Tuesday, December 31, 2019

My Favourite Photos of 2019

I have to admit that I didn't pick up my camera very often this year.

Every once and awhile, on my commutes to and from work, I would make a few detours, stopping not too far from my regular route, between Barrhaven and Gatineau. But it was seldom that I strayed far to capture images.

I took a couple of trips over the year, the biggest ones took me to the Mayan Riviera and back to South Korea. I took plenty of photos then, but other trips, to Toronto, to the Eastern Townships of Québec, and to Prince Edward County, had me using my camera sparingly or not at all.

So when I went through the photos of 2019, there weren't a lot to choose from. Thankfully, that made preparing this post rather easy, compared with my end-of-year posts of years gone by. I was also quite brutal in paring down the number of photos to share, so that I didn't have something like the 28 photos that I shared last year.

Then again, I tried to limit it to my top 10, but that was nearly impossible. So here I have my top 12 photos of 2019. And as a heads up, a couple of the photos are not safe for viewing at the office.

At least once each season, I make a stop at Rideau Falls. This popular spot, where the Rideau River drastically meets the Ottawa River, offers spectacular views into Québec and toward the downtown core of Ottawa and Gatineau. One of my favourite seasons to photograph the falls is during the winter months, when the water turns to ice and creates a wall that looks strong enough to climb.

Don't try to attempt it.

The day after I edited this photo, taken just before sunset, Google decided to enhance the image by saturating the sunlight in the sky and reflected on the falls. I liked their enhancement and decided to keep it.

Because of my reconstructive foot surgery, I didn't get out too often in the snow. But when I learned that some snowy owls had been frequenting a farmer's field not too far from my neighbourhood, I had to venture out.

I'm glad I did.

When my foot had healed and I was able to walk on it again, my wife and I joined a Jane's Walk of the Parliamentary Precinct. The walk started at the old train station, now the home of the Canadian senate, and ended at the supreme court building. I snapped photos throughout the walk but my absolute favourite shot was one of the last photos that I took, after the walk had ended and people had gone their separate ways.

The shot shows one edge of the supreme court building, with one of its statues, the Peace Tower of parliament's Centre Block, and the West Block, which is now the House of Commons. I just like the lines of the West Block building with the angle that catches all three of these buildings.

Though my trip to Korea, last May, only lasted eight days, it is the one time where I captured the most amount of photographs (and video). And so I think it's fair that four of my 12 favourite photos of 2019 come from this trip.

I have two photos from Seoul: one, a candid shot along Cheonggyecheong, the canal that runs through the heart of the old downtown core; the other, from Baek In-je House, a large, traditional home in the Bukchon Hanok Village.

The other photos were taken in Chŏnju, where I lived from 1997 to 1999. The first photo is of the 1,000-year-old gate, Pungnammun; the other is of the imperial palace of Gyeonggijeon.

I still belong to a photography group that photographs models. The group meets several times each month but I can only find the time to meet with them a couple of times a year. This year, I met with the group for two of my favourite models to work with, Jay Ban and Olivia Preston.

This is where my photos become NSFW, by the way.

Because my work with flash photography is my weakest, I prefer to work in studios where flash is a must. I like working with high-key lighting and low-key, the latter fast becoming my favourite.

A couple of times this year, I made it out for the Sound of Light fireworks displays along the Ottawa River. With fireworks, I never stand in the same spot twice, and this year, my favourite vantage was on the Mackenzie Bridge, over the canal. From it, I find our city so beautiful.

Of course, I also took many random shots around the city, and I'll wrap up this post with a couple of those.

Last week, I moved up to a full-frame D-SLR and have been spending the holidays getting to know this new camera (the final photo was shot with my Nikon D750). Next year, I hope to pick it up more frequently than I did, this year, with my D7200.

I hope you have enjoyed these photos as much as I do. Thank you for continuing to read The Brown Knowser and I wish you all a Happy 2020.


Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Operation: Christmas

I first posted this story in 2011 and have now made it my holiday tradition. If you haven't read it before, I hope you enjoy it. If you have read it before, I'm hoping that you make it your holiday tradition in reading it again.

Merry Christmas, and all the best over the holiday season!

At first, we did it out of excitement, unable to wait. Later, it became a game about how far we could go, how much risk we were willing to take.

In time, it became a ritual.

The first time we crept downstairs, anxious to see what Santa left us, my younger sister, Jen, and I faced an obstacle: each other. "Go to bed," I whispered, not wanting her to make any noise, thereby arousing the attention of our parents, who had only a half hour or less gone to bed after placing our wrapped gifts under the tree. Our older sister, Holly, was sound asleep, able to contain her excitement and curiosity.

