Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Class Act

I can imagine the conversation that took place later that night or early the next day: "There I was, at the beginning of my act, ready to talk about the prostitute who enjoyed sex so much that in her orgasm, she falls out the high-rise window and lands on the unsuspecting wedding party, upsetting the salad table, when I see two young girls—children, about 10 years old—sitting front row, centre. And I thought, 'Bloody Hell. There goes the show.'"

But Paul Foot is a class act.

My wife and I have seen the comic on television before. We saw him on the American show, Last Comic Standing. We've seen him on comedy shows, where we've seen him talk for a few minutes before another comic is brought on stage or appears at a different venue. From what we had seen, Paul Foot had a hilarious, clean show.

You can see his comedy here, on YouTube.

As parents, we have ourselves to blame. We are responsible for ensuring that our children aren't exposed to subject matter to which they are not ready. We should have experienced Paul's comic routine first-hand, should have spent more time checking out his Web site. Maybe, we would have left them behind.

We have similar experience. For years, we have been fans of CBC Radio's The Debaters. We have enjoyed the comic antics of many well-known comics, such as Sean Cullen and Nikki Payne. I have seen these comics on television, on radio, and live. I would take my children to Sean Cullen's show; I wouldn't do the same for a Nikki Payne show.

As brilliant as she is, I don't think I'm mature enough for her live show.

But Paul Foot is a class act.

The show last Friday was intimate. It took place in a small auditorium in the Gesu concert hall in Montreal for the Just For Laughs comedy festival. In this auditorium, there were seats for 50 to 100 patrons. The room was at most 75 percent full.

When we arrived, we sat in the second row, at the far left (stage right). Because there was no age restriction and we had seen Paul's televised act, we felt our kids, aged nine and 11, could handle it. The girls, when they took their seats, asked us why no one was sitting in the first row, in the centre.

"That's heckler's row," I explained. "If you sit there, there's a good chance that the comic will engage you."

The girls immediately darted for the vacant seats: front row, centre.

As Paul Foot started his act, he spoke to his audience from outside the concert hall. We couldn't see him; he couldn't see us. For about five minutes or so, he addressed us from afar. Introducing himself and then explaining that he enjoyed the audience response so much that he stretched the introduction. So, by the time he was ready to come out and greet his audience, everybody was warmed up and ready to go.

And then he saw the kids.

"Are you on your own or are your parents hiding somewhere?" he asked. My youngest turned in her chair and pointed us out.

It was, as I said, an intimate audience, and Paul took full advantage, climbing over seats and getting up close and personal to the crowd. He would get face-to-face with many, including Lori and me, but especially the kids. His face would be mere centimetres from theirs. But—God love them—the kids didn't flinch.

Their eyes would bug out of their heads and they'd look like deer caught in the headlights, but they held firm and looked Paul in the eyes.

"Do you know what a woman of ill repute is?" he asked my girls. When he was answered by shakes of the head, he explained: "A woman of ill repute is a lady who doesn't tend her garden, who doesn't water her plants or pull the weeds, and her neighbours are extremely cross with her."

Then came the story of the prostitute.

As Paul explained how the prostitute enjoyed her chosen profession so much and would get caught up in the sexual act, demonstrating positions, rocking back and fourth, and bringing up the Kama Sutra, he turned to Lori and me and said, "I promise, this is as rude as it gets."

It was pretty much as rude as it got, and thankfully it went right over the heads of the girls.

"Everyone is aware of the elephant in the room," Paul added as his routine went on. He must have been thinking quickly to himself, wondering how to mellow out his routine.

"I said, 'shove off'," he explained to the girls. "Normally, I would say 'piss off'," he concluded.

Towards the end of his routine, Paul gave one member of the audience a hobby horse (broom stick with a horse's head on one end) and explained that when the horse head pointed to the floor, he spoke in plain English and everyone would understand the English; when the horse was right-side up, he would speak in utter gibberish and everyone would understand the gibberish (if someone were to speak at this time, he or she would also speak gibberish).

If the broom stick was held horizontally, all speech would be half-English, half-gibberish.

