Thursday, January 10, 2019

Wow. You must have a really great camera!

Happy 2019 to all my readers, their family and friends. 


If you want prosperity and success, I wish you that.
If you want recognition and a Nobel Prize or a Pulitzer, that too.
But mostly I wish you health and happiness and love, because if you have those, nothing else matters.




You must have a really great camera

As some of you might know, I'm a moderator on the really fine and popular Facebook group, "Photoshop and Photography". The group has just passed 400,000 members and it takes the efforts of a crew of moderators and administrators to keep it a friendly and helpful place. There are some people who come out of the woodwork (especially on holidays: the admins call it "the squirrel cage" at those times), but for the most part, it's a positive learning experience. It is Social Media so there are some nutbars out there, you need to ignore them sometimes.



Search for "Photoshop and Photography" in Facebook and join. You'll meet some interesting people and see some awesome work; and generally someone in the group will have an answer to whatever question you may have.

But I'm writing this because one common question bugs me. "What kind of camera did you use for this shot? What lens?"

OK, sometimes the question might have meaning. Like, "how did you achieve such a shallow depth of field", or "when I shoot at such a high ISO I get much worse noise..." so they want to know if it's equipment based. But usually it has to do with the old saw, "that's a really great photo, you must have a wonderful camera!". "That's a really delicious dinner. You must have fantastic pots and pans!"

I know artists who could create meaningful paintings using dollar store paints, a stick they picked up off the ground and an old piece of wood. Or sketch with an old #2 pencil they scavenged from the back of a drawer, and a piece of typewriter paper. Just sayin'.

One comment I read there this week pointed out that all those photos that inspire you as a photographer — the ones with that incredible "wow" factor, the ones that make you wish you had taken them — were made with equipment FAR INFERIOR to whatever you're using today. The resolution on your iPhone is better than any digital camera from the last decade, maybe up to 2013 or 2014. It's not about the equipment.

You've heard it before: it's about what's in that space a couple of inches behind the viewfinder. It's about you and your vision. And you can work on that by taking more and more pictures, and looking at other people's work, and not giving up because you get better and better every day. Want proof? Go look at pictures you made 5 years ago. Are they as good as what you're doing today?


One thing that's hard to get past as a moderator (or as a teacher or a judge): approving (or critiquing or scoring) images that are REALLY bad. Obviously taken by a real novice, sometimes presented with pride, "my first attempt in Photoshop". But then you realize that we've all started somewhere! I'm reminded of when I proudly showed Rosa (a former girlfriend who was an artist) my first sketch, and she deflated me by saying, "yeah, like a kindergarten kid's first finger painting."




What inspires me?

 I'm not going to write the long answer to that one, but I'd like to point you in one particular direction.

Turn on your TV. Watch any movie or show, or especially, any commercial. I get that it isn't still photography, but hit Pause. Marvel at the fact that there's NEVER a poorly exposed or badly focused shot, or badly lit scene. Look at the composition. It's all perfect.

Pick up a magazine. Look at the ads. Ditto. Any one of those pictures would get a 10 out of 10 in your club competitions. Analyse them and ask yourself "why" or "how"?

The people who make these pictures are professionals. REAL professionals. Yes they have huge equipment budgets and assistants and studios and... but give one of them an iPhone and I'll bet they'll create fantastic images with it. Learn from these people. Learn by studying their work.







Bruce Peters.
R.I.P. 

The world lost a really good guy a few days ago. Regrettably, I didn't know Bruce really that well. Bruce was a member of the Mississauga club, he was up here on a workshop and we stayed in touch. He came back and we spent some time shooting together up here a while ago, he ended up staying here for a few days and I don't think a smile ever left his, or my face. He had recently lost his wife and he threw himself into his travel and his photography as a raison d'être.

I think he split his time between Mississauga and his property in Penetanguishene (or Port Severn?). He joined us up at the Gales of November workshop in 2017 and ended up willingly chauffeuring Karen Young and her broken leg around. He participated enthusiastically in all our activities.

He was probably one of the kindest, most generous people I've met and in talking with others of our mutual friends, that sentiment was echoed by all of us. That said, he was sometimes bull-headed and opinionated but that was Bruce. Everyone agrees on that one too, Hilarie said "the club will be very quiet without him".

Please excuse the really bad picture (I'm not good at people pictures, as everyone knows!)





Thinking about Newfoundland again

I floated a thought about going to the Territories this summer, but I think that's not going to happen. However you know how much I love Newfoundland... so here's what I'm thinking.




