Monday, October 12, 2015

Thematic Photographic 352 - Autumn

A rest among the leaves
London, ON
October 2051
Photo by Dahlia Levy
As the Northern Hemisphere of our giant ball of rock celebrates autumn, trees further away from the equator are turning all sorts of colors and dropping their leaves like mad in preparation for the winter to come.

It's an annual dance, but one that still manages to find unique steps, tunes and nuances along the way. So when our daughter and I headed into the woods for a closer look - see here for more - it was a given that we'd return with a story that read a little differently than it had in past years. This shoe-selfie (is there even such a thing) is just one snippet from our adventure.

Now I want to see what you can come up with, as well.

Your turn:  I'm pretty sure you already know how this works. But just in case you don't, here's the short version: post a pic that supports this week's theme - autumn - to your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants, then repeat through the week. More details available here. Thematic  is a non-competitive activity that lets us stretch our photographic boundaries a bit. I can't wait to see what seasonal goodness gets shared along the way!

On freedom, popularity, and #elxn42

"My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular."
Adlai E. Stevenson Jr.
I find this quote rather timely given the fact that we're a week away from one of the most contentious federal elections in Canadian history. Although we're known as a rather peaceful, morally stable, always polite nation, the longer-than-normal 11-week campaign has exposed cracks in the Canuck facade that reveal a less-than-pretty cauldron of dissent under the normally placid surface.

At least that's what the European op-eds suggest. Whatever.

We voted in the advance polls today. I'm working in the newsroom next Monday - more on that in an upcoming entry - so it made sense to take care of the voting stuff early. Our daughter came along, as one month to the day after turning 18 she was able to cast her first-ever ballot. Proud moment? You betcha.

Lots of folks won't be popular after the final ballot is counted seven days from now. Lots of nastiness will continue to circulate in Canadian political circles, and the impact of this political process will doubtless imprint itself well into the future.

Which is why this matters as much as it does. And why, despite the exposure of our un-Canadian warts to a global audience, I'd rather be here than anywhere else. Popularity is overrated, anyway.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Taking pictures with our daughter

Light among the shadows
London, ON
October 2015
Photo by Dahlia Levy
I took a walk with our daughter yesterday. The two of us have evolved something of a tradition, where every autumn we grab our cameras and take a walk on the path network near our house. She takes my DSLR, while I scaff my wife's camera for the umpteenth time.

All week long, we were watching the trees in the neighborhood slowly start to turn various shades of yellow, orange, red and everything in between, and by yesterday morning it was pretty clear it was shaping up to be the perfect day for a walkabout.

As we've done in past years, I hung back and watched our no-longer-little lady work. Like her mom, she sees the world through an artist's lens, painstakingly thinking about a scene before deciding how she wishes to tell its story. The deeper into the forested shadows we walked, the happier she got at the things we were seeing.

Dahlia didn't need to ask me how to shoot in this rather challenging environment of burned-out sun, deep shadows, backlit vistas and reflective water - she's well beyond her years when it comes to flipping the camera to manual and bending it, and light, to her will. Instead, the conversation flowed easily between the technical gotchas of dynamic range and the difficulties in picking from a seemingly limitless number of composition possibilities.

As you can imagine, spending a good chunk of a sunny Saturday afternoon with her wandering the color-flecked woods in search of optical goodness was, in a word, wonderful. I could have easily hung out with her until the sun went below the horizon, but as it was dinner beckoned. So we tossed the cameras back on our shoulders and headed for home.

The pic up there is one of my faves of hers because it was one of the unexpected ones. It wasn't about brilliant colors or dramatic vistas. Instead, it was a simple, almost touchable view of fallen leaves lit by a single shaft of sunlight, seemingly impossible to expose properly, yet she made it look easy. It frightens me, in a good way, how she turns thought into visual reality. Again, just like her mom.

The full set is stored here on Flickr. I think there's at least one more shoot in us - perhaps a post-color one - before the snow begins to fall. I'm already counting the days.

Your turn: What are you thankful for? Why?

Friday, October 09, 2015

Time to color outside the lines

Today isn't just a Friday. It's a Friday before a long weekend. Which makes it a little more special than usual. Every day is special, of course. We're here, which by definition makes the day worthy of being cherished. But being at the threshold of a little extended quiet and togetherness time raises things to a somewhat higher level.

Which brings us to this can filled with less-than-perfect crayons. They remind us to take the time to scribble on the paper tablecloth. To take the time to doodle. To take the time to wonder about stuff. To take the time, period.

I haven't been doing enough of that lately‎. Life has been delightfully busy, packed with crazy new adventures and challenges. But I haven't been picking up the crayons. Or the pen. Or the camera. I haven't been connecting with my inner muse, the storytelling gene that lets me take a timeout from life so that I can simply reflect on it.

In short, I've lost track of my little can of jumbled, imperfect, beloved crayons.

Time to get back to base principles.

More to come...

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

On enthusiasm and greatness

‎"Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Or passion. Or drive. Or...?

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?