Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Solving distracted driving, one idiot at a time

The scene: Wharncliffe Boulevard northbound, 6:10 p.m. yesterday. I find myself sitting at the front of a long line of traffic, at the red light at the Riverside Boulevard intersection. I'm in the right lane, and I can smell the Mexican-food dinners being cooked up at the beloved Under the Volcano restaurant that looms over the sidewalk across the road to the west.

In my rearview, an endless line of idling cars, plus one motorcyclist just behind my bumper. To my left, a middle-aged woman in a black, late-model Honda Accord, Ontario plate BWFY 954. Her head is in the now-obvious tilted-down position, and her hands are nowhere to be seen. She's either praying to an unseen god, or she's texting. Within seconds, I conclude the latter, as she starts smiling to herself, clearly engaged in a silent conversation through her fingers. I figure I'll have fun with her because, hey, what else is there to do at a red light?

So I keep staring at her, watching her facial expressions continue to cycle through smiles, laughs, crinkled brows and intense focus. It would be a fascinating observation of human behaviour if she was sitting on a park bench. But she isn't. She's in control of a 3,336 pound vehicle. And while she may think she's fine because she's sitting at a red light, research has already proven that red-light-texters are, in fact, compromised for up to 30 seconds after the light turns green. I think of the motorcyclist behind me, and how he doesn't deserve to be pancaked by anyone, much less someone who just couldn't wait to get home to text-chat with her BFF, and absolutely, positively, had to use her phone on the road.

I stare some more. It's always been a super-long light, so I know I've got lots of time to play with. Eventually, she turns toward me and realizes what I'm up to. Her shoulders jump in surprise. I smile impassively before I slowly shake my head from side to side. I say nothing - she wouldn't hear me through two panes of glass, anyway. She stares back with a blank look on her face, and it occurs to me that she may still not understand. I make a phone-to-my-ear gesture, followed by a down gesture. She turns her head back to the front of the car, puts both hands on the steering wheel and spends the rest of the cycle frozen in time and space, probably hoping I go away forever.

Eventually, the light turned green, and thanks to the yin and yang of rush-hour traffic, she ended up shadowing me for much of the next couple of kilometres before I had to turn off. From what I could see, she behaved herself, but I'm pretty sure I'm off her Christmas card list for good.

A few months ago, I was talking about distracted driving on-air with Andy Oudman, host of CJBK's The Live Drive. I was ranting about how rampant distracted driving has become, how we've become surrounded by driver-seat texters, that this has become our new, seemingly acceptable normal.

Except it isn't normal. And it should never be acceptable. So we vowed that day to go public every time we saw it play out on the roads. We've continued to discuss it on-air - because, let's face it, it's getting worse - and this blog entry is my attempt at escalating the campaign in a different way. Vehicle descriptions, license numbers, behaviours - if I see it, I'm outing it.

Whether you're this particular Honda-driving woman, or anyone else who texts at the wheel, your presumption of privacy disappears the instant you pull your vehicle onto a public road and decide to put everyone around you at risk. It may not bother you, but it bothers me. And I'm done being silent or polite about it.

Who's with me?

Monday, March 27, 2017

Thematic Photographic 406 - Electrical & Infrastructure

What keeps this place alive
London, ON
February 2017
I have a number of odd habits, one of which revolves around looking into the shadowy corners of quiet rooms in the vague hope that I'll see something no one else has noticed. Sure, maybe we see this stuff all the time, but do we really see it? Take the time to think about it a little?

Probably not. Hence the photo above. I don't even know what it is, but I know it plays a role in my day-to-day life. It's a switchbox on a back wall in one of the studios I use at the TV station. I'm pretty sure if this thing wasn't here, I wouldn't be going on-air. So, thank you little ignored box of stuff. And thank you to the gifted people in this place who make it all work. I'd be nowhere without them.

Your turn: This week's Thematic theme is electrical and infrastructure, because even the everyday and the forgotten can be photographically compelling. Take a photo that evokes, suggests or reflects this week's theme, then post it to your blog, website or social media account. Leave a comment here to let folks know where to find it, then drop by other participants to share the photographic joy. Bring a friend, and drop by later in the week to see what everyone's up to. For more info on how Thematic works, head here. Thanks gang!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

On cancer, knees, and feet

"Cancer didn't bring me to my knees, it brought me to my feet."
Michael Douglas
I'm pretty sure I think about health more than is optimally healthy. I always worry about it. About losing it. About not being here. Or, worse, about being here and not being able to truly live. I'm not ashamed to admit that this fear, this sense of worry, never really leaves me. It's isn't quite a Sword of Damocles. More like a constant awareness of how thin that margin can be. And it defines pretty much every waking moment.

