Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On politeness

"Politeness is an inexpensive way to make friends."
William Feather
I think the action items from this are quite clear. Don't you?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thematic Photographic 317 - Vehicular Etc.

City lights
London, ON
November 2014
No matter what side of the car-love-hate equation you happen to fall on, you can't ignore their dominance of the urban and suburban environment. From the moment you first step out of the house in the morning, your entire experience will, in ways large and small, be defined by the overwhelming presence of automobiles and the infrastructure designed to support them.

For what it's worth, I lean toward bicycles. Way more fun. Healthier, too.

Your turn: Take a picture that supports, evokes or otherwise reflects this week's theme, "vehicular, etc."‎ Post it to your blog or website, then pop back here to leave a comment so folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to double - or even triple - your photographic fun. Head here to learn more about how Thematic works. Feel free to share additional photos through the week. Friends are always welcome.

A little extra zing


I wanted to end off this week's "food from the earth" theme - head here for any last-minute submissions - with a reminder that ‎even something as seemingly insignificant as a radish can be meaningful in its own way.

Bear with me. There's method to my vegetarian madness.

The scene: I'm shopping for groceries - at the Great Canadian Superstore, because the Mediocre Canadian Superstore was closed last Sunday - and I'm wandering through the vegetable aisle. I come across the radish bin and stop. For reasons I don't quite understand, I linger over them for a bit. Maybe it's the color. Or perhaps the texture.

Then it hits me: I haven't eaten these in a while. I remember my mom used to toss them into salads when I was a kid, but being the silly boy that I was, I didn't fully appreciate the virtues of vegetables, and inevitably tried to drown the poor things in pools of dressing. In retrospect, ew.

My childhood food issues aside, the radishes always stood out. They had this neat bite to them, an extra zip of taste and an equally sharp texture. If a vegetable went to finishing school, I always surmised it would come out looking like a radish.

Which largely explains my little photographic moment all these years later. Because some seeds take a little longer than others to take root.

Your turn: ‎Your most/least favorite veggie is...? Why?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Renaissance comes to London

London's downtown has had its fair share of difficulty in recent years. In many respects it's no different than any other central core area that's struggled with the flight to the suburbs and endless debates over parking, traffic, empty storefronts and scary streetscapes as soon as the office workers leave for the day.

While the civic agenda was preoccupied with fraudulent mayors and bullying councillors, a quietly diligent group of entrepreneurs has been working largely beneath the radar to change that trajectory. Job by job, block by block, they've been bringing life back to a place that many once wrote off. In doing so, they're laying the groundwork for a very different - and significantly more agile and opportunity-filled - city than the one I thought I was moving to all those years ago.

I'm proud to say I'm now part of that story - I joined Voices.com a couple of months ago as their senior writer. Our offices are right in the middle of the downtown renaissance zone, and more importantly we are one of those digital companies doing world-beating work that most Londoners may never otherwise see.

London Free Press reporter Kate Dubinski published a piece, The downtown you don’t know - but should, in the paper on Friday, and as tickled as I am that we're mentioned, it's the fact that we're not alone, and that we're part of a bigger story of urban renewal, that jazzes me.

Exciting times around here.

Your turn: What's exciting in your neck of the woods?

Found: Cover art for my next horror film

Eddie Murphy would be proud
London, ON
October 2014
Thematic. Food from the earth. Here.
I'm somewhat pleased that the pumpkins have been recycled and the world can now focus its attention on spending itself deeper into debt so that merchants can have a happy holiday shopping season. Yay for retail priorities!

Please note that I have nothing against the pumpkins themselves. While I fail to appreciate their taste or texture - and don't pull me into the pumpkin spiced latte debate, because that's just a vortex of culinary sadness masquerading as urban myth - I somewhat enjoy taking pictures of them during the brief period when they dominate the landscape.

They have so much character as passive photographic subjects that it's difficult to ignore them when there's a camera nearby. Which, in my world, is something of a constant.

