Thursday, April 30, 2015

A good day all around

I'm generally not one to toot my own horn: I figure people hear from me enough by virtue of what I do, as being a journalist tends to put your work "out there" on a fairly regular basis. But I had a neat day on Tuesday and thought that writing about it here would be the online equivalent of pinching myself.

The day started rather happily with an article - Track your stuff anywhere in the world, without GPS - that quoted me being published in USA Today. Byline is Simon Cohen, and the piece profiles iTraq, an interesting approach to keeping your things from getting lost.

The day got better with news that a magazine article I wrote last year had been nominated for the Kenneth R. Wilson Awards in the Best One-of-a-Kind-Article category. The piece was called The Millenial Factor (PDF here - the article is on page 18) and it was published as the cover article in Connections+ Magazine's September/October 2014 issue. The awards recognize the best business-to-business (B2B) magazine writing in Canada.

The awards ceremony is scheduled for June 2nd in Toronto, so I'll hold my breath till then. Whatever happens, it's a delightful and unexpected honor.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

On writing when everyone else is asleep

"You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.."
Saul Bellow
I might disagree with the "never" part, but I'll admit middle-of-the-night writing jags are pretty inspirational in their own right. If you can live without the sleep, the magic of writing when the rest of the world around you is quiet can be intoxicating.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Thematic Photographic 335 - Strange foods we eat

London, ON
April 2015
‎I've been wandering back into the grocery store with my camera, largely because I enjoy the rush of composing and shooting quickly, before anyone figures out what I'm up to. It's a curious subset of urban/street photography that I seem to have fallen into, and I don't want to give it up.

This is some of the oddest-looking edible stuff I've ever seen. The label said‎ karella, but my eyes couldn't stop thinking of some long-extinct dinosaur-like creature. Indeed, we live on an incredible planet.

Your turn: Take a picture of weird food - or choose a pic you may have already posted‎ - and post it to your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants to spread the photographic goodness, and feel free to add additional submissions through the week. If you're new to Thematic, head here and all will be explained. Thanks...and have fun with it!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A pause before I leave

I decided to take a ride yesterday. Not because I was particularly motivated to do so. If we're being completely transparent, I would have been perfectly happy to stay home and enjoy the peacefulness of a rare weekend afternoon.

In the end, it was my wife who got me over the speed bump and into the garage. Bless her. Because sometimes we all need a little push to do the things we know we need to do.

The ensuing ride was short, sharp and fast. ‎The data from the Garmin validated it (cycling tip: GPS rules) but what stuck with me was how I felt when I turned the last corner before home and let the bike coast in to the driveway. Refreshed. Happy. As if 25km of hammering away on the pedals in the countryside was enough to wash away the remnants of the past week and set the stage for whatever good might - indeed will - come next.

For that moment, at least, that's exactly how it felt. So as my left foot touched down on terra firma, I silently reminded myself that I need to do this more often. Because taking the time to turn off the outside world and focus on nothing more than speed, balance, endurance and survival is better for the soul that anyone could have ever imagined.

Your turn: How do you rejuvenate yourself?

Saturday, April 25, 2015

On leading a life of value

"Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value."
Albert Einstein

Sadly, the world is filled with entirely too many people who can't tell the difference. You'd think it would be a simple thing to learn. You'd think wrong.

Through the looking glass (door)

‎I tend to look down a lot. Part of it is based on my fear of tripping on the unseen - I am rather clumsy on a good day - and another part likely has to do with my needing to pick the interesting stuff out of the mundane.

The geometry of this particular scene seemed to grab my eye. It made me wonder who might come through these doors, and what they might find on the other side.

Every scene, after all, tells a story. What is this one telling you?

Friday, April 24, 2015

On why we brave the storm

"When you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person that walked in. That's what the storm is all about."
Haruki Murakami
Some quotes seem to stick with you. For some odd reason, this one refuses to stop bouncing around my brain. Storm as metaphor. I like it.

Office space that inspires

Cool work digs
London, ON
April 2015
Thematic. Where you work. Here.
‎For the record, I do not work in the office you see here, but I know a bunch of people who do, and they are quite likely some of the luckiest techies in London right about now.

