Friday, September 30, 2011

Photo Friday: ColorSplash

This week, thanks to one of my social-media friends, Mel Gallant, I have been introduced to a new photo-editing application for my iPhone. And it's one more reason to love my iPhone.

The app is called ColorSplash. In a nutshell, ColorSplash allows you to shoot a photo—or use one from your photo library—and apply a greyscale layer to it. You can then swipe your finger over parts of the image to reveal the original colour, thereby creating a black-and-white photo that colourizes areas that you want your audience to focus on.

You can reveal as much or as little of the original colour as you like. For example*,

I must have had Siena on the brain because it's been two years this week since we were there.

This photo of the Siena Duomo was originally shot with my D-SLR. I imported it into ColorSplash, which rendered it as a greyscale image. I then swiped over the glass window to reveal the original colour.

It was super-easy.

For extra effect, I took this new image and imported it into the Instagram app, cropped the photo, applied another filter, and voila:

I can see myself having all kinds of fun with this app. So, I raise my glass to ColorSplash. And here's proof:

Okay, the glass isn't raised. But I'll raise a cheer nevertheless!

* Although ColorSplash is an app for the iPhone, all of these photos were originally shot on a Nikon D80.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

I Don't Like to Sleep Alone

Sing it, Mr. Anka!

I find that I'm beginning to suffer from insomnia. I'm not sleeping very much these days: I'm getting to bed late, lying awake for hours, and rising early, not wanting to linger in bed.

And the reason for my insomnia is simple: I don't like to sleep alone.

I miss my wife. I notice her absence. I miss her warmth. I feel a void. My bed becomes a vast expance in which I am lost.

I miss her lying next to me, our bodies melding together—spooning—her curves enveloped into mine. My arm around her, holding her close to me; my hand, gently cupping a breast, resting in a seemingly natural position. The rise and fall of her chest as she breathes. Our feet entwined. It's as though our bodies were made for each other, that we were designed to fit together.

I miss my wife. And so I cannot sleep.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My iPhone, Three Months On

Well, the jury's finally in.

After three months with my iPhone, I'm ready to give my verdict on whether I like it or if it's an overrated device that has me yearning for my old, not-so-smart phone that I lost on a beach along the Ottawa River.

Before I was forced to replace my lost LG Neon, I was already contemplating upgrading to a smart phone. I had had my iPod for a year and loved many of the apps that I had downloaded. My iPod didn't have a camera—that feature came out a couple of months after I purchased my gizmo. But I loved the ability to check my e-mail quickly—from both of my personal accounts. Having embraced the social media of LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, I enjoyed being connected—whenever I had WiFi access, that is.

I loved the games. I became addicted to Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies. I loved the Need For Speed games, having always loved driving video games.

And I loved having these apps running on a device that held my contacts and calendar events. In a word, I loved my iPod.

So it was no surprise that when I moved to a smart phone, I went for the iPhone. I could move all of the apps from my iPod onto it, plus my contacts and calendar events. In essence, I didn't replace my phone so much as I upgraded my iPod for one that had a couple of cameras, double the storage space, and 3G capability.

Oh yeah, and it also had a phone built in.

I still missed my old phone. My LG Neon was a very basic smart phone: it had a couple of apps, it would give me Internet access, and it did have a couple of games, but it was not really a smart phone. And yet, I still lament the loss and have compared some of the features that I now have with my iPhone.

