Friday, January 31, 2014

Please don't stick a fork in it

Electric surprise
Laval, QC
April 2010
For more Thematic threesies, click here
Have you ever looked at an ordinary object in your house or office - or anywhere else - and realized that it looked just this side of human?

It kind of freaks me out when I have moments like this, because as you can see from the electrical outlets here, it's usually something that we've been staring at pretty much forever. Yet for some reason, after years of being ignored under the everyday radar, they choose random moments to announce themselves.

Strange how that works.

Your turn: Got any others in your house?

#TechSeven - Facebook at 10 & airport Wi-Fi spying

I launched #TechSeven last week (see here) as a way to share details and background with listeners of my weekly tech talk segment on Montreal's CJAD 800 radio station with Barry Morgan. I was thrilled to see some folks connect via Twitter after the show wrapped, so I'm going to continue to post my packages of rough notes every Friday afternoon. Looking forward to hearing what y'all think. Here goes...

ONE - Facebook turns 10 this coming Tuesday!

Hard to believe our social media baby has been around for a full decade. The company celebrated hitting double digits with a very strong quarterly earnings call this week. Revenues are up 55% on the year, profits are up, too, and it's increasingly evident that much of that growth is thanks to mobile activity.

The company's had some stumbles along the way - including a botched IPO that had some people convinced it was headed for the dumper. But it's recovered strongly since then, and investors now see the company - and social media in general - as the real deal.

My teenaged kids may be spending more time on Snapchat and Tumblr than Facebook these days, but Facebook has shown a grown-up resilience in recent months that suggests, strongly, that it isn't planning on giving up its dominant position anytime soon.

TWO - Wi-Fi spying at the airport

All that mobile activity ties closely into this shocking story: Canada's electronic spy agency, the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), as part of a pilot project, reportedly collected information from Canadians' wi-fi devices (including, but not limited to, smartphones) as they walked through an unidentified Canadian airport over a two week period. Phone numbers, device information, time and location were tracked, but the actual contents of the calls were not recorded (or so they say: for what it's worth, this is well within their capability, as well.)

This is like electronic toll highways such as Ontario's 407. As you enter the highway, a wireless network pings your transponder and generates data on who you are, where you are and when you entered the highway. As you drive down the highway, it continues to add to that record. The difference is you opt IN to toll highway participation. Secret airport Wi-Fi snooping? Not so much.

The CSEC reportedly used this ill-gotten information to further track travellers as they visited other Wi-Fi-enabled locations elsewhere in Canada. Ontario's Privacy Commissioner Ann Cavoukian calls it unbelievable, and says it's something a totalitarian state might do. The CSEC has released this statement in response to this coverage.

This opens up a Pandora's Box of privacy and due diligence issues. If they're collecting this kind of metadata on us, the resulting database itself becomes a target for hackers and criminals. Big Brother no longer has to visit you at home. Increasingly, he follows you when you're out and about, too. And he may not always be able to keep all that information away from the bad guys. Scary stuff.

THREE - The Super Bowl of Tech

This Sunday's Super Bowl between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos could very well be the only time this year that many of us watch even part of a football game. Let's face it: it isn't about the football. The game has become a spectacle, and tech makes it more fun for the non-fan to enjoy the party.

First: Canadians can rejoice because all the best ads will be available on YouTube. Some have even been leaked ahead of time (big surprise there) and since the Canadian simulcasts often substitute Canadian commercials for the big-buck American ones, going online is our best chance to see what everyone's talking about. Point your browser toward YouTube's official AdBlitz channel to get in on the fun.

Second, if you've been looking for a deal on a TV, now could be a good time. A FatWallet survey shows Americans buy more TVs just before the Super Bowl than any other time. Expect similar experiences in sports-mad Canada. Which means there's a lot of competition out there for your TV-buying dollar. And if you head to the mall today, you may be able to bring a new big-screen TV home for less.

Third, once you're watching the game on your new TV, keep an eye out for Google Glass. At least one of the sportscasters and some officials on the field are planning on wearing the high-tech Cyborg-like glasses, and they'll be sharing their views with viewers from home. No word on whether we'll have GoPro cameras on the players themselves, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time.