As a writer, I often look for words - other people's words, or ones I craft inside my still-functioning brain - to hold onto. These, I'll hold onto. Because while many of us will find ourselves on the wrong end of some kind of major disease or health scare, it's what we do afterward that truly defines who we are.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

An in-between moment with a crossover

Made in Woodstock
London, ON
March 2017
For more Thematic Wheels & Tires, click here
I hold a lot of strange beliefs, and here's one of them: Life is filled with in-between moments, and it's up to us to take advantage of them lest we miss out. To wit, all too often we fail to engage in our favorite activities because we "just can't take the time" or we're "way too busy."

Enter the in-between moment, in this case on the way out to my car after work, I noticed my colleague's spanking new Toyota Rav4 in the parking lot. So I pulled my smartphone out and snagged a few pictures because a) hey, new car! and b) I thought it would make him laugh when he found out.

The results may not be earth-shattering, but the very fact that I added pixels to my memory card means I got out there. Which, looking at all the blink-of-an-eye in-between moments that we all have in the course of the day, means we're all about to be a bit busier than usual. Great way to live, isn't it?

Your turn: Describe a memorable in-between moment.

Friday, March 24, 2017

On holding onto our madness

"You're only given one little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it."
Robin Williams 

Monday, March 20, 2017

Thematic Photographic 405 - Wheels and tires


All-season goodness
London, ON
March 2017
Take a close look at the average tire today and you're looking at a marvel of computer-generated engineering. Every aspect of the design you see here was painstakingly crafted to meet a specific set of performance criteria. Tires have to be quiet, efficient, durable, affordable, and safe. A little bit of fun thrown into the mix doesn't hurt, either. Balancing these often-conflicting criteria isn't as easy as it seems.

These unassuming rubber rings literally hold your vehicle to ground below, and despite the fact that we ignore them in the day-to-day of zipping from one place to another, we really do owe them a little more attention. And thanks.

Your turn: You know the drill, right? Take a picture that supports, evokes, suggests or even merely hints at this week's theme - wheels and tires - and post it to your blog, website or social media presence. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants because nothing inspires great photography more than sharing. If you're new to the Thematic thing, check this link out. Otherwise, have fun. And thank you.

About this photo: My colleague, Andy Oudman, put new shoes on his car earlier this month. It isn't often that I get to shoot brand-new rubber, so before long we both found ourselves standing in the parking lot chatting happily about how awesome tires can be, and why they deserve more than a passing glance as we make our way home after a long day.

Related:
This photo on Instagram
carmilevy on Instagram
Where the rubber hits the road, Jan. 2016
Let's get dirty, Oct. 2013

Snakes can be friendly, too

Remember the turtle I met last week? The one I wanted to bring home but couldn't on account of the fact that I have a really smart wife who'd brain me if I even tried?

Well, here's the turtle's reptilian friend. And since I don't covet snakes as much as I covet turtles, no attempt was made to make this one a Levy.

That didn't stop me from trying to shoot the slithery thing on the only camera I had on me at the time. Pet potential or not, I can't resist that little voice inside my head that tells me this is a scene I won't want to forget.

Your turn: I don't think this snake has a name. I think we should correct that. Suggestions? I'd start the bidding with "Sammy", but that would be too obvious. I know you can do better.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

On the lesson of shoes, comfort, and life

"The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases."
Carl Jung

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The market after dark

This is the public square in front of the Covent Garden Market. I wouldn't be stretching things by saying this is a jewel in our city's crown, a public space so well thought-out and managed that it's become something of a model for similar projects elsewhere.

But that wasn't on my mind on this warm, damp night as I walked through the square on my way home from a photo exhibit where our daughter's work was on display. The light spilling out caught my attention, and I was once again reminded of architecture's ability to make us feel.

I need to spend more time here, partly to take better photos of a special place, but more specifically to just take it in. Sometimes, just hanging out in the right location is enough to recharge the soul.

