…on content

Keep Austin Weird

Cowgirl on 6th ave. Photo by Dave Carpenter

Well I completed a bucket list item last week. Two actually: 1) Visiting Austin 2) Attending South By SouthWest.

The interactive portion of the conference I attended managed to live up to its billing – chalk-a-block with creativity, innovation and an exuberent belief that technology can change the world for the better, or at least for the funner. The endless free drinks, heaping bbq, wandering into a live Spoon concert, and snagging a t-shirt at the Pied Piper booth at the Mashable House didn’t hurt either.

What may remain with me most though, was my wander through downtown Austin the night before the conference kicked off. A taste of the real Austin before the rest of the world fully descended upon it. It’s a charmingly odd place, and people from Austin seem to happily embrace it. You see the ‘Keep Austin Weird’ slogan on t-shirts and bumper stickers all over.

The city definitely has its contingent of eccentrics from what I can tell, but when they say they want to keep the city weird, I think what they mean is they want to keep Austin from changing into a bigger, more generic version of itself. Weird in the context of Austin really means integrity, and a rallying cry for a liberal enclave amid republican Texas. To have the integrity to embrace endless free music on the 6th street, from honky tonk to crunk. The singularly unique experience of being able to walk up to virtually anyone, ask directions, and find yourself 5 minutes later in the middle of a friendly conversation over a beer and BBQ at Stubb’s (this happened).

Southern Rock on 6th avenue, Austin Texas. Photo by Dave Carpenter.

Austin has a lot more going for it too in a practical sense. The University of Texas is here. The tech industry is bustling. It’s become a beacon for American upper-middle-class hipsters alongside the likes of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Ironically, that may spell the downfall of its true inner weirdness as it’s now one of the fastest growing cities in the US. .

Let’s hope it can still stay weird for a little while longer.

Larry Singleton, United States Marine Corps and friends with Willie Nelson. Photo by Dave Carpenter.

Where have you gone, Katie Couric?

When Katie Couric left for Yahoo! last year, it seemed to herald a series of blows to broadcast news that hit hardest these past few weeks. TV news vet Bob Simon passed, Brian Williams fell from grace and John Stewart announced he’s leaving the Daily Show. My mother asked me a while back who my favourite news anchor was. She thought I was joking when I said Stewart.

In a way, though, it’s easier for John Stewart to win the best anchor award because of his parent company’s revenue model. Stewart’s job is to entertain cable subscribers, who provide most of The Comedy Network’s revenue, which gives him more latitude to shine a light, and his talent, on the real story behind the headlines, and the news makers themselves. Fox and CNN are in the business of pleasing brands first, who are courting particular demographics via ads. I wonder if Fox’s personalities aren’t chuckling right along with Stewart’s barbs at the Fair & Balanced news network. You’ve got to think at least some of them are aware of the game.

But the game isn’t paying off like it used to. Broadcast news ratings have tanked for years, giving rise to the type of desperate, ratings-grabbing journalism that feels more like a bad Hollywood script. If only those downed Asian planes had snakes on them too.

Media blogger Jeff Jarvis raises a lot of admirable points when he recently railed against the current state of the evening news. Jarvis calls on NBC news to use Brian William’s 6 month shame-cation as an opportunity to throw the tired-old script away and report on unique and nuanced stories that encapsulate the broader issues of the day. Sound overly optimistic? That’s pretty much the template for the news arm of Vice, the multi-platform media darling with a ton of eyeballs (sans-cataracts) whose value Rupert Murdoch himself pegged at $1.4 billion.

And platform may present an even bigger issue for broadcast news than authenticity. Even if television news changed up the script to court an audience that’s not currently in the process of dying, would a generation of millennials, weened on ‘mobile-first’ social-media powered news entities such as Vice, Buzzfeed and Business Insider even notice?

As a Gen X-er I’m caught in the middle, wistful for 60 Minutes and the New York Times in print, but young enough too have succumbed to the lure of technology that births a raging river of instant news choices in the palm of my hand. I’m not sure who wins now that the future truly seems in the here and now, but I think the broadcast news script is already written.


Just polished off my post-superbowl adventure on Storehouse . What a crazy night. Used to seek this kind of thing with my pals in university, fuelled by youth and a case of beer. Astoundingly, I chose to head out into last Sunday’s storm sober as judge, minus the wisdom.

The Beach in Toronto's east end on a very snowy night. Photo by Dave Carpenter.
The Beach in Toronto’s east end on a very snowy night.
Photo by Dave Carpenter.

Art Deco at The End of the World

RC Harris Treatment Plan. All Photos by Dave Carpenter

If you played the video game Myst back in the day, the RC Harris Water Treatment Facility at the east end of The Beach may seem strangely familiar. Standing on its grounds, you can feel like you’re the last person on earth, having stumbled upon an elaborate operation of vague purpose and wondering what happened to its occupants, and if they’ll be back.

Main building: RC Harris Treatment Plant.

Built throughout the 1930s by little-known architect Thomas Canfield Pomphrey and named for the public works commissioner at the time, the facility still supplies Toronto with about a third of its drinking water, pumped all the way up from the middle of the Lake Ontario, treated, then pumped all the way north to Markham and west to Rosedale. It’s an eerie place, and one of coolest examples of art deco this side of the Don (and granted National Engineering Historic Site status in 1992).

Photo by Dave Carpenter
Main building, RC Harris Treatment Plant.

I live near the treatment plant and spend a fair amount here, walking the dog or going for a run. The facility’s main buildings and intersecting road sprawl over a 2-3 block stretch at the end of Queen street, a.k.a., the end of Toronto. Imposing as a fortress, the largest building stands guard atop a hill over Lake Ontario, as if scanning for enemy yankee ships bound from Rochester. There’s a real dash of style to the place too, exemplified by the elaborate and repeating artwork and statues etched within the stone walls of the complex’s three buildings’ and the expansive, rising windows that look out on to the lake.

Lower Building, RC Harris Treatment Plant.


Peering through the windows at the rows of antiquated valves, tanks and gauges, with nary an employee insight, compels you to find a way in and explore some more. Apparently that’s not all that difficult, or mysterious: you can go on a tour of the facilities, when the doors open to the public once a year (count me in). Check out out, at the end of the world. Or for the lazy and still underwhelmed, here it is in 90-seconds.



One Book to Rule them all

I’ve come across a couple of interesting / alarming reads in the last while on the rising dominance of Facebook over all media, not just the social kind. If you want to peer into a crystal at the potential future of digital magazine and news publishing, you may want to give them a read. Hint: say goodbye to bookmarks.

One article is from Salon , and another by the NY Times’ David Carr.  Both essentially report on how F-Book’s tremendous reach, equally tremendous algorithms and successful transition to a revenue-generating, mobile-first destination is supplanting Google as the equivalent of Sauron or St. Nick, in the media world, depending on who you talk to too, and who’s willing to talk openly.

Maybe it’s my newshound roots and I’m sure I’m not alone, but if I relied heavily on reading content my friends shared on Facebook as the main mechanism toward shaping my world view, it wouldn’t contain many angles. The secret lives of cats, or babies, or babies and cats in listicle format, or communal outrage over the next crazy conservative that got elected provides a kind of self-fullfilling echo chamber. On the whole, your Facebook friends are your friends because they are like you (except for the odd ‘truther’ outlier, we all have one or 2 of those), which makes it  the perfect place to socialize online, but not as a destination for all the news that’s fit to print.

I like to think I read the news online not to confirm my beliefs on how the world should work, but to gain exposure to new ideas and nuances that challenge how I thought things and people operated.

A future with One Book to Rule Them All seems dull and dangerous.

Momento: 2

Terry stood still, poised on one foot, the other frozen in forward motion as he watched for signs of life from Sharon. When the door bell rang again, Sharon sighed and rolled over toward the opposite wall. 3 tentative steps later, Terry slipped out the bedroom door. Getting rid of the front door pest -priority number 1; reconciling how he ended up in the sack with, technically speaking, a member of his family – priority #2.

The bright light that streamed through the front door window of his cousin’s flat felt like daggers. As Jerry opened the door, he vaguely realized he too was nude. Perfect. He hoped the arse on the other side of door had a coronary.

As Jerry prepared to confront the ringer in full frontal, he almost felt disappointed when nobody stood on the other side to witness his full splendour. ‘Christ’, Jerry muttered and went to close the door.

That’s when he noticed the small, brown paper package lying on the doormat, addressed to him.

Christmas Goodie

I got a new lens for Christmas and I think my family feels like they’re being stalked. It’s a 35mm lens that allows for decent shots, portraits especially, in low light without needing to use your crappy built-in flash which tends to wash the main subject with stark, artificial light.

Here are some of the results from tailing Kristin, Sunny and the kids throughout the house over the holidays looking more and more like a hobo in my pyjamas and scraggly holiday beard. The rest from the holidays are here on Flickr.

Momento: 1

When the buzzing finally woke Terry from his vodka-fueled slumber, he was not amused. Each successive ring acted like a drill, probing his heavily-cocooned consciousness, until it hit pay dirt, his eyes shot open. Confused, nauseous and grappling with what felt like a rodent, furiously scratching at the middle of his forehead from the inside out, Terry struggled to comprehend the source of his sonic torment, emanating throughout his cousin’s apartment. His ‘aha’ moment unfolded upon the 8th shrilling ring; it came from downstairs he thought… the front hallway?… the doorbell!

Terry rolled out of bed and shuffled toward the bedroom door, eyes half shut, intending to politely shoo away the Jehovah’s Witness, or UPS dude, or whomever had forced this far-to-early-in-the-morning reckoning with his hangover. As he caught his reflection in the mirror on the wall opposite the bed, though, Terry surmised two factors that would temporarily impede his forward mobility: 1) He was completely nude 2) His cousin’s wife lay sleeping in the bed.

Olde T Dot’s First Cemetery

Photo by Dave Carpenter


I like to walk through this section of downtown Toronto, usually after lunch, between Bathurst and Spadina just north of Front. There’s some great architecture, where ad agencies and cafes have taken up residence in old garment factory buildings, while the business core’s skyscrapers looming over to the east.

But there’s this small park, Victoria Memorial Square, that I like the most, partly as an oasis in a busy stretch of town, but also for the really old headstones (in north american terms), running parallel to Portland st.

Photo by Dave Carpenter


You don’t see headstones this old in Toronto; in fact, they are the oldest in downtown Toronto, restored by the neighbourhood’s association and city council to commemorate what was once the burial site of Toronto’s first European settlers.

Dating back to 1793, I like how the headstones symmetrically line up in one, discreet section of the park, both perfectly restored yet with inscriptions slowly fading from historical record. The deceased include Governor James Simcoe’s infant daughter and a sailor who drowned on Lake Ontario.


Blog at

Up ↑