Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Thematic Photographic 351 - From a great height

Top-down view
Toronto, ON
September 2015
Photography is all about perspective. Change it up just slightly - or not so slightly - and you can end up with an entirely different view of essentially the same ‎scene.

Looking through my recent camera roll reveals a distinct vertical trend: I've been shooting down from relatively great heights. Whether it's a balcony, the roof or an upper-floor hotel room, my lenses have been pointing down for reasons I can't even begin to explain.

Which is where you come in...

Your turn: If you've taken a photo from a height - any height - post it to your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share in the photographic experience, and feel free to share additional photos through the week as the spirit moves you. New to Thematic? Hit up this link for more info on how it all works. Enjoy, and thanks!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Small dog, big bed

If you're old enough to remember Christopher Walken's classic "Need more cowbell" sketch on Saturday Night Live, thanks in advance for your indulgence. Just as the basic premise then was that more cowbell was always better, likewise more dog - in this case, our snoozing schnauzer, Frasier, but really any dog will do - is always a righteous thing.

Life as we know it is never easy, and the outside world has a nasty habit of sticking itself into the quiet places where we once found refuge. Yet just when I think there no way to escape the chaos churning just outside, I happen across this little guy and realize he's already figured it out. More dog time is definitely called for. More dog photos, too. Does that work for you, as well.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Lessons from a darkening sky

Every once in a while, you find yourself staring west into a darkening sky as the sun sinks below the horizon. It may indeed happen every day, but somehow we always seem to miss it because we're too busy with the comings and goings of life on the ground to pay attention to what's going on way above it.

But moments like the one you see here serve as not-so-stark reminders that we miss quite the show by not stopping what we're doing to simply take it all in.

For all the deadlines we might be fighting, fires we might be putting out, and needs we might be meeting‎, we all get a limited number of darkening evening skies to enjoy. Likewise, we're allocated a set supply of morning sunrises, autumn walks and games of fetch with the kids, the dog, or both.

‎My own head may be buried in a glowing screen or windowless studio when one of those fleeting moments decides to present itself. And I can't very well miss deadlines and deliverables just because something pretty is happening outside Right Now.

But life moves quickly, and in only one direction. I'd hate to hit every deadline only to get to the end of it all and realize I never took the time to enjoy the little moments that reward us all for working so hard in the first place.

Take the time. A few minutes staring out the window is always good for the soul. And those deadlines will still be there when you get back.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Thematic Photographic 350 - Signs

Eyes wide open
London, ON
August 2015
Apologies for posting this a day late. It's holiday time around here, coupled with lots of changes for everyone in the family. Between new schools, new work and pretty much new everything else, I think I lost a day somewhere back there.

So, back to Thematic, and this week's theme: Signs. We're ‎surrounded by them, so much so that it's hard to take a walk either inside or outside and not see at least one sign somewhere along the way.

Many are useful, while many are not. And for the next week, we'll be shooting and sharing them. Are you up for it?

Your turn: Take a picture of a sign - or a photo that evokes, suggests or supports this week's theme (Signs...remember?) Post it to your blog or website, then leave a comment here to let everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants and feel free to drop in again through the week? New to Thematic? Follow the link home for details on how it works. Enjoy the experience. And happy signing!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Two birds, only one can win

Deerfield Beach, FL
December 2014
Click all photos to embiggen
I've been known to take pictures of seagulls. To wit, here's a quick selection of past gull-themed entries:
Made a new friend at the beach
Wheels in the sky
Bird on a stone
In the overall pantheon of things that fly, they're in the same psychological space as pigeons and bats: Annoying beings that make lots of noise, steal hot dogs right out of little kids' mouths and make a mess on your car just before your big date.

Grand Bend, ON
July 2014
Despite their gritty reputation, I remain fascinated by their toughness - watching two of them go at it over a piece of fruit is more entertaining than an Eminem concert - and their incredible grace in the sky. The way they fly is breathtaking, and I could watch them wheel in the air for hours on end. Indeed, as a kid, that's pretty much what I did most summer mornings.

Sometimes, beauty emerges from unexpected places, doesn't it?

Your turn: I'm having a hard time deciding which one of these shots is my favorite. I like them both for different reasons, but can't settle on one. What do you think?

Note: These photos support our most recent Thematic theme, wildlife. If you'd like to share your own (it's easier than it seems at first blush) then please head here.

Another year...

I probably shouldn't be writing this here, as I'm sure my wife doesn't want me to broadcast the fact that she's completed another trip around the sun. But I will, because I'm lucky enough to have been on more than a few of those orbits with her, and I can't imagine what life would be like if I had to make those giant turns on my own. Nowhere near as much fun, I'm sure, and nowhere near as fulfilling.

