Wednesday, July 30, 2014

On living...well

"Every man dies. Not every man really lives."
William Wallace

I used to work in a place where the majority of folks around me knew exactly how many years they had left until retirement. Some of them calculated it down to months, while the most ardent among them were able to count the days.

Almost without exception, they came to work because they had to, not because they wanted to. Conversations with them were punctuated by sighs and distant stares. They hung their shoulders. They sounded defeated. Their faces reflected their voices, no spark, no hope. It soon became quite the chore to be around them without feeling the cloak of their dampened spirit around me.

I'm sure the decor didn't help. Faded, ripped brown and beige cubicles from the Nixon era didn't go well with the worn-down orange carpet squares laid straight over linoleum flooring. If you weren't depressed when you walked into the place, you stood a better-than-even chance of wearing your own dark cloud by the time you walked out.

I eventually decided to leave because I saw my future self reflected in these people. I didn't begrudge them - we all have our own challenges to deal with, after all, and who am I to cast judgment? Nor did I pity them. I simply wanted, nay needed, to avoid going down the same path that they had taken.

It's been a few years since I walked into my lead's office and handed over my resignation letter. It's been an interesting ride since then, complete with its own unique set of challenges, roadblocks and, yes, successes.

Yet at no point have I ever regretted not making the move. Because ever since then I've slowly learned the difference between simply surviving and truly living. I don't waste days counting how many of them are left until I'm done with work. Instead, I start each day with a silent thanks that I've been given another one. If only more among us - maybe my onetime-colleagues - could learn a similar lesson.

Your turn: How do you manage to live your life better?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Thematic Photographic 303 - What's your tech?

Welcome to the Mac Hotel
New York, NY
July 2014
It's been an interesting day in my world. After waking up early to send some words on their way, I pretended to be a plumber, attempted to speak dog, and then packed myself up and headed to the airport. After my lovely wife kissed me goodbye, I got on a plane and flew to a big city. Then I got on another plane and flew to an even bigger city. Which brings me here, to a hotel lobby across the street from Central Park.

I'm covering a pretty neat event tomorrow - more on that as the week plays out - and as I slurp up the free Wi-Fi in the lobby, it occurs to me that the technology that I brought with me is something of a lifeline. The Mac that you see here is my office. The iPad that I used to take the shot is similarly indispensable, and has been front and centre in the crook of my arm for virtually the entire trip here.

So it got me thinking: What tools do you use to get online and to stay connected? What do you use to update your blog and other social media streams? When you leave home, what goes in your pocket or your bag? How does your technology contribute to the story that is you?

For the next week, Thematic looks at your equipment, the technology you use to get yourself online. As you can see from my picture here, it can be anything, anywhere.

Your turn: Take a pic of your technology - computer, tablet, smartphone, whatever - and post it to your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Drop in on other participants, and feel free to return multiple times through the week to keep adding to the fun. If you're new to Thematic, click here and all will be explained.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Here's why Canada is losing the Internet war

Ordinarily, I'd be thrilled that the federal government is coughing up as much as $305 million to improve broadband high-speed Internet access for over 280,000 Canadian households. As the world goes digital, this is exactly the kind of thing we need if we're going to keep pace.

But closer scrutiny reveals just how woefully inadequate this number is, and how much further ahead other countries around the world are when it comes to equipping their citizens for the Internet Age. I wrote this piece for Yahoo Canada Finance:
Ottawa’s Internet plan: Dial-up funds in a high-speed world

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Rainbows in the sky

Color from many sources
Port Stanley, ON
July 2014
Thematic. Temporary. Here.
While we were hanging out on the beach a couple of weeks ago, our very observant daughter saw two rainbow-like phenomena in the sky. At the back of my mind, I know there are valid scientific reasons for rainbow-like rings to appear around the midday sun, and for similarly colorful reflections to appear in high clouds. At that moment, however, I just couldn't explain it in detail. And as we stared up and wondered about the odds of simultaneously seeing two separate and distinct rainbows, I made a mental note to look it up when I had a moment.