So, do I love my iPhone more than my LG Neon? There are some things that I miss about my old phone that the iPhone is lacking. And to me, they're big:
  • The LG Neon had a slide-out, QWERTY keyboard with actual buttons. Nothing drives me nuts more than the keyboard on my iPhone. Even turned on its side, which makes the keys bigger, my fingers are still too big to type with any kind of speed. The chances are that if you've read a tweet or an e-mail with lots of typos, the message was composed on my iPhone.
  • There is no FM tuner on the iPhone. WTF, Apple? How stupid is that? Almost all of my phones before had an FM radio. To me, it's an essential feature. Sure, I can stream my CBC from an app, but why force me to consume bandwidth? With my Neon, I used to listen to the radio when I cycled to work. With the iPhone, I'm fucked. Thanks very little, Apple. You suck on this front.
  • There is no ability to increase storage with a micro SD card. I lost my 8GB micro SD card when I lost my Neon, but I would have gladly purchased another one if the iPhone would accept it. Maybe I don't understand the Apple culture. The closed environment. But if you can stick an SD card in a Mac or an iPad, why not an iPhone? Sad.
So what do I like the most about my iPhone?
  • The cameras: I love photography, and I used the camera on my Neon when I had no other camera with me. But the camera on the Neon was only 1 megapixel, compared with the 5 megapixels on the iPhone. I use the camera on my iPhone almost every day; sometimes, even when I'm using my D-SLR. With the apps on my iPhone, I can take a shot, apply a wide variety of special effects and filters, and post the photo on Twitter or Facebook, or both. Love it!
  • The cameras: with Lori away in Taiwan, I keep in touch with her through Skype. With that app on my iPhone, I can chat with her from anywhere. On Sunday night, while out to dinner with the kids, we were able to chat with Lori as we finished up our meal and as she was starting breakfast. Fabulous!
  • The apps that I enjoyed with my iPod (which is now the proud property of Sarah).
So yeah, I love my iPhone for many of the reasons that I loved my iPod. I love that I can experiment more with photography. That I can be more involved in social media. That I can play some awesome, time-wasting games. That I have all of these apps with my list of contacts and my calendar events.

Oh yeah, and that I can place and receive phone calls.

I prefered the keyboard on my old phone, but if I take my time and wear my glasses, I can get used to the iPhone keypad. I wish I could increase memory with an SD card, but I can live without that ability in lieu of the excellent cameras.

If only this device had an FM tuner. It would be the ultimate device.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Home Alone—Almost

Once again, Lori has left for two weeks on a business trip to Taiwan. Once again, I am the lone parent, taking care of the kids.

I don't mind. For some reason, the girls and I seem to bond more when it's just the three of us. Perhaps that's because when they ask for something and I say "no," they can't run off to their mother, and so they tend to compromise more.

Because it's just me running the show, I have to be on top of things and pay more attention. I have to be more organized. For example, on Saturday, I had to juggle getting the girls to their various dance classes, clean the house, shop for groceries, ensure the girls were fed on time, and keep them engaged. It made for a busy day, but it sure went quickly. We ended the day, curled up, watching a movie.

Yesterday (Sunday), because the girls worked so hard at cleaning the house (we don't seem to be able to get them to do it when both parents are at home!), and because they finished their homework and music practice before lunch (again, a first), I took them to the Carp Fair. It was a gorgeous autumn day and I let them pick what we did. An hour and a half later, after three rides (the first one scared Sarah; the last, Lainey), some overly sweet lemonade, and a bag of cotton candy that had the wasps chasing the girls, they were ready to leave.

We've had a good, productive weekend without Lori, but it hasn't been without its challenges. I learned something new: while you can replace macaroni noodles with bow-tie pasta for mac and cheese, you can't replace cheddar cheese with mozzarella. It makes a gooey glob that just doesn't stir in well with the pasta. It was a mess, though the girls did eat it—and they said that they liked it.

When I put the girls to bed last night, Lainey had troubles going to sleep. She started missing Lori and cried. She asked if her mom could come home early—say, maybe six days, instead of the remaining 12?

I'm sure we'll be fine.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

From the Carp Fair

On such a gorgeous day, taking the kids to the Carp Fair seemed the natural thing to do.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's All About Sharing

I cycle along the Ottawa River Parkway and when I do, I use the paths.

Just this weekend, on Sunday, I rode from my home to the future site of the Mill Street Brew Pub—the site of the old Mill Restaurant—where the parkway meets the Portage Bridge. It's a gorgeous site, and the trek along the Ottawa River is equally gorgeous as you make your way past parks, Westboro Beach, inukshuks, the abandoned train bridge, the Canadian War Museum, and the E.B. Eddy buildings.

