Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Power to the people

I get a charge out of you
London, ON
November 2014
Thematic. Faves of the year. Here.
It's a scene that's played out countless times over the past year: I finish up an interview in the local studio, then wander through the newsroom on my way out to the parking lot. In many ways this place has become a home away from home for me, a place where everyone knows me and always manages to connect with a kind word before I have to get back to the outside world.

It's also something of a toy store for grown-ups, stuffed with technology and tools that allow professionals - not the wannabes like me - to produce real television news, day in and day out. And every time I'm here, my eye catches something else that seems to beg for a little lens time.

This day is no different as I catch sight of something you don't see much of anymore. The classic 9-volt battery was a staple of my childhood, as it powered more kids' toys than you can imagine. More often than not, I had to fetch my dad to help me unscrew the battery compartment and, of course, fetch a fresh new battery from the store. Or wherever he kept them stashed in the house.

Today, we charge and recharge our devices. And my kids are just as likely to ask to borrow my adapter as they are to ask where I've hidden the replacement batteries. The world has changed. Yet here, where the news waits for no one, being caught without power, even for a second, simply isn't part of the equation.

I'm glad I stopped in here today. I'm guessing more optical delights await in this welcoming place in the new year.

Your turn: Have you had a blast from the past recently?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

On seeing beauty

"Everything has beauty, but not everyone can see."
I sort of feel sorry for those who can't. Or won't. Whatever the cause, they're missing out.

Coffee is served

Mug filled
London, ON
October 2014
Thematic. Faves of the year. Here.
Our house is a chaotic place. We all come and go at different times of day and night. Boundaries between day and night are often stretched, with early-morning writing jags and lifts to choir offset by late-night walks with the dog or report card-writing sessions. I don't think this place has an off-button.

We often use notes - handwritten, on paper, just like the old days - to connect with each other. While we all have smartphones, and we use them constantly to stay in touch and keep everyone on-schedule and in the right place at the right time (yes, I'll be there at 5:25 when you're finished work...) there's something, I don't know, substantial, about a slip of paper on the kitchen table. Or in this case, tucked up against a mug filled with steaming-hot goodness on an otherwise cold and dark morning.

I love my life for a whole lot of reasons. A simple note on a simple mug of coffee reinforces the why. And reminds me why I'm as lucky as I am.

Your turn: Do you still write on paper? To whom? And why?

Monday, December 29, 2014

On why we're here

"The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why."
Mark Twain
Which, of course, begs the question: Why do you think you're here?

Saturday, December 27, 2014

AirAsia Airbus, Flight QZ8501, is missing

Frightening news from the aviation industry, where an AirAsia Airbus A320-200 with a reported 162 people on board has gone missing. The aircraft, operating as flight QZ8501, had been flying from Indonesia (SUB) to Singapore (SIN) when air traffic controllers lost contact.

Reuters reports the flight crew had asked for an "unusual route" before the flight disappeared.

The Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia-based low-cost airline offers both domestic and international flights, and it flies to 100 destinations in 22 countries.

Indonesian Transport Ministry spokesperson Hadi Mustofa said the plane lost communication with the airport of origin - Surabaya Juanda International Airport - 42 minutes after taking off at 5:27 a.m. Sunday local time (4:27 p.m. Saturday ET). It had been scheduled to land at Singapore's Changi Airport at 8:37 a.m. local (7:30 p.m. ET).

The plane was carrying 155 passengers (138 adults, 16 children, 1 baby) and 7 crew. Reports indicate passenger nationalities are as follows: 149 Indonesian, 3 Korean, 1 Singaporean, 1 Briton and 1 Malaysian.

The flight vanished over the Java Sea between Kalimantan and Java islands. Aircraft's last known contact was at location TAVLIP, at 32,000 feet in altitude.

Update - 11:02 pm ET: AirAsia has just posted the following to its Facebook page:


AirAsia Indonesia regrets to confirm that flight QZ8501 from Surabaya to Singapore has lost contact with air traffic control at 07:24hrs this morning.

At the present time we unfortunately have no further information regarding the status of the passengers and crew members on board, but we will keep all parties informed as more information becomes available.

The aircraft was an Airbus A320-200 with the registration number PK-AXC.

At this time, search and rescue operations are in progress and AirAsia is cooperating fully and assisting the rescue service.
AirAsia has established an Emergency Call Centre that is available for family or friends of those who may have been on board the aircraft. The number is: +622129850801.

AirAsia will release further information as soon as it becomes available. Updated information will also be posted on the AirAsia website,

The airline also reset its logo and cover image on its Facebook page to grey.

Update - 11:05 pm ET: Satellite imagery from around the time of the plane's disappearance shows significant thunderstorms in the area. Aircraft had requested permission to climb from its assigned FL320 to FL380.

More as it becomes known.

Related Links:

Thematic Photographic 322 - Favorite Photos of the Year

Sunset with my best friend
Grand Bend, ON
July 2014
I'd like to end the year off with a bit of a photographic bang. Instead of picking a theme, I want you to look into your own photographic archives and pick your favorite pictures of the year. Photography matters to me, and I know it matters to you - which is why we do the Thematic thing in the first place, right?

I'd like to throw in a bit of a twist, too. Instead of simply posting the picture, please let us know why it's your favorite.

I'll start: Say hello to my lovely wife, Debbie. We took this selfie on our annual, now-very-traditional trek to the beach to celebrate our wedding anniversary. (This is what it looked like in 2005.) Living so close to two Great Lakes, it feels right to grab a day and just spend it quietly together in a place that's always held extra meaning for us both.

While every year's sojourn is special, this one resonated more deeply than usual given my little medical adventure last year. When you come close to losing moments like this, you learn to cherish them more than mere words can say. That, and just look at her. I'll never get tired of just staring.

Your turn: Take a picture or choose one that you've already taken. Pop it onto your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit others to share in the photographic goodness, and feel free to share additional pictures in the days to come. If you're new to the Thematic thing, click here and all will be explained. Otherwise, please accept my thanks for continuing to make Thematic such a highlight for me and everyone else who participates.

Parking structure, 6:24 a.m.