Mid June through end of July?
Keys:


  • I've never been to the Northern Peninsula nor to Labrador. That's where the icebergs are.
  • I love the Twillingate area. Maybe more time on Fogo Island this time.
  • Bonavista/Elliston. Whales and puffins. Maybe meet up with a friend from overseas
  • St. John's, gateway to the Avalon peninsula, urban and other photooops, meet friends.
As on previous visits, stay in rental cottages for the most part.

So: anyone want to spend some time on the Rock? I can think of one or two already. I know enough now to do some informal guiding... and I have contact with people who are even more experienced at it. Contact me.

PS: in 5 visits to Newfoundland over the years, I've seen exactly two moose. Don't count on it! LOL




An Oldie but a Goodie



This image of mine came up in an online discussion a few days ago so I thought I'd post it here again. A lot of work went into this image: would you believe I shot it in bright mid-day sunshine? Somehow I managed to make it look like what I had visualized.




Parting Shot

Here's a composite image I worked on yesterday. It's from my Newfoundland trip last summer (mostly!). If I had to pick my favourite image from 2018, this would be right up there.




The star trails are about 140 images stacked in StarStaX. I wanted to remove some detail and make it look hand painted, so I used Topaz Impression. I THINK it was based on the Georgia O'Keeffe preset, applied more than once. The lighthouse is the one at Cape Spear, shot at dawn and extracted from the background. Again I used Topaz to enhance the light and smooth things... might have even been based on the same preset. There's some canvas background texture in there I'll have to remove when it gets printed. If you've been following me, you'd recognize that the girl was created on my Wacom Tablet from scratch, based on an image I shot at Peggy's Cove in 2017 and it was used in another image with a brilliant sunset (and a painting!), with the same title. 

— 30 —

Friday, December 21, 2018

Get over it.

Is this a  "New Year's Resolution"?
No, it's more of an epiphany.

In the last couple of blogs I've been bitching about getting old. Aches and pains, lack of energy and motivation, growing contact list of doctors, awful sleep patterns, a GRANDSON in the Air Force, for God's sake. The list goes on.

Then I say, without meaning it, "consider the alternative".

OK, enough. I can't promise I'll be less curmudgeonly, but I'll try. Think positive.

Three things happened in the past few days that are pushing me on this track:


  1. The oncologist I saw last week said, when I commented on my age, "the patient I just saw before you is 91. Get over it."
  2. My aunt passed away this morning. She was 102. My mom was 95. My dad died young, at 89. Get over it.
  3. On a completely different note, I went to Algonquin Park on Wednesday. Because I can. Whenever I want to. In fact I can do anything I want. Whenever I want to.

I want to write. I want to make pictures, with the camera, the computer, a paint brush, charcoal and pencils. Time for the excuses to end. 
Get over it.



In a conversation with my cousin Howard today (it was his mother who passed on at 102) we looked backwards at our lives — we basically grew up together — and we realized how much stuff we've done over the years. If I created a character in my novel who had done, and mastered, all that stuff, nobody would believe it. I'm still going to give it a shot!


Topaz Labs sale

If you're reading this and it's not Boxing Day yet, you still have time to take advantage of the Topaz Labs year-end sale.

I'm committed to the Topaz products. Virtually every picture of mine that you see has had a whiff of Topaz. Whether it's painterly effects, textures,  noise reduction, extra clarity or sharpening, upsizing or simplifying, their products are superb.

I recently started using AI Clear and now I'm committed to it. It does such a good job of increasing the acuity of an image that a lot of the methods I've used in the past have been relegated to the shelf.

Is there a learning curve? Of course there is. Not that steep though, you can work your way through it.

If you're cost conscious, you want to take advantage of this sale before it's gone. If not, you owe it to yourself to try their products: you can do a full 30 day free trial on anything in their program.

Here's the link: https://topazlabs.com/ref/32/





Newfoundland Portfolio

I spent some time working on my Newfoundland pictures from last summer. I put a selection of them up online using Adobe Portfolio. All of the pictures in this group are large hi-res, so for the most part they'd be great printed!

So far, these are the best images. Click a picture for full-screen. Hover over it for the description.



Longliner approaching Gull Island, off Twillingate. 


Right now I'm recommending canvas wrap printing: I have a good, responsive and inexpensive supplier. You can get up to 40" width, you can hang them without framing, and I can do a large format print for about $100, delivered, including taxes. I can get regular prints too.

If you like any of the images, please communicate with me, tell me the title or description, and we'll go from there.






"The time had come, the warden said, to talk of many things..."
Of animals and ecology and climate change and the Park 
(sorry, Lewis Carroll).

Before I get into pictures from yesterday, I want to talk about some things I learned from a Park Warden named "David" with whom we chatted for a while.

PS: I got carried away, writing this: if it's too much for you, just look at the pictures.

OK, OK, here's a picture!


