Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sweet 16

Today is Noah's 16th birthday. He's our youngest son, and as such, milestone days for him also mark "lasts" for us as he, his brother and sister continue their headlong rush toward adulthood and independence.

When he was (much, much) younger, I remember telling him how sad I'd be when he'd be too big for me to pick up. That happened rather silently a few years back, and he's at the point now where he could probably just as easily lift me. But rather than feel sad about what no longer is, I'm glad we all picked him up - and held his hand, and hugged him, and spent long, lazy days together just being a family - as often as we did, because all that togetherness and little-kid-ness has clearly paid off in a young man who's thoughtful, kind, perceptive, smart and funny.

He has a spirit that makes you want to spend more time with him. So that's what we do. Every day. He walks me through the intricacies of Pokemon Go so I'll know what I'm talking about when I get back to the studio. He test-listens new music with me in the car because he knows it'll make us both happy. He will give the last of whatever he has so that those around him don't go without. He is best friends with his siblings and hardly a day goes by that I don't come home to the sounds of them all just...being. He hovers protectively over the dog because there's nothing he won't do for his beloved Frasier.

In short, he's the kind of kid any parent would love to have, and given all that he's become in 16 short years, I know so much more awaits him in the near and far future. Love you, kiddo. Happy birthday!

Your turn: Your birthday wish for Noah is...?

Friday, July 29, 2016

By any definition, they're dead

Hanging on for dear life
London, ON
October 2015
I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that once upon a time, these leaves were soft* and lovely. In the form you see here, they're decidedly no longer soft, but lovely in a different way.

Maybe this photo is a reminder that nothing lasts forever, and it's up to us to take the time to remember it - in whatever form - while we have it.

That's a little profound for a Friday before a long weekend, isn't it?

* For more Thematic softness, head here.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Monday, July 25, 2016

Thematic Photographic 377 - Softness

Wavy puppy
London, ON
July 2016
I was staring at our sleeping dog the other day and realized his fur is getting a little long. Actually, my wife and kids have been reminding me to make his grooming appointment. I'll get on it and re-shoot his fur for a future entry here.

But even in his shaggy and overgrown form, I thought his coat made for a fun picture. So I got snapping. He didn't even raise his head to see what I was up to. I guess he knows me that well.

Your turn: Take a pic that evokes or otherwise suggests this week's theme, softness. Post it to your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to see what they're up to, and check back later in the week if you'd like to share additional photos. If you're new to Thematic, check this page out. And most of all, enjoy the process, because that's why we shoot in the first place. Thanks gang!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

They hate Jews, too

Fun fact about me: I'm Jewish. While I've never identified myself front-and-centre as a Jewish tech journalist, I likewise have never shied away from discussing issues related to Judaism - mine or general ones - whenever the opportunity presents itself. I don't hide who I am or where I come from, but at the same time I've never led with it.

If I'm being blunt, I've probably erred too much on the side of public silence, choosing to not to rock the boat out of fear that someone in the fast-changing and fast-constricting world of conventional media will somehow take exception to my decision to share my views on racism and xenophobia.

But history is a funny teacher, and I grew up with the lesson that silence in the face of racism merely encourages that racism to grow. Many Jews said nothing in the 1930s as Hitler consolidated his power, mistakenly believing it was better to say nothing and hope the storm would pass over them.

We all know what happened next. So, no, silence is no longer an option.

Here's the deal: Anti-Semitism is on the rise. In Canada. In the U.S. In Europe. Everywhere. It takes many forms. Indeed, just take a quick peek into my Facebook feed at the Jew-hatred that masquerades as anti-Israel sentiment. "We don't hate Jews," they say, "only Israel." Sure thing, folks. Say that lie often enough and I suppose you'll eventually believe anything. We've been hearing similar idiocy for millenia, and it always speaks to the same end. You hate us. Always have and always will. At least have the guts not to lie about it. No one believes that anti-Zionism is anything other than thinly veiled Jew hatred. Likewise, BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) activists would be perfectly happy if Israel ceased to exist and took every last Jew with it.

