Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year? Bite me, Ryan Seacrest

I'll apologize now for the nasty tone in my headline. I don't really want Ryan Seacrest to bite me. First of all, it would hurt. Second, it's kind of gross on a whole lot of levels.

But I do take issue with the whole Happy New Year thing, and the way, year after year, it always seems to come down to the same tired old cliches playing out in the same tired old ways:

  • First we reflect on the year that was.
  • Then we make panicked calls to distant friends and relatives because heaven forbid we don't speak to them before the ball drops.
  • Around that time we pick up our mobile devices and share inane Happy New Year wishes on Facebook and other social media because our SM streams weren't already clogged with inanity. 
  • Somewhere in between we might make pretty little resolutions for the year to come.
  • Then we settle in for an overpriced New Year's "experience" at an otherwise sub-Applebee's-quality restaurant, bar or club.
  • Or we settle in to watch the ball drop on TV, interspersed by the aforementioned Ryan Seacrest trying to make it all sound interesting and fresh.
  • Within hours of the ball dropping, we summarily break most of our pretty little resolutions.
  • By January 2nd or 3rd, we're back to our usual non-reflective, non-empathetic, everyday selves. Nothing has changed.
I'm probably exaggerating a bit. Okay, a lot. But my point is this: Why do we save it all up for one day simply because orbital dynamics and some really old guys in really bad togas deemed it so? Why do we put all our eggs into one big basket and then forget the smaller stuff - you know, being kind, being empathetic, being human - every other day of the year?

I have no answers to these questions. But I do wish to renounce my membership in the Happy New Year Sheep Parade. So in 2016, I'll keep focusing on the small stuff on any given day, no matter what the calendar might say. Because every day is a blessing, and I'd hate to go another 365 of them before I'm once again reminded of that.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

On how writing should be defined

"I must write it all out, at any cost.
Writing is thinking.
It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living."
Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Monday, December 28, 2015

Thematic Photographic 361 - Mugs

Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.
London, ON
December 2015
Winter has finally decided to show itself in the Northern Hemisphere, with a massive weather system that spawned deadly tornadoes in the southern U.S. and an epic-scaled ice storm all the way into Canada.

As I write this, the winds are howling, blowing ice pellets horizontally into the windows.
I have a soft spot for weather like this because I've always enjoyed battening down the hatches - both literally and figuratively - with my family. Somehow, riding out weather like this is made memorable when you're surrounded by the right people.

A mug of something hot doesn't hurt, either, so let's go with that as our next Thematic theme.

Your turn: For the next seven days, Thematic celebrates the humble mug. Whatever mug you like to drink from, I hope you'll shoot it on your blog or website, then share it here. If you've already posted something, that'll work, too. Leave a comment letting everyone know where to find it, and be sure to visit other participants. Return as often as you wish, as Thematic is all about shooting, sharing and enjoying the photographic art. For more info on how it all works, head here. Otherwise, grab your camera and go for it.

On deriving joy from sadness

"We enjoy warmth because we have been cold. We appreciate light because we have been in darkness. By the same token, we can experience joy because we have known sadness."
David Weatherford
Don't worry: I'm not sad. At least not overwhelmingly so. I simply wanted to start the day with a somewhat contrarian look at why a little darkness isn't necessarily something to be banished.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

5 reasons why we don't whine about the weather

I was having a perfectly relaxing day until I checked Twitter. Almost without warning, it was filled with apocalyptic predictions of a level of doom of beyond-epic proportions.

No, we weren't being bombed by our own regime. Or by someone else. We weren't being shot at. And we weren't fighting for our lives in some leaky boat in the middle of the sea.

But we were under assault. By Mother Nature, apparently. Because the very fact that Environment Canada has issued winter weather watches for large chunks of the province of Ontario is apparently the perfect excuse for people to lose their minds.

So here's why I won't be busting my spleen about the weather, and why I believe you shouldn't, either:
  1. You can't change it. Weather's going to happen whether we like it or not. And nothing you say or do will influence the outcome. Except the degree to which you choose to annoy those around you.
  2. Your definition of "difficulty" is wrong. Our grandparents walked eight miles to school through head-deep snowdrifts, uphill, both ways. We, on the other hand, whine if our cars' all-wheel-drive doesn't kick in before we start feeling the seat warmers.
  3. No one really cares what you think. Whether you find it cold, hot, or anything in between is somewhat irrelevant. The citizens of Facebookistan and Twitterburg aren't waiting with bated breath for your perspectives on winter storms. Or summer storms. Or any storms, for that matter. If you're not adding to the canon of knowledge related to winter survival, then it's probably best to keep it from public view.
  4. You look and sound like a doofus. No one likes a complainer. And folks who complain online are the worst. Learn some empathy and actually read what you write before you hit the Send or Publish button. This is your brand
  5. Harsh weather is good for the soul. Since you can't change the weather, you may we well change your attitude and embrace whatever's about to happen. Enjoy the fact that you're alive, that you were given another day to breathe it all in. It may be inconvenient and uncomfortable, but we can say the same thing about so many other things, too. The alternative is always so much worse, and your opportunity to create indelible memories for those around you begins now.
Your turn: How do you make tough weather fun?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

On why we should take Charlie Brown's advice

"In the book of life, the answers aren't in the back."
Charlie Brown
Your turn: So where are they?

I'm begging you to shop here

For the love of G-d, please shop here!
London, ON
October 2015
To share your own signage-themed Thematic, head here
Time has not been kind to the somewhat high-end mall that not long ago was the standard-bearer of London retail. Sure, Masonville Place is a well-kept, luxe-looking mall that's been steadily updated and refreshed over the years. Its owners have added marble and gold-tinged finishings to just about every visible surface. The lighting has been tweaked and even the furniture's been replaced to make things look more tony. The stores may not be as ultra-high-end as an average mall in Dubai, but they're as up-there as you'll likely find in a mid-sized city smack in the middle of the agricultural belt.

Pretty as it may be to look at, though, Masonville Place isn't immune to the tectonic shift that's reshaping retail not just here, but everywhere. It lost its main anchor, Sears, almost two years ago, and Target imploded earlier this year, leaving two ends of the mall to wither in the shadows. Signs covering the now-shuttered stores promising "Excitement is building," coupled with the growing number of empty stores in other parts of the mall do little to counter the growing cynicism that things aren't as rosy as they could be.

As you can see here, things weren't exactly hopping on what probably should have been a busy Saturday morning. Giant signs sticking well into the main walkway seemed to beg the few shoppers who were there to sample their wares. Sadly, it didn't seem to be working.

I do hope they figure it out, though (suggestion 1, update your website.) Because as maligned as malls are - and as much as they're still blamed for the death of on-street local retail - it's still sad when community resources (and let's be honest with ourselves, malls qualify as such) fall on hard times.

