Monday, September 30, 2013

Who's Up for a Photo Walk?

The autumn colours have come to the Ottawa-Gatineau area earlier than usual, and I'd like to get out there and take advantage of them (and hopefully continue the warm trend we've enjoyed).

Who's with me?

I'm looking for 10 photographers to hike with me on Sunday, October 20, from Meech Lake to the Tawadina Lookout, along the Wolf Loop trail. From the P13 parking lot, near Blanchet Beach, we'll walk 3.5 kilometres to the lookout, and back. The trail is moderate, with a few steep slopes, so it's not as easy as other walks I've led.

Because of the condition of the trail (rocks and tree roots stick out and the ground is not even, plus there will be lots of leaves covering the trail), I will cancel the walk if there is a steady rain. No one wants to slip and injure themselves, let alone their camera equipment.

I recommend that you wear good hiking boots that have good grip. Because we don't know what the weather will be like, I can only say to dress appropriately. It can be quite windy at the lookout.

If you're interested, go to my Eventbrite site and sign up. The walk is free, but you are responsible for getting yourself to the meeting spot. We'll meet at 2:00 and start on the trail no later than 2:15.

I hope to see you there!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Photo Friday: Pastoral Sunset

I'm still sorting through photos from my family vacation, and when I came across the photo for today's blog post, I wondered why I hadn't paid more attention to it sooner.

The sixth day of our 10-day canoe trip from Kingston to Ottawa was the worst one of the trip. We awoke to find that our youngest daughter had an infection in her ankle, and had to send her to Ottawa for medical attention. As we were taking down our camp site and packing our canoe, a downpour hit us before we could take down the tent, and as a result it got soaked.

It rained all day, forcing us to decide whether to seek shelter in a Smiths Falls hotel or forge ahead and try to find shelter beyond the small Montague Township town and risk having to set up camp in the rain, whereby the rest of our equipment would share the same fate as our tent.

In Smiths Falls, the rain eased and we learned that the forecast called for clear skies by late afternoon. We made the decision to continue our paddling, hoping we would make it to Kilmarnock Lockstation by suppertime.

But as we left Smiths Falls, the rain increased and we were soaked through. At Old Slys Locks, where it poured mercilessly, the lock master said that we would have to high-tail it to make it to the next lockstation in order to make it through to continue to Kilmarnock. The three of us paddled as hard as we could, but by the time we reached Edmunds Lock, the gates were closed for the night.

But, at least, the rain had stopped.

We found a place to hang our tent, hoping that the steady breeze would dry it quickly, while we unpacked our food and prepared dinner. With our meal out of the way, we were thrilled to find the tent dry and we set it up.

But as we were tying down the final ties, we could see another storm cloud moving in fast. I told Lori that we probably had five minutes, tops, to secure a tarp over the tent and secure all of our belongings in the lock station before we'd be soaked again. The canoe was still tied in the blue zone on the water.

It would have to wait.

Just as I threw the final pack in the lock station, an incredible downpour hit us. Lori was still tying the last corner of the tarp onto the roof of the tent and was soaked as she sought shelter. Had we been in the canoe, fully loaded, when this storm hit, which would have been the case had we tried to make it to Kilmarnock, would have swamped.

But the storm blew through quickly, the sun came out, and we were treated to a rainbow and an amazing sunset. I took many shots, including this one, looking towards our next leg of our journey.

At the end of our worst canoe day, a little hope for better days ahead.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Great Leap Backwards

Is it just me, or are you finding that some of our technology, while it is light-years ahead in making our life more convenient, is doing so at a cost of quality?

The digital age has made things faster, but is it better?

I'm noticing a trend in some of the pieces of technology that I use every day, and in comparing them to the way things were in the past, I don't think our society is better off for them.

My latest pet peeves with technology deal with telephones, cars, and smartphones.

IP phones have been around for a while—a few years, anyways—and they seem to be on the rise. Because they can be tied to computers, their functionality has become increasingly dynamic, especially in the realm of public-safety call taking.

I know this fact because I work in the industry.

At the office, I use an IP phone. I say I use it but I don't use it to its full potential. I make phone calls, answer the phone when it rings, I record phone greetings depending on whether or not I'm in the office, and I retrieve any recorded messages that I might have received when I was away from my desk.

On a traditional land line, I enjoy a crisp, clear voice from whomever is speaking to me. That person's voice sounds pretty much the same as when I'm standing in front of him or her. When I use an IP phone, however, the speaker's voice sometimes sounds digitized and is not always sharp. When I speak, I hear my own voice in the speaker, and it sounds artificial.

If I'm conversing on my IP phone with someone who is also using an IP phone, the sound quality is horrible. There are echos. Both voices sound synthesized. The quality of the line is akin to communicating through tin cans and string.

I'm not criticizing my company. We don't make the phones.

