Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On making resolutions

"Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I'm generally not one for resolutions, as I find them generally useless and insincere. But if I were so inclined to make any, this would vie for top honours.

Your turn: How are you going to make 2014 better?

Looking into the crystal ball

I'm filling in again this week for Dan Misener as technology columnist for CBC Radio, and will be speaking with CBC stations across the country all afternoon. We're covering a fun topic today: tech predictions for 2014, and as you can imagine I've got a lot of things to look forward to in the year ahead.

Whatever city you're in, I hope you'll be able to tune in. It promises to be a lot of fun!

Your turn: What do you think 2014 will bring? Got any predictions, tech or otherwise?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Thematic Photographic 275 - Favorite photos of the year

Toronto, ON
August 2013
I wanted to bridge 2013 into 2014 with a challenge to both you and to myself to share our absolute favourite pictures taken over the past year.

Sometimes we're so busy that we never take the time to reflect on what we've recorded along the way. I'll try to fix that in the year to come, and hope you will, too.

This particular photo is my favorite not because it's pretty. It isn't. It's tragic beyond words. And it makes me think and it makes me feel. Which is what I always wanted my photos to do. As you choose your own favorites, I hope you'll similarly find work that moved - and continues to move - you.

Your turn: Pick as many of your faves as you've got, and post them - individually, separately, whatever works best for you - to your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find 'em. In addition to the photos, I hope you'll share some thoughts on precisely why they're your favorites. Don't forget to tweet the link to the #ThematicPhotographic hashtag, and head here if you'd like more info on how Thematic works. Thank you for making this another photographically challenging and rewarding year.

On finding the light at the end of the tunnel

"Don't let one cloud obliterate the whole sky."
Anais Nin

Santa has left the building

Back to the North Pole
London, ON
December 2013
Thought I'd take one last kick at Thematic's shopping theme - head here if you still want to share yours - with a mournful peek into Santa's now-shuttered village at the local mall, Masonville Place.

We had some errands to run the other day, and couldn't believe how packed the place was. Did everyone come back to return their gifts? Did they have nowhere else to go? Were they getting in line early for the Boxing Day bargains?

Whatever drew them here, I found the empty village to be a little more than sad. It made me wonder if all of this consumer-driven mania for stuff was worth it. And if anyone would bother to reflect on any of it before diving back into the retail fray next year.

Probably not.

One more thing: Thematic returns tonight - 7:00 p.m. Eastern - with its new theme, favorite photos of the year. What's on your memory card? And do you have it in you to share it?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

I yam what I yam

They came from the earth
London, ON
November 2013
For more Thematic shopping, click here
I've been shooting pictures in the grocery store again. Smartphones make it infinitely easier to get away with it. All I do is stand there with my phone and pretend to be reading my list when in fact I'm composing the shot. It's a lot less obtrusive than busting out a DSLR and metering the scene.

Which means no more near-misses like the one I had at the Walmart. The things we do for our not-quite-art.

Your turn: I'm taking requests. What should I shoot next when I head back to the grocery store?


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Decaying yet spectacular

I have a certain, how to put this, thing for so-called urban ruins. As depressing as it can be to look at once-proud, now-decaying architecture, there's a certain poignancy to it. One scene, one photo can easily take you back to a time when life was a whole lot different than it is today.

More than any perfectly formed box of a building, modern-day ruins make your mind churn and your heart race. They make you feel something. Because what's life if we can't feel?

I felt something when I saw this collection of photos. The headline calls them the most spectacular abandoned places in the world. I call them inspirational, and I hope you enjoy them.

Related links:

Friday, December 27, 2013

Puppies get lonely, too

Loyal dog waits for idiotic owner
London, ON
September 2013
Thematic. Let's go shopping. Here.
I'm not one to judge. Except when I'm presented with a golden (sorry, couldn't resist) opportunity to do just that.

This lovely golden was sitting in an open-top BMW 3-series in a Costco parking lot while the owner fetched oversized tins of ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise for the upcoming absentee-dog-owners' annual BBQ. Puppy was there when we parked, and still in the same spot when we were on our way out. I'm guessing they needed a lot of ketchup.

It was a pretty nice day out, so I'm pretty sure Fido wasn't terribly stressed. But the thought of leaving a dog alone in an open-aired vehicle in the middle of a busy suburban big box parking lot is, from where I sit, beyond reckless.

I didn't approach the car to avoid upsetting the pup. But it bugged me enough to that I felt compelled to shoot both the dog and the vehicle's license plate from afar in case either one showed up in a headline later on.

Maybe it's me, but this isn't the right place for a dog if you're out and about and you're alone. I've had Frasier ride shotgun with me on errands before, but only if I've had someone else in the car with me to run him around in between stops. Leaving him alone, anywhere and under any circumstances, seems like a recipe for disaster.

I'm betting the BMW had an automatic transmission, too. Poser.

