Thursday, July 31, 2014

Our Foreign Affairs Minister Should Keep His Big Mouth Shut

Canada's minister of foreign affairs, John Baird, says that Canadians stand behind Israel in its conflict with Hamas.

I don't know which Canadians he's talking about, but I don't know of any Canadian who condones the killing of civilians, of bombing hospitals, shopping malls, and United Nations-run schools. To date, the number of dead in Gaza is close to 1,400, many of them children.

At the time of writing this post, 56 Israeli soldiers have been killed as a result of the conflict and three Israeli civilians.

Let me be clear: I am against the rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas. This region of the Middle East has been in conflict for millennia, as different people from many civilizations have tried to claim it for their own. And as they try to claim it, there has always been bloodshed.

I think there will always be bloodshed in this region.

So yes, Hamas is stirring the shit by sending rockets into Israel.

But the Palestinian people in Gaza are walled in, with nowhere to go. For the Israeli government, attacking Gaza is like shooting fish in a barrel. And the Israelis have the bigger weapons.

I don't like wars, I don't like people killing people. No matter the reason. No matter what side. To take so many innocent civilians is disgusting. The Israeli government should be ashamed of itself.

I'm a typical Canadian, and that's how typical Canadians feel.

So, no, John Baird, I do not stand behind Israel any more than I stand behind Hamas. I do not support a government that indiscriminately kills women and children who are simply going about their day. I do not accept the excuses by the Israeli government that these hospitals and schools are hiding Hamas terrorists.

If that is true, you don't kill the innocent people who are being used as shields. You find another solution.

Keep your big mouth shut, Baird. Canadians want nothing to do with a country that murders civilians.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Me, I'm a Thief*

Pint glasses.

Salt and pepper shakers.

Beer pitchers.

Shot glasses.


Coffee mugs.

Cloth napkins.

Those coloured jars, like molten glass, filled with wax, that set the atmosphere at a dimly lit table. I carried them out with me; sometimes, while they were still lit and glowing.

I carried all of these things out of the pubs and restaurants that I frequented in my early 20s: mostly on or near university campuses.

A lot of them, in Kingston or the Byward Market.

I did it for the fun of it, just to see if I could get away with it. The small stuff was easy; the bigger stuff took skill. If I could throw a jacket over it, I could make like I was just carrying the jacket in my hands, that I would put it on once I was outside.

I swiped two burning candles, stuffed one down each coat sleeve, and made a hasty retreat. Either the coat would snuff out the flame or would catch fire: that was the thrill of it.

There was only one time when I got caught, was unsuccessful in my thievery. I was visiting some friends in Kingston: it was a Friday night and we had done some heavy drinking. As the pub was clearing out, I got up and grabbed my long coat, which had been draped over the back of the chair.

I lifted my coat—and the chair—and made my way to the door. As I traversed the bar area, no one gave me a second look. My friends led the way, me following closely behind them, my coat seemingly dragging on the floor.

As we reached the door, the bouncer held it for us, bid us a good night. I got all the way through the door and had stepped out on the sidewalk, just on the outer side of the threshold, when I felt some resistance.

The bouncer was hanging onto my coat. Or, rather, he was hanging onto the seat of the chair, through my coat.

"We'll be needing that," he said in a gentle but persuasive tone. He could have got angry, he could have hauled me back into the bar and called the police. But he was fair. He knew I'd be no trouble.

"So that's what was weighing my coat down," I chuckled, sheepishly, "I thought my coat got wet but, no, there's a chair stuck to it." I set the chair down gently and lifted my coat off it. "Too much to drink to notice." Another chuckle.

"Yeah, that must be it," the doorman said, lifting the chair and setting it inside. "You get home safely." And never show your face here again, his eyes told me.

I used to be a thief that way, when I was young and foolish. I still have some of those items today, to remind me of my reckless youth, to show me that, should one of my kids get crazy in their 20s, that I was like that once.

Also, the salt and pepper shakers are great for camping.

And I still use the shot glasses: I make a mean Manhattan with them.

* Stealing is bad. You shouldn't do it.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Music Monday: Become

It's been a very long time since I've heard anything from Midge Ure. The last time I bought one of his albums, I wasn't even married: that was more than 20 years ago.

Which is sad, because I idolized the man when I was a teen.

When Ure became the front man for Ultravox in 1980, my life changed. I went from listening to Led Zeppelin, Yes, and The Who to New Wave and Alternative Pop (Depeche Mode, The The, Eurythmics, and U2). I still liked my rock, and Peter Gabriel was king (still is), but I listened to Ultravox every single day.

I had earlier albums by Ultravox (Ultravox!, Ha!-Ha!-Ha!, and Systems of Romance), when John Foxx led the band, but I wasn't really into them, only liked a track or two from each.

With Midge Ure and Vienna, it was a whole new band with a completely different sound, and I couldn't get enough of them. I would buy every album as soon as they hit the store shelves, without hearing a single track. And I would play them over and over again.

Ure went on to put out a solo album in 1985, The Gift, before he and Ultravox released their final album together a year later. His hit single, If I Was, solidified him as a top artist around the world.

I saw Midge Ure play twice in Ottawa; the second time, I managed to sneak back stage and meet him, although briefly. When one of the security guy at Barrymore's noticed I was where I shouldn't be, he moved in quickly to bounce me out, but Midge said, "that's okay," and I was spared a rough departure. But we shook hands, I told him I was a huge fan, that I hoped he would return to Ottawa, and that was pretty much that.

He hasn't been back, and I blame the bouncer.

