Friday, May 29, 2015

Photo Friday: Dance Your Heart Out

My feet can't take the pounding. My knees get sore. I sweat, and I get tired easily.

When I was a teen, I used to dance all the time, with my friends, at school dances. I loved it. When we grew older, and could drive across the border, into Hull, Québec, we'd go to night clubs, where we could drink legally and we could dance 'til the wee hours of the morning.

I danced at staff Christmas parties. Sometimes, my wife and I would leave our parties, which were often held at convention centres, where more than one party was being held, and we'd crash the other parties, dance on their floors, mingle with people we didn't know.

I danced at weddings, including my own. My wife and I loved to dance.

But I don't dance very much, these days. I blame my health, the arthritis in my bones and joints. Maybe, I danced too much in my youth, danced out all the dance that was left in me.

I still dance, a little, around the house, when my kids are listening to their music, and I want to shake it, briefly, in front of them. I'll wiggle a bit, as I clean the house, with my own music blaring through speakers.

I loved to watch my kids dance, but they don't dance as much as they used to. One quit dance classes and the other cut back to two classes per week. She no longer competes, didn't even participate in the end-of-year recital.

It makes me sad. Dancing shows us that we're alive. My kids are way too young to slow down. Maybe I am, too.

Maybe, the next time I sing at a Karaoke night, I'll dance, too. Not too much: my feet can't take the pounding. My knees get sore. I sweat, and I get tired easily.

But maybe, it's worth it.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Not In My Right Mind

It's not like I haven't hallucinated before.

When I was about 12, I woke up, screaming, clutching my bedsheets, and pushing myself into the corner of my bed, away from the furniture that I was sure was moving toward me, wanting to do me harm. The walls were closing in on me, and I was surely going to be crushed.

When my parents came to my rescue, my mother deemed that I was burning up. I was sweating and shivering, and my father prepared a cold bath in which to immerse me, to try and bring my core temperature down.

When you have a fever, your mind can play tricks on you.

I'm also known to talk in my sleep. Usually, I mutter, my words illegible, often coming out as grunts or off-key singing. I never remember saying anything, or I may wake myself as I have a conversation with a non-existent audience. My wife once told be that I lifted my head, rolled over to face her, and in a clear, perfectly enunciated voice, said, "You'd better get your snowmobile." I then rolled back into position, and continued my deep sleep.

I have even spoken in other languages, as though I was speaking in Russian, or some Eastern European tongue. Before I knew what it meant, I had once uttered, "Was sind die kleinen Hosen?"

I know, it makes no sense, but I was sleeping. And at that time, I didn't speak any German.

So, it was no surprise to me, the other evening, as my body baked with a hallucinatory fever, that I would mutter, I would speak. And, to my wife, I would say, "I love you very, very much."

And then I would add someone else's name.

I heard screaming, I heard aggression.

Did I really say what I thought I said? Was I coherent? Were my words understood?

Was my wife even in the room as I said what I thought I said?

"Was I speaking or just muttering?" I asked her as my fever seemed to break, as I awoke, and as she fed me fluids.

"Yeah, you muttered."

"Was there yelling? Did you yell at me?"

"No, that must have been the girls. They were fighting."

I couldn't ask her what I thought I said to her. What if I hadn't? I'm pretty sure, as time has passed, that what I might have said, if I said it at all, was to an empty room. That it was muttered.

I'm going to pretend I didn't say it at all.

After all, I wasn't in my right mind.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

In Harm's Way

He's a good kid. I've known him his whole life. And I trust him.

But when he asked my youngest daughter if she could lie in the middle of our quiet street, if she could stay perfectly still on that asphalt, while he rode his BMX bike toward her and jumped over her, without a ramp, to fly over her small, frail body, at a speed that was as fast as his peddling legs could propel him, I had to speak up.

I trust him, but only so far. And even less so when my child's safety is at risk.

I've seen him cycle up and down our streets countless times, over the years. Watched him handle jumps with coordination and skill, almost with a certain amount of grace. I knew that he would often go to the BMX park, where other enthusiasts like him tore up the dirt and flew over obstacles. Last year, I had asked him if I could accompany him to the park, so that I could capture him in various acrobatic and aerial stances, with my camera.

An opportunity never arose, though I'd still like to photograph him at the park, some day.

No, he's a good kid, and he's skilled with his bike, but when he wanted to jump over my daughter, I had to say no.

