Friday, June 16, 2017

On Carl Sagan and the technological mess we've created

"We've arranged a global civilization in which most crucial elements profoundly depend on science and technology. We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces."
Carl Sagan

Monday, May 15, 2017

Thematic Photographic 412 - Architecture

Stone-faced
Toronto, ON
February 2017
If you find yourself staring at buildings because you find them neat, know you're not alone. Any structure of any era has to offer at least one redeeming reason for a stare or two. Even if it's a glass-and-metal box, there's got to be something there that connects with your soul.

And because I've been shooting human-created structures with alarming frequency of late, I'm hoping you'll consider doing so, too. If anything, it eases my guilt for missing Thematic last week. In the party atmosphere that was my birthday, I forgot to hit the Publish button. Bad Carmi.

Your turn: Take a pic that ‎evokes, supports or merely suggests this week's theme, Architecture. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Already posted something online or in your archives? Share it, too! Visit other participants to raise the fun quotient and feel free to post more contributions through the week. For more info on how Thematic works, head here. Most important of all, have fun with it!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Sitting in the subway late at night

All angles
Toronto, ON
February 2017
The scene: Valentine's Day night. I'm in this city a couple of hours from home because of a work thing. The team has already had dinner and we've all headed back to the hotel to shift gears for an evening of extended shmoozing. I'm not much of a party person or a drinker, and I'm the world's least effective shmoozer. So I politely decline invitations to go clubbing or sit in the hotel lobby bar. Instead, I reach for my camera and head out for a walk before tuck-in. That's me, Mr. Social.

Before long, I find myself descending into a subway station, because nothing says Valentine's Day like a subway station. My goal is simple: Sit on a bench for a few minutes, and watch the comings and goings. As I settle into a spot, I notice the stairs, and how institutional, public-space architecture like this always seems to speak to me.

Later on, when I review the pics from this walk, I have a bunch of random snaps of strangers in the varying stages of forced Valentine's Day bliss - ranging from overt public displays of affection to what I'm pretty sure was a breakup-in-progress - but it's this one that keeps taking me back, that paints a picture in linear slashes of blue tile and germ-infested chrome, of what it felt like to be looking for some kind of inspiration on a night when all I really wanted to do was hang with my family.

Related: This photo on Instagram.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

On reading - and life

"Read in order to live."
Gustave Flaubert
So if anyone's looking for me, I'll be in the corner over here, reading. I'll leave it to you to guess what. Suggestions always welcome.

Saturday, May 06, 2017

The 10 things I HATE about social media

We're a little over a decade into the so-called social media era, long enough that's it's now a normal, everyday thing for most of us. It's also been around long enough for some of us - I'm not judging, pointing fingers or naming names; not yet, anyway  - to have built up more than a few annoying habits along the way.

With that in mind, here's a quick list of some of the things that elevate my blood pressure when I thumb past them on my smartphone:

1 - Posting selfies, and only selfies. While there's nothing wrong with a selfie or two thrown into the mix here and there, Every Single Picture need not be of you. Look, I get it: I'm an occasional-selfie-taker, and they are a fun addition to the photographic toolkit. But they aren't everything. Point the lens outward and tell the story instead of constantly being the story. You're interesting, but not that interesting.

2 - Turning your timeline into a real-time vacation travelogue. First of all, anyone who posts pics while they're on vacation is an idiot (hey criminals, please rob my empty house!) Second, isn't the whole point of a vacation supposed to be that you get away from social media and other tools of everyday technology? Instead of a never-ending, one-at-a-time stream of unedited and badly composed photos posted while you're away, why don't you enjoy the moment, then edit and post a carefully curated summary once you get home? Combining wall-to-wall selfies with real-time vacation pics is even worse. So please stop.

3 - Sharing a list of 10 concerts. I don't think you much care about who I've seen perform live on-stage, and I'm pretty sure the feeling is mutual. Wait, I'm completely sure. I don't care that this is the latest hot meme that's sweeping Facebookistan, and why everyone else is falling all over themselves is beyond me. Unless you really like being a sheeple, I guess. Try coming up with something original instead. It's a little more work, but it makes for better reading.