So imagine my surprise when I saw a news item about an Arab newspaper here in normally quiet, genteel London. The monthly publication, Al Saraha, included an article republished from an Egyptian newspaper that recycled many of the most virulent forms of Jew-hatred. The article, "The Question Which Everyone Ignores: Why Did Hitler Kill the Jews?" covered lots of ground:
  • It denied that 6 million Jews died in the Holocaust, insisting that "Jewish propaganda managed to spread [this number] and establish it."
  • It continued: "the Jews caused most of the economic collapses that occurred in the banks in the period between 1870 and 1920."
  • And still continued: "The first theatres of homosexuality appeared in Berlin in the 1920’s, and the first presentations of pornography appeared in 1880 and 1890 by the hands of Jewish authors"
  • And finally, it credited Hitler with creating 6 million new jobs after his election in 1933, and it is this number that feeds the "Jewish propaganda" number of 6 million Jews killed as part of his Final Solution.
When challenged on the article, Al Saraha publisher Abdul-Hadi Shala told the London Free Press that he "didn’t mean to reject something that happened historically. I was curious to know why Hitler killed Jews during the Holocaust, so I read through his article and I found information. I don’t know. History knows. I believe in the correct history. If someone told me the correct history was 10 million or 20 million people died, then I’ll believe it as long as it’s correct history."

Some apology.

The Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, has joined the chorus of voices denouncing this none-too-subtle form of institutionalized xenophobia, and as encouraged as I am that it's filtered to the highest levels of government, I'm also realistic: We're surrounded by this, and no strongly-worded statement from a politician is going to make it stop. The people who wrote this fecal matter in the first place, the people who published it, then republished it, and who read it and cheer it, they won't stop until there are no more of us. And if they're not going after Jews, they're going after any other identifiable group that doesn't fit their twisted view of the world.

Because the calendar may say 2016, but the base forms of hatred that led to the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide, Rwanda, fundamentalist-driven terrorism and so many other forms of senseless human behaviors are more active today than perhaps at any point in human history. Indeed, I fear we'll never learn.

Insofar as this single piece of homegrown hatred is concerned, what's changed in the past few days is we're watching. And we'll no longer be silent.

Related readings:

On a softer kind of strength

"There is nothing stronger in the world than gentleness."
Han Suyin

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Different London. Different world.

Not like home
London, KY
December 2014
The scene: We were midway through the first day of a very long drive away toward a warmer place than the one we had left before dawn. The peculiarities of time, distance and speed resulted in us getting hungry right around a rather familiar-sounding place. Like our hometown, it's also called London. Unlike our hometown, it's in Kentucky.

One of the joys of driving is you get to appreciate the differences in culture as you hopscotch from one place to another. And in this old, forgotten strip mall with the giant sign over the leather goods store, we were reminded of just how different this particular London was from the one back home in Ontario.

Note to self: Drive more. Shoot more. Write more.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

On having a choice

"Everything that happens is a small part of our journey. We can choose to be passive or we can be proactive and overcome our fears, set our own goals and do the best to reach them. For better or for worse, we always have a choice."Giorgio Pautrie

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Teletubbies return with a vengeance

The waiting is the hardest part
Newark, NJ
July 2016
If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you may be familiar with Po*. She's the littlest of the four Teletubby characters that a few years back dominated the children's television landscape.

I've had this particular Po figurine since our eldest son was a toddler. She's a Happy Meal toy that like so many other Happy Meal toys ended up stuck behind the sofa amid a cloud of dust bunnies and forgotten socks. Once it was clear that our little guy no longer wanted her, I rescued her from her furniture-ish purgatory, and she's been hanging from my camera bag ever since.

Over the years, she's been everywhere with me. I still shoot her in airports, and she still makes strangers smile - which in this day and age seems more important that ever. Yes, she's tattered at the edges and her red has faded a bit. But for a tiny toy that was absent-mindedly tossed into the fast food bag alongside a box of mid-sized McNuggets, she's had an outsized influence on more lives than we could have ever imagined.

Isn't it strange how things become icons to us?

* Here's a quick peek at all the places she's been:

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Windows on a plane

Newark, NJ
July 2016
I've had a thing for aviation photography for almost as long as I've had a thing for aviation in general. Planes seem to offer up a never-ending roster of possibilities when you've got a camera in your hand.

And despite the worries in post-9/11 America over security, I still think bringing the camera along on a trip to and through an airport is a worthwhile risk. Don't you?

Friday, July 15, 2016

On making sense of Nice, France

"There is a saying in Tibetan, 'Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.' No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that's our real disaster."
Dalai Lama XIV
It's been a brutal week on so many levels. And after a crazed terrorist plowed a truck through a crowd in Nice, France and a monster in plain sight murdered 5-year-old Taliyah Marsman near Calgary, Alberta, it would be easy to throw our hands up in the air and say we're done, that we've lost our belief in humanity, that a world that would allow this to happen is a world we no longer want.

But I'm guessing that's what these monsters would want us to believe. Because if we do, if we give up, then they win. And I'm sorry, but the human condition isn't about folding up our tents and going home when a tiny minority among us decides to commit atrocities that can scarcely be described with words.

So please don't mind if I follow the Dalai Lama's lead. Because giving up isn't in my nature, and I hope it isn't in yours, either.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Coming back from the clouds

Sunset over the Atlantic
July 2016
Just got home from an all-too-brief week away from the chaos that is the real world. For the first time in, well, ever, I disconnected. Didn't log into email, didn't tweet, didn't update my Facebook status, didn't read anyone else's either. I turned my ringer off, let calls go to voicemail, and made a single note in my calendar app to respond to them after I returned home.

I used technology, but mainly to check the weather (hot, humid, no rain), update my reading list and process my photos. The rest of my time was spent hanging with family, playing with dogs, and staring up at the clouds and hoping for rain. It was epic.

I've long advised others to draw a line on connectivity when they take a vacation, but somehow never followed my own advice. This year, something changed. And for that, I'm thankful.

This picture was grabbed quickly on the flight out, as the sun sank toward the horizon. I had the middle seat, and when the guy sitting there took time out from taking cringeworthy portrait-orientation snaps to hit the loo, I leaned over and got to work.

Because whether you're under the clouds looking up, or over them looking down, it's good for the soul to simply stare at them as they slip past. We all need a time-out now and again. And if we're going to use tech while we're away, it should be to immerse ourselves more deeply in the moment instead of trying to remain connected to the world we've temporarily left behind.

The world will still be there when we get back. Those moments? Not necessarily.

Your turn: How do you get away from it all?

Friday, July 08, 2016

What's 10 in dog years?

In a world where people are gunned down simply because of the color of their skin, and others are blown up because of their religious beliefs or ethnicity, a dog's birthday doesn't really rank up there on the global priority list.

But in this case it's our dog, Frasier. And he turned 10 today. So while a day that he probably doesn't think is all that different from any other day isn't worthy of headlines in the newspaper or even a mention in one of my on-air segments (the tech of dogs?) I still think it's worth its own story in the ongoing adventure of our own little family.

That's because in a dog's world, little things matter. Like crazily greeting you every time you return home, even if you come back into the house five minutes after you first left because you forgot your GPS unit. Like scrunching ever closer to you whenever you're sick. Like guarding the patio door for groundhogs, because no one gets between Frasier and his family.

As much as I wish time could stand still, it continues to move forward as much for him as it does for us. Diabetes adds another wrinkle of uncertainty to a life that's had more than its fair share of it. But today we got another day with him, and hopefully tomorrow will be just as charmed. No one ever knows how many days we have ahead of us, but I remain thankful to have learned from a scrappy silver-colored pup how to squeeze the maximum amount of joy out of any given day.

You may not understand English and I may not speak dog, but I'm pretty sure you know how much we love you. Happy birthday, sweet boy.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Thematic Photographic 376 - Signs

That's just nuts
Valdosta, GA
January 2015
We're surrounded by signs. Everyone wants to sell something, and they'll use everything from hand-made paper and cardboard to giant high-technology, interactive screens to grab our attention and give us their best pitch. It's almost impossible to miss the onslaught of messaging, and it's almost impossible to appreciate just how overwhelming it can be for folks who just want to get through the day in one piece.

This is why I've chosen signs as our latest Thematic theme. Because they're all around us, yet we rarely take the time to take them all in. So I'd like us to explore signage in all its forms - both good and bad, pleasing to the eye and downright ugly. If you see signage that catches your eye, I'm hoping you'll share it here.

Your turn: For the next week, I'd like you to point your camera at a sign - any sign - then share what you get by posting it to your blog and leaving the link in a comment here. If you're new to the Thematic thing, head here. I'm looking forward to seeing the diversity of sign-y visions in your work. Have fun with it!

On not caring what anyone else thinks

"My philosophy is: It's none of my business what people say of me and think of me. I am what I am and I do what I do. I expect nothing and accept everything. And it makes life so much easier."
Anthony Hopkins
Words to live by, don't you think?

Sunday, July 03, 2016

On Elie Wiesel, and voices that must not fall silent

"I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
Elie Wiesel, The Nobel Peace Prize speech, 1986.

I have no words to express what it feels like to realize that this giant of a man has died. We have no idea what we've lost with his passing, but his lesson - never be silent - must live on in all of us who value light over dark, good over evil.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

PK Subban: Stop your whining, Montreal

Disclosure: I'm a Montrealer. Born there. Raised there. Moved away almost 20 years ago and raised our kids in Ontario, but this city never quite leaves any of us. I was, am, and always will be a Montrealer.

Which might make what I'm about to say a little difficult for some of my onetime fellow Montrealers to swallow.

The story: The Montreal Canadiens are a professional hockey team. They play in the National Hockey League, out of the Bell Centre, and are rightly revered as one of the most storied teams not only in hockey, but all of sports. Sure, they haven't won a Stanley Cup since 1993, but their 24 banners hanging from the rafters justifiably rank them in the mythical zone.

I still root for them. Like the city where they play, this team never quite leaves your bloodstream. Or your heart.

This week, the team traded arguably its best-known player, PK Subban, to the Nashville Predators. The team got Shea Weber in return. And as you'd likely expect whenever a mega-trade is announced, fans aren't holding back their displeasure.

Now, I appreciate the passion that fans may have for their team. It's more than just a sports team - it's a civic identity, a shared sense of history, a kind of glue that binds the broader community together. So when you're not happy with how the team is being managed, it's perfectly fine to disagree with the process. And given the fact that the Habs missed the playoffs this year after an epic meltdown, it's perfectly fine to appreciate how unhappy some fans might be that their favourite player had been traded away. Similarly, PK was more than just a major presence on-ice, as he became known throughout the Montreal community for his innate generosity - including a $10 million donation to the Children's Hospital and numerous gestures to create bonds with kids and adults well beyond the arena. To wit, that time he dropped in on some kids playing street hockey. Just because.

To no one's surprise, the fans aren't happy. But the degree of unhappiness - and outright nastiness - has stretched way beyond the realm of normal or balanced. Social media has been overflowing in recent days with invective directed at Canadiens management - primarily GM Marc Bergevin. And that invective is, in a word, ugly. It's either the worst trade in history, something that'll destroy the team for the next generation, cause for another riot downtown, a tragedy of epic proportions, or all of the above. More than a few fans have called for Mr. Bergevin's head on a figurative plate, and the term, "Embarrassment" has been thrown around more than a few times.

The only embarrassment here is the degree of the response, and the machine-gun-stream of social media posts of people - many of whom have never laced up a pair for so much as a game of midwinter shinny on a neighbourhood rink - that betray their absolute inability to put any of this into its proper perspective.

During a week when folks who simply wanted to travel the world or get home to their families were killed in a Turkish airport, and a 13-year-old girl was murdered by a Palestinian terrorist while she slept in her own bed, a hockey trade hardly qualifies as tragic. When the echoes of the Pulse massacre in Orlando, Florida continue to reverberate through the gay and broader community, it's ridiculous to elevate PK Subban's departure to the same level of criticality.

In short, it's a freaking game, people. Some games you win, and others you lose. And as elated or sad as you may feel when the game is over, none of it really matters beyond the field of play. Our hometown London Knights may have won both the OHL season championship and the Memorial Cup this year, for example, but life continues on in its wake. The only difference: A temporary feeling of elevated civic pride and an extra trophy in the display case at the downtown Budweiser Gardens arena. Last year, the team didn't bring home the hardware. Does any of this really matter in the day-to-day minutiae of your life? Because if you answer yes, you have no clue.

We place so much importance on the activities that surround grown men trying to shoot a puck into a net that when we lose our minds over a controversial trade, no one seems to question the ridiculousness of it all.

Well, I'm questioning it here. Kindly get over it, people. No one died and no one's life - beyond those of the multi-millionaire players whose lives the proletariat fan base now use as excuses to whip themselves into a foamy-mouthed frenzy - is materially affected in any way by the fact that a couple of players will be playing for different teams in a few months. By all means, cheer for your team. Wear the jerseys with pride. Enjoy the shared sense of community when they win, and the shared sense of support when they don't. But know where to draw the line - because too many of my one-time fellow Montrealers seem to have lost their beans this time out. And it's rather hard to watch. Or even admit I was/am one of them.