I don't know what's going on with this particular one, though. Perhaps a rash of some sort. Or an aversion to my kitchen table. Weird surface growth notwithstanding, I found the shadows too fascinating to pass up. So I didn't, and I hope when some bizarre-looking subject reaches out to you, too, that you find yourself doing the same thing.

I can't wait to see what you come up with.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

When stuff looks like an animal, 163rd in a series


I don't tend to hang out much by the roots-from-the-earth bins in the vegetable section of the grocery store - probably an aversion to dirty things that look like they'd make better weapons in a neighborhood snowball fight than something sane humans would consider eating.

But this one spoke to me. Maybe "spoke" is the wrong word. It whispered. In the dulcet tones that only a bunny-rabbit-shaped root-like thing could muster. Call me smitten. Call the person behind me confused as I lined up the shot and smiled limply at her, the same smile I seem to flash every other confused stranger who happens to be nearby when I get that photographic inspiration and start snapping away.

Hop on, little buddy. Looks like I'll be back in this part of the store before long.

Your turn: Am I imagining things or do you see it, too?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Thematic Photographic 316 - Food from the earth

Rooted
London, ON
November 2014
I had a bit of a moment in the grocery store the other day. I was in the fresh produce section when I came across a knot of other shoppers. This being London, no one quite knew which way to go, so it didn't take long before a hopeless traffic jam of shopping carts stopped everyone in their tracks before, polite Canadians that we are, we slowly extricated ourselves from the brightly lit commercial kill zone.

As I stood in the middle of the grocery-festooned zoo, I found myself staring at the almost embarrassing overflow of goods available for sale. The fruits and vegetables made for quite the riot of colors and textures virtually everywhere I looked, and I couldn't help but think that any planet that can create all this cool, edible stuff has got to be a pretty magical place indeed.

I don't even know what I shot in this particular frame, but I decided it was interesting enough to use as the launch photo for this week's theme, food from the earth. Are you game?

Your turn: Take a photo that evokes or suggests this week's "food from the earth" theme. Post it to your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting other folks know where to find it. Visit other participants, and feel free to share additional pics through the week. If you're new to Thematic, or want to explain it to a newbie, head here. Otherwise, happy shooting. Can't wait to see what you come up with this week!

On being considerate

“One of my main regrets in life is giving considerable thought to inconsiderate people.”
Jarod Kintz
It's funny how life beats the need to prioritize into your head. We don't necessarily appreciate why spending our time wisely matters as much as it does - until we come close to having no time left at all. From that moment on, time becomes precious, and those who would squander it on our behalf, namely the inconsiderate ones, become that much easier to leave behind.

So, over to you: Will you stop giving thought - and time, and energy, and attention - to inconsiderate people? How will you make this happen?

(Hat tip to Cloudia Charters, who pens the delightful Comfort Spiral and who never ceases to inspire, for sharing this.)

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Work/life balance

Don't let the world intrude
Laval, QC
August 2014

Thematic metallica. Here. (Yes, that's aluminum)

Writing doesn't always fit a 9-to-5 schedule. Assignments bounce into your inbox at all hours of the day and night, the news cycle does its thing whether you're awake or asleep, and the complexities of juggling your life often result in laptops being pulled out of their sleeves at the strangest times and in the oddest of places.

At the same time, that teenaged boy making his way across the deep end of the pool at his grandfather's condo in the photo above isn't going to be a teenaged boy forever. And he isn't going to want to hang with his dad forever, either. So when he asked if we could go down to the pool for a bit, "no" wasn't an option for a whole lot of reasons.

And yet, deadlines beckoned and life on the outside continued to do its thing. The world doesn't stop just because you've decided to chill out for a bit. So I toted my backpack-full-of-tech with us to the pool, and set myself up on the lovely outdoor furniture you see here.

It didn't take long for me to finish what I was working on so I could get back to the very serious business of simply watching our son be the little boy that he still is. Someone, after all, needed to time his laps, suggest changes to his stroke and complain about the bugs that always seem to come out as the sun begins to set.

