didn't respond immediately - I'm logging long days in a fabulously engaging new role, and wrestling with a retailer over a snooty employee simply can't be a priority right now - but a quick glance at my site's analytics just now shows they've been sniffing around.

I thought the time necessary to write an email would be better spent in sharing the experience here, as social media platforms provide a far better means of generating positive response. When discussion is held out in the open and not shuttered away in some one-on-one, we're-really-sorry-here-have-a-coupon exchange, the potential for real, lasting change increases significantly.

I'll email the link to the address in the tweet above and will see what happens. Stay tuned.

Update - Dec. 09, 2012: I haven't received a response to my email. I tweeted them to let them know I had submitted one, but I'm guessing after this amount of time, I likely won't be hearing from them. Disappointing.

Update 2 - Jan. 23, 2013: Despite multiple emails, I haven't heard back from Canadian Tire's customer service team. I've got better things to do with my time, and will no longer pursue this matter. Something to keep in mind whenever I need anything. And, yes, I'm still disappointed, but it is what it is. Lesson learned.

Your turn: What do you do when you run into a less-than-satisfactory retail experience? I'd love to hear what y'all have to say.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Thematic Photographic 224 - Mellow Yellow

World in flames
Shanghai, China
May 2012
This week's theme is "Mellow Yellow". It's as easy to interpret as it sounds: if it's yellow, it qualifies. As you can see here, I went the glass sculpture route, because you can never go wrong with glass sculpture.

Short sidebar: When I was in Shanghai this past May, we went to the Shanghai Museum of Glass. The place was, to put it mildly, like an artistic wonderland. I could have hung out there for days figuring out new and fascinating ways of shooting the unbelievably stunning creations crammed inside.

I guess I'll just have to go back someday.

Your turn: Shoot a yellow-themed pic, then post it to your blog and leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants, and feel free to repeat the process through the week - because one yellow photo is never quite enough. Invite friends along, as well, because photographic insanity is always more fun with others. And enjoy yourself, because that's what Thematic is all about. For more background, click here.

Royal baby watch - Will and Kate expecting

The Internets say this is happening, so it must be true: Kate is pregnant. I can almost hear People Magazine editors dancing and celebrating into the wee hours of the night, as they couldn't rely indefinitely on Lindsay Lohan and Justin Bieber to sustain their magazine sales.

In all seriousness, once we dispense with the usual silliness over royal this and royal that, I trust we'll all let the young couple get on with the very real work associated with starting a family. Sure, they're famous by virtue of birth and marriage, but they're no more immune from the frightening realities of parenthood than anyone else.

Just wanted us to keep that in mind as we go about the rhythms of our own admittedly more mundane lives. May this growing family be granted the space it needs to find a safe and healthy path as it prepares to welcome the first of its next generation. Mazel tov to all.

When you can almost touch that 747

Jumbo out the window
Detroit, MI
December 2011

About this photo: We're winding down this week's Thematic fly theme. Feel free to click here to submit yours, as we're still accepting submissions. New theme, mellow yellow, goes live tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.
It's not often you get to go nose-to-nose with a 747. Or a 400-series craft like this one. Sure, Boeing's iconic plane is no longer the biggest commercial airframe in the biz - that honor goes to the Airbus A380. But it still has a certain appeal that'll always stop me dead in my tracks. Especially if one materializes on the outside of the airport terminal window.

One minute my wife and kids and I were wandering toward our gate, excitedly chattering about our upcoming flight to a much warmer place. The next, we were staring at this, and suddenly I was the kid in the toy store.

Your turn: Where's this plane going? Who's on it?

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Bird on

I'm so pretty
Deerfield Beach, FL
December 2011
More Thematic

I'm not quite sure what this lovely bird was trying to say, but he (she? I can never tell) sure grabbed my attention in the busy parking lot. We had just gotten out of the car - Juliette the Jeep is in the background - and amid the noise of the busy shopping mall, this one bird stood out.

Fate? Who knows. But she (I'm going to go with she. Thanks for humoring me) hung around long enough for me to compose and shoot. Thank you, sweet bird. Safe flight.

Your turn: What's she saying?

On finding beauty amid desolation

"Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy."
Anne Frank

Words to live by...

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Cloudy with a whole lot of sun

Over the Pacific Ocean
May 2012
To share your own fly-themed pic, click here

Clouds aren't random at all. There's rhyme and reason for everything that happens in the atmosphere. If I hadn't believed that before snapping this picture, this one frame would have been enough to change my mind.

I haven't been able to keep myself from coming back to this shot and just staring at it in the months since I first took it. I can't explain why, but I keep seeing new things in it every time I load it up.

Your turn: What do you see here?

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?