If you're going to freak out over anything, freak out over actual injustice and actual tragedy. Do something about addressing the hatred that raises kids bathed in hatred, nurtures them to commit murder and incents the communities that created these monsters in the first place to dance in the streets as they celebrate the killing of innocents. Do something more real than screaming into the social media echo chamber over a transaction that means nothing in the real world. Otherwise, you're just a moron in an oversized and overpriced hockey jersey.

Friday, July 01, 2016

A bike commuter's worst nightmare

The scene: A couple of weeks ago. I'm riding my bike home from work. It's a gloriously sunny, not-too-hot-not-too-cool late afternoon and I'm cruising westward along the Springbank Park bike path. I'm taking the long way home, a lazy Thames burbling quietly below the gentle riverbank to my right, a thickly wooded uphill to my left, and a deep green canopy of forested perfection overhead.

I'm moving at around 25 km/h - fast enough to pass the occasional dogwalker or hand-holding couple, but slow enough that I can enjoy the view and feel the perfectly efficient meshing of pedals and gears through the balls of my feet. This is why I became a cyclist, and why I prefer 2 wheels to 4 when I'm deciding how to get to work in the morning.

The path isn't terribly crowded. In fact, as I roll idly along, I wonder why, given the perfect weather, there aren't more people on it. But just as soon as that thought pops into my head, it pops out. Their loss, I figure. Besides, I rather enjoy being mostly alone out here.

Up ahead, I see something to the left side of the two-lane path that catches my attention. A tiny shadow, some jerky movement. I can't quite make it out just yet, but I figure it's a squirrel or some other critter. No biggie: Between the Canadian geese, chipmunks, seagulls and black squirrels, among others, this showpiece of a park is delightfully overrun with wildlife. It's another reason to slow down and enjoy the experience instead of powering through at max speed like I might have once done.

I ease back on the pedals to bleed off speed and position myself to safely pass the approaching whatever-it-is. As the energy bleeds off and the distance shrinks, I can just make it out. A chipmunk. Standing in the middle of the oncoming lane - basically my 11-o'clock - with its head pointing right. As rodents are likely to do, it's jerking this way and that, somewhat unsure of what to do next.

I feather the brakes to further chop my speed. I'm down under 15 km/h by now - barely making steerage - and he's skittering from left to right as I initiate a drift to the right. Whatever's going through his (her? I can never tell) pea-sized brain, he (we'll call him a he, because I'm going to assume a female chipmunk would have a better sense of where she's headed) can't seem to decide on a direction. You'd think the relatively slow approach of a relatively large pink machine with 170 pounds of helmet-wearing Canadian geek-journalist-digital-guy on it would be enough to prompt an immediate excursion in the opposite direction. If this is what you think, you'd be wrong.

After watching this directionally-challenged rodent feint toward either side of the path for what seems like an eternity, I'm rapidly running out of space, time and options. I'm now dangerously close to the woodsy right-hand edge of the path, [this close] to falling off the asphalt. My handlebars catch the overhanging branches and flip them into my forearms and elbows like playing cards in a little kid's trike. I have nowhere else to go.

I hold my breath, hoping he breaks left. He does not. At the last possible millisecond, he dives under my front tire. I feel the sickening lurch as rubber meets rodent. The front end of the bike hops up and over, and I imagine that's the feel of his spine breaking, resonating up the frame and into my fingers at the tips of the handlebars. I say a word that I wouldn't be able to say on-air. It might have been more than one such word, come to think of it.

I coast for a second, ticked with myself that I couldn't avoid crushing this misguided little guy, trying to keep myself on the straight-and-narrow as I edge myself back into the middle of the lane and get back on the pedals.

Just in case, I throw a look over my right shoulder, only to be greeted by another moving shadow. I catch one last sight of my very much alive would-be-victim's little form running into the bushes and down the bank toward the water. Whatever happened in that split-second under my front tire, he clearly managed to survive and escape. It's a bicycle commuting miracle. Or something like it.

Tough little guy, I think to myself as I say a silent prayer and continue on my way.