Your turn: Do malls have a future? Should they?

Friday, December 25, 2015

On giving joy back to the world

"So much sadness exists in the world that we are all under obligation to contribute as much joy as lies within our powers."
John Sutherland Bonnel
Now that we're finished shopping ourselves - and sometimes each other - to death, I thought I'd just leave this here for us to ponder.

Your turn: What joy will you contribute back to the world?

A forlorn look at a sign from the past

Sun baked
London, ON
August 2015
Click here for more Thematic signs
They don't make signs like this anymore, and that makes me more than a little sad. Sure, this isn't anyone's idea of state-of-the-art. It isn't LED-lit or 3D-printed. It isn't adaptive to local conditions, and doesn't serve up animated, real-time streams of marketing-ese, all driven by more technology than meets the eye.

No, it's simply an old painted sign that wears its years of assault by the sun, winter's wrath and autumn's driving rains with a sense of fatigue that makes Willy Loman look spry.

But when you lose places like this, you also lose the texture of the neighbourhoods that made your city worth remembering. I'll remember this collision repair shop because it's unlike any other repair shop I've ever visited. Something tells me the LED-lit wonders taking over the landscape today won't be as compelling to look at when they're as old someday as this sign is now.

Stories are sometimes told in the subtle shadows of a neighbourhood. I hope my kids know where to look when they're my age and they want a glimpse into how the place they call home came to be. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Lunchtime in the shadows of the city

London, ON
August 2015
Thematic. Signs. Here.
I had no idea this place even existed, yet here it stood on a quiet back street in the shadows of downtown, hard beside the railroad tracks. The "Closed" sign in the window on an otherwise perfect sunny summer's afternoon meant I wouldn't be eating here today, but the neighbourhood isn't far from home, so I made a mental note to return another day and give it a try.

I'm not sure when the national and global chain restaurants started to push mom-and-pop-style operations like this one into history, but I'm pretty sure we're close to the point where places like this slowly cease to exist amid a sustained assault of homogenized, hyper-marketed chain outlets staffed by people whose names no one ever remembers.

Although I'm hardly the target customer for a homegrown pizza joint, simply knowing places like this are around has always brought me a certain degree of comfort. Because a place like Papa's exists only here - let's repeat that, shall we? Only Here - and it's what makes London different from, say, Stratford or Kitchener or Toronto.

But this isn't about cheerleading my own city. It's about cheerleading every city, and recognizing what we all lose when neighbourhoods are rebuilt according to a global business template that plops the same rotation of businesses in the same-looking strip malls, big box power corners and major malls that have rapidly removed sense of place from the places we once called home.

Knowing that those other cities also have their own locally-flavoured restaurants (and corner stores, and related owner-operated, well-established, non-franchised businesses) brings me comfort, as well, because it reinforces that every city, and not just my own, remains unique in its own way, with businesses grounded to the communities that they serve in ways no franchise operation could ever approach.

I'm glad I happened across this place on this particular day, and I look forward to returning on a day when they're open for business. Because if we lose places like Papa's Pizza & Restaurant, we lose far more than another place to get a slice of cheesy pie.

Your turn: What's your favourite local business?

On true strength

"There is nothing stronger in the world than gentleness."
Han Suyin

Monday, December 21, 2015

Thematic Photographic 360 - Signage

Right this way
Deerfield Beach, FL
December 2014
This week's theme, signage, should be a fun one, largely because our world is almost overrun with signs. While most of them, like this one, are fairly clear in telegraphing their purpose, others can often be more confusing than they have a right to be. Still other signs can tell their own stories if we take the time to read between the lines.

I know so many of you already take the time, and I look forward to seeing how you take the theme and make it yours.

Your turn:  Please take a picture that evokes this week's theme, signage, 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!

Is Miss Universe still a thing?

I just love news stories that aren't really news stories, but nevertheless manage to make it to the top of the headline roster because the alternatives involve a curious mixture of Donald Trump, Justin Bieber, Josh Duggar's wife and the red-track-suit guy who used to dance up a freaky storm in the background of countless old SNL sketches.

Case in point: the Miss Universe pageant, which last night crowned Miss Philippines, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, its queen of the ball for the next year. Host Steve Harvey - perhaps best known as Richard Dawson's new-millenium-wannabe Family Feud host - apparently misread his cue card at the penultimate moment, and mistakenly called Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutierrez, as the winner before order prevailed and the tiara found its rightful home.

As you can imagine, bedlam prevailed, countless tears were shed, no less than three presidential inquiries were initiated and a koala bear may or may not have been sacrificed to the Pagan gods. We're still working on that last one so please don't quote me. Either way, it was an ugly, ugly scene of double-sided tape and fake-smile betrayal that should burn supernova-bright for at least the next eight minutes.

As pageant purists - hey, they still exist - call for Mr. Harvey's head and as The Donald himself weighs in on how he would have handled the situation (free tiaras for all!) it's becoming painfully apparent to all but the most Berk Parksian fans of this long-irrelevant "tradition" that this was anything but a mistake. In actuality, it's a public relations masterstroke, a brilliantly conceived and executed move designed to firmly shove this pageant - and indeed, all pageants - back into the cultural mainstream. For at least the next eight minutes, anyway.

See, if Mr. Harvey had read the name as intended, then the pageant would have received the kind of polite and limited coverage befitting a cultural relic of an era when Hugh Hefner reigned supreme and beauty was indeed skin deep. Country, name, polite applause, see you next year. Maybe.

By turning the crowning moment into a three-ring circus, however, Mr. Harvey and his pageant overlords have succeeded in making their anachronism of an event go viral. And in the age of social media, going viral matters far more than doing the right, polite thing.

I'm sure Miss Colombia will be rightly ticked off for a while - not because she "lost" a contest that was never a contest to begin with. But because she'll forever be known as a pawn in an ill-conceived attempt to convince us that "competitions" like this are anything but the sad spectacles of yesteryear they've always been. Not even a globe-spanning controversy can change the brutal reality.

Your turn: What would you do if you won the crown?

Here's why you should play in traffic

Right of way
Toronto, ON
August 2015
For one last kick at Thematic's parallel theme, head here
Rather unintentionally, this week's parallel theme seemed to involve a disproportionate percentage of railway and roadway photos. In retrospect, they're probably some of the riskier pictures I've taken in my life. Not daredevil-risky, but enough to get people's attention.

I'm not about to pull a Nik Wallenda and stick a GoPro on my head as I attempt to cross from one skyscraper to another on a tightrope. But I do believe in doing what it takes to get the shot even if it means elevating one's heart rate from 60 bpm to 80. In photography as in life, a little bit of energy can't be a bad thing.

Besides, if you never step out there, you'll never know what you might have brought home. Life is meant to be lived, not preserved in a jar.

Your turn: Tell us about a time when you took a risk and it paid off.

