Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On finding our path through darkness

"When autumn darkness falls, what we will remember are the small acts of kindness: a cake, a hug, an invitation to talk, and every single rose. These are all expressions of a nation coming together and caring about its people."
Jens Stoltenberg

Monday, January 16, 2017

Thematic Photographic 397 - Messy

Electronic interchange
London, ON
December 2016
Take a look at the pics we share online and one thing becomes instantly clear: We're pretty careful about curation. We choose the prettiest compositions, with the least amount of clutter or messiness. We avoid sharing anything that makes us look less pristine, less put-together, less perfect. Sharing ourselves in this age of social media has little to do with painting a complete picture. It's all about crafting the ideal image, and hoping that's enough to convince everyone else that we're worthy of their attention.

Kind of a waste, isn't it?

Which is why this week's theme, Messy, might be a bit of a challenge. Because it involves sharing photos we might normally avoid sharing, and showing strangers things we normally wouldn't choose to show. We're not looking for the pristine, put-together and perfect poses. We're looking for the stuff that usually gets edited out, that wouldn't normally see the light of day. If it's chaotic, askew or, yes, messy, please share it.

Your turn: Take a photo that suggests this week's "messy" theme - or find one from your archives - and post it to your blog, website, Facebook page, or any related online resource. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants to spread the photographic fun - and feel free to post additional pics through the week. Each theme runs for one week, and new themes go live Mondays at 7 pm. For more info on how Thematic works, just click here.

Water frozen from above

Thanks, gravity
London, ON
December 2016
I thought I'd take one last kick at the Out the Window theme - follow this link home if you'd still like to share yours - before the new Thematic goes live tonight.

Icicles have always been a thing for me*. We've been lucky so far this winter, with crazily variable weather that's made them fairly common over the last few weeks. I've kept telling myself I should throw the "good" camera - as opposed to relying on my trusty-but-still-ultimately-limited smartphone - so that I'd be ready if the temperature gradients and light conditions made a quick out-the-window shoot feasible.

The conditions weren't exactly ideal, as the grey skies and dull light made it a bit of a tough sled. But in the end, I ended up with a series worth adding to the keeper pile, and a reminder that nature never loses the ability to blow us away. The mechanics of icicle formation may be well understood, but that doesn't make them any less amazing to the eye. Or the soul.

Enjoy the new week, folks!

Related entries:
More icy goodness, February 2007
Water in any form, January 2010
Frozen wonderland, lost to time, June 2012

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The icicle works, redux

Everything is temporary
London, ON
January 2017
Not too far from our house, there's a bike path that runs underneath the bridge that cuts across campus. If you want a closeup view of the river that defines our city, this is as scenic a spot as any. As a cyclist, I whiz by here hundreds of times every season. But for most drivers, it's a spot that slips invisibly, 30 feet beneath their tires, permanently out of sight and out of mind. To them, it may as well not exist. Funny how that works, isn't it?

So on this sunny Sunday morning, I found myself doing what parents of teenaged kids with busy schedules have been doing since the beginning of time: Bringing them back and forth from one event to another. And as I returned home from the first of many of today's scheduled trips, I thought of this little spot, and how it would probably be especially worthy of a look given the stormy, rainy and alternating cold-and-warm weather we've had in the last few days. With the water running high, it was anyone's guess what it looked like down there.

So I parked the car nearby and took a walk. And sure enough, the crazy waters, insane winds and wildly fluctuating temperatures had left fascinating-looking ice formations on the riverside branches. I carefully wandered around the still-frozen grounds and captured what I could. Because it was only a matter of time - precious little time - before it would likely change again. And all this wonder would be gone.

Makes me feel a little sorry for the drivers who had no idea I - or this - was even there. Their loss, I guess.

Your turn: Where else should I look for hidden inspiration this week? Where will you look for it?

