Monday, November 30, 2015

Thematic Photographic 357 - Celebration

This week's theme, Celebration, isn't just a gawd-awful song that's trotted out at every wedding and bar mitzvah from here to the equator. Notwithstanding the cultural atrocities of Kool and the Gang, it's a timely reminder that we have to take our happies wherever we can find them.

Small things matter more than we might believe, and we do our souls good by stopping every once in a while to drink in the sweetness of a small, otherwise forgettable moment. Life, after all, is little more than a big collection of little moments. If we spend all of our time holding out for the the marquee events, we'll miss out on everything in between.

Besides, that icing looks delicious, doesn't it?

Your turn: Find  pictures that reflect, suggest or evoke some kind of celebration. Any celebration. Or something that reminds you of a celebration. Shoot it, post it, and comment here. Visit other participants and return through the week to see what everyone's up to and, if you're game, add even more to the mix. Head here for more background on how Thematic Photographic works. And enjoy. Because that's why we do this.

Remember: We're all on some kind of journey

Life at speed
Toronto, ON
October 2012
Sometimes while I'm travelling - in planes, trains, automobiles or some other means of conveyance - I'll sit idly by the window and watch the world slip by. It's a a rare privilege to simply observe and absorb an experience without necessarily having be the one making it happen. So you grab the moment whenever it presents itself.

I was lucky enough to experience one of those moments on an otherwise nondescript stretch of track between Toronto and London. The interwoven ribbons of blurred steel remind me that we're all going somewhere, yet how we get there isn't always as defined as we'd like. Sometimes we have to switch tracks. Sometimes we get stuck. Sometimes we don't get on or off where we had intended.

As the new weeks dawns, maybe it's worth keeping in mind before we judge those whose paths we'll inevitably cross. They're on their own journey, too, and sometimes they need a little understanding - and help - to get where they need to go.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

On focusing on the one

"And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time."
Libba Bray
It's easy to get lost in the numbers when you work in media. When I first started publishing and doing on-air work, I'd often wonder about who was on the other end of the mic, camera, printing press or website. How many people were "out there"? How many listeners? Viewers? Readers? Visitors?

At first, the numbers themselves made the work itself seem super-daunting. When your voice is heard by thousands of people, or your face seen by even more, you'd be forgiven for thinking there's a lot of weight hanging on every word.

That was a much more naive me. Because now that I've been at it for a little while, I've learned that there's still a lot of weight on our collective shoulders, but not because of the sheer numbers.

The number could be 10 or 10,000, but every time I hit Publish or settle into a chair in a darkened studio, I imagine there's only one person on the other end. I wonder what he/or she wants to know, imagine that we're sitting around my kitchen table or living room having an informal chat.

And if I manage to reach that one person in some way, it's worth the effort. Everything - and everyone - beyond that is a delightful bonus.

Your turn: What are you going to say to the next ONE person who crosses your path?

Can you stay safe on Cyber Monday

I've spent a lot of energy over the last week discussing online security. No surprise, as Cyber Monday - the biggest online shopping day of the year - looms tomorrow, and hackers are already licking their chops at the prospect of millions of unprepared potential victims scouring the Internet for deals on cheap smartphones and neighbor-annoying drones.

Just as it is with drunk driving, safe sex and safe social media practices, keeping yourself on the happy side of the equation is actually pretty simple. Yet countless folks continue to get themselves into trouble by ignoring what most rational-thinking people had figured out long ago.

I did an interview with CTV's Canada AM on Friday morning to run through the key things we need to keep in mind before we grab a device and prowl the virtual shopping aisles. The interview with Beverly Thomson is here (and on YouTube), and the news team published a tips and tricks page here, as well.

Your turn: Do you find all this holiday shopping - online and off - just a little much? Why/why not?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Wireless society? Not so much.

London, ON
November 2015
This isn't technically "electricity" (see here for more on that), but I figure data cables are close enough that I can get away with it.