On individuality

"You laugh at me because I'm different, I laugh at you because you're all the same."
Jonathan Davis
If you've never been one to follow the crowd for the sake of fitting in, this one's for you.

Your turn: Do you follow the crowd or do you march to the beat of your own drummer? Why?

Sunday, December 20, 2015

On looking out for others

"Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something."
H. Jackson Brown Jr.
My $0.02: Most people are too busy with the minutiae of their own lives to bother paying attention to the backstories of others. That strikes me as incredibly sad, because I'm guessing most of the world's grittier spots would be smoothed out if we had a little more empathy. What's your take?

Friday, December 18, 2015

The one where I don't get killed by a passing train

In the heat of the day
London, ON
August 2015
Please click here for more parallel Thematic
This is one of those pictures that could get me into trouble. While I am absolutely aware of the dangers of being anywhere near railroad tracks, I'm not above pre-composing the shot in my head, pre-setting everything on my camera, then phantom-shooting it from the sidelines before looking - and listening - both ways too many times to count and stepping onto the tracks, tripping the shutter and stepping off.

Total time between the steel: About 4 seconds. I'm pretty sure I wasn't in any more mortal danger than I was when, say, riding my bike on a London-area road. I'll let you know if Canadian Pacific sends a lawyer's letter my way.

Safety concerns aside, I wanted to take this shot - if you're familiar with London, it's taken looking west from the intersection of St. George and Piccadilly - because it was a baking-hot day, and that does delightful things to the air just above ground level, especially on hard, gravel or otherwise industrialized surfaces. It doesn't get more industrialized than a railbed, so I planned the moment and took a chance. And the shot.

It was so worth it.

Your turn: Do you ever push the bounds a bit - safety, taste or otherwise - when you're shooting pictures?

On laughter and light

"Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face."
Victor Hugo
So what does it take to make you laugh?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The most depressing corridor. Ever.

Tile, concrete, and little else
London, ON
May 2015
Thematic. Parallel. Here.
I find it hard to believe the architects who came up with this "design" were happy with the result. I just don't see them finishing up their drawings at the end of the day before excitedly high-fiving each other in professional triumph. If their goal was to inspire Eeyore to wander alone into the desert, mission accomplished.

This is as far from triumph as it gets, a built-to-a-price compromise made sadder by the fact that it's the norm rather than the exception. We can do better than building structures that look tired before the first coat of paint dries.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

On being annoying

"You can't achieve anything without getting in someone's way. You can't be detached and effective."
Abba Eban

Monday, December 14, 2015

Thematic Photographic 359 - Parallel

Parallel lines don't tend to occur on their own in nature, which probably explains why they're so much fun to shoot when we come across them in the urban landscape.

So for the next week, I'm hoping we get in touch with our inner geometric beings and shoot pictures of parallel lines or objects. As always, how you make the theme your own is entirely up to you, and there are no rights or wrongs.

Your turn: Take a picture or choose one that you've already taken. Pop it onto your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit others to share in the photographic goodness, and feel free to share additional pictures in the days to come. If you're new to the Thematic thing, click here and all will be explained. Otherwise, please accept my thanks for continuing to make Thematic such a highlight for me and everyone else who participates.

The eighth night

I'm not even close to being the world's best Jew. If we were judged by our ability to adhere to every last rule, pray like an expert and debate religious issues like a scholar, I'm pretty sure I would have been kicked out of the club ages ago.

My own shortcomings notwithstanding, I still feel a certain pull when it comes to the traditions of Judaism. I love the sights, sounds and even the smells of each holiday, the way they make a house a home, and the way they pull families together whether they want to be there or not.

Last night, we lit the eighth Chanukah candle, and as you can see the Chanukiah* was fully lit. As much as I cherish the incredible glow on the eighth night, the warmth of so much light piercing the darkness of one of the longest nights of the year, a part of me is sad that this is it, that tonight, as the holiday silently draws to a close, we don't light anything, and winter's darkness will once again dominate our day-to-day reality.

And when that darkness seems all-pervasive, I'll think back to this very moment and try to remember what it felt like - the visuals, the temperature, the sounds of buzzing, happy kids, and even the smell of the house from yet another lousy-for-your-health but good-for-the-soul meal. That should be enough light to see us through the next few months.

Your turn: How do you keep the light on during times of darkness?

* The candelabra used for Chanukah is known as a Chanukiah, and has room for eight candles, plus an elevated candle known as the "shamash". It's separate and distinct from the menorah, which is six-plus-one and isn't used for this holiday.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Florida wins the dumb-with-technology prize. Again.

Hint to wannabe-hit-and-run drivers: If you're going to do the crime, do it in a car that has as few electronic gizmos as possible.

Florida (again...seriously, what is it with that state?) resident Cathy Bernstein learned this the hard way. First she drove her Ford vehicle into a truck. Then she smacked it into a van. Then she took off.

Unfortunately for her, her car was equipped with Ford's Sync system - which has a feature called 911 Assist. If you're in an accident that involves airbag deployment, it automatically calls 911. Unfortunately for Bernstein, her car did exactly what it was supposed to do: It automatically called 911 after her little sheetmetal-sculpting episode.

Authorities were contacted, and when they called Bernstein back and asked her if she had left the scene of an accident, instead of fessing up, she lied, saying "no, I would never do that." She obviously never learned the don't-fib lesson in Kindergarten.

Alas, the damage was a little too hard to hide, and Bernstein was subsequently arrested for hit-and-run. Chalk up another win for technology. At this rate, hit-and-run "accidents" could be a thing of the past before long. Now wouldn't that be something?

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Dear Internet: Stop killing already-dead actors

In the daily current of data that flows through our various social media spigots, this one was easy to miss. I tend to ignore celebrity culture for a whole lot of reasons - please don't make me go into it here, though, as it'll give me hives - so I didn't immediately pick on the fact that Harry Morgan was showing up far more often than would be considered normal for a no-longer-top-tier-actor.

On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a whole bunch of other platforms (I read 'em all), folks were reposting the sad news that Mr. Morgan, perhaps best known as Colonel Sherman Potter on the old M.A.S.H. television series - and if you really want to date yourself, Dragnet), had died. Each share seemed to generate its own little tsunami of social media-fed kinda-mourning:

  • "So sad."
  • "I didn't know he was sick."
  • "Loved him in M.A.S.H."
  • "I can't believe how many actors died this week!"
Lost in all of this is the fact that Mr. Morgan passed away in 2011. And every year around this time, the social media sphere erupts in yet another round of faux-and-misplaced grief. This week it was the M.A.S.H. guy. Next week it might be Dana Plato. Or Ernest Borgnine. Or Gopher.