On the one hand, I could have pulled my smartphone out of the bottom of our beach bag and surfed on over to Wikipedia right then and there. Like so many life moments, it would have been yet another example of technology helping us better understand the what and the why of it all. It answers questions Right Now, and in doing so gives us the tools to, if we play our cards right, lead better lives.

On the other hand, this was one of those times when simply taking in the sight with her was more than enough. On the beach, on that afternoon, at that moment, stopping what we were doing and fishing the smartphone out from under a pile of towels and swim goggles just didn't seem appropriate. There's a time to reach for the smartphone and a time to leave it well enough alone.

I smirked as I suggested I look it up on my device. She smirked right back and shook her head, an emphatic no from a girl who, like her mom, always seems to have the right answer.

I'll look it up eventually. For now, though, I'm rather enjoying the realization that not every moment needs technology layered on top of it. Sometimes it makes eminent sense to leave it all behind.

Your turn: When do you like to turn everything off and just...be?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What 94 mph looks like

The windup. The pitch.
Toronto, ON
July 2014
For more temporary Thematic, please click here
I feel pain in my arm just watching a major league pitcher do his thing. Even though the extent of my throwing skill stops just short of getting the garbage bag into the big plastic bin in the garage, I can appreciate the intense skill and physical ability it takes to hurl a ball 50% faster than the speed of my car on the highway on the way to the ballpark. And he'll do it hundreds of times in a row, hopefully without the end result ending somewhere in the right field bleachers. Amazing stuff.

What makes this picture temporary? In the blink of an eye the ball will zip from his hand to the waiting glove of the catcher. Or it'll be smacked by a bat and sent sailing hundreds of feet in another direction. Either way, the physics of the thing are mind boggling. And if you so much as blink, you miss the temporarily spectacular show.

Your turn: Other things that are over in a blink...please discuss.

Apple revenue sets new record. But...

Apple had a good day yesterday. During the previous quarter, its third of the fiscal year, it took in $37.4 billion U.S. in revenue - a new all-time Q3 record - and made a $7.75 billion profit.

Other numbers, including gross margin (39.4%), cash-on-hand ($164.5 billion) and iPhone sales (35.2 million, another Q3 record), were similarly impressive, and underscored why Apple remains at the top of the tech pile.


Still, weak iPad sales - they were down 9% - showed a worrisome crack in the armor. I wrote this article for Yahoo Canada Finance to outline where Apple goes from here, and what we can expect from them for the rest of the year:


Your turn: Do you do the Apple thing? Do tell!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On Drew Barrymore's happiness/prettiness correlation

"I think happiness is what makes you pretty. Period. Happy people are beautiful. They become like a mirror and they reflect that happiness."
Drew Barrymore

Yep. What she said. Every word. Who's with me?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Thematic Photographic 302 - Temporary

Rainbow over Dundas Street
London, ON
July 2014
Click photo to embiggen
If we're being super-technical, everything is temporary. Even this planet has only a few billion years left before the sun swells up and incinerates whatever we haven't succeeded in already destroying. But some things are more temporary than others, and that's what I'm hoping we'll focus on this week.

This rainbow, for example, appeared over the main drag in London's downtown area late one evening a couple of weeks ago. I was walking back to my car, and the rain was so intense that I had to take cover in the tucked in area of an abandoned storefront. The storm cell blew out as quickly as it blew in, and I knew the brilliant sun that came out just as the winds died down would create some optical loveliness in the sky. I wasn't disappointed.

And a street that's seen more than its fair share of decay and controversy in recent years was, at least temporarily, a scene of intense beauty. If only we could always see it through this lens.

Your turn: Take a picture of something that exists for a brief, temporary while. Even if it merely suggests temporary, we want to see it. Post it to your blog, website or social media stream, and leave a comment here with a link to it - that way folks can find it. Pop over to other participants, and feel free to post additional contributions through the week. If you want to pull a friend in, the more the merrier. Head here if you'd like to learn more about Thematic, our weekly photo-sharing and learning experience. Or dive in and get shooting. Can't wait to see what you come up with!