When I was first creating Roland Axam, I modeled his appearance after Midge Ure. Brown hair, dark eyes, thin-faced with a high forehead. A good looking man who could easily fade into a crowd. Even though my novel, Songsaengnim: A Korea Diary, is based on my experiences in South Korea, I always pictured my character, who has a much darker past than me, who lived a past life as a spy, I have always pictured Roland Axam to look more like Midge Ure than like me.

By the time I left Canada to live in Korea, in 1997, I hadn't seen a new album from Midge Ure since his 1991 release, Pure. He had a UK release in 1996, but it hadn't reached Canada before I left the country. And any time I checked a CD shop, I never found anything by the man I idolized (the Internet wasn't as robust back then).

I assumed Ure hadn't produced any more music, had turned his attention to charity work, such as Live Aid. I also learned that he and Ultravox reunited for a tour in 2009, but they never came to North America. And so I stopped looking for more from Midge Ure.

Until earlier this year, when I learned he was on Twitter. Naturally, I began to follow him, but by then, I was so busy with other things in my life that I didn't go digging, didn't check to see what the man was up to.

At the beginning of July, he started tweeting about his new album, and I got excited. I thought that he would have a UK release and that shortly thereafter, there would be distribution in Canada and other countries.

Being old-school, that was my thinking: and then I remembered we now live in the digital age. Yesterday, I performed a quick search on Google Play, and lo and behold, I discovered Midge Ure's full library. I immediately downloaded his new album, Fragile, and one from 2001 (re-released as an expansion in 2006), Move Me.

I have missed you, Midge. And while your new album still carries the sound you had in the 80s and 90s, you have also kept with the times. You have evolved with the Pop genre while keeping your distinct sound, and you have shown me what I have missed over the decades.

Fragile is beautiful, filled with haunting joy. And while I love the album, I do find that Ure's vocals seem softer; on some tracks, slightly diminished, as though the album title refers to the man, whose voice does not have the strength and the power of The Voice from Rage In Eden.

For today's Music Monday (yes, I eventually got here), I am sharing a song from Midge Ure's new album. Though time has changed the man, it certainly hasn't changed him for the worse.

Over the next few days and weeks, I'm looking forward to reacquainting myself with the man who kept me safe from a bouncer.

Happy Monday!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Photo Friday: The Miller's Daughter

More than a month ago, I attended a model shoot at the Carbide Willson Mill, in Gatineau Park. We took advantage of the secluded woodland, waterfalls, and mill to create an atmosphere of isolation.

The location was great: sadly, the weather didn't cooperate.

It rained lightly as the photographers and model met in the parking lot near Meech Lake, and gained in strength as we set up. Throughout the shoot, the rain fell in torrents, drenching everyone and everything.

A tree fell along the pathway that brought us to the mill. Had we been 10 minutes later in arriving, it could have been catastrophic.

Our model was good natured about the weather, didn't complain about the thousands of mosquitoes that were relentless. Didn't get upset about being cold.

We had to stop when the rain started affecting our equipment. My shutter release stopped working—it would focus on my subject but wouldn't take the picture, or would delay by several seconds; another photographer's camera seized altogether.

Post production involved removing raindrops from fabric, which was darkened with spots, and smoothing skin, which was water-saturated.

I couldn't have been wetter if I had fallen into the waterfall.

But it was entirely worth it.

I have only edited a couple of photos from the shoot, have dozens and dozens to go through. Some are posted on my 500px site. Be careful: many are not safe for work.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


We didn't make eye contact. We couldn't.

If we did, we would start to laugh, and that would give us away.

And so we looked up at the sky, looked down at our shoes, looked at the flocks of students marching out from the school, away from the building, out to the back, near the football field and track.

While the alarm rang from within. While the sound of sirens grew louder, notifying us of the approach of the fire trucks.

"It is not," I said, standing under the conical disk that protruded from the ceiling tile. "It's too small. It's smaller than the ones we have at home. For a building this size, wouldn't it be bigger?"

"Size isn't everything."

The student lounge in my high school was called the Red Room, though it wasn't a room. But it was red. A second-floor hallway that linked the science classrooms to the music room, windows lined one side, overlooking the cafetorium—cafeteria during lunch hours; auditorium during special events—the other side with windows that looked out into a courtyard and beyond, the football field and the running track that encircled it.

Under these windows, wide window ledges with boxed recessions made for benches, and all of it was covered in a coarse, red carpet, which also ran along the same length of hallway floor. This is where my friends and I always met during our lunch and spare periods, and before school started.

I had a food tray from the cafetorium that I stashed away in the ceiling, where it was kept until I made my appearance, when I would retrieve the tray and spin it, endlessly, on the tip of my finger, like a circus performer.

Because I had been a regular fixture in the Red Room, I knew all the facets of the area. I always sat in the same spot, always hung out with the same group of friends. For years, I had noticed the ceiling fixtures that hung throughout the school, but I had never given them another thought, never spoke of them.

Until now.

I was standing in the hall, spinning the tray, looking up. "What is that thing anyway?" I asked.

"It's a smoke detector," replied one of my friends, his tone a little surprised that I wouldn't recognize the fixture.

"It is not, it's too small. It's smaller than the ones we have at home. For a building this size, wouldn't it be bigger?"

"Doesn't have to be bigger. There are plenty of them lining this hall."

"They aren't only activated by smoke," added another friend. "They work by pressure."

"Pressure?" I repeated, "Like, if there's an explosion?"

"Yes," he said, as though he were an expert on the subject. "If you hit one, the alarm will go off."