The paths are a wonderful way to get to the Mill: they are the jewel along the river. They are the safest way for a cyclist to travel along the parkway. With no shoulder, the roadway is risky. But as a cyclist, I remember a golden rule: pedestrians have the right of way.

So when I first heard the story about the elderly couple who were run down by a cyclist, I was angry. I told myself that it's aggressive riders like him—who no doubt was speeding and was concerned with beating his top time—that give recreational cyclists a bad name.

That was my initial reaction because I have had cyclists race by me. On one occasion, I was actually nudged by a rider on an expensive racing bike, who was wearing sponsor-encrusted spandex, who had attitude. I pictured the guy who hit the couple as that asshole.

On these pathways, cyclists must share the road and yield to pedestrians. They must not exceed a speed of 20 kph and must either ring a bell or call out if they are going to pass. Those are the rules.

I admit: I exceed the speed any time I can. But as soon as I see a pedestrian, I slow right down. I'm not racing; I'm simply getting exercise. If I encounter traffic, I'll patiently follow at the slowest speed until it is safe to pass. I don't have a bell on my road bike, but I will call out when I pass ("on your left"). I also say "thank you" when I pass those people who acknowledge my shout-out by doing nothing—that is, by maintaining the path that they were on.

I share the path. I give those on foot the right of way. If I ever come in contact with a person on foot, it will only be because they walk into me.

But I won't send them to the hospital.


All of that said, I think that the CBC story about the accident is extremely one-sided. We don't hear the cyclist's story. Maybe he was watching the couple, called out to them, but they didn't hear. Or they heard, and thinking that he was coming through, moved when they should have stayed on course. He did stay to help the couple and, according to the man who was hit, showed remorse. Who knows?

There are signs along the pathway that state the rules for cyclists. But there are no rules for pedestrians. Rules like A) no stepping onto the pathway or crossing the centre line without looking both ways or B) if you're walking side-by-side with other pedestrians and are taking up the full width of the path, you must all move to your ride side of the centre line when a cyclist comes towards you or if a cyclist warns that he or she is approaching from behind.

Those would be the top-two rules for me. If pedestrians followed those two rules and cyclist followed the rules set out for them, the pathways would be a better place.

I'm not saying that there would never be accidents if rules were followed. It's impossible to eliminate accidents. But if everyone shared the path the way it is truly intended, we might not jump to conclusions like I did for that cyclist.

A shared path means a shared responsibility. Period.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rules of the Road

I don't know who photo-edited the following picture, because I'd like to shake his or her hand. At the very least, I'd like to give him or her credit for the work.

But the signs hit the nail squarely on the head:

Having driven several highways over the years, these rules have been my mantra on the road.

Same does for speed. People: when you're on the highways, pick a speed; any speed. Just stick with it. If you don't have—or don't know how to use—cruise control, just keep an eye on your speedometer. No one wants to play leapfrog with you. If I pass you on the highway, I don't want to see you race past me later on, only to have me pass you a few minutes later. If you pass me, that's fine. I don't expect to catch up a few kilometres on.

If you can't keep your speed constant, get off the road. Turn in your license.

That is all.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Are You Sick of the Whales Yet?

Last one—I promise.

Because I was so busy taking still photos of the whales that we saw off the coast of Provincetown, MA, I kind of forgot that Lori was right beside me, videorecording the whole thing. She captured close to 30 minutes of whale watching.

If you're still interested, and can sit for about nine minutes, you will see the humpbacks breach more than eight times. They also seem to wave at us. Take a look—and our apologies for the times that the camera seems to be recording sky, ship deck, and people's backs. There was a lot of jostling on the bow and very little space. (You can see me at the start of the video, shooting with my D-SLR.)

I will speak no more of the whales.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Photo Friday: Serenity, Again

Okay, I'll admit it: I'm kinda cheating.

This is the same photo that I posted yesterday. Only it's not really the same.

