Thursday, January 31, 2013

Of Horses

Though he liked the horses, they didn't like him.

It was written in their eyes, where those dark, hypnotic orbs would look into his own and strike terror into him. He wanted to like them, but they were against that idea, did not want to reciprocate.

When the horses watched him, their ears also went straight back, melted into the backs of their heads, became one with their manes. There was evil in the appearance of those steeds.

For the most part, they ignored him. He wasn't a rider, he never groomed them, never brought them apples. He was there because his sister rode them, and so it was her that they loved, not him.

He didn't want to be there, but his mother would drop him off with his older sister, who loved the horses so and took the lessons. He was there to keep her company. Make sure that she was safe.

With those horses, she was safe as could be.

He would watch her ride around the corral during the hour that she had with the instructor. She was a good rider who became one with the horse, moved in rhythm through the trot, the canter, and over the jumps.

She was a born rider.

He, on the other hand, had never climbed atop a horse. He would follow her into the stable, stand to the side of the paddock as she equipped the giant creature with tack and harness, with padding and saddle. He walked with her, at a safe distance, as she lead her mount out of the barn and into the corral, and he would stand on the outside of the fence as his sister had her lesson.

This was the routine for an hour and a half, twice a week. One weeknight, after dinner, and on Saturday afternoons. Fifteen minutes to prepare the horse, one hour to ride, and fifteen minutes, at the end, to unshackle the horse and groom it. Three hours a week of his life, devoted to hanging out at the farm while his sister rode one horse and the others stared at him, plotting against him.

One Saturday in the summer, the horses carried out a plan to terrify him. They waited for the right time to strike, and they chose the day that he decided not to follow his sister into the barn, decided not to stand aside and smell the wet straw and dung. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, with the odd, lazy cloud above, lounging carelessly above, so he decided to wait outside, to stand by the coral, soak in the warm sun, and wait.

The unbridled horses saw him approaching, and they moved in a group to the far corner of the corral, their ears pressed flat against their necks. In the corner, they stood, nuzzle to nuzzle, as though in conference. There where grunts and mutterings, and every once and awhile a head would look up and turn toward him, the dark orbs watching his every move.

With the suddenness of a thunder clap, the horses bolted, in one movement, in one direction, in a full charge. Though a rider would never take a horse to a gallop in this enclosure, the horses moved freely, unrestrained.

He didn't know what to do, and so he did nothing except stand, motionless, in fear. He didn't know how many horses were charging towards him. Maybe five, maybe six, maybe a dozen. All he could see were heads, bobbing up and down like an out-of-control carousel, the dust kicking up around the multitude of hooves.

These horses are going to hop the fence and trample me, he thought. And yet he could do nothing. His limbs were paralyzed, his feet frozen to the summer grass. His eyes were locked on those dark orbs, could not even close.

But the horses did not leap, did not trample him. As they neared the fence, every one of them pulled up, came to a sudden halt. Only the front two horses, the ones leading the charge, the ones staring him down, made contact with the boards that separated them. They did not crash through. They merely stopped at the fence, let their muscular breasts slap the boards, causing them to roar like canon fire, to tremble more than the boy himself.

And he, by now, trembled fiercely.

The horses, their work done, gaily trotted back to the centre of the corral, pretending like nothing happened. When his sister would emerge with her own ride and the instructor, the penned horses would deny everything.

And still, he liked the horses.

But he would never be alone with them again.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Decisions, Decisions

I love to travel. I love my friends. And when I get to travel to see my friends, I'm happier than a tour bus operator with a load of Koreans*.

A couple of years ago, my best friend, Stuart, and I met up in Edinburgh. He was attending a history conference and carrying out some research; I was getting away for a few days and carrying out research for my book. While we had different agendas, we did have plenty of time to spend together and explore the East-Lothian region.

In high school, Stu and I were inseparable. It was tough when he left Ottawa for university. Though I had a few friends that stuck around town, none were as close. Stu was like a brother, and his absence was profoundly felt.

When we caught up in Scotland, we had a great time. Even when I dragged him over Arthur's Seat, in search of a small village with a Medieval pub. I didn't have my map with me, but I had my memory of its location from Google Earth. And though Stuart's patience ran thin, he did continue and we did find the pub. And it was great.

In the more than 30 years that we've known each other, we've never fought. Our arguements are civil and respectful. And that's one of the reasons, I believe, that our friendship has endured and remained strong.

There's nothing that we wouldn't do for one another.

When we left Edinburgh, we promised to get together again for another getaway, to maybe make it an annual event. Different venue, but same company.