I appreciate that when deadlines beckon, the folks on the other end of all that geeky equipment you see here don't care much that you have a life outside of the narrow window of work that guides your professional relationships. They want you to deliver so that they can keep their lights on. And you need to deliver so that you can keep your own lights on.

But unless we find room in all that keeping-the-lights-on-focused activity for moments like this, we'll never know what it's like to snapshot an indelible moment in the life of a child. Or feel like all that busy work we do on the outside is being done for some higher purpose.

Because if the work is all that matters, to the exclusion of seemingly small moments like the one you see here, then it doesn't really matter much at all, does it?

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The K-Car time machine

Quick, get me Lee Iacocca
London, ON
November 2014
Thematic. Metallica. Here.
‎You don't see a lot of these on the road anymore. In their day, Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant coupes, sedans and wagons (remember those?) dominated the North American concrete jungle. They were cheap, simple, and relatively huge on the inside. As the typical vehicle like this was often the only car at that price point that could seat six, it often won the buy decision based simply on its carrying capacity.

Alas, they were, um, not all that refined. I'm being gentle here. They may have singlehandedly saved Chrysler from oblivion, but in the near-post Malaise Era‎, when vehicle quality was something of an oxymoron, the K-Car twins defined the worst of the lot.

Still, there were enough made that they continued to clutter around for years, and now that their slow fade to the junk yard is almost complete, seeing one in the wild has become something of a special occasion.

So I did what any dark geek would do: Grabbed a few pics of this ancient conveyance before the owner returned and busted me. Until Mother nature turns the rest of this tired old car to rust, I see life in her old bones yet.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Thematic Photographic 315 - Metallica

Shiny train at night
London, ON
November 2014
I've chosen "metallica" as this week's Thematic theme because of its ability to shift its look and feel based on the prevailing conditions. Change the light a little and it's a whole new ballgame. Which means you can keep coming back to the same subjects and stand a reasonable chance of capturing them in a completely different way.

If variety is the spice of life, I'm guessing it had some metallic, reflective qualities baked in.

Your turn: Take a metallic-themed picture, post it to your blog or website, then pop back here and leave a comment to let folks know where to find it. Visit other participants throughout the week to spread the fun around a little, and feel free to post additional contributions to the theme if the creative urge strikes again. For more info on how Thematic works, head here. If you tweet, use the #ThematicPhotographic hashtag. Otherwise, metallic-themed photographic joy awaits. Have fun with it!

A view from the train

Rolling artwork
Woodstock, ON
November 2014
Thematic. Round (it has wheels!) Here.
I'm headed to Toronto today for some meetings with some really cool people, but that doesn't mean I can't steal a few minutes along the way for a little photographic therapy.

I've left the supposedly "real" camera at home today. I just couldn't fathom stuffing a DSLR into my laptop bag, then stopping every few minutes to put the bag down, take the camera out, shoot, put it away, then repeat a few minutes later.

Plus, the prospect of walking into a meeting with a bag overflowing with doodads that have nothing to do with said meeting made me feel like those folks who pack ginormous bags for a three-day trip, then try to stuff them into the overhead bins on the plane while the rest of us stand in line and watch.

So it's just me and a smartphone. Will my Passport hold up to the pressure? Stay tuned.

Your turn: Shooting with a smartphone...yes or no? Why/why not?

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Get your gourd on


Convenient handle included
London, ON
October 2014
Thematic. Round. Here. (It's not too late.)

I think it's only a matter of time before the good folks at the grocery store forcibly remove me from the premises for my spontaneous photography.

Granted, given the fact that my ninja-photography weapon of choice is now a somewhat lower-profile BlackBerry Passport instead of a relatively obvious Nikon DSLR, it's a lot easier to fly below the stock-boy's radar. But I suspect there are only so many ways to fake like you're reading your grocery list before someone realizes you're actually shooting the pumpkins.

Which is what I did here. Because nature works in some amazing ways, and you miss all the fun if you don't commit the moment to pixels.

In the end, I think it's a risk worth taking.

