Monday, March 31, 2014

Thematic Photographic 288 - Logos

Take a bite
London, ON
June 2012
I was reading an article on corporate logos recently that tried to get to the bottom of how this strange subset of marketing works. How is it that a simple icon of an apple, for example, seemingly works while something else might not? How can you even measure whether a logo accomplishes its stated goal?

I don't have an answer, but given my combined photographic and geeky roots, I'm hoping you can help me explore the logo space a little bit over the next week.

Your turn: Take a picture of a logo - any logo, big, small, global, local, whatever grabs your eye - and share it on your blog of website. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants and feel free to pull in others, as well, because a busy Thematic is more fun than a quiet one. Head here for more background on how this works. And please accept our thanks - it's all about your vision, after all.

Beachy sunrise porn

Start the day right
Pompano Beach, FL
December 2011
Click photo to embiggen
I couldn't resist one last quick shot from the beach to celebrate this week's liquidity theme (new one, logos, launches at 7:00 p.m.) And I can't guarantee that the next time I head back to the end of the planet I won't do exactly the same thing.

With enough memory and battery, I could sit in the same spot and shoot the skies indefinitely.

Some things just never get old.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

On taking the leap

"You can't be that kid at the top of the water slide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute."
Tina Fey
For reasons I can't even come close to explaining, this quotation somehow reminds me of the Steve Carell movie, The Way Way Back.

Okay, perhaps it's because the movie revolves around a teenaged boy's summertime experiences at a water park in a seaside vacation community. And the the fact that the movie manages to artfully paint a picture of the worst examples of mean-spirited human behavior coupled with some of the most heartwarming examples of selflessness.

The film disappeared quickly from theatres - summertime audiences like their movies with big explosions and no plot - but it's one of those gems that manages to stick in your mind if you take the time to find it.

Either way, I'm going to heed Ms. Fey's wise advice. And I might just watch the movie again. Because water parks sorta rule.

Your turn: A movie that sticks in your mind long after you've watched it. Please discuss.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

This is what you miss when you're asleep

First light
Pompano Beach, FL
December 2011
Thematic. Liquidity. Here.
I have this strange need to stand on beaches and watch the water. Or maybe it's more like feel the water. And the wind. And the delightfully strange smells of the place. Salt in my nose, sand in between my toes, and the relentless white noise from the surf. On the one hand it's sensory overload. On the other hand I can never get enough of it.

I woke up early on this vacation morning. In a moment that now seems like it was a lifetime ago - because in so many ways it was - my wife and I were alone in a beachfront hotel. Our in-laws were looking after the kids, and as much as I probably should have simply slept in, I felt this relentless pull to pick up my camera inside our darkened room and wander out to the similarly darkened beach. How often, after all, did I get to watch a sunrise? How often would I be here to simply drink it in?

Not often enough. So out I went. And despite an ominously grey/blue haze of barely-lit overcast, I sat, alone, on the beach, hoping against hope that somehow the skies would open up just enough to make my pre-dawn wakeup worthwhile.

As you can see, Mother Nature eventually cooperated. And I learned to take advantage of the moment, because you don't know how many you might get.

Your turn: Are you an early riser? What does it take to get you out of bed before dawn?

Friday, March 28, 2014

On wasting the time we've been given

"We're all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other, but it doesn't. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing."
Charles Bukowski
In three curt sentences, Mr. Bukowski neatly summarizes the rampant ridiculousness that surrounds so many of us. If only more of us had the ability to simply let go, and be. If only.

(Hat tip to Dan Brown for posting this to Facebook. If you're not yet following him, you should.)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

On creating...anything

"You should bring something into the world that wasn't in the world before.
It doesn't matter what that is.
It doesn't matter if it's a table, or a film or gardening - everyone should create.
You should do something, then sit back and say, 'I did that.'"
Ricky Gervais that you've had a chance to absorb Mr. Gervais's wisdom, what are you going to create?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Thematic Photographic 287 - Liquidity

Toronto, ON
March 2014
I forgot how much fun it can be to shoot pictures in a supermarket. If you work fast, you can usually avoid stares from employees and fellow shoppers - and the dreaded PA call for security. I snagged this watery scene as we were just about loaded up at the checkout. One of the cashiers nearby saw what I was up to, but I think she was too weirded out to bust me.

I was tempted to ask her why bottled water often seems to come in blue-tinted bottles. Is it a purity-image thing? Does it take ordinary tap water and make it seem like it was captured from a cold mountain stream? Does it fool anyone?

But I quickly thought otherwise, because the PA button probably wasn't too far away, and decided a quiet exit was the advisable path.

Your turn: Thematic's theme for the week is "liquidity". If it's liquid, or it even suggests something liquid-like, shoot it, post it, and leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. For more info, head here. As Thematic's been a little quiet lately, feel free to ask a friend to join in, or post a note and a link (here) on your blog, Facebook, or Twitter (Hashtag: #ThematicPhotographic.) Because this thing gets more fun when more folks participate.

I can't wait to see what y'all come up with for this one. It should be fun.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has crashed

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has confirmed at a press conference that the missing Boeing 777 has crashed in the South Indian Ocean, and that there are no survivors.

The airline sent this text to family members:
“Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived"
Somehow, we all knew this. But still. Sad.

Related links:

Scraping the sky

Big stick
London, ON
September 2013
For more Thematic technological, head here
This is the aerial that towers over CTV London's studios. It stands 1,030 feet (310m) high, and is the third tallest such structure in the country.

The irony of television in 2014 is that fewer and fewer people get their signal from this immensely impressive structure. Instead, they're subscribing to it via cable or satellite, or they're getting it online - either streamed or downloaded.

Still, enough people continue to capture over-the-air signals to justify the aerial's continued operation. That and our national regulator, the CRTC, has made it a requirement of pretty much every broadcaster's license. So every time I drive to the station - increasingly often given my fast-evolving career - it's a friendly beacon as I carefully wheel my way across town. I especially like when it's early morning, because the flashing lights make it even more surreal than it already is.