"No," I said, "but if you want to jump over someone, you can jump over me. And I get to photograph you as you do it."

I thought he'd decline the offer. Dad's aren't cool. I was much bigger than my daughter, and he might not want that large an obstacle.

"Sure," he said, with enthusiasm.

By the time I came outside with my camera bag, several kids were out on the street to watch the show. One of the parents in our circle was out and had heard the news, had her smartphone at the ready.

Our cycling daredevil—I'll call him M—was already streaking up and down our street, launching himself and his bike from the pavement, jumping imaginary people.

I took a deep breath. It wasn't just myself that I was putting in harm's way, though I was considering the size of M, the size of his bike, how much they weighed together, what sort of compression my body could withstand, should M misjudge and come down on me with full force.

Where would he land? Would he hit me in the chest? In the head? Would he come down on my throat? Did I want to put that kind of burden on him, should he maim me, or kill me? It would be my own fault, of course, for laying myself on the road for him. But how would such a catastrophe affect this young teen?

There was also my equipment that was put at risk. My new camera body, now broken in, with a super-wide lens. Some $2000 worth of equipment could be smashed, should his rear tire come down a few inches too early, clearing me but knocking my Nikon from my grasp.

I went to my garage, fetched a partially filled yard clippings bag. I lay it length-wise along the road, mimicking how I would stretch out on the pavement.

"If you can clear this bag five times," I told M, "I'll lie down."

He cleared it on the first attempt with little effort. On the second pass, he also made the jump look easy. On his third try, the rear tire clipped the bag, ever so slightly, but the stiff paper echoed like it was protesting the collision.

"Five more," I said. "You have to clear the bag five times in a row, without touching it."

Five more times, M jumped that bag. On the fifth attempt, the wheel gently came into contact with the bag, but the bag didn't move, had barely made a sound.

"Close enough," I told M. "Let's do this before you run out of steam, and can't jump high enough, and before I change my mind." I moved the paper bag to the curb and took my place in its stead.

I lay perfectly still. My camera was set for high-continuous shooting, meaning that I would snap five or six frames each second. Because I didn't want to move, I kept my head faced skyward, listened for the sound of approaching tires on pavement. When the sound was very close, I started shooting.

With a sudden shadow appearing in my peripheral, I instinctively closed my eyes.

I felt a push of air as the sound of tires disappeared, and heard the solid connection of bicycle meeting ground on the other side of my head.

M had cleared me, easily.

I looked at the photos I shot: lots of sky, with the top of the tree in front of my house. And then, a front tire, followed by a perfectly squared bike, and then a rear tire, and finally, more sky. The third shot, while perfectly framed, was somewhat blurred by the sheer speed of M in flight.

"I want to do it again," I told M. "If you're up to it. This time, I'm going to face you, so I can get the road and a better angle."

We set up for the shot again, and this time I was able to start shooting when the time was right. There would be no wasted shots.

Watching M racing towards me, the adrenaline was flooding my heart. The temptation to move, to try to protect myself, was overwhelming. I desperately wanted to get out of the way. M was coming way too close to me.

My wife captured the moment that M started lifting himself off the ground. This time, his rear wheel seemed more delayed at rising up.

I've known M his whole life. He's a good kid and I trust him.

I will do a lot to get the shot that I want. I have stood at the edge of a tower, with gale-force winds, my wife holding tightly onto my belt, herself hugging a solid object, to prevent me from being blown into oblivion. I have stood out in torrential thunder storms. But I have never lain on a roadway while a vehicle has attempted to jump over me. I have never before put myself in harm's way like that.

Do you know what?

It was worth it.

I see that I need to adjust my shutter to a faster speed. I need to trust the auto-focus settings, to try to get a sharper image.

I'm going to follow M to the BMX park sometime this summer. I'm going to get closer, get better pictures.

Because I trust him.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Music Monday: Here's Where The Story Ends

No, not my story. That one still has a bit more life in it.

I have wracked my brain to remember where I first heard the song, "Here's Where The Story Ends." When my good friend, Brad, shared it with me on a trip to Venice, in 2009, I recognized the song by the UK band, The Sundays. I think I might have first heard them on the radio, in 1991, as Lori and I drove the Welsh countryside, on our first overseas vacation together. We heard a lot of great music as we drove across the northern coastline, through Snowdonia, along the western coastline, and down toward Cardiff, before we headed east, to Tintern Abbey, and back into England.

