Friday, January 20, 2017

Photo Friday: High Above

I've driven along it so many times, but it isn't until you look at it, from high above, that you see the intricate network of lanes and paths.

A 15-second exposure, where you can plot the courses of traffic by their lights helps too. But where the Ottawa River Parkway ends at Lincoln Heights, to join with Carling Avenue or to continue as the transitway is a complex work of pavement.

And, my god, that IKEA certainly is huge!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Mostly Harmless

This is a post that originally appeared on February 3, 2011, in my old blog, Brownfoot Journal. It was one of the top-10 posts for that blog, and it was because of the attention it garnered that I made the decision to separate family from the public, and The Brown Knowser was born a couple of months later.

Reading this post again, I was reminded of this awkward memory, back in the days when I would make the long commute, by bus, from my Barrhaven home to my office, in Gatineau.

I've decided to republish this post in this blog as a throwback to those days of my public-transit commutes. If you've read it before, I hope you don't mind seeing it again. If it's new to you, enjoy.

The following post is an open letter to my fellow passengers on a crowded OC Transpo bus.

Dear Fellow Riders of the 95 bus that left Fallowfield Station around 8:40 this morning:

I know that you don't know me. I don't usually catch the 95 that late in the morning. If I take the bus, I'm on it three hours earlier, when it's less crowded and I'm guaranteed to get a seat. Because, you see, I have a bad foot and I generally can't stand still for very long. And I'm not very well balanced on sore feet. I'm not always very well-balanced mentally, but that's another story altogether.

So yes, I was a stranger to your morning commute. You weren't familiar with me. But let me assure you that I'm a nice guy. To quote the late, great Douglas Adams, I'm mostly harmless.

When I got on the bus, it was already full. Standing room only. And because I had to use bus tickets and get on through the front doors, I couldn't get far into the bus. And so I stood somewhere between the driver and the middle doors. Do you remember me now? That stranger, clinging for dear life to an overhead bar? Yeah, that was me.

Typically, when I catch my early morning bus, I sit in the same spot. I take my book out from my backpack and read. Today, I couldn't do that because I was hanging on. My backpack stayed on my back, my book stayed tucked away. I tried to keep my gaze out the window, because I had nothing else to look at, and being a stranger to you, I didn't want to make any of you feel uncomfortable by making eye contact. Because, as I said, I'm mostly harmless. But you couldn't have known that and would not have thought that if I was making eye contact with you.

I want you to know that I didn't mean to press against you when we started moving, when we came to halts, or when we negotiated turns. I tried to keep my legs planted in a way that kept me balanced. I tried to hang onto the overhead bar as tightly as I could so that when the bus moved, I didn't. Not much, anyway. That was my intent.

But when I did make contact, when I did press against you, I want you to know it wasn't intentional. It wasn't personal.

I don't like making contact with strangers if I can help it. And I couldn't help it this morning. There were so many of you standing with me in the aisle. Being such a cold day, we were all in thick layers, occupying more space than our bodies themselves required. My backpack was firmly strapped to my back, adding to my bulk.

My free arm hung by my side. It never moved, except once, when I tried to switch my hold of the overhead bar. But by holding the bar with my left arm, I became even more off-balanced, and my backpack pressed more firmly into the rider behind me. I'm sorry about that—I hope you know that I switched back as soon as it was safe to do so. I didn't want to fall. And when an arm was hanging, I was most certainly not using it to grope anyone.

I'm not that type. In that regard, I'm totally harmless. Though there was that one incident on a bus trip home...

True story: a couple of years ago, I was on a crowded bus, heading home. I was sitting in a seat, next to the aisle. People were standing in the aisle and the driver had a lead foot, taking sick pleasure in accelerating and breaking hard, making standing on the bus a challenge. He wasn't transporting humans; he was hauling sides of beef. As usual, I had my face in my book, not paying attention to what was going on around me. But my peripheral vision was working perfectly.

When the bus lurched forward at Bayview Station, I sensed someone falling towards me, and without looking up I instinctively raised my arm an put out an open hand to halt the mass that threatened to interrupt my reading. I wasn't planning to catch the person; I was trusting that the person was going to do everything he or she could do to stay upright. Well, I stopped the person from falling, but as luck would have it (good or ill, I'm still not sure), my hand came into full contact with a breast (perhaps, more accurately, a breast came into contact with my hand). It was a perfectly aligned contact: full hand on breast. And, because the poor woman was still off-balance and was still coming towards me, I couldn't take my hand away.

Did I mention that this happened during the summer, when neither of us was bundled up? My bare hand was on a blouse: I could feel the cotton fabric and the contours of the bra beneath it. I could feel the firmness of the breast that I was supporting.

My eyes lifted from the pages of my book and moved to my hand, then to the chest with which I was making contact, and then to the eyes of the woman I was supporting (in more ways than one!). Shock filled her eyes. Horror must have filled mine.

As soon as the woman righted herself, my hand moved away faster than a magnet moves away from its polar similarity. The woman was younger than me, perhaps in her early to mid 30s. Her physique was what I can only describe as average. Slightly athletic. Fit.

And definitely real.

In a stuttering voice, I apologized profusely. "I'm so sorry," I said, "I beg your pardon... I didn't mean to... it happened all so fast and I wasn't looking. Please forgive me!!"

I'll never forget her reaction, never forget the words she spoke. She smiled, let out a little laugh. In a clear, raised voice that everyone near us could hear, she said: "Oh, that's okay. That's the most action I've had in a while. If you want, you can grab the other one so that it doesn't feel left out." She then turned her body slightly, so that her other breast was better aligned with me. And she moved closer. "Go ahead," she beckoned, "you'd be doing me a favour."

The man in the seat next to me laughed. The passengers sitting in front of me turned their heads to see what the commotion was about. Here I was, sitting on a crowded bus with a woman positioning her breast towards me, asking me to grab it.

I'm mostly harmless. I don't like to interact with fellow passengers. I don't like to make contact with strangers. I was feeling very uncomfortable, and would have bolted out of there if we weren't so crammed in. So instead, I did what seemed appropriate.

I reached up and gave her breast a gentle squeeze.

Yup, definitely real.

"Thank you," she said. "I feel balanced now."

I got off the bus at the next stop, at Tunney's Pasture.

I swear, that's a true story. Maybe someone who reads this post was there, will remember. Please leave me a comment so that my readers don't call BS.

So to my fellow travellers on today's bus. To those I was pressed against. Believe me when I say I wasn't pressing up against you on purpose. Because I really wasn't.

I'm mostly harmless.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Day Off

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll be dismissed early, if not right away.

Not because I don't want to fulfill my civic duty: I do. I think that next to voting, participating in jury duty is something that makes living in our society civilized. We should be able to be judged fairly by our peers.

I hope the case is an exciting one: one that is of a high profile, receives news coverage. I wouldn't be able to write about it, of course, not until it's over, if even at all. But it would be great to be a part of an important part of the justice system.

If it's a simple case or dull (I'm thinking some petty, blue-collar crime), I'll be so disappointed.

But I'm hoping that I can report to the Ontario court house early and either be accepted and told of the next court date, or be rejected or told I'm not needed, and be sent on my way.

This is the fourth time that I've been summoned as a juror. The first time, the letter had been sent to the wrong address—to my parents' place, when I wasn't living there. As I was made to understand, if the letter had any error, there was no obligation to show. Being in my early 20s, I wasn't interested and so I treated the letter as though I had never received it, as if my parents hadn't passed it on. My driver's license was proof that I didn't live at that address.

The second summons did come to the right address, but before the court date approached, I received a second letter that told me my attendance was not required.

The third summons brought me into the court house on the date, but as I sat outside the courtroom a bailiff approached me (or some other court official), thanked me for showing up, and said that I wouldn't need to attend. No reason was given, so I thought that perhaps the accused had changed his or her plea to guilty.

So this is my fourth call and I'm hoping that the meeting is short or non-existent.

I've already booked the day off from work, will get paid whether I'm there or not. It would be nice to have a day to myself, where I can explore downtown on a weekday, where I can maybe photograph various parts that I've always wanted to shoot but didn't have the time during the day.