I prefer using a good old-fashioned phone to an IP phone. It feels better and sounds better. With an IP phone, the technology may be more advanced but the quality has taken a huge step backwards.

Automobiles have also incorporated more technology into them, using more and more computer chips with touch-screen features. The mechanics who service these cars are more computer technicians than they are grease monkeys (no offense to mechanics and monkeys, alike).

A few months ago, my car was having a glitch with its transmission, where the start from a standing stop would be jerky, as though the car was trying to accelerate on a rain-soaked street, with the drive wheels on road paint, and it was trying to gain purchase of the asphalt.

When I took my car in to fix the problem, I was surprised to learn that the solution was to upgrade the car's software. I told the service rep that the issue with the car felt mechanical but I was assured that the mechanics were controlled by a computer.

My car didn't have a mechanical issue: it had a computer bug.

This week, my car, still experiencing the same problem, is returning to the shop to have an actual part replaced. It seems that my call was correct. The problem is now a known issue, and the mechanical fix should solve the problem.

But I'm taking my car in for other issues, ones that deal with the technology. My car is supposed to synch with my smartphone. It has Bluetooth technology that allows me to make hands-free calls with my phone, and when my phone is plugged into the USB port in the storage compartment, I can use voice-activated commands to control the music on my device. I can tell it to play a shuffled mix, a playlist, an artist, or a specific song.

Only, for some reason, the voice-activated system will not respond to my command for a USB device. If I say, "USB," as the command requires, there is a moment of silence before the radio, which plays when I'm not listening to music, resumes.

When my voice fails to activate music, I resort to the touch screen. Sometimes, it doesn't show a device connected. Sometimes, a device is shown as connected, but I can't get it to play. Other times, the last-played song appears in the display but the Play button doesn't start the song.

On a couple of occasions, though it hasn't happened in a couple of months, I would start the car and notice that the clock was showing the wrong time. I'm not talking about being off by a minute or two: I mean that the time is not even close, not by hours nor by minutes.

In all of the cars that I've owned in the past, in all of the cars I've driven (when I lived with my parents, we had hundreds of cars: my father sold cars and would drive demos, and in the 80s it wouldn't be surprising for him to bring a different car home every day. Some days, he'd leave the house with one car, sell it, and come home with a different demo. I drove most of them), I've never had to reset a clock beyond changing the time for daylight savings.

I've reset the clock at least a half-dozen times, and I haven't had the car for a year yet (next week marks its anniversary with us).

The frustration that the technology in my car has given me has made me long for an old manual transmission and a cassette player. The inconvenience and failure to get devices to work makes me think that the automobile has taken a step backwards.

My latest disappointment with technology comes over the latest OS upgrade in my phone. And, in truth, this disappointment applies to OS upgrades in many computers.

When an operating system is updated, the designers and developers seem to feel the need to change how the operation of the system works. Things that are familiar are gone or placed elsewhere, making the user have to learn how to use the device all over again.

Microsoft did this with the change to Windows 8. I've had that "upgrade" on my computer for a few months, and I'm still learning how to find things. I want my Start button back.

This week, I updated my iPhone and iPad to iOS 7. Never mind that it took more than two hours to update my tablet, almost an hour to update my phone. When the updates were finished, I was left with two new devices.

There was a distinct learning curve to finding how Safari works with searches (the URL line and search line are now the same line). There are buttons with symbols that aren't intuitive. But what bothers me the most is that the graphics for the Apple apps are downright ugly. The old graphics had eye-appealing definition; the new graphics look like they were designed by a kindergartener. Everything is flat and the colours are unappealing.

For me, the smart in my phone is diminished. It too has taken a step backwards.

How about you? Is there a piece of technology that has made more work for you, has made life less convenient or has you thinking blah? Leave a comment.

For me, I tend to use my IP phone as little as possible and keep the conversations short. With my car, I hope my service visit fixes the bugs; otherwise, I'm going to reconsider future vehicles with gadgets (my van has only a couple of years left in it).

And as for my tablet and phone? I hope there are enough people who feel the same about the new OS that updates are made to revert the operations to the way they used to be. If this is the best that Apple can do, my next phone might be an old flip phone.

Those never let me down.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


As a parent, I can't help but worry about my kids. I worry that they'll be safe, that no one will harm them or lead them afoul. I worry that they will become hurt, injured, or worse, that some debilitating illness will befall them.

But one of the greatest fears a parent can face is losing a child.

In 2008, our family had a wonderful summer vacation. It was our third year visiting The Gentle Island, PEI. We had perfect weather, with plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures. Visits to Cavendish Beach, Summerside, and Charlottetown. Red sands, the great food of the PEI Preserve Company in New Glasgow, and the Indian River Festival.

PEI is one of our favourite vacation destinations.

In the summer of 2008, we took a full week, as we did the previous two years, to see Canada's smallest province, after which we ventured to do some whale watching in St. Andrew's by the Sea, New Brunswick. It was our first adventure for seeing whales, and we marvelled at the sight of Minke whales (we saw only their backs breaching: nothing like when we saw whales in Provincetown, MA).