I'm just kidding about Gopher. Fred Grandy, who played the purser on the ghastly Love Boat before becoming a congressman and radio show host, is still very much alive. But I wouldn't put it past the Internet to kill him, anyway. Because folks are too busy to actually read and learn, and can't be bothered to confirm anything with a quick Google search or Wikipedia read before hitting the Share or Retweet button.

So I posted this - to Twitter and Facebook, of course:
And it touched off quite the little beehive of activity and frank discussion. Which made me happy. At first. Until I thought about it and realized everyone who jumped into the conversation was already in the group that would take the time to double-check a fact before sending it to a broader audience.

In other words, I was preaching to the converted. Which means the vast majority of folks in Facebookistan, Twitterville and Instagramburg will continue to forget-and-forward. Le sigh.

We live in an era awash in information. Knowledge, insight and focus, unfortunately, remain in short supply.

Friday, December 11, 2015

When the sidewalk is all you've got

New York, NY
July 2014
Click here for more roadside-themed Thematic
In the deep shade of a hot and humid New York City evening, I hid behind the corner of a building and zoomed in on a stranger. I waited until he turned his head away from the lens in a less-than-honorable attempt to preserve his anonymity and justify the shot.

Why did I take this particular picture of this particular person? Because our natural inclination in our hurry-up-and-wait urban existence seems to be to look away. Indeed, as I watched from afar for about 10 minutes, no one looked his way or even slowed down. Many passers-by did their best to hide their head-swivels in the opposite direction.

Homelessness takes many forms. This is one of them, and on this night in this place, far away from my own home, this is what it looked like.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

On complacency

"It's human nature to start taking things for granted again when danger isn't banging loudly on the door."
David Hackworth

Monday, December 07, 2015

Thematic Photographic 358 - Roadside

All alone
London, ON
December 2015
I've been walking a lot more than usual lately. Whether I need a lunchtime break from the workday or a long wander through the neighbourhood on a Sunday afternoon, I find being away for a bit to be remarkably soothing to the soul.

Or maybe that's what I convince myself will happen when every other fibre of my being would rather stay inside, where it's warm and cozy. Either way, I'm glad I'm listening to the "let's walk" voice more often these days.

On my journeys, I'm seeing a lot of weird stuff by the side of the road. And since I shoot what I see, I'd like to turn it into this week's theme.

Your turn: As you've doubtless guessed, we're shooting roadside-themed pics this week. If you have one in mind, please post it to your blog or website, then leave a comment here. Visit other participants throughout the week and feel free to add to the pile - serial photography is always encouraged. For more background on what Thematic is and how it works, head here. And enjoy...because fun may not be my middle name, but I wish it could be.

Foggy morning on Simcoe

London, ON
December 2015
I did something this morning that I haven't done in a while: I stopped the car and took some pictures as I headed into work.

I probably should have kept driving, because the clock wasn't moving any slower and the day was beckoning. But the fog wasn't going to cling to this already-grey neighborhood forever, and the little photographic voice in my head was insistent: Now or never.

So I parked. And shot. And felt the damp cold soak through my fingers and my coat. It felt like it was the right thing to do. Maybe not the most logic or rational thing given the time. But right all the same.

Your turn: When was the last time you listened to those little creative voices of yours?

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Mark Zuckerberg = Dad

There's no question about who the world's most famous baby is: Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, have welcomed their daughter into the world. According to a release from the company, Max Chan Zuckerberg was born early Thanksgiving week. She weighed 7 lbs, 8 ounces, and everyone is healthy. Move over George and Charlotte: There's a new Royal Baby in town.

But wait, there's more: The world's most famous new parents of the world's most famous baby posted a Facebook Note, entitled A letter to our daughter, in which they laid out their dreams for her - namely that she should grow up in a world better than ours today.

To underscore their hopes for the future, and to ensure they evolve beyond mere hopes, they announced the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, in which they will devote 99% of their currently-held Facebook stock - worth about $45 billion U.S. - toward advancing human potential and promoting equality.

The critics are already poking holes in the initiative - the money's being directed into their own foundation, the goals are too vague, etc. I guess it's easy to take remote potshots at the billionaire and his doc-wife as they become parents and set out to accomplish what all parents hope for: A strong foundation for the next generation. But at the end of the day, what matters is another generation-defining family is using its position, power and money to advance the state of the human race. Only the most cynical among us would fail to appreciate the humanity of such a commitment.

Welcome to the world, Max. May your parents' hopes for your future - and all parents' hopes for their own children - come true.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Thematic Photographic 357 - Celebration

Let them eat cake
London, ON
June 2014
This week's theme, Celebration, isn't just a gawd-awful song that's trotted out at every wedding and bar mitzvah from here to the equator. Notwithstanding the cultural atrocities of Kool and the Gang, it's a timely reminder that we have to take our happies wherever we can find them.

Small things matter more than we might believe, and we do our souls good by stopping every once in a while to drink in the sweetness of a small, otherwise forgettable moment.

Life, after all, is little more than a big collection of little moments. If we spend all of our time holding out for the the marquee events, we'll miss out on everything in between. Besides, that icing looks delicious, doesn't it?

Your turn: Find pictures that reflect, suggest or evoke some kind of celebration. Any celebration. Or something that reminds you of a celebration. Shoot it, post it, and comment here. Visit other participants and return through the week to see what everyone's up to and, if you're game, add even more to the mix. Head here for more background on how Thematic Photographic works. And enjoy. Because that's why we do this.

Remember: We're all on some kind of journey

Life at speed
Toronto, ON
October 2012
Sometimes while I'm travelling - in planes, trains, automobiles or some other means of conveyance - I'll sit idly by the window and watch the world slip by. It's a a rare privilege to simply observe and absorb an experience without necessarily having be the one making it happen. So you grab the moment whenever it presents itself.

I was lucky enough to experience one of those moments on an otherwise nondescript stretch of track between Toronto and London. The interwoven ribbons of blurred steel remind me that we're all going somewhere, yet how we get there isn't always as defined as we'd like. Sometimes we have to switch tracks. Sometimes we get stuck. Sometimes we don't get on or off where we had intended.

As the new weeks dawns, maybe it's worth keeping in mind before we judge those whose paths we'll inevitably cross. They're on their own journey, too, and sometimes they need a little understanding - and help - to get where they need to go.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

On focusing on the one

"And that is how change happens. One gesture. One person. One moment at a time."
Libba Bray
It's easy to get lost in the numbers when you work in media. When I first started publishing and doing on-air work, I'd often wonder about who was on the other end of the mic, camera, printing press or website. How many people were "out there"? How many listeners? Viewers? Readers? Visitors?

At first, the numbers themselves made the work itself seem super-daunting. When your voice is heard by thousands of people, or your face seen by even more, you'd be forgiven for thinking there's a lot of weight hanging on every word.

That was a much more naive me. Because now that I've been at it for a little while, I've learned that there's still a lot of weight on our collective shoulders, but not because of the sheer numbers.