Your turn: Thoughts?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Teletubbies need groceries, too

Po likes a good bargain
London, ON
December 2009
Click here for more Thematic shopping
Po, the smallest of the Teletubbies, has been hanging off of my camera bag ever since the kids were really little. I freed her from her Happy Meal prison at an age when our eldest son was too young to protest, and she's been bringing smiles to complete strangers wherever I go ever since. She's been in airportsin airports in glass, in television studios near and far, beside a pool, on the beach, and even over the North Pole.

This particular day at the local Sobeys may have seemed ordinary, but as 2013 draws to a close I'm learning all too well that there's really no such thing as an ordinary day anymore.

The day pictured above came soon after we had lost my dad, and perhaps to combat the gloom that seemed to have descended over our family I found myself trying to create little moments with a camera. In this case, I thought bargain-hunting Po would bring a smile to my and my wife's face (that's her to the left. Say hi.)

If memory serves, it didn't do much good that day. But looking back at that moment, I can understand why I had to at least try. And why little silly moments like this continue to matter on anything-but-ordinary days within an anything-but-ordinary life.

Your turn: How do you find smiles where there seem to be none?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

National radio coming your way

I'm doing something really neat this afternoon: Filling in as national technology columnist for CBC Radio. I'll be discussing BlackBerry's year that was, and the year ahead, as well as some of the other key tech stories we covered all year.

I'm pretty excited about this, as it's a huge honour and opportunity, and am looking forward to speaking with hosts in cities from coast to coast to coast.

Wish me luck.

One more thing: If you're rushing around looking for a last-minute gift on the cheap, read the piece I published today for TheLoop.ca:
10 last-minute gifts under $20

Monday, December 23, 2013

Thematic Photographic 274 - Let's go shopping

Androids among us
Laval, QC
August 2013
I've chosen this week's theme, let's go shopping, out of respect - or is it contempt? I'm never quite sure - for the Christmas (sorry, just can't homogenize it to "holiday") shopping season. I figure we all spend enough time exchanging our currency for food, clothing and stuff we probably don't even need that a photographic exploration of these temples of retail is probably in order.

I'll kick things off with this snippet of a logo atop the entrance to the grocery store near my father-in-law's place. I grew up a few blocks to the right of this frame, and my wife, unbeknownst to me, grew up a few blocks to the left. When we were munchkins, it was known as a Steinberg's, and I've successfully avoided looking at the branding since they converted it to a generic, means-nothing-to-anyone Maxi. May as well have called it Buy-N-Large.

At first glance, the logo to this place is as forgettable as everything else here (link). Yet at a weird angle as the sun begins to set, it takes on a different tone. And suddenly, the ephemeral scene is anything but.

Your turn: Take a picture in or around a store or mall - or something that suggests or evokes the act of shopping. Share it on your blog, Facebook page or website, then leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Tweet it out using the #ThematicPhotographic hashtag if you're so inclined, and feel free to drop by again through the week. Bonus points if you try the veal, bring a friend along, or both. For more background on how Thematic Photographic works, click here. Otherwise, enjoy the ride.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Clinging to life

Incomplete foliage
Deerfield Beach, FL
December 2011
For more Thematic treetops, please click here.
The bushes that surround the pool near my father-in-law's condo in Florida have, to be fair, had a rough life. After Hurricanes Rita and Wilma turned the development's landscaping into something of a moonscape in 2005, the greenery has had difficulty returning to its former lush glory.

Which explains why even in this sub-tropical climate where everything should grow like wildfire, these bushes have instead remained scraggly remnants of their former selves.

Yet here they are, individual stabs of green in the middle of an otherwise denuded knot of branches. It's life at its most delightfully defiant, and my only wish is to get back to this place soon so I can see how they're doing now, two years on.

Maybe soon.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

On making the most out of 18 years

"Later, when you're grown up, you realize you never really get to hang out with your family. You pretty much have only eighteen years to spend with them full time, and that's it."
Mindy Kaling

Friday, December 20, 2013

Blowing in the wind

Defiantly alive
London, ON
March 2012
Thematic. Treetops. Here.
Today was an interesting day of intense journalism. Multiple, tight deadlines for a fast-moving story (see here for more) overlapped an intense interview schedule that had me either doing live television from the kitchen, live, transatlantic radio from the car in the driveway, or driving through the fog to a studio. However you slice the day, it was epic.

As I was cruising toward one of my little dates with destiny, I noticed that some of the trees looming over the road looked something like the one in the photo here. They had long, willowy leaves that clearly had no intention of falling off. These autumn-refuseniks were tracing erratic, wavy patterns against the sky in a buffeting wind, defiant to the end.

I never know why something as trivial as a dried-out bunch of leaves on a tree can weasel its way into my mind when I probably should be thinking about, you know, the interview I'm about to blow because I was preoccupied with leaves. But I can't control what pops into my head, and on a remarkable day like today, when everything felt like it was clicking along as destiny felt it should, I wasn't about to challenge whatever forces of the universe were guiding me.

So with thoughts of windblown leaves in my head, I clipped myself in and did my thing. If anything, the leaves came in rather handy as I churned through a complex topic and tried to make sense of it for complete strangers across the country. Sometimes it's the little things we can't explain that keep us grounded.