Before the day begins
London, ON
November 2014
Now that I work downtown, my daily routine has undergone a fairly radical - and welcome - rethink. The 30-second commute in my jammies to my home office has been replaced by a relatively short, 7.2 km drive to a parking structure in the middle of town. For the record, I do not wear my jammies, but I do my best to get in early because that quiet time before the rest of the office awakes can often be my most productive time of the day. I can't guarantee I always keep my shoes on, though.

While I'll be cycling to the office as often as I can when the weather gets warmer, the realities of a Canadian winter mean I'll be taking my car for the next few months. And since I believe in embracing even the most routine aspects of day-to-day life, I've been trying to cover the experience with a camera.

That often means some impromptu parking structure photography as I make my way from the car into the adjacent building. The place may be a brutalist example of 1970s-era urban design, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have its own kind of aesthetic worth. Now that I'm lucky enough to pass through this space every working day, I won't pass up the opportunity to share at least part of the story of this place.

I know, I'm strange like that. Tell me what else you want to see. I've got lots of room on my media card.

Friday, December 26, 2014

On taking the time to learn

"One of the biggest problems with the world today is that we have large groups of people who will accept whatever they hear on the grapevine, just because it suits their worldview—not because it is actually true or because they have evidence to support it. The really striking thing is that it would not take much effort to establish validity in most of these cases…but people prefer reassurance to research."
Neil deGrasse Tyson
For years, as I've scrolled through Facebook newsfeeds and Twitter streams, I've often wondered why so many members of the online community seem to content themselves with simply cutting, pasting and forwarding whatever it is that crosses their path, all without giving it a second thought. Dr. Tyson's always been great at many things, and pressing people's buttons is one of his many skills. This time out, as he so often does, he nails it.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Are you a defender of the status quo?

I don't know who originally wrote this passage, but I knew as soon as I walked into an office and saw this hanging on the wall that I needed to capture and remember it in some way.

See, the office where I found it was a corporate lab, an attempt by a company many of you likely already know to break the mold of legacy and come up with fresh, new ways to think and act. The company, a large financial services org, recognized the only way to accomplish this was to set up something completely separate from the mothership, in the region's leading tech incubator, and to set its people loose.

I spoke with the lab's leader for the better part of an hour, and came away inspired in ways I'm still having difficulty putting into words. He gets it, and he's surrounded by people who get it, as well. The world is, apparently, in very good hands when folks like him are leading the way.

Here's what the members of his team look up to. Now, you can, too:
"The defenders of the status quo will hate your idea. They don't like anything bold or fresh or daring. They are quick to dismiss the passionate, creative and resourceful who venture courageously forward. They have a distaste for heretics, catalysts, innovators, outliers, linchpins and people who make it happen. They don't even like the taste of coffee. The defenders of the status quo live in a neat and tidy nine to five world. They love to say "That's the way we've always done it." They put the kibosh on possibility before it's ever seen the light of day. The defenders of the status quo are perfectly happy milking their cash cows to death. They are terrified you'll put your creative idea into action. Quit waiting The defenders of the status quo are no match for you."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Keys of opportunity

That warm glow
London, ON
November 2014
This is my laptop. I'm generally not one to wax poetic about the "stuff" that I own, because life isn't so much about what you have, but about what you do with it. I could probably rip this thing apart and put it back together by the end of lunchtime, but at the same time I could never be bothered to look up how fast the processor is, and precisely which graphics board the machine came with. Specs mean little. It's what those specs let you accomplish...that's the ticket.

The reason I share this now is because when I look at it, I see not the object - an Apple MacBook Pro - but the potential embodied within that object. This is my writer's tool, the thing that I use to take the chaotic electrical pulses flipping through my rather convoluted brain and turn them into words that make some kind of sense and, if I play my cards right, inspire others to perhaps look at the world just a little differently.

When I'm in the middle of nowhere, it is this simple device that lets me research anything, anywhere and come up with "stuff" that reads well, helps others, and feeds my family. So much rides on this one slice of technology, and in the process it has become a veritable extension of who I am.

I know this makes me somewhat of an oddball. I'm strangely okay with that.

Your turn: A piece of technology that means something more to you is...?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Thematic Photographic 321 - Where you work

Where the magic happens
London, ON
December 2014
I'm a little slow getting this week's Thematic posted. Life, as they say, has been busy this week, and as workload has cut into sleep a little more than usual, I've decided to let my need to sleep win over my wish to blog. My bad, I know, but I can always write more once I've rested myself up. Thanks for your patience.

Given the reason for the two-day delay - Thematic is supposed to be a Monday thing - I thought it might be appropriate to zoom in on the reason for the busy-life thing. So welcome to my office. As you can see, it's admittedly minimalist to allow me to focus on the very monkish act of writing. The fewer distractions the better, so my little cocoon of creativity has a minimum of "stuff". In its place, a  ridiculously comfy chair, a similarly  ridiculously comfy desk, and an insulated stainless steel water cup courtesy of my lovely daughter.

Somewhere out of frame is a pile of chocolate chip cookies. Because I'm addicted. Please don't judge me.

That keyboard? I'd buy ten of them if I could, just to ensure I'll never run out of them. And that iPad is stuffed with countless hours of writing music. With enough tea in me, I could hang out here for a very long time, and I'd enjoy every minute of it. Indeed, I already do.

Your turn: Point the camera at your place of work and post the resulting pic to your blog or website (or Facebook, or Twitter...pretty much anywhere online will do.) Leave a comment here with a link back to it. Visit other participants to share the photographic happiness, and pop additional pics into the fray later in the week if you wish. Head here if Thematic is new to you. Or simply start shooting if you've done this before. Can't wait to see where you work, and to hear the stories behind it.

On character vs. reputation

"Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are."John Wooden
I never played competitive basketball, but everything I've read about Mr. Wooden suggests rather strongly that I wish I had, and I wish I had played for him.

Your turn: Who inspired you to become who you are? Pick one. Why?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On little things that aren't so little

"Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."
Robert Brault
The only thing I'd change here - as if I could ever change someone else's quote, but humor me for a moment - is the "may" part.