"No way," I said, "I'm sure some kids would look at it and think of it as a target. If they were so sensitive, wouldn't they be protected with a cage?"

"I'm telling you, if you hit it, the alarm will go off."

He said it like a challenge. I stopped spinning my tray and placed it on the bench, where I usually sat. I stood directly under the device, which now looked like a giant, white button. I crouched low, and then sprang up with as much strength as my short legs could muster. As I propelled myself upwards, I brought my right arm straight up, hand in a fist, and delivered a flying punch squarely on the centre of the smoke detector.

If you hit it, the alarm will go off.

"Holy shit!" my friend exclaimed. "It really does go off."

"You weren't sure?" I said, projecting my voice over the loud, menacing sound.

"I guessed."

"And I didn't believe you."

Students were now emerging from classrooms, making their way to the exits in an orderly fashion. All of my friends had witnessed the incident, all were as surprised as me. We collected our belongings. I tucked the tray back into the ceiling.

And we left the building.

We didn't make eye contact. We couldn't. If we did, we would start to laugh, and that would give us away.

We would never speak of this again.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Arranging Flowers

I have amazing, talented friends.

I only heard about the 48 Hour Film Project a couple of weeks before it was scheduled to take place. A couple of friends who were associated with the project had tweeted about it: I paid only brief attention to it, thinking it was a cool idea.

I've always been interested in film, had always played with the thought of how I'd like to appear in a film, maybe help write a script—I've been told I'm good with dialog. My littlest one has taken drama school and is currently in a drama summer camp: she has even auditioned for a role in a feature film.

Maybe, I'll live vicariously through her.

On the weekend of the 48 Hour Film Project, one of my friends, Rebecca Fleming, had tweeted and posted on Facebook that she would be participating in the challenge, playing a part in a film. Rebecca is a funny, amazing person who can engage you in the utterly silliest of conversations or the most intelligent, thought-provoking discussions.

And she loves beer, which makes me love her all the more and has me truly thankful for our friendship.

When the end products from the film project were displayed on screen last weekend, at the Mayfair Theatre, I didn't hesitate to go. I wanted to support Becca and see what this festival was all about. Maybe, I might be motivated to want to participate next year.

The challenge for the filmmakers is to put together a short film, of about four to seven minutes in length, in a 48-hour period. Writing, casting, shooting, editing, and post-production are all done in this short time frame.

In all, six short films were presented at the Mayfair. Some were good, some were brilliant, some dragged on, and some just didn't make sense. But I had to hand it to the people who stepped up and put themselves out there.

My favourite film, by far, was the Team OutAway production, Arranging Flowers. I'm not saying that because it is the film that starred my friend. Never mind the fact that Becca displayed great timing, priceless facial expressions, and a convincing portrayal of someone who, in her attempt to overcome a problem at the job that she clearly doesn't like, gets pulled into a situation in which she has no control, only to redeem herself. The film had a good story and was shot with clarity and quality. It moved at a great pace and the audience was fully engaged.

Becca was brilliant. No wonder she won the award for Best Actress of the event. It was well-deserved.

Here is the short film, Arranging Flowers.

If ever I needed some prodding for getting involved in film, the 48 Hour Film Project is it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Road to He'll is Paved with Autocorrect

When a total stranger threatens to stab you, you have very few options:
  • Comply with his or her demand.
  • Try to run away.
  • Stand your ground and, if need be, fight off your would-be assailant.
"Nice bike," he said, casually, as we stood on the corner of Rideau and Dalhousie. Late afternoon traffic brought us to the same spot. Countless pedestrians moved about, focused on his or her destination.

"Thanks," I said, not really wanting to engage him in conversation, but seeing no reason to be rude. He obviously lived on the streets: late teens or early 20s, disheveled hair, skin on his face that had seen far too much sun and too little soap. Dirty clothes that seemed to have no colour: brown or perhaps grey.

"I think I'll take it."

"Excuse me?" I said, knowing I heard the words but not really believing they came from the young man.

"I'll take your bike," he repeated.

"I don't think so," I nearly laughed.

"I'll cut you."

I blame karma. It was that bloody chipmunk, coming full circle. I had taken a life today, and now my life was up for grabs.

Yesterday started out with so much promise: another beautiful morning with sunshine and mild temperatures; very little wind. I became accustomed to cycling to work a couple of times a week. Sure, we have no showers, but I make due with a facecloth, hand towel, and the handicap bathroom stall.

My route is longer than it needs to be, crossing into Québec at the Portage Bridge instead of the Champlain Bridge, skirting around the Casino de Lac Leamy instead of climbing through the Gatineau Park. My new morning route takes me an extra three or four kilometres, but the climbs are not as treacherous, and I don't like arriving at the office, at the beginning of the day, already exhausted.

My commute was enjoyable and refreshing, awakening. I was maintaining a good pace, making the ride a personal best. Except for a split second, on the east side of Lac Leamy. It happened so fast that for a second I thought my eyes had played tricks on me. I didn't see a creature so much as a shadow, and at first I believed it to be a tiny field mouse.

On instinct, I swerved my front tire to avoid whatever it was that had scooted in front of me. My front tire hit nothing, and because I felt nothing on the back wheel—no bump, no soft squeezing—I thought I had missed whatever may have startled me.

I looked back, and knew I had killed it.

A small chipmunk, trying to cross the pathway. It had died instantly, it's fragile neck crushed. It never knew what hit it. My heart sank, but I took comfort in knowing it hadn't suffered. Without slowing—what would be the point?—I kept going.