Do you ever stop what you're doing to look more closely into the dusty corners of whatever room you happen to be in? We tend to notice the obvious parts, but the shadowy backgrounds are often ignored, tuned out because rats nests of cables, power bars, outlets all tucked out of the way don't seem to merit a second look.

But I'd like to suggest - politely, of course, because I'm Canadian - that an occasional second, or ever a third, look is absolutely worth it. Because without the exquisitely laid out tray of Ethernet cable that you see here, the entire business it supports would have no way of keeping information flowing and people connected.

So it's still shadowy and dusty. But no less important.

And if you see me skulking, alone, around the corner of the room, now you'll know why. Feel free to join me.

Your turn: What do you see, right now, when you stare into the corner or the background. And....go!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

9 volt extravaganza

No tongues, please
London, ON
November 2014
To share your own electricity-themed Thematic, please click here.
The 9 volt battery is more than just a source of power. It's a relic of an earlier, simpler time, when electronic gadgets weren't Internet-connected, weren't wireless, and didn't plug into the wall to recharge.

As the world around this iconic technology has radically redefined itself, we find ourselves heading to the store to restock less and less frequently. Which I'm sure the landfills of the world appreciate. Sooner or later, even smoke alarms will have to move on to an alternative source of juice.

Which makes coming across a bunch of them something of a trip through time. Like videotapes and CDs, I'm not sure how much longer these batteries will be around. But for as long as they are, I'll keep coming back to them with a camera.

Your turn: Do you have a battery memory? Mine is getting them for free with Radio Shack's Battery of the Month Club (that seriously dates me, I fear.) What's yours?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

About that Facebook "Most Words" app...

Social media has been all abuzz today with news of a virally popular Facebook app, called Most Words, that analyzes your status updates and pulls together a pretty-looking word cloud based on the information it finds in your profile.

It's just the kind of thing that Facebookians (sorry, I invent words. It's a disease) absolutely love, and millions of them have installed the app. But there's a catch. Because in tech, there are free lunches. Namely, in installing the app, users are basically giving the developers - in this case Vonvon, a Korean company - carte blanche to raid your online profile and do whatever they wish with the data. Sorry, your data. ran the following story today: Privacy experts issue warning over Facebook 'Most Words' app

My three words of advice: Just say no.

Any questions?

I dream of wires

The inside of an ancient beast
London, ON
February 2015
Thematic. Electricity. Here.
For reasons I'm still trying to better understand, modern consumer technology products generally don't seem to age well. While that ancient Rolex your grandfather bought will probably be handed down with pride from generation to generation well into the next century, your first Mac either sits abandoned in a dusty basement corner, its cracked and yellowed case a far cry from the days when it was an object of aspirational desire, or it long ago made its way into landfill.

Beyond the environmental nastiness of discarded technology - use electronics recycling, please - there's a certain sadness to an old computer. Whether you're looking at its outsides or its insides, it's always fairly evident when a once-vaunted machine has devolved well past its prime. Worse, the moment when that high-tech wonder-device becomes yesterday's news often arrives shockingly early.

Still, whether they're old, new, or somewhere in between, there's something fascinating about peering into the insides and seeing what makes - or made - them tick. Accelerated obsolescence aside, there's a certain haunting beauty to tech devices that invites further exploration. And reflection.

Your turn: Your favorite piece of old technology is...?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thematic Photographic 356 - Electricity

Plugged in
London, ON
April 2015
Since most aspects of our modern lives depend on a steady supply of electricity, I thought I'd dedicate this week's Thematic theme to it. I'm odd that way, but I'm glad you accept me, regardless.

Your turn: Take an electricity-themed picture and share it on your blog or website. Or feel free to find one you've already posted. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it, and visit other participants - because sharing is always more fun. Want to share more than once through the week? We encourage that sort of thing! If you'd like more background on how Thematic works, head here. Otherwise, happy shooting. And thanks...this one should be volts of fun (sorry!)