Two years went past and nothing happened. Life got in the way. We both have families with young, busy kids. Time just flies. No blame, no excuses, no bitterness. We both know that though we couldn't make our getaway happen, we were still in each other's thoughts.

Last summer, we talked about an autumn getaway to New York City. We were both enthusiastic about it, and we even included another friend of ours, Ed, who I have known since the sixth grade and who was part of our circle of good friends in high school. Three buddies in NYC in the fall: what could be better?

And then life got in the way again.

Timing in the fall didn't work. And so we promised that we'd make New York happen in the spring, in May.

And so I plan.

Because we chose New York as our destination, finding good, inexpensive accommodation can be a challenge. But I'm sure that we'll be able to find something through Hotwire, Hotels.com, or Travelzoo. Splitting a place three ways will also make it easier, as I want to reserve the bulk of my spending for attractions and nightlife.

The most difficult part of the trip is deciding on transportation, and this is where I have started focusing.

My first choice was to fly. I have earned enough Aeroplan points that I could fly anywhere in the world, first class. All I have to do is pay the taxes. So, using my points, it would only cost me about $180 to fly round-trip from Ottawa. The only problem is the timing.

While the trip there would be perfect—fly out around 7, be in the Big Apple by 11—the return flight sucks: leave at dinnertime, arrive in Montreal by 10, and then stay for eight hours before catching my connection flight to Ottawa.

In eight hours, I could drive back and forth between Ottawa and Montreal four times.

I looked at flying with Porter Airlines, but that would cost $427 and would take a huge bite out of my budget. Same with WestJet.

I considered driving to Syracuse and either taking a flight for about $150 (round-trip), but with fuel to drive there and back I'd be looking at an additional $80. I could take a train from Syracuse for less, but it would actually take longer than if I drive all the way.

Which is what I'm considering.

Costing it out, both financially and time-wise, it would take me seven hours to drive from home to Secaucus Junction. Fuel cost would be about $150, plus another $50 to leave my car there for the weekend. Add another $10 for round-trip transportation from Secaucus Junction to Penn Station, and the transportation cost is $210.

That's $30 more than it would cost to fly on points, but I would also have to find a way to get from the airport into Manhattan, and the time saved in travel makes it an ideal way to go.

Plus, if I take my car, I can bring more beer home. I can stop along the way home and check out any breweries along the way.

What do you think? How would you travel from Ottawa to NYC?

With the options I've considered and the plans in motion, May can't come soon enough. I'm looking forward to hitting the town with my great friends.


* Having travelled with groups of Koreans, I can honestly say it's one of the easiest ways to travel. The itinerary is all planned to a T and runs like clockwork.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Beer O'Clock: Beau's Does It Again

I like Beau's, but not always.

Beau's All Natural Brewing Company is what I consider a hit-and-miss company. Sometimes, this organic beer company produces some awe-inspiring beer, like its Bog Water, its Beaver River IP-Eh, and its Hogan's Goat Spiced Bock. I absolutely loved their Weiss O'Lantern Pumpkin Wheat Ale—it was my overall favourite pumpkin ale last fall.

Sometimes, I feel the Vankleek Hill brewery misses. I'm sorry to say, I am not a fan of their flagship beer, Lug Tread Lagered Ale. And I found that their Mr. Hyde rye flavoured IPA was a little too much.

You can't please everyone.

But their third installment of their winter beer is a big-time pleaser.
Winterbrewed Coffee Amber Ale
Beau's All Natural Brewing Company
Vankleek Hill ON
LCBO: $7.85, 600 ml; 6% ABV
My Beer O'Clock rating: 4/5
Created a couple of years ago, during Winterlude, the folks at Beau's teamed up with another local company that specializes in fair-trade, organic coffee (yes, I'm talking about Bridgehead). The result is an amber ale that has coffee written all over it.

And then some.

Deep copper-red with a creamy, beige head, I detected malt and heavy raisins off the nose, followed by a hint of that Bridgehead coffee. The raisin flavours carry through on the palate and mix with spiced fruit cake and burnt caramel. And then the coffee comes through to the finish, which balances nicely with the alcohol. With each sip (and you'll want to continue to sip this stuff), the coffee builds.

Coffee and beer: my two favourite liquids.

I found a perfect food pairing with this beer: poutine. I made some homemade poutine this weekend, peeling and slicing Yukon Gold potatoes and baking them in the oven with organic olive oil, and then sprinkling them with St-Albert's curds and drenching them in a beef gravy. On a cold winter's day, this is the perfect comfort food. Winterbrewed is the perfect ale to wash it down with.

No doubt, Beau's will be at Winterlude, during the beer festival on Sparks Street (February 16 and 17), aptly named Winter Brewed. I'll be shocked if their Winterbrewed isn't on offer.

Because that would be a real miss.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Rewind: January 21-25, 2013

I love it when my week flows like a stream of consciousness. One action flowing into the next, and then those actions mix and mingle as they flow through time.

That's how it's been this week on The Brown Knowser. There seems to have been two themes running this week, both of them intertwining and weaving into a fabric that is this blog.

The two themes this week were the freezing cold of winter and writing about my fictional Scottish character, Roland Axam. Here's how the week went:
  • Beer O'Clock: When In Winter... —a review of a beer that is made for the winter, aptly named Solstice d'hiver (Winter Solstice) and brought to you as Ottawa plunged into a deep freeze.
  • Walkin' In a Winterlude Wonderland—despite the cold, winter can be a great time of year to take photos. And so, I've organized an evening photo walk during Winterlude (and tickets are running out fast!).
  • Wordless Wednesday: Time Machine 8—because it's been too cold to actually go outside and take pictures (we hit –40° this week!), I travelled back in time to better weather and to Scotland, during my research into my character, Roland Axam.
  • Digging In The Dirt—in my search for writing ideas, I came across my actual Korea diary (the journal I kept while I lived in South Korea). It held entries that I actually wrote about in Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary, using Roland as the main character.
  • Photo Friday: Cold Days—on Thursday, I finally ventured out with my camera to capture images that reflected the cold of the week. I also shot a video that demonstrated the cold. I posted it on Friday, which happened to be Robert Burns Day (I ate haggis and drank whisky in celebration, wore my Scotland rugby shirt, and even spoke with Roland's mellowed-down, East-Lothian accent: no one noticed—don't know if that's a good thing or not).
Did I tie those themes together well enough? Sort of. It wasn't on purpose; I just noticed the connections this morning.

Enjoy your weekend!

Oh, and if you are also following my Beer O'Clock blog, there were two reviews posted this week:

Friday, January 25, 2013

Photo Friday: Cold Days

Instead of my usual Photo Friday, I thought I would start with a video.

With the past couple of days seeing Ottawa in a deep freeze, I thought I would perform that old trick with hot water.

Here's what I made (and pardon the shaky camera; I should have used a tripod).



And on the next morning, I stopped on Bate Island during my morning commute to capture the frosty mist as it came up from the river and floated through the trees. At the time, it was –37°C with the wind chill. In the five minutes that I took to shoot photos, my uncovered hands seized up.



Stay warm, my friends.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Digging In The Dirt

Yes, that Peter Gabriel song was in my head as I began thinking of a blog post. Maybe that's what got me delving into my basement, opening boxes, whose contents haven't seen the light of day in more than a decade.

Our basement is a dumping ground; unfinished, we first piled boxes filled with things we didn't need when we first moved here. In time, we stored goods for friends, and, later, we moved things from spare bedrooms and studies when the kids came along. Now, any time we buy something new, either the box that the purchase comes in goes down, or the item that has been replaced finds its way down, or both.

The basement is also the cat's domain, where we occasionally find coughed-up hairballs or remains of caught mice. We have learned to wear footwear when heading down to the basement because of what our feet may find. There's also a layer of settled dust.

When we go down to the basement in search of anything, we come up dirty.

Hence my thoughts as I headed downstairs, which turned to Mr. Gabriel's tune. I was, in my treasure hunt, digging in the dirt. In search of an idea for a blog post. Surely, I told myself, a blog idea lurks inside the mustiness of paper and cardboard of my past.

I wish I had opened some of these boxes a decade ago.

Inside one box, I found a green-covered notebook. A Blueline-styled notebook, the hard cover bearing no brand name, no indication of origin. But I immediately recognized the book, knew its origin.

Korea.

Years ago, as I was putting notes together for Songsaengnim, I searched for this book in vain. I had plenty of boxes with souvenirs, photos, and news clippings from the two years that I lived in that country, but there was one book that I was missing, could not locate.

My diary.

Remember: the full title of my novel is Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary. I had hoped to use actual entries of my diary as part of the story. Unfortunately, I couldn't find my diary. Instead, I drew on memory and e-mail correspondence with my family. My mother actually printed out every e-mail message that I sent to her and that she sent to me, and placed them in a binder.

By the time I returned to Canada, in March of 1999, that binder was four inches thick and bursting at the seams.

More ideas for the sequel, I suppose.

I flipped through the pages and found that my memories came back with such clarity that the events could have happened last week. What brought a smile to my face was seeing how my writing changed, how, as my Korean improved, I would write Korean words in hangul, instead of English. And I was surprised that I could still read those words today.

My diary entries, for the most part, offer details only. There is no creative writing, no descriptive prose. Most of it is dry, trite, giving just the facts of the day. Every once and a while, I added dialog.

One event I remember clearly, and as I read the dialog, I remember the conversation, word for word. Here's my diary entry, exactly as I had written it.
Wednesday, April 23, 1997

Lori and I saw our first nude Korean yesterday. Mrs. Jung asked us if we wanted to go to a nude festival:

"A what?"

"A nude festival."

"Nude—no clothes?"

"Yes."

"Will we be expected to take our clothes off?"

(Giggle) "No!"

"Can I bring my camera?"

"Yes..." (another giggle).

"All right, let's go!!"

A short walk from our hogwan—maybe three minutes—is a hall that is used as a gallery or exhibition hall, and sometimes as a wedding hall. On this day, it was being used as an art gallery, lecture hall and studio. Along the walls hung various paintings of nudes by local artists. Many people had gathered and were admiring the works of art—even another foreigner, one we recognized from SE, was there. Mrs. Jung and Miss Kang came with Lori and me.

We noticed people were crowding down at the far end of the hall, where some chairs were set up, so we followed. At the end was a lecture podium, a stage and a stool. We stood immediately behind the chairs, where some artists were sitting and setting up their easels and sketch pads. We quickly realized what was going to happen.

Shortly thereafter a man stepped up to the podium and gave a speech, and introduced the artists to the audience. I couldn't understand a word he said, but applauded when he introduced each artist anyway. Another man also stepped up to the podium and said a few words. When he was finished, the artists prepared to work.

It was at this point that a model stepped out from behind a screen, wearing a robe. She quickly slipped off the robe and sat on the stool in an elegant pose. The artists worked furiously to capture their perceived image. It was fascinating to watch their images take shape, and the different methods and approaches each artist used. Some paintings/sketches were crude, some were quite detailed. I watched one artist, and saw the areas he concentrated on—the curves, the shadows—I looked at the model and saw what he was drawing. He reminded me of the aspects many photographers concentrate on—light and shadows—and he reminded me I had my camera with me. The model changed poses three times while we watched, and I thought about how I would photograph her (this was not the time and the place, even though photography can be an artform in itself).

I must admit, I was also fascinated watching the model herself. She was quite lovely: small, slender, curvaceous. I was intrigued to see such dark nipples contrasted against her pale olive-yellow flesh. Her pubic hair was trimmed to a thin line, but the hair itself was long and straight. She was elegant and beautiful. I had to fight to resist shooting her picture. It was too bad that we had to leave to teach our 7pm classes. I could have watched the model and the artist work for the entire showing.
Yeah yeah, I know what you're thinking: dirty old man. I think it was this experience that might have spawned my interest in studio photography. The poses, watching the images unfold, how the artists drew out the shadows, made me want to explore this form of art. But like my lost diary, my interest in nude photography didn't surface until recently.

I'm going to use this diary entry in an upcoming chapter in Gyeosunim. Only, I hope it'll be better then. I also hope that the next time I go into the basement, digging in the dirt, that I find more treasure troves.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Walkin' In a Winterlude Wonderland

February can be a magical time of year in Ottawa: the snow is still on the ground, the weather can be cool, but pleasant, and one of the city's biggest festivals is in full swing.

I'm talking, of course, about Winterlude.

I love grabbing my camera and hitting the canal, or Jacques Cartier Park, or Confederation Park, and capturing people enjoying the winter weather. There's so much to photograph: skaters, snow slides, and ice sculptures.

This year, I am organizing a winter photo walk to coincide with Winterlude (although I won't be associated in any way with the festival). And so, I'm calling on all photogs to join me for an evening stroll on Friday, February 8.

We will start in Confederation Park, where we can expect lots of brightly lit ice sculptures and vendor booths. I believe that there will be a special covered pathway that will offer more photo opportunities.

We will then move onto the Rideau Canal, where we can capture skaters and other ice activities.

The photo walk should only take a couple of hours: I'm thinking from 6:30 to 8:30. The event will also be dependent on the weather, so if it's too cold, if there's a raging blizzard, or if rain has washed out the sculptures and canal, we'll have to reschedule.

If you want to come along, please go to my Eventbrite event and register. It's free. Just bring your camera. If you have one, a tripod is also recommended.

If you have any questions, leave them in the Comments section for this post and I'll get back to you.

I hope to see you there!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Beer O'Clock: When In Winter...

Only in Ottawa can we go from above from above the freezing point, where we're wearing a sweater and a down-filled vest, to a deep freeze, where our parka just doesn't seem warm enough, in less than two days.

Welcome to winter.

Luckily, we Ottawans are a hearty bunch. When the snow has fallen and the wind chill makes the temperature feel like –20°C, we can head out and shovel our driveways, and break out in a sweat.

The best reward for enduring the bitter cold is to come inside, eat a chicken pot pie, and wash it down with a fine beer. But in winter, not any beer will do.

Enter this week's selection, from Québec, aptly named for this season.
Solstice d'hiver (Winter Solstice)
Brasserie Dieu du Ciel!
St-Jérôme, QC
Broue Ha Ha: $9.99 (plus tax, deposit), 4 x 341ml; 10.2% ABV
Beer O'Clock rating: 3.5 out of 5
This beer, a barley wine, is brewed in July and then aged for five or six months. As its name implies, it is released on December 21st—winter solstice. And with its hearty flavours and high alcohol content, it is a perfect winter ale.

Dieu du Ciel is also planning to release this "vintage" again this coming June 21 (its one-year anniversary) and again on the next winter solstice, the anniversary of its release.

A deep, murky, copper-brown colour with a creamy, beige head, I immediately detected a caramel nose with clove and some nutmeg. The spice carries through on the palate with slightly sweet toffee.

There is a great hoppy finish with lingering alcohol that isn't overpowering, despite it's high content.

This is a nice barley wine—the nicest I've had—but I wouldn't want to drink more than one in a sitting. The second time I tried it (after my initial tasting and review notes), I split the bottle with Lori while we had some homemade chicken pot pie. The beer was a great match. And it was a great way to reward myself after shovelling the driveway.

I plan to keep my remaining two bottles to open on June 21st and December 21st. I may provide an update.

Sliante!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Rewind: January 14-18, 2013

If last week's thaw and record-high temperatures made Ottawans believe that winter was almost over, this week's frigid temperatures and opening of the Rideau Canal to skaters has quickly dispelled that belief.

Only in Ottawa can we go from an unnatural 11°C to –30°C in a relatively short period. Don't we live in an incredible, insane city?

Still, I'm looking forward to Winterlude, which opens in two weeks. Who knows what weather we'll experience by then?

So take a few minutes from the weather and catch up on this week of The Brown Knowser.
Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Photo Friday: Lees Station

For many months, I have wanted to play with some time-exposure photography, capturing motion of obstacles at night. 

I was trying to think of some places where I could get above vehicles and shoot their lights as they passed in either direction. The obvious approach was an overpass.

I have shot vehicles from above the Queensway, so I didn't want to do that again. Not yet. I thought of the transitway (the public transit corridor that weaves its way through Ottawa), but I needed a place to get above. Using Google Maps, I traced out the transitway and looked for unique vantage points.

There are many places to get above the transitway, but I settled on the Lees Avenue Station. In this shot, you can see not only the bus-only route but also the Queensway and the Nicholas Avenue exit. You can also see Ottawa University buildings and the downtown cityscape.

I took 10 shots: one didn't turn out. Each of the remaining nine shots looked good and had characteristics of their own, such as buses stopping to let passengers on and off, others passing through. Sometimes, the Queensway had heavy traffic.

I couldn't decide which shot to use, so I combined them all. Here are nine shots, merged into one.


It's like a photo with nine lives. What do you think?

I also did this one, using only three of the photos and painting in one of the stopped buses.




Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Not A Ringing Endorsement

Several months ago, I discovered that I am using LinkedIn less and less often, and that I had more connections than I knew what to do with. So I started culling.

I started with people that I didn't recognize as anyone with which I've interacted, or with people whose interests and career paths weren't in line with my own.

The whole purpose was to focus more on the connections that I really knew or have had come conversation with in a discussion group, or one-on-one.

In the ensuing months, I culled about 140 connections.

But then I looked at LinkedIn even less often than I had when I made the decision to cull connections, and I stopped looking to shrink my network.

When a person contacts me and wants to connect, more times than not I decline. Sorry, but until I get my list paired down to a manageable number, I'm not going to take on more connections. Unless I really do know you, I'm not going to connect.

And since I started culling connections, LinkedIn has come up with a new feature: endorsements. Drawing from your list of skills, a connection can click a button and endorse you for that skill. Supposedly, it boosts your ability to be found when someone is searching for people with a desired skill set.

I have endorsed only a small number of people. To receive an endorsement from me, I must know you for that particular skill. This means that I have either worked with you and seen you use that skill in your job or I follow you on your blog or other social-media connection (or I even know you personally), and I have seen evidence of that skill (for example, writing, photography, or Web design).

By endorsing you, I am staking my reputation on you by acknowledging the fact that, yes, I know you for that skill and you are very good at that skill.

If I don't know you or I don't know you for that skill, I won't endorse you for it. I won't put my name behind your claim for that skill.

Some of my LinkedIn connections have started endorsing me, and for that I thank them. Sometimes.

I receive endorsements for my writing, and I assume that those people have read my blog or my novel, and that they like my writing. For that, I am honoured.

Some folks endorse me for my blogging. Again, I assume that these people read my blog and like it. Again, thank you.

But some of my LinkedIn connections, some with whom I have never met, never worked, have started endorsing me for technical writing. Or for FrameMaker.

Only a couple of my technical writing projects have been in the public eye. If you own a copy of WordPerfect 9 and have the user's guide, you own some of my work. But that manual is a collaboration of many writers, and so you would have to know which chapters were written by me.

I doubt any of my LinkedIn connections know which sections are mine. And yet, they endorse me for a skill that they cannot verify.

Same with my FrameMaker skills. Some LinkedIn connections have worked with me and have endorsed me for this dinosaur Adobe product. They have seen me produce documentation, despite the increasing issues I have faced with this buggy program. So to those connections, I say thank you.

But to my connections who have never worked with me, never seen me use FrameMaker, and yet who endorse me for this skill, I have to scratch my head.

I complain about FrameMaker openly, on Twitter, when the app is giving me grief. But I would think that if someone was thinking about my skill set after reading these tweets, he or she might think, "maybe he just doesn't know the program well enough."

I've used FrameMaker for about eight years or so. I know it all too well.

But unless you've worked with me, have seen me in action, producing technical documentation (and, for a while, I was using it when writing chapters of Songsaengnim, before I discovered I was causing myself too much work), you have no idea that I have any expertise in FrameMaker.

And so, if you are a connection of mine on LinkedIn and you have endorsed me for my FrameMaker skills, check again. You'll likely find that we are no longer connections. Because I've dropped you.

An endorsement has to mean something. It has to be given out because you know what you're talking about in presenting anybody with your stamp of approval. It has to say, "yes, I know that you are good at a particular skill, and I'm willing to put my reputation on the line in supporting you for that skill."

If you endorse me for a skill, be prepared to back up that endorsement. Otherwise, you're showing me that you don't know me. At all. But you will be drawing attention to yourself. You will pursuade me to look at our connection.

And I, most likely, will sever it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Open Letter to Sarah Slean

Dear Sarah,

I'm really sorry for leading you astray yesterday, but I'm sure that because you don't know me, you didn't follow the advice that I gave you on Twitter.

Glaswegians, typically, don't like being called "Weegies."

I was messing with you.

I feel that I owe you an apology, especially because when you replied to my suggestion by writing, "that sounds slightly risky... ," I said, "Trust me... would I steer you wrong?"

I'm really sorry. I steered you wrong.

If you did refer to your wonderful fans in Glasgow as "Weegies," I'm sure they forgave you. After all, they came to see you because they love you and your music makes the world a place in which it is worth living. Who cares what you call them?

Plus, you're Canadian: what do you know about the Scotts? And where did I get the term? From a book, written by Ian Rankin, a resident of Edinburgh. His character, Inspector John Rebus, was a gruff character who was also prejudiced against his neighbouring city. He didn't care whether the term was insulting.

But you're a good person and you do care.

I'm sorry.

I don't know if you remember me. I tweet my affection for your music every once and awhile. I have seen you perform in Ottawa twice and have blogged about the wonderful experience.

Last November, before you performed at the NAC, I invited you to join my family for dinner before your evening. You thanked me, and respectfully declined.

Oh yeah: you're also on my Top 5 List.

This February, you are gracing my city with yet another visit. This time, not only am I bringing my wife to your concert, I'm also bringing both of my daughters, who love you and your music almost as much as I do.

Last evening, my youngest daughter, Lainey, asked me if I would again invite you to dinner before your show. Living a 15-minute drive from Centrepointe Theatre, we'd be a convenient place for you to dine.

Of course, you're always welcome.

But because of my words to you yesterday (me, trying to be funny, but, if you followed my advice, coming off as an asshole), I know that any hope of you sharing a home-cooked meal before your performance is now dashed.

Not only do I owe you an apology, I now owe my family a big "sorry" for putting us in your bad books.

My only hope is that if I have caused you any embarrassment that you will find room in your heart to forgive me.

I look forward to seeing you in February. With any luck, we can put this nasty business behind us.

Your loving fan, Ross.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Beer O'Clock: Studying Scottish History

I love history. In university, one of my favourite courses of study was an elective for my minor: Medieval history.