If you know Debbie, you'll appreciate just how important milestones like this are to her. She's long said that everyone deserves to have their birthday marked in some special way. And when it comes to our family, she always makes them special. It's who she is, always looking out for others before looking out for herself. Deriving joy by bringing joy to the people who matter most to her. It's only one of the many reasons why everyone who knows her loves her, and why people who don't know her are missing out on something - indeed someone - special.

I've been gifted another year with her, and for that I'm thankful. And whether you're one of her students or a friend, I know you all have your own reasons to be thankful that your paths are crossed. If you haven't had the chance to get to know her, here's where she hangs out. Tell her her not-so-secret admirer sent you.

Happy birthday, my love. To 120 and beyond.

On loving what you do

"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
It's been almost four years since Mr. Jobs passed away, yet his influence continues to cast a long shadow over those who may not even be aware of it.

By virtue of the fact that the company he founded has become the world's largest and most influential tech firm, I often find myself writing and speaking about the what and the why of Apple. More than most companies, it continues to bear the imprint of those who founded it.

Mr. Jobs was far from perfect - indeed, find me someone who is - but he often spoke about finding your voice, your path, your joy. And I just as often find myself reflecting on his words. Because however you feel about the man, it's difficult to disagree with words like these.

Your turn: What do you love to do?

Related entries:

Saturday, September 12, 2015

She's legal in some places

So focused
Port Stanley, ON
September 2015
Our daughter, Dahlia, turns 18 today. Just writing it gives me pause. Even seeing the words on-screen seems surreal, because it only seems like yesterday we were celebrating her imminent arrival, then welcoming her into the world, then bringing her home, and settling into a very new life in a new city.

And yet, the calendar, the pictures, and the growing list of accomplishments of an already-accomplished young woman make it abundantly clear that she is very much coming into her own. And despite my issues with measuring and holding onto time - I'm always rushing to meet deadlines or get somewhere in time, and I'm always wishing I could slow time down a bit, or even stop it if the universe allowed - I can't stop thinking how lovely it is to have someone like her as a daughter.

On this day, we took a long walk along the beach. I had brought every camera I could scrounge up, and she of course chose the DSLR, as I knew and hoped she would. She threw it into manual mode - she's so my kid - and started reading the brightly sunlit scenes around her. I watched her work, almost seeing the wheels turning in her head as her eyes searched, then stopped as she pondered her next move.

Any parent would be enormously blessed to have a kid half as fundamentally good as she is. Kind, empathetic, sharp as a tack, funny as can be and an all around delight to simply spend time with. She's made the best of her first 18 years, and I already know she's more than ready for whatever the next 18 - and the next, and... - have in store for her.

Happy birthday, Peanut. Love you, kiddo.

Friday, September 11, 2015

On why we exist

"You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand."
Woodrow Wilson

9/11: 14 years on...

Historic global events have a certain tendency to warp time. After all, it still feels like yesterday that terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center towers and forever altered our understanding of terrorism.

Yet it's been 14 years since that terrible, unspeakable, indelible day, and we continue to live with the fallout. Airports with more security than prisons, ISIS, and waves of migrants seeking a better life all have their roots in 9/11.

I remember my first thought as I watched the towers fall, surrounded by shellshocked co-workers in our downtown office, was to call my then-6-year-old son's school to make sure that they were secure. I thought of our daughter, a day before her fourth birthday, and our youngest, who at 13 months-old would grow up in the shadows of an indescribable event that he did not witness first-hand.

And I remember thinking how sad it was that so many chose to be fuelled by blind hatred, that they allowed their destiny to be shaped by an irrational rage against people they had never met, and would never take the time to understand.

What is it about humanity that fills so many of us with this much anger? Fourteen years later, I'm in no better a position than I was to answer this question than I was on that awful, awful day. Somehow, we've got to do better.

Three years later
9/11 + 5
9/11: Looking back. Looking inward. (2011)

Thursday, September 10, 2015

On telling stories to the next generation

"People are hungry for stories. Storytelling is a form of history, of immortality. It goes from one generation to another."
Studs Terkel
The man was a literary giant, and I remember sitting in the corners of concrete-lined stairwells in between college and university classes cramming his work so that I could somehow absorb even a sliver of his writing style. Sure, I was dreaming, but the dream of telling stories that outlive us lives at the core of everyone who writes.

This creative thing is powerful. And I've had great mentors, even if I never had the privilege of meeting all of them.

Fun with security cameras

It's a scene familiar to many of us: Kid stores a bike in the garage, only to have it stolen by some creep.

Usually the story ends there. Stolen bikes aren't exactly high priority items for police departments, so it typically ends up being an expensive lesson for a dejected child.

Except in Blainville, Quebec, where a dad, Sam Gabriel, is using technology to fight back. After a thief grabbed his 15-year-old son's bike out of their garage, he took his story to local media. Unknown to the thief, Gabriel had a wireless security camera installed in the garage, and he's threatening to upload high-definition video of the theft if the thief doesn't return the bike within the next ten days.

Wireless cameras have become hugely popular over the past couple of years. They're a lot cheaper than they used to be, and they've got lots of smarts built into them that make them ideal for home security. They can be accessed online via a mobile app, and they can even email you screen grabs if they detect movement.

A Canadian couple used this technology to bring a Florida thief to justice. After cameras in their Fort Myers Beach home alerted them to a break-in, the couple, who were in Canada at the time, took the footage of the break-in and gave it to police, who used it to arrest one Thomas Hinton. No, watching a robbery in real-time from thousands of miles away doesn't give you the power to reach through your Internet connection to grab the thief and hold him until police get there, but the evidence can be hugely powerful all the same.

I discussed the technology with CJAD Montreal's Andrew Carter on his morning show today. Audio here.

We may live in scary times, but it's nice to be able to use technology to turn the tables on criminals. Please excuse me while I go plug my own camera back in.

Worried about digital privacy? You should be.

If we had to guess which modern-day oxymoron tops the "Most Oxymoronic" list, I'd say it has to be online privacy. Because, when you get right down to it, there's no such thing. The very fact that we live our lives online is, by definition, an admission that privacy as we know it no longer exists.

Within that context, the news cycle is filled with ever more scary-sounding revelations of just how vulnerable we've become, and just how far the companies that we deal with - and, to be fair, our governments - are willing to go to get their grubby paws on our personal information.

Microsoft raised all sorts of warning bells with this summer's launch of its updated Windows 10 operating system. While the fanboys were busy going gaga over the pretty-looking new features and the fact that it was free for most folks, an entirely different drama was playing out behind the scenes. Because like so many other large chunks of code that run our day-to-day lives - operating systems, application software, apps, websites and services - Windows 10 is set, by default, to monitor the minutiae of our activities and send the data back to the mother ship.

As you can imagine, when this news - which, let's be honest with each other, shouldn't really be news at all, because this is now our new normal - hit the front page, people freaked. As they should. And yesterday I chatted with Peter Henderson, a business reporter with the Canadian Press. My take: Nothing online is free. If we aren't paying with dollars, we're paying with our information. Data is the new online currency, and anyone who uses online apps and services without keeping this in mind is being unnecessarily naive.

The article was published widely, and it reinforces the need for all of us to become better stewards of our own personal information, and to become familiar with the tools of actively managing our identities when we go online. Here's the link:
Digital privacy concerns 'the new normal' as users pay with personal information

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

On fear, reframed

"The purpose of fear is to raise your awareness, not to stop your progress."
Steve Maraboli

An Apple a day

In control
London, ON
September 2015
The tech world is abuzz with news from San Francisco, as Apple unveils a bunch of new products at its much anticipated September event.

So far, the company has announced a new giant iPad, known as the iPad Pro, a heavily updated Apple TV‎, and an updated operating system for the Apple Watch.

Does any of this ‎solve the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Middle East and Europe? Not even close. But as an example of tech improving the way we live, it makes for a fun day.

Given what I do, it's made for a busy day for me. I started the day with a series of interviews with CBC Radio stations across the country, spoke live with BNN's Michael Hainsworth, and then sat in with him and Amber Kanwar on a Google Hangout, and am spending the afternoon at CTV London covering the story for a variety of Bell Media properties. It's an interesting way to spend the day, and for all the challenges of being a tech journalist in 2015, it's a pretty cool way to spend the day.

More Apple goodness later. For now, I've gotta go speak and write. Here's what my little studio looks like. Lovely, isn't it?

More fun Apple stuff:

  • Spoke live with BNN's Michael Hainsworth, then joined him and Amber Kanwar for a live Google Hangout as the event got underway.
  • Joined the Tech with Todd panel on CTV News Channel along with Erin Bury, who was at the event. Video here.
  • Spoke with Tara Overholt from the CTV London anchor desk during the 6pm newscast. Video here.
  • Promoted the coverage via Twitter, here.

One duck. No goose.