On finding the opportunity in change

"In the midst of change we often discover wings we never knew we had."
Ekaterina Walter
Lots of change happening, both across the planet and closer to home. Which makes these words somewhat comforting.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

First snow of the season

Temporary steps
London, ON
November 2015
The annual rite of almost-winter in pretty much every Canadian town - the first snow of the season - rolled through our burg tonight. Sure, we had an early morning dusting a few weeks ago, but this time there was actual accumulation.

I didn't want to miss the moment, so when our daughter and I were walking the pup tonight, some pixel-gathering was on the menu for both of us. While we alternated leash-holding with shooting, Frasier the Wonderdog happily bounced through the clumpy snow. We both swore he was smiling as he did.

The snow will inevitably get deeper, the temperatures colder and the winds more biting over the next few weeks and months. But as long as I get to experience it surrounded by those who matter, it'll always feel warmer than the weather app on my smartphone suggests.

Your turn: How do you stay warm when winter moves in?

On planning the last day of your life

"If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?"
Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement address, 2005
His words take on a whole new meaning when you actually know what that might feel like.

Your turn: What WOULD you do if you knew today was your last day?

Friday, November 20, 2015

This old keyboard

War of literary attrition
London, ON
November 2015
See here for more old-themed Thematic
If you've followed my photographic journey for any length of time, you've probably picked up on the fact that I take a lot of weird pictures.

Among the photographic weirdness: I have a thing for keyboards. See here for one notable example.

Normally, I shoot them when they're new and perfect, before they get all shmutzy and smudgy and gross. Keyboards, like most electronic devices, tend to not age well. But I'm going to break my it-must-be-new thing and share this one.

Because even if it isn't perfectly new, it nevertheless tells a story that may be worth sitting down and listening to.

I wonder what this keyboard's story is. Any guesses?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The 25 most important social media rules of all time. Part 1.

Most days, I tend to view social media as a force for good, a modern-day technology that has the potential to bring us closer together and move ourselves further ahead.

Sadly, this is not one of those days.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been stuffed full of enough misinformation, xenophobia and outright hatred to keep a KKK chapter in business until global warming-fed oceans begin to lap at the shores of downtown Boise, Idaho. The sheer volume and pervasiveness is, to be frank, shocking in what I thought was a benevolent and tolerant part of the world.

My heart aches at how quickly conversation - any conversation - degrades into a volatile mix of nastiness that makes you wish we could go back to the days when texting didn't exist and we still wrote letters on stationery.

So to help me cope, I've written a list of, um, suggestions that, if followed, might reduce the level of bile and nastiness. Wait, who am I kidding? Nothing will ever fix this. But I had to at least do something. Here goes:
  1. Everything you say on social media can and be used against you in a court of public opinion
  2. In the online world, there is no separation of personal and professional. Your employer can - and likely does - read your posts.
  3. So does your mother.
  4. So be smart.
  5. And if you can’t be smart, at least be nice.
  6. Social media is bidirectional. It isn’t a megaphone.
  7. Yelling louder - even virtually - won’t make you heard.
  8. So take the time to read and understand the work of others. Even if you disagree with them.
  9. Pieholes were never meant to be perpetually open.
  10. You may very well be the last person to clue into the fact that everyone thinks you’re a doofus.
  11. There is no delete button on the Internet.
  12. Likewise, the Internet has an elephantine memory.
  13. Never think anything you share online is in any way private. If you digitize it, then it’s fair game.
  14. Just because you believe you’re an expert on religious theology, political science and [enter virtually any field of thought/study here] doesn’t mean you actually are.
  15. Your contributions to the canon of human existence aren’t as profound as you might think.
  16. The planet’s 7-plus-billion citizens aren’t waiting breathlessly for you to weigh in on...well, anything.
  17. The world’s problems will not be solved by thumb-typing your latest round of genius while you’re waiting for the Subway guy to finish making your sandwich. Easy on the mayo, btw.
  18. Don’t think you’ll solve your own problems with a Facebook post or a tweet, either.
  19. Just because you post it doesn’t make you right.
  20. Profile pics taken in questionable light in your mother’s messy basement using a smudged webcam from a circa 2004 Dell laptop say more about you than you’ll ever really know.
  21. Know the difference between rational discourse and irrational crapitude.
  22. If your ears are burning by this point, you probably don’t.
  23. Not everything needs to be shared.
  24. Silence is acceptable and preferable more often than not.
  25. Every once in a while, before you hit the Publish or Send button, ask yourself if doing so will help or hinder those who ultimately consume it.
Your turn: What do you think? Got any suggestions to add? Let's see if there's enough out there for a Part 2. Or 3. Or...