Ever since I was a kid, I've loved castles, knights, kings, and battles with swords (not guns). When I was creating my fictional character, Roland Axam, I travelled to his home town of North Berwick and went over the moon when I found out that a Medieval castle with a colourful history was only three kilometres away.

In my first story with Roland, the climax was set at Tantallon Castle.


Over the holidays, I went to my local LCBO to see what seasonals were available, and I was pleased to see a box with historic Scottish ales. I had seen this set last Christmas, but I was in search of local craft seasonals, so I let the gift set go.

Not this year.

Sadly, I fell ill over the holidays and for a record nine days, I drank no beer. No reviews, no tastings. I suffered on top of suffering.

Now that I'm better, I wanted to start my reviews for 2013 with this sampler by Williams Brothers Brewing. Because, if any of these gift packs are still hanging around, you should grab one.


I tasted these beers in the order in which they came packed, from left to right. And as a flight is concerned, this seemed to be the best order in which to enjoy them. And that's how I'm going to list them.
Historic Ales from Scotland
Williams Brothers Brewery Company (OA Heather Ale Ltd.)
Alloa, Scotland
LCBO: $10.85, 4 x 330ml

Grozet Gooseberry & Wheat Ale (5% ABV)

Made since the 16th century, this brew is made with malted barley bree, wheat, gooseberries, bogmyrtle, and hops. Pale apricot in colour with a fine, white head, this refreshing beer has a fruity nose of pear and peach. On the palate, I caught tones of pineapple and honey that ended in a nice, light finish.

It was delicious, and I give it a rating of 3 out of 5.


Fraoch Heather Ale (5% ABV)

Heather ale is Scotland's native ale and dates as far back as 2000 BC. Deep apricot in colour with a foamy white head that dissipates quickly, I found the nose held a musty pine scent and earthy floral. In the mouth, I tasted a creamed honey and more wood, with a dry and tannic flavour. The finish was clean and light, with a dryness that made me want more. More flavour, that is, and for that, I gave it a 2.


Alba Scots Pine Ale (7.5% ABV)

According to the label, the recipe for this ale was introduced to the Scots by the Vikings. This style of beer was popular in Scotland until the 19th century.

Copper-red in colour, Alba produced a lively effervescence with a pure white head that dissipated almost immediately. I popped the cap, poured it into my glass, and grabbed my camera: by the time I was focused, the head was gone. And because I poured it into a wine goblet, as the label recommended, the bubbles also faded quickly. The beer was flat before I managed to finish it.

But at the start, Alba delivered a fruity nose with hints of ginger and apple. In the mouth, I tasted nice hops with traces of whisky and a sharp flavour of wood. The beer ended in a caramel finish.

This is a hot beer with a high alcohol level that made me pace myself, which probably accounted for the dissipation of the fizz. But it went flat far too soon. Despite my final mouthfuls, I enjoyed this ale. It was interesting, complex, and warranted a score of 3.


Ebulum Elderberry Black Ale (6.5% ABV)

This historic ale was introduced to the Scots by the Welsh in the 9th century. It is cola coloured with a foamy, light brown head that also doesn't stick around; nor did the lively effervescence that came in the glass. This ale gives a spicy nose with roasted malts; in the mouth, I tasted mild hops with a toastiness and an enjoyable, medium finish.

This gruit-styled ale was my favourite of the bunch. I gave it a 4.

We owe so much in the modern world to the Scots. Industry, art, and beer. So we should embrace Scottish history.

This beer is a good start.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Rewind: January 7-11, 2013

This week has blown by for me, mostly because I was in bed with a flu bug until Thursday. The only advantage to being in bed for a week was that I was able to write and assemble almost all of this week's blog posts in one day.

It's only fitting that now, in less than one day, you can review this week on The Brown Knowser.
  • Where In Ottawa: January 2013—the first photo challenge for the new year came with a dedication to a friend who was celebrating her birthday. The location of the photo was solved within a couple of hours.
  • Not For Prime-Time Viewing—a recent photo session left me thinking about my personal branding and what I am willing to show on The Brown Knowser.
  • Wordless Wednesday: Moorside—the location of the Where In Ottawa challenge also happens to be where my wife and I were married. There was a lot less snow on that lovely day.
  • What I'll Be Reading in 2013—my reading list has finally come together.
  • Photo Friday: Just One—I decided to post one of the photos from my recent photo shoot. I think it's art. What do you think?
Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Photo Friday: Just One

Okay, I've thought about it.

When I talked about the latest photo shoot that I attended, I said that I didn't think I wanted to post any photos on The Brown Knowser that I didn't think went with my "brand." Whatever that word means in terms of me.