The countryside was so majestic, so beautiful, and the soft sounds of the acoustic guitar and the faery tones of Harriet Wheeler seem to go hand-in-hand with those memories.

Since my friend shared this song and "My Finest Hour," I have started listening to more from this band, which ran from 1988 to 1997. I haven't found a song that I don't like. I particularly like their rendition of The Rolling Stones classic song, "Wild Horses."

And now, as I listen to their music, I tend to be behind the wheel of my car. And I can't help but think of that little Ford Fiesta that we rented, driving the winding roads through Wales. I'm now sure that's when I first heard this song.

Here's the video for today's music pick: enjoy!

Happy Monday!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Photo Friday: Puddle Shot

I hope you find my photos of New York City pleasing to look at. I took a lot of them, and plan to share my best with you.

I probably shared my best photo when I was too tired to write anything. Originally, the photo that I posted on Tuesday was going to be today's photo, but I couldn't wait.

That's okay. I've got more. I'll post more, next week, for Wordless Wednesday, and perhaps for the next Photo Friday. You can also see my photos in my Flickr album.

One of the things that I like to do after a rain storm is to find puddles that reflect interesting objects. In a city like Ottawa, where there aren't tons of tall buildings, it's not impossible but for me, it's a challenge, since I don't hang out downtown nearly as often as I used to.

In NYC, there are lots of tall buildings, lots of interesting structures to capture in reflections. On Sunday morning, as my wife and I cycled around the Financial District, one puddle took up much of the path. And as I approached, a perfect reflection revealed itself to me, and I had to stop. I had my D-SLR strapped to my back, like a shotgun. I swung it around, and shot.

I love New York.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Somethings New

Whenever I travel, no matter the destination, I try to do as much as I can. I try to see as much as the destination offers. When the destination is far away and my chances of returning are remote, I will fill my waking hours with as many activities as my body can endure.

Thankfully, New York City is close enough that I know if I can't fit an attraction into my visit, I will be back to see it, eventually.

My wife and I packed too many activities into this trip.

We were with two of our oldest and dearest friends, Bee and Marc, and we all had things we wanted to accomplish, things we wanted to see. There were activities that overlapped, which was great, and there were some things that took us in different directions.

Whenever I go to NYC, I try to do new things. There are some things I have done more than once: I have ascended the Empire State Building three times; I have been to DUMBO twice; I have been in Central Park countless times; I have been to the Met, the Guggenheim, and MoMA a couple of times; to the Lincoln Center and Rockefeller Center, several times. But I always try to fill my visit with more new things than old.

My latest trip, which began a week ago today (it doesn't seem that long ago) and ended on Sunday afternoon, had some new adventures. And, for this trip, we never went north of 37th Street, and yet we did so many things. On the top of the list, the following attractions are now favourites:


This rooftop brew pub is located in the Flatiron District and is the crown jewel of Eataly, the Italian up-scale food market. This covered area has lots of tables for dining and for snacking. There are plenty of taps that serve some amazing craft beers, including a few that are brewed on site. Reservations are a must, we found—waits for a table can exceed an hour and a half. We chose to go to the bar (no waiting) and snagged a standing table, from which we ordered platters of meats and cheeses, and enjoyed some great beers from Dogfish Head, Captain Lawrence, and Oxbow Brewing. While the ceiling at this brew pub is glass, it was covered during our visit. Usually, you can see the city, including the Empire State Building.

Photo courtesy Marc Dufour

I'll just have to come back, when I can sit down for a meal and enjoy the scenery.

High Line

This 80-year-old above-ground rail line has been converted into a scenic walkway that runs from Gansevoort Street, at the new Whitney Museum, up to 34th Street, at 11th, and offers great views of Chelsea. Along the nearly mile-and-a-half walk, you can see interesting art and lovely flowers and plants. There are lots of places to stop and rest, and even more vantage points to stop and take a picture.

I took advantage of the good mood of the many people strolling the line to continue my 100 Strangers Project. I asked 16 people to pose for me and only two people declined. I met people from Germany, from Argentina, and from Australia, as well as some New Yorkers. I highly recommend this attraction.

UCB Theatre

Because we left our kids at home, we could do some adult things, like take in an improv comedy performance. The best place to do this is at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, or simply the UCB. Located in Chelsea, this theatre was the breeding ground of many Saturday Night Live alumni and is an inexpensive way to laugh your guts out (tickets were $10 apiece). Our show featured four comedians, who asked the audience to provide a single word, and then off they went. As they said, they had never done this performance before and would never do it again.

