Friday, July 31, 2015

A decade-and-a-half

While every day that we get on this planet is special, some are more so than others. Like the day when our youngest, Noah, was born. It was 15 years ago that he made his grand entrance, and ever since then he's done his best to make sure we all get the most out of every day we've been given.

I've written before about what makes him special (here, here, here, here and here). He's kind, and will often give the last of whatever he has so that others don't go without. He's whip-smart, with a sense of humour that keeps us all eyes-open from the moment we wake before dawn to his smiling face to the moment well after midnight when we tuck him in and, ah, encourage him to put down that book underneath his comforter and finally get some sleep. He's athletic, and easily excels in whatever sport or activity he chooses.

My wife calls him "the total package", and the writer in me can't add anything to that because it's the perfect phrase to describe him. Everyone seems to love him, and it's easy to see why. He's an amazing little brother to Zach and Dahlia, and he manages to make friends no matter where he goes.

I know I'm his dad, so a little parental bias is easy to understand. But when every one of his teachers this year spent the entire time we had during parent-teacher interviews gushing about how much they enjoyed having him in their class, I realized it's way more than just me.

I've long called him our Little Man, but I may need to change that given how much he's grown in the last year. He's already taller than Debbie and Dahlia. He's rapidly catching up to me, as well, and I know it's only a matter of time before I have to stretch to hug him. Yet he's still as huggy as he was when he was a munchkin, still treats his dog as if the future of the world depends on it, and still finds ways to make every day in Levyland just a little bit brighter.

Time moves too quickly, and it's made the past 15 years feel like a blink. Yet at the same time we can't imagine what life was like before him. Nor would we ever want to.

Happy birthday, Little Man. May you always shine with that glow that makes you as special as you are, and the rest of us so lucky to have been blessed with your life.

Related reading:

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Charles Adler leaves the studio

My work brings me in contact with some really accomplished folks in media both here in Canada and around the world. I've had countless I-can't-believe-I'm-talking-to-this-person moments in my career, and the thrill never gets old.

It isn't so much a fan-meets-idol thing, though. I've never worshipped celebrity, and I find the whole process of hanging on a well-known person's every word to be a colossal waste of time and energy. But it's a different ballgame when I get to connect with someone who has inspired me throughout my career to be a better journalist and a better person. Journalism isn't Hollywood, which is a good thing.

Charles Adler is one of those inspiration figures for me. I think I've been listening to him forever, and his on-air style has always been a perfect ideal, something I wish I could even remotely emulate in my own work. So it was quite a thrill a couple of years ago when his producer at Winnipeg's CJOB reached out to me and asked me if I had time for an interview.

Thankfully for me the interview went well. And since then I've been privileged to have been called regularly for other chats on other tech topics. I learned something new from him every time, and while those lessons certainly covered the mechanics of radio - how to break a topic down and turn it into a free-flowing conversation, how to build from one thread to the next, how to maintain momentum over a commercial break - it was the off-air part that left the biggest imprint on me.

Simply put, he's a good soul, a mensch, who always finds the time to jump on the phone either before or after a live interview - while he still has a zillion other things going on - to chat a bit more, to say thank you, to fill me in on something he may have wanted to cover on-air. There's a kindness in the way he works that is rare indeed, and I've been pretty lucky to see it up-close.

So this past Wednesday, in the midst of the swirl of media work surrounding Windows 10, I got to do another interview with Charles. As always, it was a lovely chat that touched on online shaming in the wake of the case of an American dentist, Walter Palmer, who killed a beloved lion, Cecil, in Zimbabwe. When we were done, he came back on the line and we bantered for a couple of minutes before he had to return to the mic.

When I got home later, I read about changes at the radio station. He's leaving CJOB (audio here), and his last show is August 6th. While reports continue to circulate that this is part of a shakeup at the station that's driven by its owners, Corus Entertainment, details are scarce. Other folks who I work with at CJOB may also be affected, and the radio merry-go-round goes on.

I know that media in general and radio in particular can be a brutally tough business. I know how hard it is to break in, stay in, and hold on. I know how transient a gig can be, and how difficult it is when good people suddenly aren't there anymore. So I get that. Nothing great lasts forever. But I still wanted to take a moment to reflect on what set one particular radio host apart, and why the end of one gig shouldn't mean the end of what he does, and what he stands for. I hope that this rare example of fundamental goodness finds another place to practice this increasingly vanishing art.

Your turn: Who inspires you?

Microsoft Windows 10 - What you need to know

Microsoft released Windows 10 this week, and although a new version of Windows isn't the line-up-around-the-block event it was when the Rolling Stones Start Me Up was used to kickstart Windows 95, it's still a notable milestone given the fact that over a billion machines still run some form of it. Like it or not, this could touch you in some way soon.