Sometimes when I'm finished an interview and head back to the parking lot to fetch my car, I'll stand and look up for a minute. As much as it makes me a little light-headed to even look that high, it's an immensely grounding experience to pause for a bit and listen to the wind in the structure. I quietly think about what I've just done inside, and what I'd like to do next.

This big old tower may no longer be the only way we communicate, but over half a century after it first went live, it remains a resonant part of the landscape.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

On photography's power

"Taking pictures is savouring life intensely, every hundredth of a second."
Marc Riboud
Now I know why I spend so much of my life peering through a viewfinder. Wise man.

#TechSeven - Say goodbye to aircraft black boxes

I was back on the air on Friday with CJAD Montreal's Barry Morgan. During our weekly tech talk. we run down the latest happenings in this rather exciting space, and when we're done I like to summarize what we spoke about in a #TechSeven post on my blog. Why #TechSeven? Because every week has seven days, and I try to stuff as much good stuff into them as I can.

If you're around a radio - or a browser: - tune in at 2 p.m. next Friday for our next segment. Until then, here's what we spoke about today. Enjoy!

ONE - Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 - You can help

As the agonizing search for clues in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continues, technology is offering up a way for ordinary people like you and me to help out. It's called crowdsourcing, and it involves regular folks around the world scouring digital satellite images and sharing their findings with researchers. It operates on the theory that the more eyes on something, the more likely we are to find something, anything. And having millions of Internet users around the world helping with the search certainly can't hurt.

3 million people have already joined up. If you want to get involved, point your browser toward DigitalGlobe's and start searching.

TWO - Are black boxes obsolete?

In related news, as crews race time to find the black boxes that could unravel the clues to this mystery, debate is growing over whether black boxes should be replaced altogether. The current challenge is the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder aboard MH370 will stop sending out pings in about two weeks when their batteries give out.

That will make it significantly more difficult for searchers to find the critical devices, and it's raising the issue again of why we don't simply live-stream data from planes while they're still in flight. That way we'd know what happened without worrying about needing to scoop the black boxes off of the bottom of the ocean.

Turns out there is a solution, and Canadian companies are leading the charge. Bombardier is including an in-flight data transmission system (known as FDM, or flight data management) in its upcoming C-Series jetliner. And a Calgary company, Flyht Aerospace Solutions, makes satellite transmission systems for commercial aviation and has been getting a lot of attention since the Malaysia Airlines plane went missing.

THREE - Chromecast launches in Canada

Everyone and their dog has been throwing one thing after another at the TV-on-Internet market and hoping that it'll stick. Everyone's failed so far, and for the most part we still watch conventional TV channels on our big screens, and downloaded or streamed stuff from YouTube and Netflix on our PCs, tablets and smartphones.

Chromecast is the simplest, cheapest (39 bucks...insane!) thing yet. Just plug it into the back of your flat screen and it turns your dumb TV into a smart one. And as developers create new apps for it, it'll get even smarter (just like your smartphone.)

And now it's available in Canada. Which as Roku gets set to sell its $60 Streaming Stick and Apple updates its $99 Apple TV, means we're in for a big old online TV battle royale. Where's the popcorn?

FOUR - Popcorn Time: The Netflix-like movie streaming app that could get you arrested

Speaking of popcorn, Netflix has become a massive online entertainment force. For $8 a month, you can stream an unlimited amount of movies to your PC, tablet, smartphone or TV. As long as you have the bandwidth, Netflix has the movies.

Popcorn Time is a new app that works just like Netflix - except it's free. Because unlike Netflix, it doesn't stream properly licensed, copyright-respectful content. Beneath its pretty video store-like interface, it's just another version of online piracy. In this case, it streams content from Torrent files - illegally shared copies of movies that most folks have, up until now, simply downloaded and watched later. This way you get immediate gratification.

The makers of Popcorn Time claim they're doing nothing illegal because they don't actually save or store the files on their own servers. They're just the intermediary, connecting the audience - us - with the content. That may be well and good, but by streaming this content, you violate Canadian copyright law, and are subject to prosecution. Worse, as you stream the content, Popcorn Time also shares it out from your own machine, which rather invisibly makes you a distributor. Which in turn makes it a lot more likely you'll be caught, and a lot more likely that you'll pay an even heftier fine if found guilty.

Stick to the real popcorn instead. And think of Netflix as cheap insurance to avoid getting nailed for copyright violation.

FIVE - The Streisand Effect takes hold in Turkey

I think Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan needs some lessons in social media. This week he tried to ban Twitter in Turkey after a couple of Twitter users posted documents and audio that appeared to show the PM warning his son to hide some questionable cash from authorities. This all occurs amid a widespread crackdown against corruption in Turkey.

Of course, in Twitterland, when you try to ban something, it never works out as planned. All it succeeds in doing is drawing even MORE attention to the thing you're trying to hide. It's called the Streisand Effect. The famous Baba in 2003 tried to keep pictures of her Malibu home from being published. But her attempts to keep everything quiet ended up causing such a brouhaha that the pictures went global.

Fast forward to today, and a couple of every Turks who use the Twitter handles Haramzadeler (meaning 'sons of thieves') and Bascalan ('prime thief'), are now Internet stars thanks to the Turkish PM's inability to learn from Barbara Streisand's lesson. What next? Ban Facebook? YouTube. Yeah, I'm sure that'll stay hush-hush, too.

SIX - Forget Flappy Birds and Candy Crush....welcome 2048

It's the latest addictive mobile game, and it takes over from where Flappy Bird leaves off. Instead of flying your bird through obstacles and trying to avoid certain and immediate video death, you're face with a 4x4 square grid. The goal: combine numbers together using the arrow keys until a tile reaches 2048.

Seems easy, right? Not so fast. It's almost impossible to ever reach 2048, and you'll find yourself maddeningly trying again and again - kinda like Flappy Birds.

Once again, we have a wunderkind to thank, a 19-year-old Web developer from Italy, Gabriele Cirulli, and since he launched the game March 9, he's become an Internet sensation (for 15 minutes, anyway.)