By the time I reached the office, the chipmunk was practically forgotten, and I concerned myself with stretching, drinking my recovery drink (chocolate milk), and starting my computer. It wasn't until I was removing my smartphone and water bottles from their respective cradles that I discovered my rear tire was flat.

Totally flat.

I hadn't felt a difference in the ride at any point in my commute, so I figured I must have rolled over something in the parking lot. Over my lunch break, I would replace the inner tube and be set for my evening commute.

I blew out my second tire only 12-and-a-half kilometres into my ride, as I was about to cross the Alexandra Bridge. I could see it coming but, as with the chipmunk, I couldn't avoid it. Where the interlocking brick ended and the concrete sidewalks met, a small depression revealed a pointed corner in the concrete. I tried to swerve, but only my front tire avoided the hazard.

As with the chipmunk, the back tire could not avoid its fate. I heard the bang and immediately felt the firmness of the rim.

I could hear Lori's voice, having spoken to me less than a week ago, as I was trying to fit two spare tubes in the carry case under my seat: "Why do you need to carry two tubes? What are the chances of getting two flats in one day?"

Pretty good, it would seem.

From this dilemma, I learned one thing: my cycling shoes aren't made for walking. While they do have clips that recede into the treads, the backs of the shoes rub my heels. I was going to have blisters before I reached the Byward Market.

I called Lori to tell her of my dilemma. She told me she thought there was a bicycle shop on Clarence Street, so I headed to where she thought it was located. There was no shop to be found.

Using my phone, I spoke to Google Now: "Where is the closest bicycle-repair shop?" The result showed me a place on Dalhousie, less than two minutes from where I was standing. I pushed my bike onward, relying more on the handlebars for support, my feet beginning to ache.

The store was not at the quoted address.

Discouraged, I decided to head to the bus stop on the Mackenzie Bridge, on the other side of the Rideau Centre. With luck, I would have enough loose change in my backpack to get me to my end of the city.

"Nice bike."

We were standing at Dalhousie and Rideau. He had sights on my bike. I was not willing to relinquish possession of it.

He wasn't holding a knife, but that meant nothing. He could have drawn it from any pocket, or from behind his back.

I could have handed over the bike, but I didn't want to. I could have run, but with a flat tire and sore feet, it would have been a slow getaway. I opted for the third option: stand my ground. I watched for him to reach for a knife, knowing I would only have a second or two to make a move. I knew exactly how heavy my bike was: I know how much effort is required to hoist it over my head—I hang it upside-down from the ceiling in my garage. If need be, I would swing my bike up, using it to keep my would-be attacker at bay. With any luck, one of the many passers by would come to my aid.

As an absolute last resort, I would use the bike as a club and crack him over the skull with it.

This bike had already killed today.

No weapon was pulled. The kid noticed the flat tire and said, "Your bike's no good." He then looked beyond me, seemingly recognizing someone, and yelled, "Hey! I thought I told you to not come back here... ." Already having forgotten me, he started walking towards his next target.

The light had changed and I walked a little faster to the bus stop.

I stopped briefly to rest my feet and took a moment to type a short message to the Twitterverse: Okay, this is turning into the day from Hell.

Only, the autocorrect on my "smart" phone changed Hell to He'll. Great. Just bloody great.

On the Mackenzie Bridge, I scrounged through my backpack, collecting and counting coins. The bus fare was $3.45, but I was 20-cents short. A woman, standing at the stop, watched me, saw me count my coin. "How much are you short?" she asked.

"Twenty cents."

She opened her purse and gave me a quarter. "Here you go," she said.

"You have been the brightest light in my day," I said, almost crying. She moved on, recognizing the bus that was approaching as her own.

On my bus, the driver didn't even look at the coins as I dropped them in the fare box. But to me, it didn't matter. I hadn't short-changed OC Transpo. My day felt a little better.

One kind deed made all the difference.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Music Monday: The Devil & the Dove

Of all the times that I have posted a song for Music Monday, I would be remiss if I didn't include one of my favourite Canadian singer-songwriters, Sarah Slean.

I don't need to say much about her: if you've followed this blog for long enough, you will know that I've written about her here, and here, and here.

And here.

One of my highlights of 2013 was meeting Sarah, on Canada Day, and when I told her my name, she exclaimed, "We're Twitter buddies!"


Here's a song from her 2011 double album, Land & Sea. Beautifully shot in Newfoundland and, as always, beautifully sung, here is The Devil & the Dove.

Your fans are greatly anticipating your next album, Sarah.

Happy Monday!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Photo Friday: Haiku

The other day, when I told my wife about my photo screwup, where I went to the Strandherd Bridge and spent an hour shooting photos without a memory card in my camera, she wrote a haiku to sum up my blunder.
New crossing, evening,
Camera... tripod... photos... SD card.
Not to be outdone, and to set things right, I decided that for today's post I would write my own:
Late night, bridge awaits.
I return to it once more.
All is now redeemed.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Still An Amateur

There are times when I pack up my camera equipment, strap it onto my back, and head out to capture whatever moves me. Be it a rural landscape, an urban skyline, a person, or something abstract, I love snapping photographs.

And when I see the results of some of my work, I think to myself, did I really take that? It's beautiful!

Of course, I like to share my best photos with family and friends, and whoever cares to look at them on The Brown Knowser, on Flickr, or on 500px.

I'm not delusional: I know that not everything I take is good. I don't even think half the shots I take are decent. The majority of what I shoot ends up stashed away, never looked at by me again, let alone shared with anyone else. I almost never delete a photo, unless it's terribly out of focus or blurry, is improperly exposed—beyond the ability of my photo-editing software—or is pointing at nothing at all, except the bare ground or vacant sky.

