Thursday, June 07, 2012

Good Job My Ass

My God, It's Full of... Numbers!
The thing I'm hating about Flickr right now are the Daily Challenge Groups. I've tried a few of them since I joined the service 6 years ago, but have never been able to keep it up. I'll admit that I find it difficult to make myself produce a photo everyday that I am proud enough of to want to show other people, but that's not the reason why I've dropped out time and again.

Truth be told, it's the sheer pointlessness of these groups. More specifically, it's the page after page of "Great shot!", "Love the DoF!", and "Brilliant!" comments on what are (I'm sorry to break it to you) mundane photos, 90% of the time. It quickly becomes clear that A) These people have  very low standards, or B) This is just one big Flickr Circle Jerk designed to get as many "good" comments as possible for everybody involved. ("I'll say something nice about your run-of-the-mill, last-ditch, end-of-the-day effort, if you'll do the same for mine.")

I'm pretty sure it's the latter.

I know that I have a long way to go before I'll be truly happy with the photos I'm producing. As such, I want inspiration. I want motivation. And, most importantly, I want real feedback. I'm only going to get better if I'm forced to try new things and forced to stop doing "wrong things".

Sadly, I no longer think Flickr can give me this.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

With Regards to Manfred Mann

There's something I've been meaning to rant about for quite some time. Sadly, I'm at an age now where, when this certain something occurs, I instinctively say to myself, "I'm going to rant about this!" but then forget about it completely once it passes. Well, for some strange reason, I was reminded of this certain something today while not experiencing it and while in the vicinity of my laptop.

Lucky you.

A couple years ago, the city I live in joined a growing movement to reduce "light pollution". As such, the majority of all street lights have now been changed to cast only a small amount of light directly downward, instead of spilling it frivolously in large pools. The effect is such that we no longer have to worry about about our sidewalks, pathways, and roads being safely illuminated. Instead, we can rest assured that the deep, penetrating darkness of night is only marred by near-illumination every hundred feet or so. The "light pollution" that so threatened us in the past is, well... a thing of the past.

Or is it?

Another trend of late is the ever-increasing brightness of car headlights. It would seem that automobile manufacturers have determined that safety is best provided by bathing an area 50 feet wide and 100 feet deep in front of the vehicle with a blue-white light of an intensity normally reserved for police helicopter spotlights. Headlights operating in the normal mode are now brighter than "hi-beams" used on highways and rural roads as recently as 15 years ago, allowing drivers to make out every crack in the asphalt, every blade of grass alongside the road, and every pore on the face of the oncoming driver.

Perhaps this shift is in response to the change in the street lights. Possibly, auto manufacturers are simply helping to compensate for the reduced lighting. Regardless, it is having another, far more negative, effect.

You see, the human eye is a marvel of evolution with its ability to adjust to different light levels by widening or constricting the opening of the pupil. In darkness, it dilates to allow more light to pass through to the retina. In bright situations it contracts, restricting the amount of light and preventing our optic nerve from being "over-loaded". Yet, as amazing as this organ is, it still has its limitations.

One of these limitations is never more obvious than when I am driving at night.

Our less-than-adequately-lit streets cause my pupils to dilate enough to allow me to see where I am driving. No problem so far. Let's add an oncoming Porsche SUV with high-intensity, broad-angle, halogen headlights and see what happens, though. Instantly my pupils contract and all I can see are the headlights. The rest of my world is a blackened void, into which I am driving at 50 km/hr, hoping the clear stretch of road I remember seeing before being blinded remains that way long enough for the SUV to pass and my sight to be restored.

Heaven help the black-clad jaywalking jogger that gets in my way.

In a by-gone era where the amount of light provided by street lights and headlights was not so vastly different, my eyes would never have had to make such radical adjustments and neither the safety of myself nor that of the fashion-conscious jogger would have been jeopardized. In that same by-gone era, however, we wouldn't have traded safely-lit streets for less "light pollution" (for which I will continue to use quotes until I'm convinced it's a real thing) and we wouldn't have believed that a car driving 50km/hr in the city requires headlights strong enough for one doing 110km/hr on a pitch-black highway.