The difference? It isn't an app. It's a mobile-friendly website. Here's the address:

SEVEN - The cell phone marks its 30th birthday

Lost in last week's Web-turns-25 hoopla was this little fun anniversary: The first cell phone went on sale 30 years ago last Thursday (March 13, 1984).

It was officially called the Motorola DynaTAC 8000X, but we all simply know it as "the brick phone". Cost? $4,000 in 1984 dollars (probably close to $9,000 today). It did not support texting. And I'm guessing surfing the web was also out of the question given it was 5 years before the thing was invented. And forget unlimited national calling or rate plans: You paid $2 a minute - or more - and you'd be lucky if the battery lasted till lunch.

Interesting tidbit: That same device had been around for 11 years. In 1973, a prototype of the 8000X was used to make the world's first-ever cell phone call. Things moved a lot slower then, apparently.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Is Big Brother watching you?

In a word, yes. He's been watching for a while, and as time goes on his ability peer ever more deeply into your everyday life becomes that much more frightening.

While the NSA scandal has been laying that bare for much of the past year, don't think for a second that governments and government-related agencies are the only protagonists in this complex tale.

Someone's always watching
Shanghai, China
May 2012
Thematic. Technological. Here.
This week, Microsoft raised all sorts of alarm bells when it was revealed it dug into the personal Hotmail account of a French blogger after it suspected one of its employees had stolen corporate secrets and emailed them to the blogger. The company claimed it had every right to do so., but the resulting online dustup has netted the company a fair amount of criticism for the move.

Aside from the fact that he used a Hotmail account - seriously? In this day and age? - the move by the software giant gives anyone with a web-based messaging account pause. You'd be be forgiven for wondering if your service provider could do the same thing to you, too.

In short, yes they can. It's all laid out quite nicely in the terms of use agreement you failed to read all those years ago because you were too busy at the time to take the time to pore through the admittedly indecipherable legalese. But Microsoft, Google, Facebook and virtually every other provider of messaging, social media and related online services all include very specific language that grants them carte blanche to read through anything you happen to write, share, send or receive. Here's a Google-related example that might creep you out a little.

To its credit, Microsoft announced changes to its privacy policy, and will seek guidance from outside counsel whenever something like this happens. But that big open door into your account remains, and you might want to keep that in mind the next time you decide to use your free webmail account to plot your next not-quite-legal activity. Maybe stick to whispered statements behind the water cooler instead.

Your turn: Do you worry about online privacy? How do you keep your discussions away from prying eyes?

Friday, March 21, 2014

On using our time wisely

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Today, of all days, these words seem to hit me that much harder. Saying goodbye to good people too soon will do that to you. Pondering why the universe has to work as it does will do that, as well.

Your turn: How are you ensuring you use your time wisely?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Writing alongside greatness

I write in a bunch of places, including the Bell Business Blog. It's a great source of advice for businesses that want to keep pace in an ever-accelerating tech-driven competitive landscape, but don't necessarily have the time or the resources to become tech experts themselves.

So we provide focused, easy-to-understand guidance on a wide range of business-relevant topics. If you look over at the page scan to the left, that's my piece on making sense of Samsung's new flagship phone, the Galaxy S5.

If you look a little further down, you'll see a piece by Clara Hughes. If you're not familiar with her, she's a Canadian Olympic athlete who has brought home medals from both the summer (cycling) and winter games (speed skating). Perhaps more importantly, she suffered from depression, and instead of keeping it to herself has instead become the central figure in the Bell Let's Talk campaign to eliminate the stigma of mental illness.

Clara just kicked off a 12,000 km bike ride across Canada, and is visiting communities along the way to spread her message and connect with Canadians who have been touched by mental illness. She was in London yesterday, and today I opened up the Bell Business Blog to find her article, Community to Community: Making a Difference, right next to mine. Such coolness.

Hero is a word that's thrown around all too easily in this world, but she absolutely deserves the title.

Your turn: Would love to hear your thoughts...on Clara, on mental illness, and why this matters.

Additional resources:

No juice, no go

Toronto, ON
July 2013
Thematic. Technological. Here.
Once upon a time, when the power went out, folks simply found something else to do. I'm just old enough (shudder) that I remember typing my very first term papers in elementary school on a manual typewriter. If Hydro Quebec decided to have a bad day, I either moved the typewriter closer to the window or found a candle and kept working.

Today, everything kinda stops dead when the juice stops flowing. While battery-powered devices like smartphones, tablets and laptops will indeed keep working for as long as they can hold a charge, the networks that give them life often aren't much use during a power failure. So while you can certainly play Angry Birds, you may have to keep your new high score to yourself until the rest of the world is back in the world of the powered.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but most of us nevertheless wander around like bumbling morons as soon as the lights go out.

All this over-the-top technological dependence is rather amusing to watch until you find yourself approaching a traffic light-controlled intersection only to realize you're surrounded by brain-addled automatons who don't understand that darkened lights mean it's now a four-way stop. Too busy playing Angry Birds at the wheel, I guess.

Your turn: What do you do when the power goes out?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Games politicians play

An anti-social social media experience
London, ON
March 2014
I made the front page of our local daily newspaper, the London Free Press, today. (Here's the link to the full article, Orser posting crosses line, expert says. Please don't laugh at the pic of me.) The issue was something strange that I had witnessed on Facebook on Monday night: London City Councillor Stephen Orser re-posted apparently private scans of a student's own college and university ID cards to a publicly accessible FB forum. The cards belonged to Andrew Steven Castaneda, who self-identifies on Facebook as "Andrew Steven".

Orser, who is a "friend" of this individual on Facebook, shared the photo on the public FB group, Welcome to the Old East Village. A followup comment from Orser indicates the individual inquestion was "Just an old friend that moved to Toronto." In the Free Press article, Orser said because Castaneda uses a different name on Facebook, Orser said he "felt compelled" to repost the pics, saying "in the interest of full disclosure, I put it up so people could see (both names are from) the same person.”

Page 2 of article
Click page scans to enlarge
According to the story, Mr. Orser subsequently removed the offending posting. As of this morning, I am unable to access the Facebook page in question - I'm quite certain I've been blocked. Mr. Orser's Facebook profile is similarly unavailable.