BlackBerry loses $4.4 billion

As expected, my day has started off fast and furious thanks to BlackBerry's announcement this morning that it lost $4.4 billion U.S. in its most recent fiscal quarter. The devastating result, part of its scheduled quarterly analyst call, illustrates just how steep a climb the company faces as it tries to recover from one of the most wrenching collapses in consumer electronics history and reshape itself as an enterprise-focused company. Here's a quick peek into what I was up to today:

Yahoo! Canada Finance: I wrote this initial article and updated it numerous times through the day: BlackBerry posts US$4.4 billion loss in Q3; shares soar
Media work:
  • CTV Canada AM: Spoke with Marci Ien via FaceTime from the kitchen. I'll post video once it's available online.
  • BBC Radio 5 Live: Chatted with Adam Parsons and Mickey Clark on the Wake up to Money program. Audio here. (Fun fact: it was 12:50 a.m. here, 5:50 a.m. there. Transatlantic radio absolutely rules.)
  • CBC The National: Contributed clips for a report by Aaron Saltzman.
  • CBC Radio: Interviewed by Meegan Read for nationally distributed package
  • Global National: Appearing on tonight's newscast.
  • CTV News Channel: Spoke live with Dan Matheson at 8:15 p.m. ET from the CTV London studios.
  • IT World Canada: Spoke with Nestor Arellano for his article Foxconn deal seen as hope for BlackBerry's turnaround
  • CJAD 800 Montreal: Discussed BlackBerry as part of my weekly tech segment (Fridays at 2, on cjad.com) with Anne Lagace Dowson.
  • 570News Kitchener/Waterloo: Spoke live with Glenn Pelletier on the Gary Doyle Show.
  • 680 CJOB Winnipeg: Chatted live with Richard Cloutier.
  • NewsTalk 1010 Toronto: Spoke about BlackBerry and the future of technology with Friendly Fire's John Downs.
The story is, of course, a difficult one, and it's arguably one of the most wrenching narratives I've followed in my career. But journalistically, I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing. Filing a story, doing live TV from my kitchen and then tossing the dog his stuffed snowman for a minute before diving back into the day...that's a pretty neat way to live, and I need to stop more often and realize how lucky I am to have this life.


On why the middle of the road sucks

"The middle of the road is where the white line is - and that's the worst place to drive."
Robert Frost

Thursday, December 19, 2013

On living large, per Nelson Mandela

"There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living."
Nelson Mandela

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Return to the land of the giants

They only look small
Just outside Buffalo, NY
November 2013
Click photo to embiggen
Please click here for more Thematic treetops
It had been four years since I drove my family through an impossibly dark night in upstate New York, four years since my GPS device decided to take us on a detour through an old regional highway that may have delayed our arrival home that night, but it also gave our kids an experience to remember.

I wrote about that night here - What we would have missed. Feel free to give it a read first.

Fast forward to last month. I was on a plane, winging my way back home from the same place - New York - we had been in 2009. Only this time it was a business trip, I was alone, it was clearly very bright outside, and I was looking down from above.

As we approached Buffalo, NY on our descent into Toronto's Pearson International Airport just across Lake Ontario, I caught a glimpse of the wind generators, sprinkles of stark white against the carpet of green. It quickly occurred to me that this was the place we had driven through, only now it looked, well, different. No less spectacular, but nevertheless different.

I closed my eyes and remembered what it felt like to see these giants of the sky emerge out of the darkness. I remember the feeling of quiet excitement in the car as we drove on the twisty, hilly highway through this valley of the wind where no one else was awake. They seemed so small today, but mesmerizingly beautiful all the same.

I guess you can indeed revisit moments from your past. You can't replicate them down to the last detail, but simply being able to feel them once again is more than enough.

Your turn: Ever go back to a specific place years later? Better? Worse? Do tell...

Catching up on Yahoo!

It's been a busy time around here, with my all-time-fave Apple full-width wired keyboard getting a relentless workout as I crank out the research and writing. I've done a lousy job keeping track of the things I've had published, so I thought I'd catch y'all up on some of the work I've done for Yahoo! Canada so far this month*.

Why do I do this? Because sometimes I get so into the writing thing - finishing off one article before jetting off to another - that I forget what I did. I realize not every article should be framed and mounted above the mantel in a ceremony befitting the installation of a South Pacific self-appointed tribal monarch, but I do like to remember what I've done and where I've been, and published work is a great way to signpost the journey.

So without further ado, here's the latest journalistic output:
Ottawa cracks down on wireless providers over roaming fees (Dec 18)
Why Cisco is betting big on Ontario R&D (Dec 13)
CRTC ups the ante on roaming charges (Dec 13)
Send money via Facebook? Now you can (Dec 11)
Kellogg's to close Ontario plant, lay off 500 workers (Dec 10)
Canada's Cyber Monday sales hit record (Dec 9)
Canada's new wireless code isn't all good news (Dec 3)
Cyber Monday points to Canada's retail future (Dec 2)
I've been tossing words online elsewhere, as well. More on that front in an upcoming entry.