The number could be 10 or 10,000, but every time I hit Publish or settle into a chair in a darkened studio, I imagine there's only one person on the other end. I wonder what he/or she wants to know, imagine that we're sitting around my kitchen table or living room having an informal chat.

And if I manage to reach that one person in some way, it's worth the effort. Everything - and everyone - beyond that is a delightful bonus.

Your turn: What are you going to say to the next ONE person who crosses your path?

Can you stay safe on Cyber Monday

I've spent a lot of energy over the last week discussing online security. No surprise, as Cyber Monday - the biggest online shopping day of the year - looms tomorrow, and hackers are already licking their chops at the prospect of millions of unprepared potential victims scouring the Internet for deals on cheap smartphones and neighbor-annoying drones.

Just as it is with drunk driving, safe sex and safe social media practices, keeping yourself on the happy side of the equation is actually pretty simple. Yet countless folks continue to get themselves into trouble by ignoring what most rational-thinking people had figured out long ago.

I did an interview with CTV's Canada AM on Friday morning to run through the key things we need to keep in mind before we grab a device and prowl the virtual shopping aisles. The interview with Beverly Thomson is here (and on YouTube), and the news team published a tips and tricks page here, as well.

Your turn: Do you find all this holiday shopping - online and off - just a little much? Why/why not?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Wireless society? Not so much.

London, ON
November 2015
This isn't technically "electricity" (see here for more on that), but I figure data cables are close enough that I can get away with it.

Do you ever stop what you're doing to look more closely into the dusty corners of whatever room you happen to be in? We tend to notice the obvious parts, but the shadowy backgrounds are often ignored, tuned out because rats nests of cables, power bars, outlets all tucked out of the way don't seem to merit a second look.

But I'd like to suggest - politely, of course, because I'm Canadian - that an occasional second, or ever a third, look is absolutely worth it. Because without the exquisitely laid out tray of Ethernet cable that you see here, the entire business it supports would have no way of keeping information flowing and people connected.

So it's still shadowy and dusty. But no less important.

And if you see me skulking, alone, around the corner of the room, now you'll know why. Feel free to join me.

Your turn: What do you see, right now, when you stare into the corner or the background. And....go!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

9 volt extravaganza

No tongues, please
London, ON
November 2014
To share your own electricity-themed Thematic, please click here.
The 9 volt battery is more than just a source of power. It's a relic of an earlier, simpler time, when electronic gadgets weren't Internet-connected, weren't wireless, and didn't plug into the wall to recharge.

As the world around this iconic technology has radically redefined itself, we find ourselves heading to the store to restock less and less frequently. Which I'm sure the landfills of the world appreciate. Sooner or later, even smoke alarms will have to move on to an alternative source of juice.

Which makes coming across a bunch of them something of a trip through time. Like videotapes and CDs, I'm not sure how much longer these batteries will be around. But for as long as they are, I'll keep coming back to them with a camera.

Your turn: Do you have a battery memory? Mine is getting them for free with Radio Shack's Battery of the Month Club (that seriously dates me, I fear.) What's yours?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

About that Facebook "Most Words" app...

Social media has been all abuzz today with news of a virally popular Facebook app, called Most Words, that analyzes your status updates and pulls together a pretty-looking word cloud based on the information it finds in your profile.

It's just the kind of thing that Facebookians (sorry, I invent words. It's a disease) absolutely love, and millions of them have installed the app. But there's a catch. Because in tech, there are free lunches. Namely, in installing the app, users are basically giving the developers - in this case Vonvon, a Korean company - carte blanche to raid your online profile and do whatever they wish with the data. Sorry, your data. ran the following story today: Privacy experts issue warning over Facebook 'Most Words' app

My three words of advice: Just say no.

Any questions?

I dream of wires

The inside of an ancient beast
London, ON
February 2015
Thematic. Electricity. Here.
For reasons I'm still trying to better understand, modern consumer technology products generally don't seem to age well. While that ancient Rolex your grandfather bought will probably be handed down with pride from generation to generation well into the next century, your first Mac either sits abandoned in a dusty basement corner, its cracked and yellowed case a far cry from the days when it was an object of aspirational desire, or it long ago made its way into landfill.

Beyond the environmental nastiness of discarded technology - use electronics recycling, please - there's a certain sadness to an old computer. Whether you're looking at its outsides or its insides, it's always fairly evident when a once-vaunted machine has devolved well past its prime. Worse, the moment when that high-tech wonder-device becomes yesterday's news often arrives shockingly early.

Still, whether they're old, new, or somewhere in between, there's something fascinating about peering into the insides and seeing what makes - or made - them tick. Accelerated obsolescence aside, there's a certain haunting beauty to tech devices that invites further exploration. And reflection.

Your turn: Your favorite piece of old technology is...?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Thematic Photographic 356 - Electricity

Plugged in
London, ON
April 2015
Since most aspects of our modern lives depend on a steady supply of electricity, I thought I'd dedicate this week's Thematic theme to it. I'm odd that way, but I'm glad you accept me, regardless.

Your turn: Take an electricity-themed picture and share it on your blog or website. Or feel free to find one you've already posted. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it, and visit other participants - because sharing is always more fun. Want to share more than once through the week? We encourage that sort of thing! If you'd like more background on how Thematic works, head here. Otherwise, happy shooting. And thanks...this one should be volts of fun (sorry!)

On finding the opportunity in change

"In the midst of change we often discover wings we never knew we had."
Ekaterina Walter
Lots of change happening, both across the planet and closer to home. Which makes these words somewhat comforting.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

First snow of the season

Temporary steps
London, ON
November 2015
The annual rite of almost-winter in pretty much every Canadian town - the first snow of the season - rolled through our burg tonight. Sure, we had an early morning dusting a few weeks ago, but this time there was actual accumulation.

I didn't want to miss the moment, so when our daughter and I were walking the pup tonight, some pixel-gathering was on the menu for both of us. While we alternated leash-holding with shooting, Frasier the Wonderdog happily bounced through the clumpy snow. We both swore he was smiling as he did.

The snow will inevitably get deeper, the temperatures colder and the winds more biting over the next few weeks and months. But as long as I get to experience it surrounded by those who matter, it'll always feel warmer than the weather app on my smartphone suggests.

Your turn: How do you stay warm when winter moves in?

On planning the last day of your life

"If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?"
Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement address, 2005
His words take on a whole new meaning when you actually know what that might feel like.

Your turn: What WOULD you do if you knew today was your last day?

Friday, November 20, 2015

This old keyboard

War of literary attrition
London, ON
November 2015
See here for more old-themed Thematic
If you've followed my photographic journey for any length of time, you've probably picked up on the fact that I take a lot of weird pictures.

Among the photographic weirdness: I have a thing for keyboards. See here for one notable example.