Clearly, the woman holding the horse didn't understand the concept: she constantly had to be prompted to swing the horse in the appropriate direction. A couple of times, when it was clear that Paul should be speaking English or gibberish, the horse was in the wrong position.

Cues were ignored. And so punchlines were clearly missed.

But Paul Foot is a class act. He let it go. He moved on with the act.

Clearly, he should have given the horse to one of my kids. They understood what needed to be done.

The next day, I tweeted Paul Foot and told him that I hoped that our kids hadn't put a crimp in his act. That we enjoyed it. That the kids had fun, even when the subject matter flew over their heads.

He responded: "I am glad they (and ye) enjoyed it and did/didn't understand it, as applicable."

Class act.

To Paul: I hope that sometime, soon, you make it to Canada's capital.

To many of my American readers: Canada's capital is Ottawa, not Toronto!

Back to Paul: If you come to Ottawa, my wife and I will definitely come to see you again. We'll bring friends. I'll call upon my readers and Twitter followers to come out.

But I'll leave the kids at home.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Beer for Dessert

This will be my strangest beer review. Because it's not really about beer per se.

But there is beer in this review.

Last night, my family and I went to Big Rig Brew Pub for our second time. The first time, we were celebrating Father's Day with a couple of pints. The girls nibbled on some nachos, while I focused on the beer.

However, while I savoured the suds I did peruse the menu and thought a second visit was in order; hence, our visit last night.

Straight away, I went for my favourite brew, their Big Rig IPA: with lots of intense hops, I just love this stuff. I drank this pint while I ate their Fort McMurray burger: Angus beef with aged cheddar and bacon. What's not to like? Their fries are quite good. I highly recommend coming for the food and the beer.

We're getting to the beer review, right?

Sort of.

I'm not much of a dessert craver when I eat out. If I chose a set menu that includes a dessert, fine. If my wife wants to split something with me, fine. But I don't look at the dessert menu on my own.

This time, I did.

Oh, boy.

Big Rig has a Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream with a Double Chocolate Stout Float. Stout. Ice cream. Together.


I happen to know from experience that beer and ice cream don't go together. Sweet and bitter don't match. But Big Rig's stout has a nice chocolaty sweetness that seems to balance with the creamy ice cream.

But not at first.

I started with a sip from the straw, and what I tasted was a bit of sourness, almost like buttermilk. I don't like buttermilk, unless you are using it in baking. My taste buds were turned off a little, so I took the long spoon proffered me and gave the tall milkshake glass a stir.

That did the trick.

The ice cream and beer float works. When stirred, you get the chocolate creaminess right off the top. As it finishes, you are left with the maltiness of the stout.

It's delicious.

If you haven't been to Big Rig yet, wait no longer. Enjoy their beer. Savour their food. And combine the two with dessert.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Rewind: July 23-27, 2012

I admit it: it's hard to blog when you're on vacation. You're busy enjoying the sights, staying out late and then sleeping in. And if Internet isn't free, you can't actually post what you've written until you find a connection. Oh, the first-world woes!

I think that next time, I'm leaving my iPad at home (probably not).

Here's a list of the posts I managed to fire off this week. My apologies for problems with my last recap, when the links didn't work.

Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Photo Friday: Fire in the Sky

I'm sure I'm not alone in saying this: carrying a phone with a camera is a wonderful thing.

I've had a cell phone for about 13 years; back then, all I wanted was a device that would allow me to talk to people, and for people to be able to reach me when I wasn't at home.

As I upgraded phones, for the longest time I didn't want to have anything more than a mobile telephone. In one store, I told the salesman, "I don't want a camera: I have a great one. I don't want an MP3 player: I have a device for listening to music. I don't need to send e-mail while I'm out. I just want a phone."

Times, of course, have changed. (I once said I'd never own an Apple product: I now own three.)

Having a smartphone is the modern-day equivalent to having a Swiss Army knife. It does almost everything I would need for when I'm out and about. It does more, in some cases.