If I may be so bold as to offer Mr. Orser a little advice: This has nothing to do with your job as a city councillor, benefits no one, and casts a serious shadow on a role that's supposed to set an example for the community. While sharing photos that FB friends have posted is an entirely technically acceptable thing to do within the Facebook platform, the decision by an elected official to do so opens up a raft of privacy and confidentiality issues. At the same time, it suggests strongly that City Hall's acceptable use policies governing city councillor use of social media tools are either non-existent, woefully inadequate, or not being followed.

In the article, Mr. Orser complains about being berated in this manner:
“If it’s somebody from Ward 4, I’m glad to help them and I’m glad to take the hits,” he said. “But when you’re trying to do your job this really wears you down.”
Apologies, but I'm not sure how this constitutes "helping" a constituent, and I don't see how this is remotely connected to a city councillor dong his job. Engaging in the kind of online behaviors that would prompt me to ban my teenaged kids permanently from Facebook does not in any way constitute "doing his job." If I'm mistaken, I'd like to invite Mr. Orser to set the record straight in a comment here, in Twitter or on Facebook.

From where I sit, this incident speaks to a pattern of less-than-acceptable social media behaviour among councillors that should give Londoners pause before they select their next set of elected officials. If we're trying to be a competitive, digital-age city, this isn't how we're going to get there.

Your turn: Do elected officials have to adhere to a higher standard when using social media?

Update - Thu. Mar. 20: Pat Maloney has published a follow-up article in the Free Press: Online critic of London councillor Stephen Orser won't ease up on criticism

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The anywhere office

Temporary newsroom
London, ON

November 2013
Thematic. Technological. Here.
Last week's big tech news was the 25th birthday of the World Wide Web. In case you missed it, I first wrote about it here.

In the blizzard of interviews that I did in support of this story, one question stood out: How has this single invention changed our lives? And the answer that I kept coming back to was one of democratization. Simply put, the Web made everything we use today possible, and allowed regular folks like you and me to harness crazy-advanced technology to lead careers that would have been unimaginable back then.

Toronto, ON
December 2013
For example, the scene above: I had a pair of early morning interviews at the local TV studio. In between both interviews, I set up shop in the middle of the newsroom, tethered my laptop to my smartphone and finished off an article.

In the scene below, I hung out in a Toronto Starbucks on a bitterly cold December afternoon as I prepared for one of the more intense interviews I had done in a while. I used my iPad to do some deep research on the topic, winnow down the talking points and drill myself on possible flows and treatments. As I had done before, I was amazed at how a smallish backpack full of technology allowed me to be so productive so far from home.

I'm often asked what tomorrow will bring, and as much as I look forward to the next generation of tech goodies, I've got to admit what we already have is pretty incredible, and pretty transformative in its own right.

On invoking the sixth letter of the alphabet

"Never retreat. Never explain. Get it done and let them howl."
Benjamin Jowett
I'm having one of those days where it's making less and less sense to bow to the will of others. So I won't. Who's with me?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Thematic Photographic 286 - Technological

More power, please
London, ON
December 2011
Welcome to this, our 286th Thematic. In geekdom, 286 has a somewhat strange significance: Intel's 80286 processor was an early example of16-bit architecture. It underpinned IBM's PC/AT (Advanced Technology) computer way back in 1984, and became a technological standard for years thereafter before being superseded by the similarly iconic 386 chip. To this day, simply saying "286" to a nerd is bound to stoke strong memories of a watershed period in the PC revolution.

Or maybe it's just me.

Either way, this week's Thematic theme, technological, celebrates all that is techie. If it looks like, feels like or even suggests some form of technology, we hope you'll share it.

Your turn: Take a photo that evokes or supports this week's theme, then post it to your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Feel free to repeat through the week, and if you want to bring a friend along to double everyone's fun, we're all for that, too. Click here if you're new to Thematic, and please accept my thanks for making Thematic such a highlight.

On the lethality of routine

"If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine; it is lethal."
Paulo Coelho
Note to self, then: no routine. Come to think of it, that's not much of a risk around here. Not a bad thought to start the week.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Follow me anywhere

Cracks in the paint
London, ON
December 2013
For more Thematic "looking way up", please click here.
As I was walking the dog last night, I noticed something I hadn't seen in a while: pavement. This has been such a brutally cold and long winter that the snow, which normally melts between storms, had kept concrete sidewalks and most side streets completely covered with snow and ice. Thanks to a couple of above-freezing days, that started to change, albeit slowly.

As I tried to keep Frasier from following his schnauzer-bred nose into every newly uncovered - and generally filthy - nook and cranny in the neighborhood, I started noticing details that only a pedestrian moving at a snail's pace would pick up on. Like how much of a disaster the roads and sidewalks have become, and how dangerous it can be to cross them even at the grand speed of 2.36 km/h.

I thought back to this pic, taken in a quiet parking lot in December. The paint needed a fresh coat and the potholes were just out of frame, waiting to imprison any motorist too occupied with texting to notice. Still, cracked paint and all, the geometry seemed right. So did the message: keep looking up. The road always beckons us forward.

Your turn: Where does this arrow point?

On understanding happiness

"Remember that happiness is a way of travel, not a destination."
Roy Goodman

Saturday, March 15, 2014

When there's thunder overhead

Something's brewing up there
London, ON
July 2013
Thematic. Look way up. Here.
I have a secret obsession with thunderstorms. When they roll in - which they do, often, in our neck of the woods - I like to stare at the sky and feel the energy of the thing. As the clouds build, they seem strangely comforting, an impenetrable presence in a sky that's usually limitless. You feel like you're watching an important game - doesn't really matter what that game is - and something significant is about to happen.

The kids were at a program on this hot, humid summer's night, so instead of driving home and then driving back when it was done, I parked the car and took a walk. I stayed close because I could already feel that something was cooking in the atmosphere. That, and the fact that my smartphone told me a thunderstorm warning was in effect.

So I wandered to a quiet park nearby, sat on a bench and just waited. The clouds slowly built themselves into towering thunderheads. They didn't seem to move one way or another - just up. The growing rumbles and occasional flash from within suggested the fun only just getting underway.