I ended up doing a lot of talking yesterday. I chatted with John Venavally-Rao for CTV National News (report video herenewscast video here, report starts at 20:00), spoke with Marci Ien on CTV's Canada AM (video here, web article here), did a live hit with Michael Hainsworth on BNN, Marcia MacMillan on CTV News Channel (video here) and joined Todd van der Heyden's weekly Tech With Todd panel (video here). I chatted with CBC Radio stations across the country, as well as CKTB in Niagara, NewsTalk 1010 in Toronto, and CJAD in Montreal, among others.

I had jotted down a point-form Q&A that I used as a high-level visual guide through much of the day, and in retrospect I realize it probably answers many of the questions folks may have about Windows 10. So without further ado, here's my quick take on Microsoft's new make-or-break operating system:

1 - Is Windows 10 a big deal for Microsoft?
  • Yes. In many ways, its success or failure holds tremendous importance for the future of the company.
  • Windows 10 must make up for the relative failure of Windows 8 to win over consumer and corporate buyers.
  • Windows 8 was a radically different beast, and it tried to bridge both desktop/keyboard-and-mouse and tablet/touch-based devices and use cases. The result was a two-sided beast that pleased no one.
  • It didn't look, work or feel like the traditional Windows users had gotten used to. Removing the Start menu was another big boo-boo. Would you take a kid's binky away?
  • Not surprisingly, users didn’t take to it - right now, only 16% of PCs run either Windows 8 or 8.1. Windows 7 is at 60%. Even XP - which was first introduced in 2001 and is no longer supported by Microsoft - still has 12%.
  • Worse, the market for traditional PCs - which are Microsoft's bread and butter - has been shrinking for years. The total PC market is 21% smaller now than it was in 2011, with no signs of a turnaround. That's because the do-it-all desktop and laptop computers that once represented our only way of getting work done are now competing for attention - and budget - with smartphones, tablets and other mobile technologies.
  • So… Microsoft needs Windows 10 to recapture consumer interest to drive flagging PC sales, reignite interest in Windows and give it control over the next generation of PC users. Whoever owns the software through which more people go online can control the revenues - advertising, subscriptions, additional software sales, etc. - that are made along the way.
2 - What's new in Windows 10 that separates it from Windows 8 and 8.1
  • The first thing you'll notice is it boots into a conventional-looking desktop. You can still find tiles if you really look for them - hint, they're in the reborn Start menu - but the two-in-one philosophy of Windows 8/8.1 is gone forever. It's like the Windows 7 desktop got a fresh coat of paint.
  • There's good news on the browser front, too. Internet Explorer, the creaky old browser that we've all come to hate, isn't completely dead - it's included mainly to keep corporate folks happy - but for the rest of us it has largely been replaced by a new browser, known as Edge. The new browser is Microsoft’s answer to newer and more popular browsers like Firefox and Chrome. It’s faster, more secure, and it has some slick new built-in features let you easily mark up a web page, then share it. It sounds kinda meh, but it's a transformational way to experience the web. Edge also includes some trick new features to make it easier to read articles, which makes sense given how much time we spend reading stuff through our browsers.
  • Continuum adjusts the interface depending on what you're doing. So if you've got a convertible laptop and you flip from PC mode to tablet mode, Continuum makes sure you're not stuck stabbing tiny little buttons on the touchscreen with your big fat fingers. Less fiddling, more creating.
  • It includes the Cortana digital virtual assistant which tries to out-Siri Apple's Siri not just on your smartphone, but on your computer and tablet, too. Just talk to it - Hey Cortana - and it’ll do pretty much whatever you ask, from checking the weather to getting the day’s work ready for you.
  • If your hardware supports it, Windows 10 will let you log in using facial recognition - no more passwords, if you don’t want.
  • It also sets the stage for new Universal apps that adapt depending on whether you’re using them on your PC, your tablet, or, eventually, a smartphone. Developers need to get on-board, of course, but the promise of seamless services across multiple devices is at least there.
3 - Windows 8 was all about touch, but it didn't balance touch and conventional computing all that well. Does Windows 10 achieve a better balance?