The first time that Jen and I met on the stairs, we got our parents' attention: "In to bed," my mother called from her bedroom, "or Santa won't come." Reluctantly, Jen and I returned to our respective rooms, giving each other the stink eye for having spoiled the other's plans at checking out the cache of presents.

Later that night, after I had deemed that everyone was fast asleep, I slowly made my way downstairs. I would pause on the stairs every time a step creaked, waiting to hear if anyone had stirred at the soft noise. It took a couple of minutes to reach the ground floor and sneak to our living room, where our Christmas tree stood. I had reached my destination without arousing suspicion.

I was a stealth machine.

A faint light illuminated the living room through our sheer curtains from the outdoor street lights, casting a twinkling glow off the tinsel and glass balls on the tree. My eyes, already adjusted to the darkness from my bedroom, could easily make out the outline of the tree and the mound of boxes and parcels underneath it. I saw the stockings, filled to bursting, hanging off the edge of the shelf of our wall unit—having no fireplace or mantle. I slowly approached the tree, making my way towards the light switch underneath the tree, the one that would light up the tree and give me a clear view of the gifts.

I was so busy moving quietly, using my eyes to the best of their abilities, making sure that I didn't trip over a present, that I hadn't used my ears to detect another presence. Coming into the living room, equally quiet, was Jen.

"What are you doing here?" I whispered.

"The same thing as you," was the response.

"You're going to wake everyone up," I complained.

"Not if I keep quiet," she said. "You're making all of the noise."

I knew that by continuing to argue, we'd wake the rest of the household. We dropped our voices to a barely audible whisper. "What should we do?" I asked.

"Want to turn on the Christmas tree?" Jen suggested.

"I was just about to do that," I said, "but only for a second." I was afraid that somehow the light would make its way out of the living room, up the stairs and down the hall, and through my parent's closed door and up to their eyes. Such was the paranoid logic of a young kid who was not where he was supposed to be.

I reached for the switch and the tree sparkled in the warm glow of the lights. Jen and I let our eyes wander over the packages and the brightly patterned paper, trying to see through the wrap and trying to discern the gift by its shape. We kept the lights on for only a couple of seconds, and before we felt we ran further risk, we immersed ourselves once again in darkness.

We decided that it was too great a risk to remain downstairs any longer, so we agreed to return to our rooms. We further agreed that we shouldn't try ascending the stairs at the same time, so Jen went first, and when I knew that she was safely in her room, I made my way to my own.

Operation: Christmas was born.

The next morning, as Jen and I sat in our living room with Holly and our parents, we gave each other a smiling look, silently communicating that we shared a little secret, that we had gotten away with a reconnaissance of our haul of gifts. No one else knew what we had done. We had gotten cleanly away with this act.

Leading up to the following Christmas, Jen and I privately discussed going downstairs to take another sneak peek at the gifts under the tree. But this year, we would be more organized. We synchronize our clocks so that we would have our rendezvous better timed. Also, the mystery of Santa Claus had pretty much worn out on us, and our parents decided that they would put our stockings at the end of our beds before they went to bed themselves. they figured that if we woke up to our stockings in the morning, it would buy them a little more sleep by keeping us occupied.

Jen and I decided that when our folks came into our rooms to put the stockings at the end of our beds, we would feign sleep. We would listen for them to quiet down, and then we'd wait a half hour. We would then give each other an additional 15 minutes to go through our stockings and check out our haul.

And then it was showtime.

We would quietly step out of our rooms and wait for the other to show up in the hall. We would then head down the stairs together. In the weeks leading up to the big day, or night, we would make a note of the squeaks in the stairs, and either avoid the step to a side of the step that didn't creak, or failing to find a safe spot, overstep that stair altogether. We memorised the walking pattern, going up and down the stairs. We wouldn't make a sound.

In the second year, I brought a flashlight. Not so much to see our way to the tree but to look at the presents without fumbling for the light switch. We would turn the tree on, marvel at the packages underneath, and then turn the lights off, but would use the flashlight to find which gifts belonged to us.

On the way back up, we heard a stirring from my folks' room. We froze. We didn't know if one of our parents had simply moved or was on their way to us. So we stood, halfway up the staircase, and remained silent and motionless until we deemed it was safe to proceed.

That was year two.

In the years that followed, we continued the tradition. Jen and I got more sophisticated. We drew maps of the upper and ground floors, marked out a plan of where who should be at what time. We ran drills when we were home alone. Operation: Christmas became a finely choreographed exercise.

We became emboldened: we'd turn the lights on the Christmas tree and leave it on for as long as we were downstairs. We'd stay longer, counting up our presents and figuring out what each one was, based on what we had asked for and the size that the package would be. We would get ourselves a snack and eat it, surrounded by wrapped boxes.