I couldn't stay for the main event, because soon enough I had to get back to the car and load the munchkins up for the ride home. But for a few minutes, I had a front-row seat to one of the best shows I'd seen in a while. I'm sure it won't be long before the sky puts on its next show.

I guess my secret isn't much of a secret anymore.

Your turn: Do you watch the sky? What do you see?

Friday, March 14, 2014

On succeeding...with kindness

"Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen."
Conan O'Brien
Too many people forget the part about being kind. Maybe they should watch Conan a little more.

#TechSeven - Making sense of a disappeared plane

It's been a particularly eventful week in tech, and as I do every Friday, I was on-air live with Barry Morgan on CJAD 800 Montreal to run down the biggest stories. In case you missed it, here's a link to the podcast page, and here's a quick rundown of what we chatted about:

ONE - Malaysian Airlines phantom cellphone calls

Amid the agonizing search for answers in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 somewhere between Kuala Lampur and Beijing - or perhaps way out in the Indian Ocean - this disturbing piece of news: some family members of the flight's passengers say they've been trying to phone their loved ones, and instead of going right to voicemail (as you would expect if the phone was powered off or destroyed) they're actually ringing. Other family members say they've gone online and seen their loved ones active in the popular Chinese social media service QQ. They try to contact them, and receive no response.

Sadly, this doesn't mean they're alive.

The phantom cell phone calls are fairly easily explained. Depending on a number of factors - mostly revolving around how a carrier configures its network, and what kind of phone the caller may be using - it's entirely normal for some phones in some settings to "ring" as soon as the Send or Call button is pressed. So the caller THINKS the phone on the other end is live and ringing, but it's really only a sign that THEIR (call originator's) phone is searching for the network and trying to make a call. Sadly for the families, this has nothing to do with the state of the target phone that they're calling - so it does NOT mean that their loved ones' phones are physically powered and able to receive calls.

Sometimes I get calls from people asking why it took me so many rings to pick up - or why I wonder why my phone rang only twice before it went to voicemail: there's a disconnect between how many rings callers and receivers hear, because it doesn't always mean the same thing.

We're also seeing reports that passengers are still appear to be signed into their QQ accounts. This is a popular Chinese social media service, much like Facebook. Unfortunately, there's a similar explanation here, as well. It isn't about the device as much as it is about the account. You can be logged into your account from more than one spot - so a traveller who, for example, was logged into QQ from a work computer, then locked the desktop before heading to the airport and getting on the plane, would still appear to be "available" in QQ (or Facebook, or Skype, or FaceTime, or...) even if his/her actual cell phone was powered off.

I get this all the time with Facebook, for example. People THINK I'm online, all because my iPad - or laptop, or whatever - had the app running in the background, even when I wasn't anywhere near it.

It's normal to grasp at technological straws when there are no other concrete answers, but reports like this can mislead more than anything else, and it makes a lot of sense to talk through the technology and explain what's really going on.

Additional angle: Crowdsourcing. We're also seeing a lot of interest in crowdsourcing, where regular folks around the world are scouring digital satellite images and sharing their findings with researchers. If you want to get involved, point your browser toward DigitalGlobe's Tomnod and start searching.

TWO - The Web turns 25!

Hard to believe it's been this long, but 25 years ago this past Wednesday, on March 12, 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a then-unknown computer scientist working at CERN, the European nuclear science organization, first published a paper that outlined how the World Wide Web would work. Before then, hyperlinks, HTML and even the term "web" meant nothing to anyone. Today, it's how we live our lives.

Interestingly, for many of us, this was also the very beginning of the Internet as we know it today. And by the mid-1990s, many of us were taking our first tentative steps online.

We often mistakenly think this is when the Internet started, but that's a bit of a misconception. The Internet was around in various forms since the 1960s. The Web was not, is not, and will never be the same same as the Internet. Rather, it is a service that sits on top of the Internet (like Gopher, WAIS, and even Archie, Veronica, and Jughead) and it's the one that transformed the Internet from a land of researchers, scientists, military personnel and geeks into the thing we all use today.

Now, Sir Tim is calling for an Internet Bill of Rights, a kind of online Magna Carta, to ensure the Internet as it was originally conceived remains free, open and accessible to all. The way it's evolved in recent years, with online crime, rampant commercialization by competing interests and, most critically, government spying and repeated breaches of privacy, we're losing control of it. By entrenching it as a fundamental right - like speech and expression - those early ideals will be maintained and built upon.

THREE - Want to read 1,000 words per minute? There's an app for that

The app is called Spritz. It's scheduled to launch on the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S5, as well as the company's Galaxy Note - the same device Ellen Degeneres used for her famous Oscar selfie. Eventually, it'll come to iOS devices as well as the Web.

How it works is it displays one word at a time, and rapidly cycles to the next one. Your eye doesn't have to move from side-to-side, which is a little disconcerting at first but you quickly get used to it. As each word is displayed, one letter is set in red. That's known as the "Optical Recognition Point" and it keeps your eyes focused dead-centre. The science is this: we spend 80% of our energy while reading moving our eyes around, and only 20% processing content. By eliminating the need to move our eyes, we can significantly speed up our pace.

You don't start off at light-speed, of course. You can control the speed - up to 1,000 words per minute. The average human reads around 250 to 300 wpm. As you get more comfortable with it, you can bump the speed up. At max speed, you'd rip through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 77 minutes. The Bible would take 13 hours.

Try it out at and hit the "Click to Spritz" button.

FOUR - Is HTML a sexually transmitted disease? 11% of Americans think so

A survey by the Los Angeles times suggests, strongly, that we could benefit from a little tech terminology brush-up. According to the survey, some of the more eye-opening results include:

  • 27% identified "gigabyte" as an insect commonly found in South America. A gigabyte is a measurement unit for the storage capacity of an electronic device.
  • 42% said they believed a "motherboard" was "the deck of a cruise ship." A motherboard is usually a circuit board that holds many of the key components of a computer.
  • 23% thought an "MP3" was a "Star Wars" robot. It is actually an audio file.
  • 18% identified "Blu-ray" as a marine animal. It is a disc format typically used to store high-definition videos.
  • 15% said they believed "software" is comfortable clothing. Software is a general term for computer programs.
  • 12% said "USB" is the acronym for a European country. In fact, USB is a type of connector.
  • Despite this, 61% of respondents said it's "important to have a good knowledge of technology in this day and age." I guess they have some studying to do, then.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

7 dog years

Today is a pretty special day in the life of our dog, Frasier. It was seven years ago today that we rescued him and started our grand family dog-owning adventure.