4 - Participating in a meme. Those endless "Let's see who reads this..." posts are so far beyond being played out that I can't believe they're still a thing. When half my feed is filled with cut-and-paste sameness because no one can be bothered to share an original thought, I begin to wonder if any of us has a future. If you want to write something close to the heart, sharpen your virtual pencil and write it yourself. Why would I be bothered to read and respond if you can't be bothered to think?

5 - Sending game invitations. If you can't learn to turn off notifications and invitations when you play an online game, perhaps you don't deserve to have a social media account. I know it sounds harsh, but someone needs to have the courage to tell you your endless game invites aren't merely annoying. They also make you look lame.

6 - Overshare. I know way too much about the intimate lives of way too many people, all because they insist on posting longform accounts of their child's latest outburst at home, their most recent run-in with the crazy neighbors on the other side of the fence, their trials and tribulations at work, and their years-long efforts to have that baby boy they always wanted because three healthy girls simply weren't enough. Look, I love the way social media gives us insight into the lives of people we care about. And the social media space is filled with lots of examples of people who do it right - with grace, sensitivity and class - and I will never get enough of the good kind of sharing. But holy cow, people, learn where to draw the line. The difference between appropriate and inappropriate levels of sharing should be obvious to us by now. Sadly, they aren't.

7 - Using your timeline as a scheduler. Blog posts, Facebook status updates and other publicly-shared messages are best served as focused summaries of things that matter to you, not comprehensive, excruciatingly detailed accounts of your day that make me wonder why you feel the need to share it all. I'm exhausted enough managing my own day in 15-minute increments that trying to follow yours in blow-by-blow format is damn near impossible.

8 - Write everything in one long, endless paragraph. Did grammar go out the window with the advent of social media tools? Do we no longer know how to communicate in bite-sized chunks? Considering the increasingly attention-deficit nature of digital messaging, you'd think the 5,000-word-all-in-one-graf Facebook post would be a thing of the past. You'd think wrong. Use that Enter/Return key, people. I beg you.

9 - Announcing periodic cleanups of your friends lists. Passive-aggressive much? If you're going to unfriend or unfollow someone, just do it. Don't pre-announce it. Don't post it to all your friends and ask them to beg to stay in your good electronic graces. Don't post again, after the fact, to let your remaining "friends" know how lucky they are to still be in your orbit. If you do, and you suddenly find me absent from your timeline, now you know why.

10 - Sending unsolicited group messages. There's a reason there are laws against spam. Wait, there are TONS of reasons. But what's now taboo in email seems to be perfectly acceptable on social media. If I didn't ask to be on the recipient list for your mass Facebook Messenger message, then don't put me on it - especially if you stuff it with weird emojis and animated GIFs.

I'm pretty sure this makes me sound like the old codger standing on his lawn whining about those darn neighborhood kids, But when we're gifted with some of the most sophisticated communications technology ever conceived and we choose to waste it on Candy Crush and Donald Trump memes, I can't stand silently by the wayside.

Your turn: What bugs YOU about social media? Let me know in a comment...maybe there's another list - or two, or three... - in our collective future.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

On making the world a happier place

"There are two ways to spread happiness; either be the light who shines it or be the mirror who reflects it."
Edith Wharton

Monday, May 01, 2017

Thematic Photographic 411 - Gardens Galore

Colors of nature
London, ON
April 2017
I don't know a whole lot about plants or gardens beyond the sad fact that I tend to kill them. It isn't intentional, but of all the people born with the innate ability to nurture plant-based life, I'm not one of them.

Doesn't mean I can't appreciate it photographically when it grows on its own, though. So when this particularly colorful example of hen and chicks - or sempervivum - presented itself in the garden underneath our kitchen window, it was an easy call to point the lens down and have some fun with it.

We had some fun with this pic on Instagram and Twitter. For the next week, I hope you'll do the same here on the blog. And on yours!