Normally, I shoot them when they're new and perfect, before they get all shmutzy and smudgy and gross. Keyboards, like most electronic devices, tend to not age well. But I'm going to break my it-must-be-new thing and share this one.

Because even if it isn't perfectly new, it nevertheless tells a story that may be worth sitting down and listening to.

I wonder what this keyboard's story is. Any guesses?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The 25 most important social media rules of all time. Part 1.

Most days, I tend to view social media as a force for good, a modern-day technology that has the potential to bring us closer together and move ourselves further ahead.

Sadly, this is not one of those days.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been stuffed full of enough misinformation, xenophobia and outright hatred to keep a KKK chapter in business until global warming-fed oceans begin to lap at the shores of downtown Boise, Idaho. The sheer volume and pervasiveness is, to be frank, shocking in what I thought was a benevolent and tolerant part of the world.

My heart aches at how quickly conversation - any conversation - degrades into a volatile mix of nastiness that makes you wish we could go back to the days when texting didn't exist and we still wrote letters on stationery.

So to help me cope, I've written a list of, um, suggestions that, if followed, might reduce the level of bile and nastiness. Wait, who am I kidding? Nothing will ever fix this. But I had to at least do something. Here goes:
  1. Everything you say on social media can and be used against you in a court of public opinion
  2. In the online world, there is no separation of personal and professional. Your employer can - and likely does - read your posts.
  3. So does your mother.
  4. So be smart.
  5. And if you can’t be smart, at least be nice.
  6. Social media is bidirectional. It isn’t a megaphone.
  7. Yelling louder - even virtually - won’t make you heard.
  8. So take the time to read and understand the work of others. Even if you disagree with them.
  9. Pieholes were never meant to be perpetually open.
  10. You may very well be the last person to clue into the fact that everyone thinks you’re a doofus.
  11. There is no delete button on the Internet.
  12. Likewise, the Internet has an elephantine memory.
  13. Never think anything you share online is in any way private. If you digitize it, then it’s fair game.
  14. Just because you believe you’re an expert on religious theology, political science and [enter virtually any field of thought/study here] doesn’t mean you actually are.
  15. Your contributions to the canon of human existence aren’t as profound as you might think.
  16. The planet’s 7-plus-billion citizens aren’t waiting breathlessly for you to weigh in on...well, anything.
  17. The world’s problems will not be solved by thumb-typing your latest round of genius while you’re waiting for the Subway guy to finish making your sandwich. Easy on the mayo, btw.
  18. Don’t think you’ll solve your own problems with a Facebook post or a tweet, either.
  19. Just because you post it doesn’t make you right.
  20. Profile pics taken in questionable light in your mother’s messy basement using a smudged webcam from a circa 2004 Dell laptop say more about you than you’ll ever really know.
  21. Know the difference between rational discourse and irrational crapitude.
  22. If your ears are burning by this point, you probably don’t.
  23. Not everything needs to be shared.
  24. Silence is acceptable and preferable more often than not.
  25. Every once in a while, before you hit the Publish or Send button, ask yourself if doing so will help or hinder those who ultimately consume it.
Your turn: What do you think? Got any suggestions to add? Let's see if there's enough out there for a Part 2. Or 3. Or...

Monday, November 16, 2015

Thematic Photographic 355 - Old

End of the line (almost)
London, ON
August 2015
A leaf at the end of its life isn't any less worth observing that it was when it was first a bud, or when it was bursting with green-tinged life in the middle of summer, or exploding into reds and oranges with the onset of autumn.

It was August 31st when I saw this particular leaf. Too early for it to die, yet here it was, shrivelled on a branch. I guess it didn't get the memo. Or its calendar and clock needed a reset. Untimely, but very much real.

And still very lovely in its own right, its delicate remains hinting at what it once was.

Your turn: Take a picture that reflects this week's Thematic theme, old. Post it to your blog or website, then leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the joy, and feel free to use the Twitter hashtag #ThematicPhotographic to invite others to join in. If you've got more than one pic to share, we encourage multiple submissions through the week, too. Here's where to find more background on how Thematic works. Enjoy, and thanks!

Smiles are always free

It may seem overly simplistic to look at a smiley-face cookie and assume that, like a butterfly flapping its wings across the ocean or someone yawning on a subway, it can be the start of something bigger and inspirational. But perhaps it can indeed be that simple.

And even if it isn't, it can't hurt. So here it is.

Your turn: How will you start something bigger and inspirational today?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Tonight on CTV News Channel, tech's role in terrorism

Every Sunday evening, I join CTV News Channel's Scott Laurie at around 8:15 pm for a segment, Clicked In. We choose two or three notable tech topics from the week that was, and dissect them as best we can.

It's a highlight of my week, as I get to work with a tremendously gifted team of producers to shape what we'll talk about and how we'll approach it.

Normally, we finalize the lineup a couple of days before air, which gives the team enough time to pull any related videos and build any necessary packages well before we go live. It's one of the luxuries of talking about technology: it isn't hard news, so you get to plan ahead a bit.

But sometimes, the news cycle dictates otherwise, and you've got to shift gears. In the wake of the attacks in Paris, Beirut and Kenya, it didn't seem appropriate to continue with the original lineup.

So we're going to focus on technology's role in the Paris attacks, namely how telecoms are learning from mass casualty events, the fast-changing role of social media platforms in bringing help to those who need it, law enforcement's expanding capacity in tracking perpetrators, bringing them to justice, and identifying future attacks long before they actually happen.

The issues are very real, very complex, and very close to home for us all, no matter where we live. And as much as these events have pained us all, I'm looking forward to tonight's segment. Hope you can tune in.

RIP Microsoft Zune

Today, the Microsoft Zune dies.

In the midst of a wave of terrorism - Paris, Beirut, Kenya, and any yet-to-be-named place - that seems to be enveloping the planet, it seems silly to be writing about an electronic gadget that either no one bought, or no one admits to having ever bought. It's trivial to the point of not being worth mentioning.

And yet, here I am writing about it. Because lots of ink, both virtual and real, is already being spilled about the terrible atrocities being committed in the name of some deity, by zealots interpreting rules concocted by men in caves thousands of years ago. And since I'm not going to fix it anytime soon, I may as well toss out a trivial-tech tidbit. Because if the men-in-caves have their way, we wouldn't have the right to share trivialities like these ever again.

So let's go off on a tangent, shall we?

Today is a momentous day in the annals of tech. On second thought, maybe not all that momentous. But still worth a quiet mention, because today is the day that all Zune services go dark. You haven't been able to buy a Zune device since 2012, but today is when all the online doodads that made these orphaned gadgets marginally useful will disappear for good.

Zune? Whazzat?