* For future quick reference, here's a link to my article archive, and here's the Dashboard blog where most of my work appears. I'll try to regularly round up the more notable stuff as it goes live.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Look who's got an online stalker

Apparently, that would be me.

I'm posting this not because I want to attract any more attention to someone who seems to thrive on it, but because I simply want a record in case whoever this is decides Twitter storms aren't enough and decides to show up unannounced and uninvited at my front door.

As far as I can tell, my wannabe-groupie posted 9 tweets in quick succession while I was being interviewed on CTV News Channel last week. As often happens with trolls, they have their fun and then go dormant - and that's pretty much what seems to have happened here.

But still, in the interest of covering my digital behind, here it is.

I'll give whoever this is props for coming up with the #CarmiArmy hashtag. but given the rapid detour into anonymously-posted wackyville, I'll have to politely decline any further online discussion.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Thematic Photographic 273 - Treetops

Last stand
London, ON
March 2012
Say what you want about trees, but they never run out of ways to make us go, "Whoa" when we first lay eyes on them.

Sometimes, the same trees you've been looking at for years still manage to make your heart skip a beat or two when you see them in just the right light. Like here.

On this day, as the sun prepared to say goodbye for the night, I'm glad I took a second look.

Your turn: Take a photo that suggests, interprets, or otherwise evokes this week's theme, treetops. Post it to your blog or website, then leave a comment here to let everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the photographic joy, and feel free to repeat the process through the week. If you're a Twitterer, use the #ThematicPhotographic hashtag. For more background on how Thematic Photographic, our weekly photo sharing and learning activity, works, please click here.

Ship to shore

Forever at rest
New York, NY
November 2013
I wanted to close out this week's dawn & dusk theme - click here if you'd like to squeeze one more in - with this view of the USS Intrepid. This great ship ruled the seas between WWII and the Cold War, and now serves as a floating museum on the Hudson River's Pier 86.

I admit some of it is a little kitschy. To the best of my knowledge, the famed Mach 3 SR-71 spy plane never took off from or landed on an aircraft carrier, but there it sits on the edge of the flight deck. Similarly, the Space Shuttle Enterprise was never equipped for carrier landings. But still, it's quite a sight to see so much aviation history sitting wingtip-to-wingtip.

For a ship whose history is filled with heroic battles against Japanese kamikaze pilots and storied pickups of Mercury and Gemini capsules after they returned from space, it's a little humbling to stand near the bow and take in the peacefulness of this great vessel at rest. As the setting sun reflected off of her steel plated hull, I wondered if those who designed and built her a lifetime ago ever thought they were creating a work of art, as well.

Our new theme, treetops, launches tonight at 7:00 Eastern.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Epic battle between dark and light

Sun-kissed brick
New York, NY
November 2013
Thematic. Dusk & dawn. Here.
I have an annoying habit when I travel for work. It involves taking hurried walks of the area to try and capture as much of the place as I can before I have to head back to the airport and fly home.

The compressed schedule of a vendor visit or conference often leaves so little free time that I literally walk and shoot as fast as I possibly can - otherwise I fear I won't remember ever having been here.

I filled my memory card a few years ago in this place - and found the familiar as well as the unfamiliar in the process - and when I realized where my hotel was going to be on this latest trip, I knew a followup walkabout was in order.

The challenge: I had maybe an hour of sunlight after the day's work was done before I lost it all. Now, I could still shoot in deep shadow and darkness - more on that front in a future entry - but I didn't want to miss out on the fully-lit moments, as well.

This particular shot highlights the last gasp battle between light and dark as the sun begins to slip beneath the horizon. Manhattan's combination of tall buildings and a tightly packed street grid makes for fascinating viewing as the shadows not-so-slowly march toward the sky and cut into the increasingly vibrant reflected glow of a defiant sun. It's a signature of this place, and I'm glad I headed out into the bitterly cold wind to take it all in.

Your turn: I know there are tons of stories buried in this delightful collision of urban rooftops. Pick one. One line. Go!

Friday, December 13, 2013

On happiness

"Happiness does not depend on what you have or who you are; it solely relies on what you think."

So...over to you: what DO you think? How do you make/keep yourself happy?

Before she takes flight

The morning dawns bright
New York, NY
November 2013
For more Thematic dawn & dusk, please click here
I think we all need to slow down a little so we don't miss moments like this one, captured just outside the window of a run-down, blink-or-you-miss-it gate at New York's JFK airport. The windows were filthy, the seating modules were strewn haphazardly around the space and the shredded carpet somehow managed to wrap itself around my shoes.

Not really a place for inspiration, but I tried, anyway, because sometimes inspiration comes from the most unexpected places.

As it was, I stood in this sad example of 1970s-era, Soviet bloc-style architecture and waited a few minutes for the emerging sun to begin painting the sky. Suddenly, even this rather downtrodden aircraft in this rather downtrodden place came into its own.

Maybe there's a broader lesson in this for all of us. Maybe we need to skip a beat before we close the book on that first impression. On this morning, I waited it out and skipped that beat. I'm glad I did.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

On contributing quietly

"The best portion of a good man's life. His little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love."
William Wordsworth

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Half a lifetime ago

Just over six years ago, I took this picture of our then-seven-year-old son. Go ahead and follow the link, then pop back here.

