Monday, April 24, 2017

Thematic Photographic 410 - Reflections

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

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

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

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

On questions vs. answers

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

Fitbit saves woman's life

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Facebook Killer: Who's responsible?

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

Thematic Photographic 409 - Stuff you find in the basement

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

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

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

Monday, April 10, 2017

Thematic Photographic 408 - Orange

Multicolored
London, ON
April 2017
This week's Thematic theme, orange, marks a return to the world of colors. My brain was having difficulty processing the scene you see above, because it never dawned on me that carrots could be anything but orange in color. I guess I need to get out more.

Your turn: Shoot something orange. Or something that suggests orange. Or makes you think of orange. Share it on your blog or website, then pop into the comments here and let everyone else know where to find it. Visit other participants and feel free to post more from your collection later in the week. For more info on how Thematic works, follow this link home. And enjoy! Because that's why we do this!

On the subtle difference between "won't" and "can't"

"A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read."
Mark Twain

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Lake Carmi, for real

My very own body of water
London, ON
April 2017
I have this thing about old t-shirts: I just can't get rid of them. Much to my incredibly patient wife's consternation, I keep them around long after they're no longer wearable. They may have yellowed with age, or simply been worn down to mere threads from overuse, but still I keep them in my drawer. I guess I do so because t-shirts can often be signposts of the lives we've lived so far, triggers to memories that would otherwise be lost to time.

Exhibit A, the Lake Carmi t-shirt you see here. I've had it for decades. I couldn't have been older than 5 or 6 when my parents detoured the car off the highway and found this out-of-the-way place that magically shared my name. As a child with an incredibly off-mainstream name, it was a mindblowing experience to get out of the car and walk across a dusty parking lot where all the signs pointed to me. Being the baby of the family, it was the one time I got something uniquely mine, not a hand-me-down.

I wasn't really a fan of my name when I was a child. It singled me out, gave bullies something to hang onto, and was even a point of contention for friends when we had our inevitable children's arguments.

As a journalist in the Age of Google, my attitude has softened somewhat. It's helped me build a brand in a way that simply wouldn't have been possible had I been given a more common name. Everyone knows who this guy Carmi is - and most of the time in my line of work, that's a pretty good thing. Except, of course, when they disagree with me. But it's a risk I'm willing to take - and it's all part of the fun of being me.

Sometimes I wonder if that moment in the parking lot marked the inflection point where I began to change my mind, where "Carmi" became more of a benefit than a liability. Either way, the t-shirt may be yellowed with time, and so small that is barely fits the teddy bear I bought my wife when we first started dating. But I just can't leave it behind.

Your turn: Got an old piece of clothing that you just can't bear to get rid of?

Related:


Monday, April 03, 2017

Thematic Photographic 407 - Picture of a picture

Lookin' at my shoes
March 2017
London, ON
Look really closely at the card on the wall. Our daughter took this pic of her very photogenic pair of sneakers, and this was one of four of her photos on display her school's photo exhibit last month.

Many things come to mind when I see this shot. First and foremost, she's really talented. She sees things in ways unique to her, and she has the technical and artistic chops to capture the scene and tell the story. Her portfolio is a delight, and I say that not as a biased dad, but as someone who appreciates this kind of creativity.

This is also a picture of a picture, which not all that coincidentally is this week's theme. Sometimes the context of a photo or a scene becomes the story, as it did here on this important night in the life of a young artist. I often think about where and how a given work is seen or otherwise consumed, and what goes through the minds of those doing the consuming.

For the next week, that's what we'll focus on, as well.

Your turn: Take a picture of a picture, then share it on your blog, website or social media presence. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it, then visit other participants to share in the fun. Want to post another pic later in the week or bring a friend along for the ride? We'd love that, too. Thematic's rules, such as they are, are here. Otherwise, happy shooting, and thanks!

Related: Dahlia Levy Photography on Instagram

On the importance of maintenance

"Another flaw in the human character is that everyone wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance."
Kurt Vonnegut

Saturday, April 01, 2017

The story behind these essential oils

Cook some memories with me
Thornhill, ON
March 2017
The scene: The Sobeys grocery store in Thornhill, Ontario. The store sits in an otherwise unassuming strip mall at the corner of Clark and Hilda, and it isn't exactly walking distance from our house. In fact, it's a 210 km drive. Why the hell would we drive two hours to fetch groceries? Good question. Turns out there's a story here.

See, London is a lovely town, and we love living there for a lot of reasons. The small, tightly connected Jewish community is one of them. We're not religious in the black-coat-wearing, long-bearded, memorize-every-last-prayer kind of way. By those standards, I'm a complete heathen. But the cultures and traditions of who we are? They're everything to us, and thanks to my wife, our home is filled with them.

Unfortunately, being a small Jewish community can sometimes make it difficult to find kosher food. In a small-j-Jewish-community town like London, you have to know where to look. Again, I'm never going to win awards for Most Kosher Jew of All-Time, but my wife keeps our home Kosher, and come Passover time - happens around the same time as Easter - we eat Kosher for Passover food for the duration of the holiday.

If finding regular Kosher food all year is a tough sled, then upping the Kosher game for Passover is an even more specialized art. Bottom line: some London grocers bring in Kosher for Passover stuff, but Toronto's relatively huge Jewish community means they'll have a lot more of it there.

So my wife and I have evolved an annual tradition of sorts: a few weeks before Passover starts, we drive to Toronto on a given Sunday morning and buy groceries we might not otherwise find in London later on. We make a day of it, often bumping into folks we know in the store before we load up the car and grab lunch at a beloved resto or bakery. It's one of those simple things we do that seems to feel right - mundane to the outside world, but uniquely ours.

Along the way, I take pictures, I muse openly about the strange products available here - Baby Fingers! - and I try to slow the day down so that I'll remember later on why moments like this can be so special.

I took this picture with an arguing Israeli family on one side, and a quietly-chatting middle-aged Toronto couple on the other. I figured while they were all busy with the Very Serious Business of Passover shopping, I had a few precious seconds to compose the scene and be done with it.

I wasn't fast enough. As I lined up the shot, I heard a sudden silence as they all stopped their conversations, turned toward me and stared. I guess they had never seen anyone shoot canola oil before. I finished shooting, then turned to them and smiled. "I'm from London. We take pictures there when we shop. Give it a try: You have lovely oil."

They laughed the kind of laugh that connects strangers who aren't really strangers anymore, and before I knew it, I was tucking my smartphone back into my pocket and looking for my wife. I found her a few minutes later, and by then the tone of the day was yet again fused into my long-term memory.

In the end, this photo is just another two-dimensional assembly of pixels captured by an optical sensor and stored on a memory card. But it's the story behind it - and every one like it that I've taken over the years - that reminds me why it matters so much to pay attention to the stories of our lives, and to take the time to share them afterward. Otherwise, all we're doing is looking at oil in a crowded grocery store.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Solving distracted driving, one idiot at a time

The scene: Wharncliffe Boulevard northbound, 6:10 p.m. yesterday. I find myself sitting at the front of a long line of traffic, at the red light at the Riverside Boulevard intersection. I'm in the right lane, and I can smell the Mexican-food dinners being cooked up at the beloved Under the Volcano restaurant that looms over the sidewalk across the road to the west.

In my rearview, an endless line of idling cars, plus one motorcyclist just behind my bumper. To my left, a middle-aged woman in a black, late-model Honda Accord, Ontario plate BWFY 954. Her head is in the now-obvious tilted-down position, and her hands are nowhere to be seen. She's either praying to an unseen god, or she's texting. Within seconds, I conclude the latter, as she starts smiling to herself, clearly engaged in a silent conversation through her fingers. I figure I'll have fun with her because, hey, what else is there to do at a red light?

So I keep staring at her, watching her facial expressions continue to cycle through smiles, laughs, crinkled brows and intense focus. It would be a fascinating observation of human behaviour if she was sitting on a park bench. But she isn't. She's in control of a 3,336 pound vehicle. And while she may think she's fine because she's sitting at a red light, research has already proven that red-light-texters are, in fact, compromised for up to 30 seconds after the light turns green. I think of the motorcyclist behind me, and how he doesn't deserve to be pancaked by anyone, much less someone who just couldn't wait to get home to text-chat with her BFF, and absolutely, positively, had to use her phone on the road.

I stare some more. It's always been a super-long light, so I know I've got lots of time to play with. Eventually, she turns toward me and realizes what I'm up to. Her shoulders jump in surprise. I smile impassively before I slowly shake my head from side to side. I say nothing - she wouldn't hear me through two panes of glass, anyway. She stares back with a blank look on her face, and it occurs to me that she may still not understand. I make a phone-to-my-ear gesture, followed by a down gesture. She turns her head back to the front of the car, puts both hands on the steering wheel and spends the rest of the cycle frozen in time and space, probably hoping I go away forever.

Eventually, the light turned green, and thanks to the yin and yang of rush-hour traffic, she ended up shadowing me for much of the next couple of kilometres before I had to turn off. From what I could see, she behaved herself, but I'm pretty sure I'm off her Christmas card list for good.

A few months ago, I was talking about distracted driving on-air with Andy Oudman, host of CJBK's The Live Drive. I was ranting about how rampant distracted driving has become, how we've become surrounded by driver-seat texters, that this has become our new, seemingly acceptable normal.

Except it isn't normal. And it should never be acceptable. So we vowed that day to go public every time we saw it play out on the roads. We've continued to discuss it on-air - because, let's face it, it's getting worse - and this blog entry is my attempt at escalating the campaign in a different way. Vehicle descriptions, license numbers, behaviours - if I see it, I'm outing it.

Whether you're this particular Honda-driving woman, or anyone else who texts at the wheel, your presumption of privacy disappears the instant you pull your vehicle onto a public road and decide to put everyone around you at risk. It may not bother you, but it bothers me. And I'm done being silent or polite about it.

Who's with me?

Update - March 29: If you'd like to contact the London Police Service's Traffic Management Unit, head here: https://www.londonpolice.ca/en/crime-prevention/Ask-a-traffic-question.aspx

Update - March 30: I saw another offender on the way home today. Here's the lowdown: 5:29 p.m., Wellington northbound, corner Commissioners, in the left-hand turning lane. A 2015 of 2016 Honda CR-V covered from head-to-toe in Pizza Pizza graphics (I kid you not) with Ontario plate BXRT 553. Driver was busy on his phone at the red light. I stared a bit. He noticed. Texted some more, then thought twice. Placed the phone back in its holster in the middle of the dash. Smiled and waved at me as the light turned green and he drove away. Sure, he was friendly and realized the error of his ways. But he nevertheless put everyone around him at risk, hence my mentioning the incident here.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Thematic Photographic 406 - Electrical & Infrastructure

What keeps this place alive
London, ON
February 2017
I have a number of odd habits, one of which revolves around looking into the shadowy corners of quiet rooms in the vague hope that I'll see something no one else has noticed. Sure, maybe we see this stuff all the time, but do we really see it? Take the time to think about it a little?

Probably not. Hence the photo above. I don't even know what it is, but I know it plays a role in my day-to-day life. It's a switchbox on a back wall in one of the studios I use at the TV station. I'm pretty sure if this thing wasn't here, I wouldn't be going on-air. So, thank you little ignored box of stuff. And thank you to the gifted people in this place who make it all work. I'd be nowhere without them.

Your turn: This week's Thematic theme is electrical and infrastructure, because even the everyday and the forgotten can be photographically compelling. Take a photo that evokes, suggests or reflects this week's theme, then post it to your blog, website or social media account. Leave a comment here to let folks know where to find it, then drop by other participants to share the photographic joy. Bring a friend, and drop by later in the week to see what everyone's up to. For more info on how Thematic works, head here. Thanks gang!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

On cancer, knees, and feet

"Cancer didn't bring me to my knees, it brought me to my feet."
Michael Douglas
I'm pretty sure I think about health more than is optimally healthy. I always worry about it. About losing it. About not being here. Or, worse, about being here and not being able to truly live. I'm not ashamed to admit that this fear, this sense of worry, never really leaves me. It's isn't quite a Sword of Damocles. More like a constant awareness of how thin that margin can be. And it defines pretty much every waking moment.

As a writer, I often look for words - other people's words, or ones I craft inside my still-functioning brain - to hold onto. These, I'll hold onto. Because while many of us will find ourselves on the wrong end of some kind of major disease or health scare, it's what we do afterward that truly defines who we are.