FOUR - European Union cops want a kill switch on every car

Police forces in Europe are calling for car manufacturers to install, in every vehicle, a remotely-accessible kill switch that allows police forces to slow down and stop a fleeing vehicle. If you're ever had your vehicle stolen, this is a good thing, as it gives police a safer alternative to a high-speed chase. Just fire up an app, identify the suspect vehicle, and send the command to bring it to a safe stop. GM already builds this capability into some versions of its ONStar automotive telematics system, but that's an option for GM vehicles only, and customers have to specifically subscribe to the service. The EU motion is far broader.

There's a but, here. Built-in kill switches in every vehicle can be hacked. Since they're now part of a wide area wireless network, hackers and criminals can, in theory, break into the car remotely and turn it off themselves. No technology is perfectly secure, and it's only a matter of time before the bad guys pull of their first heist. Maybe I should start riding my bike more often. As soon as the snow melts...

Thursday, January 30, 2014

This just in: Why Google really sold Motorola

In case you've been wondering why Google would take a $9+ billion bath by selling its Motorola handset unit to Chinese vendor Lenovo - I know you've all been waiting on pins and needles, right? - I wrote an assessment of the deal for Yahoo! Canada Finance, and the piece has just been published:
Why Google is selling Motorola to Lenovo: Patents
This writing-while-the-world-sleeps thing is quite the experience. To whoever in the universe struck me with the kind of lightning that allows me to do this kind of work, thank you.

On never asking for permission

"The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me."
Ayn Rand
I'm guessing no one. Which is as it should be.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Lenovo buys Motorola unit from Google

My, my, my, do we live in interesting tech times. Reports are flying that Chinese hardware vendor Lenovo - they bought IBM's PC division a few years back, and earlier this month scooped up the server unit for good measure - is buying the Motorola handset business from Google for $3 billion U.S.

If this deal goes forward, Google will end up taking a pretty big bath, as it bought the division for $12.5 billion in 2011. That's a $9.5 billion shortfall, over and above the squillions of dollars the unit lost between then and now. I realize this is all pocket change for a company like Google, but it's worth noting given this is a company that almost never retreats so ingloriously. This would apparently be a first.

Why's Lenovo buying in? It wants to become the biggest mobile handset maker, and acquisition has become the company's preferred strategy in recent years. I wouldn't bet against them.

More to come. This is going to get even more fascinating as the details become known, and I'll have more on it for Yahoo! Canada Finance in the morning.

Related links:

Gables on a godless roof

Faux architecture
London, ON
May 2009
Thematic. Threesies. Here.
Living as I do in suburbia, it's hard to find architecture that's been around for more than a couple of decades, if that long. Most everything around here is new enough that it was built without the kind of customized craftsmanship and care that typified older buildings. No one's ever going to say that 1990s bungalow has great bones.

Still, you can find snippets or flashes of interesting stuff if you look carefully enough. And some of the faux features in, on and around one of the local malls are just decent enough to trick the eye into thinking they're worth a second look.

Sure, it's a big trick. But one I'm happy to fall victim to, because otherwise I'd be staring at emptiness. And that would be even worse.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Thematic Photographic 279 - Threesies

London calling
Montreal, QC
July 2012
This week's Thematic theme, threesies, is deliberately simple because it's too cold outside to get all complex and artsy on you. If there are three of anything in it, or if it even suggests something remotely close to "three", toss it in and see what you come up with.

The sharp-eyed Montrealers among you might recognize this street corner. It's Pare and Decarie (Google Maps), looking east, and the three phone booths are right at the edge of the Gibeau Orange Julep (sorry, OJ) parking lot. Head here for more background on why this place, despite the weeds poking wildly through the broken asphalt, is nothing short of magical, and why it matters so much to our family.

In a way it's kind of poignant that this very urbanized corner of the planet still has a trio of old phone booths at the edge of the parking lot, because like the restaurant itself, they remind us of a lost era. On this perfect summer's afternoon, our now-much-taller kids were astute enough to not crinkle their noses at something that was clearly so obsolete. They instead walked right up and explored - much more fun that way. And much better photography as a result.

Your turn: Take a picture that suggests "threesies" - and post it to your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. For added fun tweet it out using the #ThematicPhographic hashtag. Visit other participants to raise the level of shared photographic community-ness (OMG, my high school English teacher would be having a fit by now) and come on back through the week to see what everyone's up to. If you'd like more background on how Thematic, our weekly photo-sharing/learning/personal-growth activity, works, click here. Have fun with it!