In 2006, Microsoft had a bright idea. It would introduce a portable media player that would allow anyone to listen to their music wherever they happened to be. Never mind that Apple had introduced the iPod fully five years earlier, and owned the PMP market with its devices and iTunes software and online store.

Nine years ago to the day, on a busy November afternoon in a Super Target just outside Denver, Colorado, I happened across workers setting up a Zune display for the soon-to-be-introduced device. Being the intrepid journalist/analyst/geek that I was and still am, I wanted a picture so that I could write about it here. The Target staff had other ideas, and thus began an in-store cat-and-mouse game that almost got me intro trouble with the retail rent-a-cops there.

I wrote about it here.

What struck me at the time was the insane amount of secrecy surrounding what was essentially a me-too device, and one that failed to offer anything new to a market that was pretty happy with its iPods.

So if you were one of the few who bought a Zune (brown? Seriously?) today's the day when any remaining online Zune services go dark. No more downloads, and no more streaming. The only thing your Zune can do now is play MP3s. And presumably keep the door stuck open on an otherwise hot and humid day.

If you're one of the seven non-Microsoft employees on the planet who still subscribe to Zune Music Pass, Microsoft will be happy to move you over to a Groove Music Pass plan for $9.99/month. Or you could just use Spotify or Apple Music on your smartphone. It is 2015, after all.

In the end, all that Zune-ish secrecy was for naught. Pity that. Wait, no: No pity at all, as the Zune was a punchline before it even went on sale. #WillNotBeMissed

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Where darkness descends

Looking for the light
London, ON
November 2015
It's just a quick snap from an otherwise unremarkable parking lot outside a big box store on the edge of town, taken quickly before we hurried inside to get on with the also unremarkable business of shopping for groceries.

Yet on this day, as the world continued to absorb the full horror of what happened in Paris yesterday, this unremarkable moment in an unremarkable place seemed to take on its own urgency. As if the simple act of recording it in the first place was somehow more important now than it had been when we all first woke up yesterday, so blissfully unaware of the next.

At a time when we all felt so powerless to fix the unfixable, I thought maybe a picture could at least give me something to hold onto, something to focus on.

I cannot, and never will, understand the fundamental hatred of others that drives so many to devote their lives to the wanton destruction of others. Of folks they've never met. Who they despise not because of what their targets may or may not have done, but because of who they are and what they believe.

I keep wanting to believe our world is better than this, yet the ongoing drumbeat of terrorism - a brazen, inhuman attack against innocents whose only "crime" was being in the wrong place at the wrong time, followed by global outrage, themed profile pics on Facebook, hashtags of support on Twitter, condemnation from the usual sources, political debate, candlelit vigils, mass demonstrations and defiant vows to prevail over evil, which then transitions into a numb settling into history before the next inevitable attack starts the cycle anew - convinces me we're on a somewhat darker path.

As much as I wish this weren't the case, I have no words, answers or solutions. The wakeup call continues to be made. Friday it was Paris, but it's been heard loud and clear in New York, London, Jerusalem and countless other places, as well, where systematic slaughter of complete strangers because of some warped ideology has become so routine that we're this close to thinking it's almost normal.

It isn't. And we have utterly failed to understand, let alone counter the insidious forces that compel people to cross oceans, towns or even streets, to pick up a knife, a gun or a suicide vest, and to turn killing into their life's work.

On this night, it seemed appropriate to freeze the moment just before darkness descended on this part of the planet. Perhaps we'll be a little wiser to this festering cancer by the time the sun reappears tomorrow morning, but based on recent history, you'll forgive me if I have my doubts.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Spider not from Mars

Found this little fellow clinging to an otherwise unremarkable wall, and much to the dismay of arachnaphobes everywhere, I decided to let my lens follow him (her?) for a little while.

On the surface, it seems weird and creepy, and even sharing it here will probably lose me a friend or two (ah yes, the online "friend" who bolts at the first disagreement. Perhaps a thought for a future entry here.)

But fear of spiders and faux-cyber-friends notwithstanding, the world is a wonderfully diverse place, and I'd hate to miss any more of it than absolutely necessary.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Thematic Photographic 354 - Down on the ground

Right at the goal line
London, ON
October 2015
I like to call this my Friday Night Lights photo. I had picked our daughter up from an evening class at school, and she wanted to see her old high school team play. She's a Banting grad, and the "Once a Bronco, always a Bronco" mantra is strong in her.

So despite the late hour, the chill in the air, and the fact that our team was already losing by the time we showed up, we were both glad to be there. It felt so...comfortable.

Which is why it didn't take me very long to flop myself down on the grass and go to town with my camera. Which brings us to this week's theme...

Your turn: Take a pic that suggests this week's theme, down on the ground. If it's anything remotely low-angled, it's fair game. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to share the photographic joy, and feel free to share additional photos through the week. If you're new to Thematic, head here. Otherwise, have fun. Because that's why we do this in the first place. Thanks!

Sunday, November 08, 2015

After the colors have disappeared

It had been a few weeks since our daughter and I had last been here. On that earlier visit, the sun was out and the trees seemed to be on fire with autumn color. It was easy to find something - or many somethings - worth shooting, and we came home with memory cards bursting with all sorts of leafy eye candy.

We decided to revisit the valley yesterday, and the day couldn't have been more different. The skies were a monotonous shade of grey that lit the landscape with barely any sense of visual energy. Not that the landscape had much energy to begin with, as the bright reds, oranges and yellows from last month had been replaced by nearly-bare stretches of grey branches and the occasional scraggly clump of mottled brown leaves.

It was clear we'd have to look a little harder for the eye candy. And it didn't take long for Dahlia to adjust her sights and find the beauty lurking in  forest anyone else would have long ago stopped admiring. She's different in so many ways, and we can always count on her to see the world around her through a unique lens.

Your turn: Your next photo will be of...what? Bonus points if you post a link to it.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

The sun's dying moments

[Quick note: This is my first blog entry from my new phone - a BlackBerry Priv (more on it in future entries) - so I'm hoping I don't mess things up too badly. Caution. Wind. Let's do this...]

The scene: it's close to 5:30 on a Friday evening. I'm in the parking lot of the TV station - CTV London - that has become something of a second home to me, a place where I get to do really cool things, surrounded by really cool people. Every time I leave here, I seem to do so with a happy sigh, content that I gave it my all while I was in the building.

Today is no different. I was up early, in a radio station studio nearby, talking about the phone I'm using now, and news of the big Mars MAVEN discovery that NASA had announced on Thursday. I love speaking geek with smart people, and I love making sense of some of the most fascinating tech news, then seeing and hearing viewers, listeners and readers have that Eureka moment when they realize why the story is so neat in the first place.

The day turned into a non-stop blur of interviews, client meetings, and fast and furious bouts of research and writing before I jetted off to the next appointment or fought off - and beat - the next deadline. I'll admit: It was fun, and it made me feel both whole and alive. Funny how that works, isn't it?