Related: Icicle works, February 2006

On sunrises and sunsets

"Get outside. Watch the sunrise. Watch the sunset. How does that make you feel? Does it make you feel big or tiny? Because there's something good about feeling both."
Amy Grant
Note to self: Get outside more. Shoot more. Feel more. Sounds like a plan.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Orange you glad I didn't say banana?

I have a confession to make: I like to take pictures in grocery stores. Well, I like to take pictures pretty much everywhere, and of everything. But grocery stores have had a special appeal to me ever since I first realized I enjoyed looking at the world through the barrel of a lens.

Perhaps it's because of the sheer inappropriateness of it all. Grocery stores don't exist as ersatz studios for budding photographers. You're supposed to go in, get your food, pay for it, and get out. Spontaneous photo shoots aren't supposed to be part of the experience. Yet in my strange little world, they are.

I can't explain it now any better than I could when I first started pulling my camera out in the fruit-and-vegetable section. Maybe I should spend less time explaining and more time shooting.

In the meantime, here's a bunch of bananas. Because bananas are always up for a little optical adventure. The real question, however, is: Are you?

On tenacity and timing

"On the plains of hesitation lie the blackened bones of countless millions who at the dawn of victory lay down to rest, and in resting died."
Adlai E. Stevenson
In other words, never give up. Works for me.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Foggy tower

This is the transmitter behind the TV station. It's the tallest structure in the city, and I often find myself subconsciously looking for it when I'm out on my bike.

In engineering terms, it's a simple antenna. But in the mythology of the broadcast entity at its base - the building, the newsroom, the teams that support it, the people who make this place come alive and connect with viewers for hundreds of square miles around - it's often referred to in reverent tones as "The Big Stick."

Whenever I'm in the parking lot that sits in its shadow, I like to stand and listen to it. You can hear the wind as it makes its way through the guide wires and the open structure, an almost constant song that reminds you of the looming giant overhead. It almost feels alive. Given the amount of energy pulsing through it, it kind of is.

But on this day, when the cloud cover closed in and turned the top half into a foggy abstraction, it seemed strangely silent.

Didn't make it any less fascinating, mind you.

On the things that protect us

"There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children and the United States of America."
Otto von Bismarck

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Keep looking in the margins

The other night, I found myself in the parking lot of the TV station I call home. I had just finished my Sunday night tech segment and was on my way home. It had snowed earlier (see here) and the plows had thankfully already been here.

I often pause before I get into my car - or any vehicle, for that matter. I use these little slivers of time to think about where I am, where I'm headed, and why I'm out here in the first place. I close my eyes and wish for a safe journey. I try to freeze the moment in my mind. Because, you know, you just never know.

And as I paused on this clear, cold, snowy night, my eyes were drawn to the edges of the parking lot where the now-departed plows had left their piles of snow. I walked over to them and stared intently at the rugged surfaces. The looked like moonscapes, something a NASA probe might have beamed back. The otherworldly scene almost begged to be recorded in some way because a) it was otherworldly and b) it was destined to hang around only as long as fickle Canadian weather allowed.

As I tried to compose the most abstract-looking perspectives while simultaneously willing my exposed fingers to not freeze and/or drop my smartphone, I thought about the seeming ridiculousness of a spontaneous photo shoot in the furthest streetlit corner of an empty parking lot.

This was as close to the margins as I had been in a while, and the mere thought of it made me smile. Because that's where you see the stuff you might have otherwise missed. And where you learn why we all need to put life on hold every once in a while and poke around its edges for a bit. At the very least, you end up with pictures and stories to bring home.

I hope you'll try it, too.

On writing & tenacity

"A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit."
Richard Bach

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Stop and freeze the sky

The day dawns on campus
London, ON
January 2017
For more Thematic out the window, click here
This wasn't the right morning for a photo shoot. After a large weekend snowstorm (more on that here), followed by an epic rainfall yesterday afternoon and overnight, topped off by intense winds and a rapid drop in temperature, our fair city woke up covered in black ice this morning.