On holding on

"There are times in life when people must know when not to let go. Balloons are designed to teach small children this."
Terry Pratchett

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Who's up for a road trip?

Kiss my asphalt
401 Westbound, somewhere in Ontario
August 2013
Thematic. Greyish. Here.
I came along too late to really appreciate Jack Kerouac, and I'm guessing there isn't enough left of Route 66 for me to ever experience first-hand what this road - and roads like it - meant to the American psyche.

But I still get a twinge every time we load up the car and head somewhere. Even if it's the 730 km drive back to Montreal, it's a drive, an experience, an adventure. And if we take the time to drink it in a little, we might yet learn a little something - about our world, about ourselves, or both - along the way.

I think this pic summarizes that feeling rather nicely. It had been rainy for much of the trip, and the kids were quietly doing their own thing in back. I was in the front passenger seat trying to amuse myself with my iPad, and as ridiculous as I must have looked shooting random pictures with a tablet, it struck me as just the kind of thing to do when you're on a grand adventure with your family.

I hope they look back on these drives someday and smile as much as I do.

Your trip: How do you make road trips memorable?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Someone has a drinking problem

Water, water everywhere
New York, NY
November 2013.
Thematic. Greyish. Here.
I'm keenly aware that our planet is being overrun with plastic. The Pacific Ocean is filling up with it. And the same people who protest retail and grocery stores that still distribute plastic bags are the same folks who hold plastic, one-time-use water bottles like security blankets as they retreat back to their SUVs and drive back to suburbia.

It's a complex world, and nothing is ever black and white. But that doesn't mean a pile of water bottles can't offer up a worthwhile scene on a cold autumn night on the edge of Times Square.

Half of me wanted the shot. The other half of me just wanted to see how New Yorkers reacted to some guy standing in the middle of the sidewalk taking a picture of water bottles.

Your turn: What do you see in this shot?

Friday, January 24, 2014

Gmail is down. Don't panic.

We're seeing reports of sporadic Gmail outages, and in some cases they're spreading to other Google services.

Before you do anything else, sit down, take a deep breath and realize that the Apocalypse is not upon us. The world won't end just because you can't read the latest missive from that Nigerian prince who's been courting you since time immemorial. Maybe it's a sign from the universe that we should add another layer or two and take a walk.

Later, folks.

If you're that freaked out about it, check these resources (but please don't tweet me, as I'll be out with the dog):
Update: 4:57 - Aaaand we're back. Google says they've resolved the issue and service is returning to normal.

TechSeven - trying something new...

I'm going to try something a little different this week. As you may know, I do a weekly segment on CJAD Radio 800 in Montreal. Every Friday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. Eastern, I chat with host Barry Morgan about some of the week's biggest and most notable stories from the world of tech.

In preparation for the segment, I write what I like to call a research agenda. It's a rough rundown of the key topics we cover, with some related links, background and perspective to round it out. I thought it would be worth sharing the package, rough as it is, as a great backdrop to the online discussion. Since I often hear from listeners afterward asking for more info on the stuff we had just discussed, I figured this would be a great resource to share post-air.

To keep things easy to find, I'm going to give it a title: TechSeven. Why seven? Because it summarizes what I think are the most notable tech topics over the course of a week. Let me know if that sounds workable to you.

Here goes...