I was lucky enough to attend the ribbon-cutting for this remarkable new space the other night. It's called the London Roundhouse, and it's where locomotives in train-centric London used to be serviced and sent back on their way. This building was integral to the building of this city, and it's poetic perfection that it's now home to some of London's top technology talent.

The place was packed. Our Mayor, Matt Brown, was there, as was a veritable who's who of London's business and cultural community. I still can't get that feeling - a curious mixture of inspiration, comfort, community and anticipation for a bright future - out of my head. Nor do I want to.

We live in interesting times. Cool that we get to witness it all first-hand.

Your turn: What makes a space - work, home, whatever - inspirational to you?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

On failing for the greater good

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."
Robert F. Kennedy
I'll never understand the fear of failure that is so strong that it compels those victimized by it to stand frozen in place. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have lost the script.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Thematic Photographic 334 - Where you work

Angles and glass
London, ON
April 2015

We all work somewhere. Unless we sit in a lounger 24/7 washing down endless waves of Cool Ranch Doritos with equally endless waves of Mountain Dew and/or protein shakes, we all have at least one place on the planet that qualifies as a place of work.

I work in lots of places, including my home office, an assortment of TV and radio studios, and the shady corners of countless Starbucks where I hope the baristas don't notice I'm doing live interviews in between overly large cups of overpriced black tea. But by day, this is where I hang out, 6 floors up in the rather angular downtown building you see here.

The inside story is even cooler, and I'll share snippets of that throughout the week. For now, however, I hope you'll start pondering what your workplace looks like, and how you'd like to share it as part of this week's Thematic theme.

Your turn: Take a picture that suggests, evokes or even barely relates to this week's theme - where you work - and share it on your blog or website. Already posted something usable? Share that, too! Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Feel free to share more through the week, and visit other participants to spread the photographic goodness. New to Thematic? Head here for more details on our weekly photo-sharing/learning/interacting activity.

Giving the gift of garbage, everywhere...

Someone didn't get enough protein
London, ON
April 2015
‎Maybe it's just me, but I find it disgusting when I come across half-empty coffee cups or food containers left in public places. Like grocery store floors, elevators or, as you can see from the photo above, mere inches from my parked car.

I'm not sure which chromosomes are out of place and/or damaged, or what other factors might be in play that seemingly compel otherwise reasonable adults to leave their garbage wherever they feel it's most convenient for them. I keep wondering whether I'm the abnormal one for being raised to look for a garbage or recycling bin whenever I'm done with whatever it is that I've consumed or used.

Funny, but it strikes me as more work to surreptitiously stash something on a filthy, shady parking structure floor than it would be to take a few seconds to toss it in a clearly marked bin nearby. Whoever did the deed, I hope you're pleased with yourself. For what it's worth, you're the only one who is.

Your turn: Does this kind of thing bother you as much as it bothers me?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Looking for signs in the grass

Frasier and I came across this fascinating scene last week, and try as we could, we simply couldn't figure out what it all meant.

A message from aliens? A planned highway interchange soon to overrun our quiet neighborhood? Leftovers from an impromptu archaeological dig looking for evidence of a misplaced ancient Inca tribe?

It was all a little much for us. So I went back to my usual job of scanning for wayward skunks, and he returned to his genetic need to sniff, lick and occasionally nibble on whatever managed to attract his attention.

The life of a dog is a charmed one. One can say the same thing about the humans lucky enough to welcome one into our family.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

On why failure matters

‎"Just because something doesn't do what you planned it to do doesn't mean it's useless."
Thomas Edison

Friday, April 17, 2015

Taking the time to look up

I was headed to an early studio session the other morning when I decided to take a new route. Instead of using the sidewalk, I walked through the grounds of a nearby church.

As I passed the main entrance, the combination of low morning sun and insanely detailed brickwork caught my eye and stopped me in my tracks. I stood there for a couple of minutes and drank it in.

I really didn't have the time to spare, and ended up cutting things pretty close because of my little architectural detour. But sometimes, you just have to take the time. Because if not now, when?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Thematic Photographic 333 - Multiples

Packets of tea-filled goodness
London, ON
April 2015
There's a certain amount of comforting symmetry when lots of somethings occur in a limited amount of space or time. Repeating patterns often seem to make for neat photography, and I can't resist the lure whenever I come across multiples of anything.