Indeed, little things are big things, but most of us seem too preoccupied to pick up on that subtle cue. When you run out of "things" - or, to be more precise, time - you quickly realize the smallest moments are, in the end, the only things that matter.

Your turn: What's the most important little thing that's happened to you - lately or ever?

Monday, December 15, 2014


After the breakup
London, ON
December 2014
Thematic. Homemade. Here.
I wanted to end off this week's homemade theme - head here to share yours - with the somewhat sad sight of shattered eggshells.

In many respects, the egg is one of those perfect little structures of nature and biology, a self-contained engineering masterpiece that even mighty, tech-forward humans couldn't have invented. It's somewhat humbling, then, to come across an egg and think about how it came to be, and how little we truly understand about its origins and evolution.

I get weird like this every once in a while. Okay, perhaps more often than that. Thanks for indulging me.

Your turn: What other seemingly routine everyday objects make you stop and wonder?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hostage taking in Sydney, Australia

News is breaking now from Sydney, Australia, where an apparent hostage-taking by a suspect - or suspects - who has/have unfurled an Islamist flag in the central business district is underway. News organizations and social media describe a major police activity in the downtown core, which is near the state parliament building.

Reports indicated at least 13, possibly as many as 20 hostages, may be inside the Lindt Chocolat Cafe which is part of the Martin Place shopping complex. Reports are also circulating that the Sydney Opera House (map) which is only1.2 km from the site (map) of the hostage-taking (directions), is being evacuated as a precaution after a suspicious package was apparently seen on-site. The airspace above the city has also been closed to air traffic to allow law enforcement helicopters to operate unfettered.

My already-scheduled weekly CTV News Channel segment, Clicked In, with Scott Laurie, was quickly restructured to instead focus on the events unfolding in Sydney. We spoke about the role that technology plays in events like this, and how social media both helps and hinders law enforcement's efforts to bring things to a safe end.

[Deep breath.]

Update 1: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has released the following statement:
"New South Wales Police and the Australian Federal Police are currently responding to a reported hostage-taking incident in Martin Place in Sydney.

I have spoken with NSW Premier Mike Baird and offered him all possible Commonwealth support and assistance.

The National Security Committee of Cabinet has also convened for briefings on the situation.

This is obviously a deeply concerning incident but all Australians should be reassured that our law enforcement and security agencies are well trained and equipped and are responding in a thorough and professional manner.

We will provide regular updates as further information becomes available."
Update 2: The PM will be holding a press conference at 8:30 p.m. Eastern, 12:30 p.m. local time. Key comments from the press conference:
  • We don't yet know the motivation of the perpetrator. We don't know whether this is politically motivated, although obviously there are some indications that this could be.
  • The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people out of being themselves
  • Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society. Nothing should ever change that, and that's why I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual.
  • This is an unfolding situation and as the situation unfolds there will be operational updates provided by the NSW Police.
  • I want to assure people that the ordinary business of government must go on. And it will go on.
  • This is a very disturbing incident. I can understand the concerns and anxieties of the Australian people at a time like this.
  • I do urge everyone to exercise caution in their reporting.
Update 3 - 8:45pm - Reuters reporting the U.S. consulate near the cafe (map, directions) is being evacuated and an emergency warning has been issued to U.S. citizens urging them to "maintain high level of vigilance."

Update 4: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has shared his thoughts via Twitter:
Foreign Minister John Baird has also weighed in:
Update 5: Mashable reporting Uber has implemented surge pricing in Sydney. Can we say ripoff?
Related Links:

On inspiring greatness in others

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."
Mark Twain
My challenge to myself today, then, is to look for ways to make those around me feel that they, too, can become great. How will YOU inspire those around you, as well?

Shooting the mysteries of the night

Tree, mist and light
London, ON
December 2014

Click or tap photo to embiggen
As soon as I stepped outside the door with the dog last night, I knew it would be an interesting walk. The air looked foggy, that surreal mistiness that brings to mind bad old movies and similarly hackneyed old movie soundtracks. The cold, clammy, almost touchable scene seemed to be a character in and of itself.

I'm not sure Frasier appreciated the moment - he was a little busy charging around the corner of the house as all of this was dawning on me - but already my mind was racing. I wanted to get a picture of it, but shooting at night is a challenging proposition at the best of times. Even if you have the right camera, a tripod, and all the time in the world, low-light shooting in variable conditions like we encountered on this particular night is a recipe for failure, a virtual guarantee that most, if not all, of what you bring back will be fodder for the recycling bin.

And on this evening, I had none of the so-called "right" stuff with me. DSLR? Nope. Tripod? Ah, no. Time? Not with a perpetually antsy 30-pound miniature schnauzer yanking at the leash as he wandered aimlessly from one side of the darkened road to the other. I shouldn't have been shooting anything on this night. And yet...

The trees seemed to beckon as I walked past and caught their silhouetted forms in the diffused light of the sodium vapor streetlamps. The trunks seemed an ominous as any I'd ever seen on old episodes of Scooby Doo, while the smaller branches on the extended canopies glinted in ways I had never seen before.

Which was kind of odd given how many hundreds of times I've walked these very streets since we first brought Frasier home. Even now, the seemingly familiar landscape offered up something new. And as much as I tried to keep walking, that little voice in my head kept telling me I needed to record the moment in some way.

So I used the camera that I had, my BlackBerry Passport, and tucked the leash as tightly under my arm as I could while I calmly begged our now-curious pup to sit quietly while I composed and shot. It wasn't easy - more than a few images blurred out as the little furry man decided to dig his nose into some nearby bushes or explore the magic of a parked car's front passenger-side tire - but in the end I think everything worked out.

I'm guessing there will be more spontaneous smartphone shoots in my future. And I'm guessing Frasier will just have to get used to being outside for a little while longer.

Your turn: Ever take a picture with your phone or smartphone that made you go, "Whoa"? Do tell - or even drop a link to it in a comment.

Related links:

Saturday, December 13, 2014

On sharing happiness

"Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared."
Gautama Buddha

Comfort food to start the day

Warmth on a plate
(Homemade by my lovely wife.)
London, ON
October 2014
For more homemade Thematic, head here.
If breakfast is the most important meal of the day - and I have plenty of anecdotal, unscientific proof that says it most certainly is - then it's probably not a bad idea to record it somehow for future generations to see.