With my passion for photography, I'm always looking at things and composing them into photographs. My camera is big and gets heavy, and so I don't always carry it on me. In the past, anytime I saw a photo opportunity and didn't have my camera on me, I would be sad for not being able to capture the moment. (I would be happy, at the same time, for having the opportunity to experience the moment.)

With my smartphone, which I always have on me, capturing those fleeting moments is easy. And earlier this week, I had the chance of capturing a moment that was gone almost as quickly as it appeared.

On Monday, we had some pretty severe weather move through the Ottawa area. Heavy rains, lightning strikes, and high winds wreaked havoc on area communities. In my neighbourhood, we had bouts of heavy rain, the clouds coming and going, their shapes and heights varying. During one break in the rain, we took the kids to our local park, to let them play and get some much-needed exercise after our two-week-long car trip. Their uncle and cousins also stopped by for a visit and joined us in the park.

As the adults chatted and the children played, I spotted an ominous cloud approaching. I loved the shape of the cloud, a beautiful menace, and thanks to my smartphone I was able to capture it.

When rain seemed imminent, we gathered the kids and headed back to the house, but it was too late. Halfway home, the sky let loose. We all made a dash for cover (yes, even I, who won't run to catch a bus, made a break for it).

The rain didn't last long and was all but over by the time we reached our street. The cloud had mostly passed. With the sun almost setting, the light cast upwards and reflected off the dark clouds, making the sun appear as though it was actually poking through the cloud. The effect was dazzling: whether it was the shape of the cloud or moisture reaching the breaking point, the reflection of light looked like the cloud was on fire. This was a shot that made me stop running—damn the rain.

Sometimes, moments come across them and we have to stop and enjoy them. And now, with today's technology at our fingertips, we can capture those moments and hang onto them.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 26, 2012


My family and I were on vacation when we learned of the shooting tragedies in Toronto and Colorado. They are horrible stories and my heart goes out to the victims of these senseless acts.

The circumstances around these events were different on many fronts: the Toronto assault was apparently gang related, whereas the Colorado shootings were a random act by a wacko.

But this week, as I follow news and Twitter feeds, I'm learning of a difference in public reactions to the events. In Canada, public reaction is centering on fighting gang-related crime and getting guns off the streets. In Colorado, on the other hand, people are flocking to gun shops, stocking up on weapons.

From what I've heard, sales for firearms in Colorado have increased by 44 percent. There are now more guns in the hands of untrained citizens. That means there will be more bullets flying the next time a shootout occurs.

More than a year ago, I shared my thoughts on guns in America.

Looking on these recent events, I see that nothing has changed, and I shake my head.

Way to go, America. Way to go.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The North and The South, Part 2

Yesterday, I presented my review of one of the brew pubs that I visited when I was in Savannah, Georgia, last week. It was one of the two microbreweries that I sampled south of the border (the Mason-Dixon Line, that is).

Today, I review the microbrewery that I hit north of that border, in the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Lincoln Addressed a Nation Here: Did He Quaff a Brew, Too?

Being Canadian, I never studied the American Civil War. What I knew as a kid, I learned from movies. And of the relationship between the North and South, from Bugs Bunnyoh, Belvedere!—hardly an education.

What I did know was that the toll on the United States was great, the cost of human lives unimaginable. One hundred and fifty years later, the memory of the battles lives on. And one of the greatest landmarks of the Civil War is Gettysburg.

Gettysburg is the site of a famous battle, where approximately 50,000 soldiers were laid casualties. Following the battle, Abraham Lincoln presented his famous address:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Today, located at the crest of Seminary Ridge right beside General Lee’s headquarters, stands a brew pub that drew my attention as I entered Gettysburg. With a town so steeped in American history, truly, there would be some legendary beer.

Gettysburg PA
Harrisburg PA
Camp Hill PA
Collegehill PA
Lititz PA

The brewery is nestled out of site from the restaurant portion of the pub; so much so that I didn't think any of the beer was actually made here, that perhaps it was all made in its main brewery, in Harrisburg. And in fact, seven of the eight beers I tried were brewed in Harrisburg. The seasonal, eighth beer, was a Gettysburg brew.