Your turn: It's time for a photographic challenge. This week, take a picture in a place you normally wouldn't shoot. Post it and share a link/comment here. Time to expand our horizons a little, no?

Four score...

My dad would have been 80 today. He died just over 5 years ago, and ever since then I haven't quite known what the most appropriate way to mark November 2nd might be. Do you celebrate? Mourn? Something in between?

I'm pretty sure there's no one, universal answer for this question just as there's no one, universal answer for any other question revolving around losses like this. You do what makes sense to you, what feels right, what helps you move forward. And in the process you learn to ignore those who seem to have no problem spontaneously disagreeing with your choices.

It's been an interesting journey since we lost him. I've learned at a profound level just how important it is to hold on to those who are most important to you. My understanding of the word "family" has undergone a fairly radical re-think since then. Whereas it was once very much tied to the family tree, it's evolved significantly in the years since.

I've learned to hold on ever tighter to my immediate family, my wife, our kids, the friends in our community who may as well be family. I've learned to gravitate toward the good souls, wherever they may be, who reflect our values, and I've learned to listen to that inner voice instead of the voices of others. I'd like to think that I've grown as a person, which is more or less what any parent wants for a child.

Maybe my own brush with fate changed the way I look at things. Maybe I simply wanted to make the best use of the limited time I've got - indeed, that we've all got - on this planet. For all the challenges he faced in the last few years of his life, my father was adept at finding the good in a moment, at enjoying something for what it was, and boiling it down to its most elemental form. It's a decent trait to carry forward, so that's what I've been trying to do.

Eighty years to the day since his journey began, and just over five years after it ended, I hope I've figured out how internalize and exemplify the best that was him. I'm guessing it's what he would have wanted, and I'm guessing it's what we always hope to teach our own children so that they, too, will grow something inspirational from the seeds we've been planting all along.

Looks like I had some pretty good seeds to start with. Thanks Dad.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Lost in Space

It was already a bad week in the space business, with experts continuing to investigate what caused an Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus cargo craft to the International Space Station to falter just seconds after launch on on Tuesday. Range safety officers sent auto-destruct commands to the rocket, which caused significant damage to the launch complex in the subsequent crash and explosion.

At the time, the saving grace was that no one was injured or killed. Today, that all changed.

SpaceShipTwo, the prototype rocket-powered craft being readied for suborbital flights for space tourists, experienced what Virgin Galactic called an "anomaly" during a test flight and crashed. The pilot and co-pilot ejected, but the co-pilot died as a result of injuries sustained in the accident.

I'm sure the debate over whether we should even be in space in the first place will rage even brighter in the wake of this accident. Detractors call it risky. They say there's no reason for mere mortals to put their lives on the line for little more than a high-speed thrill far off the planet.

Yet those same people think nothing of getting on a plane to head south for winter break. Conveniently, they forget that their routine flight on an Airbus A-320 to some beach resort was made possible by aviator sacrifices not unlike the one that played out earlier today in the skies over California.

Flight didn't become routine on its own. Neither did anything worthwhile in the history of humankind. Spaceflight should be no different, and I'm guessing those who test-fly the machines of tomorrow wouldn't want us to give up the quest just because it might end up in failure.

We learn. We move on. We raise the bar. It's what humans do.

Now, we have another pioneer to thank for all that we have, and will have.

Update: I'll be discussing this very issue live on NewsTalk 1010 with John Downs just after 9:30 p.m. Eastern. Listen in live here: http://player.newstalk1010.com/

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Would you recognize a stroke?

Today is World Stroke Day. I usually don't write about special days like this on the blog, primarily because there's pretty much a day for everything, and I'd never cover them all if I decided to start writing about them here.

Still, this one's personal. And after giving a lunchtime talk about assistive technology - AT - for folks with disabilities at our library's downtown branch today, I realized how profoundly all of this applies to me.

I touched on my stroke - somewhat strange at first given the fact that I was chatting with complete strangers - because it felt like the right thing to do, and an ideal means of springboarding the discussion. What followed was a lively, interactive hour that opened my eyes to the realities of figuring out how to live in today's world when parts of you may not necessarily be fully functional.