At least that's what I tell myself every time I break out the camera to take pictures of whatever it is that I'm about to consume. I am nothing if not predictable.

Your turn: What do you love most about breakfast?

Friday, December 12, 2014

On using your gifts

"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, I used everything you gave me."
Erma Bombeck
Wise words from a wise - and very much missed - individual.

Your turn: We were all born with a unique talent, something we were destined to use in our day-to-day lives. What's yours? And how are you using it?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Artist in Residence

Seeing the forest for the trees
London, ON
December 2014
All works by Debbie Levy. Click or tap to enlarge.

I've spent a lifetime working my way up to being able to create stick figures, so it's quite an experience for me to live in a house with a wife and daughter who can sketch, draw and paint circles - and virtually anything else - around me.

Aside from the practical applications - homegrown art throughout the house - it's the kind of thing that so often makes you stop in your tracks and wonder about where this comes from, and how some people seem to be gifted with it, while others not.

I find it inspiring when they carve time out of their lives to get into the creative groove. There's never enough time for any of us to get to all of our wants because we're often so busy focusing on the needs. Yet art feeds the soul, and no one has ever had to explain that to the two most important ladies in my life.

So my wife took art classes at a local studio this semester, and as much as she came home each week bubbling from the experience, I hadn't had a chance to see what she had created until the end-of-term open house over the weekend. All the students' works were up on the wall as friends and family members slowly circulated through the space. I politely appreciated everyone else's creations, but let's be frank: The only ones that truly mattered to me were these. Hers.

Whether she's wielding a brush or simply talking to our kids, my wife amazes me. As lovely as she is to look at, it's her soul - artist, wife, mom, friend - that's always set her apart and drawn me into her orbit. And thanks to her being struck by creative lightning when she was born, I'm not the only one who sees it. Enjoy.

Your turn: I believe everyone has some kind of creative gift. What's yours?

Monday, December 08, 2014

Thematic Photographic 320 - Homemade

Yeast, evolved
London, ON
October 2014
My favorite home appliance is, bar none, the bread machine. Which says something, because I'm also rather enamored of our kettle (tea) and microwave oven (oatmeal, endless rewarmings of soup.) But fresh-baked bread is such a staple of our wintry existence that I can't imagine our house without it.

On second thought, maybe it isn't the bread machine as much as it is my wife's ability to make the bread machine do all sorts of magical things. It's one of the things that, in her hands, makes our house a home.

So for the coming week, I'm hoping we can focus our lenses on stuff we make at home. Because despite our pre-processed, tech-forward existence, I'd like to think there's still room for the simple things that aren't manufactured or bought elsewhere, but made right where we live.

Simple, no? I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

Your turn: Take a picture and post it to your blog or website - or use one you've already taken and/or uploaded - that evokes this week's theme, homemade. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it, and visit other participants to spread the photographic joy. Feel free to visit and contribute again throughout the week. And have fun, because Thematic is all about fun. For more background on how Thematic works, head here.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The king at rest

Silver dog, in black and white
September 2010
London, ON
To contribute your own animal-themed Thematic, click here 
I'll apologize for being so Frasier-centric this week, but I've been lingering over our walks a little bit longer this week, so I'm going to assume the universe is trying to tell me something. I'm not entirely sure what that "something" is, but if it means more focus on the little furry guy, it can't be all bad.

I'm sharing this picture for two reasons. First, it reminds me that I need to shoot more black-and-white. I'm not sure why I've strayed away from the form, but every time I come across a series in my archives, I wonder why I'm not shooting it more. So there you have it: More monochrome to come. (Here's what I've already shot.)

Second, Frasier has an interesting habit around bedtime. He'll plunk himself down on the upstairs landing just outside the kids' bathroom, where he'll stay while they get ready for bed. He lies there quietly, not really doing much of anything except watch them wash, brush and do the usual things that kids do before tuck-in.

It's comforting, in a way, to know that he needs to be around "his humans" as much as he does. He truly hates being alone, and the fact that he deliberately stays close to us as we move through the house and the day speaks volumes about how fused he's become to us since the day we rescued him.

I think he knows we've become fused to him, too, and I'm sure just knowing their little furry friend is watching over them while they move through their nightly ritual brings as much comfort to our kids as it does to their beloved dog.

May every moment in all of their lives be so charmed. Night night, Fray Fray.

Your turn: What's your night-time ritual?

Related: More Frasier-tagged entries

Friday, December 05, 2014

Orion flies. Hope comes along for the ride.

I woke up early this morning so that I'd be able to catch the scheduled 7:05 launch of the Orion test flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida. For anyone who thinks the U.S. got out of the human space flight business after it retired the Space Shuttle in 2011, Orion - and its upcoming Space Launch System mega-rocket - is all the answer you need to know.

Unlike the commercial crew vehicles - SpaceX's Dragon 2.0 and Boeing's CST-100 - which are being developed to serve as taxis to low earth orbit, where the International Space Station flies, Orion is designed for deep space exploration. This thing is designed to go to the moon, an asteroid, a Lagrange Point, and ultimately Mars. While regular Earth orbit is a major deal in its own right, deep space flight presents a vastly expanded range of challenges, and the ship's got to be built to handle them. I don't think we really appreciate how monumentally capable Apollo was.

Since SLS won't be ready to fly until 2018, and NASA needs to test Orion's complex systems sooner than that, a special unmanned flight, known as Exploration Flight Test 1 - or EFT-1 - was scheduled atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket. That's what today's flight is all about: Get Orion into orbit, boost it to a delightfully high orbit, test all its systems in a deep space, high-radiation environment, then dive it back into the atmosphere at 20,000 mph - 2,500 mph faster than a vehicle flying in LEO and roughly as fast as a mission returning from deep space would be flying - and test the heat shield, parachute and recovery systems. Lots of stuff to cover in a 4-and-a-half-hour flight, and the data collected in the process will be crucial to shaping the continued development of the vehicle and the program.