Monday, November 16, 2015

Thematic Photographic 355 - Old

End of the line (almost)
London, ON
August 2015
A leaf at the end of its life isn't any less worth observing that it was when it was first a bud, or when it was bursting with green-tinged life in the middle of summer, or exploding into reds and oranges with the onset of autumn.

It was August 31st when I saw this particular leaf. Too early for it to die, yet here it was, shrivelled on a branch. I guess it didn't get the memo. Or its calendar and clock needed a reset. Untimely, but very much real.

And still very lovely in its own right, its delicate remains hinting at what it once was.

Your turn: Take a picture that reflects this week's Thematic theme, old. Post it to your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the joy, and feel free to use the Twitter hashtag #ThematicPhotographic to invite others to join in. If you've got more than one pic to share, we encourage multiple submissions through the week, too. Here's where to find more background on how Thematic works. Enjoy, and thanks!

Smiles are always free

It may seem overly simplistic to look at a smiley-face cookie and assume that, like a butterfly flapping its wings across the ocean or someone yawning on a subway, it can be the start of something bigger and inspirational. But perhaps it can indeed be that simple.

And even if it isn't, it can't hurt. So here it is.

Your turn: How will you start something bigger and inspirational today?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Tonight on CTV News Channel, tech's role in terrorism

Every Sunday evening, I join CTV News Channel's Scott Laurie at around 8:15 pm for a segment, Clicked In. We choose two or three notable tech topics from the week that was, and dissect them as best we can.

It's a highlight of my week, as I get to work with a tremendously gifted team of producers to shape what we'll talk about and how we'll approach it.

Normally, we finalize the lineup a couple of days before air, which gives the team enough time to pull any related videos and build any necessary packages well before we go live. It's one of the luxuries of talking about technology: it isn't hard news, so you get to plan ahead a bit.

But sometimes, the news cycle dictates otherwise, and you've got to shift gears. In the wake of the attacks in Paris, Beirut and Kenya, it didn't seem appropriate to continue with the original lineup.

So we're going to focus on technology's role in the Paris attacks, namely how telecoms are learning from mass casualty events, the fast-changing role of social media platforms in bringing help to those who need it, law enforcement's expanding capacity in tracking perpetrators, bringing them to justice, and identifying future attacks long before they actually happen.

The issues are very real, very complex, and very close to home for us all, no matter where we live. And as much as these events have pained us all, I'm looking forward to tonight's segment. Hope you can tune in.

RIP Microsoft Zune

Today, the Microsoft Zune dies.

In the midst of a wave of terrorism - Paris, Beirut, Kenya, and any yet-to-be-named place - that seems to be enveloping the planet, it seems silly to be writing about an electronic gadget that either no one bought, or no one admits to having ever bought. It's trivial to the point of not being worth mentioning.

And yet, here I am writing about it. Because lots of ink, both virtual and real, is already being spilled about the terrible atrocities being committed in the name of some deity, by zealots interpreting rules concocted by men in caves thousands of years ago. And since I'm not going to fix it anytime soon, I may as well toss out a trivial-tech tidbit. Because if the men-in-caves have their way, we wouldn't have the right to share trivialities like these ever again.

So let's go off on a tangent, shall we?

Today is a momentous day in the annals of tech. On second thought, maybe not all that momentous. But still worth a quiet mention, because today is the day that all Zune services go dark. You haven't been able to buy a Zune device since 2012, but today is when all the online doodads that made these orphaned gadgets marginally useful will disappear for good.

Zune? Whazzat?