I still remember thinking as I quietly tripped the shutter that day that he was so young, so seemingly little, so frozen in time. Now that I have the benefit of hindsight, I think I might have been slightly mistaken.

Today, I picked our now-13-year-old up from his after-school program. As we walked back to the car in the bitterly cold, dark grey murk of a late afternoon in Southern Ontario, he told me about his top-of-the-class exam result, the project he was working on, and the "little" kids he looked out for in the school yard at recess.

I'm not ashamed to admit it thrilled me to hear him walk me through a typically great day. Listening to his voice, I could almost hear him coming into his own as a confident, accomplished kid with a personality that seems to become more fully-formed with each passing day.

I remember thinking how old he seemed. As if he didn't need me to orchestrate every last activity for him anymore. And he doesn't: he's managed just fine to make his own friends, build his own world within his school and community, connect with people beyond the immediate reach of his mom and dad.

The seven-year-old who quietly played with a plastic elephant on the floor while he waited for his brother to finish his lesson was no more. Yet the 13-year-old who now stood so confidently beside me wouldn't be who he is if he hadn't played with that elephant all those years ago.

I high-fived him, and he hugged me, tightly, back. Although almost half a lifetime separated these two seemingly small, everyday moments, I realized that some things never change. Nor do I ever want them to.

Today's big news: hosting a Twitter chat

I'm doing something interesting today that I wanted y'all to know about: I'll be hosting a Twitter chat to explain the ins and outs of analytics.

The session is hosted by SAS Canada, a major vendor of business analytics and business intelligence (BI) software. One of the key reasons why I'm as excited as I am about this particular chat is that analytics (or big data) is one of those areas that most regular folks like us think will never apply to them. We assume big data is all about big companies, and little people like us - individuals, small businesses, even your mom - don't need to worry about it.

Au contraire.

We all need to learn more about analytics, why it matters to us, and how we can get ourselves up to speed. It isn't difficult to wrap yourself around the concept, but a little guidance never hurts.

That's what today is about. SAS Canada will have an expert on hand to answer the major questions folks might have, and I'm looking forward to a fast, fun and informative discussion.

The fun starts at noon (Eastern) today and will run for an hour. To participate, simply follow the #SASanalytics hashtag in Twitter (or click here.) Feel free to follow me on Twitter (@carmilevy) and the @SASCanada team, as well.

For more background on today's chat, click on the entry I wrote on the ITBusiness.ca blog - link here.

Look forward to seeing you there, and feel free to pass this along. The more the merrier.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Barking up the right tree

Old growth
London, ON
February 2012
Thematic. Dawn & Dusk. Here.
There's a creek near our house that runs through a wooded valley that, thanks to the absence of anything remotely urban or built, is one of the most peaceful stretches of land in a car-mad city that isn't much known for peaceful anything. Over the years, hikers have beaten a narrow, winding path through the trees, and if you follow it far enough, the sounds of traffic eventually fade to silence.

After an early thaw, I took a quiet walk alone in this place because I figured it was only a matter of time before winter sealed it back up again. I put on my boots, fastened my parka, slung the camera over my shoulder and headed out.

I don't remember what I saw as much as I do the feeling of isolation once I got deep into the valley. It felt good for the soul to leave the rush behind and immerse myself in the hush of this place. I stayed out until the late afternoon sun slowly gave way to deep shadow, then reluctantly headed home to warm up and clean the mud off my boots.

I came across this picture in my archives last week and realized it's been too long since I went on a walkabout. I really need to rectify that.

Your turn: Where do you go to get away from it all?

Kellogg's to London: No cereal for you

Frightening news for the London-area economy today, as Kellogg's, the cereal-making global giant, announced its factory here would close by the end of 2014, throwing over 500 unionized and management employees out of work.

The news comes on the heels of last month's announcement that 110 unionized workers would lose their jobs in January. 11 managers were turfed at that time, as well. The company is on a global cost-cutting and rationalization binge - which is easy enough to understand from a macroeconomic perspective, but incredibly difficult to swallow if it's your job that's just disappeared, and now you have to go home and explain it to your family.

I wrote about it for Yahoo! Canada, and the article is available here:
Kellogg’s to close Ontario plant, lay off 500 workers
Additional resources are here:

Monday, December 09, 2013

Thematic Photographic 272 - Dawn and dusk

One on final
New York, NY
November 2013
New York's JFK airport is a fascinating place to wander around before the rest of the world is awake. It may seem like you could roll a bowling ball down the average concourse and not hit anybody, but if you look closely enough you'll notice isolated beehives of activity that betray the 24/7/365 nature of this remarkable place.

I captured this one as I walked out to my plane. I'm guessing it's a bit of a no-no to drop your backpack on the tarmac, pull your camera out and start shooting. I'm also guessing the security folks wouldn't have been too pleased if they had been around at all that morning. As it was, no one said anything as I racked off a couple of quick pictures before packing up again and trotting to the plane.