  • No one likes all-season tires. They're lousy in summer, and they barely grip in winter. Windows 8 was like a cheap set of all-season tires. Windows 10 is still trying to pull off the all-season trick. It achieves it more effectively than 8, but even jacks-of-all-trades have their limitations.
  • Windows 8 tried to be all things to all people. It stretched so far beyond the traditional desktop-based way of earlier Windows versions that users were turned off. It ended up failing on all fronts. Windows 10 dials back the newness. The traditional desktop now dominates. The Start Menu is back, and it’s supercharged. The somewhat misunderstood Tiles are still there, but you’ll have to look harder for them.
  • All in all, Windows 10 does a far better job balancing the very different worlds of traditional keyboard-and-mouse computing, and touch-based tablets. It isn't perfect, but it's less maddening than its predecessor.
4 - Windows 10 is available for FREE for some Windows users. Why?
  • Microsoft is giving Windows 10 away for a year to anyone who uses Windows 7, 8, and 8.1. I'm willing to bet that after the year is up, it'll still be free. If you're not running 7, 8 or 8.1, it's available for purchase for $249, though no one with sense would ever pay that much. If you're already running an ineligible old OS like Vista or XP, your hardware wouldn't be able to handle 10, anyway.
  • Everyone else - namely Apple and Google - is now giving away their software for free. It’s what consumers expect, which makes it impossible in 2015 to charge for an operating system and expect anyone to pay for it.
  • Instead, you give it away for free so that you can build the largest possible audience or market for all the stuff you'll sell them afterward. It's kind of like giving away the razor for free, then charging for the blades.
  • Microsoft will make money on subscriptions, advertising, services, and other forms of revenue to be made THROUGH the new operating system. They just need to get us hooked first, in much the same way that Google gets us addicted to its online services, apps and Android, and then makes money through these gateways.
5 - How do you take advantage of Microsoft's free upgrade offer?
  • Windows 7, 8 and 8.1 machines are already eligible for a free upgrade. For months now, your machine has likely had a notification letting you know just that.
  • Look on the bottom of your desktop, in the tray beside the clock on the lower-right-hand side.
  • There should be a Windows icon there. Click it and you'll be taken to the Get Windows 10 app.
  • You'll be walked through registering for the upgrade - just provide your email address, then wait until you get an email confirming that the download is ready for installation. Warning: This could take some time, as it's a big download, and millions of users are hammering Microsoft's servers as we speak.
  • If you don't see the Windows icon, go to Windows Update to get started.
6 - What should you keep in mind before upgrading from old Windows to new Windows?
  • Although Windows 10 system requirements are virtually the same as for those suggested for Windows 8, some older hardware may not have the horsepower to run it.
  • If your computer is a more than 3 or 4 years old, doesn’t have a lot of RAM, free drive space or a fast enough processor, it may be wise to stay put and simply get Windows 10 when you buy a new computer.
  • Anything bought within the past couple of years should be fine.
  • Before proceeding, make sure your data is backed up. If you’ve got to deliver that paper to a deadline today and don’t have another machine, you may want to wait until after your deadline.
  • If you've got an extra PC or two and can afford to have it out of commission while you do real work on your primary, production computer, by all means download it anytime you wish and have fun with it.
  • If you have only one computer for work or school, you'll want to wait about 4 to 6 weeks for the first set of bug fixes from Microsoft to be released. Every new operating system has its fair share of bugs. It’s considered less risky to wait a bit before upgrading, as the OS will be more reliable once those fixes are available and applied.
7 - How are the initial reviews?
  • Windows 10 is more evolution than revolution.
  • It fixes most of what was broken in Windows 8 and 8.1 and finally delivers on the promise of marrying traditional computing with tablet computing, all in one operating system on one device.
  • If you've already gone over to Apple's dark side, it won't lure you away from your Mac, but it could be just enough to kickstart some XP, Vista and 7 holdouts into upgrading. We'll know in a few months if it's enough to keep Microsoft's stranglehold on a shrinking PC market in place.
Your turn: Will you upgrade? Why/why not?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