To top off our vacation, we headed to Québec City to take in some of the 400th anniversary festivities. We saw the changing of the guard at the Citadel, dressed in 17th-century clothes, and took in some amazing food.

To top off the celebrations, in the hours leading to our departure, we stood along the Grande Allée, near the Concorde Hotel, to watch the Rally of the Giants parade, a procession of 12-foot or taller... um... giants. The parade started just around the corner from the Concorde and headed along the Grande Allée into the old, fortified part of the city.

Our family first stood along Place Montcalm, a boulevarded, dead-end street that ended at the Plains of Abraham (you know, the site of that famous battle between the English and the French, the one for which some Québeckers are still sore?), and watched the towering figures begin their march. It was a great location for the kids because most of the crowds were along the main road and so our girls were able to see the giants clearly.

It was a long procession, with many figures, and as the parade moved on, the bathrooms in the hotel called. First, my wife took our youngest with her while our eldest stayed with me. Upon her return, she suggested that we move to the main road, the Grande Allée, to join in the crowds. We found a place, right on the corner of Place Montcalm and the Grande Allée, where the kids could peek through the fences and we could see over the heads of those right at the barriers.

It was at this point, once we were settled, that I told the girls that I needed to use the bathroom in the Concorde. It was my first time in this hotel since I stayed there as a guest, in grade 12, as part of a music trip with my school band. Decades had elapsed since I had stepped inside, and as I used the facilities I was reminded of that wonderful trip.

I returned to the street, ready to tell my wife the story of my time in this hotel, when she asked me, "Where is DD1? She was with you."

"No, she wasn't," I said, "I left the three of you here."

"She followed after you," she said. It was possible. DD1 had stayed with me while my wife and DD2 went into the hotel to use the washroom. DD1 may have needed to go at the same time as I did and followed without calling to me.

I retraced my steps to the washrooms and waited outside the ladies' room, expecting her to come out at any moment. However, after about five minutes, I decided to ask the next woman exiting the washroom if she had seen a young girl, seven years old. The woman searched in the ladies' room, but came out empty-handed.

Sarah had finished and returned to Lori, somehow escaping my view, I told myself, and so I joined my wife, only to be met once again with, "Where's DD1?"

"Could she have returned to where we were previously watching the parade?" I asked. "I'll go back there; you search the sidewalk here."

Sarah was nowhere along Place Montcalm. I was starting to worry. I searched the lobby of the hotel, asking anyone if they had seen a young girl. I then went back to Lori, hoping that she was successful.

"We were standing along the barriers," Lori said, "when I noticed there was a ledge along the hotel, from which the girls could stand and get a clear view of the parade. I lifted DD2 and told DD1 to follow, just as you were heading into the washroom. When I placed DD2 on the ledge, I turned to lift DD1, but she was gone."

Gone, she said. Vanished. Taken, perhaps. All I knew was that my first-born child was nowhere to be found.

The last of the giants had passed, moved well down the street, and the crowd was beginning to dissipate. This is when I began to panic. In a tight crowd, it's hard to move with a young child who is unwilling to go. With the people thinning out, it would be easier.

Throughout our trip, we instructed the kids on what to do, should they get lost. They knew my cell-phone number and my wife's. They were to find a mother with children or a police officer, preferably a woman, in a car. The kids were not to go with anyone, but were to find a phone and call us.

As soon as I couldn't find DD1, my phone was in my hand, ready to receive a call.

"We have to find a police officer," I said, my voice wavering, my eyes searching for a small child and someone in a uniform. Many of the people in the crowd were making their way east, and so we followed the flow. Moving slowly and always looking back, on the chance we were moving in the wrong direction.

After a couple of blocks, I spied a police car. I was unsure whether I would be able to speak, afraid that my voice would falter as I explained that I lost a child. Walking up to the car, I could see that an elderly man was leaning into the passenger-side window, conversing with the officer. Having a chat after a lovely parade, no doubt. But I was going to interrupt that conversation, disrupt that chat.

I had to find my little girl.

The elderly gentleman saw me approach, saw the half-crazed look of urgency in my eyes, and began to speak. He was speaking in French, and though my ability to converse in the language isn't great, my senses were heightened and my comprehension was keen.

"Are you looking for a little girl?" he asked me.

"Oui," I almost cried.

"It's okay," he reassured me, "she's with my wife."

At almost the same time, my phone rang. Answering it as I followed the man, another male voice came on the phone; this time, speaking in English. "Hello, I am with your daughter. She is looking for you." As the words came through, people parted, and I saw a man, on his cell phone, with an elderly woman standing next to him, and next to her, DD1.

I hung up the phone and walked quickly toward DD1, who in turn broke from the adults and ran towards me, jumping into my arms. Both of us were shaking so violently that I thought we would come apart.