Our word for the first half of the show was crime. For the second half, the group chatted with some audience members, who were on a school trip. Even the tiniest details of this trip were incorporated into the act. It was brilliant.

Get in line one hour before your show time. Seating is first-come, first-served, and they let you in a half hour before the show starts: plenty of time to get seated and have a beer or glass of wine.

Citi Bikes

We've had Bixi bikes in Ottawa for many years, although I think that because the Montreal-based company has been facing bankruptcy, I don't think we'll see them in our city this summer. However, New York has had similar bikes for a couple of years, and this year, my wife and I took advantage of them. With a base stationed outside of our hotel in the South Street Seaport, we hopped on the bikes and rode across the Brooklyn Bridge, into Brooklyn Heights, where we docked the bikes in another station and walked to One Girl Cookies, for some baked goods and coffee. From there, we grabbed two more bikes and rode to DUMBO, where we docked the bikes, wandered between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, and took photos. We then grabbed two more bikes and cycled across the Manhattan Bridge, into Chinatown, and from there, up to the East Village, where we parked the bikes and met up with Bee and Marc, where Bowery meets Cooper Square.

On Sunday morning, as the morning fog was burning off the East River, my wife and I grabbed more bikes and rode the trail that runs under the FDR Freeway, on South Street, down into Battery Park, and then up to West Thames Park, to One World Trade Center, and then across Barclay Street, past City Hall, and back to the South Street Seaport.

There are some amazing bike paths in NYC, and taking a Citi Bike is the best way to use them.

This trip to New York was great. Not only was I in the city that I love so much, but I was with people I also love so very much. And though there were so many things that we had planned to see and do but could not find the time to do everything, I know I will be back in the city again soon. Maybe, later this summer or in the fall.

And then, I'll find more favourites, more new somethings to treasure.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Another Day of Rest

I'm glad that my manager called me on Friday, while I was in the Flatiron District, in New York City, to tell me that my business trip to Texas was cancelled. I wasn't looking forward to travelling the day after returning home from vacation, and with the crap that's gone on in Waco, I'm not confident that a trip to Texas at this time is in my best interest.

When I returned home, I had only enough energy to empty my suitcase, to put my dirty clothes in the laundry, and go to bed. I had no energy to even write a blog post, which would have been for Music Monday.

When I awoke yesterday morning, my brain was fried. I had very little energy, and didn't want to get out of bed. I think my age is starting to catch up with me. A weekend of fun had worn me out. So, on Victoria Day, I stayed home, did very little, and had only enough creativity to slap together a pathetic haiku.

Not all of my days are filled with ideas for the next day's blog post.

Not even today.

And so, as I recharge my body, I'm taking another day to gather my thoughts, to look over the photos I shot in NYC, and to get back into my blog.

I'll be sharing photos of my vacation tomorrow, but I thought I would share what I think is my best shot in Manhattan. It was spontaneous, in that I planned to photograph an empty subway platform, but when I saw a woman walking with her face in her smartphone, I couldn't resist. The moment would never happen again.

Just one more day of rest. And then, The Brown Knowser returns to normal.

Monday, May 18, 2015

No-blog Haiku

Long hours through the night
from New York City I drove.
No blog post today.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Photo Friday: Travel

It's a time of travel.

For fun. For work.

As you read this, if you're reading it on the day that this post is published, I'm finally in New York City, after postponing my March trip. It's a better time of year.

The day after I return, on the Victoria Day Monday, I'm off again, heading to Texas, for work. Not my destination of choice, full of unknown. But I'll approach the week-long trip the way I do with every place I visit: with eyes open, looking for adventure.

Around every corner, in every place I go, I hope to find a story that I can share.

Wish me luck.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Not a Videographer

Years ago, when I made the decision to move from 35mm film to digital photography, I bought my D-SLR, specifically looking for a camera that did not also record video. I had a couple of camcorders—some digital—and I wanted to keep the two media separate.

A still camera for my stills: a movie camera for motion.

My camera model was on the verge of being discontinued, specifically because it did not have video capabilities and everyone seemed to want it. The salesperson, who sold me my Nikon D80, tried to upsell me to the brand-new D90.

No thanks, I said. I'm not interested in spending the extra dollars on a feature I didn't want or need.

These days, it's near impossible to find a decent D-SLR that does not offer video recording. When I looked at upgrading my D80, I considered the Df because it was full-frame and it doesn't have a video feature, but I wasn't about to drop $3300 on a body just because it didn't record movies.

For about the first month that I had my D7200, I didn't even read the chapter in the manual that covers the video feature. I focused strictly on features that would capture still imagery. Even with my dedicated video cameras—I own a Flip camera, a digital camera that writes to mini-DVDs, and a Sony Action Cam—I don't record movement very often, so using the video settings on my D-SLR didn't interest me.

Until I went out with some friends for Karaoke.

Several months earlier, perhaps as long ago as a year, I tried to record my friends singing at Karaoke night, in a run-down, downtown pub. I tried using my smartphone, thinking I could share it easily through social media. But as good as the camera on my smartphone is, it wasn't good enough for the pub. It was too dark, and my friends would appear as shadows around dim lights.

My D7200 has no problem with low light. The ISO goes to a whopping 25,500, but only 6400 was used on the night that I decided to try the video setting. My friend, Ed, was celebrating his birthday, and I captured him getting funky.

The video is clear, considering the low light, and while I had some issues with the focus, it's not a bad first attempt with the camera.

The second time I tried using the camera, I recorded some kayakers on the Ottawa River, at Bate Island. I decided that instead of capturing these folks in stills, as I have in the past, I would get them in motion.

I shared it for a Wordless Wednesday, a couple of weeks ago.

It wasn't until later on that Wednesday, after I published the post, that I played the video for myself, and I noticed something that I hadn't noticed before: I could get no sound. I checked that the computer wasn't set to mute, tried playing the file directly from its folder, through Media Player, and there was still no sound.

Strange, I thought. I must have done something with the camera when I recorded the event. Because I used it for Wordless Wednesday, and because it was only the sound of the rushing water that I couldn't hear, I didn't worry about it.

I would fix it for the next recording event.

The next event was BOLO. I was going to be reading one of my blog posts, and I asked my wife to use my camera to record the event. I checked the sound on the camera: it was set to automatic. I ran a test video, while my wife was talking on the phone. During the playback, her voice came in clearly. We were good to go.

The next day, after my wife recorded my reading, I downloaded the video onto my recorder, and played it. I wanted to see how it was and perhaps share it on The Brown Knowser.

There was no sound.

Something had happened to the sound, yet again, but I couldn't figure it out. The video of my friend, singing, worked. The test worked. Why was no sound coming through?

Another friend was performing a musical number at an open mic, and I wanted to record the event for her. I reset the camera settings. I set the sound recording to manual and adjusted them to a good level. I made a test recording and downloaded the file to my computer, played it back as my laptop sat on the dinner table.

The sound was clear.

My friend and her friend performed three wonderful songs. I captured the entire act in a single recording. At home, I downloaded the file on my computer and uploaded it to YouTube.

On playback, there was silence. I wept silently.

I ran the file through four different programs, and not one of them played the sound. Something was not being transferred in the file, I told myself. But what?

What was the difference between the Karaoke recording, the test recordings, and the kayak, BOLO, and open-mic recordings?

I have a video-studio app, and I can lay down the video images and the sound on different channels, can see the sound levels visually. They were there, yet I couldn't hear them. The volume on the laptop was to maximum.

What was different?

When I played back the test video, the laptop was open, on the kitchen table. I remembered when I uploaded Ed's Karaoke number: I had been watching TV, with my laptop resting on top of me. As I now tried to dig to the root of the problem, the laptop was positioned as it almost always is when I edit photos or write a blog post. It was closed, with an HDMI cable connected to it and my 27-inch monitor. A USB hub led to my keyboard and mouse.

I knew that the internal speakers shut off when the laptop was closed, but the monitor had speakers too: they weren't great, but they worked well enough. I checked them, and the display showed that they were at 100 percent.

And muted.

I closed my eyes, and wept at my own stupidity.

There are several touch-sensitive buttons underneath the monitor. Many times, I have accidentally turned the monitor off while reaching for something. Sometimes, I fumble in the dark as I feel for the off switch, and I brush against other buttons. I must have hit the mute button on such an occasion.


All of my videos have sound. If you missed my reading at BOLO, here it is.

And, I'm happy to say, my friend, Rebecca Fleming, and her two-member band, The Flaming Holes, have a video too. Complete with sound.