The journey hasn't always been smooth or easy. We've lost countless lunch boxes and groceries to his well-executed raids. He has a maddening need to chew through the garbage when he thinks no one is looking, and his bark can easily wake the neighbours two blocks down.

We'll leave the bottom line cost to another day, but suffice to say a diabetic dog comes with his own set of challenges.

And yet: Two words I often find myself repeating quietly to myself. Because if I had to go back in time seven years to that moment where we decided we couldn't in good conscience leave him behind, I know we'd make the exact same decision.

He is, simply, a good soul. He fits our already-crazy little family in ways I can't even begin to describe. He doesn't just tolerate the over-the-top attention he gets from our kids; he almost begs for it. He seems to know, innately, when one of us needs a little more TLC, and there he is, hovering over us like a guardian angel, squishing his little form that much closer to let us know he isn't going anywhere. He'll nudge us with his nose if we aren't giving him enough time or energy. He communicates in ways that seemingly transcend the fact that he doesn't speak English and we don't speak dog.

I realize this all makes me seem like the crazy dog guy. So be it. All I know is he added something, something, to our family the day we got him. He's somehow changed us, helped our kids grow into the empathetic, giving people they were destined to be, taught us all a thing or two about doing for others, skipping a beat and digging a little deeper to find kindness. I don't know how many more years we'll get with him, but the seven we've already gotten have been a pretty sweet gift for us. And I'm guessing for him, as well.

For more on Frasier's adventures with us, here's a link to all dog-related posts here on Written Inc.: Act of Dog

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A (somewhat misguided) sign from above

Someone goofed
London, ON
March 2014
This photo supports Thematic's "look way up" theme. Click here to participate.
I feel a little guilty sharing this one. On the one hand, I love my city. And I'm mighty proud of its long-overdue decision to overhaul the municipal website after years of letting it gather dust, the electronic-era equivalent of an unrenovated, unloved, dilapidated house. It its newly burnished form, it's finally a worthy reflection of the place it both reflects and supports. I even lauded it in a London Free Press article.

But then I came across this sign, hung rather prominently from the overpass on Wellington Road, a deliberately chosen spot over a high-profile stretch of road that serves as a literal and physical gateway to the downtown core. The wording here is no accident. The boo-boo that put the "4.0m" height-warning safety sign over the last half of "city" almost certainly is.

While I appreciate not having tractor-trailers wedged under the overpass on their way toward delivering cheaply made resin lawn furniture to the Evilmart stores in the far-off, downtown-killing suburbs, I can't believe that someone didn't measure the position of the inviolable, immovable, clearly necessary safety sign and then plan the graphics and/or sign mounting around it. The cynics among us might conclude that whoever was responsible for this latest bit of civic-friendly - and funded - marketing just didn't care.

We've spent much of the past year arguing over, and being charged for, such idiocies DaleTV, as taxpayer-funded video equipment purchased by a somewhat misguided councillor who fancies himself a YouTube megastar (and then has the audacity to claim he's keeping the hardware after he retires), and taxpayer-funded blue-chip lawyers' fees to advise a mayor and councillors who wouldn't know how to do the right thing if it were spelled out in giant-size Alpha-Bits cereal characters outside City Hall.

Perhaps we've been too focused on the circus that is London municipal politics instead of on basic execution of critical pieces of the city's marketing strategy. Assuming there's even a strategy to begin with.

The November election can't get here soon enough. Because two missing letters say more about what's missing in London than the rest of a screaming-green, giant-sized banner ever could.

Your turn: Sign fails are easy photographic pickings. Got one to share? If so, head here.

Happy 25th birthday, World Wide Web

Hard to believe it's been this long, but 25 years ago today, on March 12, 1989, Tim Berners-Lee, a then-unknown computer scientist working at CERN, the European nuclear science organization, first published a paper that outlined how the World Wide Web would work. Before then, hyperlinks, HTML and even the term "web" meant nothing to anyone. Today, it's how we live our lives.

Interestingly, for many of us, this was also the very beginning of the Internet as we know it today. And by the mid-1990s, many of us were taking our first tentative steps online.

We often mistakenly think this is when the Internet started, but that's a bit of a misconception. The Internet was around in various forms since the 1960s. The Web was not, is not, and will never be the same same as the Internet. Rather, it is a service that sits on top of the Internet (like Gopher, WAIS, and even Archie, Veronica, and Jughead) and it's the one that transformed the Internet from a land of researchers, scientists, military personnel and geeks into the thing we all use today.

Here are a few notable resources if you want to dig a bit:
Your turn: Although I'm sure the WWW doesn't look a day over 21, I'd be interested in your thoughts. How did "the web" begin for you?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

On living life well

"Be a life long or short, its completeness depends on what it was lived for."
David Starr Jordan
Your turn: So what are you living your life for?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Thematic Photographic 285 - Look way up

Look in any window
Toronto, ON
December 2013
I have a nasty habit of standing on urban streets and staring up at the buildings. It isn't anything I can explain, so I'm guessing I'm just strange that way (among so many other ways.) Weird or not, since I live in the height-challenged suburbs I often find myself looking to the skies when I head downtown.

So for the next week, I'm hoping we point our lenses up - waaaay up - and share them online. Who's with me?

Your turn: Take a picture that evokes this week's theme - look way up - and share it on your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the photographic joy.

And if you can encourage a friend to participate, that would be great, too. Thematic's been getting somewhat quieter in recent months, and I'm looking into changing the process in the weeks/months to come to shake things up. Suggestions and assistance are always welcome and appreciated. Thanks!