Watching big boys play games

A sweet afternoon
Toronto, ON
July 2014
Thematic. Dirty. Here.
As luck would have it, this guy was standing right in my line of sight for much of the fifth inning*. At first I was annoyed, and briefly toyed with thoughts of asking him to sit down.

But then the polite Canadian in me prevailed - appearances aside, he could have been a black belt. Or he might have had a hidden Blue Jays cap that he had fashioned into a home-made weapon (those beaks are deadly.) Or his posse of ladies from the neighbourhood knitting bee could have been waiting in the shadows of Rogers Centre, giant foam fingers in hand, ready to pounce on anyone who so much as dared question the aisle-standing supremacy of their baseball-overlord master. 

So, no confrontation. But I still couldn't see the plate without leaning waaaaay over. After pondering my options for a few more minutes, the passive-aggressive Canadian in me emerged. I reached for the DSLR and decided to have some optical fun with him.

Your turn: The first three words that come to mind when you see this scene are...?

* We took the kids to Rogers Centre for a Toronto Blue Jays game yesterday. The good guys won 9-6 over the Texas Rangers. Yes, we live in London. Yes, it is nuts to drive 200 km to see a game. Yes, they had a blast. So did we. Life's about the experience, after all, inconsiderate aisle-standers and all. I've added pics to my Flickr site here.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

From dirt grows great beauty

Ephemeral
London, ON
June 2014
For more dirty Thematic, click here
Most people look at dirt, shrug their shoulders - if they can be bothered to shrug at all - and then return to whatever it was that they were doing. It's easy to write dirt off as not worthy of our time.

And yet, when you look at what can grow from it, you realize there are lessons in the gritty stuff that we might want to heed.

Perspective is a fascinating thing, isn't it?

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Microsoft gets some unsolicited writing advice

When I wrote about Microsoft laying off 18,000 employees (initial blog post here), I had an inkling that it would become one of the top tech stories of the week. I wasn't disappointed. As it turned out, everyone wanted to know why such an apparently huge, invulnerable company would resort to one of the largest mass layoffs in the sector's history. And many of them wanted me to weigh in on it.

To help explain the unexplainable, I did a ton of media, and the topic will figure front and centre on my weekly Clicked In segment on CTV News Channel. If you're in Canada, it's on live every Saturday night at 7:15 p.m. Eastern. If you're elsewhere, hit up this link for archived videos from CTV News.

I also wrote this piece for Yahoo Canada Finance: Why did Microsoft go so wrong on mobile?

Beyond the obvious story, though, there's a brewing sub-theme around the somewhat disjointed way the company chooses to communicate.* CEO Satya Nadella sent out this message to all employees on Thursday morning, Starting to Evolve Our Organization and Culture. Earlier this month, he penned this equally weighty email, Bold Ambition & Our Core.  Now, Microsoft is taking it on the chin from a number of sources in media over the dubious effectiveness and perceived insensitivity of its messaging. Here's a sample:
The good news: Microsoft's communication style is serving as the basis for corporate messaging best practice and could potentially teach companies in future how to raise the bar. The bad news: I doubt Microsoft's leadership wanted to serve as the what-not-to-do example.

In the meantime, I'm headed to the studio. See y'all at 7:15.

* Disclosure: I worked there once upon a time, and multi-thousand-word emails from on high were a regular thing. Decoding the between-the-lines messaging was as popular then as it apparently is now, and it seems the folks who pen them continue to really like sending long, winding messages to lots of people. I'm not sure whether bonus size correlates to email length.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Microsoft lays off 18,000 employees

Big news in the tech space this morning, as Microsoft has announced it will be laying off 18,000 employees - 12,500 from the recently acquired Nokia devices division - as it grapples with a rapidly changing technology market that no longer blindly buys new versions of Windows and Office with every upgrade cycle. It is the biggest layoff in the company's history - in 2009 it terminated 5,900 employees amid the global economic meltdown.

Recently named CEO Satya Nadella made the announcement this morning (text, from Microsoft.com), and in doing so confirmed growing rumors that something was up. Nadella sent a 3,000+ word email to employees last week outlining his roadmap. Analysts have said the company is seeking some $600 million in savings to justify its $7.2 billion U.S. purchase of Nokia's devices division. Whatever the number ultimately is, it's cold comfort it you're one of the 18,000 meeting with HR today.