With Instagram, a photo is always cropped to a square, giving you the impression that it was taken with a point-and-shoot instamatic. Like a Polaroid. There are also filters that you can add to give your photo that special, instamatic look. (God, I sound like a commercial!)

The photo in this post is the shot that I took before I ran it through Instagram. Personally, I prefer it this way. The fog that was hanging over Harwich was its own filter.

What do you think?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Instagram Moment: Serenity

Because I announced the winner of my Where In Ottawa contest yesterday, I had no Wordless Wednesday. Thanks a lot, Joe.

I'm still lovin' the Instagram app on my iPhone. In the two-and-a-half months since I've downloaded it, I have taken more than 200 photos with it.

On the last morning that we spent in Cape Cod, while we waited for our van to be fixed and before Hurricane Irene hit, I took one last photo. Because my camera was still at the cottage, I only had my iPhone, but that didn't stop me from capturing the image.

Only a couple of days ago, I applied the Instagram features to the photo. And voila:

Photo Friday is still on, though. There's no contest to interrupt it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Knox Presbyterian Church

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Well, that went quickly.
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Barely 24 hours out of the gate, my Where In Ottawa contest has been solved. Congratulations to Joe Boughner, who correctly identified the church in the photo as the Knox Presbyterian Church, on Elgin Street.
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I don't even think that Joe needed the clue. Opened in 1932, this church is named after John Knox, a founder of Presbyterianism in Scotland. Hence, the first clue.
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Clearly, I'll have to be more challenging next month. Two other followers were on Joe's heels with the answer.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Back to the Whales

When we were away on vacation, last month, I shot more than 1500 photos. That's more than 100 photos each day.

To say that I was a shutter bug is a gross understatement.

Of the 1500 photos, more than 400 of them where of our whale watching off the coast of Provincetown. I received many e-mails and tweets, complimenting me on my photos of the whales. Thank you very much. The were such magnificent creatures, it was hard to take a bad shot.

Some of you have asked to see more of my whale shots, and I aim to please. I finally sorted through and edited all of my shots, and have narrowed them down to an album that represents less than a quarter of my photos.

You can view the photos on my Picasa Web album. There are less than 100 pictures; still a lot, but I hope not too much.

I'm still working on the albums for the rest of Cape Cod, Boston, and Toronto, and I am nearly finished. I'll share them when I can. In the meantime, picture yourself on the ocean with whales jumping around you...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Where In Ottawa? September

It's that time of the month.

There are plenty of churches in Ottawa, but which one is this? Where is it?

Think you know Ottawa? Prove it!

The first person to leave a comment on this site will win bragging rights and, as an added bonus, I will give away a PDF copy of Songsaengnin: A Korea Diary.

This is the first manuscript edition, and only a few of these will be available. A second version is currently at the publishers. The biggest change to the final version is the ending, so once it hits the bookshelves, the current version will no longer be available. Who knows? Maybe it'll become a collector's edition!

If you have already won a copy of my book, don't despair. You can still play the game. If you're the first to identify this Ottawa location and already have a PDF of Songsaengnim, I'll send you a book from my own library. You know, a book written by a real writer!

Starting tomorrow (September 13), I will provide clues on the right-hand side of my blog and on Twitter. There will be one clue each day until the location is identified or until Sunday, September 18. If no one has solved the contest by then, the contest will end and the location will be revealed next Monday.

Good luck!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Day The World Stood Still

I remember September 11, 2001. I didn't need to be American. I didn't need to live in New York, or work in Washington, or know anyone on United Airlines Flight 93. But I remember September 11 all the same.

In September, 2001, Lori was still on parental leave. On that Tuesday morning, Sarah was just shy of six months. Because Lori was at home with our first daughter, I would wake early in the morning and be out the door shortly after six, catching my bus and arriving at the office by 7:00 a.m. When I took the bus to work, I liked to arrive before most of my coworkers would be there; I could often get so much done in my first hour to hour and a half.

On September 11, 2001, as those around my desk were arriving—most around 8:30 or so—I felt that I had accomplished quite a bit. It was going to be a good, productive day.

It was about five minutes before nine when Lori called me. She had been at home, preparing breakfast for herself and for Sarah, who was only recently starting solid food. As part of her morning ritual, Lori was listening to Ottawa Morning on CBC Radio One. Then host, John Lacharity, was wrapping up his morning broadcast, talking with John Hancock about the latest sports reports, when Lacharity announced that he received news that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. Lori heard the news and then turned on the TV, tuned to CBC Television. And there, on a beautiful, sunny day, smoke billowed from a gaping hole in one of the twin towers. Lori picked up the phone and called me.

As soon as I heard the news, I turned to the Internet and tried to see what CNN had to say. The Internet was slow, but when I reached the home page there was just a short paragraph that confirmed what Lori said; it provided no other information, nor images.

It was just a minute or two after nine. Lori was relating what she was seeing on television and what the reporters were saying. I asked her to turn up the volume so that I could hear the news directly. I also told my coworkers what Lori had told me. Meanwhile, the Internet all but ground to a halt.

What I heard next chilled me. "Someone filmed the plane as it hit the building. They're playing it now.... no, wait... the other building is already on fire. Another plane just flew into the other tower... oh my God, another plane crashed into the World Trade Center!"

Time stood still. Reporters were frantic. Speculation and rumours flew. The Internet was locked up. I chatted with coworkers, relaying what I heard through the phone. I chatted on MSN with a friend who was hearing similar reports, who heard that another plane had crashed in Washington—possibly the White House or the Capitol Building. Then confirmation that it was actually the Pentagon.

Just an hour or so after Lori first called me, she cried out. "It's falling, Ross, oh my God, it's falling." She cried. I could hear Sarah crying, her response to hearing her mother.

Work ground to a halt. I couldn't think about anything else, especially after learning about the crash in Pennsylvania and after the second tower fell. So much destruction. So much death. By lunch time, we were told to go home. No one was working, so it was best to be with loved ones. To try and make some sense out of the day's events.

What had been committed by a small group of radicals, who had such a hate-on for our way of life, had changed the world forever. The attacks of that day were committed on American soil but Americans weren't the only victims. People of many nationalities and religions died in the attacks. Twenty-four Canadians died in the World Trade Center. So many people were affected, directly and indirectly. When I thought of New York City, after the towers fell, I thought of the times I had been there, of the times I had gone to the top of the World Trade Center. I wondered if there was anyone that I knew who was affected.

One of my best friends was teaching nearby, in New Jersey. One of his students had a mother who worked in the World Trade Center. In the confusion, as this student tried to find her mother, she managed to reach one of her mother's coworkers, who said that her mother had made it out of the building, had been last seen on the plaza. But when the towers fell, the mother was never seen again. It was surmised that she just didn't get far enough away, that she, like so many others, were confident that the towers wouldn't come down.

The repercussions of that day were felt around the world. Countries rallied around the U.S. Many went to Afghanistan and are still there. Airport security is heightened around the globe. And no one has forgotten.

Last summer, I returned to New York for the first time since before the attacks. When we reached Ground Zero, I couldn't bring myself to look. The closest we got was St. Paul's Chapel. Lori, the girls, and I saw the memorial set of for the victims and for the firefighters, and we walked around the old cemetery grounds, all which surprisingly survived the falling towers. But I would not cross the street, would not look at the gaping hole, at the void across the street.

Except once, when I looked up at the sky, and I remembered the towers that once loomed above.

One this tenth anniversary of the attacks, I remember. I live a seven-hour drive away from New York City, but in a way, on that day, I felt I was there. Listening through the phone at the television, hearing Lori's scream, I was there. Feeling the horror, I was there.

We all were. For anyone who felt the humanity, we were there. We were all there on the day that the world stood still. And we're all there on this day, as the world moves forward. And remembers.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Photo Friday: Kaleidoscope

I know that I've already shown a picture very similar to this one, but there is a difference: the photo I showed in August was shot on my iPhone. Not to be outdone by a convenient gadget, I also shot the same photo with my D-SLR.