Male Pine Grosbeak. I learned from David that this is a second-year bird, not wearing full-colour plumage yet. 


David was a nice guy, despite the patches on his shoulders and gold badge on his chest. A bit crazy hanging out with us on the back deck of the Visitor’s Centre in a short sleeved shirt, everyone asking him from time to time, “aren’t you cold”? “I wouldn’t do this if it was 40 below, but it’s a nice day…”. Me, in a down jacket over a wool sweater over my thermal underwear… Knowledgeable guy, knows his birds, nature, the park. “I don’t think that’s a hoary redpoll, look at the shape of the bill. I think it might be just a light coloured common redpoll”.

The conversation turned to feeding and baiting, and where do you draw the line. Aren’t they really the same thing? You could tell that David was not comfortable at times. You had the impression he was expressing a personal opinion and being really careful not to contradict the Park’s official position. He made an interesting comment, that it’s not a digital divide, unethical baiting on one side, managed feeding on the other, "it’s a continuum", he said. 

At one point he grudgingly admitted that it wasn’t necessary to have the feeders at the centre, the birds would survive the winter anyway, or most of them would. The feeders were really there to cater to the visitors and yes, the photographers.

Of course we went to pine martens and foxes next. There was a couple we all  had run into up at the turnaround on Opeongo Road that day. When we (Amin and I) were there, they were holding a handful of bird seed or trail mix to hand feed the chickadees and Canada jays. But other people in the conversation said they saw this couple feeding cheese and meat to a pine marten there. One said he left without shooting any pictures because he couldn’t condone the behaviour. 

All of us have seen the deplorable setup at Mew Lake. The pine martens live in the garbage bins and through some sort of misguided logic, some people think there’s nothing wrong with spreading peanut butter or cat food on the tree branches in the hope of slowing down these fast-moving predators so they can get a picture. After all, they're eating garbage anyway. Last week I had to wait to get a shot when the animals weren’t busy licking the trees. Someone said they saw a visitor one day, nailing hot dogs to the tree. “Can’t something be done about this? Can’t you charge people”?

“When we get there”, David said, “people say the one who did this just left. We’re just taking pictures”. It is a chargeable offence, harassing wildlife, but hard to enforce. But David went on to explain why it’s wrong. He used the famous foxes on Arowhon Road as an example.

The foxes up there were so habituated to Man that all you needed to do was to stop your car and open the door, and the foxes would appear. Crinkle a potato chip bag and you’d almost have one in your back seat. They waited for people to appear, guaranteed food sources. As a result, several things happened. First and most obvious, the animals were interacting with two tons of metal and plastic and the inevitable occurred, the cars won. Papa fox and one of his daughters are now living their lives out at Aspen Valley rehab, Papa still limping around on often broken limbs after car collisions. 



My favourite picture of Papa fox, shot a few years ago. 


But Papa has lived a long time, some say between 12 and 15 years, unheard of for a fox: it's like a person living to 120. Still fathering a litter of kits every year until recently, which meant that there was a continuing presence of foxes in that territory for a long time. Not just a pair... many. Maybe as many as a dozen. There are turtle beds along the trails and with the constant pressure of a dozen foxes, virtually no turtles have survived. We've changed the ecological balance, at least in that part of the park, in a few short years, by feeding the foxes in order to get some pictures.

But there's more. These foxes are so tame they would conceivably take food from the hand. "What do you think would happen", David asked, "if a fox nipped someone, perhaps a child, in the process of taking food from the hand"? The answer was obvious: the foxes would be hunted down, trapped and euthanized. 

Now let's get back to the pine martens at Mew. There used to be one or two. This week I saw five, someone else said six. True, some of them were kits (or whatever a baby pine marten is called). What do you think is happening to the squirrel population? Voles? Are we changing the environment for the sake of a few pictures? When is someone going to get bitten (not "if". It's going to happen)? Then what. How is it different from bears or wolves invading campsites? 

Back to the question at hand. What's the difference between baiting the wildlife, and feeding the birds? Nobody's going to get bitten by a chickadee landing on your hand for a peanut. And since the Park itself is setting a poor example by setting up feeders and putting out suet, how can they begin to prevent people from doing the same.

There has to be a line drawn in the sand (or the snow!), though. And by the end of the conversation, we all agreed: it's between feeding mammals and birds (yes we talked about baiting snowy owls but it's not germane to Algonquin Park). And let's not talk about the supposedly "Wild" turkeys at Mew who peck between your feet and come out when people show up.

Is it ethical to take pictures of habituated animals, even if you're not the one doing the feeding? Should we be flocking to Mew Lake or Opeongo after the martens? A conundrum wrapped in a mystery, buried in an enigma (thanks, Sir Winston). I'm on the horns of a dilemma. It's just that they're just so damned cute...

And to that couple who were throwing cheese and hamburger to the Pine Martens up in Opeongo, don't do it in front of me. You know what side I'm on.





Sure the Pine Martens are cute and photogenic. But there are at least 5 of them living at Mew right now, what's that doing to the population of squirrels and voles in the area? And what happens when someone gets too close and gets bitten? 



What else did I shoot at Algonquin yesterday? 

Not much but it was a great day, like every other time I've managed to get to the Park!


Colours on that immature male Pine Grosbeak are exquisite.




Here's what a mature male looks like 



Common Redpoll 



American Goldfinch 


— 30 —

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

It's Photoshop season!

With the frightful weather out there, some days are best spent indoors, allowing your creative spirit to soar in front of your computer or with an indoor camera setup. A beverage of your choice, music playing in the background, and now that it's legal, some mind-altering chemistry, these things enhance your creativity. It's what I call "Photoshop Season".
Caution, though. Always wait until the light of day before sharing your images. Sometimes they don't look the same when viewed through less 'altered' eyes!


A "sporadic musing moment".

I just figured out basketball.

Up 'till now, basketball has been a bunch of really tall skinny guys running around randomly and exhibiting fabulous gymnastic ability with a goal to put that ball in the hoop. The commentators always talk about 'plays' and 'screen and roll'  and 'dribble drive' but it took a long time for me to figure out that it really isn't random.

The plays are all designed to get the ball in the hands of a shooter who is not defended properly by drawing the defence away somewhere else. Thing is, it all happens in the blink of an eye.

I've been a Raptors fan since the team's inception.  I don't like baseball because I tend to fall asleep easily and it's boring. I love watching football because I played many centuries ago and I understand the game. I don't watch CFL football because that's like listening to your little sister practice the viola (sorry, Barbi) when you could be listening to Tommy Emmanuel or Eric Clapton or Oscar Peterson or...

For me, basketball is different. For one thing, I have never had a dream in the middle of the night where I was beating Magic Johnson to a spot or shooting over LeBron James. I'm short. I'm fat. I can't jump high enough to get my toes off the ground. And it's been over 60 years since I tried shooting a basketball at a hoop. Does anyone still shoot free throws underhand from between their legs?

Football (sorry, my non-North-American readers, our kind of football, not yours!) is like a chess match. You plan in advance what you're going to do and then you execute to the best of your ability. The defence tries to anticipate your move and move forces in place to prevent it, being careful not to leave any other options wide open for the offense. When I watch football, I do so vicariously. I could be that offensive or defensive lineman, or nose tackle. I love to watch the offensive guards, especially when they 'pull' (run ahead of the ball carrier).

Basketball is the same, except it's like speed chess, everything happens on the fly. On offence, you try to find a path for the ball to get to the basket which is not covered by the defence. If you drive into the paint, the defenders are forced to bring their manpower in to prevent it, but that leaves the guy in the corner with a wide open 3-point shot. If they try to cover the 3-pointers, that leaves the middle open. If you have players capable of hitting shots efficiently from the mid-range, the defence is screwed, they can't cover everything.

The players are incredibly skilled. Their reaction times are unearthly fast. Their body control and especially their hands are unbelievable.

The Raptors are a good team. Maybe even the best on the planet this year, we'll see. At this writing, they are 20 and 4 and if they stay healthy, it's hard to see how anyone can beat them. The skill levels of the individual players is outstanding: Lowry's vision and long range accuracy, Leonard's offensive skills, Siakam's dexterity and sheer speed, Ibaka and Valanciunas's power and presence... I especially like watching Steady Freddy VanVleet as he explodes from zero to 100 in a microsecond.

But it's not just about these individual skills. It's about forcing your opponent to deploy their forces to react to a perceived threat and then executing something completely different. It's about playmaking and the coaching staff are the ones making these moves. Yes, the players are exciting to watch but they're merely the chess pieces on the board, not the GrandMaster making the moves.

What's this got to do with photography? Nothing.




Time to start thinking about next summer?

Newfoundland again? Maybe...


But an idea has arisen. What about a bunch of us getting together and flying up to Whitehorse or Yellowknife or both for a couple of weeks? We could rent a couple of motorhomes... or we could engage a local guide...
Who's interested? eMail me.




Another 'sporadic moment'

Does anyone else get muscle cramps in their inner thigh? The muscle in question is called the "sartorius muscle" and it runs from the knee all the way up to the hip joint. Cramps in this muscle are excruciating. I've been tempted to call 9-1-1 when I get one and it's interesting that when I Googled it, other people have said exactly the same thing. One person said he'd broken bones and had less pain. A woman said natural childbirth hurt less.

My doctor had no suggestions. Other than lose weight...

I know that too much exercise causes me to get this cramp. Those who know me know that "too much exercise" might be getting off the couch too many times on the way to the refrigerator and back. Seriously, for instance if I mow the entire half acre lawn in one shot, I know I'll be hurting that night. Or a long (for me) hike.

So my questions are, (1) how do you prevent this cramp?  I've read all kinds of things about hydration, potassium, magnesium... they don't work. Anything else? And (2) when you get one, what works best to make it go away? I stand up, find something around stomach height (back of a chair, a dresser...) to take some of the weight off it, and remain motionless until it abates. Sometimes I try to find and massage a trigger point but nothing really works.

Anyone else suffer with these? Please let me know.


BTW I just did something to my shoulder. I can't remember any particular incident. I carried a load of firewood in yesterday but that was with the other arm... hurts like hell to raise my arm but if I force it, I can get a full range of motion and the pain eases for a minute or two. Frustrating: do you know how much stuff you do with your dominant hand?




Altered Reality

Here's an image I've been working on sporadically (I like that word!) for some time. The original image was from a "zombie walk" a few years ago in Haliburton. Then there was a "chamber of horrors" thing set up for Hallowe'en at Pinestone, a year later if I recall. That was a challenge because there was virtually no light in there so handheld long exposure! I merged the two pictures and did a lot of work on toning and colour, etc. Then I added some texture effects and a final cut/edit to use it for a challenge on the Photoshop and Photography Facebook group.

Last week I remembered that there was a flame function in Photoshop and since I wanted to play with it, I brought the image up again. The Guardian at the Gates of Hell can project flame from his eyes and he set the hair of the female zombie on fire. Without further ado...



I need to come up with a few more creative composite shots for upcoming competitions, so watch this space!




Here''s an image I spent some time on yesterday. As I said, it's "Photoshop" season, a good time to go through images I marked for editing from last summer.



Looking Northwest at the Twillingate harbour

I did some subtle editing here. When I first looked at it, I opened up the shadows on the boat/land to the right to see what was there: lots of detail. Shooting in RAW lets you do that. The sky was nice. I had 4 images and tried to combine them but it didn't help so I simply used Lightroom and later, ACR, to give the sky more presence.

Although it was a 1/4 second exposure, the water had too much texture for me. So I selected it and applied a motion blur to smooth it. There was a bright spot in the sky at upper left and I decided to try to enhance that by using Topaz Studio Texture Effects (I remembered one with some sun rays) and I like how that turned out. Finally I dodged and burned the right side to make it look like the boat and land were subtly lit by the sun peeking through the clouds.

This image 'tastes' like it did when I shot it. I think it will make an excellent print.




I've been in Algonquin Park twice in the last 4 days. Friday was cold: -22°C, Monday not so much, only around -7°C. I got a bunch of pictures I liked on Friday and I decided to put together a little Lightroom slideshow instead of trying to post them individually. I uploaded it to YouTube and you can see it here. It was disappointing to me, though, because I lost a lot of quality — nothing's really sharp. I had to reduce the size of the video file because of my lousy upload speed. Here are a couple of individual shots:



Seen on the way home later in the afternoon. And yes, too close (although it was with a 400mm lens). She walked towards me, I backed up , just a snowbank between us. She wasn't really being aggressive, I had the feeling she didn't care that I was there, this was just the way she wanted to go.






At Mew Lake, where the Pine Martens live, there's a flock of wild turkeys. They're totally habituated to man, who's ever heard of wild turkeys that root around at people's feet? Ditto Pine Martens that hang out under your car.

I'm starting to be a little disgusted by the photographers who spread peanut butter or cat food on the branches at Mew Lake for the martens (you know who you are and where I'm talking about). There are half a dozen living there and if you don't see one or more, just wait a few minutes. And if you don't see one today, well that's an excuse to come back to the Park another time.

When we were there yesterday it was hard to get a picture when the animal wasn't licking a tree. Yes, they run around fast and are hard to photograph but how can you be proud of a picture of an animal that was baited? Might as well go to the zoo.

Don't get me started on baiting snowy owls with store-bought mice.

{/rant}



Here's one that does NOT live in a garbage can. Yes, he's running across a road but he lives in the bush and lives on what he hunts, not on man's scraps. This was up on Opeongo Road on Monday.





Parting Shots


Here are a couple of images from Monday's visit to the Park. 



 

—30 —

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Getting Old Sucks

I wrote this section two weeks ago. I'm leaving it here because, well, it's true. But if you scroll down a bit, you'll see a little different perspective.

Getting Old Sucks, a rant.