Here are my notes and thoughts of my sampler:

  • Water Gap Wheat Ale (4.5% ABV): this light, unfiltered ale is a traditional wheat beer in every sense: in the appearance, the nose, and in the mouth. I drank it and said, "it is what it is." If you like wheat ales, you'll enjoy this one.
  • Mountain Lager (4.8% ABV): I'm not a fan of lagers but I quite liked this one. Flavourful and light, there was a great body to this lager. I could easily see myself sitting on a patio on a hot summer day, sipping on this beer. The colour was quite rich.
  • Purist Pale Ale (5% ABV): I couldn't detect much off the nose on this English-style pale ale. But on the palate, there was fresh orange citrus and nice hops. I really liked this ale.
  • "Jolly Scot" Scottish Ale (5.5% ABV): I love a good Scottish ale, and I have to say that I was somewhat disappointed in this one. I expect a strong, full-bodied flavour of caramel and cream in a Scottish ale, and I found this one somewhat bland. The closest flavour I could come up with would be to describe the mouth as presenting an unsweetened root-beer taste. After a couple of sips, I was done with this sample.
  • Trail Blaze Organic Brown Ale (5% ABV): by contrast on the last sample, I loved this ale. Fruity nose, caramel taste, with great hops and a lovely, lingering finish. Of all the samples, this ale was my favourite.
  • Hoppy Trails IPA (6.2% ABV): awesome stuff. Tons of hops and lots of bitter citrus. I was reminded of Mad Tom IPA, which is one of my favourite drinking standards. This is a keeper beer.
  • Susquehanna Stout (5% ABV): I actually ordered a pint of this stout before I had the sampler. We were waiting for our table and I ordered it from the bar. It's a great stout: dark brown with a hint of red, aromas of coffee and tobacco, flavours of dry, dark chocolate and cedar, this is a classic stout. Delicious.
  • Imperial Pilsner (ABV not available): the seasonal pick, this beer has a deep reddish-gold colour and a slightly sweet nose with traces of cherry. The cherry carried through for me in the mouth and was mixed with a flavour that seemed like bubble gum. There was a good, hoppy finish that lingered with a bit of headiness, which gave me the impression that there was a high alcohol content (in a rookie move, I forgot to ask what the level was).
Overall, my favourites of the bunch were the brown ale, the IPA, and the stout, with the pilsner and lager faring well. The other two were not my cup of tea. Or beer.

And which brewery did I prefer overall? The northern Appalachian or the southern Moon River?

Overall, I think Moon River appealed to me on the interesting types of beer, the atmosphere of the pub (how can you beat a haunted building?), and the romance of the South. But I was disappointed that I couldn't take any of the Moon River beer home: the only way I can enjoy it again would be to return to Savannah. Which isn't a bad thing, except for the distance.

I just hope that I won't have to travel too far to find some Appalachian beers to try again, at home.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The North and The South

I'm back from the first part of my vacation, and for a while I didn't think I was going to sample much beer. For the first few days of the first week, I was hard-pressed to find anything that was not a Budweiser or Michelob product. I wouldn't drink that stuff, let alone review it.

I did pick up a 12-pack of a Yuengling Black and Tan, which isn't bad, but not worth a review, in my humble opinion.

The last beer review I gave was of a microbrewery on Hollywood Beach, and then for several days I went without a drop of beer.

Until I hit Savannah, Georgia, where I found a wonderful brew pub. And on Saturday night, on my way home, I discovered another brew pub just north of the Mason-Dixon Line, and after having sampled 15 beers between the two breweries, I felt I had too much information to review individual beers. So I'm giving one massive overview of them all over two posts; hence, the title.

I'll start with The South today.

Your Huckleberry Friend

Savannah GA

I couldn't help but think of a friend from South Korea, Steve Fuller, when I think of this brew pub. Steve was a true buddy: always smiling, always positive. When he wanted to show you that he had your back, that he was with you and was in your corner, he would say, "I'm your huckleberry." It took me a while to click in that he was referring to a line in the song, Moon River, where Andy Williams sings,
We're after the same rainbow's end—
waiting 'round the bend,
my huckleberry friend,
Moon River and me.
The expression caught on. A few of us at Jeonju University used the phrase. And coming up in Gyeosunim, the expression becomes popular.