I'm already committed to being in the Glebe in the evening. I have a class that I just started, last week, and I can take some time to do my assignment, to get caught up on other writing that I've wanted to do but have had more-pressing priorities.

Tomorrow, no matter what happens, I have a day off. With any luck, I'll be able to take full advantage of it.

Monday, January 16, 2017

First Flight

I crashed in the first 30 seconds.

My drone didn't cost me much. It retails for $200, but it was on sale, at 20 percent off, and I received a $100 gift card at my office holiday party, in December. For $60, plus tax, it was worth trying. I couldn't otherwise justify spending a lot of money on a drone: if I had that kind of disposable income, I'd much rather spend it on another lens for my camera.

The weather, since Christmas, hasn't been that great for flying a drone. We've experienced both freezing rain and snow, and when the skies have been clear, it's either been exceedingly windy or cold.

And so, I've done my test flights indoors, in the living room. I practiced lifting off from the floor and landing on the dining-room table or the coffee table. With an inexpensive drone, I learned that it won't simply hover in place, that I had to constantly keep my fingers on the joystick to keep it from drifting, constantly feather the throttle to maintain altitude.

A couple of times, I lost control, would have the drone falter as it attempted to land on the table, only to move, just as I dropped the throttle, and it would tumble of the table surface. Another time, it hit a chair. Once, it flew into me, a spinning propeller hitting me in the chest.

It stung, but I was more concerned with the condition of the drone.

It's a tough little flying machine, and always started up again after a collision.

But these tests were indoors, and I was itching to get the drone outside.

Yesterday, I couldn't wait. It was sunny and the winds were low. It was cold, but certainly not so cold that I couldn't step out into my driveway and try my drone in the circle in which I lived. I charged up the battery, inserted a new, fast SD card into the camera, and headed out.

I set the drone on the roof of our SUV, from which it would lift off. My plan was to have the drone fly out towards the circle, pivot toward me, and to survey the neighbourhood. Just some simple maneuvers to start: I needed to get used to moving the machine in a larger, open space, but with the snow and houses, I didn't want to try too much. For more complex moves, I'm going to have to wait until all the snow is gone and I have a large field.

Lifting off was easy. The drone left the SUV and gained height as it moved down the driveway and over the street. It climbed over the circle and went above the houses. All systems were running.

I moved the rotation lever to the right and the drone pivoted to turn around. That's when the trouble started. The rotation control and the throttle are the same stick, and in pivoting, the drone started losing power, began to drop. I tried to compensate by giving it more power, but the drone had picked up acceleration in its descent, and as I tried to regain control, the drone headed swiftly toward our neighbour's tree. I feared losing further control, maybe having the drone fly behind a house, where I would lose sight of it, so I did the only thing I could think of to stop it.

I shut off the power.

It was only a couple of feet from the neighbour's tree. My second fear was that I would get caught up in the tree, but with no leaves to get tangled in, and at the speed in which it was moving, it did exactly what I hoped it would do. The branches slowed it down and broke its fall.

I lost sight of it as it dropped behind a snowbank. I knew it had come to rest in my neighbour's driveway, but I didn't know if it was upside-down, whether any of the propellers had broken off, or it was damaged in any other way.

It was sitting, right-side up, looking none the worse for wear. I throttled up, to see if any of the props would turn, and all of them did. It lifted off and moved down the driveway, and onto the street. I set it down in the middle of the road and walked behind it, and started again.

Easy moves. Nothing too fast. Constantly aware of the controls, making sure that I kept the throttle in control.

It moved up, it moved down. It pivoted, slowly, until I had it looking at my house from high above, with nothing but a sea of suburbia as far as the eye could see.

The cold was getting to the battery. I could see the white and orange lights, blinking steadily, telling me that the drone would soon head back to earth, its propellers would come to rest, and the flight would be over.

It was my first official flight and I had crashed in only 30 seconds. But the drone is tough and it flew again.

It's not the most interesting video, but it gives a good bird's-eye view of my neighbourhood. It runs for less than five minutes and the most action-packed part is between the 20 and 30-second mark.

My first flight will not be my last. Next time, I try the still-camera button. If all goes well, it could be my Photo of the Day image.