As the kinderlings needed to be dropped off at school, we needed to head out before sunrise. Being paranoid, I left lots of extra time in the schedule in case the car needed to be de-iced, or in case we needed to drive at 20 km/h to keep from sliding off the road. Thankfully the car was ice-free, the roads were better than expected, and we got to Fanshawe with lots of time to spare.

Which left me with a bit of extra time to get over to the office. And as I waved goodbye and turned my now-empty vehicle toward work, I noticed a lovely burst of salmon/pink light in the eastern sky. I figured life is short and you don't always get opportunities to remember moments like this, so I parked the car and reached for my camera.

The straight-on shots from the "real" camera were merely okay, but only after I got back to the car did I notice the reflection. My brain started to churn, and I thought a smartphone grab to Instagram was in order. Because if I was feeling inspired by the gathering day, I was pretty sure I wasn't the only one. Sharing the moment seemed like the most appropriate thing to do.

Your turn: Do you ever put the day on pause when inspiration presents itself? How do you "make" moments happen?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

On happiness and seasons

"People don't notice whether it's winter or summer when they're happy."
Anton Chekhov
Given the weather we've been having in this neck of the woods of late, I'm just going to quietly leave this one here.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Thematic Photographic 396 - Out the window

Scene from a studio
London, ON
January 2017
I was sitting in one of the studios at work today waiting for an interview to start when I decided to open the window blinds and let the light shine in. As you can see, it was - and remains - quite a grey day, but even when it's dull outside, any light makes such a huge difference in the space.

Before long, the phone rang and I had a delightful conversation with a host in Ottawa about the 10th anniversary of the iPhone's introduction (I wrote about it here.) Thinking way back to an iconic Steve Jobs moment made me happy, as did the opportunity to speak on-air with someone I admire and respect. Did the extra light add to the experience? Quite possibly.

It got me thinking that Out The Window would make a fine Thematic theme. So here we are...

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

The iPhone turns 10

Hard to believe it's been 10 years since Apple first unveiled the iPhone. Steve Jobs introduced the then-radical touch-based device for the first time 10 years ago today - January 9, 2007 - at the (now-defunct) Macworld convention at the Moscone Center in San Francisco. It was available in 4 and 8 gigabyte versions, and cost either $499 or $599 U.S.

On-stage at the keynote, Jobs said, "We're introducing three revolutionary products - an iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator. Are you getting it? These are not three separate devices. It's one device. We are calling it iPhone."

Not fully baked

It's easy to look at an iPhone today and take all of its features - from the mega-capable camera to the endless choice of apps - for granted. We shouldn't, because that first version was somewhat incomplete, and it took some time after its initial intro for the full vision to take shape.

In the beginning, there was no App Store - the device only ran the apps that came installed from the factory, and Jobs only reluctantly opened up the platform to third-party apps a year later. Canadians were out of luck for a year-and-a-half, as Rogers only started selling the second-generation iPhone 3G in July 2008.

The first iPhone had no camera - that came next year. The device was comically small by today's standards, and for much of the next decade Apple stubbornly trailed the industry's push toward steroid-injected big screens. Still, iPhones remained aspirational beyond their relative feature set, and whenever a new one was introduced, customers lined up around the block - often for days - for the privilege of being the first among their friends to have one. As an analyst, rarely have I witnessed a tech product so consistently cross over into mainstream news.

Rewriting the smartphone script

Smartphones existed then, of course, but the market was dominated by BlackBerry, Palm, Nokia, Motorola and Microsoft. Devices were expensive, clunky and mostly business-focused. Famously, BlackBerry and Microsoft dismissed the iPhone as a toy, saying its lack of a keyboard and design-centric focus on consumers left it dangerously unable to meet corporate needs. I wonder what Jim Balsillie and Steve Ballmer are thinking today.