In our teens, we would unwrap the gifts, confirming what we suspected the package to be. If we could further remove the gift from it's casing or box, we'd do it. We'd play with our stuff. And then we would carefully re-wrap the present and put it back where our parents had arranged it. Some Christmases, we'd return to our bedrooms, knowing exactly what we were getting in a few hours.

The thrill of Christmas morning came in feigning surprise, in keeping from laughing out loud. Some mornings, Jen and I couldn't make eye contact for fear of bursting out in hysterics.

We also enjoyed the surprise of seeing what our sister, Holly, had received under the tree. Unwrapping her gifts wasn't even a consideration.

Operation: Christmas went on for years, until Jen finally moved out of the house. Even though she was younger than me, she flew the coup first. Our game was up. I never went to check on the presents by myself. Operation: Christmas wouldn't have been the same without a partner in crime.

When we became adults, Jen and I confessed our crime. My parents wouldn't believe us. They couldn't accept that we would have the capability of pulling off such a caper, that we'd be able to unwrap gifts, play with the toys, and put them back together. Not without our parents detecting anything was amiss. Jen and I just looked at each other, smiled, and shared our memories in silence.

For us, the magic of Christmas includes our scheme. For me, remembering Operation: Christmas was a ritual that brought me closer to my sister than any other game we played as kids, in daylight hours. It was our special time together.

And isn't that what Christmas is all about?

Monday, December 23, 2019

The Secret Santa

First told in December, 2014, this Christmas tale is now a Brown Knowser holiday repeat. If you're new to my blog, I hope you enjoy it; if you've read it before, I hope that it puts you in the holiday spirit.

He never cared for Secret Santas in the office, or anywhere, for that matter. He didn't feel the need to pick a random name from a hat and then try to figure out something about that practical stranger (he just knethat, as luck would have it, he would pick the name of someone that worked in a distant part of the office, someone that he didn't know well), and he would then spend money and time choosing a gift that would not enrich the life of that individual, would not be something that would give that individual anything that he or she would truly want.

He used to participate in Secret Santa at work, feeling compelled by peer pressure. But over the yearshe had become immune to peer pressure, would only participate in an office social activity if he truly wanted to.

And, usually, he didn't want to.

He wasn't a Grinch, nor a Scrooge, but especially, he wasn't a Secret Santa.

It was Christmas Eve and, as with every year, he did the bulk of his Christmas shopping at the last minute. He usually had an idea of what he needed to buy—his wife did most of the shopping for the kids and extended family members, and he needed only to focus on finding something for his wife, plus a few little things for the kids and some stocking stuffers for everyone in the family.

But one of the main reasons that he liked to shop in the stores on Christmas Eve was because he had worked retail in his youth, and he knew that there could be lots of stressed shoppers, lots of folks out there who treated store employees like crap, and so he liked to go in and be extra-nice to those workers, to try and make them feel appreciated.

He jokingly referred to the city's oldest shopping mall as the geriatric centre, as there was an abundance of grey-haired folks with walkers and canes, moving slowly through the corridors and spending extra time in the shops, looking to strike up conversations with the employees, form some sort of connection with a friendly face. For a short time, he had even worked in the bank branch in that mallwhere he would spend more time just chatting with the seniors who paid a visit than actually conducting business.

That was fine: most of them were friendly, kind, courteous. The only time when he didn't like encountering seniors was a time when he wasn't working in the mall—it was when his kids were infants, and he and his wife would navigate the hallways and department-store aisles with a wee one in a stroller. He and his wife would constantly be held up, as the elderly would faun over the children, would reach out to stroke a smooth cheek.

"Please don't touch my baby," he would say, his voice flat, unemotional, but authoritative, before any contact could be made between old and new skin.

But still, he liked going to that mall. It had plenty of good shops that catered to a wide variety of needs and it was in a convenient part of town. And so, on Christmas Eve, as he was making his final purchases before heading home, he found himself in one of these stores, waiting in line behind a silver-haired lady who was using a wheeled walker for support as she tried to purchase a few items for her grandsons (as he understood from the conversation with the person who was trying to ring up the sale).

The senior moved slowly, her shoulders slumped from a busy day of shopping or perhaps from a lifetime of hard work. She seemed to be in no rush to finish her purchases, was content to idly chat with the saleswoman. The cashier, in turn, was friendly but purposeful: there were others waiting to tally their items, to move on to more shopping or to head home.

When the elderly lady's items were summed up, she opened her oversized purse, retrieved her wallet, and selected a credit card.