Last year I learned firsthand what it's like to lose critical functions - in my case, I couldn't speak, and my right side was paralyzed. I also learned how lucky I was to get it all back with little more than lingering dizziness as a reminder. I can live with a bit of wonkiness in my vestibular system, but I can't shake the realization that it could have just as easily gone the other way.

Since I began sharing my experience with a wider audience, I've heard from countless people who learned the hard way that ignoring the symptoms can lead to tragic results. From the moment a stroke occurs, you've got a four-hour - give or take - window to seek treatment. The sooner you act, the less damage is caused. But if you wave it off, you miss that window. It kills me to think of all the people I now know who chose to ignore the signs. Some died, while others were permanently disabled.

I'm sharing news of World Stroke Day because I don't want anyone to ignore the symptoms, and I don't want anyone to have to live with the consequences of not seeking immediate medical attention. It can touch us all, at any age, no matter how fit we might be. Stroke crosses all demographic lines, and is increasingly showing up in otherwise young and healthy people. Like me.

Tomorrow won't be World Stroke Day, but the need for awareness will be just as acute. Please keep it on your radar, and please talk with your close family and friends to ensure you all know what to look for, and what to do.

Only in health...

On the lost concept of simplicity

"Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated."
Confucius

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Rocket science is hard

Make no mistake: launching rockets will never be routine. Whenever you put massive amounts of highly explosive fuel into a machine, then light it, there's always a chance that something unplanned will happen.

Challenger and Columbia drove that lesson home all too tragically in 1986 and 2003, respectively. Both space shuttle accidents claimed 14 lives and reaffirmed just how much is at stake every time we light the wick and head towards the heavens.

The U.S. space program suffered another setback tonight when an Orbital Sciences Corp. Antares rocket, with a Cygnus cargo vehicle loaded with supplies and experiments destined for the International Space Station, exploded six seconds after liftoff from the seaside Wallops Launch Facility in Virginia (video here.)

Thankfully no one was killed or injured. Insurance companies can figure out what was lost and cut checks to the appropriate companies, and engineers can figure out what went wrong and make changes to ensure it doesn't happen again.

Whatever that "it" is that caused the accident we don't yet know. And when it's discovered and refined to the point that it no longer exists, it's a given that some other "it" will lurk, silently, until someday it, too, causes another accident. There's no such thing as risk-free spaceflight.

The flight, officially known as Orb-3, was part of NASA's plan to privatize cargo deliveries to low earth orbit, which would free it to focus on deep space missions (Orion's first test flight, EFT-1, atop a Delta IV Heavy, is scheduled to fly next month.) Sadly, the accident will cast a shadow over NASA's strategy, and yet again the beleaguered and budget-challenged space agency will have to devote resources to fighting off the naysayers.

They'll trot out the old familiar arguments - spending on space is a waste when the money is needed back on Earth, nobody benefits from it, etc. - and politicians who understand little about what's really at stake will bend to the voters' will. Democracy at its best.

No one ever said it would be easy. But nothing worthwhile ever happens if we simply walk away at the first speed bump. The next flight already awaits.

Your turn: Rocket flight...worth it or not?

Jian Ghomeshi - A very Canadian scandal

The other day, I wrote this on the blog about the former host of CBC Radio's Q, Jian Ghomeshi. And, since the Interwebs work a certain way (sex scandal + Internet = moths to flame) this site was slaughtered with traffic for a while. It's somewhat funny what tickles folks to read stuff, no?

I noodled the idea a little more and wrote this for Yahoo Canada:
Jian Ghomeshi: Did the CBC cross the line as an employer?
And sure enough, if the volume of comments is any indication, more folks have been tickled.

If this raises awareness of violence against women and bullying, then it'll end up being, on balance, a good thing. I doubt anyone directly involved in this mess would fully agree with me on that, but I've got to believe that there's a greater good here.

Your turn: What's an employer's role or responsibility when an employee's outside-the-office behavior crosses a line?