I know, I know. Everyone's first reaction is, "the alternative sucks worse". I get that.

But it's true. You work all your life, then you retire and you want to do all those things you've been putting off. But... why do you think the word "retired" has the word "tired" in it. My get-up-and-go has got up and went.

Yesterday I fixed a loose towel hook on the back of the bathroom door. That was yesterday.

Today I did more. I brought in some firewood. I started a fire. I watched the mechanic fix the snowblower (I couldn't do it. That wasn't an 'age' thing, it was an 'I'm a numbnutz mechanic' thing). But then he started it by pulling the 'thingie' once. Later I tried and I had to plug in the electric start to get it going because I don't have the strength to pull the cord hard and fast enough.

I know I'm bitching. But back when, I used to work out and was proud that I built a body with a 56" chest and a 36" waist and I bench pressed 315 lbs and funny enough, I only weighed about 20 lbs less than I do now. I'm not going to say the numbers now, because it's embarrassing  but when I bought bird seed today (oh, yeah: I did that too. And filled the feeders!) I had to have them sell me half a bag because I couldn't lift the 50 lb bag. A couple of weeks ago, I couldn't pick up a bundle of shingles.

Part of it's due to arthritis. My hands cramp up. So do my legs, my abs, my side, my right shoulder... my knees are sore. So are my hips. They wake me up at night. 4 am, I get up, wander around the house for an hour then maybe get back to sleep.

My father used to say, "Everything hurts. Except the stuff that doesn't work anymore".

"Do you want some cheese with that whine"?

I heard about a couple more people who have dementia. Maybe they're lucky, they don't know what's happening.

I haven't shot a picture in 2 weeks, or even edited one. That stops now. Back to work. Right after my nap. I'm not ready yet, dammit.


{/rant}


Now to the main subject of this blog.

Does this Grandson make me look fat?
And short. And old.
Are we so sure that Genetics is a real thing?



That's what happens when you have a 6'2" slim grandson! All of the above... 

This blog post is not about me. It's about my grandson, Ryan Davenport.
That would be 2nd Lieutenant Ryan Davenport, Royal Canadian Air Force.


I had the privilege of accompanying my daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter to attend Ryan's graduation ceremony at the Canadian Forces Leadership and Recruit School located at the Saint-Jean Garrison in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. He completed the Basic Military Officer Qualification course for Regular Force Officers and he now holds the rank of 2nd Lt. in the RCAF.



Lori and Rich, Kelly and Ryan, an iPhone shot the day before graduation.  



Rich shot this picture of Ryan with me and my daughter, Lori, so 3 generations! I stripped out the background and replaced it with this one.  Oh, and a little photoshop 'liquify' on my shape, because yes, this grandson makes me look fat!





Family shot.  Lori and Ryan and Kelly and Richard


It was interesting that Ryan had bulked up, building his fitness level and endurance before the course. We were shocked to see how much muscle mass he lost over the course of these months. He puts it down to perennial sleep deprivation and the fact that almost all of the PT was cardio-based, favouring endurance over strength. He says he can't wait to get back on the ice playing hockey or in a gym pushing weights.

As I write this, he is now posted to his permanent base but he'll only be there for a month or so before he leaves for his Phase 1 flight training. All things being equal, in a few months he'll be a qualified military pilot, then moving on to additional training leading to his goal of flying jet fighters. Soon, he'll get to fly the Harvard II, an 1100 hp turboprop trainer (for those familiar with the original ones, this isn't your grandfather's Harvard! Fully aerobatic, capable of pulling 7G's and topping out at almost 600 kph... be sure to click "more photos" on the linked page). From there he moves to jets: I heard that it's possible he'll do his jet training in T-38 Talons in the US instead of the CT-155 Hawk in Canada because he might be too tall to fit in the Hawk cockpit! These are both supersonic jet trainers! By the way, I know more but won't post locations or other details here.

The graduation ceremony was held in a cavernous building with terrible lighting for photography. An hour and a half or more of marching drills and mostly standing at attention or parade rest (under arms, with the C7 rifle). My feet hurt just watching them.



Ryan was at the far right end of his platoon, likely because of his height. The group behind them were non-commissioned recruits who go through similar basic physical training. 




All three branches of service (Army, Navy, Air Force) trained together here, hence the different uniforms. They must practice that facial expression.


Personal observation: I have to admit that because Ryan is just a kid to me, at the beginning I had the feeling that this was not serious. By the end, I realized these people are not 'playing soldier'. This isn't summer camp.




Some of the instructors 

I know that the job of a grandparent is to spoil the grandkids rotten. Now I also realize that the grandkids' rôle is to make their grandparents incredibly proud.