Moon River Brewing Company is located in the historic district of Savannah, just a block away from city hall and just south of River Street. It is rumoured that the brew pub is haunted, and so this was a great place to visit before we took a ghost tour of the old town.

I tried a sampler that included seven small glasses of about four ounces each. I'm not going to go into great detail about each one; I'll only give the highlights and my impressions.

  • Belly-Washer Golden Ale: English-styled golden pale ale with light flavour; nice hops.
  • Wild Wacky Wit: a Belgian wheat ale with lemony citrus nose; coriander comes through on the mouth with some spice and a slightly pine finish. Interesting.
  • Apparition Ale: a light amber English pale ale with a bitter grapefruit rind flavour; a nice, lingering finish.
  • Dixie Kristall: this Belgian-styled trippel packs a punch (11% ABV); great herbal nose and a flavourful, fruity taste on the palate.
  • Slo-vannah: a pungent APA (I detected a scent of sweat with herbal tones—a horse in a barn?) with orange and peach in the mouth. For a light beer (4% ABV), it had a complex, full body.
  • Swamp Fox IPA: this beer is whisky-coloured and has definite lemony-citrus over tones, and plenty of hops. Hoppy hoppy joy joy!
  • Nick's Balls of Gold: I can't believe this beer is 16% ABV. Not heady at all, though I could taste a trace of alcohol. Murky caramel in colour and with a creamy caramel taste, this beer holds a hoppy finish and a happy ending to my sampler.
Maybe I did see spirits around me on the tour.

I loved the beer on tap at this brewery. The only problem is that the beer is only available at Moon River's brew pub. If I want to have it again, I have to pick it up in Savannah. If only it was closer to home.

Tomorrow, I'll review another brew company that is further north and closer to home, and has more locations. And you can buy the beer to go.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Photo Friday: Perspective

I have been to Florida before, back in 1990. But I've never thought of it as the South.

I've never thought much of the South before, but when I have it has been of old times, of Southern gentlemen and fine ladies, sipping iced tea or lemonade, saying "I do declare" and resenting those damned Yankees.

After spending some time in Savannah and Charleston, I've seen the South as it really is and have gained a new perspective on life in this part of the United States.

I liked what I saw.

As part of that new perspective, I took some shots from new angles. I got down low and I looked up. As I did in this shot.

On a horse-drawn carriage ride through Charleston, I sometimes didn't even look through my view finder to compose my shot: I simply extended my arm outside of the carriage, pointed, and pressed the shutter release. As I did in this shot. And no, I don't have a preview display on my camera, so I didn't know what I'd get until after I pressed the button. On a moving carriage, I only had one chance to get the shot. What I found were new angles, new ways to look at a building. (I was also shocked to learn that I was able to get the entire building in the frame of the photo; nothing was cut off.)

Shooting low also gives the impression of height in your subject. While both of these buildings were tall anyway, they appear massive when shot lower to the ground, looking straight up.

I've looked at this part of the United States in a new way, in a new light. I've gained a new perspective. I've looked up.

Washington, DC. Looking up from the bottom of a subway entrance.
Happy Friday!


Thursday, July 19, 2012

On the American Highways

For more than 10 days, I've been driving American highways. I've driven from upper New York State down to Hollywood, Florida, down through to Key Largo and over to Orlando, up through to Savannah, Georgia, to Charleston, South Carolina, and finally to Washington, DC, where I'm now relaxing after a long day of travelling the interstates. And on my journey, I've learned one thing.

Americans have no idea how to drive.

I know I'm going to get a lot of flack from this post, but I'm writing from experience. I know a lot of Americans and have many friends who are wonderful, kind, generous people. On this trip, as on other ventures I've made into the United States, I've encountered some amazing people. No matter where I've been, I have been met by kindness and warm hospitality.