But what did we know?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It Makes for a Long Night

By and large, parenting is a pretty easy gig, if you ask me. Sure, the first few months are an evil experiment in sleep deprivation, potty training can test the patience of a Tibetan monk, and puberty turns your sweet, innocent offspring into something out of a Roman Polanski film, but the rest is a cake walk. True, there are exceptions, and it's these exceptions that keep it all so... interesting.

For example...

Quite possibly three of the most fearsome words any parent will have the misfortune of hearing their child utter are, "My head itches." For those without kids, that phrase probably carries no more power than, say, "The sky is blue" or, "I'm hungry". Any parent, however, who has heard their 5 year old son or daughter say it, is likely already experiencing an elevated heart rate and their own phantom scalp itches, just from reading it here. That's right, I'm talking about the most disruptive force from the smallest source...


Although I'm a bit of a veteran in this area, having battled the micro-invaders twice before in the past 10 years of being a single father, I was still taken off-guard when my daughter complained of an itchy head last night, right before bed. I was optimistic, however, as I went to the bathroom to retrieve a comb, thinking she was probably just suffering from some minor dandruff now that the drier winter weather is upon us.

I could only be so lucky.

About 3 minutes into searching her scalp by running a comb through line after line of fine, blonde hair, I spotted the tiniest of black spots... and it was moving. At first, I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, or that it was a piece of dirt. A couple seconds of, "Hold still!" and holding my breath proved me wrong. Somehow, my daughter had contracted lice and I was about to enter the battlefield for a third time.

I wasted no time in getting to the pharmacist which, luckily, was still open. I asked the man in the crisp, white lab coat for a lice treatment kit I could use on a 12 year old girl, knowing that the stuff that works best is always kept behind the counter. He was quick to get me the product that, in his opinion, has the highest success rate (probably based on who returns to buy a second kit and who doesn't, I guess) and to give me a tip that was new to me.

You see, the normal procedure goes something like this: You wash and dry your child's hair. You apply the treatment, which is usually a creme rinse type solution that smells of chemicals. After the creme rinse has been in the hair for 10 minutes, you rinse it out and dry the hair. Then you settle in for a long session of hunting down dead (hopefully) lice and lice eggs (called nits) with a fine-toothed metal comb. It takes forever because you have to inspect every row of hair on your child's head, and the nits are attached to the hair with a sort of cement that makes them difficult to remove.

The pharmacist told me, though, to try something different before I started the store-bought treatment. He told me to soak my daughter's hair with a solution of 50% water and 50% white vinegar, to loosen the nits' bonds on the hair, remove as many lice and nits as I could with the metal comb, then wash and dry her hair in preparation for the treatment. I have to say, although going through her hair twice with the comb (once before treatment and once after) seemed to take longer, I think it actually worked better. Following the treatment, I only found a couple of dead lice nymphs in my daughter's hair, and they were super easy to remove.

However, we were far from finished.

The delousing took us until after midnight, at which point the rest of the work had to be done. Bedding, towels, clothes, and jackets all had to be collected and washed in hot water (four loads of laundry in all). Combs, brushes, and lice removal tools needed to be sterilized in boiling water. Stuffed animals, pillows, and whatever else couldn't be washed in hot water had to be put in a black garbage bags, where they will stay for the next three weeks to ensure any lice or nits that may have transferred are dead.

It's a stressful ordeal, to say the least. It is important, though, for every parent that finds themselves faced with this scenario to remember it is even more stressful for their child. The lice brings with it not only feelings of shame and embarrassment, but also a lot of unwarranted guilt. It is important to let your son or daughter know that getting lice doesn't mean they are "dirty", because it has nothing at all to do with hygiene, and that none of the work that goes into getting rid of the infestation is their fault.

It's all just a part of growing up and, subsequently, a part of helping someone grow up.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Still Judged

Today I happened to find myself reading the blog of an exgirlfriend, which I found in the blogroll (who knew these still existed?) of another old friend's blog because Google Reader suddenly decided to serve up some updates from 2009. I only read the first few lines of her latest entry, which was from 2010, before my finger flicked the scroll wheel and my eyes scanned across numerous entries and photos, none of which inspired me to read further. That is, until...