It didn't take long to learn that the credit card had been declined, as the point-of-sale terminal sounded a low beep and the saleslady grimaced. The elderly woman asked in a meager voice if the salesperson could try it again, and again, the card was declined.

"I don't understand," the woman said, "I've been using it all day." Indeed, an assortment of parcels and bags rested on her walker. She reached into her wallet and selected another credit card. "Try this one," she said, handing it to the cashier.

The second credit card was also declined.


The woman dropped her head, her eyes moving back and forth in their sockets as she made mental calculations, tried to figure where she went wrong. Those shoulders, which already sagged, seemed to slump further in her perturbation. Her face denoted sadness, as though she might cry, as she came to terms with the possibility that her grandsons would not be receiving the gifts she had finally found for them.

The salesperson, meanwhile, looked at the man, patiently waiting, with an apologetic smile, unsure about how to deal with the woman who could not pay but who had not determined her next course of action.

The man was neither a Grinch nor a Scrooge, and though he wanted only to make his purchase and leave the mall, he also didn't want to see this frail lady leave empty-handed. It was Christmas Eve, after all.

He looked the salesperson in the eyes and mouthed, "It's okay, let her go. I'll pay for her." He held cash in hand to show that he was good for the amount owed.

"Really?" the salesperson whispered back, her eyes wide, finding it hard to believe that a total stranger would show such a level of sympathy and compassionate generosity.

He nodded. Smiled.

"Oh, it looks like we're good," the salesperson said to the woman after pretending to check the register again. "I guess our machine slowed down." She placed the goods in a bag and handed it over, the cancelled transaction slips in the bag. The senior loaded up her walker and began wheeling it towards the mall.

It had only been a thirty-dollar purchase. The man wasn't going to miss the extra amount that he paid. The old lady would likely discover what had happened after she was safe at homeif she bothered to look at the voided receipts, that is. Perhaps, she might not ever know.

If she had other shopping to do and tried to use those credit cards, she would discover that they couldn't be used. That would be a problem for her and the next salesperson to sort out. But at least she could bring her grandsons some joy.

Only the salesperson and the man would know what truly happened. On this Christmas Eve, for the first time ever, he could claim to be a true Secret Santa, anonymous and giving something truly desired.

And that was good enough for him.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Me, The Grinch

This blog post was originally posted on December 20, 2011, and has become a traditional Brown Knowser holiday tale. If you have read it before, I hope you enjoy it again. If this is your first read, I hope it won't be your last.

*On some level, I'm not a fan of Christmas. Not of the decorating, nor of the card giving (actually, the Brownfoots have pretty much given up on that front), nor, especially, of the shopping. I hate going near the malls and department stores at this time of year: fighting crowds, standing in lines, searching for that ever-elusive parking space.

Not being religious, the spiritual side of Christmas is lost on a cynic like me. Our family doesn't go to church, participates in no rituals that have long ago been stolen from the Pagans. We have no manger on display, no angel on high.

My participation in these year-end, winter festivities usually includes some shopping, taking the family to a farm to search for and cut down our tree, and then driving it home, standing it in the house, and helping my wife with the lights and flashy, gold garland. Once that's done, I leave the room and let the three girls hang the ornaments while they blast music from the annual traditional Christmas CD.

Even as a kid, that tradition didn't interest me much. And, as my children grow older, as they now know that there is no Santa Clause, Christmas seems to weigh heavier and heavier on me.

To understand how my view of Christmas has, over the decades, eroded, I have to go back to when I was in my mid to late teens, and then into my early twenties that really changed my views on Christmas.

For many years, I worked in retail. In late 1991, at the age of 16, my folks decided that it was time to wean me from my allowance, telling me that I was old enough to earn my own income. And so I got a job in a paint and wallpaper store in our local shopping mall. I worked there—and at a couple of our other franchise shops in two other Ottawa shopping malls—for four years, helping customers choose colours and patterns to spread over their walls. In some cases, I even offered my services in applying the paint or wallpaper, or both, for them. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, however, I witnessed my customers, who were generally easy to please, grow stressed as they frantically tried to get their houses in order in time for the holidays. Many left things to the last minute ("What do you mean? Latex paint needs thirty days to cure before I can hang wallpaper on it??").

I worked in the Merivale Mall off-and-on for more than thirteen years, working at the paint and wallpaper store, a camera shop, and at a bank. And what I learned from my experience there is that I hate—absolutely HATE—the retail side of Christmas. I hated that on the very day after Hallowe'en—before Thanksgiving**, for cryin' out loud—the Christmas decorations went up in the mall, Santa's village began construction, carolers strolled up and down the promenade. Christmas sales began. In the camera store, Christmas season officially ran from November 1st to December 24th. Mercifully, I never worked anywhere that held Boxing Week specials. But the weeks following Christmas were just as busy, as customers returned unwanted items (I probably hated that time of year more than the pre-Christmas rushes).