More to come...

Related links:
Microsoft announces massive round of layoffs, including 12,500 Nokia employees (BGR)
Microsoft announces biggest-ever job cuts, 18,000 in the next year (The Verge)
Microsoft Cuts 18,000 Jobs as Nadella Streamlines for Cloud Era (Bloomberg)
- Microsoft to eliminate up to 18,000 jobs over next year (CTV/AP)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Little boxes, all made out of ticky-tacky

Creeping ever closer
London, ON
July 2014
Thematic. Dirty. Here.
A few years ago, Walmart came to the empty northwest corner of the city and built one of its massive, cookie-cutter stores in the middle of a parking lot large enough for aliens to see from space. Walking there was not recommended, largely because of the distance, as well as the decidedly pedestrian-unfriendly nature of this suburban/exurban landscape.

It didn't take long for the wizards of Benton, AR to like the numbers they saw on their spreadsheets, and after a couple of years the store was expanded into a full-blown Supercenter. Because lord knows we can't live without our badly made home appliances and cheap pink plastic lawn flamingoes. Other big box stores sprouted up around the Borg-like retailer, and texting, frapuccino-drinking suburbanites happily drove here in their SUVs and wore their credit and debit cards down with reckless abandon.

That it was miles from nowhere didn't seem to deter them. Driving culture was and is alive and well in this burg. Yet a funny thing has started to happen in the once-ignored hinterlands that separated this retail megalopolis - officially known as a "power corner" - from the rest of the city. Essentially, the city has begun to fill in the gaps. That miles-from-nowhere thing is slowly starting to crumble as developers gradually chew through the bush and make their presence known.

Last week, after meeting a friend for tea at a certain American chain coffee shop within the border of this heathen-ish retail complex, I decided to walk home. I'm not quite sure what I was thinking, as the landscape was as pedestrian-hostile as it had always been - zero trees, adjacent high-speed traffic, and a long, unbroken streetscape that clearly didn't have much patience for bipeds - but it was a nice, sunny day, and I figured the exercise would be good for my body and soul.

And as I walked on that desolate stretch of Fanshawe Park Road West, I noticed the subdivision creeping up on the horizon, and the vast stretch of once-wild fields that had now been bulldozed into submission. The developers were clearly here, and it took a walk for me to realize it.

So I snapped a picture - with my iPad, of all things - because this land probably won't look like this for too much longer. Unless the dirt is bagged, mulched, sold by the pound and trucked home in the back of the aforementioned SUV from the box box store just to the right of this scene, there isn't much room for it in today's suburban environment.

Funny enough, I'll miss the place when it's all built over.

Your turn: What's being built near you?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

London's former mayor Joe Fontana sentenced to...

It's not every day the ex-mayor of your town gets convicted. We experienced that last month, which brings us to today: Sentencing.

Justice Bruce Thomas has sentenced Joe Fontana to 4 months conditional and 18 months probation for breach of trust and fraud under $5,000. It amounts to house arrest - he lives in the lovely burg of Arva - with exceptions for work, religious events, or medical appointments. He must pay a $1,000 victim surcharge, and must repay the $1,700 to the government - the amount on the disputed, forged document that touched off this whole sordid mess. He will also have to serve 150 hours of community service.

Social media is already coming alive with community reaction to the sentencing, and from the looks of it, Londoners seem to think he got off easy. The Very Important Persons Act seems to be alive and well.

I'll use this entry to pull resources together in one convenient place. If you have any suggestions, leave a comment here or tweet me at @carmilevy

Let's go...

Hashtags: #LdnONT#Fontana

Journalists on Twitter: Nick PaparellaDaryl NewcombeCTV London/Windsor list, CJBK

Additional resources:
- Former London mayor gets four-month conditional sentence (CTV London)
- Fontana's statement to the court this morning
- Fontana tells sentencing hearing he was 'very, very stupid' (CTV London)
- Defence argues Joe Fontana 'would not fare well in real jail' (CTVNews.ca)