The elderly lady could not speak English, but explained to us that DD1 had spoken to them in perfect French and had explained the situation. They had no cell phone, so the wife tried to find someone who did while her husband looked for a police officer.

We had also told the kids that if they were lost and couldn't find a mother with kids that people who looked like grandparents would also do.

So, what happened to DD1? A bit of bad timing and coincidence.

When my wife moved to place DD2 on the ledge of the hotel for a better view, she called to DD1 to follow her. DD1 delayed for maybe a second or two to watch a particular giant, and when she turned she saw a blond woman in a blue sweater head down the sidewalk, and she followed.

The woman, though she was about the same size, the same hair colour, and wearing the same colour of sweater as my wife, was not her. As DD1 ran to try and catch up with the woman, she couldn't understand why the woman was moving so quickly and wasn't looking back to see if DD1 was following. By the time DD1 realized that this woman wasn't her mother, she was several blocks away from where she started, and didn't know how to get back.

In all, almost a half hour elapsed from the time I had left to use the hotel washroom and my wife had lost sight of DD1. When you lose a child in unfamiliar territory, you first convince yourself that everything is okay, that there is a perfect explanation for where the child has gone. When that explanation fails, you wonder what other possibilities have been missed.

By the time panic kicks in, you ask yourself how you can be such a horrible parent to let this happen to your child. You tell yourself that you will do anything to get your child back. At one point, when I thought that someone may have led DD1 off, I was ready to kill.

As a parent, you always worry about your child. But so far, the greatest fear came the day I lost my first-born.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Project in Peril

I'm hoping it won't come to this.

When I started my Bate Island Project, I chose the theme because I thought it would be fairly easy to maintain: stop on Bate Island every single time I drive over the Champlain Bridge, stand in the same spot with the same lens, focus on the same spot and shoot.

Morning, March 22

By choosing this project, I thought it was fairly easy to accomplish because I worked a short distance from the Champlain Bridge, which I had to cross in order to get to the office. I could make a stop on the island park twice a day, something I typically did four days out of the week.

But that has changed.

My company has moved, and although I still work in Québec, crossing the Champlain Bridge isn't always the fastest route to get to work. And, on days that I want to go downtown after work, crossing at the Champlain Bridge after work is a much longer and inconvenient way to go.

Because I go downtown at least once a week, that is two fewer photos from my spot on the island.

If I were to take the fastest way to work (which would only be the fastest on days when I go into the office before rush hour), I would bypass the Champlain Bridge, making a photo an event that would only occur a couple of times a week.

I'm hoping it won't come to this.

So far, I've opted to take the long way to work just so that I can stop and take my photo. And because I've committed to this project, I'm determined to continue making my stops.

Plus, with the sun rising much later, the morning photos are becoming interesting again. And soon, now that autumn has officially kicked in, the leaves should start to change and fall.

From my September 17 set: I actually rejected this photo; for some reason, I didn't want to use the ducks.

I've already decided what to do for my next photo project, which will be a true 365-day endeavor. I'm not saying what it is at this point, but if my Bate Island Project trickles to nothing, I may start the new project sooner.

To see the photos so far for the project, click here.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Photo Friday: Making the Ordinary Extraordinary

Because yesterday had such a beautiful, late-summer afternoon, I took a break from my hectic work day to go for a walk. Yet, because my office is located, literally, in the middle of nowhere (we have woods to the north and east of us, a highway to the west, and an empty field, at least a half-kilometre away from the nearest building, to the south of us), there isn't much of a route in which one can walk (the office is also at the end of a dead-end street).

I could have walked the length of the road and back, but instead I simply decided to walk the perimeter of my building, which was probably close to a kilometre, anyway.

In the north-east corner, the property ends with a field full of tall grass and purple flowers, a fleet of bees busily moving from plant to plant. Beyond the field lay the forest, and already traces of autumn were starting to touch the leaves of some trees.

It was a beautiful setting, so I pulled my iPhone from my pocket to capture it (the best camera for the job is the one you have with you).

Not satisfied with the colour, I ran the photo through Snapseed to tweak it.

I liked how I got the colours to pop out; the photo was less ordinary.

Last night, as I was looking at the photo in the comfort of home, I decided to play with the photo a little more, and ran it through the Corel Paint It app on my phone, changing the photograph into a simulated oil painting. When I was done, I didn't recognize the original photo. But I loved the result.

I even printed it out on a 4x6 sheet of photo paper: it looks like a post card.

What do you think? Want it?

The first person to leave a comment, requesting the photo, gets it. I'll even write a personalized message on the back.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

So Many Questions

I know how that drive goes.

I've taken countless buses along that stretch of the transitway at all hours of the day. Usually, I rode one of the first express buses of the day, long before the rush hour traffic even started. But I would sometimes be later, would sometimes be in the crush of commuters who used the mass-transit system to get out of Barrhaven, to get to work.