I saw an entry that started, "I dated this guy in college..." Well, I couldn't exactly pass that one by, could I? It turns out, I probably should have.

I won't go into details, but suffice it to say that the entire blog post was about this boyfriend of hers that was unemployed, lazy, and basically made her realize all the things she didn't want in a husband. It was pretty disparaging, not at all forgiving or understanding... and totally about me.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I was somewhat lacking in direction when I was younger. In fact, I've used the term "lazy" myself when referring to the me from those days. I guess what really irked me was that someone (ironically, a Christian and former Bible College student) would carry around that image of me for 20 years and feel the need to base a blog post on it. Sure, I'm a different person now. Yes, it's true that it has been over 14 years since I was unemployed for even a single day. Of course I've been a responsible single father for the past 10 years, raising my 12 year old daughter without any financial assistance. Yet, it still stings to be thought of as that guy who liked to sleep in, skip classes, and play pool instead of going to work.

Next time Google Reader dishes out a serving from the past, I'm going to be a little quicker on the "Mark As Read" button.

Monday, June 09, 2008


Little by little, I realize that I am, indeed, getting older.

I recently celebrated my 37th birthday, but my realisation of the aging process comes not so much from events you can mark on a calendar. Instead, it's a collection of little observations that, taken individually, can be easily explained or overlooked. Put all of these "little observations" into the Big Picture, however, and the result is somewhat more depressing.

I do my best to stay young. Some might even say I'm childish or immature. Others may say that I'm trying to recapture my lost youth. Well, to those I say, "Pshhht!" I'm plenty grown-up, and you can't recapture something you haven't let go. Still, though my brain insists we are only 20-something, my body has begun to point out that 40-something isn't far away.

For instance...

I've always liked to play Frisbee. Most of all, I like jumping for high ones or diving for just-out-of-reach ones. There's nothing more satisfying than the look on someone's face as you magically snag out of mid-air a Frisbee that they were sure was going to send you running across the park. During coffee breaks at work, we used to go out in the back lot and toss a couple discs around. I'd always try for the catch, no matter how impossible it looked. I'd grab one skimming an inch off the pavement... I'd lunge and trap one just about to hit a wall... I'd jump over the guy in front of me to make sure I got the next one instead of him...

I can still try to do all of these things, but a recent trip to the park with an 11-year old has shown me that 180lbs does not achieve the same height or hang-time that 135lbs used to. Nor does it tend to stop very easily once urged into a lunging motion. Such maneuvers are now typically followed by a tumble in the grass and a 5-minute time-out for recovery.

Damn inertia.

And then there's food. I used to have an iron stomach and unbeatable metabolism. I could eat absolutely anything I wanted, without consequence. As an example, there was a time when I was counselling 9- to 12-year old boys at a summer camp, and I was challenged to a lasagna eating contest by another counsellor of, shall we say, greater corporeal girth. Well, as heavy as that pasta can be, I packed it away and kept pace with the big guy, bite for bite. In fact, about 1 full tray into the contest, it became obvious he was on the verge of throwing in the towel. So, he sent one of the young boys from his cabin to sabotage my lasagna with a big scoop of ice cream (the rest of the campers and counsellors had long since moved on to dessert). Nonplussed, I stirred the extra dairy into my meal and, by the time a tray and a half had been consumed between the two of us, I was declared the winner. The big guy moaned and groaned for the rest of the evening, but I was more than ready for hot chocolate and marshmallows at campfire time.

There's no way I could repeat that performance today. For starters, my relationship with dairy has taken a turn for the worse in recent years. We just don't seem to see eye-to-eye like we once did. Cramming that much cheese and ice cream down my throat now would either have me running for the nearest washroom equipped with an industrial-strength ventilation fan, or wishing that I was. It's a purge-or-bloat scenario, if you catch my drift.

Aside from that, I've also been introduced to this lovely phenomenon called heart burn. All I can say about that is, "WTF?!?" Apparently, the supposed one-way valve at the top of my stomach has become confused with the definition of "one-way". No longer does my stomach have a monopoly on all that wonderful acid some foods seem to produce. Now my esophagus gets to enjoy all that burning goodness too. Yay. It's especially fun when it happens in the middle of the night and my brain is too sleepy to differentiate between acid reflux and a heart attack.

