Thursday, August 13, 2020

Throwback Thursday: Better Summers

Today's Throwback Thursday doesn't go back that far: it's from only a year ago.

The summer of 2019 was much better. DW and I travelled to Montreal for weekend getaways. We also went to the Eastern Townships of Québec, to cycle between the small towns and marvel at the scenery, and enjoy the food and beverages that the small, family-run restaurants and breweries had to offer.

I also often found myself downtown, among the crowds, photographing the city.

One year ago, tomorrow, I sought a spot to capture the sound and light show of the international fireworks festival.

This year, there are no fireworks. Nothing to bring people together. I haven't been out to any festivals or other social outings.

This evening, I'm heading out to my first photography meetup with a model since January, since before we kept away from each other. There are only a couple of us attending this meetup: it's outdoors, and we'll all respect the two-metre distancing.

Because, next year, I hope the summer festivals will come back.

Here's to better summers.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Junk Collecting

Pens.

Return-address stickers for envelopes.

Holiday greeting cards.

Calendars.

Key chains.

Note pads.

Fridge magnets.

Tote bags.

Mittens.

Socks.

It's got to stop.

Every year, DW and I—like so many people—make donations to various charitable organizations: the Red Cross, Heart & Stroke, the United Way, Plan Canada, CHEO, World Wildlife, Canadian Diabetes Society, Ottawa Food Bank, and many, many more worthwhile charities. We pick and choose a handful of charities each year, give what we can, and then choose another handful the next year and repeat the process.

We can't give to every charity every year, but we do our best to spread our donations around.

We never expect anything in return: we believe that these organizations should put every penny that they can toward the cause, including paying the hard-working people who work for these not-for-profit organizations.

Of course, once we give, we expect that we are entered in their databases so that they can contact us down the road to remind us that the cause is still just and for us to give what we can. A call for help is reasonable.

Lately, however, we are receiving huge envelopes, stuffed thick with many papers. Some envelopes warn the letter carriers and recipients to not bend them. And, more and more, some envelopes are stuffed with... junk.

Because these charitable organizations need to operate on thin margins, the so-called 'gifts' are of dollar-store quality, or lower. The pens are of cheap plastic and work for a short period of time, if at all. The key chains use poor-quality metals and feature tacky images. The calendars are small and feature images that just don't appeal to us.

Socks? Really? Like I'd actually wear them?

Of all the items that are sent from these charities, we might make use of the notepads. But because we also receive endless notepads from real-estate agents in our neighbourhood, we find ourselves flush with stationery, and so a lot of these pads end up in the paper-recycle bins, unused.

I use the tote bags to collect garbage, and they go out with the rest of my trash.

One of the charities also affix a nickel to the correspondence, and I simply peel the coin from the paper (before I put it in the shredder—it has my name and contact info on it) and put it in my pocket. Considering how many people this organization must send these nickels to, they must surely spend more on these coins than many people give.

Save the nickel. Put the money toward the people who really need it.

The junk that accompanies the call for donations is actually working against the charity, for me. Whenever we receive a thick package, filled with items that I suddenly find myself burdened with their disposal (pens, stickers, and key chains are destined for landfill), I am less inclined to want to send cash to the charity. I feel like contacting the organizations and saying, "Listen. Obviously, if you're buying all of this junk and spending more money on postage, you don't need my money. Please stop sending me anything more than a simple letter, with a return voucher and envelope. If you continue to send items that I neither need nor want, you're off my donation list for five years."

Maybe, I should just tell these charities to stop sending me correspondence of any kind. After all, they're already on my own list of organizations that I regularly give money. I've never used the return form and envelope to send my donation. I just go to their online site and give.

What about you? Do you find that you're collecting junk from organizations? What have you done to stop it? Leave a comment.

Now, excuse me: I have to take out the trash.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Out Front

For many years, I've never felt obligated to open my front door when the doorbell rings. Unless I'm expecting someone, I've often been faced with solicitors who leave me feeling disturbed for answering the bell for nothing.

I don't buy from anyone who I didn't ask to come to my home. Period.

When we first moved into our home, DW and I placed signs near the doorbell that clearly indicated that solicitors were not welcome but we often found that the sign was ignored. Yet, because we had a blind that covered the large window on our door, neither the visitor nor we could see who was at the door, so we inevitably opened it up, only to politely but firmly tell the person or persons to go away.

A few years ago, when our blind became yellowed, we replaced it with a one-way reflective film. Whenever anyone came to our door, they would see a mirror-like reflection of themselves, while we could clearly see who was there. The only time that someone outside could see us was when it was nighttime and we had our entrance and living-room lights on. I would strive to keep these lights off unless we absolutely needed them, and so we could safely view strangers without the need to open the door.

When a solicitor would be at the door, we would simply ignore them, knowing that they were unaware of being shunned.

A couple of weeks ago, I used some of my Aeroplan miles to acquire a Google Nest Hello doorbell. It takes our privacy from unwanted visitors to a whole new level. It also is a bit of a PITA*.

It took about an hour to install, including the time required to watch the installation video (I watched it twice to make sure I had it down pat). I also ended up having to chisel out a recess in our door frame to make room for the connector extenders. And I learned that my doorbell is not wired to its own circuit: I had to kill the power to the entire house while I hooked up the device to our electrical system.

Nest smartphone app.
The doorbell now has a motion sensor that notifies me, through my smartphone, when motion is detected, when a person shows up on my front porch, or when someone rings the doorbell. DW has also connected to the device, so she can also see who's at the door. The built-in video camera also records the activity for future viewing.