Your turn: Do you have a place that makes you feel better?

Monday, March 13, 2017

Thematic Photographic 404 - Retail

Reflections from the checkout aisle
London, ON
March 2017
I'll come right out and say it: I hate shopping. As much as I enjoy getting out of the house and exploring the world near and far, watching someone count out exact change to the cashier, coin by coin, while the ensuing lineup stretches toward the back of the store, isn't exactly my cup of tea. Likewise the folks who smack their carts into you then blithely walk away without so much as an acknowledgment. On second thought, maybe it isn't the shopping I hate as much as the people who ruin the experience for everyone else.

Whatever the cause, there's never any shortage of things to shoot when we've got to hunt and forage to ensure our suburban survival. And for the next week, you're invited to share your shopping adventures in support of our latest theme, retail.

Your turn: I'm pretty sure you already know what  to do. But just in case, here's the short version: post a pic that supports this week's theme - retail - to your blog, website or social media account. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants, then repeat through the week. Thematic  is a non-competitive activity that lets us stretch our photographic boundaries a bit. I look forward to seeing what you come up with!

10 years to the dog-day

Ten years ago today, we brought home a scraggly 8-month-old puppy. He was so scraggly, in fact, that the heavily matted, black furball who showed up at our door gave way to a silvery-grey sweetie once our groomer got her expert hands on him the next day. That transition from darkness to light seemed to define his life with us from that moment onward.

You never quite know what can happen with a rescue dog, and Frasier's life was never predictable or linear. He wasn't trained in the traditional sense - so there was never a hope of bringing home large trophies after jumping through hoops and charming the pants off of ascot-wearing judges with fake British accents. He never walked in a straight line, instead zig-zagging back and forth across the sidewalk as his nose searched for whatever it is the nose of a hunting dog searches for. Being the dog-dad-pushover that I was, I simply held onto the leash and laughed at him.

But he was a good dog in ways no best-of-show ribbon could ever approach. He knew when his people needed him, and always found ways to weasel himself into whatever it was that you were doing. He protected us fearlessly, played with us with all his heart, and made friends with everyone (and every dog) he met - but only after a deafness-inducing barking fit that let everyone within four blocks know who was calling the shots. Once he was your friend, he was your friend forever. His life with us was charmed, and we cherished every day we had with him.

From that first crazy day of Levyhood, it didn't take him long to make us his. And just as quickly he became an integral part of us, an indelible addition to our family.

Indelible, of course, isn't the same as permanent. As often happens with schnauzers, he was diagnosed with diabetes a few years on. And as much as we wanted him to hang around forever, we lost him in December. It still feels sad, with an emptiness in the house that grabs at us when we least expect it: As I wake up and head downstairs, only to realize he isn't curled up in a ball at the end of the bed. When I check my watch and realize it's time for his walk, except he isn't yipping at me from the front door or staring me silently in the face. When I hear a noise coming from around the corner and for a fleeting second think it's him. Only it isn't.

We've gone from being dog people to not being dog people, which feels somewhat off to me. For all the inconvenience and expense that comes with owning a dog, I always loved how all that inconvenience and expense felt in the chaotic fabric that is a modern-era family. I enjoyed having built-in walks every day, even if the weather outside was frightening, because I needed those walks almost as much as he did. I enjoyed how we became known to friends, family members, colleagues and even strangers as the family with that cool dog, Frasier. I enjoyed the fact that something with four legs and zero language skills - well, not English, anyway - had the power to temporarily remove us from life's treadmill, and remind us that kindness and unconditional love were, and are, precious resources.

Almost three months after we took him on that last ride to the vet, it doesn't suck any less. But the alternative - no dog to begin with - is unimaginable to me. I can't even begin to think what we'd be like if we had never had him in our lives. Losing a dog is sad, but you eventually figure out a way forward and, if the universe smiles on you, you bring another furball in need of rescuing into your family. Never having a dog to begin with? Well, that's worse than sad.

I'm glad we had him, because no one else could have taught us that last lesson as effectively. Thanks, buddy.