All of which brings me back to the shuttle era. I remember what it felt like to watch Columbia first lift off, an otherworldly sight that in an instant reinforced that something had changed. I stayed glued to the TV, refusing to leave the room until I knew she was safely in orbit.

I got those same chills this morning as the three RS-68A engines lit up and the vehicle took flight. Something changed this morning, too, as the U.S. once again pulled the best of the best together, told them to develop something ridiculously cool, and then let them go fly it.

I'm no rocket scientist, but it's easy to see how what's playing out high above our heads this morning is already inspiring so many others - space-connected and not - to raise the level of their own game.

Your turn: What inspires you?

Thursday, December 04, 2014

When a puppy naps

And dream of sheep
London, ON
October 2014
Thematic. Animal Planet. Here.

Say hello to our dog, Frasier. He doesn't speak English and I don't speak dog. So when I get down on the floor and stick my face right up to his, I'm not entirely sure what's going on between those floppy ears of his. At various times, I like to imagine that he loves the attention. Other times, the pessimist in me figures he's just tolerating me as he awaits the next trip to the treat bin. When you're a scnhauzer, after all, it's all about the treats.

Which is perfectly fine by me. Because a dog's life is full of all sorts of moments. Intense play, intense napping, intense cuddling, not to mention the part where he stands just inside the front door and howls relentlessly while I get my winter gear on. He's quite adept with time, as I apparently don't move fast enough for him.

And as he tries to rush me out the door, I find myself trying to slow the experience down. Every moment is worth remembering, worth committing to memory somehow.

Because we don't get enough of these moments in the first place.

Your turn: What's he thinking?

On never settling

"The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle."
Steve Jobs
Your turn: What do you love to do? How do you know when you've found it?

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Merci, M. Beliveau

I admit I'm more tech-addicted than I'd like to be, and I have difficulty turning it all off. To wit, the first thing I do every morning is reach for my BlackBerry and quickly read off the morning's headlines. I don't even have to unlock the phone to see what I missed while I was sleeping, as the lock screen displays snippets of key tweets, messages and other data bits that may or may not shape the day to come.

This morning's screen was filled with news I had been dreading for some time: Montreal Canadiens hockey great Jean Beliveau had passed away at the age of 83. He had been sick for some time, but still, it's hard to believe he is gone.

Growing up in Montreal, it's difficult to escape the ethos of the Canadiens. It isn't just a hockey team. It's a dynasty, a generational marker, a near-religion for some. You don't simply watch a game. Instead, you're part of the experience, the Bell Centre arena - as the Forum before it - serving as something of an altar to those who worship. You feel it more than you see it, and it becomes part of your personal fabric, inextricably woven into your character no matter where your life may ultimately take you.

And Jean Beliveau exemplified the gentlemanly class of an organization that has no peer. Long after he retired from the game he so defined, he was the team's goodwill ambassador. He was a fixture at community events, and countless Montrealers have stories of him moving crossing their paths and leaving an indelible impression. You didn't have to be a hockey fan to appreciate what an giant of a human being he was.

They don't make them like him anymore, and the world is that much dimmer with his passing. Thank you, M. Beliveau, for never losing sight of who you were, and for setting the bar so incredibly high for the rest of us.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Thematic Photographic 319 - Animal Planet

Love me
Laval, QC
August 2014
It's often said that folks who "get" animals tend to gravitate to one another. After spontaneously finding myself in the middle of a number of dog-, cat- and miscellaneous pet-themed discussions over the past few days - must be something in the air - I believe I'm inclined to agree.

For what it's worth, I have no desire to bring this iguana - it is an iguana, right? - home. But I'll admit staring at it for what seemed like an age, flanked by my kids, was a moment worth remembering. So I did. Here.

Your turn: We're going to celebrate all things animal with this week's Thematic theme. To participate, just take a photo that suggests or evokes this week's Animal Planet theme and post it to your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants and feel free to share more pictures throughout the week. If you're new to Thematic, here's more info. Otherwise, have fun behind the lens: I can't wait to see what you come up with.

On refusing to be normal

"If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be."
Maya Angelou
Normal is boring, anyway. No sense wasting our time here sticking to conventionality.

Who's with me?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Radio Shack is dying

I grew up at Radio Shack. Long before I became a professional-adult-writer-nerd, I was a child-amateur-writer-nerd. As soon as I was old enough to wander the halls of the local mall on my own, I would gravitate, like a moth to a flame, to the nearest Compucentre or Radio Shack. Once there, I'd park myself in front of whatever computer they happened to have on display, then proceed to program it to display my name repeatedly. It typically looked something like this:

20 GOTO 10

(Modesty was not my strong suit then. Perhaps it still isn't. But I digress.)

Inevitably, a small crowd would gather around as I slowly coaxed a bit of BASIC-based ridiculousness from the monochrome-screened machine. Being in the middle of the scrum was somewhat intoxicating, and in retrospect I think some powerful seeds were being quietly planted for me.

In a 2014 context, those TRS-80s were laughably limited. But at the time, they seemed like almost magical pointers to a boundless future. You knew something changed as soon as they were first installed in the middle of a store better known for its Battery of the Month Club and its chaotically labelled bins of electronic doodads and cables way back in the dimly lit rear corners.

Ah, good times!

Eventually, Radio Shack disappeared from the Canadian retail landscape, with enough lawsuits and branding changes thrown in to make for a great book someday. Many of the old sites became The Source locations, and while they're now owned by Bell, I still get pangs of nostalgia every time I walk into one. The one near my house is a lot neater than the locations from my childhood, but it still feels strangely homey.

Radio Shack continues to function in the U.S., and its inability to transition from the pre-Internet economy to the post-Internet one seems to have left it in the retail equivalent of Neverland: Not quite dead, but nowhere near alive, either. Now that I've become an adult-writer-nerd, I can see just how loudly the clock is ticking. Drop in while you still can. published this brutally harsh first-person piece earlier, by former employee Jon Bois, this week. And if you ever found yourself bathed in the glow of a TRS-80, or engaged in deep, thoughtful discussions with Radio Shack employees on the merits of NiCd vs NiMH - or why those 100-in-one hobby sets were gateways to scientific hooliganism - this is a must-read:
A eulogy for RadioShack, the panicked and half-dead retail empire
Your turn: Thoughts?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Finding the mothership

Orbital view
Outer Space
November 2014
This is the view from a Soyuz spacecraft - specifically TMA-15M - as it approached the International Space Station last Sunday night. I screen-grabbed the image from my iPad as I sat on the couch in my living room. And as much as screen-grabbing something has become somewhat routine in this age of mobile devices and high-speed wireless networks, I didn't want the moment to pass into history without a bit of reflection.