Your turn: This week's Thematic theme is gardens galore. Feel free to take a picture of a garden. Or a garden plant. Or a garden of plants. Or anything that's alive and lovely - remember, it's all about how you choose to interpret the theme, and there are non wrongs here. After you're done shooting, post the pic to your blog, website or social media presence, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Did you already post something long ago? Share that, too! Visit other Thematic participants to share the Thematic goodness - we'll be at it all week. New to Thematic? Here's the lowdown. Thanks!

On volunteerism and Muhammad Ali

"Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth."
Muhammad Ali

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Reflected sunset

Where glass meets sky
Toronto, ON
February 2017
Thematic. Reflective. Here.
May as well fess up now: I'm not the world's biggest fan of work-related travel. Of course, I love to get out and explore, and I relish that feeling of discovering new places and learning the ebb and flow of a new part of the world. Well, new to me, at least.

But sometimes all that exploring can be more strain than it's worth: The airport security gauntlet; the getting up well before dawn and not stopping until way after midnight; the business dinners and networking when I'd rather be home with my fam; the waking up in a strange place and having to run the treadmill at 11 even before I've gotten out of this strange bed in a strange hotel room; the fact that you're always "on".

Face it, I'm a whiner with a homebody complex. Guilty as charged. So when the professional calendar includes from faraway time, I try to normalize it a bit by building in some walkabout time. Because stealing an hour or two - or even a few fleeting minutes - in between all the scheduled, serious stuff gives me a much-needed mental break, an opportunity to see more than just the inside of a conference room, and think about more than the next PowerPoint slide.

On this late afternoon on my way back to the hotel after a long day of meetings preceded by an even longer pre-dawn trip just to get there, I politely declined an offer to crunch into the back of a strangers' car with a bunch of co-workers for the four-block trip back to our hotel through downtown-Toronto traffic. Instead, I slung my camera over my shoulder and pointed myself in the general direction of our common destination. I'd meet them back there well in time for dinner, but unbeknownst to them, I needed a few minutes along with my thoughts and my camera.

As you can see, it didn't take me long to get into the photographic groove before I had to put my "on" face back on and get back to the business of being in business. Besides, there was another walk in store - in the dark - after dinner was done.

Your turn: Do you travel for work? If so, what do you do to feel "normal" when you're away?

Related: This photo in Instagram

On technology, change, and survival

"Once a new technology rolls over you, if you're not part of the steamroller, you're part of the road."
Stewart Brand

Saturday, April 29, 2017

When reflections outshine the real thing

Sunrise framed in a window
London, ON
January 2017
To share your own reflective-themed Thematic, head here
The scene: I've just dropped our daughter off at school. It's a cold winter morning, and the campus is quiet as I slowly point the car toward the exit. The brightening sky grabs my attention as I idle through the largely deserted parking lot. As much as I try to focus on the drive, I can't stop staring at that sky. It's calling me.

I figure I have plenty of time to get to the office, so I find a parking spot, grab my camera and wander over to a pile of snow to get the best possible vantage point. I grab a few pics, but they all make me feel somewhat meh, as if that little flash of an idea I had in my head when I first saw the sky doesn't seem to have translated all that well through the lens.

I decide I'm done for the day - can't force blood from an artistic stone, after all - and head back to the car. As I approach, I notice the reflection in the window and think I might have been looking in the wrong direction all along.

On the impressions we leave behind

"Whoever you are, there is some younger person who thinks you are perfect. There is some work that will never be done if you don't do it. There is someone who would miss you if you were gone. There is a place that you alone can fill."
Jacob M. Braude

Monday, April 24, 2017

Thematic Photographic 410 - Reflections

No longer alive
London, ON
April 2017
I took a photowalk the other morning, my way of killing time while our daughter was at work. I hadn't been out in a while, and I deliberately brought the wrong equipment with me - a lovely old 85mm lens that I almost never use because it lacks that do-everything convenience of a zoom.

Looking at what I brought back, I realize I've been missing the point all along because a fixed focal length lens forces you to shoot in a completely different way. You have to use your feet and your brain to pre-compose, and soon enough you find you don't much miss being able to zoom in and out with your fingertips. Photography isn't always about taking the easy way out, and this long-overdue walk turned into a nice reminder of that.