But I like to think I have my shit together when I set out to take a photographic journey: my camera and flash batteries are charged, I have all of my lenses and my tripod, and all other accessories that I may need to capture an image.

I never worry about insufficient space on my SD card: at 32 GB, there is room for thousands of frames, and I always make a point of emptying the card at the end of the day, of transferring the files onto my laptop and external hard drive.

I'm a creature of habit, who plugs his camera directly into his laptop with a six-inch, standard-USB to mini-USB cable that I always keep tucked in my camera bag.

Unless I'm at my computer with my camera but without my camera bag. And I'm too tired and lazy to get up grab that cable, in which case I take the SD card from the camera and insert it into the thin slot at the side of the laptop.

Which happens maybe once in a couple of months or so. As was the case on Monday, when I downloaded the photos of beer that I shot for Tuesday's Beer O'Clock post.

Tuesday evening was gorgeous. Mild, with clear skies. In the dying light, I decided to take the short drive to the newly opened Strandherd Bridge, whose white arches glow under bright floodlamps. For nearly an hour, I stood at various ends and pointed my extra-wide lens at beam-stretching angles.

The mosquitoes didn't bother me, nor did the June bugs. I conversed, briefly, with a bullfrog, reassuring him that I saw him and wouldn't accidentally step on him.

I arrived home, happy with the clear sky, the faint rays of light peeking over towering storm clouds in the far distance. I knew, from the preview that came up on my screen right after snapping a shot, all of them 30 seconds long, that I had a few great shots.

Some, even good enough to earn a spot on my 500px site, which I reserve for the best of my images.

At home, as I plugged my D-SLR into my laptop, I wondered why the camera flashed an -E- across its LCD display. The batteries were charged, the camera performed as expected. Perhaps I'll have to put the SD card directly in the computer, as I had the other night, I told myself.

And then I remembered.

My hand lightly felt along the left edge of the laptop, toward the SD slot. And there, protruding slightly from the computer, was my SD card, still there from Monday evening.

I had just taken photos with no memory card. With my camera set to full-manual mode, there was no indication I was shooting blanks.

A rookie mistake. An embarrassing blunder.

I shall return to Strandherd Bridge on the next nice evening, when the light is just right.

My card is back in the camera, where it belongs. And where it shall stay until it ultimately fails, if ever.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Parc des Portageurs

Okay, so it's not technically Ottawa.

But to be fair, I have said in past Where In Ottawa posts that the contest could also cover the Outaouais region. This month, I made good on that suggestion. One clue even reinforced that claim.

This month's Where In Ottawa location is the Parc des Portageurs, in the Hull sector of Gatineau.

Congratulations to Rubby Neville, who correctly identified the site. Here are the clues, explained:
  1.  Not teeth—although these smooth, teeth-like sculptures stick up out of the ground, they seem to be made of concrete.
  2. End of the road—along the north shore of the Ottawa River, the Route 1 cycling path takes you through Parc des Portageurs, near the E.B. Eddy buildings. but a short path branches from the main trail and ends at this site.
  3. Wires overhead, waves out front—lines from the power plant at the Chaudière Falls travel over this site, as seen in the photo. The waves, well... you get the picture.
  4. Not really in Ottawa, but visible from it—if you stand on the south shore of the Ottawa River, on the west side of the War Museum, you can see these rock-like structures, especially when the morning sunrise hits them.
So, this was a tricky photo challenge: that's the way I like them. I hope you do, too.

The next Where In Ottawa is Monday, August 4.

Monday, July 14, 2014


The sun poked out for a brief moment, casting a warm glow on the dull, grey concrete. A little light before saying farewell.

It was the very last time that the sun would shine on the Sir John Carling Building.

For the scores of spectators on the far side of Dow's Lake, there would be no warning. No whistles, no sirens. There were mutterings of countdowns: "Ten minutes to go... five minutes to go... ." I used the clock on my smartphone, knowing the GPS would give the right time. With a video camera set on my tripod, focused and framed, and my D-SLR in my hands, I was ready to go. At 6:58 AM, I was going to start rolling.

The blast came at 6:57.

It sounded like a canon firing, and for a split second, my brain told me that I was hearing a warning signal. But a steady succession of other blasts told me that the show had begun, and I started to see the former Agriculture Canada headquarters move.

I reacted swiftly, bringing my camera to bear. The motor drive was set in a continuous-shooting mode: all I had to do was aim and keep steady. Next to me, I could hear Lori's voice raised, complaining that she was too late to turn on the other camera to begin recording.

It was over in seconds.

There was cheering. There were words of amazement, mainly in the form of "holy shit!" A few people applauded. Others complained that they weren't ready and had missed capturing any of it or hadn't seen all of it through their own eyes.

It was all over but for the weeping.

The Sir John Carling Building was gone. Nothing remained but a silent grey cloud billowing from the site. Frightened birds circled the grounds. Rain fell gently.

And spectators moved, en masse, to get on with the rest of their day.

My full series of photos will appear in Wordless Wednesday.

My apologies to the winner of Where In Ottawa. The solution will appear in The Brown Knowser tomorrow.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Photo Friday: Colourful Ride

I hated the ride into work.

I used to do it all the time, when I first worked up in the Gatineau Hills, just before Highway 5 came to Chelsea, just beyond the Hautes Plaines exit. It was almost a 32-kilometre ride, the last 10 or so a cardio-intensive workout uphill, along the upward-winding paths of Gatineau Park.