That's because as nonchalant as it might seem to use an iPad to watch a spacecraft dock, live, as it flies around the planet at 25 times the speed of sound, the entire process, and our earthbound involvement in it, is anything but nonchalant or routine.

The technology that allowed me - and thousands more folks like me scattered around the globe - to peer over the shoulder of an astronaut and watch this surreal scene unfold in real-time is nothing short of miraculous. A countless number of tiny moving pieces all had to work flawlessly for the entire moment to happen in the first place - and for it to be shared. And as easy as it seemed within the confines of a 9.7-inch tablet screen, I knew that this stuff was, indeed is, special.

Space is hard. Global communication is hard, too. And the very fact that we live in an age where we can actively participate in moments like this is something that deserves to be marked and celebrated. Just because it's routine doesn't mean it isn't remarkable.

Safe flight to the six space travellers who now live on the ISS. We'll be watching.

Your turn: Something that deserves a second look. Please discuss.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thematic Photographic 318 - Columns and rows

I have no clue what this is
London, ON
November 2014

Thanks for indulging my time challenges this week, folks. I was supposed to have this up and live on Monday night, but life got more than a little busy. So from the better late than never department, here it is.

This week's theme, columns and rows, was inspired by the fact that I've been spending a lot of time staring at spreadsheets. It's a work thing, and it's given me a new appreciation for accountants, as I'm not entirely sure how they handle marathon Excel sessions without going a little off kilter.

Turns out there are lots of column-and-row-themed scenes out there in the real world. Like on my kitchen table. I promise there will be more on the blog through the week, and I invite you to join in the fun.

Your turn: Take a pic that evokes, suggests or even merely hints at this week's theme. Post it to your blog or website and then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Have a pic you posted long ago? Use that, too! Visit other participants and feel free to add more pics to the pile throughout the week: Serial posting is encouraged. For more info on how Thematic works, head here. Thanks gang!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Headed for the horizon

Grand Bend, ON
July 2014
Thematic. Vehicular. Here.
In photography, I've learned that simple always seems to work better than the alternative. Pick one thing and build the story around it. Don't get distracted by details, or tangential threads, or anything that pulls viewers away from the one thing you want them to take away from the experience.

Easier said than done, mind you, because the planet can be a pretty busy place, with all sorts of overlapping layers of chaos that can make it a challenge to maintain focus on that mythical One Thing.

But that's the reason photography can be such a joy in the first place. Because if you allow it, the craft provides ample opportunity to slice away complexity and use your powers of composition and technical chops to tell the story in the way only you can tell it.

Your turn: What's the "one story" you want to tell today?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Kindly make room for cyclists

Ride on
Toronto, ON
November 2014
Bikes are vehicles, too. More Thematic here.
Slowly but surely, cities are starting to get serious about building proper bike lanes into street grids that for too long have belonged entirely to cars.

I drive both two- and four-wheeled vehicles, and while there's more than enough lousy behavior among both cyclists and motorists, it's clear that we could be doing more to encourage a more sustainable urban landscape that doesn't force cyclists to take their lives into their hands every time they want to ride to work.

Maybe if lanes like this were less of an exception, motorists wouldn't feel compelled to squeeze us to the side of the road as they rush toward the Tim Horton's drive-through lineup. Maybe they'd do themselves some good by leaving the car at home every once in a while and trying to ride in for a change. Might open their eyes a little.

I know: As if that'll happen in our lifetime. But one can still dream.

Your turn: How do you get to work?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

When you cross paths with a stranger

The scene: Downtown London, lunchtime. The temperature has plunged below zero and wisps of snow blow in ever-changing patterns across the cracked pavement under a steel-grey sky. I'm heading back to the office after running a quick errand.

For the first time this season I'm wearing my coat and woolies, but as tightly as I've drawn my scarf around my neck, it isn't good enough, and I can feel the first shivers of winter tiptoe their way over my neck and down my back as I stand alone on the street corner and wait for the pedestrian light to turn.

I shake it off and pull my coat in tighter. The cold doesn't go away. The light still hasn't changed.

Soon enough, I'm startled out of my seasonal reverie by a small voice coming from somewhere behind me.

"Hi, I'm Annie."

I turn quickly around and see a silver-haired woman in a worn-at-the-edges ski jacket walking an old bike on the sidewalk. She's standing just close enough to me that I wonder if she's ever seen Seinfeld's bit about close-talkers. But she seems to have a kind face, with equally kind eyes, so I don't feel remotely worried. Just curious. So I answer her.

"Hi Annie. I like your bike."

And I do. It's an old bike, its best days behind it. It's been painted bright pink. That wasn't its original color, though, as betrayed by the spray paint overrun on the rims, tire sidewalls, seat post and handlebars. But for some reason her beaten down machine speaks to me. It's the kind of cruiser bike the ladies in the town where I grew up used to ride - to the bakery, to the community centre, wherever - and they never locked them up. Just left them, fenders, baskets, springy-wide white vinyl seats and all, leaning on the outside of the store or the front lawn or the sidewalk. And they were always there when they got back.

"Thank you. What's your name?"

I'm taken aback for a second, not quite sure how to answer her. My don't-divulge-too-much-to-strangers gene immediately dictates I either duck and run, or come up with some fake nom-de-plume. My curiosity dips a bit as my suspicion spikes by an equal amount. I look around to see if she has a partner nearby ready to pick my pocket. Nothing. I look back at her face. Still kind. Still smiling. She just wants to talk. I tuck my suspicion away for good.

"Hi Annie. I'm Carmi. Nice to meet you."

This opens the floodgates, as in the relatively few seconds we have while the lights overhead beep and count themselves down, she proceeds to share where she's been that morning - the mission, a bar I've never heard of, and the corner of Richmond and Dundas where the folks waiting for social services like to hang out - and where she's going. The Beer Store.

She asks me if I know someone named Donald. I don't, but she tells me about their last date, anyway, and, with a wink, how I really don't want to know what they did afterward.

I find myself alternately enjoying this admittedly bizarre moment and wishing I could somehow fix whatever it is that compels someone to drink on a weekday morning and then wander the streets on a badly spray-painted pink bicycle before drinking some more.

And yet, she seemed happy. Content, even, to wander and chat. She wasn't stinking drunk - more pleasantly buzzed than anything else, and even then I wasn't absolutely sure - and she wasn't remotely rude. More like a social gadfly who makes everyone around her think a little harder about their own lot in life. Makes others wonder about the choices they made this morning, and years ago.

She didn't ask for money. Didn't ask me for anything beyond my name. Simply wanted to have a conversation on a cold street corner with a complete stranger. Simply wanted to share a snippet of her day. Simply wanted to connect.

Soon enough, the light changed and she began to wrap up her story. Yet even as she started to walk her old pink bike across the street and away from me, she continued to speak, that kind face with the kind eyes not allowing me to simply walk away.

I haven't seen Annie or her pink bike in the couple of weeks since our paths first crossed, yet of all the people I've seen downtown since I started working again in the core, she stands out as the most memorable, the one I wonder what happened to.

Whoever she is or wherever she ended up, I hope her journey since has been a safe one. And I hope more strangers in the big city have the courage to share bits and pieces of themselves, if only for a few seconds. Our modern existence may dictate keeping our heads down and eyes diverted as we do everything in our power to avoid surreptitious human contact. But in those few cold seconds on a downtown London street corner, I learned it doesn't necessarily need to be that way.

Enjoy the bike, Annie. And thanks for the impromptu lesson in humanity.

Your turn: The time you had a chat with a complete stranger. And...go!

Friday, November 21, 2014

On why we were born

"The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why."
Mark Twain
Hmm, this one makes me think. Why are we here?

Your turn: Why were you born?

It's a Jeep thing

Stopped in its tracks
London, ON
November 2014
For more vehicular-themed Thematic, click here
As much as I don't ever see myself driving a vehicle painted in such a bright color - way too attention-getting - I admire folks who do. I imagine it takes a certain kind of whimsy to decide you're going to park one of these things out front for the next bunch of years, and I wish I had a little more of whatever makes them tick embedded in my own DNA.

Until my genetic code gets rewritten, I'll admire their wheels from afar. Or, in this case, up-close. I caught this lovely example of a Jeep Wrangler on my way back to the office from an early interview, and secretly thanked whoever drives it for giving the rest of us an extra, colorful reason to smile.

Your turn: Most modern cars are painted in colors that are too boring for words. Agree? Disagree? Please discuss.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On politeness

"Politeness is an inexpensive way to make friends."
William Feather
I think the action items from this are quite clear. Don't you?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thematic Photographic 317 - Vehicular Etc.

City lights
London, ON
November 2014
No matter what side of the car-love-hate equation you happen to fall on, you can't ignore their dominance of the urban and suburban environment. From the moment you first step out of the house in the morning, your entire experience will, in ways large and small, be defined by the overwhelming presence of automobiles and the infrastructure designed to support them.

For what it's worth, I lean toward bicycles. Way more fun. Healthier, too.

Your turn: Take a picture that supports, evokes or otherwise reflects this week's theme, "vehicular, etc."‎ Post it to your blog or website, then pop back here to leave a comment so folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to double - or even triple - your photographic fun. Head here to learn more about how Thematic works. Feel free to share additional photos through the week. Friends are always welcome.

A little extra zing

I wanted to end off this week's "food from the earth" theme - head here for any last-minute submissions - with a reminder that ‎even something as seemingly insignificant as a radish can be meaningful in its own way.

Bear with me. There's method to my vegetarian madness.

The scene: I'm shopping for groceries - at the Great Canadian Superstore, because the Mediocre Canadian Superstore was closed last Sunday - and I'm wandering through the vegetable aisle. I come across the radish bin and stop. For reasons I don't quite understand, I linger over them for a bit. Maybe it's the color. Or perhaps the texture.

Then it hits me: I haven't eaten these in a while. I remember my mom used to toss them into salads when I was a kid, but being the silly boy that I was, I didn't fully appreciate the virtues of vegetables, and inevitably tried to drown the poor things in pools of dressing. In retrospect, ew.

My childhood food issues aside, the radishes always stood out. They had this neat bite to them, an extra zip of taste and an equally sharp texture. If a vegetable went to finishing school, I always surmised it would come out looking like a radish.

Which largely explains my little photographic moment all these years later. Because some seeds take a little longer than others to take root.

Your turn: ‎Your most/least favorite veggie is...? Why?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Renaissance comes to London

London's downtown has had its fair share of difficulty in recent years. In many respects it's no different than any other central core area that's struggled with the flight to the suburbs and endless debates over parking, traffic, empty storefronts and scary streetscapes as soon as the office workers leave for the day.

While the civic agenda was preoccupied with fraudulent mayors and bullying councillors, a quietly diligent group of entrepreneurs has been working largely beneath the radar to change that trajectory. Job by job, block by block, they've been bringing life back to a place that many once wrote off. In doing so, they're laying the groundwork for a very different - and significantly more agile and opportunity-filled - city than the one I thought I was moving to all those years ago.

I'm proud to say I'm now part of that story - I joined a couple of months ago as their senior writer. Our offices are right in the middle of the downtown renaissance zone, and more importantly we are one of those digital companies doing world-beating work that most Londoners may never otherwise see.

London Free Press reporter Kate Dubinski published a piece, The downtown you don’t know - but should, in the paper on Friday, and as tickled as I am that we're mentioned, it's the fact that we're not alone, and that we're part of a bigger story of urban renewal, that jazzes me.

Exciting times around here.

Your turn: What's exciting in your neck of the woods?

Found: Cover art for my next horror film

Eddie Murphy would be proud
London, ON
October 2014
Thematic. Food from the earth. Here.
I'm somewhat pleased that the pumpkins have been recycled and the world can now focus its attention on spending itself deeper into debt so that merchants can have a happy holiday shopping season. Yay for retail priorities!

Please note that I have nothing against the pumpkins themselves. While I fail to appreciate their taste or texture - and don't pull me into the pumpkin spiced latte debate, because that's just a vortex of culinary sadness masquerading as urban myth - I somewhat enjoy taking pictures of them during the brief period when they dominate the landscape.

They have so much character as passive photographic subjects that it's difficult to ignore them when there's a camera nearby. Which, in my world, is something of a constant.

I don't know what's going on with this particular one, though. Perhaps a rash of some sort. Or an aversion to my kitchen table. Weird surface growth notwithstanding, I found the shadows too fascinating to pass up. So I didn't, and I hope when some bizarre-looking subject reaches out to you, too, that you find yourself doing the same thing.

I can't wait to see what you come up with.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

When stuff looks like an animal, 163rd in a series

I don't tend to hang out much by the roots-from-the-earth bins in the vegetable section of the grocery store - probably an aversion to dirty things that look like they'd make better weapons in a neighborhood snowball fight than something sane humans would consider eating.

But this one spoke to me. Maybe "spoke" is the wrong word. It whispered. In the dulcet tones that only a bunny-rabbit-shaped root-like thing could muster. Call me smitten. Call the person behind me confused as I lined up the shot and smiled limply at her, the same smile I seem to flash every other confused stranger who happens to be nearby when I get that photographic inspiration and start snapping away.

Hop on, little buddy. Looks like I'll be back in this part of the store before long.

Your turn: Am I imagining things or do you see it, too?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Thematic Photographic 316 - Food from the earth

London, ON
November 2014
I had a bit of a moment in the grocery store the other day. I was in the fresh produce section when I came across a knot of other shoppers. This being London, no one quite knew which way to go, so it didn't take long before a hopeless traffic jam of shopping carts stopped everyone in their tracks before, polite Canadians that we are, we slowly extricated ourselves from the brightly lit commercial kill zone.

As I stood in the middle of the grocery-festooned zoo, I found myself staring at the almost embarrassing overflow of goods available for sale. The fruits and vegetables made for quite the riot of colors and textures virtually everywhere I looked, and I couldn't help but think that any planet that can create all this cool, edible stuff has got to be a pretty magical place indeed.

I don't even know what I shot in this particular frame, but I decided it was interesting enough to use as the launch photo for this week's theme, food from the earth. Are you game?

Your turn: Take a photo that evokes or suggests this week's "food from the earth" theme. Post it to your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting other folks know where to find it. Visit other participants, and feel free to share additional pics through the week. If you're new to Thematic, or want to explain it to a newbie, head here. Otherwise, happy shooting. Can't wait to see what you come up with this week!

On being considerate

“One of my main regrets in life is giving considerable thought to inconsiderate people.”
Jarod Kintz
It's funny how life beats the need to prioritize into your head. We don't necessarily appreciate why spending our time wisely matters as much as it does - until we come close to having no time left at all. From that moment on, time becomes precious, and those who would squander it on our behalf, namely the inconsiderate ones, become that much easier to leave behind.

So, over to you: Will you stop giving thought - and time, and energy, and attention - to inconsiderate people? How will you make this happen?

(Hat tip to Cloudia Charters, who pens the delightful Comfort Spiral and who never ceases to inspire, for sharing this.)

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Work/life balance

Don't let the world intrude
Laval, QC
August 2014

Thematic metallica. Here. (Yes, that's aluminum)

Writing doesn't always fit a 9-to-5 schedule. Assignments bounce into your inbox at all hours of the day and night, the news cycle does its thing whether you're awake or asleep, and the complexities of juggling your life often result in laptops being pulled out of their sleeves at the strangest times and in the oddest of places.

At the same time, that teenaged boy making his way across the deep end of the pool at his grandfather's condo in the photo above isn't going to be a teenaged boy forever. And he isn't going to want to hang with his dad forever, either. So when he asked if we could go down to the pool for a bit, "no" wasn't an option for a whole lot of reasons.

And yet, deadlines beckoned and life on the outside continued to do its thing. The world doesn't stop just because you've decided to chill out for a bit. So I toted my backpack-full-of-tech with us to the pool, and set myself up on the lovely outdoor furniture you see here.

It didn't take long for me to finish what I was working on so I could get back to the very serious business of simply watching our son be the little boy that he still is. Someone, after all, needed to time his laps, suggest changes to his stroke and complain about the bugs that always seem to come out as the sun begins to set.

I appreciate that when deadlines beckon, the folks on the other end of all that geeky equipment you see here don't care much that you have a life outside of the narrow window of work that guides your professional relationships. They want you to deliver so that they can keep their lights on. And you need to deliver so that you can keep your own lights on.

But unless we find room in all that keeping-the-lights-on-focused activity for moments like this, we'll never know what it's like to snapshot an indelible moment in the life of a child. Or feel like all that busy work we do on the outside is being done for some higher purpose.

Because if the work is all that matters, to the exclusion of seemingly small moments like the one you see here, then it doesn't really matter much at all, does it?

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The K-Car time machine

Quick, get me Lee Iacocca
London, ON
November 2014
Thematic. Metallica. Here.
‎You don't see a lot of these on the road anymore. In their day, Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant coupes, sedans and wagons (remember those?) dominated the North American concrete jungle. They were cheap, simple, and relatively huge on the inside. As the typical vehicle like this was often the only car at that price point that could seat six, it often won the buy decision based simply on its carrying capacity.

Alas, they were, um, not all that refined. I'm being gentle here. They may have singlehandedly saved Chrysler from oblivion, but in the near-post Malaise Era‎, when vehicle quality was something of an oxymoron, the K-Car twins defined the worst of the lot.

Still, there were enough made that they continued to clutter around for years, and now that their slow fade to the junk yard is almost complete, seeing one in the wild has become something of a special occasion.

So I did what any dark geek would do: Grabbed a few pics of this ancient conveyance before the owner returned and busted me. Until Mother nature turns the rest of this tired old car to rust, I see life in her old bones yet.