Working in retail over the holiday season was an exercise in patience to the nth degree. In the early weeks of the Christmas sales, people were generally in good spirits, though I honestly believe that these people were generally happy, well-organized individuals—they were, after all, getting their shopping done early. They were beating the crowds. They probably found parking in less than thirty minutes. And they were in and out before the Jolly Old Elf made his appearance (the Santa at the Merivale Mall was a bald, cigar-smoking dude who always had dark, sagging bags under his eyes. I'd run into him, out of costume, in the corridors behind the shops; he creeped me out). But as the big day arrived, people grew grumpy, stressed, and quick to anger. On one Christmas Eve at the camera shop, in the last hour before we closed our doors, I had one guy tear a strip off me because the camera he wanted to buy was sold out. Not surprising, as it was the hottest camera of the year—we had sold out days earlier. And he expected to find it waiting for him?

The experience left me with an emotional scar. But it wasn't just the angry last-minute shopper in the camera store that ruined Christmas for me. Not on his own. He was just the catalyst for that day. As I left the mall at the end of my shift, walking through the parking lot, I heard two men screaming at each other over a parking spot, both standing outside their cars, whose front ends where nosed up to the vacant space. As they prepared to come to blows, I piped up with a heart-felt rendition of Silent Night, which was met with an aggressive "Fuck off" and a "Mind your own business."

On the way home (I walked, by the way: at that time of year, walking was faster than trying to drive on Merivale Road), I decided to stop at a drug store to pick up some snacks and extra tape in anticipation of a night of wrapping gifts and visiting friends. When I lined up at the cash register, a man was screaming at the poor clerk, a young lady who was obviously not the manager or owner. I had, in fact, seen her behind  the counter many times before. She was always cheerful and polite, and was a good employee. Any retailer would want her on his staff. But now, she was almost in tears. I don't know what the man was screaming about, but it was obvious that this nice clerk had failed in helping him in one way or another. All I saw was a mean-spirited man handing out his rage on a tarnished platter.

And I got angry. This was no way to talk to anyone, especially on Christmas Eve. "Peace on Earth, good will to men," I said in a loud but cheery voice, trying to dispel the anger.

"Peace on Earth, my ass," the man said. Nice. "I bought the wrong batteries and this girl won't take them back." He waved a package of Duracell AAs, the cardboard torn, the package opened. Perhaps, even, the batteries tried? I understood: the clerk couldn't take the batteries back because he had opened the package. The batteries could not be returned to the shelf; no one would buy a pack of opened batteries. At the camera shop, we had the same policy.

"But you opened the package," I said. "Of course, you can't return them."

"Why don't you mind your own business?" the man spat at me. Other customers came to the line and, to my relief, they seemed to take the clerk's side. "Why don't you give the girl a break?" said one. The disgruntled customer screamed some more obscenities at the poor girl behind the counter, promised to never shop there again (much to the clerk's relief, I'm sure), and stormed out.

It was probably at this moment that I came to the decision that I hated Christmas. That is to say, I hated the consumerism side of it (insert the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas here). In the evolution of the holiday, we have placed the material above the ideal—the spirit, if you will. In my remaining years in the Merivale Mall, I learned to dread the Christmas season because it always stirred  memories of this day. Of the hostility and rage from the last-minute shopper, the parking foes, and the disguntled idiot who didn't know which batteries he needed.

I hate Christmas shopping. I try to avoid it. But with a family, that's hard to do. And so I try to get it out of the way as painlessly as possible. I'm not an early shopper, but I have most of my purchases before the last minute. I leave little things to the last minute—things that, should I be unable to find, I really don't care. And I'm always polite with the retail workers. I always have a smile, I always have something nice to say. If a retailer cannot help me find what I'm looking for, I don't hold it against him or her. I never complain.

I think everyone should work a mandatory year in retail so that he or she can empathize with the clerks that do this day in and day out. It's not easy dealing with a public that hasn't walked in a retailer's shoes.

So what does Christmas mean to me? From the day that I walked home from the drug store, Christmas has meant only one thing: time. Time with family and friends. Time to appreciate what I have. Time to be the best that you can be to others.

* Image of The Grinch © 1966 Warner Home Video. All rights reserved.
** Thanksgiving, in Canada is the third Monday in October—more than two months before Christmas.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Remembering Warmer Climes

As we head toward winter and the impending Arctic blasts, I can't help but think of this year's trip to sunny Mexico, when DW and I had an early celebration of our 25th wedding anniversary.

This one-week vacation to the Mayan Riviera will no doubt go down as one of our best vacations of all time and was our first vacation away from the kids in 15 years, especially since DW was able to fulfill one of her bucket-list dreams: swimming with sea turtles.

This is also the first time we were able to truly take advantage of our 360-degree video camera. I've shared the first video that I shot, before this trip, in early March, and I later took this camera with me and made a movie in Korea, but with Mexico we were able to take the camera under water to see the sea life and snorkel in the cenotes.

DW and I created a 30-minute video to remember this trip, but I felt that this is too long for other people to watch. And because I know that some people like to see travel videos to get an idea about where they may like to go (DW and I looked at several YouTube videos in preparation for our vacation), I've cut our vacation video down to 10 minutes to show the highlights of our trip.

There's no dialog but I do show where each clip was captured. If you've thought about visiting the Mayan Riviera but don't know what to expect, hopefully this video can give you a little insight.

I hope you enjoy this snapshot of Mexico and that it will get your mind off the winter that is to come.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Photo Friday: Black and White and Red All Over

As the end of 2019 draws near, I have been preparing my annual year-end blog post of my favourite photos that I've taken over the year, and this year has been pretty light.

While I carry my D-SLR almost everywhere I go, I haven't actually pulled it out of its bag as often as I have in previous years. And when I've used it, instead of taking the files off the camera and processing them as soon as I can, I've let them sit on the data card. And, by the time I get around to importing them onto my computer, I just stash them in a file and barely look at them.

That's going to have to change in 2020.

More times than not, even though my camera bag is slung over my shoulder, I've opted to use my smartphone to capture the images. Even though the quality of most images isn't as good as my Nikon D7200, it's a lot faster to use if I plan to share the images on social media.

While I've been using Snapseed for many years, I'm always on the lookout for other apps to give my photos a fresh look.

A few weeks ago, I downloaded an app by a company that DW looks to as the competition to her company. I've told her that because Corel doesn't offer PaintShop Pro as an app for the smartphone, her company isn't even in the competition.

The newest app that I've added to my arsenal of photo-editing tools is Adobe Photoshop Express (I know, it's not a new app, but it's new to me).

While I still like Snapseed for enhancing the sharpness, contrast, and saturation of a photo, I like some of the effects that Photoshop Express offers, such as the many filters; in particular, the Splash filters that let you show a particular colour only, rendering any other colour in black and white.

I've experimented with some photos of fireworks I shot over the summer, but last Friday, when I was in Toronto, I took some photos with these filters from Photoshop Express in mind.

They weren't perfect, especially since I was shooting hand-held in low light (Queen Street, at night). I chose to keep the colour red and exclude all others, and it wasn't until I rendered the image with this filter that I noticed that this colour was thrown around quite a bit. Traffic lights, brake lights, and signs in shop windows. Red was also reflected off street lights and cast a red glow on the buildings.

While I hoped that red would be limited to the passing TTC street car, I liked the overall effect. It's a cool urban night scene, in black, white, and red.

What do you think?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Beer O'Clock: 90-Second Review

Once again, I'm trying something new.

For those of you who have been following The Brown Knowser over the years, you've likely read my Beer O'Clock reviews here and on its own blog site. A few years ago, I attempted my first video beer review, and judging by the scant viewership, most of you found the 19 minutes a bit long to take.

I get you. I haven't watched that video since I first made it.

I've wanted to make more videos of reviews, but I didn't want to make them long. I wanted to keep the video under five minutes, but even that seemed long.

Yesterday, I wondered if I could keep a video review to 60 seconds, and so I wrote out a short script and timed myself. And sure, I can do it, if I simply want to speak and I don't intend to do anything with the beer.

And so I then challenged myself to a 90-second video review, and gave myself some time to open the can of beer, pour it, smell it, taste it, and give my overall impression. With a little bit of editing, I managed to create a video that's exactly 90 seconds.

It's rough, but with time I'm sure I'll get better.

For this new review format, I thought I would review Ottawa's newest brewery. I first sampled some of their suds before they had a shop, during this spring's beer fest in Orleans. And I have to say, I nearly forgot about them in the ensuing months, but a change in plans for a recent Brew Donkey tour brought this brewery back on my radar.

Open since this past August, Brew Revolution picks up a music theme, with brews like Make Me Wanna Stout, Kashmir, and Walkin' On Sunshine, this Stittsville brewery already has a vast selection to choose from.

Enough writing: here's my 90-second review. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Death Wish

DW and I were talking about death, the other week, as couples do (what... you don't?), and we were remarking at the fact that we haven't updated our wills since our kids were in diapers. Because DW is still working out her father's estate, wills are foremost on her mind.

Back in the late '60s, DW's parents had the forethought to purchase their own plots at a cemetery, on the outskirts of town, and they purchased extra room for their offspring and any partners, as well. As we laid her dad to rest, next to his wife of more than 60 years, I muttered to DW, "I don't want to be buried here."

It was not meant as a slight against her parents: I loved DW's folks, who had been nothing short of kind and loving towards me, as though I was one of their own. My desire to be placed in the ground in a coffin or urn just didn't have its appeal for me. I didn't need to have a marker, with my name printed on it, to be a constant reminder of where my remains had been stashed. And I didn't want to have a funeral home's hand in my pockets.

DW told me that we'd discuss this matter later, and when we did, I was just as adamant. "I don't want to be buried in that cemetery," I repeated.

"Well, I'm keeping some of your ashes and I'm having them mixed with mine, and at least a bit of you will be with me when my time comes and I'm placed next to my mom and dad."

For years, I've been wondering how I wanted my remains handled. (I know, I'm such a joyful person.) Seriously, in this time when we consider the environment and the sort of world that we want to leave for our children, I think it's time that we give serious thought to how we go out, responsibly.

At times, I've joked, "throw me in a bog and let nature take its course," or, "just put me in the green bin and roll me to the curb on collection day." But now, I'm wondering if that's not such a bad idea (the first one, not the green bin).

I really don't want to give a funeral home any money. I don't need a fancy coffin or an urn. I certainly don't want to be embalmed—one more cocktail for the road?

I don't want any visitations or services. DW understands that when my time comes, I want her to reserve space at whatever bar I would tend to frequent (or perhaps one of my favourite Ottawa breweries?), invite all of my close friends and family, and have a party.

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And what do we do about my body? Well, I've heard that there are some places where you can have a truly green resting place, though I expect you don't rest for very long. Some parcels of land have been allotted for burial grounds where you aren't placed in anything, save maybe a biodegradable sack. Here, you truly let nature take its course.

That's what I want.

DW can quietly bury me in a wooded area. If the kids want to be with her, I'd like that, too. No fuss: no muss. No head stone, no indication that I'm there at all.

The other week, when DW and I talked about our need to update our wills and about our final wishes, I reminded her that I strongly object to being placed in a cemetery.

"Some of your ashes are coming with me."

"I'm not being cremated. I want a green burial." We talked about the area in Prince Edward County: lovely countryside; good breweries and tasty wineries. "Please put me there," I requested.

"Okay, but I'm hacking off a finger. Part of you is coming with me."

"Fair enough," I said, adding, "if you're going to take a part of me, take my schlong. I like the thought of it being forever with you." We laughed, though DW also whispered "Jesus" under her breath.

"But wait," I reconsidered, "what if there really is an afterlife, in which all your desires are fulfilled. I just might still need that."

"You're likely going to Hell," DW said, "where, for torture, you'll be offered such carnal desires but would be without your 'schlong,' like a Ken doll. I might as well keep it." More laughter.

Problem solved.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Photo Friday: First Snow

It was nice to get outdoors during my lunch break, yesterday, to enjoy the fresh, crisp air on the day of the first snow. Though autumn is not done, winter isn't far away.

Happy Friday!

Friday, October 25, 2019

Moving Pictures

It's rough.

There are camera and editing issues. There are sound problems and my voice does not make for good listening.

It's also really, really long, much longer than I intended. The opening scene goes on too long, but in cutting down the song, I really wanted it to fit so that when it ended, a flight attendant can be heard.

The script for the voice-overs is over-read. The unscripted dialog is often nonsensical and contains errors.

But this video really is for me, to keep as a reminder of my solo trip back to Korea, last May.

If you're truly interested, here it is. But get yourself comfortable before you hit Play, because it's an hour and 10 minutes of your life that you're never getting back.

Criticism is welcome, but please be kind. I've never ever done anything like this before. This is the longest video that I've ever put together. I actually call it a movie.

I present to you Back 2 Korea. Enjoy (I hope).


Friday, October 18, 2019

What Drives Me to Write

"There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will."
—William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Of course, I knew him only as Mr. Lemke, but he had a first name: it was Gurt. When I first entered his English class, in grade 9 (way back in September, 1979), I had no idea that this tall, lean Dutchman would have such a strong influence on me as a writer. In fact, the first time that he and I interacted, we didn't hit it off at all.

The classroom on the second floor at J.S. Woodsworth Secondary School faced south, toward Viewmount Drive. The housing development that would surround the high school was still years away and I could see across the road to the field in which my father and I would have rode our dirt bikes many summers earlier.

Sitting in my desk, which was in the row that was against the windows, I would have had to crane my neck right around to see the intersection of Chesterton Drive and Viewmount, and there really was no reason to look in that direction. Except, on that one morning.

I heard the dull thump as metal hit metal and rubber was scraped. I knew immediately that two vehicles had collided, and I turned to see the damage. It was an OC Transpo bus and a large sedan (weren't they all large in the 70s?). It wasn't a serious accident and I could see that no one was hurt, so I returned my attention to the front of the classroom.

That's when I saw that Mr. Lemke was standing near my desk, patiently waiting for me to rejoin the lesson. Apparently, he had asked me a question, in the time that the back of my head was facing him.

"We can discuss your lack of attention after school, Mr. Brown," he told me.

I didn't think a detention was fair, given that external distractions had caused an involuntary reaction from me. I heard a collision and my reflexes made me look. At the very least, I wanted to know if everyone was safe. And I couldn't have been distracted for more than 10 seconds.

Mr. Lemke wouldn't hear my explanation. "See you after school."

I didn't show up.

The next morning, as I sat in my homeroom, waiting to hear the morning announcements, Mr. Lemke showed up and asked me to step outside. He was disappointed that I had skipped detention.

I explained that I felt my punishment didn't fit the offense, and once again, I tried to tell him what had happened to make me look away. In a calm voice (always a calm voice), he told me that I could explain myself at detention, which was to be at the end of school.

Again, I didn't show up.

And again, Mr. Lemke visited my homeroom class to remind me that we had an appointment. He asked me why I was being so defiant.

I stated that I wouldn't attend a detention because the sound of the collision caused me to see what was the matter. As soon as I discovered what had happened, I was ready to return my attention to him.

"If you had heard a sound from behind you, wouldn't you have looked?" I asked. I told him that I found his demands unjust and that he could continue to expect me to come in, but that I wouldn't. I said that if he wanted to take me to the principal's office, we could go right away, before the announcements. But I was standing firm on my belief that I had done nothing to warrant a detention.

That was the end of the conversation. Mr. Lemke said that he respected my conviction and that, going forward, he hoped to see this same kind of fire from me in his class.

I didn't always succeed, but I tried my best.

Mr. Lemke's passion for poetry and literature was infectious. When he read passages aloud, you felt the emotion of the writer. When he assigned class presentations, he encouraged the students to speak with the same passion. He would often prompt presenters to speak from the heart, rather than from what was written on the pages that would be held.

"Throw away your notes!" he would exclaim. In one presentation that I delivered, I prepared thoroughly but still used my cue cards as a crutch. "Ross, throw away your notes," said Mr. Lemke.

I literally tossed the cue cards over my shoulders and just talked to the class.

That was all his doing.

I had Mr. Lemke as my English teacher in grades 9, 11, and 13. And while it was the class that I looked forward to the most, I wasn't the most attentive student in grade 13, using the class time to work in the student lounge.

One evening, while hanging out at Carlingwood Mall with my friend, Stuart, who also was in my English class, we ran into Mr. Lemke, who said, "Mr. Brown, I seem to run into you everywhere but in class." He smiled, and then continued with his shopping.

I showed up at the next class.

There are only three teachers that come to mind when I think of the people who had the greatest influence on me, who really encouraged me to become a writer. There's my grade 6 teacher, Mr. Townsend, who encouraged me during our creative writing lessons and always called upon me to read my work to the rest of the class.

There's my first-year journalism program teacher, who always praised my work and, when I began work on my first novel (never published), wasn't afraid to tell me when my writing was "trite" and needed improvements.

And then there was Mr. Lemke, whose passion rubbed off on me, who supported me when I felt strongly about something, and showed me how to put myself out there, to throw away my notes.

Gurt Lemke was 87 when he passed away, on October 6.

About a year ago, I was watching a Canadian sci-fi on Netflix, Dark Matter, and saw the name Anthony Lemke in the credits. A Google search showed me that Anthony grew up in Nepean, so I reached out to him, through social media, and asked him if his father taught for the Carleton Board of Education.

Anthony replied, and said that, indeed, his dad was my English teacher. I asked Anthony for a favour, that if he could mention me the next time he spoke to his dad, to thank him for me.

I hope that message was delivered.

Visitation for Mr. Lemke is today, from 2:00 to 4:00, at the Tubman
Funeral Homes, at 3440 Richmond Road. Unlike the first time that he invited me to pay him a visit, I won't let him down.

When I finished high school, in 1984, I asked Mr. Lemke to sign my yearbook. I passed him the book, opened to the page with his photograph. He looked thoughtful, then began to write, a smile on his face and a sparkle in his eyes.

It was a quote, from one of my favourite Shakespeare plays. It was the play upon which my presentation had me throwing away my notes.

"There is a divinity that shapes our ends."