Except on the roadways.

On every highway that I've driven, I've noted the following truths:

  • Turn signals are seldom used to indicate that a lane change is being made. I've seen blinkers on; just never with an accompanying lane change. Folks have driven for miles with a left or right indicator blinking.
  • Drivers don't observe or respect the left-lane rule, which states that you use this lane to pass slower vehicles. Slower cars are supposed to keep to the right-hand lane. Not so on American interstates. I've been caught countless times behind a driver, mindlessly cruising in the passing lane, with no other vehicles in sight. Flashing my high beams has had little effect, and so I have been obliged to pass the slow poke in the right lane. This problem becomes a dangerous issue when I do find myself in slower traffic and I'm unable to continue past the slower drivers by using the left-hand lane. And if a faster driver comes behind me, I become boxed in, with nowhere to go. The rule is simple, drivers: use the left lane to pass other cars; use the right lane when you're not passing. If you can't understand those rules, use the exit lane and get off the damned road!
  • Drivers don't know how to maintain a speed. If you have cruise control, it's really easy: set your speed and keep to it, adjusting only for the change in speed limits and or surrounding traffic. If you're passing someone in the passing lane and come up behind a slower car, adjust your speed until the slower car passes the slowest car and then moves into the right-hand lane, and then resume your speed and continue to pass both cars before joining them in the right-hand lane. If you don't have cruise control, watch your speed. It's not that hard, but if you have trouble, get off the road.
I also noticed that the state of the roads have been something to be desired. There are obstacles on the road, especially countless carcasses of shredded rubber and coils of ripped treads all over the highways. So many, that I wondered how long these pieces pile up before the highways are impassable. The interstates in the Carolinas are particularly bad, especially North Carolina. What's up with that? I can only imagine the accidents caused by drivers colliding with this debris, the damage inflicted when someone drives over the large chunks of spent tires. I've never seen anything like it. And after what I've seen in the daytime, I no longer want to drive on American highways at night.

I've driven on many roads and in many countries: England, Scotland, and Wales; Italy; South Korea; all over Canada. But no roads have infuriated me more than the highways along the eastern seaboard of the United States. That's right: you're worse than South Korea!

And that's saying a lot!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Do Bloggers Take Vacation?

Yes. And no.

The reason that I missed a blog post is simple, and it is also for two reasons: first, I'm on vacation and I spent this past weekend travelling and having fun with my family. Since my last blog post (not counting my weekend recap--and sorry about the broken links), my family and I have snorkelled through the coral reefs off the coast of Key Largo, strolled along Ocean Drive and admired the Art Deco in Miami Beach, spent the day riding dragons, propelling ourselves high in the air, and adventuring with Harry Potter at Universal Studios' Islands of Adventures in Orlando, sampled local beer (review this Thursday, I hope), and taken a ghost tour in Savannah, Georgia.

Yes, we've been busy.

I would have posted a blog entry yesterday, but two factors prevented me from doing so. On Sunday, we spent the entire day at Universal Studios, from early morning until late at night, and so I didn't really have much time to write. But I probably would have, except for the second reason: the four-and-a-half-star hotel that we stayed at did not offer free WiFi. It had the most amazing, most elaborate swimming pool I have ever seen: a large pool with a kids' fountain and two sloped entries, a water slide, and a lazy river to rival some amusement parks. It was immaculately kept and was available to all guests.
The hotel also offered a huge gym with plenty of treadmills, spin bikes, elliptical trainers, and so on, along with a spa, that operated 24 hours a day.

But if you wanted to be connected, you had to pay $15 a day: that's a third of what I pay each month.

This is 2012, hotel people. If you're going to charge that kind of fee for Internet, it makes you look greedy. And it cheapens your hotel. No matter how nice it is and how friendly your staff is.

So yes, I am on vacation and I may not be regular with my blog posts. I'm having too much fun. I'm busy.

But I just may also be offline from time to time.

