Saturday, October 25, 2014

As the day slips below the horizon

Say goodbye, for now
Grand Bend, ON
July 2014
For more night-themed Thematic, click here
My wife and I have evolved a bit of a tradition around our wedding anniversary. If circumstances allow, we take the day off and head for the beach. We don't do anything formal: We just spend a quiet day in a place that has always resonated with us, where the land ends and the water begins.

I think the disconnected vibe of it all serves as a handy reminder to us that life can, and should, be a simpler affair than modern society has made it out to be. Because when you take away the packed schedules, the never-ending deadlines, the pressure to deliver this before immediately diving into that, what really matters is time. And ensuring we use some of that time to reconnect with each other, whoever those "each others" may be.

This year, we lingered on the beach a little longer than usual, and as the sun slipped beneath the faraway horizon line and the sand beneath our feet turned colder with the arrival of the shadow of night, I thought about the simple joys of being with the right person at the right time in the right place.

When the sun disappeared for good, I looked over at her and said a quiet thanks that she gets it, and that she picked me. And I resolved to not wait until next year's anniversary to try to repeat, or at least enjoy, the moment.

Your turn: How do you enjoy small moments?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Where the sidewalk ends

Watch your step
London, ON
October 2014
Head here for more night-themed Thematic
A time-worn sidewalk beside a similarly time-worn parking lot probably doesn't top most photographers' must-shoot lists, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth a second look. Or even a third.

Come to think of it, maybe there's a broader lesson in there. Maybe there's a reason my dog decided to turn left instead of right on this particular walk.

I should follow his lead more often, as he seems to know where he's going.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Vandalism that inspires

Putting my foot on the truth
London, ON
October 2014

‎I normally don't advocate defacing public property. Come to think of it, I don't advocate defacing private property, either. But as I was heading back to my car in the parking structure beside my office last night, I was stopped dead in my tracks by this ink-scribbled missive on the bottom stair.

In the wake of yesterday's trauma in our national capital (see here if you're just joining us), perhaps more spontaneous vandalism like this might add some good karma to the universe. I often wonder if the individuals who commit these crimes - radicalized, disconnected, hopeless - would have been influenced in some way by seemingly little things like this.

Would they have been stopped in their tracks, too? Would they have decided to change direction, perhaps return to a peaceful, community-minded life? We'll never know, but there's someone out there in London, armed with a Sharpie, who seems intent on finding out. Whoever you are, you have my thanks for at least trying to change the landscape. And us.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Ottawa shooting: Making sense of that which makes no sense

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"
Fred Rogers
I've got to hand it to Mr. Rogers, as he always had a way of cutting big stuff down to size and restoring that sense of comfort that seemed to insulate my childhood from the nastiness just outside. Every time something would threaten that delightful cocoon, a little time with him - well, his televised persona - seemed to fix whatever had caused that breach to occur.

Today, these are just words. They do nothing to fix what happened in our nation's capital today. They don't bring back the life of a Canadian soldier, Nathan Cirillo, shot in cold blood as he stood guard at the National War Memorial. They don't undo images of police sweeping through our House of Parliament as deafening gunshots ring out - the police bravely continuing into harm's way, the journalist bravely continuing to shoot the surreal scene.

This is not the Canada I know. Things like this aren't supposed to happen here. Yet, now, they do. And we are forever changed because of it.

Maybe the blissful sense of contentedness that marked my childhood and seemed to extend into my very Canadian adulthood is no longer as blissfully content as it once was. Maybe the outside world - of terrorists, of those who wish us ill because of who we are, of those to whom freedom is something to be hated and forcibly taken away from others instead of protected and aspired to - leaked in today, and we'll never fully sweep it back from where it first came.

But I'll go back to the inimitable words of Mr. Rogers, because there always has to be hope. And despite the growing threat to our sacrosanct freedoms posed by those who seem to play by their own murderous, life-hating rules, tonight I'll tell my kids that they should always look for those who help. And to fashion their own lives so that they, too, will become those individuals who seek to become those helpers, running toward peril, when everyone else would be running for safety.