I've been on the 76 before. During rush hour, the bus would be packed to the front doors, standing-room only, and if you boarded at Fallowfield Station, your chance of a vacant seat was nil.

The bend in the transitway, as it snakes from Fallowfield Station to join up and run parallel with Woodroofe, is gentle, easy to negotiate. As the roadway prepares to straighten out, the VIA rail crossing is clearly visible, the approach of any west-bound train obvious.

I know this, because I have sometimes either sat or stood at the front of a bus. I know that when the crossing signs light up and the barriers come down, an approaching bus has plenty of time to react, to slow to a stop. The train, because it is slowing in advance of the station, takes a long time to reach the intersection.

The weather at 8:48 was spectacular. The sun had already climbed well above the relatively flat horizon. The sun would not have been an issue anyway: it would not have risen in the line of the driver's sight. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. Any morning mist had, by that hour, burned off the open fields.

I was listening to the radio when the report came in. I was shocked: how could such an accident happen there? I turned on the television and saw that media crews were already on scene. When I saw the extent of the damage, I didn't believe my eyes, didn't want to believe them.

The collision happened only a couple of minutes from my home. I remembered hearing sirens, but dismissed them as a response to a minor fender-bender, possibly a fire. Because I was working from home, I didn't give the sounds another thought.

Until I heard the news on the radio. Until I turned on the TV.

My mind immediately tried to make sense of the situation. The driver must have been distracted: possibly, a passenger had stolen his attention; perhaps he was talking to a dispatcher; surely not, but perhaps he was texting?

Surely not. I didn't want to believe that a city bus driver would text while driving, so I put that thought out of my head.

Maybe, the driver, Dave Woodard, had a medical emergency? A heart attack, a stroke, an aneurism? As horrible as it may sound, I'm sure people are clinging to the possibility that the driver had a catastrophic physical crisis, something that prevented him from maintaining control of the bus. Something beyond his or anyone else's control.

As tragic as that sounds, it ends most of the questions surrounding this horrific tragedy and perhaps bring some closure for the victims and their families.

The media are all over this story, looking for causes, for reasons why this accident happened. All afternoon, as I tried to work, the dull throb of helicopter blades cut the air in the skies above my neighbourhood. Speculation has fingers pointed in all directions, from the driver of the train, the condition and safety of the crossing, the management of OC Transpo, to the response time of city emergency responders and the Transportation and Safety Board.

And the questions continue.

But before speculations get out of hand, before people jump to conclusions and start shaking fists, we need to be patient and wait for the facts to come to light. And while we're waiting, we need to remember those who are no longer with our community.

Ottawa grieves the loss of six people, with more than 30 injured. Our thoughts are with those involved or close to those involved. It's a small city, and Barrhaven and South Nepean is a close-knit community.

Until answers to our questions are found, we should focus on the survivors and the families and loved ones of the victims, to continue to be there for them and for each other.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Kiss, A Snuggle, and a Hug

A parent is great for healing scrapes, for treating sniffles, for mending heartbreak.

For a scrape, a parent cleans the wound, dresses it. For comfort, a kiss always does the trick.

For sniffles, a parent gives a tissue, makes tea or hot soup, offers a blanket. For comfort, a snuggle always does the trick.

For heartbreak, a parent lends an ear, nods in support, offers advice when asked for it. For comfort, a tight hug always does the trick.

When a child has a serious problem, such as a concussion, a parent finds himself or herself out of his element. The parent can take the child to a clinic, or hospital, or even to the family doctor. For comfort, for both the child and the parent, all three of these places can be visited.

When the child is assessed, and a course of action is prescribed, the parent can do all he or she can to comply with that action. But the parent is helpless in providing a remedy. The parent can feel helpless, listening to the child cry over headaches, of pain, knowing that the only remedy is time. And that time can be unknown.

For a concussion, all sorts of fears are realized: will the child recover fully, or will there be lasting effects? Sensitivities to sound and light? Behavioural problems?

And the fear that will haunt the parent down the road: what if the child receives another blow to the head and suffers another concussion, one that causes more serious problems?

Even death?

Being a parent is never easy. But a parent does what he or she can. The parent can be there for the child, can help the child in whatever way he or she can.

A parent would endure a thousand times the hurt that the child is feeling if it meant the hurt would go away for the child.

And, when a parent feels helpless, there are always a few courses he or she can take: a kiss, a snuggle, and a tight squeeze never hurt.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Always Slow to Catch On

I don't know if it's that I'm just too busy or just too lazy, or maybe a little of both, but when something comes to my attention and I think to myself, "I'd like to see/do/buy that," it sometimes takes forever for me to actually getting around to seeing, doing, or buying whatever it is that piques my curiosity.

Sometimes, by a couple of years.

A couple of years ago, maybe three, I heard of an animated TV series about a secret agent who is totally dysfunctional, who battles his ex-girlfriend and his mother, in addition to the bad guys. I saw a couple of trailers and thought I would sit down and watch an episode, and then I promptly put it on the back burner.

A really, really distant back burner.

This weekend, lying in bed after Lori had left for her early morning swim club, but too early to wake the girls for dance, I watched a couple of episodes of this show, Archer.

Mind. Blown.


Why did I wait so long to watch it? Maybe, because it wasn't available in Canada for a while. Maybe, also, because I just discovered it on Netflix (which sucked in Canada until just recently).

I'd blog more, but I'd like to catch a couple more episodes.

Want to read something else? Go to today's Beer O'Clock review.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Photo Friday: Grabbing Attention

As my Bate Island Project has just passed the halfway point, I have come to realize that I have taken a lot of pictures from the same spot. But so many of them seem different, as the light and weather has changed.

You can see the all of the Bate Island Project photos on my Flickr album.

On Wednesday, as I drove to work, a thick fog was slowly burning itself off with the morning sun. Stopping along Bate Island, the view was fantastic. I took my shot, but I took another shot, from a slightly different angle, thinking that I would submit it to CBC News Ottawa climatologist, Ian Black, for consideration during his weather broadcast. Every day, Ian shows weather photos from his viewers and he has shown quite a few of mine over the years.

He showed the photo that evening.

The previous photo that I submitted to CBC News Ottawa was also put on air the day I sent it. It was a photo that I took one morning, during my family vacation, when we were canoeing from Kingston to Ottawa. Before the others had arisen, I stood by the locks at Merrickville and took this shot:

You can see our tent and canoe, a gentle mist rising from the Rideau River, and a bridge, over which several long, noisy trains roared through the night. (Merrickville is not a good spot for camping.)

Within 24 hours of showing that photo on CBC, the photo received more than 1,800 views on my Flickr album and almost 80 "favourite" ratings. To date, the photo has received more than 1,940 views.

Which makes me think: yes, it's a nice photo, but it's certainly not my best. I have other photos on Flickr that I think are much better. What is it about a photo that grabs so much attention? Is it simply timing?

Thanks to all who have viewed and "favourited" this photo, and my other photos.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Québec Values Must Be Human Values

Wasn't it former Québec premier and leader of the Parti Québécois (PQ), Jacques Parizeau, who said that the last referendum on sovereignty was lost because of "money and the ethnic vote"?

And wasn't it former leader of the Bloc Québécois and successor to Parizeau, Lucien Bouchard, who once said that women belonged in the home? That Québec should be kept French, and white? He has been quoted as saying, "We're one of the white races that has the fewest children."

Funny, I thought Québec was a society, not a race.

And now, the PQ has drafted a charter that would see a ban on all religious symbols and clothing in all government and public services, including education.

"To maintain social peace and promote harmony," the Québec government says.

How can a person's right to religious freedom, which is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights, be prohibited under the guise that it "will contribute to integration and social cohesion"? How it "will benefit all Québecers, including newcomers" who "will be best served by a state that treats everyone the same"?

This proposed charter opens a can of ugly, rotting worms. Some religions have symbols which can be omitted from dress, such as a necklace with a cross. But a hijab, for example, is a symbol of a culture, as well as a way for a Muslim woman to adhere to her beliefs. Whether it is worn out of her choice, as a celebration or as a strict adherence of her values, isn't for anyone to judge.

It certainly isn't for a political party to judge.

The Parti Québécois isn't a political party that exists for the benefit of all Québecers: it's a party that exists for the benefit of racist people who want to keep Québec white and French.

I was born in Québec. I work in Québec. Yet, I feel ashamed to call myself a Québecer, because I'm not that kind of Québecer. And I'm hoping that none of my family, friends, and colleagues are that kind of Québecer.

I'm sure that the PQ wouldn't think of me as a Québecer.

All Québecers need to speak out against this charter that a racist political party is proposing. The PQ cannot stomp on religious freedom under the guise of creating a level playing field. That notion is laughable.

A Québec society, as with a Canadian society as a whole, must be open and free, allowing the expression of religious rights, in a respectful manner.

Québec values must be human values.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Writing is Hard

For more than a year, I've been working on the sequel to my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary. But for almost as long, I haven't finished a new chapter. Because writing is hard.

Songsaengnim has been out for about a year and a half, and while it was a big accomplishment for me, I've found it hard to get excited about it. When I was writing it, I would post the rough drafts of each chapter on a blog for anyone to read. And what was really great (and terrifying) about that experiment was that it was open for anyone to share an opinion about my writing.

What was great about that feedback was that it was all positive. Many wrote to me and told me how they enjoyed it; some even asked me why I would put the book online, for free, when I could make money selling it. Some also told me, as the chapters came out, that they couldn't wait for the next chapter to be posted.

It was feedback like that that kept me writing.

Since Songsaengnim's release, I haven't heard much in the way of feedback. One of my neighbours, after having read the book, told me that she loved it and couldn't wait for the sequel to come out. One of my followers, who won a copy of the book through my Where In Ottawa challenge, tweeted to me, telling me he enjoyed it.

But I have given out lots of copies of the book and I have sold others to friends, only to hear nothing.

I would kill for feedback, folks. It would mean the world to me to read a fair and honest review of my book. Because I'm working on the sequel, and I'd like to know if I'm on the right track with this story or if I should give it up.

I have rough drafts of the first three chapters of the sequel, Gyeosunim, posted on a blog. But I'm not happy with them. To me, they're trite, simple, more of the same from the first book. For the sequel, I'd like to do something different. I want to make the main character's thoughts more ethereal, to come and go. Roland, in the next book, is going to drift in and out of reality, and I'm hoping that my writing will reflect that.

I've started re-writing the first chapter and will post it in the upcoming weeks. But have patience.

Because writing is hard. But I'll get there, especially with your continued support.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Never-Ending Project, Take 2

I am still no handyman.

Last April, for the Easter weekend, Lori gave me a project that I thought was well beyond my skills. We acquired a used vanity from a friend who was having professionals renovate her ensuite bathroom. Because our vanity was becoming tired, and because Lori had never liked that our vanity only had doors, no drawers, she accepted the used piece from our friend.

And I was to install it.

The old vanity

I had no experience with plumbing, but I thought, I only have to hook up two water pipes and a drain: how hard can that be?

There were no shutoff valves in our bathroom, so I had to turn off the water and cap our pipes. Then, I had to install shutoff valves. Then, I had to redo the entire drain system.

In truth, that wasn't the hard part.

But Lori also wanted to replace our lighting fixture and mirror. Then, she wanted to get rid of our towel bar. Then, she wanted to replace the blinds. Then, she wanted to repaint the room.

The renovation began just before we delved in deep with our daughters' dance competitions, and other commitments that come with being a parent. And with life's other demands.

And vacation.

Last week, in a bid to make room in our garage to finally get rid of our old vanity, I listed it on Kijiji, asking for $50 but seriously willing to accept whatever to get it out of our home. Two days later, not only did I sell it for my asking price, the guy who bought it offered another $20 to deliver it.

But our bathroom still wasn't finished.

All spring and summer, Lori and I have shared with the kids and their bathroom. Let me tell you: it's been hellish. My girls, who I love dearly, are slobs in the bathroom. They clutter the counter space. They leave things on the floor and in the tub. They overfill the garbage container and let the rubbish spill onto the floor. They never refill the toilet-paper dispenser: if they do manage to take out a fresh roll of toilet paper, they leave it on the counter, just above the dispenser, or worse, on the floor.

But no more.

This weekend, I finally installed the light fixture, even adding a dimmer switch. I hung the new mirror. I added a new towel rack. I attached a new toilet-paper dispenser.

Lori and I cleaned up excess tools and used packaging, and returned our personal toiletries to our new counter. Tomorrow, I'll have my first shower in my own bathroom in five months.

I'm still no handyman

But the project isn't quite complete. I still have to apply caulk around the back of the counter. I have a few floorboards that must be painted and put back into place. Lori has decided that she wants the main wall over our tub to be painted with an accent colour, perhaps plum, and to replace our towels and bath mat with a matching colour. Over the accent wall, we'll hang a large picture, one of the photos that I've shot over the years (we haven't decided which one).

This project isn't finished, but we're in the home stretch. The important thing is that we can use our bathroom again. The other stuff can happen when it happens.

But one thing is certain: when we decide to renovate the kitchen, we're hiring professionals.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Photo Friday: Upside-Down

Of all the photos I shot while my family and I were on our canoe-camping trip that took us from Kingston to Ottawa, my favourite was shot on the second morning, when we awoke at Jones Falls.

Jones Falls Locks, which connects Whitefish Lake to Sand Lake via four locks and a basin, climbs a total of 18 metres (almost 60 feet). When climbing from Whitefish Lake, three locks take you to a basin and there is about a 150-metre trek to the fourth lock. Near the final lock stands an old blacksmith shop that dates back to the 1840s.

It's a gorgeous site.

When we arrived, by canoe, at Jones Falls, we were too late to travel through the locks. Fortunately, the lock master had not yet left, and we were able to purchase a camping permit. We would stay on the grounds overnight and continue the next morning.

Unfortunately, the flattest ground and best spot upon which to set up our tent was at the top of the first three locks. It was a portage of more than 100 metres, all uphill. With approximately 200 lbs. of equipment, it was a multi-trip portage and Lori and I had to carry our food barrel together. This was after a five-hour paddle on a hot day. By the time we had carried everything, including the canoe (luckily, the ultra-light canoe only weighed about 40 lbs. and I could carry it myself, over my head), up the hill, we were exhausted, hot, and sweaty.