ONE - The Mac Turns 30
On January 24, 1984, Steve Jobs pulled a Macintosh computer out of a bag and introduced it to the world. Do you remember the Super Bowl ad where the athlete threw a hammer at the Big Brother-like being? You'd be forgiven for assuming something changed then. The Mac was that seminal. 
For all the hype, however, the Mac has never been a #1 seller - the latest figures give it 7.5% global market share - and it's always been kind of expensive for what you get. You can easily buy a faster Windows computer for less 
But here's the thing: the Mac revolutionized technology by making it accessible to you, me and mom. It turned computers from hard-to-use work devices to easy-to-use appliances that anyone could figure out without reading the manual or getting a doctorate in programming. It opened up entirely new ways of working - desktop publishing, working from home - and influenced every computer and consumer electronic device that came after. Even if you've never touched or owned a Mac, it's managed to touch your life. 
I wrote this article for Yahoo! Canada Finance: The meaning of the Mac at 30
TWO - Will Facebook really lose most of its users by 2017?
There was a big brouhaha this week in the social media space after researchers at Princeton - yes, that Princeton - released a study that said Facebook will lose 80% of its users within three years. 
The Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering study used a combination of epidemiological models that are used to track the spread of infectious diseases, as well as Google search query data, to explain how we first sign on to - and eventually abandon - social networks like Facebook. They say using services like Facebook is like a disease that spreads, infects a lot of people, and then eventually declines. They say the same thing happened to MySpace, which topped out at 76 million unique visits in 2008 before fading into irrelevance. 
My $0.02: They're completely off-base. First off, MySpace died because it didn't change. Period. Its then-owners - Rupert Murdoch/News Corp. - invested nothing in the platform, and let it get eaten alive by younger and more agile competitors like, you guessed it, Facebook. Sure, if Facebook stands completely still and does nothing, it will be irrelevant in 3 years - or possibly sooner. But since going public last year it's invested big in new technologies and tools to stay one step ahead of the pack. There's no guarantee it'll prevail - teens are already leaving the service in favour of other platforms like Snapchat, Tumblr and Pinterest - but the Princeton conclusion is preposterous on a number of levels. 
Of all the "research" I've seen, this one takes the cake for ridiculousness and overt headline-grabbing intent at the expense of anything substantive to back it up. For the record, it has NOT been peer-reviewed, which means they published it simply because they knew it would cause a firestorm. Mission accomplished. But the journalist in me continues to see it for what it is: idiotic. 
For funsies, Facebook published its own response to the Princeton report. The company's data science team used a similar methodology to explain how Princeton itself could be headed for extinction. Do not drink milk before reading it, though. I speak from experience.
THREE - Watch that ATM - it could be obsolete real soon
Canadians have always been ATM early adopters, but news out of the U.S. last week outlines a critical weakness in ATM technology. The problem is that of the 420,000 ATMs in use in the U.S., 95% of them run Windows XP, which is now 12 years old and somewhat obsolete given how radically the computing world has evolved since then. 
Microsoft is pulling some support for XP in April, and all of it by July 2015, but that leaves the industry scrambling to update ancient software. No numbers for Canada, but we typically follow the U.S. fairly closely, so their problem is our problem. 
Old ATMs are more susceptible to being hacked or otherwise compromised, and the industry has been cruising along for a while because it was following an if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it mentality. Well, it's about to break, and we may want to keep an eye on that ATM the next time we use it. 
I wrote this article for Yahoo! Canada Finance on Monday that digs a bit deeper into the topic: Windows XP deadline puts bank ATMs at risk
FOUR - Pope Francis shares some wise tech advice
I've got to give the big guy credit: he gets social media, and he's realistic about the limitations of technology. In a statement released yesterday, he praised the Internet as a "gift from God," but warned we may be missing out on its true benefits because we aren't taking the time to reflect on how it impacts our lives. 
He echoes my sentiment that we may be connected, but in many respects we aren't connecting. A little pause may not be such a bad thing. And that it comes from the Pope, no less, is an interesting signal that things may finally be changing for the better within the Vatican.
There, I'm done. Now over to you: Is this something I should do each week?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Clinging to life

London, ON
February 2012
For more grey-themed Thematic,
please click here
Ivy rules for a whole lot of reasons, chief among them its ability to survive and thrive under conditions that would probably kill any there life form. I've never owned a home that has ivy on it, so I can't speak to the downsides of it - I'm guessing bugs, mild and other nasties that thrive in the shade - but I think the benefits would outweigh the drawbacks.

Even if a few ladybugs get in the way, it's a worthwhile photographic subject. And on this cold winter's afternoon when I pointed my lens at a windswept brick wall, I found myself wondering about the magic of a seemingly simple plant that isn't so simple after all.

Your turn: What's the appeal of ivy?

Related links:

On embracing failure

"I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
Michael Jordan
All too often, I talk to people who are afraid of changing direction, of following a new path, of leaving their comfort zone. They're afraid of making the wrong choice, or any choice. And they're afraid of falling on their face in the process. That fear of failure is an incredibly powerful force - and it's what keeps folks firmly stuck where they are.

Mr. Jordan is right: You never know what'll happen if you don't try. And if you do fall on your face - or miss the shot, or blow the game - then you simply do what he's always done. Get up, brush yourself off, and try again. Count yourself lucky that you had the opportunity to play the game in the first place.

Sometimes the toughest lessons are the simplest ones to understand.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Thematic Photographic 278 - Greyish

Into the woods
London, ON
January 2014
I haven't been shooting as much lately as I'd like to be. Between the everyday stuff that fills the day and often cantankerous weather that forces the camera to stay put, my output is way down. Not that it's a volume game, mind you - I'd rather take a few memorable photos than a ton of lousy ones - but when I'm not even laying down anything on the memory card, something's got to give.

So when the post-Polar Vortex weather turned into an above-zero fogfest couple of weeks ago, I grabbed my camera and went for a walk. I didn't have to go far before that old familiar feeling crept back into my head. The one where themes almost seem to materialize on their own, and you feel as if you're simply along for the ride.

I realized how much I missed the process, and decided it made no sense for the weather to clear before scheduling another shoot. As the mercury heads back into polar territory, I think another walkabout - a quicker one this time - may be called for. No more lulls, because my camera needs a workout. So does my head.

Your turn: Please take a picture that evokes this week's theme, greyish, and post it to your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Drop by other participants to share the experience, and feel free to post more examples through the week. Use the #ThematicPhotographic tag if you're tweeting your links out. For more info on how Thematic works, click here. Thanks...and enjoy!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

On the power of pairs

"The two most powerful warriors are patience and time."
Leo Tolstoy

After a week most everyone in my house - except the dog - would like to either bury, forget, or do over, Mr. Tolstoy's words seem to hold more weight than they otherwise would.

Friday, January 17, 2014

This is where God scraped the planet

Somewhere in Alberta, Canada
February 2013
I'm going to violate the terms of this week's Thematic theme for a bit. While it's officially "in another city", the photo below is close enough to the city of Calgary that I'm calling it in-scope.

And because I really like this shot. The foothills that lead up to - or away from, depending on which direction you're going - the Canadian Rockies are endlessly spectacular, and quite addictive when you're sitting in a plane with little else to do.

There's method to my apparent photographic madness: It's been a week of misery here at Levyland West, with all of us spending more time than we'd dare admit huddled in cold sweats under the comforters as we waited for good health to return.

We're still waiting, but now that I'm at least ambulatory enough to sit at a keyboard and once again spit out more or less completed sentences with my fingertips*, I thought I'd pull some neat-looking photos out of the archives and share them for no other reason than they make me smile.

Your turn: Something that makes you smile. Aaaaand...go!

* My high school English teacher will likely, and violently, disagree that these sentences are remotely complete or proper. She's always free to leave a comment, of course.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Home, long ago

Where we laid down roots
Laval, QC
August 2013
Thematic. In another city. Here.
I grew up in a place called Chomedey, a smallish bedroom community, a borough of the city of Laval, just across the river from Montreal.

To the uninitiated it looked like just another suburb, with slightly differentiated houses on neatly tended lawns laid out in a gently meandering streetscape (here's an overhead view.) To those who lived there, this place was - indeed still is - special.

While I'm sure many of my memories are clouded by the idealistic fog of childhood, it was a happy place to grow up. An afternoon's entertainment was as simple as running down your front walk and seeing who else was playing in the quiet street, and exploring the edges of the still expanding neighbourhood was an almost obligatory rite of passage.

We seemed to know everyone around us, and as much as we looked forward to trips into the big city - always such an adventure - there was nothing quite as comforting as when dad piloted the car (a station wagon, of course) back across the bridge at the end of the day and turned for home.

Because this was, and to a certain extent always will be, home.

I'm not entirely sure what makes Chomedey as unique as it is, but I'm glad I grew up here, at this point in time, surrounded by the people who made it less a suburb and more like an extended family. It wasn't flashy or ostentatious, and by today's standards many of the  homes there won't make the front pages of Architect Magazine.

But sometimes the ingredients that make a rich neighbourhood have nothing to do with brick and mortar, and everything to do with the intangible ingredients that pull like-minded, community-focused, fundamentally good people together. As much as this place has changed since I moved out and away, a little piece of it remains powerfully embedded within me.

Your turn: Where did you grow up? What's the one thing you'd like to share about this place?

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Mobile office, New York style

Is this ergonomic?
New York, NY
November 2013
For more Thematic in-another-city, head here
Apologies for the downscale tone of this entry. All of our kids have been sick for much of the last week. Today, apparently, it became my turn. Yay fun! Head here for more Thematic goodness. Because I'll feel better if y'all are out there enjoying yourselves.
Whenever I go for a walk in virtually any city, I'm used to seeing all sorts of garbage sitting on the sidewalk. People are, for lack of a better term, pigs. They probably figure it's easier and more convenient for them to dump their stuff anywhere than it might be to properly dispose of it or, gasp, recycle it.

I hate to say that I've become immune to it. Sad.

Regardless, I'm not above grabbing a quick shot of a particularly interesting scene, and this one seemed, I don't know, so appropriate given where it was taken. I'm almost tempted to ask for captions. Almost.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Thematic Photographic 277 - In another city

A tale of two buildings
New York, NY
November 2013
With this week's theme, in another city, I hope you'll pull some pics of places you've visited out of your archives and share them.

Whenever I'm away, I try to take some time to record the place in some way. I don't always have a lot of time, and photography usually has to take a back seat to more prosaic requirements like work and ensuring I make it back to the airport on time.

So I'm more often than not shooting and running. But somewhere in the midst of it all, if I can manage to snag a moment or two that can later bring me back to this place, if only in my mind, then it will have been worth it. Even better if I can take others along for the ride, as well.

On this night, I was struck by the opposing facades of a delightfully old building sitting in the shadows of a forgettable glass slab amid the hustle of New York's Times Square. I think you know where I'd rather be hanging out.

Your turn: Please choose a photo that you took when visiting another city, then post it to your blog or website. Leave a comment here to let folks know where to find it.  Visit other participants to spread the joy - and the word. Tweet #ThematicPhotographic to spread the word even further, and visit here if you're new to it all. And most of all, enjoy the experience, because fun is what this whole thing is about.

Through the eyes of the next generation

Storm's coming
London, ON
September 2013
For one last swing at the faves-of-2013 can, click here
New theme, in another city, launches tonight at 7pm ET
Of all my favorite photos of 2013, this ranks at the top of the list.

I'll admit that at first glance it might seem like an odd choice. It is, after all, and fairly everyday scene in an everyday place. It doesn't have that overproduced patina that make you go wow or feel a sudden need to catch your breath. It isn't spectacularly mind-blowing or otherwise worthy of a permanent slot over the mantel.

It's what the photo signifies, the story that it tells, that rocks me to the very depths of my soul. And that story is a simple one of our kids capturing an approaching storm in their own voice, on their own terms. To watch them pick up their own cameras and build their own narrative through the lens is, in a word, heartwarming, and this picture neatly exemplifies how they've come into their own as photographers.

It's been a voyage of discovery for them, and they've learned on their own time and their own terms how powerful a rectangle of tightly packed pixels can be, and how much fun it can be to just get out there and shoot.

So they do. And I like to step back and watch them work. Long may they shoot.

Your turn: What should they shoot next?

Saturday, January 11, 2014

A necessary shot of colour

One last blast
London, ON
October 2013
Thematic's faves. Here.
I looked at my camera earlier today and realized I hadn't tripped the shutter in over a month. Sure I've taken pictures with my smartphone, but the DSLR sat on my desk gathering dust.

Not good.

I realized how much I missed it. Missed the process of slinging it over my shoulder - I love the heft - and walking around the house or the neighborhood or wherever with a photographic purpose, where everything and anything is fair game, and my mind races from one scene to another, wondering how I should tell the story.

Today dawned foggy, so I headed out for a quick walk to capture some of the muted scenery before the joyous murk burned off. And after I came home and reviewed what I had captured, I realized I still had some leftover images, unprocessed, just sitting on the card.

This gloriously red scene struck me as a perfect counterpoint to the near-monochrome world I had just explored. Because sometimes we just need a little bit of color to jumpstart our souls back to where they need to be. I see more pixels in my future. What about you?

Friday, January 10, 2014

I've been mugged

Drink up, then talk
London, ON
August 2013

Thematic. Favorites. Here.
For a whole lot of reasons, I find myself hovering over touchstones a little more closely and thoughtfully these days. Little things aren't little in the overall scheme of things. They matter. A lot. And we do our souls lots of favors by taking the time to linger over them a little.

Today's Exhibit A is a simple mug. My mug. The mug that some really kind folks at CTV London scaffed from a cupboard, stuck a label on it and called it mine. It sits in a little nook in the studio and I use it every time I come in for an interview.

I had been away for a few months, so when I got my first call for a hit*, I was pleasantly surprised - okay, touched - when I wandered into the darkened space and realized my mug, makeup (don't laugh), earpiece and various doodads that I use for interviews there were still sitting in the little nook.

* Hit = television interview. Not sure why they call it a "hit", but it takes fewer syllables and it sounds neat. So it sticks.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

On courting disaster

"To achieve anything, you must be prepared to dabble on the boundary of disaster."
Stirling Moss

A morning in the life...

"Writing is a struggle against silence."
Carlos Fuentes
Most of my days tend to start quietly before dawn in my home office, with the yellow light of a low-watt halogen lamp spilling softly over my keyboard, mixing with the decidedly bluish glow of my laptop and the rather whitish tinge of my external screen. Somewhere in there an iPad adds to the fray, which sets the tone for what comes next.

That next part is fairly simple: I stare at a blinking cursor on a white background and think about the words that I need to invent, arrange, flow and shape over the next hour or two. I glance over at my research notes - arranged in browser tabs on the second screen - and let my brain start to pull thoughts together.

I always pop my headphones on with the intent of listening to just the right kind of music, but more often than not I don't bother actually starting the music once the cans are on my ears. So I sit there, sealed off from the rest of the world in abject silence, the technology on my desk glowing various hues of soft light, oasis-like in the dark cavern of my office.

The rest of the house is quiet as everyone sleeps through the last couple of hours of night. After a few minutes of picking through the research materials, the themes and structures start to take shape. My writer's voice finds an appropriate gear and my fingers find their rhythm on the well-worn keys. There's a feel to this keyboard that I can't quite describe, but anyone who's ever written for a living knows what that feeling is like. It's not just tactile. It's almost alive, and as the once-white screen slowly fills in with properly formed letters, words, phrases and paragraphs, I lean in even closer, as if I'm part of the thing I'm now creating.

As I approach my target word count and begin to button up the article, the tone around me changes yet again. Now it isn't so much pulling words out of the silent darkness that greeted me when I first stumbled into this space and hit the on button. I've strung it all together and it's gone from an intangible idea that I hope I can sketch to something that's sitting rather concretely in front of me. Now it needs a little shaping, a little finesse, and little prettying up before it can be called well and truly done.

Whatever you call it - editing, triage, shaping, tweaking - it doesn't tend to take long because by now I can almost feel the house waking up, and I want it behind me before everyone's awake. When the world isn't covered by snow, I can usually by now hear the birds begin to sing their morning songs, even through my silent headphones. It's my cue to wrap it up and send it on its way.

Because tomorrow morning will be here soon enough, and there will always be a blank screen waiting to be filled.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Challah the Hutt

Bread with personality
London, ON
July 2013
Thematic. Faves. Here.
I've written previously about challah (here and here), the traditional egg-based bread that I simply can't stop eating.

I've never shot it while my wife was making it, though. But on this particular night, I couldn't resist when it seemed to rise out of the cooking sheet like a yeast-fuelled avatar of Jabba the Hut.

The cooking gods work in strange ways. And for this I am thankful.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

I need more cowbell

Fly like the wind, Bullseye
Grand Bend, ON
July 2013
For more Thematic favourites of the year, click here
Click photo to embiggen
You can never get enough cowbell.

For anyone who remembers Christopher Walken's now-iconic Blue Oyster Cult-channelling Saturday Night Live sketch - video here, wiki entry here - cowbell is the comedic equivalent of crack. And not Rob Ford crack, either. Just say it in mixed company and the temperature of the room instantly changes.

In a good way, of course.

I'm like that with seagulls, too. No, they're not as amusing as Mr. Walken's Bruce Dickinson, and you can't dress them up in gold diapers (go ahead, Google it. We'll wait.) But it's the kind of photographic topic I keep coming back to again and again. I doubt the gulls care one way or another, but I simply can't get enough of the way they fly.

More cowbell, er, gull, please.

Your turn: I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell. Are you a cowbell fan? Why/why not?

Monday, January 06, 2014

On the grip of childhood

"What is it about childhood that never lets you go, even when you're so wrecked it's hard to believe you ever were a child?"
Mitch Albom

Thematic Photographic 276 - More favorite photos of the year

Ladybug says hello
Laval, QC
August 2013
Normally I'd have a new theme for you, but this week I've decided our favorite-of-the-year theme, launched last week right here, deserves a little more time. Because we all want to share a little more from our best-of archives, I'm going to run this theme for another week.

Sound OK?

Your turn: Pick another favourite photo taken over the past year and share it on your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it, and drop by other participants to spread the joy. Tweet using the #ThematicPhotographic hashtag if you're into that kinda thing. For more background on how Thematic works, click here. That's it...over to you!

Storm's coming

Cloudy with a chance of nastiness
London, ON
July 2013
Click here for more Thematic faves of the year
The weather outside this morning is frightful. Well, not really. It's Canada and it's winter, so none of this - the bitter cold, the major dump of snow, the wind - should be a surprise to anyone.

Yet Facebook and Twitter are stuffed to the gills this morning with endless complaints about the weather and how it's stressing them out, ruining their best-laid plans and stunting their children's growth.

Okay, maybe that last part is a bit of a stretch, but still.

When crazy weather rolls in, better to leave a few extra minutes to stare up and enjoy the show. This building thunderstorm from last summer ranks as one of my favourite weather moments of the year, and I'll keep staring up and out when Mother Nature has a tantrum. Because we can't change or control what Ma Nature dishes out. But we can sure change how we choose to respond to whatever's going on around us.

Your turn: Your favourite weather moment...discuss.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Little man returns home

He's back!
Toronto, ON
August 15, 2013
Housekeeping alert: I realize I haven't shared as many of my faves-of-the-year as I had hoped to, so I'm going to extend this Thematic theme by a week so I can toss a few more into the mix. I'm hoping you'll do the same - here's where the fun begins.
When little man returned from camp last summer, I had to be there. Not simply because I'm his dad. It wasn't a chore, and it was more than a simple red mark on a calendar.

I needed to be there. Needed this hug, too.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Ink from a busy pen

I learned long ago to avoid marrying myself to every word and every article that I write. One of the biggest mistakes writers can make is believing that everything they scribe is so precious that it should never be edited down.

So when I edit - both my work and the work of others - I tend to be a little ruthless. Okay, a very ruthless. And in the end, I'm guessing the finished, published work is better for it. At least that's what I've convinced myself.

Here's a sampling of some of my recently published work. I share it not necessarily because I expect y'all to read everything I write, but because the occasional summary reminds me where I've been journalistically, and where I'd like to go next. Hard to plot a path if you don't have a few visible milestones along the way, right?

Yahoo! Canada Finance Consumer Blog
Bell Business Blog

Goodbye, New York

One last glimpse
New York, NY
November 2012
Thematic. Favorites of the year. Here.
This is why I always ask for the window seat. Because the drink cart in the aisle isn't anywhere near as compelling a visual.

Friday, January 03, 2014


If I had to visualize the week that just was, I imagine it would look something like this.

And if I had the opportunity to change anything about the week that just was, I wouldn't. Sometimes you just have to enjoy the rush as it washes over and through your life.

How was your week?

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

On keeping the right company

"Sometimes the most ordinary things could be made extraordinary, simply by doing them with the right people."
Elizabeth Green
There's a huge park, Victoria Park, in the middle of London's downtown that's become something of a central gathering place in our city. Every holiday season, city workers string kajillions of lights and decorations on, in and around the trees. Combined with a bandshell that plays music over an outdoor skating rink, it has all the ingredients for a perfect winter's evening.

Which is how we came to be in this place on a bitterly cold night when the snow began to fly. We wandered around the snowy wonderland, took countless pictures until we couldn't feel our fingers anymore, and finally tucked into a nearby cafe for some much needed hot chocolate. As we slowly returned to room temperature, the falling snow outside the oversized window reminded us why we love living here.

It was an ordinary night in an ordinary place. But the moment was anything but ordinary because I was surrounded by some pretty cool people. And spending nights like this with them reminds me why I am as lucky as I am to have what I have. Because they make even the everyday moments worth capturing and remembering.

Not a bad way to start the year. Not a bad way to lead a life.