I'll be talking live with NewsTalk 1010 Toronto's John Moore tomorrow (Thursday morning) at 6:40 a.m. Topic: Technology's role in the events of today, and whether online tools like Google Maps (here's an interactive map of every building on Parliament Hill) made it easy for the gunman.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Thematic Photographic 313 - When night falls

Scary place to be
London, ON
October 2014
The creeping advance of autumn brings with it two rather cruel truths:
  1. Peak color has come and gone, leaving a swirling mess of brown leaves and grey landscapes in its wake
  2. Nightfall comes ever earlier with each passing day
I don't say this to depress anyone. It just is. And as the planet moves through another phase of its yearly dance, it's simply something I'd rather notice and record, in some way, than ignore and miss all the fun.

Since it's only a matter of time before we both leave and return home in total darkness, I thought we'd embrace that fact with this week's Thematic theme, "When night falls."

Your turn: Grab a night-themed shot, 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 photographic fun. Feel free to share additional pics through the week, and don't be shy to pull a friend into the fray. I hear they like that kind of thing. For more info on how Thematic works, head here. Enjoy, and thanks!

Can I have a lift to choir practice?

Our daughter has been part of her high school choir since she first got to the school. It's been an incredible experience for her, and it's become one of those things we wish she could bottle up and take with her after she graduates.

As any parent of a child in choir - or hockey, or swimming, or any other activity that involves showing up - knows, early morning practice is part of the deal. As they commit to pre-dawn wake-up calls, so, too, do mom and dad to making sure they get there on time.

Every time there's a concert or music night at school, her music teachers take a moment to thank parents and caregivers for driving them to early-morning practices and otherwise ensuring they get up and out of the house on time. But if we're being realistic, I don't understand why we need to be thanked in the first place.

The reality is I can't imagine it being any other way. The years where I'll be able to drive them to school, or pick them up from a program, or otherwise make sure they make it from Place A to Place B within Timeframe C are, as we all know, remarkably brief. The driving and more-complex-than-an-aircraft-carrier-deck scheduling are part of the deal we make when we decide to become parents in the first place, and I admit I rather enjoy being part of the barely-controlled chaos.

So this week, as she stepped out of the car and into the chilly early morning darkness, I waited and watched her as I always do until she made it inside and disappeared up the stairs. It's her last year of high school, so I've got a limited number of these early morning minutes with her before she moves into another chapter of her life.

And after she's gone to her final choir practice, I'll have plenty of opportunity to sleep in. But I admit I'll miss the early alarms, the quiet discussions as we get our stuff together in the kitchen, the feeling of dark chill that settles over us as we open the front door and step outside and head over to the car in the driveway.

If anything, I should thank her for the opportunity to have moments like these. I'll miss them when they're gone.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The view from the anchor desk

All eyes on you
London, ON
September 2013
I admit I lead a pretty charmed life. I get to do work I love, surrounded by a family I adore, supported by incredible friends and a community that's always felt like home. And I've got a pretty neat dog.

And in between all this fun, I get to hang out in some really cool places, with some really cool people. For example, this place. The picture is taken from the anchor's chair at CTV London. If you're wondering what it looks like to deliver the evening news, this is it.

Don't worry: I'm not about to become an anchor (pity London viewers if I ever do!) But I drop into this remarkable place often enough that every once in a while I get to do an interview from this location instead of the secondary studio that's way down the hall just right-of-center of this shot.

And when I do anything on-air, my laptop and iPad, like high-tech security blankets, are never too far away. I don't actually use them when the red light goes on. But finalizing my notes in the few minutes before we go live, and knowing they're nearby, is often all that I need to feel just right as the conversation gets underway.