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Thursday, October 18, 2018

A day in the Park

First of all, an update on the house.

As I write this, the house roof is about 2/3 done. There's a small area still to be shingled, and then finishing around, vents to be reinstalled. The garage isn't started yet but the supplies are all there and ready to go. Oh, plus the back leanto roof over the woodpile. There was a bit of a delay due to a problem with the roofer's son's health but we should be back on track for completion this weekend. Everything's going smoothly... the bin is going to cost me more than anticipated though because of the dumping fees for the old shingles.

He used "Ice & Water" shielding for the critical areas and a waterproof membrane elsewhere. I never did have any leaking but because of the way the structure is built, ice damming in winter is a perennial problem.

What's left to do? Not much. Actually I have to decide what to do with the stuff I dragged out to sell in a garage sale. Some I'll put away, some I'll scrap or give to the Thrift store. The gazebo roof needs to come down and be put away before the snow flies.

It looks like I'm staying for another winter. Unless I can sell it by word of mouth: I won't re-list it until the Spring, then we'll see. My fireplace wood is in, stacked and split (they supplied a rather coarse split and I had to work hard to re-split it), I've arranged with someone to plow the driveway because I sold the ATV last spring, but I need to find a smallish snowblower just to do the paths around and the deck. Surprisingly, not much is available out there right now.
Ask me if you want to see some details and pictures of the house.


The car also cost me a few dollars. I ran over a branch in Algonquin Park last week and punched a hole in the radiator. $700 later... Now I discovered that my exhaust pipes are badly corroded and that's going to be some more. I guess I'll make a trip down to Toronto next week to address that. But otherwise the snow tires are installed and we're ready for winter!




My latest kitchen purchase

(This is what I mean by "sporadic musings"!)

You know how sometimes you buy something and wonder how you ever managed without it?

Those who know me know I like to eat... and somehow I need to cook. I like cooking but I'm lazy and don't have the energy to fiddle with complex recipes and methods. I had read about these things for a while and decided to buy one. 


Since I live alone, I don't need a big one, so I chose the Instant Pot Duo 30 which is a 3-Qt version (it's also available in 6- and 8-Qt sizes) 

Best thing ever!

I've had it about 6 weeks and at the beginning I used it daily just to learn how and try various recipes.  I'm still using it virtually every day. And I have yet to have a bad experience, everything I've cooked in it has come out fantastic! 

It cooks rice better than any rice cooker (mine is for sale..., so is one of my crock pots!). Sweet Potatoes are better than anything I've made other ways, and so are mashed potatoes. And steamed veggies. But the best thing is how it cooks meats. I'm used to using a crock pot and cooking a roast or stew for 8 hours. Give this thing 30-40 minutes, the same cuts of meat and it's even better! Also clean-up is one stainless steel pot, 2 minutes! Including roasts, chicken, fall-off-the-bone ribs, even meat loaf!

Best place to buy these is on Amazon.  It cost me $100 including free shipping and was here in two days. I notice it's now on sale for $10 less!  Here's the link to the Amazon page for the 3-Qt and here's the link for the 6-Qt if there's more than one of you. 

I know this is a little weird to be reading here, but last night I made a pot roast, except I'm on a low-carb diet right now and didn't add in potatoes and carrots. Instead I made green beans and a salad. This is my own recipe, nothing exact. Here's what I did:

  • I used a chunk of chuck roast or bottom round (I don't remember which). You know, the cheap roasts for 'slow cooking'. Or blade roast or sirloin roast... because it was just one meal, I had bought one about 1 kg and cut it in half, freezing the rest.
  • On "sauté", brown all sides in the pot in a little olive oil. Important step for flavour.
  • Take it out, pour in about a cup of beef broth and 'deglaze' the pot by scraping all the brown bits into the broth. 
  • Add some garlic (I like the paste, not messy!) and a bunch of chunks of onion. My FAVOURITE seasoning: Knorr dry onion soup mix (half a packet for such a small roast). Some salt, Keg steak spice, some Worcestershire sauce and some ketchup for some tomato-ey flavour. Mix it up, put the little trivet thing in so the meat isn't immersed in the liquid too much.
  • Put the meat back in, close the lid with the vent sealed and set it to pressure cook for 40 minutes. When it's done, let it release naturally, it'll take about 10 minutes.
  • Take out the roast, mix up a heaping teaspoon of corn starch with a little water. Mix it in, slice up the roast and put it back in the liquid with the pot back on "sauté" for about 5 minutes.

That was the best tasting roast I've had in forever. Under an hour, not all day. And the gravy was so good I poured it on my green beans too! Imagine it on potatoes (after the diet is done!). And it took longer to write this than to prepare it. 