Maybe I should break the rules more often, as I kinda like this one.

Your turn: Thematic's theme this week is dawn and dusk, and I've chosen it because it's around these two times of day that we often bring home our best pictures. Why? Well, the low-angled, delightfully-colored light from the sun probably has something to do with it. Perhaps fatigue does, as well. But there's no mistaking a golden hour shot, and no forgetting the moment, either. I'll dispense with the instructions, as I'm sure you know how it all works (head here in case you don't.) I'm really looking forward to seeing what you can come up with this week.

Keeping the swans at bay

The story of us
Stratford, ON
August 2013
There's a spot beside the storied Avon River in the middle of Stratford, Ontario where you can sit and watch the similarly storied swans wander around in search of their next meal.

There are actually lots of spots where you can sit and watch, which is exactly what my wife and I did on this seemingly perfect summer's night.

As we sat on a memorial bench under a stand of massive trees beside the water. I don't remember what we saw as much as I remember how it felt. In a word, right. We were there to see a play that night, but it could have just as easily been a movie. Or dinner. Or nothing at all.

What mattered was that I was there with her. And as long as we could still have evenings like this, everything was right in the world.

Your turn: Who do you celebrate?

One more thing: This photo winds down Thematic's celebration-themed week. Head here to share yours. Our next theme, dawn and dusk, launches tonight at 7 p.m. Eastern.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Remembering the moment before she turned 16

Celebrate life
London, ON
September 2013
Before the candles can be lit, before the cake is carefully walked to the table. Before the birthday girl can make her wish. Before any of this can happen, I need a picture of the cake.

Like to many photographic "traditions" of mine, I don't know where it comes from. Maybe the cake is such a transient part of the ritual that I feel a deep-seated need to freeze it in time. Maybe I'm thinking back to my own childhood and remembering the cakes that used to materialize in front of me (chocolate with light-chocolate icing and embedded chocolate chips. Yum.) Maybe I think a focused shot of the soon-to-be-gooey mess would preserve the moment.

I'll probably never figure it out, but I do enjoy that feeling I get when I look back at pictures like this. Sure, what comes next is the moment everyone waits for, the one that gets the signature photos and the one that shows up in highlight reels for years to come (and I've included them here lest my father-in-law wonder why I left them out.)

But sometimes I just want to rewind a little to the moment before. To when the best part was ahead of the birthday boy or girl - and indeed the rest of us - and we were all waiting for something good to happen. And when Dahlia turned 16 not too long ago, something good certainly happened - indeed she's been making good things happen to everyone around her since the day she was born.

I think often about these so-called electric moments, where your entire body almost seems to be at a heightened state of awareness because you can almost feel what's about to happen. Where you can almost feel like you're holding back time as you remember, in beyond-high-def, every last visual, sound and feeling. It's the difference between surviving and truly living, a place where you don't have to try too hard to suck that much more joy out of whatever it is that's going on.

It doesn't have to be a birthday. It can be an everyday moment, too. And if we don't stop time before it happens, we may never know what that might feel like.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

What do you buy a geek?

It's quite a kick being a writer, because I get to spend my days pulling words together in my quiet home office with my dog at my feet, or at the kitchen table with the dog at my feet, or in the Starbucks while I'm slurping a tea and free Wi-Fi with the dog most definitely not at my feet.

And when the words are arranged just so, I send them off to some faraway place, where before long they get published in some pretty neat places.

It's magic. Every time. And it'll never get old.

Sometimes the words end up in a new place. Like this week, when Reader's Digest Canada published my work for the first time. The article, 10 Holiday Gifts For Tech Lovers, will hopefully ease the holiday-time angst many of us feel when we head to the mall. Until the utopian future of my dreams where this ridiculous year-end retail tradition is finally put to rest, I'll keep writing articles like this. I promise I won't show up at the Starbucks with the dog.

Enjoy the read.

The sun sets on Sun Media

The headline, Sun Media announces 200 layoffs, is sad enough, but it's the bigger picture that's the real tragedy.

This is the company's third layoff announcement in 13 months. In November 2012, 500 people lost their jobs when production plants in Ottawa and Kingston were closed. Last July, they were at it again, this time shuttering 8 local newspapers and three commuter papers, and taking 360 people out in the process. What used to be an annual "tradition" has now become twice-yearly. And right before the holidays. Nice.

A little bit of disclosure: I used to write an op-ed column for the London Free Press, which is now owned by Sun Media, which is a unit of Quebecor. It was (and is) a paper that was (and still is) staffed by great, community-minded journalists who wanted (and still want) to make a difference. Freeps reporters often call me to comment on tech stories they're working on, and I very much enjoy working with all of them.

The problem is this: these days, thanks to decisions being made in corner offices far away, by people who have probably never had a byline, there are far fewer of them. And those who remain live under the Sword of Damocles, wondering if the next, inevitable round of cuts will finally catch up with them. In the meantime the product, starved of resources, gets thinner and less relevant with each passing day despite the near-heroic efforts of the employees who remain. How they continue to perform as they do amid the day-to-day gloom that pervades their environment is beyond me.