We've already taken advantage of our new doorbell when two solicitors, arriving together and donning bright-red vests, pressed the button. DW was at home, watching TV; I was in Pakenham, capturing images of the Five Span Bridge. Both of us received a notification and were able to see the two young men. One of them pressed the doorbell and then sat down on the bench on our porch, while the other moved down the steps. When they realized that no one was coming to the door, they moved on to our neighbours.

One night, when DD19 was out late, at a friend's house, she didn't return until after DW and I had gone to bed. As we were turning in, I texted my daughter to ensure that someone would walk her home, see her safely indoors. The next morning, as soon as I woke up and realized that I hadn't heard DD19 come in, I reached for my phone and checked the video.

The imagery showed DD19 ascend the porch, unlock the door, and wave to her friends before safely entering. Yup, this was a valuable tool, I told myself.

While I was writing this post, my phone let me know someone had rung our doorbell. The video footage showed a UPS delivery person place a package on the small table, next to a Muskoka chair, ring the bell, and walk away. Moments later, DW is seen coming outside and retrieving the package.

Although this Google Nest Hello doorbell has helped us identify unwanted visitors, assured us that our daughter was safely home, and let us know that packages have arrived, it's had its fair share of false alarms.

Several times during the day, it tells me that motion is detected. This is a different notification from identifying an actual person or letting me know that the doorbell has been pressed. This simply indicates that motion has been sensed.

This is a bit of a pain. So far, motion has included
  • our outdoor lights coming on
  • headlights from cars driving around our circle in the middle of the night
  • a winged insect landing on the bricked wall, next to the doorbell
  • a neighbour's cat, rolling around on our porch—okay, that was cute, but still...
  • the late-day sun, shimmering as it moves between the leaves on our neighbours' tree
  • shadows that fall on our porch, caused by clouds revealing the sun
  • us, coming and going from the house or sitting on the porch
  • other motion that must be there but I can't determine from the video

Sensor picks up the area in green.
We have created a motion zone, making sure that our next-door neighbours' porch, which is in our line of view, is excluded. I tried to exclude the neighbours' front lawn and the roadway, but we noticed that the narrow strip of walkway that leads to our steps was too small to notice motion until someone was right at our doorway, so I had to expand that zone. To our relief, we don't receive motion notifications when the next-door kids play on their swing, under their tree.

We want to make sure we're giving our neighbours as much privacy as possible, and so far, so good. The only time we see them is if they happen to be out when someone purposefully comes to our door.

Overall, I like our new doorbell. It lets me determine whether I have to get up to answer the door or whether I can ignore the unwanted visitor. It lets me know if a package has arrived. And, it shows me that my loved ones have safely returned home.

It's one of the best devices that I've never paid for.


* pain in the arse

Friday, August 7, 2020

Photo Friday: Waxing Storm

I can't believe the storm passed without a drop of rain.

Last week, I decided to try another time-lapse video on my Insta360 camera; this time, downtown, where I haven't been since March 27. Four months seems like a lifetime, ago, especially when you consider that I have to pass through the downtown core when I commute to and from work.

I parked under City Hall—it's free after 6—and walked to the Mackenzie Bridge. From there, looking north, you get what I think is one of the most iconic views of the city.

I came equipped with my Insta360 One R, with the 4K lens installed, rather than the 360-degree lens. Mounted on a Manfrotto mini-tripod, I planned to mount the camera on the protective railing of the bridge. And I was prepared: some duct tape made sure that tripod was going nowhere.

I also packed my Nikon D750 and my travel tripod to capture some stills while the video camera worked on the time lapse. As I had learned on my first attempt, it takes 75 minutes worth of video recording to create 30 seconds of time-lapse play.

The sky was extremely cooperative: a dramatic sunset was on display at the end of the canal, where it steps down to the Ottawa River. To the east, storm clouds were reflecting pink, purple, and blue, and with a steady wind were rolling into my frame as the light faded beyond the Gatineau Hills.

A lot of drama, indeed.

About 15 minutes into recording, I saw a distinct reflection of lightning in one of the office towers to the left of me. Looking up, I saw towering storm clouds climbing over the Rideau Centre. Looking east, down to the far end of the Mackenzie Bridge and beyond, I could see that in the east end of the city, it was raining fiercely.

I made a mental check of what I was carrying to protect my equipment and planned out what I would do if it should start to rain, while more lightning, followed by loud thunder, raged overhead. In my camera bag, which was hanging from a hook on my tripod to add to the centre of gravity, I had a rain shell. The first thing to do was protect my D-SLR, so I would pack it inside my bag and cover the bag in the protective rain shell and sling it over my shoulder.

Next would be to fold up my tripod, which requires two hands. With the camera protected in the bag, the most-valuable piece of equipment was saved. The tripod can handle the rain.

I would be reluctant to stop the One R from recording. It's waterproof and has proven a couple of times already that rain is no issue. Depending on the severity of the rain, I would hold out as long as possible. If the rain was harsh, I would quickly seek shelter in the Rideau Centre: I came prepared with a mask, just in case.

As it was, my planning never became a reality. Though the lightning and thunder looked and sounded serious, no rain actually fell. Instead, I was treated to a great sound and light show, added with the dramatic clouds and waning sunlight.

Sadly, I captured no lightning with either camera, as it flashed directly overhead and behind me.

If you want to see the time-lapse video that I made, check it out on The Brown Knowser YouTube channel. Here's the best still of the night.


Happy Friday!