PS: if you are going to add potatoes and carrots, set it for 30 minutes instead of 40, do an 'instant release', open the pot after the pressure is vented, add the veggies, reset it for 10 minutes more and restart it. Natural release. Otherwise the veggies are overdone.

How did I live without one of these?



My day in Algonquin Park

The weather forecast for yesterday wasn't too bad, so I got up early and headed up to Algonquin Park. I was pleasantly surprised by a beautiful sunrise and i got out at the Frost Centre to take a few shots:




 
I looked to my left and, "Hey! There's a bird on the dock!" From a distance, I thought it was a heron but on a closer look, an owl! I ran back to the car, got the long lens, and it hadn't moved! I got a shot!




Then I looked closer. And walked down there. It hadn't moved because it was made out of plastic! Got me.




My plan for the park was to drive highway 60 hoping for moose, check out Mew Lake for critters, then do Spruce Bog because I was told where to find Spruce Grouse there. Next I'd go up Opeongo Road. I had two purposes, moose and critters, of course: and I figured that since the east part of the park was more Aspens and Tamaracks, they'd be colourful by now. Technically, the red maples would be gone at this point. But Arowhon was worth checking on the way home anyway, I wanted to see what was left of the maple canopy. Everything went more or less to plan.


Along 60 there were traces of snow. Although I took a few shots, I won't post one because it's only topical for a couple of days, next week it'll be old news. Wait... what's that black thing at the back of that field? Could it be...


I shot this with the 400mm and the 1.7x teleconverter for a total of 680mm. Up till now, that combination did not produce sharp results but I had the camera and lenses serviced at Sun Camera and looks like they fixed it. Now it is not as sharp as the 200-400mm lens on its own, but it's pretty good. This is just a slight crop for composition.

Next I turned up a side road on a whim. It wasn't marked if I recall so I can't say exactly which one it was. There was a little bridge about 2 km in, then it ended in a parking area at the head of some hiking trail. 



The reds are gone and the gold sugar maple leaves are falling but this is why I am addicted to shooting the colours every fall! 

There was nothing going on at Mew Lake so I drove to the spruce bog and spent an hour in the area where I was told the Spruce Grouse hang out. In fact I shot one there last week. There were lots of red squirrels, chipmunks, chickadees and red breasted nuthatches vying for peanuts. 



 

Next stop was Opeongo Road. I travelled up and down it a couple of times hoping for spruce grouse, then I went for lunch at the Mad Musher. On the way back, I stopped at a few scenic spots, including the parking area for Brewer Lake. 




I chose to shoot with the ND filter in place here. The 60 second exposure smoothed out the waters and the clouds, then I added a lot of clarity to the trees to bring them to what I had previsualized. Because I had the camera out with the 70-200 lens, on the tripod, several cars of tourists screeched into the parking lot thinking I had found a moose!

I found an unmarked road leading to a canoe portage. I drove to the end on what I call a Suba-road and got some spectacular fall colour pictures.


From time to time I shoot a picture with my Subaru in it. Maybe one day, Subaru or a dealer will see them and decide they would make great pictures or posters for their showrooms (that's a hint: if you drive a Subaru or know a dealer, pass it on!). My habit is to drive as far as I can until I run out of road. When the surface gets rough, I've named these roads "Suba-Roads".

This shot was enhanced with Topaz Studio but I partially masked the car to retain its original detail.



In the same spot. I love the multiple textures of the fungi, the bark and the leaves. 



I love these pine plantations. The symmetry, the patterns. In this case, the white fungi and flora mixed with the fallen pine needles add a great texture. Can't you just smell the fresh pine? 


Then I drove back up Opeongo Road and stopped at the Turtle Rock bridge where I found Canada Jays, chickadees and white-crowned sparrows. I also ran into Jackie and Robert from Toronto Digital who told me to go to the top end of the Mizzy Lake trail for spruce grouse. 




What kind of plant is this, growing wild along Opeongo Road? I know it's not but it looks suspiciously like Canada's new national plant! 




White Crowned Sparrow on Opeongo Road. 

They told me where to park and described the trail, saying I only had to go a couple of hundred yards. They lied. 2½ km later... well I did get my steps in! I didn't see much, no Spruce Grouse, but it was a beautiful trail to walk. It was a little late in the day so I didn't linger long. However...




A cheeky red squirrel down the trail.  



I never would have ID'd this bird without help. Jackie and Robert were there and Robert, who is a retired ornithologist, instantly identified it from the back of my camera. It's a lifer for me!

It was a great day in Algonquin Park. In fact, they all are, including the day I drove over a branch and punctured my radiator as I mentioned above. Next time I'm back, there will probably be a white background! See you then.


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