Fun times.

There are lots of other physical manifestations of this thing called "aging": a 100-foot dash to catch a bus that feels like sprinting the last 100m up Mt. Everest... joints that tend to fuse solid if allowed to go unmoved for more than 10 minutes... a knee-cap that enjoys wandering around the general knee region without actually staying on the knee itself... muscles that spasm and cramp in places I didn't even know I had muscles...

The list goes on but the reality of it all hit home yesterday, not with a pain, or a burp, or the crack of a hip. It was something that just sort of snuck up on me...

We were at the wavepool last night with our kids, enjoying being out of the rain. The place we go to is pretty cool, too. The wavepool is shallow enough for the two younger girls, who aren't the strongest swimmers, to go without life jackets, there's a portion called "The River" where they run a current you can float in or swim against, lots of fun water toys for the little ones, and a nice big hot tub that never seems to have too many people in it. My favorites, though, are the steam room and dry sauna. Unlike at most facilities, these amenities are right beside the pool (as opposed to down the hall to the change rooms) so I don't have to abandon the kids just to enjoy a little heat.

Well, as I was contemplating going in the sauna last night, I noticed a couple of girls, probably no older than 13 or 14, going in and out, holding the door open, and letting all the heat out. I could actually watch the temperature drop on a digital thermometer outside the room. As I walked towards the sauna, one of them snaked past me with two flippers full of water from the hot tub and dashed it on the hot rocks. Great idea if this was a steam sauna, but totally forbidden by the facility because... well... it's not.

As they were about to run back for more water, I stopped one of them and said, "Hey! Can't you read? This is a dry sauna!" Then, jerking my thumb toward the foggy glass door not two feet away, I said, "If you're looking for the steam room, it's RIGHT THERE!!!"

Yep, I'm the cranky old guy at the public pool. It's all downhill from here, I'm afraid.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go yell at some kids on my lawn, Wil Wheaton-style.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Boring Childhood Stories: Farmhouse on Fire

When I was 13, we lived on a farm. We weren't farmers, but we lived on a farm. To be exact, we lived in a house on a farm. We lived in a house on a one-acre portion of a 160-acre farm. The other 159 acres were rented to somebody else who used the land to raise cattle. So maybe we lived on a ranch. Anyway, since that "somebody" was only ever there to feed his cattle from time to time, we had the run of the whole place.

Now, don't be put off with the idea of living on a farm (or ranch). You're probably picturing something like endless flat fields of wheat, a big red barn, a couple grain silos, and broken down farm machinery. In short: Boring. Until I moved to ours, that's exactly how I envisioned a farm, too. Luckily for me, they aren't all like that.

What we called the Upper Pasture looked like typical farmland. For the most part, it was flat, bordered by barbed-wire fences and forest. Though it looked ideal for planting, there was nothing but wild grass growing for the cattle to graze on. A narrow, dusty gravel road snaked its way from the main gate to the house, sitting at the edge of a forested bluff overlooking the Lower Pasture. A second "road", really little more than two tire ruts in the grass, ran out from behind the house, skirted the bluff, and eventually made its way to the Lower Pasture.

The Lower Pasture was much more interesting and was where my brothers and I spent most of our time. Where the road wound down from our house, there was an old abandoned homestead and a swayback barn. These would have been a blast to explore and use as forts, but our parents warned us of a dangerous gas leak there that could kill us... and we were young enough to believe them.

The other way down was to follow the cattle trails through the forest and down the bluff. These ended at a flat plain of more wild grass, bordered by more forest, more fence, and the meandering Little Red Deer River. And smack-dab in the middle was an honest-to-goodness marsh. Amidst all that grass, here was a spot with low scrub-brush, mucky ground that would suck the boots right off your feet, and the remains of an old wooden hay wagon half-sunk into the earth.

As if this wasn't enough to keep three boys busy with exploring and make-believe, there was also "The Island".