But The Brown Knowser has been about me and my take on the world around me. I'm a writer and amateur photographer who has lots of thoughts, ideas, and opinions that I like to share. From my growing readership, I assume that those of you who follow me have enjoyed the journey that we've set out on.

My photography interests are growing, so why wouldn't I want to share my experiences?

I'm going to start with just one, today. I want to only show the photos that I feel are the most artistic and, at the same time, would offend the least number of followers, if any at all.

Only you can tell me if I'm wrong.

With the following photo, I used low light and no flash. I had the model rotate slowly, until only a sliver of light struck her. In post production, I darkened the photo further, increased the contrast, performed a high-pass sharpening (which makes the image slightly grainy), and converted the image to black and white.

The result, I think, gives the impression of a wisp of smoke that is definitely feminine.



What do you think? Should I keep this type of photography to my 500px account and my Ottawa Photographer Meetup group?

After all, I'm not going to do this sort of photography often. It's only one of many genres of photography that I want to explore.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What I'll Be Reading in 2013

It's long overdue, but I've finally assembled my reading list for 2013.

And I have to admit, I've been pretty lazy in putting this list together. I only received a couple of recommendations this year, and in a way, that was a relief. In the past two years, I had so many recommendations that I felt bad cutting some out.

Despite the few suggestions, I managed to misplace some of the recommendations that I did get. I think that is because some people sent me recommendations through Twitter, and I forgot to make a note right away. This meant that that tweet got buried, and then I forgot who sent me what.

Sorry about that.

I also remembered that through 2012, I purchased e-books and stored them on my iPad. Many of these books are written by people that I follow on LinkedIn, on Twitter, or through their blogs, and out of loyalty I picked up a copy of their novel. And so I'm going to do those folks the courtesy of reading their hard work. Perhaps they'll do the same with mine.

Without further ado, here is my reading list for 2013:
So what are you going to read this year?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Not for Prime-Time Viewing

If you read my blog at work, you might want to hold off reading this one until you get home and the kids are asleep.

Just like I had to do when I edited the photos.

Go ahead. I'll wait.

Actually, this post is safe: just don't click the links unless you're in a safe environment.

For a couple of months, I have been a member of an Ottawa photography group and have been focusing on learning how to work in a studio, with lighting and a model. The shots from my first shoot can be seen here; the second shoot, here.

But I won't be posting my photos for my most-recent photo shoot on The Brown Knowser.

The theme of the shoot was "Low Key Bodyscapes." As the details of the shoot stated:
Images will be shot on a black background with various wardrobe and fabrics to provide for a variety of portfolio shots. To enhance learning attendees can participate in creating lighting set ups that could include, rim lighting or simple 1 or 2 light set ups. [sic]
I'm interested in taking photos in various light situations, and I've been wanting to experiment with rim lighting—applying light in such a way as to create dark shadows and light on the outer edges of the subject.

I'm not naive and I'm certainly not a prude:  I saw one of the sample photos from the event description and I figured that there might be some nudity or implied nudity. I'm not a stranger to nude photography: I've taken some in my youth (who hasn't in one form or another?) and when I worked in a camera store, I learned about several photo styles and methods.

In my years of photo experience, I've seen my share of nude photos.

But it wasn't until I showed up at the last shoot that I learned, as the model set up, that this was a nude photo shoot.

No "wardrobe;" few "fabrics."

I approached this shoot like the other two before. I treated the model with dignity and respect. The organizer of the event is an experienced photographer and a great teacher. Having worked with this model before, he was able to assist both her and the other photographers.

Thankfully, I wasn't the only novice: one person was also attending his first nude shoot; the other newbie was there, at his very first studio shoot.

We used two backgrounds: white and black. We used the white background to achieve a wash effect, getting the light to blend with the model's skin. We also had her use a sheer, white curtain to play with the light.

For the black background, we used low light to cast shadows across the model's body, creating interesting landscapes. We also created interesting shadows and contours. While we could use a low-powered flash with this darkened shoot, I preferred shooting without a flash, using only the steady lighting of the diffused soft boxes.

I was thinking that I would post a photo or two on my blog, but decided against it. For now. I'm okay with using occasional foul language, when appropriate (is there such a thing?), but I don't know if I want to post nude images on The Brown Knowser.

No matter how artistic I think they are.

But if you want to view the photos, I've added four to my 500px photo page. And there are some on the page for the photo meetup.

Go if you'd like, but as I said: do so at home, maybe tonight. The photos are not for prime-time viewing.

I would appreciate any feedback you might have, good or bad.

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