I'm planning to post my regular Wordless Wednesday tomorrow, but I don't know where I'm staying, yet. I'm hoping for free WiFi. If you don't see a post tomorrow, you'll know why.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rewind: July 9-13, 2012

It's been a fast week in which I didn't know what day I was in, at all. Being on vacation will do that to you.

Yet, despite my messed-up week, I managed to get some blogging done. Here's what I did.

With more than a week left on vacation, I'm going to rely more on photos telling the story. Have a great weekend!

Friday, July 13, 2012

On Mobile Blogging

As a technical writer, I have to make sure that the information and instruction that I provide is first and foremost accurate and does not mislead my audience: that is, it's important that I'm understood but it's more important that I'm not misunderstood.

With the information out of the way, my documentation has to look good. It has to be laid out in such a way that is visually appealing to the reader. If what they see is an eyesore, they're not going to enjoy looking for the information.

When I blog, I'm concerned with the content. I hope that what I write appeals to you and makes you want to read more and return to The Brown Knowser. But I firmly believe that a big part of enjoying my blog lies in how my writing and photos are presented. If this blog looks like shit, you probably wouldn't want to stay on it for long.

And you might not return.

For years, I've been blogging on my home laptop. With a full keyboard and mouse, and the ease of a big screen, I've enjoyed the control of my blog engine. I haven't had very many restrictions, certainly none to make blogging a chore.

A few months ago, on a short trip, I decided to leave my laptop at home and go smaller, taking my iPad and wireless keyboard. It was disastrous. Blogger didn't let me switch between HTML and WYSIWYG, and I couldn't import my photos easily, if at all. The whole experience had me refusing to use my iPad for blogging again, and so for the next two trips I lugged around my laptop (It's a big one).

For this trip, I voiced my mobile blogging concerns with some friends, and they recommended Blogsy. Blogsy is an authoring app that allows you to publish to all sorts of blog engines, including Blogger. One of the things I was told was that Blogsy was easy to use and worked well at importing photos.

And so I bought the app.

Last Friday, I tested the app by posting my Photo Friday post. Text and photos. My usual kind of post. Blogsy worked really well. While the formatting wasn't what I expected, that was my fault. I didn't set the font. But by and large, I was happy, and so my iPad was my only device that came with me on this vacation.

This week, I used Blogsy for all of my post and it seemed to work without a hitch. That is, until yesterday's post. In my weekly beer review, I use a few different paragraph formats, and here's where Blogsy failed me.

Here are my issues:

Blockquotes: when I give the details about a beer, I put the name of the beer, the brewer, the price, and alcohol content in blockquotes. With Blogsy, there appears to be a button at the top, with all of the other formatting buttons, for this feature. And when I used it, my paragraph was indented. But when I wanted to move down to the next paragraph in the blockquotes, the lines were double-spaced. I wanted them single-spaced and I couldn't figure out how to make that happen.

And another problem occured when I wanted to get out of the blockquotes paragraphs. I couldn't do it. I tried pressing Return twice, which in some apps returns the cursor to the main body paragraph. I tried pressing the Blockquotes button again, but all that did was to add another level of blockquotes (further indentation).

I felt trapped. I had to start again. And I gave up on blockquotes. Take a look at my previous beer reviews and then look at yesterday's. Which one do you prefer?

Photos: while I have had no problems bringing photos into a post if the photo is centred, I had not yet tried bringing a photo into the text, aligning it on the left or right side, and reducing the size. In Blogger, I simply place the cursor where I want to place the photo, import the photo, and then click the photo, where I can click the size I want and click the alignment. And it's done.

In Blogsy, I have to import my photo from my library into a tray and then drag the photo into the body of my blog. I have to say that at times, dragging the photo has not been smooth: the photo jumps into the body and sometimes lands in a paragraph that is not where I intended it to go.

The other night, as I wrote my beer blog, I tried to drag one of the photos into the blog (the first photo) and the strangest thing happened. I touched the photo I wanted, and as I dragged it I could see it on the screen. But as soon as I released the photo, the image changed to the second photo in my tray (the second photo in the blog post). I repeated this process several times with the same result, and often the photo would appear at the top of the page, not where I wanted it to go. I finally had to start with a fresh page, pull the photo into the body of the blog, add a paragraph above the photo, and then paste my text above it.