Quebec - back to the brink

I'm originally from Quebec, as is my wife. We left for greener pastures 17 years ago in the wake of a second referendum on whether the province should separate from Canada. We figured life was too short to spend it arguing endlessly over language. And we wanted to raise our kids where being raised in an English home didn't make you an outsider.

Last week brought news that Quebecers will be going to the polls April 7th to decide whether the current minority provincial government, led by the sovereignist Pauline Marois and her Parti Quebecois, deserves to be voted back in or tossed to the curb.

As before, renewed speculation over whether a majority win by the PQ would lead to a third referendum has inflamed debate over whether it might make more sense to focus limited government resources on things like job creation, education and health care. As before, Quebec's priorities seem to skew more toward forcing small business owners to communicate in French on their Facebook pages, and drafting a so-called "Charter of Values" that bans public sector workers from wearing or exhibiting any outward sign of religion.

So no hijab-wearing doctors or kippah-toting lawyers in this most unique of societies. But the cross in the National Assembly would be exempted...just because.

To the uninitiated, I can understand why it might seem a little ridiculous. To those who live with it day-to-day, I can understand why this has now become another critical moment in Quebec - and Canadian - history. The future of our country once again hangs in the balance, and social media is crackling with debate back and forth as the warring parties dig in for a pivotal battle.

It brings me back to something I wrote in September 2012, when Ms. Marois was first elected. And on reflection, what I wrote then seems just as true today. In the interest of historical context, here it is:
Quebec: Once again, the dark side beckons
Your turn: Thoughts?

Is it curtains for Wind Mobile?

I'm usually a pretty optimistic person. I tend to be the last person to throw in the towel whenever a particular company is hitting the skids. I guess part of me always hopes the underdog prevails. I guess I never want to admit there isn't even a slim chance for recovery.

But today's article is a little different. I was writing about Wind Mobile's prospects in Canada's wireless market. They're currently the fourth largest carrier in the country, with well over 650,000 subscribers barely five years after entering the market and a reputation for being much more customer-friendly than the established Big 3. You'd think that would be enough to justify a victory toast or three. You'd think wrong.

I simply couldn't find a bright spot. From its parent company refusing to finance any bids during the latest spectrum auction to its latest decision to completely write down its investments in Canada (hey there, Wind Mobile. Guess what? You're worthless. Love, Mom and Dad) I just couldn't shake the feeling that this is a Dead Company Walking, and it's only a matter of time before the inevitable happens.

The article is now live on Yahoo! Canada Finance: The end draws near for Wind Mobile

Here's hoping my next set of writing has a happier tone. Any suggestions?

Saturday, March 08, 2014

On keeping it simple

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough."
Albert Einstein
I should print this one on my business card.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Lost in the sky

Two words you never want to hear together: airplane, and missing.

Tonight, those words are all over the Internet after Malaysia Airlines lost contact with flight MH370, a Boeing 777-200ER (wiki) with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board. The plane had been on a scheduled flight between Kuala Lampur and Beijing when it vanished off of air traffic control radar.

China's Xinhua news agency reports, via AP, that the plane disappeared from radar in Vietnamese airspace. Search and rescue resources have been activated and are focusing on the plane's last known location over the South China Sea. Xinhua reports signals from the plane have been detected. Unconfirmed Internet-borne rumors that the plane has landed safely in China are just that, rumors, and have been denied by airline and SAR officials.

I know that flying is statistically safer than any other form of transport. I know the 777 is considered one of the most advanced and safe commercial aircraft in the sky. But statistics don't mean much on a night like this.

I find myself praying this is just a technical glitch, and dreading how this will likely turn out.


Related links/info:

A daughter's vision

Focusing in
Laval, QC
November 2013
For more Thematic "lying down", head here
It was late on a gloomy afternoon when our daughter and I decided to take a photo walk around her grandfather's neighbourhood. We didn't have a plan, didn't really know what we were looking for. We figured we'd know what we liked when we saw it.

Which is exactly how our walk played out. We left the heavy-hitting cameras at home. She used her iPhone, and I grabbed my wife's Canon. We could have been shooting with Kodak Brownie cameras for all we cared, because in the end I don't think what we captured mattered as much as how we captured it.

We wandered. We chatted. I listened to her talk herself into and out of countless compositions. I smiled at her sense of artistic logic and the way she got excited about the things around her. Sometime between the arched bridge over the river's tributary that divides one island from another in this peaceful enclave and the landscaped bushes in front of a nearby condo development, I found myself hearing glimpses of my wife in our daughter's voice. That same passion for life, that same fundamental goodness that sees her thinking of others before thinking of herself.

Beyond this shot and a few others like it, I don't much remember the pixels that we brought home that day. But I can hear her voice on that day, and I can remember how hearing it made me realize that all is indeed right in our world.

Your turn: Do you ever wander the neighborhood with a camera? What do you look for when you do?

Monday, March 03, 2014

Thematic Photographic 284 - Lying down on the job

Gravity is the law
London, ON
January 2014
Some things lie down of their own accord, while others end up there quite by accident. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions regarding the photo I've shared here to launch our new Thematic theme, lying down on the job.

In support of this theme, I'm hoping that if it's lying down, you'll shoot it and share it. It could be a scary scene like this, or something involving a dog lounging on your significant other's head. If it evokes the theme, go for it. I'll be here counting my lucky stars that I wasn't parked in the wrong spot at the wrong time.

Your turn: Grab a pic that evokes or suggests the theme and post it you your blog or website. Or tweet it. Or Facebook it - anything goes. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. If you're new to the Thematic thing, click here to learn more. Otherwise, enjoy the experience, for enjoyment is what it's all about!

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Before they get eaten

Still hungry
London, ON
February 2014
Before I sign off on this week's Thematic theme - head here if you're wondering why M&Ms are dominating the agenda these days, or here and here for other views from this series - I wanted to post one last look at the impossibly colored confections that seem to have made the leap from childhood to adulthood.

I took a closer look at this shot and realized the M&Ms weren't anywhere near perfect. The stamped "M" was rubbed off in places and barely visible in others. The casings were cracked. Most of them seemed to be covered with a dusty coating.