Paddling upstream
London, ON
August 2015
Thematic. Wildlife. Here.
I've come to this place by the river before. Just to the left of the scene you see here, the waterway makes a hard right turn, turning a splashy kind of white as it brushes over shallow rocks and disappears behind overhanging trees. Every time I come here, there's new growth, different water levels, varying light, yet it always feels familiar. Comfortable, even.

More than the sights, though, it's the sounds that could keep me here all day. Flowing, burbling water almost defines peacefulness. Mix in a backdrop of chirping birds, crickets and a whole host of unseen and unidentified beings and you wish you could somehow take this place with you wherever else you need to go.

But I can't. So photos that take me back to the river's edge will have to do for now.

Your turn: Where do you go to find peace?

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

On never assuming...anything

"Never assume the obvious is true."
William Safire

Child porn convict + YouTube = bad idea

Fact #1: Doug Rock has been convicted of possessing child porn.
Fact #2: Doug Rock once made scads of money by posting videos of his stunt driving to a popular YouTube channel.
Fact #3: Doug Rock lives just north of London, in a burg called Lucan, and would invite area boys to participate in and watch him record his videos.
Fact #4: YouTube pulled his channel in 2012 after the London Free Press reported on his 1990s child porn convictions.
Fact #5: Rock has once again resurfaced on YouTube.
Fact #6: He has admitted that teenaged boys are his target audience.

Pat Maloney, a reporter for the Free Press, called me for comment last week when Fact #5 - his return to YouTube - became known. I shared my thoughts in his article here:
London stuntman's videos still showing on YouTube despite child porn conviction
As a technologist, a journalist and a parent, the fact that sex crime convicts like Rock can have unfettered access to platforms like YouTube so that they can continue to seek and groom additional victims is, in a word, chilling. That this doesn't outrage us to no end is, frankly, surprising to me.

As much as I understand YouTube's business model - respond only when complaints are received - it leaves giant, gaping holes for people like Rock to ply their trade and perpetuate tech-assisted crimes against society's most vulnerable children.

Indeed, Google, which owns YouTube, has no problem with Rock's video channel. According to Mr. Maloney's story in the Free Press:
"A Google spokesperson indicated Friday there was no plan to take them down — the G-rated videos don’t breach their content standards — despite Rock’s conviction for possessing child porn. He faces at least one year in jail."
Am I the only one who finds this insane?

Monday, September 07, 2015

Thematic Photographic 349 - Wildlife

Sammy lives!
London, ON
August 2015
It's hard to take a walk anywhere and not come across some random animal's path. Whether it's the jackrabbits that torment our dog on his regular strolls or the snake you see here, we're never at a loss for reminders that even in the middle of a built-up city, nature rules.

So for the next week, Thematic's theme, wildlife, celebrates the critters large and small, cute and not-so-cute, that share this planet with us. I'm sure I'm not alone in that I have an archive stuffed with all sorts of wildlife pics, and I can't wait to see what you've got in yours.

Your turn: Upload a picture that supports this week's theme - wildlife - to your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to spread the photographic fun, and feel free to drop back in through the week and share more pics as they occur to you. If you're new to Thematic, head here. If you tweet, feel free to use the #ThematicPhotpgraphic hashtag. If you're so inclined, smile while you shoot. Because that's the entire point of this exercise. Enjoy...and thanks.

Jeff Goldblum wants his DNA back

Screened in
Laval, QC
August 2014
See Thematic monochrome for more
This is one of those monochrome photos that didn't start out life as a monochrome photo. The camera was set to capture a default colour picture, but the composition of the specific scene - closely cropped, tight depth of field, cloudy grey background in the fading light of a busy restaurant filled with people wondering why I was shooting clear across the room - resulted in a color-free silhouette.

I love when you lift your camera to your face expecting to take one kind of picture, and then some other unexpected, cool stuff happens, instead - especially when you get to see an otherwise annoying insect in a new, admittedly jarring way.

Buggy creepiness aside, the structures fascinate me. Nature is an incredible sculptor. And this sucker can fly, while I can't, so there's that.

Your turn: What do you do when people stare at you while you're shooting in public?

Quick note: If you'd like to share your own monochrome photo as part of this week's Thematic, head here, as there's still time. I'll post a new theme tonight at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. What will it be? What would you like it to be?