As I said, the Little Red Deer River did a few twists and turns through the Lower Pasture. As it did so, it created "The Island", a few acres of land bordered by water on three sides and a neighboring farm on the fourth. The great thing about this little bit of land wasn't just that you could only get to it by wading in bare feet or jumping from stone to stone, it was "The Hill". That's right... "The Island" had "The Hill", a hill nearly as high as the bluff and the Upper Pasture. From here, we could look out over the entire Lower Pasture... homestead, barn, marsh, river, and all.

The real magic, however, happened in the winter when "The Hill" was transformed into "The Toboggan Hill"!

One sunny winter Saturday, our parents made the 3-hour round-trip into Calgary for groceries, taking my younger brother, Jeff, and baby sister, Crystal, with them. That left my other younger brother, Mike, and me to figure out what to do with the day. As I said, getting groceries was only a 3-hour venture, but my parents often took time to visit other family and friends when they "went to town", so we knew we'd be on our own for quite a while.

I can't say for sure, but in all likely-hood, we sat around in our underwear eating Corn Flakes and watching Saturday morning cartoons until noon. You see, up until puberty set in well and good, this was just a natural part of the weekly routine for us boys. Once the two-and-half channels we could get reception on started broadcasting sports and fishing shows, though, we would have been looking for something a little more entertaining. Sure, we had tons of dinky cars, loads of GI-Joe, and even a few Transformers, but what we really wanted to do was go tobogganing.

The two of us suited up in ugly parkas, mitts still damp from the day before, and running shoes (because we were too cool for boots) and made our way down the bluff, across the frozen river, and up "The Hill", toboggan in tow.

The snow was good and deep, I remember. The sun was out and it wasn't exactly warm, but not so cold that the snow was fluffy or crunchy. Instead, it was that perfect "packable" kind of snow that lets you carve trails on your first few runs down the hill that become like bobsled tracks your toboggan will follow faithfully forever after. I don't know how long we were out there, but the sun was still high in the sky when we got the fright of our lives.

Although we could see the entire Lower Pasture from "The Hill", the Upper Pasture and, subsequently, our house, was obscured by the line of trees at the top of the bluff. Those trees weren't nearly tall enough, though, to hide the thick, black smoke billowing from the exact spot we knew our house to be.

Had I used the stove that morning? Was I doing any ironing before we left? Had Mom left her blow dryer on and had it somehow slipped off the counter and into a pile of damp towels left behind after being used to mop up the water that overflowed the tub when my step-father fell asleep in the bath the night before, sparking into a smoldering fire that grew into an all-consuming blaze? These and other equally-improbable thoughts flashed through my mind before being replaced by, "FIRE!!!"

We dropped the sled and took off at top speed for the house, half-tumbling down the hill, skidding across the ice, and scrambling blindly up the cattle trail. The entire way, images of everything I owned going up in flames flashed before my eyes. The thought of my parents coming home to find us standing beside the smoking ruins of what was once our home was too much to bear.

The smoke was thicker and blacker than ever.

All of a sudden, Mike called out breathlessly, "Oh no! Boots!" Boots was our cat. Clearly, Mike was also contemplating losing everything dear to him, and the family pet was at the top of the list. I learned later that all Mike could picture as we raced to the house was that little cat, surrounded by flames, hurling himself through the fire and smashing out through the glass of the sliding French Doors on the balcony. Years later, an incident involving myself running full-tilt into a similar set of sliding French Doors would sink, once and for all, the notion of Boots saving himself this way, but that's another story.

As we broke from the trees at the top of the bluff, the house came into full view. No flames poured from the windows or lept from the rooftop. In fact, there were no flames to be seen at all. And there was an eerie silence, not the snap, crackle, pop of a house ablaze. Still, thick, black smoke continued to billow into the sky. From our new vantage point, however, it was obviously coming from the other side of the building. The garage?

I held apart 2 strands of the barbed wire fence for my brother, then hastily climbed through myself. My mind was numb at this point, completely incapable of understanding what was going on. But, as we rounded the corner of the house, it all become clear in a flood of relief and spent adrenaline.

There, in the driveway, stood my step-father, back from town far early than expected. In his hand was a stick which he was using to poke and prod a pile of burning tires. Although this Indian Smoke Signal approach was an effective way of calling us in to put away groceries, I can't help but think there must have been another way that was easier on the environment... not to mention our hearts!