On yet another limitation of technology

"Technology gives us power, but it does not and cannot tell us how to use that power. Thanks to technology, we can instantly communicate across the world, but it still doesn't help us know what to say."
Jonathan Sacks

Monday, July 27, 2015

Thematic Photographic 343 - Far from Home

Hanging in the hatch
Newtonville, ON
July 2015
Now that it's summer here in the northern hemisphere - we can tell because we can cook the proverbial egg on the proverbial sidewalk - many of us are headed out the door for destinations both known and unknown.

Vacation time means different things to different people, of course, but one constant seems to be the bulging blob of vacation photos we all bring back with us‎. You can't argue with tradition, even if it ends up all over Facebook, Instagram and your Uncle Phil's flip-phone.

Neither, apparently, can Po the teletubby, who once again found herself on a grand adventure as we loaded the car and pointed it toward our motherland, otherwise known as Montreal. Doesn't she look happy here?

Your turn: This week's Thematic theme - Far From Home - is fairly simple. If the pic was taken far from home, it's in. The further the better. I'm going to assume you already know how it works - if not, click or tap here - so I'll let you start churning on what you plan on sharing this week. Can't wait to see what you come up with. Have fun with it!

Sunset in a faraway place

Palms paint the fading sky
Deerfield Beach, FL
December 2014
For more sky-themed Thematic, head here
I wanted to take care of a number of things by sharing this photo:
  1. Let you know how hot it's been here so far this week
  2. Not-so-subtly remind y'all where else I'd like to be instead of here.
  3. Toss one final sky-themed pic into the mix (head here if you'd like to add your own.)
  4. Hint at the Thematic theme to come. Okay, not so much hint as confirm. "Far From Home". It goes live at 7pm.
Your turn: If you could be one place in the world right now, where would it be? Why?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The big stick

‎Say hello to the transmitting tower behind the CTV studios here in London. By any definition, it's an impressive piece of engineering, one that makes me a little nauseous every time I try to look at it from the parking lot.

Sadly, these staples of the information age landscape‎ aren't as dominant as they once were. If you subscribe to cable or satellite television service, as most of us do, then you're not getting your signal through a tower like this one.

Even cable and satellite are slowly giving way to online and mobile content delivery. It's a connected, on-demand, app-driven world that leaves little room for sky-piercing icons of TV's golden age. Free, over-the-air TV that blasts out to a community via a giant antenna is fading to black.

Which makes me a little sad, because when I step out into the chilly pre-dawn air and head to the studio, I can always count on the friendly blinking lights to point me in the right direction. Somehow, the skyline won't be nearly as comforting after they're gone.

Your turn: When you look up in your sky, right now, what do you see?

Friday, July 24, 2015

On realizing the limitations of technology

‎"One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man."
Elbert Hubbard

The Zen of a Sleeping Dog

The world is a chaotic place, filled with movie theatre shootings, hacked cars and crashing currencies. But it is also a place where our dog can curl up in the middle of his new bed and have a nap. The headlines that challenge us have no meaning to him, and he'll be just as happy to see us when he wakes up as he was the last time. Maybe the little furry guy is onto something.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Reaching for the sky - and the past

‎This tree has been here for longer than I've been alive. It was a lot smaller when a much younger me would ride my bike to this place. I felt like quite the explorer back then, and getting here on two wheels, powered only by my scrawny legs and a healthy imagination, seemed like an expedition to the edge of the planet.

In reality, it was barely a couple of kilometres away from my house. But it still reminds me that kids can - and should - dream big. And it probably doesn't hurt to occasionally revisit the places that made your childhood seem so charmed in the first place.

Your turn: Do you ever go back to places that mattered to you as a child? What do you find when you get there?

Note: To share your own sky-themed perspective as part of this week's Thematic, head here

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Strangers can - and will - hack your car

Apologies for the deliberately hyperbolic headline. At first glance, I know it sounds frightening. You're rolling along on the highway, when all of a sudden your engine cuts out. It hasn't failed: it's been taken over by a hacker halfway across the country, and in addition to killing your throttle, he can fiddle with the stereo, open the windows, or even tamper with the brakes.

It isn't science-fiction. In fact, it's already been demonstrated numerous times. A recently discovered vulnerability in the UConnect in-dash infotainment system that's built into close to half a million Chrysler vehicles in North America could allow even more hackers to have their way.

And as car manufacturers and tech companies race to add ever-fancier new app-friendly systems into your next car - Apple CarPlay, Google Android Auto, GM OnStar, Toyota Entune, etc. - security once again takes a back seat because all we really care about are the bells and whistles. We need to do a better job understanding and avoiding the growing risks.

I'll be speaking live on CTV's Canada AM tomorrow (Thursday) morning at 7:10 to explain why this is so worrisome, what the risks are, and what we can do as consumers to protect ourselves. Hope you can tune in.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Thematic Photographic 342 - Sky

Fire in the sky
London, ON
June 2015
I'll make this week's theme super-simple: I've been pointing my camera up fairly frequently of late. I'm not entirely sure why this is the case, but the sky has always been a reliable source of inspiration whenever my shutter finger gets twitchy.

In this case, the kids noticed the sky's especially intense cast as sunset approached, and grabbed their phones and ran outside to try to capture it. Like the ambling father that I've become, I followed them out and in between shooting we tried to figure out why this particular evening's sunset was especially dramatic.

We never did figure it out, as there were no nearby wildfires and there hadn't been any recent thunderstorms in the area. But whatever the source, I'm glad our little folks were curious enough to follow their gut and try to capture the moment.

Your turn: Point your lens skyward, take a pic of it, share it on your blog or website and then leave a comment here letting everyone know where they can find it. Visit other Thematic participants and feel free to return later in the week if you have additional pics to share - we encourage that sort of thing. If you're new to this, head here for more details. Otherwise, have fun with it, and happy shooting!

Did you just throw that camera in the pool?

New kid on the photographic block
Deerfield Beach, FL
December 2014
Thematic. The Camera. Here.
Cameras come in all shapes and sizes, and I've been spending more time of late with this one. It's a GoPro, and while it doesn't look like much, its ability to shoot ridiculously solid video and stills while being clamped to a car or a bike - or sitting at the bottom of a pool - makes it an indispensable addition to the camera bag.