When I tried to import the second photo into the post, I grew frustrated as I lifted my finger and found the first photo in its place.

I also don't like that Blogsy only lets me reduce my photo sizes to a maximum of 60 percent. Sometimes, I like to go smaller, especially when the photo is aligned to the left or right. I don't want my text to appear scrunched. If you look at my previous beer review, you can see what I mean.

Overall, I do like Blogsy. It is much better than Blogger on the iPad. And when I'm travelling, carrying something smaller than my laptop is nicer. I can sit by the pool and type my blog post (this post, as a matter of fact). But Blogsy is not perfect, and I'm not happy with how it formats for indented, single-spaced blocks (in a word, it doesn't). I'm not crazy about how it imports photos into the body, and I don't like the limitation for reducing the size of the photo.

Yesterday's blog post should have taken me less than an hour to put together. With the issues I faced, I had to restart my post twice and it took me more than two hours to create and publish. And I don't like how it appears on the page. It looks amateurish.

So for the next week or so, while I'm travelling, I hope the look of my blog posts doesn't turn you off. I hope that you keep coming back.

Having written this post, I just found the button to switch from a WYSIWYG environment to HTML. While this discovery will most likely solve my formatting problems, it remains to be seen how the photos will be affected.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Hoppiest Beer That Wasn't

I thought I knew a lot about beer, but after visiting a brew pub in Hollywood, Florida, I'm starting to rethink that claim.

After three days on Hollywood Beach, I finally made my way to a local brewery, and I was pleased to learn that it served food as well. Organic Brewery (I know, the name sounds generic) is located right along the Broadwalk (not Boardwalk), a strip that runs for a couple of miles along the beach. On this strip, you'll find many shops and restaurants, and to my surprise, this brewery.

Organic Brewery boasts German-styled and Austrian-styled beer, with Belgian-styled ales thrown into the mix. On the night that my family and I arrived, not all of their beer was on offer (I really wanted to try their English Porter), so I ordered one of their feature beers while Lori ordered another. I sampled both.

Stout Draft Beer

Organic Brewery, Hollywood Beach FL

11% ABV

This stout was a dark brown with hints of caramel color. One of the first things that struck me was that the beer arrived in a frosty glass with a thick bowl and stem. It's not what I expected from a stout, which has always come to me in a standard pint glass. The stout had a beige creamy head that dissipated quickly.

It was difficult to discern anything on the nose; probably, because the beer was so cold. Perhaps, because we sat on the patio and a cool ocean breeze made it a challenge in separating the aromas of the stout from the salt air. As I cupped the glass in my hand and warmed the beverage, I managed to coax a hint of cedar from the bowl.

On the palate, I detected tobacco and spices, and what I thought were hops. This was the hoppiest stout I ever tasted, I told myself. Despite the high alcohol content, I detected none of it in the mouth. I only learned of the 11-percent ABV as I finished my glass, and I was shocked that I didn't taste or feel any of it.

My second surprise was to learn that there are no hops used in the production of this stout; nor, for that matter, of any of the beers brewed here. Just malts, spices, and water.

The Stout Draft Beer (again, a generic, unoriginal name) is a nice, dry beer to enjoy on a hot beach. It's refreshing and not heavy.

The other beer at our table was their Belgium Ale. This beer, I found, was much more interesting. Served in a frosty mug (again, too cold for my liking) this ale was caramel all the way: caramel in colour; creamy caramel head that lasted; caramel nose; creamy caramel flavour in the mouth. And again, ringing in at a heady 10-percent ABV, the alcohol level could not be detected as we drank it.
Though I enjoyed the stout and would drink it again, I think my pick of the night was my wife's pick at the table.

If you find yourself in Hollywood, I recommend a stop at Organic Brewery. Try the beer. Maybe, order an appetizer. And if it's really hot outside, hold your glass against your body to cool down before you drink. That way, you'll be doubly refreshed.