After I was done my last interview of the day, I thanked my team and headed out to the car. I still had to pick up our daughter at school before heading home. But as I often do before I hit the road, I paused and kinda snapshotted the moment in my mind. Because this day like so many others had turned into an especially memorable one, and I wasn't quite ready to let go of what it felt like.

By the looks of the sky above me at that moment, I'm guessing the universe wanted to hold onto the moment, too, before it slipped into darkness.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Life lessons from a breakfast napkin

‎I've been remiss in my blogging of late. I haven't been posting regularly, if at all, and our weekly Thematic photofests have devolved into once-in-a-while entries.

I'm sorry for the inconsistency. Life got a lot busier, and I plumb ran out of time to do the things I once did to relax.‎ So writing, shooting and just sitting on the deck staring at the clouds have taken a bit of a back seat to the day-to-day rush.

But have faith: I'll be back into a normal cadence before long. I just have to find my groove again. Suggestions welcome.

For now, here's a smile. Because we can never have enough.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Strange dog sleeping on a hard floor

I'll never understand why Frasier the wonderdog chooses to sleep NEXT to his soft pillow instead of ON it. I figured at the ripe old dog age of 9 he'd probably be more comfortable on feathers than on a hard floor. But I don't speak dog and even if I did, I would probably never come close to cracking the code that makes him tick.

Perhaps it's for the best. As long as he's happy and content - which, from the looks of it he clearly is - then maybe I should simply let sleeping dogs lie. Or at least this one.

Your turn: What's he dreaming of here?

Saturday, October 31, 2015

On crayons - and what they teach us

‎"We could learn a lot from crayons: Some are sharp, some are pretty, some are dull, while others are bright, some have weird names, but they have all learned to live together in the same box."
Robert Fulghum

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Holding on for dear life

The scene: The parking lot behind the office. It's been raining apocalyptically for‎ the better part of the past 24 hours, and now the winds are beginning to pick up, too. The sky is a menacing shade of dark, steel-grey, and the ground is slick with puddles and widely scattered leaves.

As I step over to the driver's side door of my car, this single red leaf on the window catches my eye. I'm pretty sure the world has more than enough pictures of single red leaves, but I decide this moment needs to be remembered. Perhaps it's because a quick pause in the middle of an otherwise chaotic week is good for the soul. Or maybe I need a reminder of how lucky I am that I can still walk, drive, shoot, live, or otherwise do whatever I need to do.‎ Because so many others can't.

As I take the shot and tuck the phone back in my pocket, I realize I can't fully explain why I stopped in the first place. But not everything needs to be explained. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Thematic Photographic 353 - Size Small

Say hello to my little friend
London, ON
August 2015
In retrospect, this probably wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done. (Bee? Sting much?) But it wasn't the first time I had thrown caution at least partially to the wind in pursuit of a shot, and I'm pretty sure I'll be at it again before long, too.

For the record, no one - human or bee - was harmed in the taking of this picture. I was challenged by the relatively low light, gusty winds that kept shifting things around, and the decidedly chaotic flying of the little guy you see here. It's a wonder I got anything at all, and I'm already looking forward to next spring to try again.

Your turn: This week's Thematic theme is size small. If you know how Thematic works, I'll say no more and let you get to work. If you're new to the Thematic thing, take a peek here to learn how it works. And if you want to reach out and give the little bee a (virtual) pat or two, I'm good with that, as well. Happy shooting!

Clickbait: Just say no to Justin Bieber

I had a fun interview this morning (video here) with Beverly Thomson on CTV's Canada AM about something we all run into in our online lives, even if we're not aware of it. It's called clickbait, and here's a rundown of everything you need to know about it.

What's clickbait? It's loosely defined as Web-based content that is designed to attract your attention through a catchy, provocative, shocking headline, and get you to click on it. Things like quality, accuracy or even truth aren’t normally part of the equation. The headlines give you just enough information to pique your curiosity, but not enough to finish the story, and they all seem to follow a particular structure:
  • You won't BELIEVE what Justin Bieber wore last night!!!
  • This kid went went to hug a giraffe. What happens next will blow your mind!!!
  • These 4 facts about eye gunk will change the way you look at life FOREVER!!!
  • Everyone laughed when she first walked on stage. But then she opened her mouth!!!
  • What this rescued beagle can do with a xylophone will make you cry!!!
So, of course, you’ve GOT to click through, otherwise you’ll NEVER KNOW how it ends! You simply CAN’T go on with your life without taking the bait, because human nature dictates we don’t want to feel deprived - especially when the solution, a click, is so simple.

What happens once you click on it? Rarely do you ever get what you hoped for. Most of the time, you click through, only to be greeted by a ton of popup ads and other annoying, sometimes nasty stuff. The pages are often designed as slide shows instead of all-in-one pages, which forces us to click through multiple pages. This drives page views up, and creates even more ways to serve up - and charge for - ads.

Clickbait is frequently inserted into social media streams, often worded and structured to look like legitimate news or entertainment content.

Since content quality has nothing to do with it, you often get dumped onto a popup-laden page, only to realize you’ve been “had”. Many clickbait victims thus spend very little time on the site - which is becoming an important metric in the legitimate web industry’s efforts to clean it up.

Why it exists: Clickbait is designed to serve up ads. It can even install adware on your computer or device, which then serves up MORE ads long after you’ve visited the site. It's all about revenue generation, not about quality content or building lasting advertiser/customer relationships.

And it gets worse: Some clickbait also serves up spyware and malware. Hackers use the popularity of clickbait - and our willingness to follow up on anything that includes Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, Donald Trump or any of the Kardashians - to target potential victims by redirecting them to rogue websites that secretly install malevolent software in what’s often called a “drive-by” attack.

Who’s doing it? Some of the most popular websites today - including Buzzfeed, Upworthy and Diply - use clickbait tactics to drive traffic. These are the legit players. Plenty of other sketchy sites are doing the same thing, fighting for your attention and not always playing by the rules. Legit or not, advertisers follow traffic. And many of them don't much care how that traffic is generated.

What’s being done to rein it in? Facebook announced last year it’s taking steps to reduce the impact of clickbait. For starters, it’s tracking how long you spend on a site after you’ve clicked it from Facebook. Short visits are a clear sign of clickbait. Google also regularly updates its algorithms to prioritize legitimate content and reduce the possibility of being “fooled” by clickbait.

Is that enough? No. We shouldn't rely on the web giants to save us from ourselves. Ultimately, we're responsible for ourselves, and it’s up to us to recognize the signs and patterns of clickbait and break ourselves of the habit. The payoff is never what the headlines promise, and clicking on them can often expose us to unnecessary risk - like hacking and identity theft. It's time for all of us to smarten up.

Want to learn more? Here's the video of that Canada AM interview: