Monday, July 17, 2017

Thematic Photographic 414 - Knobs & Dials

Only in a Jeep
London, ON
April 2017
As touchscreens rapidly take over from traditional controls in everything from cars to kitchen appliances, it's only a matter of time before we've pressed our last button or twisted our final dial. I've never been one to stand in the way of technological progress - indeed, my career has been largely based on tech - but I fear we're losing something along the way.

There's a tactility to traditional knobs, dials, switches and other analog controls that no touchscreen can ever replace. When you're at the wheel and you want to bump up the fan speed, you can easily do it by feel if your HVAC system uses a big old manual control. You control it with little more than subconscious muscle memory while the rest of you tends to the very important task of keeping the car between the lines.

I love my touchscreens, but they simply can't pull that off. So when I saw this mode control dial in one of the Jeeps from the work fleet, I had to shoot it. Because no one really knows when this, too, will exist only in software.

Your turn: Take a picture and post it to your blog or website - or use one you've already taken and/or uploaded - that evokes this week's theme, Knobs & Dials. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it, and visit other participants to spread the photographic joy. Feel free to visit and contribute again throughout the week. And have fun, because Thematic is all about fun. For more background on how Thematic works, head here. Thanks, gang!

Sunday, July 09, 2017

On truth

"The truth is like a lion. You don't have to defend it. Let it loose. It will defend itself."
St. Augustine

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Could have been. Would have been.

This furry being was born 11 years ago today. We sadly lost him last December, but that's the wonder of being dog people: In a whole lot of ways they never really leave you.

We brought Calli into our home just over a week ago, and hardly a moment goes by as I watch her that I don't see some echo of Frasier. From the way she sticks her hind legs straight back when she lies down, to her bouncy, not-quite-straight walk, and a spirit that I can only describe as a mixture of scrappiness and sweetness, she's every bit the schnauzer that he was, and just as deeply embedded into the fabric of our family.

We miss you, buddy, and will never stop seeing snippets of you in every corner of our home and lives.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The family grows by one, again

My name is Calli, Calli Levy
Stratford, ON
June 2017
As many of you may know, it's been just over six months since we said goodbye to our beloved pup, Frasier. The house has been quiet ever since. Too quiet, even. I miss the walks, the waking up to a sleepy schnauzer at my feet, the coming home to a bouncing furball whose only reason for existence is to spread joy to his people. We all miss these moments, and it hasn't been easy adjusting to life without his wacky presence.

I guess that makes us dog people, and it's a label we wear proudly. It isn't convenient, cost-effective or logical to own a dog. Yet we do. Because life otherwise seems a little less complete, a little less rich.

So after much discussion within our family, we decided to bring another pup into our home. The munchkin in the photo above is Calli - full name Calli Finn (short for Finnegan, of Mr. Dressup sock-puppet fame, because I'm weird like that.) Like Frasier, she's a miniature schnauzer. She was born May 9th, and we brought her home earlier this afternoon. Here's what she looked like when she was two weeks old. For more pics, follow her on Instagram.

We don't speak dog, so we couldn't really talk about her day with her before we tucked her into her new crate with her now-favorite toys (Eeyore is in the early lead) and watched her instantly drop into a deep sleep. But if she could talk, she'd probably tell us about what a tough day it was for her. About how she was taken by strange new people to a strange new place. I worried about that on the drive home. I hope she saw the day as a good one, as the beginning of an exciting new chapter in what we fervently hope is a happy, healthy and fun-filled life. I hope she knows how much we already love her.

We're pretty sure the next few days, weeks and months will be sleep-deprived, mess-filled and generally chaotic as she adjusts to us and we do the same with her. I say this not because we cherish sleep or a perfectly neat house, because in my book that's not what qualifies as a life well lived. I'd gladly give up some zees in exchange for watching our kids continue to grow as people. Our first dog taught them so much about life and responsibility as they rose to the challenge of managing his diabetes. Whatever the future holds for Calli, I know she'll find some way to carve herself into their lives, as well. Because dogs make us better people. They make our kids better people, too.

Welcome to the family, little one. We can't wait to see what adventures await us all.

Your turn: Why do we love dogs as much as we do?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

13 years + 1 day

Yesterday was this blog's 13th birthday* - or its bar mitzvah, if you're into that sort of thing. Which I was, once, but no longer am, as it's been a while since I was 13. But I digress.

Yes, the blog. About that...

I started it before Facebook was a thing. The now-dominant social media giant existed on June 26, 2004, of course, but it was still The Facebook, an embryonic Web 2.0 experiment that classmates used as a digital hot-or-not service. Mere mortals still didn't have access. It was two years before Twitter launched, before social media was really on our radar. Before the iPhone. Sure, some suits carried BlackBerrys, but they were only about email and messaging back then.

It was a radically different digital world, and blogging took the then-unidimensional web (surf, read, repeat) and gave everyday folks their own platform, their own voice.

The rapid encroachment of all the things I mentioned above - and then some - has in a few short years transformed the blog from what was once a sign of digital savviness to a quaint relic of a bygone time when we put an i before everything and a number - 1.0, 2.0 - after everything.

Quaint as it has become, however, I continue to write here because for all its network-based power, Facebook is ephemeral, and not something that is distinctly ours. What we post there is quickly absorbed into the past in a fast-moving timeline stuffed with ads, memes, Candy Crush top scores and conspiracy theories from folks you once loathed in high school and now, thanks to social media, loathe even more. Facebook is a busy place, where the vast majority of people who know tend to hang out. But it isn't ours. Or mine. It's like a busy airport terminal: Hardly a place you can call your own.

Likewise, Twitter is too limited, too filled with bullies and trolls. Snapchat is where the kids hang out, and whatever we write will disappear in 10 seconds, anyway. As you go further down the list - to WhatsApp, Pinterest, LinkedIn and beyond - you get deeper into unique online sub-groups that further accentuate the modern mobile/social Internet's splintering effect.

Which leaves the doddering old blog, where the number of comments in a month might equal what once flowed in before lunch. But compared to today's far busier social platforms now represents something of a quiet spot from which we can watch the chaos unfold.

Thirteen years on, the wonderful relationships I've formed through this blog continue in many forms - often on alternative platforms - and I sometimes wish we could rewind the clock to the days when this form of communication dominated the online landscape. But as I've said so many times before, technology moves in only one direction, and it's up to us to either adapt or fall off the back of the treadmill. This blog, like all blogs, may no longer be current, leading-edge or as uniquely relevant as it was back in 2004. But it's still my quiet little corner in a tumultuous online (and real) world, and I can't imagine not having this place to return to when I need a little word-based balancing between my ears.

Thank you for joining me on the journey, and thank you for keeping the flickering embers alive. To 120 for us all...

--
Related:
And so it begins (June 26, 2004)
Thrice around the sun (June 26, 2007)
10 times around the sun (June 26, 2014)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Thematic Photographic 413 - Pretty in Pink

My ride
Dorchester, ON
May 2017
Behold my brightly-colored bicycle. It's a Specialized StumpJumper Comp that I've had for longer than I dare admit. I'm not really about things, as I don't tend to covet physical objects or use them to define who I am in the eyes of others. But I love this bike. It fits me. It feels like it was made for me, and riding it - to/from work, or wandering the hinterlands that surround our town - is an indescribably joy because of this well-made-yet-simple machine. I'll never understand why Specialized painted a men's bike in burn-your-eyes pink, but I'm glad they did, because it makes me smile every time I walk up to it.

Sometimes when I go somewhere, I'll take a picture of it in all its imperfect, dirty glory. Here, it's parked on a bridge over the Thames River in a lovely little town east of London. This was my first stretch-the-distance ride, where instead of riding in loops close to home I instead ventured further into the countryside. As I get deeper into the season, the distances get further and the rides get harder. But as long as I have this lovely pink thing - and a moment or two at the turnaround point to grab some pixels to remember the moment - I know I'll always find my way back home.

With this in mind, let's celebrate all things pink for this week's Thematic. If it's any shade of this fab color, it's time to shoot a picture and share it. Who's with me?

Your turn: Take a pic that suggests or evokes this week's theme, Pretty in Pink, and post it to your blog or website. Alternatively, find a pic you've already taken and/or posted. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants to spread the photographic joy. And pop back again through the week to add additional pics as they occur to you. Head here for more background on how Thematic works. And please accept my thanks for making this little weekly photo-exploration exercise of ours such a joy.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Drop the pen. Pick it up again.

So Eeyore, a lamb and a panda walk into a bar...
London, ON
June 2017
So it's been a while since I wrote anything new here, and given the fact that Written Inc. celebrates its bar mitzvah tomorrow (13! An adult!) I thought now would be a reasonable time to a) pick the pen back up and b) explain why I put it down in the first place.

Quite simply, I haven't much felt like writing. We've had a lot on the go within my family - nothing terrible or earth-shattering, but intense enough that sitting down for regular keyboard-mashing sessions no longer topped the daily priority list. In other words, life happened, and it demanded our full attention. So rather than force myself to squeeze some words out that probably wouldn't have felt right, I decided relative silence was the preferred path. It's not like I wasn't creating, mind you, as I continued to post photos to my Instagram account - which then automatically ended up on my Facebook and Twitter streams, too. Awesome how technology works, isn't it?

But there's a world of difference between fast-sharing a pic from your smartphone and taking the time to write something. And I was a writer before I was anything else. So while I think it was good for my writer's soul to be a non-writer for a bit, I suspect now it's time to fish the proverbial pen out of its shadowy nook in the far corner of my desk and use it for its intended purpose. Silence isn't meant to last forever, after all, and there's a lot of interesting stuff on the way over the next few days, weeks and months. Thanks for your patience.

Oh yes, about this somewhat oddball picture: I'm the one who chose the panda, while the kids chose Eeyore (always my fave 100 Acre Wood resident) and the lamb. They sit, among way too many other stuffed toys, in a small-ish bin at the bottom landing of the stairs, just beside our living room. They're dog toys, and we bring Calli Finn home this Thursday*. The house has been too quiet for too long. It's time to start telling new stories, and celebrating new beginnings.

Your turn: What else should I write about in the days to come?

*Here's what she looked like the day we picked her out. She's a bit bigger now.

Friday, June 16, 2017

On Carl Sagan and the technological mess we've created

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

Monday, May 15, 2017

Thematic Photographic 412 - Architecture

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

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

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

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Sitting in the subway late at night

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

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

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

Related: This photo on Instagram.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

On reading - and life

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

Saturday, May 06, 2017

The 10 things I HATE about social media

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

On making the world a happier place

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

Monday, May 01, 2017

Thematic Photographic 411 - Gardens Galore

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

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

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

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

On volunteerism and Muhammad Ali

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