I probably could have culled the herd by individually examining each one, selecting only the uncracked, properly labelled ones and then giving them a careful wipedown to get rid of the unphotogenic traces of dust. I probably could have massaged the image a little longer in Aperture to further raise the perfection meter.

I suppose if this were a commercial photo shoot and the results were supposed to appear on a menu board or website, this would be how I'd spend my day. But it was just for me - and you - so reality prevailed. These M&Ms, like every bag I've ever brought home and shot, were imperfect examples of a rather imperfect food. And as I look at this last pic, it's more than good enough to take me back to the afternoon this was taken.

I think the world would be a happier place if we learned to accept things as they are instead of wasting inordinate amounts of time polishing them to an unrealistic sheen. I think we'd all be better off if we applied this kind of thinking to people as well as things.

#TechSeven - The update your iPhone NOW edition

Every Friday between 2:00 and 2:30 p.m. Eastern, I chat live about the latest tech news with CJAD's Barry Morgan. CJAD is Montreal's top news/talk radio station, and it's where a much younger me got my first taste of a real newsroom.

As Barry was away this week, I got to chat with Dan Laxer, who long before those early radio adventures I got to hang out with at summer camp. Then I went to j-school and got to cross Barry's path in the student newsroom, as well.

It's a small world indeed.

In case you missed it, here's what we chatted about:

ONE - Apple and Google face the music over in-app purchases

Every parent has a horror story of handing the iPhone or iPad over to their kids, only to discover when the credit card bill comes in that they ran up hundreds of dollars of charges. Both iOS and Android devices already have some protections against kids spending the farm in the online app store. But so-called in-app purchases - where you can buy something from inside an app, including virtual clothing for your virtual characters, or new levels in a game - don't have the same degree of protection, and kids can still spend like crazy with apparent ease.

The European Union wants to put an end to it, and is holding talks aimed at enduring everyone plays fair. They want it to be more clear that an app that is "free to download" may no necessarily be "free to play".

No guarantees that any of this will result in solid legislation - or that it'll come to Canada. But the EU often starts the ball rolling on stuff like this, and it's only a matter of time before beleaguered Canadian parents see some relief. Until then, no iPad for the kids.

(Side note: there ARE parental controls in the settings of most popular devices from Apple and Google, and if they haven't done so yet, parents should dive in and activate them if they let their kids have access to their mobile devices.)

TWO - Speaking of Apple, did you update your Mac, iPhone or iPad?

Speaking of Apple, millions of its products were affected by a security vulnerability, and users need to take action before they become victimized by hackers.

The flaw affects both mobile (iOS - iPhone, iPad, iPod touch) devices as well as Macs running the Mac OS X operating system, and the risk is that a hacker could use the identified weakness to launch a so-called man-in-the-middle (MTM) attack. Simply put, the attack picks off your traffic between your device and the wireless network. And since it isn't encrypted (it should be...that's the problem) the hackers can easily scoop usernames, passwords and other sensitive info.

This kind of vulnerability isn't unique to Apple - indeed, every computing platform is vulnerable to identified weaknesses that hackers can exploit. But this time around, it's Apple's turn. Notably, Apple had been warned last year, and the security hole remained open for quite some time.

It's a sobering reminder that we as consumers have to keep our eyes and ears open, because now all iOS and Mac OS X users need to do their part by downloading and installing the updated versions of both operating systems. This will make everything delightfully secure again - until the next one is inevitably discovered down the road. The cat-and-mouse game never ends, and this is how we live, digitally, now.

If you haven't updated your device yet, I've posted detailed instructions here.

THREE - Will this be the first Twitter mayoralty campaign?

Karen Stintz, who's running for Toronto Mayor, learned the hard way that social media can bite back. Hard. She tweeted the following on Thursday:
"I am like you. I have a mortgage, kids, one car, and soccer games. Lets make it better. #TOconversation #karen4mayor #topoli"
Within minutes, her account was deluged with nasty responses from voters who took her to task for ignoring class differences - and the sensitivities of those who simply can't afford all the things she has.

The lesson? This campaign will be the most social media-infused in recent memory. And it'll set the tone for the provincial and federal campaigns to come. Get ready for it.

Oh, and don't think email is immune to the dark side of social media, either. One Kelly Blazek, who runs a popular online job bank in Cleveland, learned this the hard way when nasty email responses she had sent to a job seeker who wanted to connect on LinkedIn was shared online. Here's some of what she wrote:
"Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky. Wow, I cannot wait to let every 26-year-old jobseeker mine my top-tier marketing connections to help them land a job. I love the sense of entitlement in your generation. You're welcome for your humility lesson for the year. Don't ever reach out to senior practitioners again and assume their carefully curated list of connections is available to you, just because you want to build your network."
As if she wasn't deep enough into karmic debt at this point, she then signed off with this gem:
"Don't ever write me again."
The pitchfork-wielding social media mob soon descended, and Ms. Blazek, once voted Cleveland's Communicator of the Year, is in virtual hiding after learning the hard lesson: anything you can and do share in email can be used against you in the court of social media public opinion. Case closed.

FOUR - Mark Zuckerberg wants the Internet to be free

Facebook's CEO is at it again. 5 billion of the world's 7 billion people don't have Internet access. Zuckerberg formed last August to try to address that. He partnered with Samsung, Nokia and Qualcomm, among others, to make global Internet access a priority. He wants industry and governments to work together to get more people online and erase the digital divide.

Now, he's upping the ante. In his keynote speech to the Mobile World Congress gathering in Barcelona, Spain this week (the biggest annual telecom/wireless gathering on the planet), he said he's looking for between 3 and 5 telecommunications companies who are serious about delivering free data service to people who can't afford it. How does he see it?
“I want to show that this model works, that’s why we’re looking for partners who are serious about this,” he said, adding that the undertaking will probably be loss-making for years. “If we do something that’s good for the world, we’ll eventually come up with a way to make money from it.”
Is this a little self-serving given Facebook's future depends on continuing to grow its audience? Sure. But I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, because greater access for all is good for the planet as well as for Facebook.