CRA website goes dark - Canadians should worry

It was an interesting weekend in Canadian government, and as often happens in my world of data, bits and nerdiness, it meant some news coverage. The story led the agenda during my Clicked In segment on CTV News Channel last night, and continued into the morning with live hits on Newstalk 1010 Toronto with John Moore, and Newstalk 1290 CJBK London with Lisa Brandt and Ken Eastwood. Whenever a major tech story breaks, I like to draft some high-level talking points to give the producers and hosts who I work with a sense of the story, and what I think of it. Here's what I've been using so far for this one...

Here's what we know: The Canada Revenue Agency (aka CRA, aka the folks to whom we pay taxes, aka The Tax Man) took down a large chunk of its online services on Friday afternoon, and they remained offline until Sunday night. The CRA's main website at cra-arc.gc.ca featured the following message during the outage:
Upon becoming aware of an internet vulnerability that affects some computer servers used by websites worldwide, we took down our online services, including electronic filing, and are taking steps to ensure that all information and systems remain safe.
At this time, we are not aware that any personal information has been affected; however, we continue to assess and remedy the situation.
You can still complete your tax forms, but will have to wait before filing.
What we DON'T know: The CRA isn't saying precisely WHAT that vulnerability that prompted the outage was. Their handling of this matter has echoes of the Heartbleed bug, which was a vulnerability in open-source OpenSSL security code used on millions of websites around the world. In 2014, soon after Heartbleed was discovered in the wild, the CRA took its websites and online filing services down in response to the vulnerability.

We also don't know if an outage at the Statistics Canada website this weekend was related. No one there is saying much of anything, either.

Could it have been Cloudbleed? Without official confirmation from CRA officials, it's impossible to conclude at this time. However, the timing is unfortunate, as Cloudbleed has been a major tech story for the better part of the past 3 weeks.

What is Cloudbleed? It is a bug found in code operated by the Cloudflare web infrastructure company. Cloudflare provides security and hosting services for thousands of major internet sites - including  Uber, Yelp, Fitbit, OkCupid, the Pirate Bay, Change.org, Feedly, 4chan, and many more. Thanks to a tiny but significant error in some of Cloudflare's code, sensitive user information from some of these sites was being randomly inserted into web pages when visited by other people.

My $0.02: Whether or not it was Cloudbleed is almost irrelevant. What's crystal-clear is that almost 3 years after the Heartbleed episode, the CRA still hasn't learned its lesson. One would expect government IT personnel to be horizon-scanning constantly, to anticipate weaknesses in systems architecture BEFORE they go critical. Internet vulnerabilities are being discovered All The Time, and IT/security specialists are charged with proactively addressing them. Everyone else manages to deal with these issues appropriately, by installing security fixes, patches and updates on the fly, without having to close up shop for two days.

Yet three years post-Heartbleed (where the CRA was the ONLY major global website operator to actually SHUT DOWN its services) the agency continued to chase its tail, reactively downing the website and related services while it frantically tried to figure out what was going on. The only reason our tax filing services went dark for days is because the people running them are clueless, don't learn from previous mistakes, and no one's holding them accountable.

The Statistics Canada website was also partially down over the weekend, and again no one's saying much of anything, so we don't know if the two incidents are related, what's behind them, or what's being done to address the root cause and prevent them from recurring in future. Neither agency is telling Canadians the whole story, and given this is peak filing season for taxpayers, they deserve answers. And better government IT coverage than they've been getting.

No one's going to complain that the feds made it harder for them to pay taxes for a couple of days. But given the growing signs of IT ineptitude within at least two major departments in  recent days, it's entirely reasonable for Canadians to be concerned.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Dreaming of blue turtles

Out for a stroll
Toronto, ON
March 2016
Thematic. Take a walk. Here.
A long time ago, in a childhood suburb far, far away, I had a pet turtle. She - we assume she was a she - was named "Turdle" because she wasn't mine first. I inherited her from an older brother who went off to school, and within a short period of time she grew from tiny-sized to large enough to outgrow two enclosures.

Even when she was living in a 25-gallon aquarium, she was rather adept at escaping, and my wife - who was then my girlfriend - still laughs at the memories of returning to the house and realizing she was gone. The floor was covered with a thick, shaggy carpet best described as what happens when a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle has a bad burrito for breakfast and hurls the result all over the floor. In other words, the perfect blue-green camouflage for a turtle.