In 2006, Microsoft had a bright idea. It would introduce a portable media player that would allow anyone to listen to their music wherever they happened to be. Never mind that Apple had introduced the iPod fully five years earlier, and owned the PMP market with its devices and iTunes software and online store.

Nine years ago to the day, on a busy November afternoon in a Super Target just outside Denver, Colorado, I happened across workers setting up a Zune display for the soon-to-be-introduced device. Being the intrepid journalist/analyst/geek that I was and still am, I wanted a picture so that I could write about it here. The Target staff had other ideas, and thus began an in-store cat-and-mouse game that almost got me intro trouble with the retail rent-a-cops there.

I wrote about it here.

What struck me at the time was the insane amount of secrecy surrounding what was essentially a me-too device, and one that failed to offer anything new to a market that was pretty happy with its iPods.

So if you were one of the few who bought a Zune (brown? Seriously?) today's the day when any remaining online Zune services go dark. No more downloads, and no more streaming. The only thing your Zune can do now is play MP3s. And presumably keep the door stuck open on an otherwise hot and humid day.

If you're one of the seven non-Microsoft employees on the planet who still subscribe to Zune Music Pass, Microsoft will be happy to move you over to a Groove Music Pass plan for $9.99/month. Or you could just use Spotify or Apple Music on your smartphone. It is 2015, after all.

In the end, all that Zune-ish secrecy was for naught. Pity that. Wait, no: No pity at all, as the Zune was a punchline before it even went on sale. #WillNotBeMissed

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Where darkness descends

Looking for the light
London, ON
November 2015
It's just a quick snap from an otherwise unremarkable parking lot outside a big box store on the edge of town, taken quickly before we hurried inside to get on with the also unremarkable business of shopping for groceries.

Yet on this day, as the world continued to absorb the full horror of what happened in Paris yesterday, this unremarkable moment in an unremarkable place seemed to take on its own urgency. As if the simple act of recording it in the first place was somehow more important now than it had been when we all first woke up yesterday, so blissfully unaware of the next.

At a time when we all felt so powerless to fix the unfixable, I thought maybe a picture could at least give me something to hold onto, something to focus on.

I cannot, and never will, understand the fundamental hatred of others that drives so many to devote their lives to the wanton destruction of others. Of folks they've never met. Who they despise not because of what their targets may or may not have done, but because of who they are and what they believe.

I keep wanting to believe our world is better than this, yet the ongoing drumbeat of terrorism - a brazen, inhuman attack against innocents whose only "crime" was being in the wrong place at the wrong time, followed by global outrage, themed profile pics on Facebook, hashtags of support on Twitter, condemnation from the usual sources, political debate, candlelit vigils, mass demonstrations and defiant vows to prevail over evil, which then transitions into a numb settling into history before the next inevitable attack starts the cycle anew - convinces me we're on a somewhat darker path.

As much as I wish this weren't the case, I have no words, answers or solutions. The wakeup call continues to be made. Friday it was Paris, but it's been heard loud and clear in New York, London, Jerusalem and countless other places, as well, where systematic slaughter of complete strangers because of some warped ideology has become so routine that we're this close to thinking it's almost normal.

It isn't. And we have utterly failed to understand, let alone counter the insidious forces that compel people to cross oceans, towns or even streets, to pick up a knife, a gun or a suicide vest, and to turn killing into their life's work.

On this night, it seemed appropriate to freeze the moment just before darkness descended on this part of the planet. Perhaps we'll be a little wiser to this festering cancer by the time the sun reappears tomorrow morning, but based on recent history, you'll forgive me if I have my doubts.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Spider not from Mars

Found this little fellow clinging to an otherwise unremarkable wall, and much to the dismay of arachnaphobes everywhere, I decided to let my lens follow him (her?) for a little while.

On the surface, it seems weird and creepy, and even sharing it here will probably lose me a friend or two (ah yes, the online "friend" who bolts at the first disagreement. Perhaps a thought for a future entry here.)

But fear of spiders and faux-cyber-friends notwithstanding, the world is a wonderfully diverse place, and I'd hate to miss any more of it than absolutely necessary.