There are so many moving parts to doing an interview that sometimes it just makes sense for me to sit in the big chair, where I get to follow in some very big, very accomplished footsteps. While it looks a little terrifying at first glance, the reality is that this place has become something of a second home to me, and it's easy to do what I do when I'm surrounded by the best in the business.

Your turn: Is there one place on the planet that frightens you? What is it, and why?

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A dog dreams

‎I often wonder what goes through our little guy's mind. He seems outwardly happy, but his complete absence of English skills keeps us from being absolutely sure. If only I could travel, Magic School Bus-style, into his canine brain to observe, first-hand, what's really going on in there.

Or I could steal a picture of him while he naps and leave reality for another time. Sometimes it's good enough to simply wonder about what might be.

Sleep well, sweet Frasier.

Your turn: Three words...go!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Stairway to not-heaven

Don't. Drop. It.
London, ON
October 2014
For more Thematic patterns, go here
I'm not afraid of heights, per se. I can sit in an airplane all day and be as comfortable seven miles above the countryside as I am at my kitchen table. But scenes like this weird me out. Especially when I'm the one leaning over the opening in the middle of the staircase and looking down.

I think it has to do with whether or not I'm inside the thing. Plane? Yes. Here? Not so much. Maybe there's a little worry about dropping the smartphone down the middle, as well. So despite the fact that we're looking at "only" 11 storeys of vertical space here, it's enough to give me pause. I grabbed the shot and beat a hasty retreat before gravity had its way with me.

Already I can see opportunities to improve on this initial treatment of the subject. So a return trip is already churning in my head. And you can bet I'll be as freaked out then as I was here.

It's what we do to get the shot.

Your turn: What do you do to get the shot?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Railroad to infinity

Never ending
London, ON
August 2014
For more patterned Thematic, head here
Never mind the fact that positioning yourself on a set of railroad tracks to get the shot is probably not the safest thing to do. But I figured I'd hear and feel an approaching train long enough before its arrival to get myself out of harm's way.

The double-standard for my kids, however, still applies. They are so busted if they ever come home with anything like this on their memory cards.

Your turn: Where does this track lead?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

On hope

"Once you choose hope, anything’s possible."
Christopher Reeve
Hard to believe it's been a decade since the world lost him. Yet thanks to the way he chose to lead his life, his legacy burns just as brightly today as it always has. Makes me think.

Your turn: So what do you hope for? Think big...

Monday, October 13, 2014

Thematic Photographic 312 - Patterns

Destroyed by unseen predators
London, ON
October 2014
The emerald ash borer is a nasty little bug, devouring ash trees and leaving them for dead. We live smack in the middle of a kill zone, and for years there were signs just down the road from us warning people against moving wood products out of the area.

From the looks of what was left of this particular tree in a ravine just a couple of blocks away from the house, it didn't work. The beetles came, and they ate and ate and ate, leaving no surviving ash trees in their wake.

It was a sobering moment for me and my daughter as we walked along the path and captured the scene in photos. Life doesn't always follow the intended path, and even if you take every precaution imaginable you won't always win the battle.

Your turn: This week's Thematic theme is "patterns". Oddly, the patterns left by these destructive beetles are somehow mesmerizing, and I'm guessing there are lots of other patterns - both in nature and not - out there just begging for a picture or two. So here's the deal: Grab a picture of something that supports the patterns theme, then post it to your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants and feel free to share more photos through the week. For more background on how Thematic works, head here. Thanks, and have fun with it!

Netscape Navigator turns 20

I risk dating myself, but I remember the first time I used the Netscape Navigator browser to surf the then-radical World Wide Web. It wasn't my first browser experience, mind you - I had been using the character-based Lynx for some time, and although the experience was somewhat lame, It was still something that moved the soul.

Still, installing Netscape from that stack of 1.44-megabyte diskettes and firing it up was a revelation. Dusty old DOS was tossed aside in favor of a graphical view of the Web. It was laughable by today's standards, but compared to what we'd been using all along - and let's not even talk about the non-webby services like WAIS, Archie, and Usenet that dominated the online world then - it nevertheless rocked our world. Well, mine, anyway.

Netscape Navigator was released 20 years ago today, on October 13, 1994. It quickly became the browser of choice and for a while, seemed to have caught then-dominant Microsoft off-guard. We all know what happened next, and Netscape became the first high-profile flameout of the commercial Internet era. Lessons learned in its rise and fall were ignored by virtually every dot-com startup over the next six or seven years, and to this day there are those who still wish Netscape had prevailed in those early Internet-borne battles.

Like me. And, if we're being honest with each other, I still don't get why anyone uses Internet Explorer. At least willingly.

Ah, good times. Who says tech is boring?

Here's to the next 20. It almost boggles the mind to imagine how we'll look back at today when we finally get there.

Not quite following in dad's footsteps

In focus
London, ON
October 2014
Click all photos to embiggen
Dahlia is 17 going on adulthood, an old soul who seems to have figured out the ins and outs of the world far sooner than I ever did.

She's discovered a few things about herself in recent years, chief among them an innate artistic gift, inherited from my lovely wife. This kid can draw. Jaw-droppingly well. And she'll often work on her sketchpad in the living room, finishing up her latest work while she chats with us or pets the dog.

She also loves to shoot with a camera, so when she asked to take a nature walk on Saturday afternoon, it was an easy call to plop my DSLR into her hands and let her loose. I grabbed Debbie's camera and hung back as we idly wandered to the nature path near our house and looked for things that interested us.

To no one's surprise, she found lots of autumn-themed subject matter. And as we strolled and chatted - about composition, settings, photographic theory and the challenges of fading light and temperature, basically whatever came to mind - it dawned on me that she'll easily be far better at this photography thing than I ever was.

Of course, technology makes learning a much more iterative process today. When I bought my first SLR, a Minolta XG-1, with the money I earned from my first summer as a lifeguard, I was stuck in the bad old days of film. Learning to shoot involved writing down settings for each shot, then trying to remember the scene when I got the developed film back. Great fun!

These days, digital turns every shoot into an interactive lesson. She reviewed her work as we walked deeper into the woods, and adapted her approach and the camera settings to compensate if she didn't get what she wanted initially. I shared what I could, but it was clear she could have easily done it all on her own.

If today's better tech was enough, then everybody would be a pro. But as we wandered from one scene to another I saw something in her that made it clear it has nothing to do with the tools in her hands. Her entire approach to photography is very much identical to her approach to anything else that fires her passion: She methodically considers what she needs to do, figures out how to make it happen, then shifts her focus as conditions warrant.

I could almost hear the wheels clicking in her head as she zeroed in on something to shoot, then thought about how best to convert that initial feeling into a two-dimensional set of captured pixels that would, in turn, make viewers feel what it felt like to be there.

I idly took a few pictures, as well, but if we're being brutally honest the day wasn't about me. I grabbed a few shots of her plying her craft because I wanted to remember what it felt like to be out and about as she discovered another activity that fired her soul. I remembered what it felt like when I first hefted that camera, and it somehow felt right that we had come full circle a full generation later.

Your turn: I see other walkabouts in our future. Where should we head next?

Related links:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Zero dark thirty

The scene: It's 2 a.m. and my alarm goes off. Oddly, I'm already awake. I've been staring at my smartphone's clock for the last 15 minutes, waiting for the minutes to tick down. Part of me is afraid to fall back asleep. The other part of me can't wait to get going, because it promises to be an incredible day.

That's because I'm scheduled to be in Waterloo for a live interview just after 6 a.m. CTV's Canada AM has set up shop in the parking lot of the St. Jacob's Farmers Market, its intricately planned road show designed to coincide with the launch of Oktoberfest. The agenda: Tell the story of this remarkable region. My job: Talk about the area's tech economy, explain what sets it apart, and why it's so special no matter where you might live.