My wife and kids bought this for my birthday a couple of years back, and I've been taking it along on bike rides as a bit of a security blanket - because you never know when you'll need it. But having it in the pool with us was orders of magnitude more fun, because it turned what would have otherwise been a regular day at the pool into something even more special for them.

Your turn: What other activities should we shoot with this?

Ashley Madison hacked. Cheaters cringe.

The big news in tech today revolves around the Ashley Madison website. It has attracted controversy since it first went live in 2001 for offering what it calls a discreet way for married people to have affairs. Subscribers are guaranteed a "real-life encounter" within 30 days of signing on, or they get their money back. Its tagline - "life is short, have an affair" - kind of says it all. Sadly.

Given the fact that we live firmly in the digital age, it should surprise no one that this site has been hacked by someone - or more than one someone...still trying to figure that one out - who is now threatening to release the information of all of its 37 million users (!) online unless the site is shut down for good.

Ashley Madison is run by Toronto-born Noel Biderman, who is the CEO of Avid Life Media, a company that also includes the sister site, Established Men. Over and above the usual membership fees, the site offers an additional service, called "Full Delete", that for $19 will have all personal data wiped from the website after the individual chooses to leave the site.

The hacker or hackers, under the name "Impact Team", is/are claiming that the company took the money from subscribers - to the tune of $1.7 million in 2014 alone - but never actually deleted the data.

A small amount of user data has already been released online - a la WikiLeaks style - and the hacker says everything will be shared publicly if both websites are not shut down for good. For its part, the company says it believes the hack is an inside job - possibly a third party who has insider knowledge of its systems - and it believes it is close to identifying who is responsible.

The lesson: If you're going to have an affair, don't use a website to do it. And for the record, Biderman says he is happily married.

As you can imagine, I've been doing quite a bit of media on this. I spoke live with NewsTalk 1010 Toronto's John Moore, CP24's Jackie Crandles and CTV News Channel's Marcia MacMillan (story here) this morning, and will be included in Katie Simpson's package for the CTV National News later this evening (link here).

For now, I'll be in the corner shaking my head. How sad that digital lifestyle is reduced to this. You'd think humanity is better than this. You'd think wrong.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Deer in the headlights

London, ON
June 2015
‎Do you ever walk around your car and look closely at it? Do you wander around the driveway and try to observe it from different angles? Do the neighbors look funny at you when you do?

Well, it's their loss. Because cars offer up all sorts of photographic fun, and you shouldn't let funny stares from others stop you from getting the shot. Unless it's their car, of course.

Fortunately, this was my wife's car, so it was fair game. And the headlight assembly was almost tailor-made for a bit of photographic exploration. I'm thinking this may be the beginning of an ongoing theme.

Speaking of themes, there's a bit of a self-portrait in this one if you look closely enough. Which reflects this week's Thematic there, the camera. We're still taking submissions - link here! - and a new theme will go live tomorrow (Monday...yay!) at 7pm Eastern.

Happy shooting. And may the road ahead always be well-lit.

On the lessons we can learn from dogs

"The world would be a nicer place if everyone had the ability to love as unconditionally as a dog."
Melissa K. Clinton
More dogs. Fewer humans. Got it.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

It's hot outside. Stay hydrated.

London, ON
October 2014
Every so often, I point my camera at ordinary household objects and take a picture. Wait, who am I kidding? Forget "every so often." More like "all the time."

Which is as it should be. Because photography, indeed any form of artistic expression, shouldn't just happen when the calendar says it should. It should happen whenever we feel moved to pick up our tools and give them some exercise.

Which begs today's question: What moves you?

Friday, July 17, 2015

On making an impact

"A life isn't significant except for its impact on other lives."
Jackie Robinson
I think it's safe to say that Mr. Robinson's impact on other lives was positive, significant and resonant. He not only broke major league baseball's colour barrier, he did so with the kind of grace that taught lessons well beyond the diamond.

Your turn: How do you plan on impacting the lives of others?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

19 Kids and Counting. Done. Finally.

To no one's surprise, TLC has decided to cancel the wretched 19 Kids and Counting show in the wake of revelations that the clan's eldest son, Josh Duggar, molested a number of girls, including his sisters, over a decade ago. The Duggars will have to find some other way to spread their message of whatever it is that they apparently represent. Side hugs? Rampant intolerance? I'm not sure.

TLC issued an official statement earlier today outlining the decision. Let's analyze it in greater detail, shall we?