So we'd get on the bed, hang ourselves over the edge and gently feel down to the floor as we quietly called her name. Good times, and not exactly textbook procedure to get the girl. But she married me, anyway, so it all worked out in the end.

Fast forward to last night, where we found ourselves at a large party with lots of folks we know. Not just a party, but a jungle-themed party. Cool, we thought, as we scanned the lovely decorations and reconnected with friends we hadn't seen in a while. Before long, smiling t-shirt-clad people emerged holding a variety of animals: A parrot named Elmo, a small crocodile-like lizard with a taped-up mouth, a ginormous snake with a very open and accessible mouth, and the turtle you see here.

Being the idiot that I am, I gravitated toward this beautiful shelled creature as he happily wandered the floor in the main lobby. The blue-green shag carpeting may as well have been gone for decades, but for a moment it felt like my teenaged self was hanging around my teenaged girlfriend in a faraway place where our biggest worry was whether the turtle had gotten stuck beside the shoebox under my desk. Life has a funny way of circling back on itself, doesn't it?

Your turn: This turtle needs a name. What should this name be?

Related:
Vignette: Turtle Diary

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Always look back at sunsets

The market says goodnight
London, ON
March 2017
To contribute to Thematic's "take a walk" theme, head this way
The scene: Downtown London. King Street, precisely. I'm on my way to meet my wife and daughter at a local art gallery. Our munchkin has a number of her photos on display at an exhibit, and we wouldn't miss this proud moment for the world.

I've parked in the lot underneath the Covent Garden Market, the jewel of a building that takes up most of the right-hand side of this photo. As I exit and cross the street, I notice this subtle glow around me and look over my shoulder. The sky is putting on quite the show.

I check my watch and realize I'm running late. No surprise, as that's the story of my life. I probably should be sprinting the last few blocks to the gallery. But a little voice inside my head (you hear them, too, don't you?) says I can spare 60 or so seconds to stop and shoot a fast one with my smartphone.

I waver back and forth before I give in to the voice and line up the shot. I'm done in closer to 45 seconds before I stuff the phone back in my pocket and double-time the rest of the way to meet two of my favourite people. Another moment created; another even richer moment about to happen.

Your turn: When's the last time you stopped what you were doing just to take a picture?

Friday, March 10, 2017

Monday, March 06, 2017

Thematic Photographic 403 - Take a walk

Overlooking the valley
London, ON
March 2017
I've been wandering the neighborhood a lot lately, and since I'm doing it in size-9 shoes and not on a pink-hued mountain bike, I see things I wouldn't normally see when I'm spinning the pedals at 30+ km/h. If you've been following my crazy journey for any length of time, I'm sure you know what that means: Pictures. Lots of 'em.

Hence this week's Thematic theme, take a walk. I was out for a photowalk with our daughter in the Medway Valley Heritage Forest when I snapped this. We had just decided to turn for home when I saw this particular tree standing sentinel-like over the valley below. I wondered how often we get to have quiet moments like this, and answered myself almost immediately: Not nearly often enough. I resolved to change that as I tucked my hands back in my pockets and rejoined our daughter for the cold walk home amid the lengthening shadows.

I'm hoping this week's theme will give us an extra memorable moment or two.

Your turn: Take a walk anywhere you wish. Near your house. Near your office. Or far. Or somewhere in between. As long as you're self-powered in some way, you're good (we don't really judge around here, anyway, so feel free to take liberties.) Once you've taken a picture on your walk, share it on your blog or website or social media account (again, whatever/wherever is easiest.) Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it, then pop by other participants to see what they've shared, too. We like to share. More background on Thematic can be found here. Happy walking!

Beet it

It came from the earth
London, ON
March 2017
Thematic. Purple. Here.
The scene: My wife and I have come to Farm Boy, a delightful new grocery store that's been opening locations all across Ontario in recent years. The food is fresh, the store looks like you could eat off the floor, and the staff are friendly and helpful.

As we finish filling our cart and slowly turn toward the checkout aisles at the front, I lament the fact that I haven't taken a picture yet. "I feel as if I'm missing something," I tell her as she smiles sympathetically and tells me to go find something to shoot.

She's amazing in so many ways, the photo thing merely being one of them. So off I go and find these crazy-textured beets. I'm gone for maybe three minutes before I rejoin my best friend and show her my pixel-based prize. Some moments really can be as simple as this.

Related: