Monday, December 18, 2017

Beer O'Clock: Discovery

I bought this beer by accident.

The first time.

I saw it, stacked among the miriad unknown labels of Québec microbrasseries that I see at the grocery store that is a short drive from my office. Over the past few months, I would visit this craft beer section in search of potentially interesting brews that I was collecting for the advent beer calendar that I was making.

For the past few years, some of my social-media beer buddies and I would enter our name in a draw. We would select a name and then purchase 24 different brews, which we would wrap, write a number on, and assemble in a box. We exchanged these "calendars" before December 1.

In selecting cans and bottles from this Québec grocer, I would pick up two of any beer that caught my eye. I would try it, and if I liked it I would add it to the advent calendar.

I would never give a beer that I wouldn't drink, myself.

I saw a bright yellow can of a blond ale by Drummondville brewers, Le Bockale. By the microbrewery's name, I thought it was a bock, but reading the label of La Candide, I learned that it was a blonde ale.

Next to this yellow can, by contrast, was a black can with images of hops: my eyes quickly read IPA, and I added this ale to my basket.

The blonde was decent—nothing special but with no faults that I could detect. If offered to me again, I would probably drink it but I wasn't sure that I would seek it out again. I rated it a 2.5 (middle of the road). Blonde ales are not my favourite but I still thought that it was worth adding to the calendar, and I hoped that my recipient would enjoy it.

After finishing the blonde, I reached for the IPA. It was at this point that I looked more closely at the label.

IPA Sans Alcool, it read.

I've only had a few non-alcohol beers in the past: Beck's, which tastes like filtered vomit, and a couple of the President's Choice brews, which taste like the president has made a couple of bad decisions.

So, how does this Québec brew taste? Let's have a closer look.

Découverte IPA Sans Alcool (0.5 % ABV)
Microbrasserie Le Bockale
Drummondville, QC

Appearance: a murky, pale yellow, like pineapple juice, and a thick, foamy, white head.

Nose: a citrus bouquet with slight, flinty pepper. It certainly smells like a full-bodied IPA.

Palate: it starts slightly creamy with mild grapefruit. I was reminded of the grapefruit San Pellegrino, without the bold effervescence. It was fruity and watery.

Overall impression: it's not particularly complex but it's refreshing. You sure can drink it quickly without the fear of a buzz. It's refreshing and tastes like a light beer, with a good flavour but without a bold body. For a non-alcohol beer, it far surpasses any others that I have tried.

So, would I recommend it? Let me put it this way: I added it to the advent beer calendar that I was building, I recommended it to a friend who was looking for beer but was avoiding alcohol, and I've purchased it for myself a couple more times.

It's my best mistake and a great discovery. Or, as they say in French, mon meilleur découverte.

If you're looking to reduce your alcohol intake, this holiday season, but like a beer with decent hops, this is your brew.

Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5


Friday, December 15, 2017

Photo Friday: Making a Bad Photo Better

I knew that I probably wasn't going to get the shot but I took it, anyway.

I love long exposures at night, with moving traffic. Cars become invisible or ghostly images, their lights being the only evidence of their comings and goings. If the vehicle is large enough—say, a truck or a bus—the light trails can be more dramatic, as they cover a larger area and appear much higher than they do on a small automobile.

I like going to the various transit stations in our city. I'm guaranteed to see large traffic as long, articulated buses pass through. If I time my shot right, I can get a bus pulling into the station and coming to rest. Its lights make a trail to where it rests, letting passengers off and on, and becoming visible, transparent.

I set up my tripod at the Market Place shopping centre, in Barrhaven, at the intersection of the transitway and Marketplace Avenue, on the southeast corner. Behind me and to my right, was the back of the LCBO; to my left, the massive Loblaw's. The transit station was dead ahead, but I turned the tripod to face kitty-corner to the intersection. I was hoping to capture cross-traffic, the lights of both buses and automobiles colliding.

As soon as my camera was mounted and composed, I had planned to check the exposure and prepare for a test shot when two buses approached from behind. Without getting a chance to see if my exposure was right, I took the shot.

For this outing, I had decided to use my 10-20mm lens, which covered the field of view nicely. But because I didn't have time to make any exposure adjustments, I ended up taking a 15-second exposure at an aperture of f/9.5, with the ISO set at a generous 800. The last time that I had used my camera had been two nights before, on Hallowe'en, to capture the jack-o-lanterns on my front steps. For those shots, I had cranked the ISO because I wasn't using my tripod. After I had taken those shots, I  forgot to set my camera back to 100 ISO, where I typically keep it.

I always forget to reset my camera after I use it. I really have to break myself of this bad habit.

On that prior shoot, I had even set the EV at –1.0, to push the exposure for hand-holding and to ensure that the aperture-priority setting didn't overcompensate for the low light. In retrospect, that was a help to the shot I was currently taking, but not nearly enough of an underexposure to make a difference.

After the 15 seconds was over, I saw the image in my viewer. There wasn't much to see, as the entire image was grossly washed out. Overexposure was an understatement.

When I returned home to process my photos for my daily project, I never even considered that first shot because of what I had seen on my camera's viewscreen. The required effort to recover it, I convinced myself, would take far longer than it would take to simply use one of the images that had been properly exposed (all I did, to compensate for the exposure, was to return the ISO to 100: all the other settings remained the same for my subsequent shots).

Last week, as I scanned through my stored images, searching through my favourite shots of this past year, in preparation for my traditional, end-of-the-year post, I took a peek in the folder for POTD 306 and saw that overexposed image again. I was going to delete it, knowing that I would never use it, but then my curiosity got the better of me. I was certain that Snapseed wouldn't have been able to recover the blown-out areas of the shot, but what about my other photo-editing software, my number-one go-to program that has been largely neglected this year because of my project?

What about PaintShop Pro? Could PSP bring this photo to life?

There was only one way to be sure.

Like many photo-editing tools, PSP comes with a RAW-format correction feature, called its Camera RAW Lab, which lets you recover over-exposed highlights and make other basic and lens corrections.

From the Highlight recovery list, I selected the Balanced option, which brought some of the washed-out parking lot into view. There was much more work to do, but this was a promising start.

Early in my POTD project, I noticed some dirt marks that would appear on the same place on every photo. Even if I changed lenses, the spots would show up, though, on my 70-300mm lens, when it was at its maximum magnification, these spots would also become enlarged and would appear washed out. The problem was not with any of my lenses but with the camera body, itself.

I've tried cleaning my camera a few times, blowing it with compressed air or setting the automatic sensor cleaner, but those spots have remained stubbornly fixed. Because I need my camera for my POTD project, I can't afford to send it away for a professional cleaning, potentially keeping away from me for a week or so.

Instead, I've used the Makeover Tool, in PSP, and the Healing feature, in Snapseed, to manually remove the spots any time they stand out. They only appear when they're part of the sky, when there's to subject to cover them up.

The Makeover Tool is one of the first ones that I go to when editing a photo. I use it extensively for my model shoots, when I want to remove any blemishes from otherwise smooth skin. The tool in PSP is superior to the one in Snapseed, as the Healing feature tends to leave dark areas more pixellated after a spot is removed. The PSP tool is much better at blending the touched-up mark into the surrounding area.

The spots were clearly visible but after a few clicks, they were completely gone. The most challenging spot to remove was located within a lens flare that was caused by a street lamp, but I was able to make that flare look natural once the spot was gone.

The next step was to darken the image and create more contrast. If the colour from the bus taillights were to pop out in the final steps, I'd have to make the sky turn from a muddy grey to pure black.

Another tool that I like to use to adjust the brightness on a colour channel is the Curves tool. I just drag various points on the line to lighten or darken areas in the image. I use this tool more than the Brightness/Contrast tool.

Next, I wanted to make the red and amber lights from the bus pop, so I boosted the vibrancy. Usually, I'll increase the colour vibrancy by no more than 10 or 20 percent, but the light streaks were calling out for more, so I shot it up to 50 percent.

Finally, I cropped the photo with a 16:9 ratio, to eliminate some of the dead, night sky, and the roadway immediately in front of me.

I was tempted to use another feature, the Digital Noise Reduction tool, but I sometimes find that this feature can soften an image, and I wanted to keep the light trails as sharp as I could. (I sometimes also use the sharpening tool, but the PSP tool doesn't give me as much control as the one in Snapseed.

The final photo looked way better than when I first saw it on my camera's viewscreen, and it changed a file that I was going to delete into an image that was worth keeping. And while the photo that I used for my POTD was ultimately a better shot, in that I captured light trails of automobiles crossing with lights from a bus, editing a photo with PSP will always beat a photo that is edited in Snapseed.

Happy Friday!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Not Forgotten

It was one of my intended subjects for my Photo of the Day (POTD) project but I never got the chance to include it.

As part of my commute to work, I take Prince of Wales Drive, from Fallowfield Road to Hog's Back. In the early hours of the morning, traffic is much lighter than any other route, and if I leave for work before 6:30, I can be at my desk in 33 minutes.

It's a win-win scenario: I arrive early, get a lot of work done before the distraction of colleagues, and I can leave early in the afternoon, thus getting a jump on traffic on the way home. I always takes longer to return home, but by taking the same route, I can usually do so about 10 to 15 minutes faster than any other route.

On days when the sun rises during my commute, the orangy-yellow rays would cause the red barn of Blackrapids Farm to glow. And, in the evening, when a sunset cast a colourful glow off passing clouds, this old farm would look so welcoming.

Sometimes, it's difficult to pull over on Prince of Wales Drive. Before the construction, parts of the shoulder were so crumbled that you had to be careful not to hit a pothole and risk damaging the car's suspension. If there was a lot of traffic, there was a risk to your personal safety. But I told myself that when the lighting was right, I would capture this beautiful barn for my POTD.

On the first morning where traffic was light and the sunrise was perfect, I pulled onto the shoulder of the road. But my attention wasn't on the barn. It was a cold, late-winter morning, and there were ice crystals in the air. As the sun climbed above the horizon, a perfect sundog created a cat's eye in the sky. That had to be my daily photo.

It was early in the year. I had plenty of time to capture the farm.

When the snow disappeared, a resurfacing project began on Prince of Wales Drive. It was a long time coming. Finally, cyclists would have a safe roadway on which to make their commute. Unfortunately, the construction meant the end of pulling over to the side of the road. My plan to capture the barn would have to wait until the road work was done.

I first learned of the fire through social media. I read about the tragedy, online, of the loss of 80 cows. Prince of Wales Drive was closed in both directions as fire fighters coped with the blaze. I was so heartbroken for the loss of life (thankfully, no human life was lost), for the loss of a historic Ottawa landmark, that I didn't think about the loss of a photo opportunity.

By the time I was on my homebound commute, the road was opened in the southbound direction only, which was in my favour. Though the fire wasn't completely out, it was well under control. I had to see the destruction for myself.

I wish I hadn't taken the route. Smoke drifted across the road, over the pastures and toward the Rideau River, and even though my windows were closed, the smell of burned wood filled my nostrils. And then, something more.

Cooked meat.

Three days later, on my morning commute, I passed what was once the barn again, and there was a new smell in the air, as the farmers cleaned the area: rotting meat. I wouldn't drive past the barn again for about two weeks, opting to take Merivale Road as a detour.

So much loss. It really was sad.

As summer came, I would pass Blackrapids Farm and lament how the loss of the barn was so tragic, and how I had never been able to capture it for my POTD. My missed opportunity was insignificant, but I would always remember that farm, even though it wouldn't be a part of my project.

Over this past weekend, as I started looking at my rejected POTD photos, the ones I didn't use for my project, I noticed that many of them were still good photos and shouldn't be forgotten. I went through each file folder and pulled out some of the other decent photos.

In capturing my POTD of the sundog, I had forgotten that I had captured other images. The light was too perfect and I didn't know when I would get the opportunity to stop along the road again. After I had captured the sundog and before I climbed back into my car, I turned around and took one more shot.

The barn has never been forgotten. The cattle is remembered every time I pass what remains of the farm. But I also have a photo of the barn. Not used as a POTD, but captured as a memory.

Friday, December 8, 2017


It was Day 292.

I was happy with the photo but something went wrong when I posted it. Technology isn't perfect and when it goes awry, I've tried to deal with it as best as I can. I've adapted, using the tools that are at my disposal at that particular time.

I've taken some crappy photos in my daily photo project. Some aren't sharp, some are desperate, last-minute photos of whatever is around me as the hours of the day have dwindled and I have looked around to shoot just anything, so that I can fulfill the criteria that I have set upon myself.

One photo is a fake, but I'll talk about that one as my project winds down. Perhaps, if you follow my Photo of the Day (POTD) project, you've discovered it already.

But sometimes I can take a good picture and process it, only to find that the technology for rendering it on social media has let me down.

I first noticed this issue when I first tried uploading a photo from my camera onto my smartphone. Because I shoot in RAW on my D-SLR, the size of the file exceeds what my phone can accept. In those cases, I upload at the recommended resolution. The results, for the most part, are fine: at least, for viewing on-screen.

But something went wrong on Day 292.

It was Thursday, October 19. I had just dropped DD16 off at her fitness class and had an idea for my POTD. It was a bit of a cheat: my self-imposed rules state that I cannot take the same photo twice. For example, if I shoot a photograph of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, I cannot shoot another Peace Tower photo. But that does not mean I cannot shoot a photo of Parliament Hill again. It's just that the Peace Tower cannot be the central subject of that shot.

I've taken plenty of POTD shots in which the Parliament buildings appear, but the subject has always been different. The city scape, from the Gatineau side of the Ottawa river, at night; a view of the canal, looking north, from the Mackenzie Bridge; a storm approaching the festivites on Canada Day; the fireworks festival, again over the Ottawa River; the sound-and-light show, projected on the central block.

They all counted, as far as I was concerned.

I had already photographed the Vimy Bridge. It was April 14 and we were experiencing a lovely sunset on an early spring day. The family and I had just dined at a local Barrhaven pub with my parents and were planning to get together, at my house, for dessert. My folks had to first stop at their house and feed their dogs. I told them that I would take my POTD and then meet them back at my place.

I had already envisioned the shot in my head. I only wanted the arches; not the roadway. The sunset was better than I thought: practically cloudless and orange. I took a couple of shots and went home.

With DD16 at her workout, I didn't have much time and knew I couldn't go far. I thought of the places I had already shot: the transitway, the railway crossing on Fallowfield, the old school on Strandherd, at Jockvale, the old traveller's motel on Prince of Wales. I thought of Vimy Bridge and thought, I've already done that, but then told myself that I hadn't gone after the roadway in the other shot. At night, I could get light trails.

Ten minutes later, I was standing in the first place where I had come, a couple of years ago, to capture the newly opened bridge. Now, beds of tall grass made the spot where I stood, between the two roadways, crammed. It was a challenge for me and my tripod.

Four photos, and I was done. I ran back to my car* and returned to where my daughter was working up a sweat. I still had lots of time before she was done, so I took the photos off my camera, put them onto my phone, edited one, and posted it to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr.


The next day, I copied that photo to my Pictures album on my office computer. I keep hundreds of my best landscape-oriented photos here, where my desktop background changes every 20 minutes. My screen saver is a slideshow of memories.

Something was wrong with the photo from Day 292. On screen, it was immensely pixellated. When I selected the photo in Flickr and tried to zoom in, it wouldn't zoom. I quickly realized that this photo ended up as a low-resolution shot.

The sad part was that I really liked this shot. I liked the colours, how they popped from the screen. I liked the light trails, though three of the four photos I took had lots of streaks of headlights and tail lamps. But the resolution in which it ended up being saved did not make this photo worth keeping.

This issue bothered me for 48 days, when I finally made a decision: I was going to redo the photo.

I picked one of the other images I captured. This time, I didn't upload it to my phone or tablet, did not use Snapseed to do the editing. The RAW image was stored on an external drive, from where I imported it into PaintShop Pro and performed a new edit.

When all was said and done, I liked the new photo better. It was sharper and the colours were more true to the image than the ones I made explode through Snapseed. This is how the shot was meant to look.

I had fulfilled the criteria of my project: I had captured an image, edited it, and shared it on social media. But when all is said and done, it's not the image quality that I wanted for this project. On Wednesday, I replaced the photo in my POTD album with the new one. I did not delete the old photo: it still appears on Flickr, just in my Night and Ottawa albums.

Instagram still has the original as my Day 292 shot. At that resolution, you can't see the flaws.

Did I cheat? If so, I only cheated myself. But it is my project with my rules, and I say I can improve the photo if I want.

After a minimum of 48 days.

My POTD project runs to the end of the month.

* I didn't really run. My feet don't let me do that without inflicting severe pain.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Past I Didn't Know About

She grew up in the Montreal suburb of Verdun, on Rue Joseph, near to where it met Avenue Atwater. As the eldest of six, she would help her mother look after the others, would often take one of the bridges across the Lachine Canal to pick up groceries at the market.

Once, before she was a teenager, she ventured to the neighbourhood of Saint-Henri, in search of her dad, who worked at the fire station. She didn't exactly know where the station was but she eventually found it, along with her father.

Travelling far-afield at an early age wasn't uncommon at the time. One time, she and some friends had ventured as far as Hudson, on their bicycles, to swim the day away at the end of the Ottawa River. Her mother had no idea she had done this, though she must have been gone all day. By today's standard, it's more than three hours to cycle, each way.

It wasn't an easy life for her. The family didn't have very much money but they did have a roof over their head and food in their bellies. Her father wasn't always at home and eventually, her parents divorced. Over time, things grew more difficult for her mother to manage the six children, and they were split up, placed in care in different homes around the metropolis.

She ended up in a quiet, cottage-like neighbourhood, away from the city streets of Verdun, in the community of Beaurepaire. There, she attended school where, if she ever missed the bus, would face a long walk along Boulevard Beaconsfield.

Across the street from where she lived, a husband and wife resided on a corner lot. They were friendly neighbours who grew to know this young girl.

Luck would turn for the worse for this young couple, as the wife would later die in childbirth. The husband, now a widower with a new-born son, turned to his brothers and sisters for help. One of his sisters and his second-youngest brother came to live with him and help him manage with their nephew.

Over time, a friendship between the young brother and the girl across the street formed, which turned to dating, and finally, to courtship and marriage. The wedding took place in the local church, between Boulevard Beaconsfield and Lakeshore Drive, not far from the shores of the St.Lawrence.

The new couple moved from Beaurepaire, further west, to the small village of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, on the southwest tip of Ile-de-Montréal. To the south, the village looked out to the smaller island of Perrot. It was a small apartment in the residential street of Rue Perrault but large enough for the two and their first-born daughter.

It was a long commute to the city, and after more than a year, in order to make that commute more bearable, and to make room for the second child that was on the way, they moved back to the neighbourhood where the mother had grown up, in Verdun, on 5e Avenue.

The son was born in a hospital, in Westmount, just up the street from the Atwater Market, where Avenue Atwater and Rue Tupper meet, up the hill from where his mother, as a young girl, would pay health visits to the Red Feather Building. Kitty-corner, the Children's Hospital towered over this modest hospital, which was incorporated in 1870.

Today, the Herbert Reddy Memorial Hospital exists only as a residence for the YMCA, having closed as a hospital in February, 1997. Its emergency ward closed earlier, in December, 1996. According to a library record from McGill University, 

The hospital was established in 1870 as the Women's Hospital. Under a new charter in 1946, it became the Herbert Reddy Memorial Hospital, admitting both male and female patients. In the 1970s it was renamed the Reddy Memorial.
"Herbert Reddy was unlikely to forget his first official visit to the hospital. He found the patients on straw mattresses that had not been changed for about year. Medical science of the time decreed that straw mattresses should be changed every month. Dr. Reddy ordered they be changed immediately. After three successive visits, when he found no action had been taken, he acted himself. He threw the mattresses out the windows. Passers-by were astonished to see them flying through the air."~(Gazette [Montreal] 27 May 1995)
This is a very brief story of my mother and where I came to be, as part of my search for my own past. The following photos were captured on that beautiful autumn day as we drove along the shores of the St.Lawrence River from Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue to the Atwater Market, driving along what started out as Rue Sainte-Anne and became Lakeshore Drive, Boulevard Beaconsfield, back to Lakeshore Drive (Chemin Bord-du-Lac), Boulevard Saint-Joseph (Lachine), and Boulevard LaSalle. We made it to Atwater and Joseph Street, but at the time my mother was recounting her years as a child and we passed the intersection, unnoticed.

The following photos are also from that unforgettable day, which ended in Old Montreal, where we met with my aunt (my mother's youngest sibling), uncle, a cousin, and her family.

Cégep John Abbott College
Lakeshore Drive
Moulin-a-vent Fleming, along Boulevard LaSalle
Red Feather Building, Avenue Atwater
Old Children's Hospital, slated for demolition
Avenue Atwater, under Rte.  720
Old Montreal
Busker, Place Jacques-Cartier
Montreal is firmly in my blood. I would like to know more about my dad's side of my family. He was the second-youngest of a 14-children family. His father, Sydney Brown, died when my dad was only two. His family lived in two adjoining apartments, in Westmount, as one apartment couldn't hold everyone. By the time my dad was born, many of his older siblings were old enough to care for his as one of their own.

The challenge is to find a relative who can show me where he grew up, someone who knows this part of my ancestral history. But time is running out: I fear that there are few Browns left who could recount that side of the story.