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?