But the benefit was that we could swim in the basin, which was close to our tent. The water was ever so welcoming.

Every morning, I awoke shortly before seven, just after the sun had risen high enough to shine through the tops of the trees. As a ritual, I would get out of my sleeping bag, grab my camera, and step out of the tent.

The start of day three looked spectacular: not a cloud in the sky. I knew it was going to be a hot day, but we were going to make the best of it. We had a 20-kilometre paddle ahead of us, which would take us all the way to Newboro. Beyond that, some of the most challenging lakes were waiting for us.

But my attention was immediately drawn to the basin. The water was calm, the light was shining perfectly against the final lock and blacksmith shop. It was a picture-perfect image. I began snapping away.

I also had my iPhone on me, and I took the shot to post on Facebook, to let our family know where we were and that we were okay. But I also posted the image on Instagram, with a difference.

I posted the photo upside-down.

Nobody seemed to notice. CBC Radio reporter, Stu Mills, who is one of my Twitter buddies, tweeted to me in response to the photo, letting me know that he liked it. When I told him what I did, he complimented me further. Later, I told everyone on Facebook who liked the photo about the optical trick.

I love this photo right-side up. But I also really like it upside-down. For Wordless Wednesday, I showed the image as I shot it (other photos from Jones Falls include the photo of me, in my swim suit, looking into the locks, taken by my youngest, and yesterday's post of the camp site at night).

Here is the image, upside-down:

What do you think? Which do you prefer?

I took a similar shot at the Merrickville locks, but I think this one is the best.

Happy Friday!

BTW: This is my 600th post on The Brown Knowser! Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

I Hate Camping

Our overnight spot at Jones Falls
Sure, setting up a tent along a lockstation is fine: you have running, potable water, and you're right next to where you want to be. There may not be any shower facilities, but You can get clean. At some locks, you can even swim.

But I don't like camping in the woods. The ground is harder (packed sand or gravel) and less even, and you're essentially squatting in the home of wild animals. Which means that they are generally in charge.

One night on our canoe trip, we paddled into Murphy's Point Provincial Park and set up out camp site a few hundred metres from our canoe, which meant that all night, I worried that our only mode of transportation would disappear. It also meant that we had to carry all of our gear at once: something I wanted to avoid at all costs because we had so much.

As evening drew near, the resident wildlife came out. I saw a white-tailed deer and the biggest porcupine I've ever seen. I swear it was as big as a St.Bernard. But the one animal I encountered as I was finishing up the previous night's journal entry was one that I had hoped I wouldn't see.

The girls had just headed to the comfort station, while I waited in the tent, when I heard a slight movement from our picnic table. At first, I though one of the kids had stayed behind, but when I heard paws on the food barrel, I knew we had unwanted company.

The last thing I said before the girls left was to make sure that the ring was sealed on the barrel.

I emerged from the tent in pajamas and bare feet. Because I had been writing on the iPad, it was my only source of light. I knew I had a headlamp but I couldn't find it and I knew I didn't have much time. Racoons are fast little buggers.

I've taken on racoons before, but that's another story.

In the dim light, I could make the outline of the raccoon. He was about the size of a six-month infant. He was at sitting on the end of the picnic table, poised over the barrel. I yelled and hissed, but he was determined. He grabbed one end of the barrel top and flipped it off, sending it toward me, where it landed with a dull thud close to my feet.

I moved closer to the table, emitting deep grunts and roars, but the raccoon wasn't fooled. His hands delved into the bin but it was too dark for me to see if he had actually grabbed anything. I knew that our cooler bag was wrapped in a garbage bag and placed at the top of the barrel, and that it would take time for him to rip through the bag before reaching the actual cooler, which was soft-sided and would take little effort to access. The only other item was the bag of marshmallows, but I didn't know if it was under the cooler bag or along side it. But with his hands in the barrel and his fearlessness, I had to move fast.

No raccoon gets MY food!

I bent over, scooped up the lid, and came at him. Still, he held his ground. I was at my last resort, hoping he wasn't up for a fight, but the beastie was giving no quarter.

So I moved in, swinging the lid with all my force and hitting the raccoon square in the face. He whimpered, more like chattered, and scampered to the far end of the table, but did not leave.

The lid made for an effective weapon, but I couldn't keep it in my hands. I had to put it back on the barrel and secure the sealing ring. My roars grew louder, more aggressive. The raccoon jumped off the table, and by shining the iPad under the table I saw that there were two of the critters. I was outnumbered and now armed only with an electronic tablet.

Staying bent, I kept the light on the racoons while I fumbled with the ring. The ring could be pried into position with one hand, but it took two hands to pull it tight around the lid. By that point, the raccoons seemed to know that the battle was over, and they skulked off into the darkness.

The next morning, as we set up for breakfast and the kids went to photograph baby deer, we learned that the little bugger had torn open the marshmallows and had swiped a few, but everything else was intact.

I hate camping.