But first I have to get there. So I quickly run through my usual morning routine - albeit quietly - and, using my phone's flashlight to light my way through the darkened house (best app ever, btw) I slip out into the crisp, clear and silent morning. I pause in the moonlit shadows of my driveway and breathe in the moment. Every road trip starts with a pause, hand on my car's cold metal, a wish for a safe drive. And this one's no different.

But the clock is ticking. It's 3:45. In I go. Strap in. Cue the tunes, boot the GPS, go handsfree and ease out of the driveway, my headlights sweeping past the house one last time as I pull into the night.


To some, it makes no logical sense to drive 90 or so minutes through unfamiliar landscape, speak on live national television for five minutes, then drive straight back to the office where I'll put in a full day. But some things in life don't line up perfectly on a spreadsheet. And when the opportunity to work with some of the most accomplished folks in the media business presents itself, saying no means you'll always wonder what might have been, what that adventure might have felt like, and what you would have learned in the process.

No wondering for me this morning. I said yes, and I'm glad I did. I've worked with these caring, remarkable people for months and years, yet because I'm always in a remote studio or online, have never met most of them in-person. So here I am, alone, Imogen Heap wailing in my ears as I drive through the farmlands of southern Ontario. Why Imogen Heap? Not entirely sure. But for some reason, the music seems to fit the moment.

I feel alive.

I've entrusted myself to my GPS. I had carefully plotted the route the previous day, and programmed the unit with enough backup destinations and routings that I should easily find my way. But I've never taken the back roads before. Nor have I done so in the dark, on my own: My navigator-extraordinaire wife is deservedly sleeping back home. That Garmin had better know its stuff.

Alas, it doesn't. Somewhere near Stratford, I hit a detour and before I know it, the signs that were supposed to eventually bring me back to the original route seem to have disappeared into the inky blackness. The road I'm on turns from smooth two-lane asphalt to a one-lane-and-a-little-bit gravel-dirt path. The sky seems darker still as I move further away from the atmospheric glow of nearby towns. The GPS unit seems to be pointing me away from where I should have been going, the distance-to-destination counter going up by ominously large chunks with each successive minute. So I ignore it and dead-reckon the navigation like I used to before satellite-driven tech came along.

Back on track

I eventually figure it out. I'm not lost, per se, but I do end up spending more time covering my car in dust I would have liked. After crossing too many intersections to count, where each stretch of road gets narrower and rattier than the last, I follow my instincts, turn back in the direction where I think the road should be, and sure enough I find the original routing - no sign of any construction - and continue on my merry way. The GPS snaps back into compliance - I've even saved some time along the way - and I go back to churning today's talking points in my mind.

In the end, technology wins the day as a final right-left-right-left combination drops me almost directly from endless farmland into the apocalyptic site of a temporary TV studio in the middle of a massive parking lot beside a market that forms the core of a remarkable community. It's surreal, it's magical, and I get to experience it first-hand.

As soon as I park, a producer manages to find me in the corner of the lot, and, cool enough, he knows who I am. He takes me to the central tent where I meet the team, drop my stuff and get ready for a morning I won't soon forget.

Sure, I could have slept in, but where's the fun in that? Life needs a shakeup every now and then - or perhaps more often than that - and unless you're willing to follow your gut, you'll never know whether or not you have what it takes in the first place.

On this day, my gut wins the day. And the surreal life that I lead adds another chapter. If you know me, you know how deeply grateful I am to have been given the chance in the first place.

More to come, as this is a day that almost begs for more...

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Breakfast is served

‎I recognize the irony here: I often make fun of people who share photos of their meals via social media, and here I am doing precisely that. But I got a new phone this week, and I'm figuring out what its camera can do. 

Apparently, it's a pretty decent addition to my photographic toolkit. I suspect I'm going to have a lot of fun with it. Bon appetit!