I also forced myself to shoot monochrome - another throwback to when I used to challenge myself to look at the world differently. More of this looms in my photographic future, as well.

Your turn:  This week's Thematic theme is Reflections. Please share a pic or three (however many you wish) of something that supports this theme. Be liberal with how you interpret the theme, as that's the point of the exercise - so mirrors, bodies of water, even car windows are all fair game. Post your pic(s) to your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it/them. Head here if you'd like more info on how Thematic works, and feel free to drop by again later in the week - bonus if you bring a friend. Enjoy!

On questions vs. answers

"It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers."
James Thurber

Fitbit saves woman's life

Can a Fitbit save your life? Patricia Lauder would doubtless say it can.

The 73-year-old Connecticut resident originally bought the wearable device to help her keep track of her steps. Like millions of other people, her goal was to simply lose a bit of weight.

One day, she wasn't feeling well, and noticed that the Fitbit was showing consistently higher heart rate levels from one day to the next. After her heart rate spiked to 140 beats per minute and she felt short of breath, she decided to see her doctors. Good thing she did, as they quickly diagnosed two pulmonary embolisms - which, left untreated, could have killer her.

My $0.02: As wearables continue to (slowly) grow in popularity, we'll see more examples of how they benefit users in unexpected ways. Your mileage may vary, of course, but no one doubts that greater visibility into health-related data isn't good for us. It absolutely is. And in some cases, it can even be lifesaving.

Now please excuse me while I snap my Garmin into the bike and pedal off for home. If you're in the 'hood, you're always welcome to join me.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Facebook Killer: Who's responsible?

By now, everyone's familiar with the horrific story out of Cleveland, where Steve Stephens walked up to a random stranger last Sunday and shot him dead. What made the murder of 74-year-old Robert Godwin Sr. stand out from all others was the fact that the gunman captured it on video and shared it on Facebook. A multistate manhunt for Stephens ended two days later he was cornered just outside Erie, Pennsylvania and shot himself as police closed in.

The incident raises significant questions about streaming online video. Its exploding popularity has exposed a dark side to the technology, with escalating examples of rapes, beatings, suicides, and now murder, and growing concern over the lack of tools that can quickly shut down streams that violate the service's terms of use and give law enforcement real-time guidance to respond to crimes broadcast online.

Right now, no such tools exist, and Facebook relies on user-submitted complaints - a process that is inaccurate and slow. In the Stephens case, the video remained online for over 2 hours after the murder was committed. In other cases, it's taken days and weeks for Facebook to process takedowns.

Facebook issued a statement - as they'd be expected to do - expressing its outrage, and is working on automated tools to monitor and address such abuses in real-time. But it's a major technical challenge, and it won't happen overnight. If and when these tools ultimately roll out, they'll come too late for the victim of this unbelievable crime.

Here's my $0.02: This is what happens when technology rushes too quickly ahead of the frameworks, rules and laws that would govern it's abuse and protect its users in the process. It also begs a number of wrenching questions:
  • Whether having access to Facebook Video and Facebook Live could have been an encouraging factor for the gunman.
  • What role the companies that make these technologies might be playing in the spread of an entirely new form of crime.
  • Whether it's time for Internet "broadcasts" to be regulated in the same way conventional ones have always been.
Your turn: What do you think? What responsibilities does Facebook have in ensuring its apps and services are used for good and not for evil?

Monday, April 17, 2017

Thematic Photographic 409 - Stuff you find in the basement

Dirty old cables
London, ON
April 2017
Some folks see basements and storage areas as icky and dirty. They may be right. But that doesn't mean they aren't worth a little photographic love, as well.

Which brings us to this week's Thematic theme, stuff you find in the basement. This theme will work nicely if you actually have a basement. But in case you don't, any old storage area will do. Or a dark, dusty place with lots of old stuff hanging around. As always, there's lots of creative room here, so have fun with it.

Your turn: Take a pic that reflects the "stuff you find in the basement" theme - or find one you may have posted online - and then leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Repeat as often as you wish, and feel free to pull in a friend. We'll be doing this all week, so don't be shy. And if you're new to the Thematic thing, click here and all will be explained.