History, of course, had the last laugh. While Apple didn't invent anything completely new, it took dead aim at the things that didn't work on the smartphones of the day and re-engineered its phone to address them. For example, existing smartphones were awful at displaying web pages - either they displayed stripped-down pages, took forever to load them, or failed to do so entirely. The iPhone introduced a multi-touch screen, pinch-to-zoom and a full-blown Safari browser that made pages just as accessible and usable on the phone as they were on a full-blown computer.

In all, most of the iPhone's features had been seen before, but on Apple's device they were better integrated than anything else on the market. Apple's "It Just Works" design methodology ensured anyone could get stuff done simply by taking the device out of the box and touching it. The concept of mobile devices as compromised penalty boxes died with the iPhone's introduction.

The result

Today's iPhone is now a fixture in boardrooms, dorm rooms, kitchens and everywhere else. BlackBerry has an almost-invisible global market share and no longer designs or makes its own devices. Nokia imploded, was bought by Microsoft, which then single-handedly ran the business into the ground and wrote the acquisition down by a staggering $8 billion. HP bought Palm, then shuttered it. Motorola floundered for a while before being absorbed by Lenovo.

Google's Android mobile operating system was already in development at the time of the iPhone release, but early prototypes largely echoed the BlackBerry user experience. The arrival of the iPhone forced Google to completely overhaul its roadmap for Android, and it ultimately became a me-too, touch-based, app-driven operating system.

Pillar of a new ecosystem

The iPhone almost single-handedly drove Apple's growth for much of the last decade, and is now responsible for 2 out of every 3 dollars in revenue. Its technology also laid the foundation for Apple's broader mobile ecosystem, namely the iPad and Apple Watch.

The iOS operating system was extended to accommodate the larger-screened devices - a crucial factor in driving early consumer acceptance and adoption of tablets, as it used familiarity to overcome longstanding market doubts about the viability of tablets - and then shrunken down to enable the Watch OS code for the smaller-screened wearables. iOS was also extended to the Apple TV product line, with its tvOS operating system using a similar app-centric architecture to build a marketplace and attract innovation.

Clouds gather

Fast-forward to 2017, however, and things aren't so rosy in iPhone-land. Sales have slowed over the past 2 years thanks to a maturing smartphone market and accelerating competition from Android (which in 2016 accounted for 86% of handset sales, up from 80% in 2015), Apple is under pressure from investors and analysts to find the Next Big Thing to fuel its next chapter, and repeated misfires (iPad sales are slowing, Apple Watch sales lead the smartwatch segment, but still haven't broken out, its TV-based revenues are languishing, and the latest Macs are being criticized for their elevated price and ahead-of-their-time connectivity) have left observers wondering if we've already seen Peak Apple.

My $0.02: While Apple's next chapter may still be something of a blank page, it's difficult to imagine the company would be anywhere near as dominant as it is if it hadn't introduced the iPhone 10 years ago. It very much was one of those magical once-in-a-very-long-while products that completely changes the rules of the game. Sometimes, though, it isn't 100% obvious on day 1.

Related readings:
Related Blog Entries:

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Where we take a walk in the snow

My ladies
London, ON
January 2017
When my wife suggests we take a walk in the middle of a raging blizzard, I'm not one to disagree.

Truth be told, I miss walking. Without a dog to force me out of the house at regular intervals, I admit I've taken the easy way out and slacked off these past few weeks.

So when she shared her plans, I didn't hesitate. The winds were howling and as you can see, the snow was falling at a furious pace, adding to the thick layer already on the ground.

But we're Canadian, I thought. And this would be one of those moments we'd remember.

More on Instagram
She was right. My memories - beyond a bunch of pictures taken hurriedly on smartphones before stuffing them back into dry pockets and putting our gloves and mitts on before our fingers lost feeling due to the cold - revolve mostly around their happy voices cutting through the wind and layers of wool hat wrapping my head.

We retraced the same route we used to follow with the pup, in conditions that doubtless would have had him bouncing crazily through the snow, stopping often to bury his head deep as he shnorkeled loudly and happily. I never did quite figure out what he was looking for as he buried his head so far into the snow that his ears needed a brush-off when he was done, but I smiled to myself as I thought that today was a good day to get back out and embrace whatever it was that Mother Nature chose to throw at us.

Today may have created an indelible memory for all of us, but all I could think of as we stepped back into the house and hacked away at the snow that had accumulated on us was how soon we'd get to do it again.

I'm thinking tomorrow night. And maybe every night thereafter. If you're in the neighborhood, you're always welcome to join in.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Back to the laundromat

Broken, maybe
London, ON
December 2016
For more letter-themed Thematic, head here
A little over seven years after our first trip to this unassuming laundromat near the corner of Oxford and Adelaide in the middle of London, we found ourselves here again. The reason, just like the last time, was the same: Our regular washing machine had broken, and we needed to make a dent in the growing pile of laundry before the new one was scheduled to be delivered.

We'll save my complaints around why a state-of-the-art washing machine lasts only seven years before chewing itself up from the inside out. But suffice to say we won't be buying Samsung anytime again.

My annoyance with today's throwaway culture notwithstanding, I relished the opportunity to get back here with my wife. First, I like hanging around with her. And while it may not be a fancy restaurant or tropical beach, a date is a date is a date. You take your moments wherever you can get them, even in a place festooned with hastily handwritten and taped signs, ancient machines and cracked and yellowed floor tiles that probably looked out of date when Nixon was learning to lie.

Second, the things that make this place look downtrodden are exactly why it's such a fascinating space to explore. We had such a good time the last time that it seemed almost poetic to be writing a second, albeit abbreviated, chapter seven years on.

More to come from the laundromat.


Wednesday, January 04, 2017

On the ultimate definition of photography

"Photography is a love affair with life."
Burk Uzzle

Russian hackers target Canada

The news cycle has a funny way of rewriting my schedule. This one's a doozy.

I got an email yesterday from the news team at CTV Toronto. They were working on an exclusive story and wanted my take. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security in the U.S. had released a big list of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses that they suspected of having been used by Russian hackers in their attempts to break into systems owned by the Democratic National Committee. The story has been swirling for months that state-sponsored Russian hackers had been trying to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election by engaging in cybercrime against electoral targets. (And, no, despite what Donald Trump says, we can't simply "go on with our lives." This stuff is important, and we're all at risk if we simply do nothing.)

The list released by the FBI/DHS contained some 900 so-called malicious IP addresses that were allegedly targeted by the hackers. Six of those IP addresses were traced to Canada. One of them was traced to HydroOne, the huge electric utility that serves the province of Ontario. Ruh roh!

What's the deal with IP addresses, anyway? Each IP address typically corresponds to a unique Internet-connected device, like a laptop, a server, or possibly even an Internet-connected smart device. Every Internet-connected device has a unique IP address, and everything we do online has that IP address attached to it. Send an e-mail, and that IP address is included in the package. Tweet someone? Post a Facebook status update? All of these activities have an IP address embedded in them, and assuming you know where to look, you can easily track the activity right back to its source.

Except hackers don't much like having their activities traced back to them. So instead of using their OWN computers to launch attacks, they hunt around online looking for devices and computers with weak security. And when they find them, they install malware on them that lets them remotely take over the machine - often without the owner's knowledge. Are you a victim? Well, if you don't use updated security software, are always clicking on unknown links from friends and strangers alike in Facebook, use the same easy-to-guess password on multiple systems and haven't changed your passwords in ages, there's a reasonable chance that your computer has at least some malware on it.

The good news: it doesn't look like the Russian hackers were directly targeting the electric utility, and they weren't trying to break into any nuclear generating stations, either (Good...I'll cancel that earlier ruh roh.) Rather, they were targeting weak systems with malware that would then give them a jumping-off point for further attacks - and would make it difficult for those attacks to be traced back to their original source. It's classic hacker methodology: Probe into vulnerable systems, implant malicious code on them, then springboard from there. Sometimes these victimized networks are called "zombie nets", and we often see them used in those big Distributed Denial of Service attacks.

The bad news: Hydro One's security protocols are woefully inadequate if they allow one of their systems - it could be a laptop, a server or some other computing device - to be compromised in this way. Just like you and I have to keep our security software updated and can't click on every link we see in Facebook lest we get our machines infected with malware, likewise Hydro One failed to ensure its own systems were similarly protected. Someone's got some 'splaining to do. And the fact that Hydro One is among those victimized reinforces to us yet again that no one, and nothing, is safe.

As you can imagine, thanks to some faceless Russians and an apparently asleep-at-the-switch electric utility employee, I've been a bit busy on the media front explaining this one.

CTV National News led with the story, and my clip was included at the top of the show (link here), and in Senior Political Correspondent Glen McGregor's report (link here). CTV Toronto's Paul Bliss broke the story in Toronto, and his report is here. The main story on CTVnews.ca is here:
Exclusive: IP address at Ontario power utility linked to alleged Russian hacking

I spoke live with CTV News Channel's Scott Laurie last night, and am scheduled for another hit with the network this morning at 9 ET. I spoke with Newstalk 1010's John Moore at 5:47 and am live again with CKTB Niagara's Tim Denis at 6:50. I expect more of the same as the fallout from this highly disturbing chapter in digital vulnerability to continue to ripple out.

It makes for early mornings, late nights and long days in between, but it's quite the experience to be right in the middle of the media storms like this one - and to be the guy who tries to sort it all out.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Thematic Photographic 395 - Letters

Old school writing machine
London, ON
September 2016
The scene: Museum London. I had come here with our youngest son so he could do some research for a school assignment. As we looked for potential themes that matched the syllabus, we came across this delightful old typewriter sitting inside a brilliantly lit glass cube. All I had was my smartphone, but I still wanted to commit it to pixels in some reasonable way.

As you can see, the light presented quite the challenge, as there was no way to avoid getting some sort of shadow in the shot. In the end, I decided to embrace it, and the result is what you see here.

Your turn: Take a photo that reflects, supports or otherwise evokes this week's theme, letters. Post it to your blog, website or social media presence (yes, even Facebook will count!) and leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to see what they're up to, as well, and don't be hashtag-shy, either: #ThematicPhotographic is how we roll. If you'd like to learn more about how Thematic works, click here. Most of all, have fun with it. Because photography is supposed to be fun, and I'm hoping we can get back to that in the year to come. Looking forward to the journey!

On embracing our broken world

"If there was nothing wrong in the world, there wouldn't be anything for us to do."
George Bernard Shaw
It's easy to absorb the headlines and assume the world is an awful place. It's just as easy to conclude we're powerless to change our individual or collective reality. Words like these remind me - and hopefully you - that this need not be the case.

Just like we need darkness to appreciate light, and failure to know what success feels like, a perfect world wouldn't offer up any opportunities to advance the state-of-the-art, or learn anything along the way.

Into the darkness. Eyes wide open. Who's with me?

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Listen to the mug

Message in ceramic
London, ON
December 2016
This is a picture of my wife's mug, and I often linger over it if I happen to be the one who's filling it. It's a simple message, but one that seems to define who we are and how we've chosen to live our life together.

Life isn't always easy, and it doesn't always follow a linear or predictable path. But as long as we know this one basic fact, all those other challenges somehow seem to pale in comparison. And everything more or less works out for the better.

I know she doesn't need her mug to remind her of this. But I'm still glad we have a concrete reminder right in front of us every morning. Because I'd hate to miss an opportunity to let her know what's floating through my head.

Your turn: Got a favorite mug? What story does it tell?

This photo was originally shared on Instagram. For more photos, visit/follow me here: