Wednesday, September 17, 2014

On the two sides of the pen

"Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing."
Benjamin Franklin
The question is this: Can I choose to do both?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Thematic Photographic 309 - In the Pink

Hot city, cool treat
New York, NY
July 2014
I've learned the secret to getting a primo parking spot in one of the most notoriously traffic-clogged cities on the planet: Drive a food truck. Even better, make it a pink Frostee truck on a warm summer's night right on the edge of Columbus Circle, a the southwest corner of Central Park. If only I had known this in high school I might have been more popular. Ah, hindsight.

I've also got a bit of a thing for fluorescent light spilling out into the night, so it was a given that I'd grab this shot as I headed back from my photographic tour of the neighborhood. Only as I started composing the scene did I realize there was a cop double-parked over there on the right. It didn't stop me from taking the picture, mind you. I was almost looking forward to the opportunity to talk my way out of it if it came to that.

The things we do for our art.

Your turn: You know what to do. And if you don't, here's the lowdown: Take a pic. Post it to your blog or website. Leave a comment here so folks know where to find it. Visit other participants. Add additional contributions through the week - serial posting is encouraged, as is bringing a friend to the party. For more info on how Thematic works, head here. And thanks for continuing to support our little photographic insanity. It may seem bizarre, but it gets us out and shooting. Which, in the end, is all that matters.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

You'll never see this scene again

Live at the Lincoln
New York, NY
July 2014
I was at a mall recently with the kids when we decided we'd been walking for a while and needed a break. So we found some benches in the atrium between a couple of corridors and took a load off. I almost missed the fact that there was a large water fountain in the middle of the courtyard, but my kids didn't.

I suddenly realized why: These had been fixtures of my childhood, where every mall seemed to have a fountain at every crossroads. Throwing coins into the fountain was a tradition, and a reward for us if we didn't cause too much difficulty for mom or dad while they shopped.

Fast forward to today and most malls have removed the fountains, probably because they cost too much to maintain or aren't energy efficient or some lawyer is worried about the risk of drowning or liability from a runaway, possibly slippery penny. I explained all of this to my kids as they listened to the soothing white noise of the water jets mask the uber-commercial din of the place, and they agreed not having these things around makes malls a lot less interesting than they used to be.

So when I happened across this incredible fountain in the middle of the plaza at New York's Lincoln Centre, I immediately thought of my kids and the little things we come across in the urban jungle that make life slightly more memorable, slightly more human, and give us things to remember and share decades later.

The next mall that installs a fountain gets my business. Bonus points for a water slide.

Your turn: Things you remember from your childhood that are slowly disappearing. Aaaaand...go!

Friday, September 12, 2014

When little girls turn 17

17 years ago today, my wife gave birth to a sweet little munchkin who, when the nurse first put her in my arms, seemed almost too small and light to be real. I peeked underneath the rolled-up blanket to see if there was any more of her under there. There wasn't, and yet, she was absolutely perfect in her teenie-ness.

We shouldn't have been surprised. After all, from the first moment we had seen her on the ultrasound screen all those months earlier, she seemed smaller than life, almost like a little peanut. So that's what we called her: Peanut. Or Peanut Girl. And it's what we've been calling her ever since. And probably always will.

The funny thing is, in 17 years, Dahlia has managed to grow from smaller than life to larger than it. She is as close to a force of nature as anyone can be, someone who grabs on to a moment and makes it firmly her own. Just like my wife, she's sensitive, smart, creative and empathetic. She's lived on honour roll from the moment she got into high school, she's fiercely protective of her little brother as he settles into his own high school life, and she's emerging as an immensely gifted artist whose work blows minds and merits a spot above anyone's mantel.

For all her accomplishments, she is as rooted in the forces of goodness as anyone can possibly be. Just like my wife, she has a soul that draws others toward her, makes them smile, makes them think, and makes me glad we had her. Everyone knows Dahlia, and everyone adores her.

Closer to home, she stands her ground in a house that never seems to slow down, with enough backbone and sheer strength of will that I don't ever worry about her. Of course, we always worry about our kids, but somehow I know she'll always find a way to navigate whatever life throws at her. Some people have that innate sense of gravity, and she's one of them.

She's grown in so many ways since that fateful day 17 years ago, and I can't wait to see where she takes herself - and us - next. 

Happy birthday, maidel. May you continue to go from strength to strength, and may you continue to bring light and joy to our lives.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Small screen stuff...

While most of my professional life is spent stringing words together, I also get asked on occasion to sit in front of a camera and explain geeky stuff. It's the broadcast yin to my writerly yang.

Working a full-time-plus schedule can make it a challenge to find time for sleeping and just chilling out in a Muskoka chair with a tall glass of ice water, an iPad filled with great tunes and reading material, and a napping dog at my feet. But in the end it's a worthwhile tradeoff, because it takes the words that I write and shares them with a different audience in a different way. I never forget how lucky I am to have opportunities like this. Blessings, folks: Cherish them.

I was on CTV's Canada AM last week explaining the Jennifer Lawrence/celebrity photo hacking story (video here, or see tweet below) and am scheduled to chat with them again this week in advance of Apple's big iPhone reveal in California. What can we expect? I'll run it all down Tuesday morning at 6:30 Eastern.
I also do a regularly scheduled weekly segment with CTV News Channel anchor Scott Laurie. It's called Clicked In (hashtag: #ClickedInCTV) and we talk about the top 2 or 3 tech topics of the week. Here's the video from last week's segment - or see tweet below. It airs Sunday nights at 7:15 p.m Eastern. The camera may not add 10 pounds, but it sure makes me look goofier than I already do.
 Your turn: What tech stories should I be talking about next?

On remembering our best teachers

"The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don't tell you what to see."
Alexandra K. Trenfor
Now that we're through the back-to-school rush, I thought this quote seemed especially appropriate. As my wife settles into her groove with a classroom full of new students, our youngest son completes his first week in high school and our daughter begins her final year before graduating, Ms. Trenfor's words seem to resonate even more strongly.

Many of us owe so much of who we ultimately become to the teachers who help us lay the foundations. The best of the best stand out in our memories, and even if we aren't thinking of them directly at any given moment, I like to think that their lessons show themselves, unheralded, in the things we do day-to-day.

I often wonder if they remember us the way we remember them. I often wonder if we're thankful enough for all they've given us.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Clinging to life

Life, defiant
London, ON
August 2014
Thematic. Vegetation. Here.
I'm starting to really enjoy shooting with my smartphone. If you're a purist, please don't worry: It'll never replace my DSLR, or even my wife's little Canon that I secretly steal from her when I don't want to shlep my ginormous camera bag.

I love my BlackBerry Z30's camera, but pound-for-pound against my Nikon, it just doesn't have the control or the quality. Still, when you've just dropped the munchkins off at one of their myriad programs and you have a few extra minutes to wander the neighbourhood before you head back, that slim piece of glass, metal and plastic will easily do the job. And it opens up a whole new way of looking at photography.

To a certain extent, being limited to "only" a smartphone forces you to approach the moment a little differently. You choose subjects, compose and shoot them with a completely different mindset. It isn't an absolute quality thing. Rather, it's how you can creatively work within the limitations of the hardware to bring home an ideal result. And pushing a lowly smartphone camera is often more fun than slumming it with the photographic equivalent of an F-22A Raptor.

On this particular evening, the low-angled sun was painting the old buildings in this dead-silent warren of downtown side-streets a delightful shade of gold. It seemed like such a waste to not take advantage of the opportunity. And my little BlackBerry managed to bring home the moment just fine.

Your turn: This is an example of an in-between moment. What will you shoot next in your own in-between moment?

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

On finding - and using - your light

"Know what sparks the light in you. Then use that light to illuminate the world."
Oprah Winfrey
I'll admit that I haven't always been the world's most ardent Oprah Winfrey fan. Her particular brand of feel-good marketing has always felt a little too sugar-coated and oversimplified for my taste.

Watching her - or any of the other dozens of knockoffs that her template has spawned - can be painful in its sameness. Every show follows the same routine, with the same guests spouting the same easy-to-follow smack-my-forehead-common-sense pap that, if only we choose to see the light, will doubtless revolutionize our lives and those of everyone around us.

The message is punctuated with perfectly timed breaks for canned applause, audience adulation and shameless sponsorship and product placement moments. I feel I need to give my brain a shake after watching any of these mid-day staples, and it makes me wonder if maybe we're missing something more substantive along the way.

My take: Get off the couch, tell Oprah, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and their kind to stuff it, turn the TV off, and go out into the real world. Lots more opportunity there to live up to our potential, no?

And yet...

It's difficult to completely write off the forces of positivity inherent in Ms. Winfrey and her ilk. They're trying to help those who follow them lead better lives. And if we can ignore the millions of couch potatoes who will do nothing but watch, and instead focus on the minority of guidance-seeking souls who will act on that guidance, who am I to dismiss what works for these folks?

With that in mind, Ms. Winfrey's words at the top of this entry seem to have struck a chord in me. In 15 words, she summarizes the key to a purposeful life. Once we look past the formulaic-TV shtick, we'd all do well to let her substantive life lessons sink in.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Thematic Photographic 308 - Vegetation

Purple and proud
London, ON
August 2014
Did it come from the earth? Did it grow from seeds? Or from a branch? Or from something else? Was it harvested? Did it fall to the ground? If it does - or is, or was - it's time once again to take your camera out in support of this week's Thematic theme, vegetation.

As you can see, I'm launching with a somewhat literal interpretation of the theme. Go purple! But you're welcome to play with it any way you wish.

Your turn: Upload a picture that supports this week's theme - vegetation - 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.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

After the interview

Small moments aren't as small to me as they might have once been. I'm slowly learning to dial back a bit so I can enjoy the ride instead of wondering afterward where I've been. Of all the things I've learned over the past year, these words resonate most strongly in my somewhat rearranged brain: Take the time.

So I do.

As an example, the scene above greeted me as I headed back to the parking lot outside the CTV London studios earlier this evening. I had just finished up my weekly Clicked In segment with Scott Laurie, and was feeling pretty good about my little place in the world. The skies apparently agreed, with a post-sunset performance that almost begged for a spontaneous photo shoot.

All I had was my BlackBerry - a Z30 - but the best camera is always the one you have with you. So out it came.

Looking up has its merits. So does slowing down.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Grab a look before this bird is fully extinct

PH-KCA, inbound
Toronto, ON
July 2014
Thematic. Here.
Click all photos to embiggen
Disclosure: I'm a bit of a plane geek. Way back in the dark ages, before the Interwebs, I used to read every aviation-related book I could get my hands on - sorry, they were way more interesting than comics. I studied the theory of flight because I wanted to understand the magic that allowed hundreds of thousands of pounds of metal, glass and related exotic compounds to lift off the ground, travel near the speed of sound for countless hours, then land safely clear across the planet before the food on board had a chance to get stale.

Once I figured out the physics thing, I dug into the planes themselves. Plane spotting was my way of making aviation an everyday thing. I wanted to look up and know precisely what I was looking at. I wanted to know the story of the particular plane, the company that made it, the things that made it special. These weren't just flying examples of the most cutting edge science and engineering known to humankind. To me, they were works of art. So it was okay to stand on the ground and admire them for what they were.

Fast forward to today and I'm still standing on the ground in awe. And I'm still plane spotting. And sadly, many of the planes I spotted as a kid are no longer flying. The star-crossed McDonnell Douglas DC-10, for example, recently retired from passenger service. Its successor, the MD-11, continues to fly, but in dwindling numbers as airlines shift to increasingly fuel efficient twin-engine aircraft like the Boeing 777 for long-range routes.

So when I saw this particularly lovely KLM MD-11 taxi toward its gate at Toronto's Pearson International Airport last month, I knew it might be one of my last opportunities to record the moment. For all the wizardry of modern twinjets, they just don't have the panache of this near-relic. That third engine, stabbed through the vertical stabilizer, is iconic. The way this thing floats during approach also makes it easy to spot. So it was an easy call to drop my bags beside the bay window and start shooting. Belated apologies to the stranger with the Dell laptop who could no longer focus on his Skype call because he thought I was breaking the no-pictures-in-airports rule.

For the record, an MD-11 is based on the DC-10, with a stretched fuselage, winglets on the wingtips, more efficient engines, a smaller empennage, and a glass cockpit. It is the last remaining trijet in the skies following the retirement of the Lockheed L-1011 from commercial passenger service. An Air Canada L-1011 was the first plane I ever boarded - on of all things a winter day camp field trip to the airline's maintenance base in Montreal. The 7-year-old me didn't want to leave the plane, and I've been smitten ever since. Seeing an old bird like this reminded me of why I first thought flight was something more than just a way to get around.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

On Hemingway's idea of fun

"When you stop doing things for fun you may as well be dead."
Ernest Hemingway
I do a lot of things that make people crinkle their eyebrows and wonder if perhaps I might have lost a marble or two at some point. For instance, sometimes I'll lie down in the middle of the sidewalk to get a closer look at something. I don't do this to deliberately get a rise out of people, but I'm willing to admit I find it funny just knowing that a little deviation from so-called "normal" behavior can make complete strangers stop and notice. And think.

I don't know who decided what "normal" is. But I don't think I'd want to spend any amount of time hanging around someone whose idea of fun is deciding whether I do or do not meet some arbitrary measure. I don't recall electing anyone to make judgment calls on my behalf, and I'm guessing you didn't, either.

It's the potential for stuff like this to creep elsewhere that really gets me: Today they might be judging me based on my horizontal sidewalk technique. Tomorrow, it could be because of a particular hat that I wear (yes, I have a propellor hat, and yes, I wear it proudly.) From there, it's a bit of a skip to falling out of favour because of my nose. Or my ethno-cultural background. Lots of slippery slopes here, and I'd rather not even get into it in the first place.

Hence these words of wisdom from the guy whose writing helped me decide to become a writer in the first place. We don't have unlimited time to do things that might appease the tastes of others. We have limited time, period. So I hope no one minds if I spend it trying to bring another smile or two to the universe.

Your turn: What do you do for fun?

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

And then along came Polly

Why's everyone staring?
Montreal, QC
August 2014
Thematic. Birds of a feather. Here.

Click photo to embiggen
It's difficult to look at this particular bird and argue that the universe doesn't operate in strange and fascinating ways. I'm sure evolution can explain the blinding colors, but part of me doesn't want to know.

So instead I stand quietly among the crowds and reach in with my lens for this shot. I'll keep the mystery going for at least a little while longer. It's better that way.

Your turn: What's she thinking?

Rogers & Shaw: Shomi the money

Everyone loves Netflix. And what's not to love? For $8 a month, you can watch as many streaming movies and TV shows as your poor eyeballs can handle. Yes, Netflix addiction can cause you to bust the monthly bandwidth cap from your Internet service provider, and yes, it can be a chore to sift through kajillions of movies in a futile search for something decent to watch. And if you're Canadian, it bugs you that American customers have a much larger library to choose from. Welcome to the First World, everyone.

But there's no denying why Netflix has quickly become such a darling, and why it has succeeded in radically changing how we consume, and pay for, content. Call it the modern world equivalent of a cheap thrill.

So, of course, if you're a cable or satellite operator - or a telecom company that provides such service - you tend to view Netflix with equal parts envy and white-knuckled fear. Those cushy monthly bills you've been sending out for decades - the ones where you force customers to pay more money than they want so they can subscribe to a bunch of bundled channels that they won't watch, all so they can get the relatively few channels that they do want - are at risk as customers realize on-demand viewing is significantly more cost-effective and convenient than waiting around for Thursday at 8 p.m. to watch The Big Bang Theory.

Chord cutters, those folks who cancel cable and satellite TV entirely and get all their TV completely online, are a direct threat to the future of conventional cable and satellite distribution, and the carriers won't give up without a fight.

Enter shomi. It's an online streaming service that, outside its deliberately lowercase branding, looks, smells and feels a lot like Netflix. Canadian carriers Rogers and Shaw partnered up on it, and yesterday they launched it to much fanfare. Rogers and Shaw are two of the largest carriers in the country. They're ISPs. They're TV distributors. They own TV channels. They sell wireless phones and they build and own the networks over which all of this stuff flows. If they don't replace their old TV distribution business with something new, online, over-the-top upstarts like Netflix will be happy to eat their lunch. It's akin to leopards changing their spots, dinosaurs avoiding extinction, and the Titanic turning soon enough to avoid the iceberg, all rolled up into one.

Will it cause Canadians of all stripes to kick their Netflix addiction in droves and try the new guy?

Not so fast.

I wrote about it for Yahoo Canada Finance:
Why the Rogers, Shaw shomi streaming service won’t stop Netflix in Canada
Your turn: Are you a Netflix fan? Why/why not? Would you switch?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

On kicking life where it needs to be kicked

"Sometimes life knocks you on your ass; GET UP! Happiness is not the absence of problems, it's the ability to deal with them."
Steve Maraboli
I was doing a radio interview recently about my medical misadventure. At one point I touched on the fact that life isn't about what happens to you, but about how you choose to respond. The first thing we can't control, so there's no real reason to worry about it. The second thing, on the other hand, is absolutely within our control.

So if these words seem to punch a little harder, at least now I know why. In the meantime, if anyone's looking for me, I'll be over there in the corner figuring out ways to kick fate's ass and find the advantage along the way. Who's with me?