To be fair, Sun Media is hardly alone in this. Virtually every major Canadian media organization has announced recurring layoffs over the past year. Two years. Decade. Wherever you are, it's an ugly time to be in media these days thanks largely to a fundamental, Internet-driven shift in who consumes news, how we consume it, and who pays for it. Advertisers, once limited to the big 3 of newspaper, television and radio, are now able to get their message out on a growing range of increasingly interactive and engaging platforms. Real-time, online advertising tools allow incredibly granular visibility into spend, return and engagement.

The Internet, that miracle of modern technology, destroys existing businesses as it creates new ones. None of this is new. What is especially galling about Sun Media's method of navigating the current tumult, however, is its stubborn unwillingness to recognize that the world has changed. The chain's MO is simple: cut successive layers of fat out of the organization until there's no fat left. Proceed into muscle, and then finally bone. Keep using the usual corporate-ese doublespeak to convince everyone there's an actual strategy here. Repeat until there's nothing left to cut.

I'd like to direct your attention to the photo at the top of this entry. It is the chain's Twitter account. Notice a few small details:
  • They have never tweeted.
  • They follow no one.
  • They self-identify as "Canada's largest newspaper publisher."
It reminds me of an ostrich, its head buried deeply in the sand while the world churns around it. With this sad example of media myopia in mind, I feel compelled to share some advice with the powers-that-be back in Quebec:

Dudes, you're not in the newspaper business anymore. You're in the platform business. The online world is rewriting the rules that govern your industry, yet in the middle of endless "cost-cutting", you completely ignore the changes going on around you. The scenario would be comical if successive waves of dedicated and once-and-still-possibly-loyal employees weren't being economically lobotimized in the process.

Every other media organization in the country - and beyond - is being buffeted by the same forces you use as convenient excuses every time you sharpen the layoff knife. Every other media organization, except you, is investing heavily in alternative-delivery platforms so they can adapt to the new reality. Some will succeed, and most will fail. But they're at least giving it a shot, and trying to advance the state of the art in online, socially-engaged, mobile-fuelled communications and media.

Perhaps Julie Tremblay, your CEO, said it best in her statement released Wednesday: "It is very tough to announce job cuts. But as distressing as they are for the employees involved, these restructuring initiatives are necessary to maintain our leading position and ensure the corporation's sustainability."

On the assumption that anyone back at the mothership is listening, gutting your product in the hope that cost-cutting will "ensure the corporation's sustainability" is about as useful a strategy as closing your most profitable stores and hoping the band-aid you've stuffed into the gaping wound will be enough to keep you alive [cough, Sears, cough.]

It won't.

But as long as the spreadsheet jockeys are calling the shots, don't let my plaintive voice keep you from systematically dissolving what was once a great source of inspirational journalism. We all know you're not listening, anyway, but that's hardly material anymore: Canadians interested in media that matters are already disconnecting from the diluted product you insist on selling them. They're more than a little smarter than you seem to think they are.

Friday, December 06, 2013

On Mom, Dad, and endless childhood

"I think all of us are always five years old in the presence and absence of our parents."
Sherman Alexie

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Nelson Mandela has died

One of modern history's most famous political figures has passed away, Nelson Mandela was 95.

More to come...

News links:
Notable quotes:
  • "No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."
  • "A winner is a dreamer who never gives up. The brave man is not the one who has no fears, he is the one who triumphs over his fears."
  • "It always seems impossible until its done."
  • "I was not a messiah, but an ordinary man who had become a leader because of extraordinary circumstances."

Change your password. Now. Please.

I woke up early to the sound of my smartphone vibrating on the nightstand. My first thought was a quick "ruh roh" as thoughts of Scooby Doo darted through my sleep-addled brain. If the phone rings before dawn, something is always up, and it usually involves meddling kids, old, grumpy men who live in abandoned mine communities, and some ascot-wearing doofus with a plan.

I quickly shook off the remnants of a cartoon nightmare and snapped to attention. Since it was my cell and not the landline, I was comforted that no one had died or gotten sick. It was a producer from Toronto. She was from CTV's Canada AM, and they wanted to talk about this week's revelation that 2 million username/password combinations had been stolen from major web companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google, and subsequently posted online.

The list illustrated a number of things we've known for years: we tend to use the same usernames and passwords for multiple services and accounts, we tend to use easily-guessed passwords (123456? Seriously?) and we rarely, if ever, change them.

So in a blink I was grabbing my laptop, making myself look pretty (well, as close to presentable as this hideous face is ever going to get), setting up my big-time kitchen studio with the bamboo window coverings, and settling in for a chat with Marcia MacMillan. Marie the Director calmly talked in my ear and expertly made sure everything was perfectly set up for the hit. I was in amazing hands and I've got to admit it felt pretty darn good to be sitting in the chair.

The interview went well - the video is here if you want to watch - and when we were off-air, I shut FaceTime down, tossed on my boots and coat and saw our daughter's smiling face pop into the kitchen. Another early morning choir practice, another reminder that I'm beyond lucky to be able to weave live television, radio and media work into our family's day-to-day life.