Which is better? You be the judge.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sigh

I was once walking in a district in Seoul, Korea, called Itaewan, where I was marvelling at all of the nightclubs with English names. That wasn’t uncommon; English was popular for many establishments. What surprised me was a sign for a nightclub called Viagra. The so-called wonder drug was recently on the market, so it was a particularly catchy English word.

Club Viagra was on a bit of a hill, and a long flight of concrete steps lead up to the entrance. Fascinated by the club, lit up in neon, I couldn't resist taking a photo. Years later, I posted it on my Web photo album with my other pictures of Korea. When I wrote a caption for the photo, one instantly came to mind and I quickly typed it in:

You have to get up to get in. 

My most humourous memories of my two-year stay in Korea are of the quirky uses of the English language. 

In 1997, the Internet was still pretty young, but that didn’t prevent a number of Internet cafés from opening. Hotmail was in its infancy, not yet owned by the invasive Microsoft, and Yahoo was more readily accepted as a term of exclamation—Yahoo!

I’m no lawyer (I don’t even play one on TV) but I’m pretty sure there is some copyright infringement going on here. For those of you who can’t see this picture clearly, this is a nic-nac store, selling stuffies, things to dangle from backpacks and rear-view mirrors, bangles, trinkets... in a word: junk. They don’t sell anything to do with the Internet.

There was a similar store, called Barbie, spelled with the same font as Mattel’s logo and complete with a picture of the revered doll. I’m pretty sure this store came into existence soon after the song Barbie Girl was released. Don’t bother asking if they sold any Barbies. 

Signs were everywhere in Korea, even on mountainsides. Lori and I would often get out of the cities on the weekends to escape the pollution, the smog, and the congestion, but not the signs. One weekend, we ventured about an hour north to a mountain called Taedunsan, which overlooked the city of Taejeon. There was a girder bridge leading to the top that had—you guessed it—a sign. But the sign was in both Hangul and English. At least, it looked like it was English, only I couldn’t understand what it was supposed to be telling me.
Pay no attention to the guy in the goofy hat. 

Grammar aside, I could understand the first rule—yes, they were rules. The second rule started off okay but then fell apart: I would never trifle with a girder bridge.

The third rule just didn’t make sense. What is a wrah drinker? No variations of pronunciation could help me out. To this day, I have no idea who I could and could not pass on that girder bridge...

A few blocks away from where I lived, a gas station with a garage and car wash opened. It was owned by Lucky Goldstar, affectionately known around the globe as LG. When it first opened, it was shining brilliantly with its large signage and little multicoloured, triangle flags lined its perimeter. When I saw it, I also thought they might sell fast food; in particular, hamburgers. Perhaps they were even going to expand to a drive-thru, because there was an image of an automobile tucked in with some lettuce between a hamburger bun.

But no, there was a spelling mistake in the sign. It didn’t say “Burger Car,” what I assumed was the Konglish term for “Drive Thru;” it said “Bugger Car”... Hmmm...  
I quickly read the sign in Hangul, the Korean language, which is an extremely phonetic language. Reading the sign in Hangul, I pronounced the name out loud. Now, try to say “burger” with a slight British accent and you’ll get the idea as to why “burger” became “bugger.” Do you now see the importance of a dictionary?  

One great thing about Korean gas stations is that when you filled up your car at one, they always gave you sensible gifts, such as air fresheners, bags for storing your trash—keeping the inside of your car clean. My favourite gift was the packs of tissues. 

One day, Lori and I were with a friend, filling up her tank at Bugger Car, and a friendly attendant gave us a shiny package of tissues. I instantly saw that there was English written on the package and asked my friend if I could see it. Maybe the name of the gas station was spelled correctly.

Don’t ask me where this catch phrase came from. But in Korea, where Club Viagra and Bugger Car exist, somehow I wasn’t overly surprised by Wank Passion Tissues. 

Now that you have seen how English has been used—or misused—in a foreign country, just make sure that the next time you see a t-shirt or a painting in Canada with a foreign language on it, make sure you learn what it means before you display it in public.