Sunday, September 06, 2015

On avoiding dullness

"There is an incessant influx of novelty into the world, and yet we tolerate incredible dullness."
Henry David Thoreau
Thoreau died in 1862, but his words resonate as powerfully today as they would have then. I wonder why that is.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Blink and you'll miss it

After the rain
London, ON
August 2015
Thematic. Monochrome. Here.
It's just a leaf. But the sun had just come out after an early-morning rain, and I knew it wouldn't be long before the droplets evaporated. And sure enough, by the time I passed by this spot on my way home, the droplets were indeed gone. It won't be long before the leaf itself disappears for good. Time is a funny taskmaster, isn't it?

On failing to truly live

"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might has well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default."
J.K. Rowling

Friday, September 04, 2015

Speak into the mic

This is what sound looks like
Toronto, ON
August 2015
Scenes like this bring me a strange sense of comfort. While it may seem counterintuitive to seal yourself into a tiny room and speak into a microphone to disembodied voices who may be hundreds or thousands of miles away, there's something very cool about that moment when you take your first breath and begin speaking.

There's an energy to that tiny beat in time, when your brain gathers up its thoughts and begins streaming them out in audible form. It's like when you first start riding a bike, those furtive first few seconds as you push off and let your feet find their rhythm in the pedals. You can almost feel the unseen power of the universe keeping you upright and moving. You feel alive.

‎The same logic applies when the mic goes live, when you push off from a standing start, and you hope the words flow. Inevitably they do, and inevitably you feel that sense of motion, and you feel lucky to be in this chair, in this place. If I smile while I talk into the mic, now you know why.

Your turn: What day-to-day activity makes you smile?

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Branch needs a name

Such a face
London, ON
August 2015
To share your own monochrome Thematic, head here
Occasionally we see things that make us do a double-take, and this forlorn remnant of a once-vibrant tree would easily qualify.

It sits just off of a busy bike path, and while I stared at it and wondered what kind of animal it looked like, more than a few cyclists stared as they rode past, probably wondering what I had been smoking. A couple of them even doubled back after a few minutes - I'm sure they thought I was up to no good.

The doubts of strangers aside, I had to stretch a bit to get this shot. Because just above the wood-critter's head, based on my, ah, limited height and position on the path, the cloudy-hot-humid sky background threatened to ruin my prospects for a reasonable exposure. Dynamic range can make or break you, and pics with huge transitions from bright to dark backdrops create all sorts of exposure hell in the process.

So to cut the angle and level-out the background as you see here, I backed way up. Then I climbed on a decaying log. And tried to compose and balance all at the same time. I'm sure the cyclists who returned for another look were amused. But in the end, I blotted out the sky and got the shot.

My only remaining questions are simple ones: Can you see what I see? And if you can, what name should we assign to this proto-critter?

The perils of jailbreaking your iPhone

Do you have an iPhone? Do you know what jailbreaking is? That's geekspeak for a somewhat shadowy technique used by some adventurous owners of iOS devices to circumvent Apple's rather rigid controls over how software is installed on iPhones, iPads, iPod touches and Apple TVs.

Out of the box, Apple exerts some of the most restrictive rules in the industry to ensure a consistent user experience. So for most of us, we can only install apps from the iTunes App Store, which Apple, of course, vets carefully before they're even made available there.

In contrast to the buttoned-down, out-of-the-box iOS experience, a jailbroken device can be heavily customized, and software from anywhere on the Internet can be downloaded and installed. Jailbroken phones can often do things that "legit" devices can only dream of.

Sounds fun in theory, but the reality can be frightening. Jailbroken devices are at significantly increased risk of being infected with malware, spyware, and other nasty code. All that fiddling around could make the devices unstable. It can also "brick" the device, which essentially turns it into a doorstopper. And if you try to return a jailbroken device to Apple for service, you'll likely be turned away, as jailbreaking voids the warranty.

Well, we're now seeing evidence of the most widespread jailbreak-related malware outbreak since iOS devices first hit the market. The iOS-specific malware, known as KeyRaider, affects only jailbroken devices - so the rest of us can breathe easy - and it has infected an estimated 225,000 devices so far. It allows hackers to steal Apple account information, including the Apple ID, password and unique device identifier. Hackers can then use that information to make "purchases" on your account. They're also selling the stolen information online, so expect further identity theft attacks against the identified victims in the weeks to come.

I discussed the issue with Beverly Thomson on CTV's Canada AM this morning, and the story and video can be found here. I also discussed it live with Mike Stubbs on First Thing on London's NewsTalk 1290 CJBK.

Scary stuff, but the good news is we can easily avoid the biggest risks by paying careful attention to our online and offline behaviors. This isn't rocket science: It only seems that way at first blush.

On the joys of being in too deep

"If you aren't in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?"
T.S. Eliot