"After thoughtful consideration, TLC and the Duggar family have decided to not move forward with 19 Kids and Counting. The show will no longer appear on the air."
[Translation: We would have lost any remaining credibility as the one-time "learning" channel had we continued to air this sanctimonious tripe.]
"The recent attention around the Duggars has sparked a critical and important conversation about child protection."
[Translation: The prospect of continuing to milk advertising dollars out of this cheap-to-produce cash cow explains why we didn't cancel it as soon as the revelations first came to light. Our hand, however, was forced after our lawyers and accountants ran the numbers and convinced us our money would be better spent on a reality series that focuses on a smart-alecky kid who lives in a double-wide beside a freight line...oops.]
"Over these past weeks, TLC has consulted regularly with leading victims' rights and advocacy organizations in the U.S., including RAINN and Darkness to Light, to discuss how to use this moment to address the issue and make a positive impact. Unfortunately, child sexual abuse is not an isolated issue; it affects many children and families around the world. To that end, we are partnering with both organizations on a multi-platform campaign to raise awareness and educate parents and families about the issue. In the first phase of this initiative, TLC will work closely with both groups and with the Duggar family on a one-hour documentary that will include Jill and Jessa and other survivors and families that have been affected by abuse."
[Translation: We had to come up with some way to make ourselves look semi-decent in all of this. We understand how paying for a ginormous house on behalf of a family of delusional molester-protectors could make us look a teensie weensie bit out of touch.]
"TLC has been especially concerned for the victims in this situation, including the Duggar family, and it is our hope that this effort will help those in need learn where to turn for information and help. The documentary will be commercial free, and we anticipate it will air later this summer
[Translation: We were so "concerned for the victims" that we said nothing during the family's ham-fisted attempts to "justify" their eldest son's predatory behavior. In the end, no advertiser would touch this with a ten-foot pole. We would have cashed in otherwise.]
Sadly, this chapter will soon be forgotten, and TLC will be free to hook up with another dysfunctional family to fuel its reality-based excuse for programming. If there were any justice here, TLC's remaining audience would simply find another channel to watch. Or better yet, turn off the TV, head to the library and actually learn something for a change.

Related reading:
Duggar family statement (as if anyone cares. But still...)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

On the bullies among us

"I simply do not think that yelling, swearing, threatening or belittling will get you to the place you want to be faster than kindness, understanding, patience and a little willingness to compromise."
Rachel Nichols
And yet it all too often seems that we're surrounded by Type-A types who think nothing of yelling, swearing, threatening and belittling, often to the degree that to do so is absolutely normal to them.

How do people like this succeed? And why?

Where the cameras were

London, ON
March 2015
For more The Camera-themed Thematic, head here
If you live in the U.S., Target often seems to be as much a part of the retailing landscape as Wal-Mart is. Depending on your particular preferences in retail, this can be either positive or negative, and we'll leave that particular discussion for another day.

Here in Canada, Target lasted less than two years before spectacularly imploding, tucking its tail back between its legs and retreating back over the border from whence it came. It is one of the largest failures in Canadian retail history, and business schools will be studying the mind-numbing mistakes and lessons for years to come.

On a snowy day this past March, I thought I'd wander the local Target outlet before it closed for good. At the time, the store was still weeks away from its final close date, but the aisles were already bare. The electronics section, which if we're being brutally honest was already filled with tumbleweed long before the closure was announced, was particularly bleak.

I've never been particularly impressed by in-store displays like this. They seem to attract folks who couldn't be bothered to do their homework before heading to the store to pick and purchase a camera. Then again, one can probably say the same thing about the entire Target/Wal-Mart culture that now blankets the land. Well, at least it does elsewhere. Here, not so much anymore.

Perhaps that's not entirely a bad thing.

Your turn: What do you hate about shopping? Aaand...go!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Thematic Photographic 341 - The Camera

Looking right down the lens
London, ON
May 2015
I want to turn things around a bit this week. Each Thematic theme is the result of photos we take WITH our cameras. For the next week, I'd like us to share photos OF the various cameras we all use to capture the world around us.

It could be the camera you shoot with everyday, or your smartphone, or your tablet, or whatever other tool you use to gather light and share the results with others. It's a bit of an outside-in kind of theme, and I thought it would be fun to bend the lens backward, so to speak, so that we could all get a glimpse into the mechanics of the craft.

This is a view of the studio at CTV London that I often use to do both live and taped interviews. On the extreme left in the background, the camera on the big pedestal is often used to shoot live hits against the blue screen on the right. In the middle is the HD camera used to grab clips for the national newscast. On the right is the robotic camera we use for live CTV News Channel interviews. Scattered around the studio are monitors and displays that can be used to oversee live feeds or do other broadcast-ish stuff.

Different uses, different equipment and locations. It's like a toy store for grownups!

Your turn: What are the cameras in your life? This week's Thematic theme, The Camera, asks us to share a glimpse of the equipment we - or others - use to capture our (or their) respective worlds. Grab a picture of a camera (I know, bizarre) and share it on your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the joy, and feel free to visit again through the week if you've got more pics to share (more is always good.) If you're new to Thematic, head here for more background Otherwise, enjoy this week's light-bending experience!