One part of the path, between Centre Asticou and the Plein-Air turnoff, the path starts to climb, veer to the left, and climb even more. If you round that bend in the wrong gear, the incline can literally stop you in your tracks.

That happened to me on my ride to work, on Wednesday. I had to quickly free my foot from the clipped pedal to avoid falling over. I have never fallen over on my bike, have yet to put a scratch on it.

That hill, plus other steep inclines, plus a relentless wind that slowed me in almost every direction, especially across the long traverse of the Champlain Bridge, made Wednesday's ride most unpleasant.

My new building, almost a kilometre further down the road from my original office, made the morning trek a 32.6-kilometre ride that I didn't want to repeat. The return ride, though mostly downhill, still had some challenging climbs that I didn't want to face.

So I searched Google Maps to find a different ride home.

I knew I could avoid Gatineau Park by taking a path that followed Highway 5, down past my old school, Philemon Wright. I knew the path eventually led to Lac Leamy and past the casino, but I wasn't sure how I would get across the Ottawa River and back into Ontario.

Google Maps showed me the way. I studied the map as much as possible, relying on my knowledge of the area and my memory to get me home. Either I would find my way to Ottawa or on my way to Montréal.

When the paths took me to the intersection of Maisonneuve and Allumettières, I knew how to get across the Alexandre Bridge and into Ottawa. I also had the chance to stop at a structure that I had seen before, while driving, but had never gotten close. And the lighting was great.

I have often thought of using this location for Where In Ottawa (still unsolved for July at the time of this posting), but I thought it would be too easy. So, here it is, now, shot with my Android phone.

I really enjoyed the ride home: not too much wind and just the right amount of climbing. I'm going to make this route my regular cycling course to work. Starting today.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Terror on the Pitch

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is sure to go down in the history books as one of the more memorable championships. Traditionally high-ranking teams, such as Spain, Italy, and England, eliminated early in the series. Psychopathic players suspended for biting. And Brazil losing in such an embarrassing semi-final defeat.

The match between Argentina and the Netherlands was impressive, one where I started with no true favourite but, in the second half, leaning towards the South-American team, and later screamed with delight at the superb goalkeeping in the shootout.

I'm glad that Argentina won, because as the game progressed I started thinking that it would be nice to watch the final match between a South-American team and a European team, rather than two teams from Europe.

Though, I'm now rooting for Germany.

I've always loved The Beautiful Game, ever since I started playing it, in high school. I was never good at the game, had never scored a goal. I was always placed in a defensive position because I was good at getting in the way, and in that regard I was effective at preventing an opposing player from getting a clear shot at my team's net.

When I had the possession of the ball, I never had it long: I would always pass it to one of my offensive teammates, who would run circles up the pitch, or I would try to run with the ball, and either kick it too hard, in which case I would send it too far away from me to keep in in control, or a better opponent would be able to get it away from me.

Sometimes, I played dirty. Once, when I was in possession of the ball, I saw a challenger racing toward me. I knew him, knew he was a better player, knew that he would have no difficulty getting his feet in close and taking the ball away from me.

Rather than let that happen, I did a nasty move. As he approached me, I kicked the ball as hard as I could, straight at his crotch. We didn't play with protective gear back them. The ball hit him hard in the groin, causing him to drop to his knees, in pain, his hands dropping instinctively to his genitals, too late to protect them.

But I didn't stop there.

The ball bounced straight back to me, but instead of continuing around him, I kicked the ball at him again, this time aiming for his head. The ball caught him squarely in the face, bringing him all the way to the ground.

I regained possession of the ball and ran around him, but not before the referee blasted his whistle and kicked me to the sidelines. I also garnered several laps around the school track as added punishment.

Running laps was a favoured penalty, and I ran my share of them. I would get called out for tripping, for grabbing. A couple of times, for elbowing opponents in the face.

Soccer had that effect on me. At any other time, I was a pussycat, not competitive. Not violent. But this game turned me into a terror on the pitch. Even amongst my friends.

The worst incident happened just weeks before school was wrapping up for the summer, just before we were to move into exams.

It happened in gym class, playing against classmates and friends. As usual, I was a defenseman, hanging back near my team's net.

One of my good friends, who was a born soccer player, who still plays in leagues to this day, was in control of the ball. He had already broken through the line of my team's offensive players and was heading towards my goalkeeper. Only I stood between him and an assured goal. And he was a much better player.

I knew he would have no trouble dancing around me if I challenged him. So I thought of a different strategy. Charge him. Go after him, and not the ball. Run as fast as I could and bowl him over, and thereby take the ball away from him.

Sure, the tactic might earn me more laps around the track, but gym class was almost over. At most, I would have to run one lap.

My friend saw me coming. He knew my history of dirty moves. He had only seconds to make a decision, and then I would be all over him. He must have seen one of his team players, or maybe he was just thinking of taking a wild shot. But he knew he had to get rid of the ball before we met.

It happened in an instant, so quickly that we both didn't have much time to react. I saw him wind up to pass the ball as I came upon him and decided I would kick the ball at the same time. It would come down to a matter of whose foot would make contact with the ball first.

Neither of us connected with the ball.

Instead, our legs met, unprotected shin on unprotected shin, followed by my body slamming into his. I still carried the momentum I had built up in my scheme to knock him over, and we collided with neither of us slowing.

As another player described it later, the collision sounded as though someone had taken a baseball bat and swung it as hard as possible against a brick wall, the wood splitting and the hollow knock of a brick. I felt the force of our bodies connecting, of the air being knocked from my lungs. I spun around, hit the ground and rolled several times, as though I were doing somersaults down a steep hill. When my body finally came to rest, I lay face down, prone on the pitch. Looking back at my friend, I could see him curled up into a ball, his arms hugging a leg.

I've broken his leg, I told myself. I'm in big trouble. I'm an idiot. I'm going to be running penalty laps for weeks.

I pushed myself up onto my hands and knees, used my right leg to lift myself, and took a step toward my friend. But when I stepped forward with my left leg, I tumbled over as though I didn't have a leg at all.

Surely, I told myself, I've given myself a shock, have lost my balance. Again I stood up, again I took a step forward, again I fell down.

On the third attempt, I stayed down.

Other players went to my friend's aid, helped him off the pitch. "Stop littering the field," our gym teacher yelled to me, "Get your ass up."

"I can't," I said. "I can't walk."

Disgusted, he asked two classmates to pick me up. When they did, I felt the pain in my left leg. The two heard me yelp, and they decided that they would cradle carry me off the pitch. I could see my friend, on the sidelines, now walking, though with a limp. Thankfully, I told myself, I hadn't broken his leg.

But by the time my helpers had reached the sideline with me, the bell rang, indicating the end of this class. I still couldn't put any weight on my left leg, so our teacher asked my classmates to carry me straight to the nurses station.

He felt my shin bone where I said the pain was the worse, but found nothing. "You probably bruised yourself, you big baby," my gym teacher said, "let this be a lesson for you."

By coincidence, I was scheduled to leave school after my gym class that day. My parents were to pick me up and take me to a doctor's checkup. From the nurses office, I could see them, waiting in the car at the front of the school. With my gym teacher ready to dismiss me, I asked my helpers, who were still with me, if they could carry me to the car. The pain in my leg was now becoming unbearable.

As they carried me through the foyer, we encountered my music teacher, who expressed genuine shock at seeing me cradled toward the door. "How's your embouchure?" he asked, looking at my face and jaw, making sure my mouth was fine, still able to play the trumpet. I laughed, but the pain was clearly visible in my face.

I felt every bump, every acceleration and braking, every corner on the drive to the doctor. At the doctor's office, a couple of assistants from a neighbouring clinic had to help me out of the car. As fortune would have it, my doctor was in a medical building with an x-ray machine and I was taken to it directly. My appointment would be spent with my doctor looking at the results.

My left tibia was snapped, clean through. The break wasn't straight across the bone: it worked its way across on a diagonal and was about three inches in length. Surprisingly, the separated bones hadn't shifted, so the tibia appeared normal from the outside. But it was absolutely broken.

The medical building had no facility for treating a broken bone, and so I had to be taken to a hospital. My doctor phoned the emergency room in advance, and I was able to be treated right away.

My gym teacher didn't need to punish me with laps around the track. Spending my summer in a cast that encased my entire left leg was punishment enough. My poor friend suffered no less a fate: though his bones didn't break, he was left with shin splints that trouble him still.

My last day of being a terror on the soccer pitch was the last day that I played soccer at all, save for practicing with my kids, when they took up the sport, or helping as a flagman during one of their games.

For me, I have given myself a permanent red card.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Ring of Remembering

It was my dad's, purchased by my mother. When they divorced, my mom asked for it back, held onto it, thinking I might want it when I was older.

It was a gift on my sixteenth birthday.

I'm not one for jewelry: I don't wear anything around my neck or wrists—even watches feel uncomfortable and are not found on me often. And, before my Sweet 16, I never wore a ring.

This one is beautiful. Made with both yellow and white gold, a thin, shining white strip in the middle, somewhat sunken; the yellow gold around the edges, a vine-like pattern etched in each. It is both simple and complex, and fully elegant. It's one of the nicest man's rings I've ever seen.

When I received the ring, I knew I couldn't wear it on my left hand. I wasn't married. At 16, I didn't even have a girlfriend. And so it went on my third finger, next to my pinkie, on my right hand. When classmates noticed it, I joked that I was, indeed, married. It was an arranged marriage, to a German woman, who was still living overseas with her family, until I was able to move out of my parents' house and own a home of my own.

Germans, I told my friends, wore wedding bands on their right hands.

I had to have the ring resized because my dad had big fingers, whereas mine were more like my mother's. I had it sized not too small, so that I still had room, should my fingers grow, but not to large, so that it couldn't slip off. The jeweler who did the work was an expert, and there is no telling where the ring was cut.

Over time, as my finger grew used to the band, the skin made a mark, the summer sun left a tan line. I grew so used to wearing the ring that when it was off my hand, I noticed. And so, if I needed to remember anything, I would slip the ring off my right hand and place it on my left. It would feel so foreign on my real wedding finger that I would always remember whatever it was I needed to remember.

It was better than tying a string around a digit. And, when used this way, I called it my Ring of Remembering.

When I was engaged (for real, this time), my fiancée and I chose her wedding band with both yellow and white gold. Not a perfect match, but one that showed continuity. My ring was the only piece of jewelry that I felt comfortable with, and we were happy to keep it on my hand.

But, from the moment where we were officially engaged, I removed my ring, gave it to her, and told her to keep it safe, until the wedding, when I would wear it again, as it was meant to be worn.

The wedding was perfect. The day that threatened to bring torrential rain and thunder was sunny and beautiful. Our ring-bearer, only three at the time, carried our rings with style. Vows were made, poetry read, music played. I slipped the new ring on my bride's finger, she slipped my old ring on mine. We kissed, and the ceremony was over.

And, all through the wedding photos, through the receiving line, through the dinner and speeches, through the entire evening, I had the strangest feeling that I had forgotten something.

But I hadn't forgotten anything. It was the power of the Ring of Remembering.

Nowadays, when I need to remember something important, the ring changes fingers, goes from the left hand to the right.

And I remember.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Where In Ottawa XXXVIII

It's that time of the month, and I didn't get around to shooting a location for Where In Ottawa.

Luckily, I have backup photos for just such an occasion.

Drawing from photos that I shot a couple of years ago, I bring you the 38th installment of my photo challenge. The rules are simple:
  • The first person who provides the location of the photo wins the challenge. You can guess as many times as you like.
  • All guesses must be left in the Comments section of this post. No other forms of communication count, nor will I respond to guesses made through Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, or the like.
 That's it. Think you know Ottawa? Prove it!

And good luck!

Update: Where In Ottawa has been solved. The solution will appear in Monday, July 14's post.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Photo Friday: Go Wide

First, Happy 4th of July to my American friends! May your day be full of fireworks and goodness.

In Canada, we celebrate our country's birthday a few days ahead of you, so we're still feeling the love of our country and can share that feeling with you.

On Canada Day, despite my better intentions, my family and I ventured downtown in the morning and stayed until the early evening, mingling with party-goers from the National Gallery to the NAC, and in between, but mostly in the Rideau Centre, where we escaped the heat and late-afternoon heat.

It was the family's first time in the National Gallery since they finished the glass restoration project in the great hall. As with all visits to the gallery, I like to stand in the centre of the great hall, point my camera upward, and take a snapshot that almost every visitor takes.

I later played with the image, creating a kaleidoscope effect, which you can see here.

The difference between this snapshot and the dozen others I've taken is the lens that I used. A month or so ago, I bought a Sigma 10-20mm wide-angle lens, and I love it (thanks, Marc!). With it, I can capture so much in such a tight area, but I'm looking forward to all the big landscapes I have planned.

Though an ultra-wide lens can create some distortion, I'm slowly learning how to compensate for that characteristic. As with the above image, it's not as obvious. But on Canada Day, as I left the gallery and returned to the hoards of outdoor party goers, I did something I haven't been able to do before I had this lens:

Stand under Maman while capturing almost all of her and the entire gallery.

My back is right up against one of her legs as I shot this image. Notice the distortion of the National Gallery.

Other shots I've taken with my new lens can be found here. More to come.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Twenty Plus One

I don't know why, but as I began writing this post, Sonny & Cher's The Beat Goes On popped in my head.

And it's pretty appropriate.

We married, twice, on the second day of July in 1994. Once, in our appartment, in the morning, as I fought my hangover from the night before (why I celebrated my last night as a single man in a wine boutique, across from Parliament Hill, on Canada Day, getting wasted, I'll never know), our friends showed up, in silk undergarments that we had given as gifts for helping us with our special day. In our small apartment, we were to perform a rehearsal of the ceremony that would happen later that day.

It was a rehearsal for the show, for our family and friends. But in the eyes of the law, it was the rehearsal that mattered most, for it was during the run-through where we would sign the marriage certificate. Our chaplain, Maggie, from the Unitarian Church (who agreed to marry us without any religious overtone), was only licensed to marry within Ontario—our ceremony would be held in Québec.

You would think that her presence for our wedding was a bad omen: on her first visit to our apartment, weeks earlier, a torrential thunderstorm raged overhead; on the morning of July 2, as she knocked on our door, thunder crashed overhead and a gush of precipitation fell outside, obscuring views of the neighbourhood.

With the recital done and the legal documents signed, we were wed. Coffee and breakfast for our guests, and then onward to complete final errands before the big show. A hair cut for me, a stylist for Lori. Picking up the wedding cake and flowers. Off to the bank, for some cash: crisp, 100-dollar bills for our chaplain; a crisp, 50-dollar bill for my best man—years before, we had bet who would get married first.

I lost. Or won, depending on how you looked at the situation.

The ceremony was to be held outdoors, on the grounds of the Mackenzie-King Estate, at Kingsmere, in Gatineau Park. We were the first couple to ever reserve the tea room for a wedding dinner and party. Special permission from the National Capital Commission, who owned the property, was required. We were granted not only the use of the property but access to the tea house's caterer, who presented a fabulous dinner. The only stipulation was that we had to be off the premises by 1:00 AM and, during the ceremony, we weren't able to keep visitor's to the estate away from where we were exchanging our vows.

Not that anyone disturbed the ceremony.

The ceremony was outdoors, with no alternative for the weather. No tents, no early access to the tea house, which wasn't available until an hour after the ceremony, when the grounds were closed to the public. If it rained, we'd get wet.

Thunderstorms raged during our rehearsal in our apartment, rain fell intermittently from an overcast sky all morning and into the afternoon. Forecasts called for severe weather, with the chance of hail. Indeed, some guests, who drove from Kanata to Gatineau later told us that they drove through a hail storm, worried for our ceremony.

My best man and I had our own fears as we ran our errands. Downpours forced me to resort to umbrellas (I hate and generally refuse to use them) as we ran from the vehicle to the stores, protecting my hair. We considered stocking up on umbrellas for our guests, but at this rate, the grounds at Kingsmere would be soaked and very unpleasant to stand in.

But as we crossed the Ottawa River, into Québec, the rain stopped. As we travelled north, past Hull, the clouds lightened. And when we reached the Mackenzie-King Estate, we were met with ground-drying sunshine. Even a light breeze picked up and kept mosquitoes at bay.

It was a perfect day.

Twenty years later, the beat still goes on. Not every day has been perfect, but we've managed to weather every storm and come out shining.