Some days, you just have to pinch yourself a little.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Life of dog

Every house has its routine, and ours is no different. Depending on the day, someone is always up early to write, work, or head to early choir practice. Our kitchen is a beehive of transient activity as lunches are packed, plans for the day are made, and hugs are given before everyone sweeps out the front door and heads off in a blizzard of directions.

Except for me. Most mornings, I wave goodbye at the front door, dog by my feet, as my wife pulls the car out of the driveway. And as she turns the corner and heads out of view, it's just me and a silver-furred schnauzer who stares at me as if he's asking, "Okay Dad, what's next?"

Usually, that means a quick walk before I get back inside and into my office. Words have to be written, and deadlines don't much allow for leisurely walks with the dog.

At least that's what I'd convinced myself. I figured a long walk later on would make up for the fact that I had to rush Frasier through his business every morning. I couldn't explain it to him, obviously, but as long as I justified it to myself, I figured it would be enough for him, as well.

Except this morning it wasn't enough. As I got my woolies on in the front vestibule before we headed out, I watched him standing patiently beside the front door, his nose practically pressed into the side window as he quietly waited for me to be ready. A quick walk suddenly didn't feel right, didn't feel fair to him.

He deserved something more. He deserved more time to explore the neighborhood, deserved more of my undivided attention, with no smartphone-reading or emailing.

So that's what we did. The phone stayed in my pocket as we took the long route. I let him linger over snowbanks, talked to him as he stubbornly refused to cross the street, listened to his voice as he growled at a passing bird, laughed at him as he dug his head deep into the snow and yanked it out with ice embedded in his fur.

By the time we got home, he didn't want to go back inside. Instead of turning toward the door, pulled me further down the street before turning around as if he was inviting me to stay out all morning. He finally bounced his way back to the front door when I promised him a treat. As I put my key into the lock, I unlatched his leash and just petted him for minute. I'm not sure who was smiling more as I cracked the door open and watched his wiggling form bolt into the front hall.

I headed downstairs and checked my watch: our leisurely stroll had cost me barely 15 minutes more than the usual quickie. Time definitely well spent, and there will be more leisurely morning walks in our future.

The irony is I thought he was the only one who deserved the extra time, the extra attention. He is, of course, but he's not the only one. Lucky me indeed.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

On why we read

"A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies.
A man who never reads lives only one."
George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons
I have my wife to thank for this one. She posted it to her Facebook wall, and in doing so inspired me.

I don't read as much as I ought to - probably because I spend too much time writing. Wait, that's a lie: I read a lot, but not as many books as I'd like. Most days are spent trolling the Internet, hoovering RSS feeds, grabbing snippets on my smartphone while I'm walking the dog, reading summaries and getting myself up to speed on my tablet while I down the morning's bowl of oatmeal.

I read like a sponge, but not the leather-bound literature I grew up with. Time to get back to that. I've got to get better at carving out more time to curl up with an actual book.

Speaking of which, I'm writing one now. Hopefully when it's done it'll help other folks live another life, and inspire them to share their own stories, as well.

Your turn: What have you read lately? How did it move you?

Thematic Photographic 271 - Celebrate

Life is good
London, ON
July 2013
I'm going to make it simple this week, because the days are short and I can't handle anything more complex than basic simplicity.

It's a happy time of year. At least it's supposed to be. And since every opportunity to celebrate is a welcome one, I think we should spend an entire week sharing celebrations through photography.

Are you in?

Your turn: Share a celebration-themed pic on your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting tout la gang know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the visual goodness of it all, and feel free to drop more pics into the mix as the week wears on. Tweet your entries to #ThematicPhotographic. If you're new to the whole Thematic thing, just click here and all will be explained. And please accept my thanks for making this such a highlight of my online week.

Monday, December 02, 2013

An unforgettable day in a bitterly cold park

Old growth
London, ON
February 2013
I wanted to end Thematic's look at foreground-themed photographs - see here if you'd like to share yours - with this shot.

As much as I like the framing, lighting and coloring, it isn't the technical aspects of the photo that make it stick in my mind. Rather, like so many other pics in my archives, it serves as a signpost to my life. Simply put, when I look at pictures, they take me back to certain moments in time.

This was a hard moment, a bitterly cold winter afternoon when I was trying to keep the kids occupied. Debbie was in Montreal to be with her hospitalized mom. Things were not good, and I spent a good amount of the time trying to juggle the realities of the day-to-day life of our kids with the unreality of dealing with the news from back home.

So we went to the park by the river, fed the ducks, and played on the empty playground. It was a grey day, and the cold wind blew right through our coats and froze my fingers when I tried to take pictures. But I kept taking pictures anyway, because for some reason I didn't want to forget the day, didn't want to lose what it felt like to be in this place with them.

Deb's mom passed away later that week, and if I could go back to this day when we had her, I would. Instead, I'm left with a two-dimensional photo and memories of my kids playing on the frozen playground, their voices echoing throughout the deserted park. It'll have to do.