Catch the wave

Deerfield Beach, FL
December 2014
Some days, all you really want to do is stare at the waves as they wash up by your feet and wonder what happens to them when they're gone. If they aren't captured - in pixels, in our memory, whatever - does that mean they somehow matter less?

Or maybe I'm overthinking it. The purpose of a vacation, after all, is to disconnect, and not get all metaphysical over the historic meaning of a wave.

Your turn: So am I overthinking this?

Note: This photo completes the Liquidity theme that we've been exploring as part of our weekly Thematic theme. If you'd still like to contribute, please head here. Our next theme, The Camera, goes live at 7 Eastern tonight.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

On the dreams writers dream

‎"As a writer you ask yourself to dream while awake."
Aimee Bender

My only wish is for those dreams to be good ones. Not too much to ask, is it?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Beneath the non-existent waves

Feeling drained
Deerfield Beach, FL
December 2014
For more Thematic Liquidity, head here
I remember when I was a lifeguard, I'd often walk around the edge of the outdoor pool before we opened in the morning. The surface of the water was incredibly still, undisturbed before the sun cleared the tall trees behind the deep end and the day's winds began to blow, undisturbed by the legions of kids who would soon fill the place for morning swim instruction, and the families who would spend lazy, hot summer afternoons here, as well.

It was a quiet, resonant place to be, and walking the perimeter gave me a chance to catch my breath before the day became a constant blur of activity. It amazed me how this semi-Olympic-sized pool set within a large stretch of lawn and trees with nary a house in sight could be both perfectly reserved and incredibly vibrant, all within a few brief minutes.

Sometimes at the end of the day, I'd latch the gate behind the final departing guests and then, as my team and I buttoned up the pool, steal similar glances into the water as the surface settled down for the night. For some reason, I felt I needed to drink in those transitional times of day. Still do.

So after we arrived in Florida for our vacation with the kids and settled in, a quick pre-bedtime peek straight down into the empty pool seemed like a nice way to bridge my own teen years with those of my children. They obliged me my moment of resonance before jumping into the deep end and turning the scene into one of motion and vibrancy. New generation, new waves. Some things, happily, never change.

Your turn: How do you mark the transitions between different times of day?

Note: This photo was originally posted on Flickr here. My Flickr stream can be found here.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

23 years on

Grand Bend, ON
July 5, 2015
My wife and I went to the beach last Sunday. On a global scale, it seems like the kind of everyday trip an everyday kind of couple might take. As it was, we were among what seemed like thousands of people on the sand on the shores of Lake Huron that day, and like pretty much everyone else around us, we generated no headlines from our being there.

That doesn't mean it wasn't a significant moment, though. Something can be meaningful even if it doesn't make the 6 o'clock news. And this day was indeed meaningful because it came 23 years to the day since she threw caution to the wind and married me.

On so many levels, we belong together. We often call each other our "bashert", the Yiddish word that loosely translates as "fated one", because it's difficult to imagine our respective universes existing without each other.

Yet not for a moment since I lifted her veil and kissed her for the first time as her husband have I taken her for granted. I never have assumed, nor will I ever assume in future, that any of this is owed to either of us. If I've learned anything in our years together, it is that marriage - indeed life - isn't the happily-ever-after cruise so often played out in sugar-coated movies. It takes work. Lots of it. And although I'm hardly the paragon of marriage best practice, I realize how lucky I am to be experiencing it, indeed life, with her.

Besides, happily ever after isn't everything it's cut out to be. Like most movies, it's a two-dimensional cliche. What happens in this little world we've built for ourselves is so much more, I don't know, real. It just feels right. I married my best friend, and hardly a day goes by that I don't get that heart-skipping-a-beat-ahead-of-myself feeling that comes from realizing how lucky I was. And, of course, am.

The sheer number, 23 years, sounds like a lot. And as I look at the flecks of grey in my hair, the smile wrinkles around my eyes and the slow ebb of the data flowing from the GPS unit on my bike, I've got plenty of empirical proof of the passage of time. Yet in my mind's eye it still feels like yesterday. It's hard to imagine that our kids didn't exist then. That so many people who meant so much to us then - including Debbie's mom and my dad - are no longer with us. That we left the only city we had ever known and have since built a new life in a new city far from home. That this is now more home to us than we ever thought it would be.

I don't know where the time went, and some days I still wish I knew how to slow it down, put it in a bottle, somehow preserve it in place so that I could hold onto it, to her, for a little while longer. Of course I can't. But I'll take with gratitude whatever time we've been given, and I'm honored to have gotten to spend it with her.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Birthday dog

Sit, Ubu, sit. Good dog.
London, ON
June 2015
This is Frasier in a rare quiet moment of introspection. Miniature schnauzers aren't known for their moments of quiet introspection, and our particular miniature schnauzer is especially incapable of it. Yet he has a certain charm about him that's become more than merely endearing since the first day we brought him home. He's become one of us, an indelibly imprinted member of our indelibly unique family.