So for the next week, Thematic explores multiples, and I hope you will, too.

Your turn: Take a photo that suggests this week's theme, multiples. Share it on your blog and leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Already have a pic posted online? Share that, too! Visit other participants to spread the photographic goodness far and wide. Head here if you're new to Thematic and want to learn more. And feel free to share more pics through the week: Serial photo-sharing is a good thing, after all. Have fun with it, and thanks!

Messiness. Everywhere.

It's easy to become discouraged by humanity when you keep coming across scenes like this.

I try to ease the disappointment by convincing myself that the long-gone litterbugs simply forgot their drinks there - or on the supermarket shelf, or the bus stop bench, or... - but then I realize there can't be that many forgetful people in the world.

Aside from my finding a convenient place to dispose of the evidence, I see no way, save for DNA matching and facial recognition-based video surveillance, of fixing it. Because you can't teach manners, apparently, and too many people around us have decided they no longer care.

Kinda sad, isn't it?

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Sesame Street destroys the planet

Eons from now, when archaeologists are digging through what remains of 21st century earthbound humanity, I'm guessing they'll happen upon something like this and decide it represented the beginning of the end.

Perhaps I'm overthinking it. Maybe it's just an innocent package of "juice" boxes. Or maybe I'm becoming a curmudgeon. If that's the case, then please get off my lawn. And take your faux, animated-celebrity-shilled sugary-water with you.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

On doing right by others

‎"To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart."
Eleanor Roosevelt

Quite possibly the most wise words for leaders I've seen in quite some time.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Thematic Photographic 332 - Flowers

Open wide
London, ON
April 2015
I kind of hinted at this week's theme with this entry, so my bad for doing things a bit out of order.

I keep coming back to flowers because they're so transient, so achingly lovely for such a brief blink of time. And a picture is the only way to remember what it's like before time takes its inevitable toll.

Not that decline doesn't have its own innate beauty, of course. But still, I'd hate to miss out on an opportunity to freeze time. If only the real world worked that way.

Your turn: Grab a flower-themed picture and share it on your website or blog. Already posted something? Share that, too! Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the photographic joy, and check back through the week in case you've got more to share. Head here for more background on how Thematic works. Thanks for making this the kick that it is. Enjoy!

Pretty. Doomed. But still pretty.

An invitation to tiptoe
London, ON
April 2015
Flowers, at least in their commercial, buy-them-on-the-way-home form, don't represent the most logical of purchases. Even while they sit in their refrigerated-display-case perfection, they're dying a slow death. They've already been cut from whence they grew, and the vibrant colours, textures and scents that define their present stand in stark contrast to the shrivelled Miss Havisham-ish reality that they will soon become.

That's right, folks, I'm such a romantic, already pondering the dark side before it's even had a chance to show itself.

And yet, I can't look away. And I can't resist the occasional seemingly irrational urge to pull out my wallet and detour through the florist shop as I pack up the groceries or otherwise finish off an errand and point myself toward home.

Why buy something that'll be garden fodder within days? Because for the blink of time that they're at their peak, they have value that extends far beyond the physical. Because they send a message. That you cared enough to do something illogical. That you cared, period.

I don't buy flowers often - at least not as often as I probably should. But when I do, the feeling of having someone worth bringing them home to is priceless.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Life at the crossroads: Wonderland & Nine Mile Road

An unplanned change in direction
Middlesex County, ON
March 2015
As intersections go, this one shouldn't be particularly memorable.

It's a few miles north of the edge of town, surrounded by farmland and little else. It looks remarkably like countless other intersections in the southern Ontario countryside, differentiated only by the street signs poking out of the still-thawing ditch.

And yet, I found myself standing here with my bike last weekend, on a brilliantly sunny, bitterly cold and windy afternoon, taking pictures to remember the moment. But why?

This place has something of a hold on me. See, this is where, on a similarly sunny yet much hotter summer's afternoon, I had stopped my bike.‎ And on this day, I had approached from the west, near the end of a long loop of a ride that had taken me on a high-speed tour of the hinterlands deep in ag country. The plan was to turn right on Wonderland and follow it back to town, then home.

Problem was, Wonderland was under construction‎, and I learned this only after turning right and running straight into a hopelessly blocked road. I peered over the barriers, figuring it was a small enough interruption that I could walk the bike past. No such luck: It seemed to go on for miles, and I was going to have to detour far around it.

So I turned my head waaaaay to the left to make sure I wasn't about to become some motorist's new hood ornament, executed a neat u-turn and headed back to the open road.

Although I didn't know it at the time, my little head‎-turn prompted a nasty chain of events, as it caused a tear in my carotid artery that later that evening prompted blood clots to break free, lodge in my brain and touch off a stroke.

It's been close to two years since that rather pivotal day, and this corner continues to serve as something of my own personal Ground Zero, the spot where my life took a decidedly unplanned turn. It isn't a bad place, nor is it a good one. It just is.

And on this day, my first ride of the season, as I sped past still-dormant fields and heard the electricity crackling through the wires overhead, I knew it felt right to stop here and reflect on the bike season that lay ahead, and why something as simple as a bike ride far from home means so much more now than it did before August 5, 2013.

I realize how lucky I am to have been given the chance to return here, and to continue to use my legs to cover ridiculous distances in impossibly lovely countryside. I returned from what, for so many others, is permanent disability, or worse, and continue to write, speak, tell stories, and simply live my life with my incredible family.

If stopping by the place where it all began becomes an occasional ritual to remind myself how precious all of this is, and why riding my bike is now a treasured act of defiance and a sign that the universe didn't win this time, then it's a visit I'm all too willing to make whenever I feel the need.

Your turn: ‎Do you have a spot in the world that you need to return to every once in a while?

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Friday, April 03, 2015

On seeing beauty

"Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it."
Andy Warhol
Which begs the question: Where do YOU see beauty?

Thursday, April 02, 2015

The view from the hot seat

London, ON
March 2015
Thematic. Please be seated. Here. Because you want to.
This is what it looks like from the seat in the studio at CTV London. I do most of my remote interviews from this place - known as the Windsor Studio - and in many ways this storied room with decades of television history quietly tucked into its darkened walls has become a very comforting place for me.

I'm pretty sure the first impression can be terrifying, as staring down the barrel of a camera broadcasting live to folks you don't even know can be intimidating. I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a little nervous in the pit of my stomach before every interview.

But here's the thing: This entire studio is something of a home away from home for me. And the folks who work here are part of my extended family. I trust them implicitly to always do what it takes to make TV magic happen. The folks at the other end of the line are similarly incredible, and it always settles me down when they talk in my ear and walk me through a process that, even now, is insanely complex. I learn a lot about being a better person by hanging around the people I work with here.

Your turn: How do the people who surround you help you succeed?

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

April Fool, April Idiocy

‎I'll apologize now if this seems a bit curmudgeonly, but I don't get the whole April Fool thing. I never did as a kid, and nothing has changed in adulthood.

Aside from the ridiculous notion of having a set day on the calendar for pranks and practical jokes - really, Alphonse, I had absolutely NO idea that you were pulling my figurative leg...such a surprise! - there's the somewhat darker veil of nastiness that pervades a good chunk of the day's activities. The notion that it's perfectly acceptable on this one day to "get" others in some way, all under the veil of supposed humor, is ridiculous. And mean.

Where I come from, none of this is funny. In fact, it smacks of bullying. Which is more than a little ironic given the anti-bullying mantras we all spout on the other 364 days of the year.

Now, please don't get me wrong: I do, in fact, have a sense of humor. And anyone who knows me knows I like to use it. Broadly and often.

But there's something about today, and the way we've evolved this tradition of trickery, that rubs me in all the wrong ways. The journalist in me similarly bristles at the notion of trusted operations willingly turning their coverage streams into "jokes" for the day. There's nothing funny about fake news if it makes you wonder whether they're being serious or not.

I hope this doesn't come across as get-off-my-lawn-ish, but please count me out today, and leave the funnies for times when they are neither expected nor programmed. To be truly funny, one never needs to schedule it.

Your turn: April or con? Why?