It's his birthday today. This once-bedraggled rescue dog is now, rather unbelievably to me, nine years-old. Which puts him well into middle-aged territory no matter how much I shake my head and deny that he'll ever age beyond the puppy I've always felt him to be. He's a bit slower than he was, and every once in a while continues to idly chew on the grass while squirrels that once would have set off a ground-shaking barking fit manage to scamper past without him batting his rather bushy eyebrows.

It's difficult to explain how having a dog can add that certain je ne sais quoi to a family. I can't begin to quantify the impact he's had on our kids, but when I see each one of them spontaneously get on the floor with him morning, afternoon and night, talk to him as if he's human, hold him like a rather overgrown baby, hang with him like he's been their buddy forever, it's easy to appreciate just how much he has changed them. I hear their voices when they're around him, and I just know.

Without saying a word - well, not in a language remotely resembling English - he's figured out to worm his way into the deepest recesses of our kids' souls. And, let's be honest, ours as well. He knew from the moment that we first brought him home that we were his forever family, and we can't imagine what life would have been like without him.

The day was filled with spontaneous celebrations of his birthday. More hugs than usual. Songs. Maybe even an extra treat or two. Since he can't read a calendar, we're pretty sure the significance of the day was lost on him. Yet as another charmed day in the charmed life of a charmed dog, we know he knows. The passage of time does nothing to remove from us what this little being has managed to create.

Related readings:

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Thematic Photographic 340 - Liquidity

There will come soft rains
London, ON
July 2015
‎There's something elemental about liquid, and capturing it through the lens could very well occupy the average photographer for several lifetimes.

I'm not about to spend several lifetimes - or even one - doing nothing but shoot photos of liquids. I love wet-themed photography as much as anyone else, but there's a limit to everything. In the end, I figured a week's worth of Thematic contributions couldn't hurt. Who's with me?

Your turn: Grab a pic that supports this week's theme - liquidity‎ - and share it on your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants, tell a friend (we always welcome new folks) and come back through the week if you've got additional photos to share. Head here for more background on how Thematic works. And most of all, enjoy the ride.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

The Big O sits and waits

Montreal, QC,
August 2014
For more Thematic Aged, head here
When Montreal's Olympic Stadium was unveiled in advance of the 1976 Summer Games, it almost seemed as if it had descended from the future. This spaceship-like concrete monstrosity topped by the world's tallest inclined tower was the brainchild of Parisian architect Roger Taillibert. His radical design - along with the Velodrome and swimming facilities at its base - represented the unbridled optimism of a world-class-city.

Unfortunately, history treated this building as savagely as it did the city where it was ultimately built. Massive cost overruns, delays and corruption meant the tower and roof were nowhere to be seen when the games opened in July. By that November, the separatist-driven Parti Quebecois came to power and ushered in a new era of economic darkness and social upheaval. As Montreal's star faded amid a massive outflow of talent to Toronto to the west, The Big O, as it was known, became a symbol of misplaced optimism, out-of-touch design and lost opportunity.

Fast forward to today and the Montreal Expos major league baseball team is long gone, the CFL's Alouettes football team has relocated to Molson Stadium, and the mostly empty Big O, long deemed one of the worst sports venues on the planet, now sits quietly as it awaits an uncertain fate.

But if you look at it just so, in isolation of the forces that created - and ultimately rejected - it, the structure remains a compelling piece of architecture. I remain hopeful for a brighter future for it, because history often takes more than a mere few decades to give truly revolutionary buildings their due.

Your turn: Why do we love/hate buildings like this as much as we do?

Related reading:

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Where I become a talk show host. Sort of.

I've said it before, but I'll say it again because it's as true today as it's ever been: I lead a surreal life.

To wit, I'll be sitting in the chair at London's NewsTalk 1290 CJBK radio station this coming week. From Monday through Friday (July 06 through 10) I'll be hosting the Ask the Experts show between noon and 1:00 p.m., and then filling in for Mike Stubbs on The Mike Stubbs Show from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.

As you can imagine, filling in as guest host is a lot more involved than jumping on the phone for an interview. So I've been busy learning how everything works, and doing my best to absorb every last bit of wisdom from the entire team at CJBK.

The cool thing about this gig is that I'm not just a talking head. Rather, I get to decide what we talk about, with whom, and ultimately how to make great radio that keeps listeners intrigued - and tuned in.

So...over to you: What should I talk about? And who should I be talking to? What do YOU want to hear on-air this week?


On finding your go-to people

"Sometimes the most ordinary things could be made extraordinary, simply by doing them with the right people."
Elizabeth Green
Your turn: Who, in your circle of friends and acquaintances‎, qualifies as "right" or "extraordinary"? What makes someone a go-to person for you?