King Street West

King Street West on a blustery afternoon, as seen real quickly from inside a coffee shop. The sidewalks are busy around the intersections, but they're quite bare otherwise. When the weather turns milder, the tables will go out again and the city will take on a different character.

People blowing candles

Not much to say today, so why don't we join some celebrity celebrations? Happy birthday to Warren Beatty, M C Hammer, Eric Clapton and Celine Dion.

All of these performers share March 30th as their birth date, although they are different ages. Beatty, the oldest of the group, was born in 1937; Dion, the youngest, in 1968.

Niagara river walk?

Here's something that is not widely known: on this day in 1848, for the first time, water stopped flowing over Niagara Falls. An ice jam in the Niagara River behind the falls created a formidable barrier, shutting off the water flow. It must have been quite a sight, as people apparently explored the riverbed.

Some years later, in 1911, thick ice at the falls again attracted visitors. An amazing photograph exists that shows people standing on the falls. You can find it at this Niagara website. If you scroll down to the section entitled "Do the Falls Freeze over in the Winter?" near the end of the article, you will see the photograph. It's not known how authentic the image is (some sources say it's been altered), but it certainly seems to demonstrate what the scene may have looked like in 1848.

Humans, rather than nature, intervened instead in 1969, when the flow over a part of the falls was shut off by engineers to study the rock pile at the bottom of the American Falls. You can see what that looked like in the same article.
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Original sources: Infoplease.com, NiagaraFallslive.com

"...but the calendar says it's springtime."

Even though the weather hasn't warmed up yet (we had light snow last night), people are more than ready for spring. Some are positively aching for it.

Despite the snow and ice piles outside, at a local mall customers were shedding their winter coats and looking for spring deals at the clothing stores tonight. I saw quite a number of bags from Hollister, American Eagle, Club Monaco and Lululemon floating by the corridors. The people carrying them seemed to have kissed winter goodbye. I even saw a woman walking around in sandals and a guy in flip-flops.

That's okay. Hope springs eternal. Must be a sign of what makes us human.

Current temperature outside: -2 Celsius (28 F) .
Well, what are we to do: bury our heads in a snow pile?

Enjoying Elmore Leonard's work

Elmore Leonard writes dialogue like few writers do. He tells stories through his characters, rather than through fancy narrative or detailed descriptions. No wonder many of his novels and stories have been turned into successful movies. Get Shorty (with John Travolta), Mr. Majestyk (with Charles Bronson) and Out of Sight (with George Clooney) are just three that come to mind.

While Leonard is famous for his modern crime stories, the Detroit writer earned his fame by writing Westerns. He started crafting his stories during the 1950s while he was still working in the advertising business. He chose to write about the American West because, like millions of Americans, he enjoyed Western movies. He focused his research on what life was like in the Southwest in the 1880s and began to write about it. His early stories sold for about $100 each, which was about 2 cents per word. While it was tough going at first, he soon found success.

I'm currently reading some of these. The Tonto Woman is a delightful short story about a cattle thief who comes to the rescue of what one could call a discarded woman. Sarah Isham has been kidnapped by native Americans and handed off from one tribe to another. The Mojaves tattoo her cheeks so she can be recognized at the time of her death as one of them. This to make sure the spirits do not take her soul "into a rathole." But during a drought the Mojaves trade her to a group of Tonto Apaches for two mules and a bag of salt. She survives and eventually finds her way home. Unfortunately for her, her proud husband abandons her and confines her to a shack in the desert, under the watchful eye of some of his employees. That's when Ruben Vega, the cattle thief, comes riding up.

The dialogue is what makes the story sizzle and it's easy to see why Hollywood keeps returning to Leonard's creations for screenplays. You may have heard of the most recent one playing in theatres: Three-Ten to Yuma. It was originally written in 1953, now twice released as a movie.

Leonard is currently working on a sequel to Out of Sight. His website is here.

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Thanks to FredBIII at the stock.xchng for his photograph of the rider above.

Finding new ways to avoid those nasty traffic jams

If you're tired of depending on traffic reports on the radio to help you get to work on time, a better solution may be around the corner. In an effort to obtain greater volumes of real-time data, some companies are looking for ways to track mobile phones as they move along area highways. This would provide an accurate picture of where congestion is occurring at any given time. The challenge is how to share this information with the people on the road.

Now a company in California has come out with another interesting solution. Dash Navigation is selling two-way GPS devices for drivers. Essentially, this system sends out signals to other GPS devices. These, in turn, send signals back to the originating unit. This creates a constantly updating data network for drivers. So someone travelling on a highway can find out what type of traffic flow drivers ahead of one's position have just experienced and get an accurate picture of the conditions at any time.

These new systems are just coming on the market in the States. To get a better idea, you can read this story in the Washington Post.

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Thanks to Evangelos Vlasopoulos for making his photograph of traffic available on the stock.xchng.

When "O.K" became OK

Do you know where the term "OK" originated?

It turns out the initials "O.K." originally stood for the misspelled phrase "oll correct," a popular slang expression for "all correct" that was written incorrectly on purpose.

Apparently, during the 1830s it was a bit of a fad for students in the United States to misspell words and then use their abbreviations when talking to each other. Much like today's mobile phone text messaging abbreviations, young people thought it was cool to use these expressions. They liked abbreviations like "KY" for "no use" ("know yuse") or "KG" for "no go" ("know go").

According to History.com, the term "OK" became widespread when the Boston Morning Post printed it in an article on March 23rd, 1839. Once in the newspaper, it gained popularity with political figures of the time. The term stuck. Today, "OK " is recognized just about anywhere in the world.

If you'd like to read more about the story of those two letters, see the full article on History.com here.

The Hershey Sports Complex.

During the winter months I play in a men's soccer league at the Hershey Sports Complex in Mississauga, Ontario. This facility is great. The artificial grass is the most recent type. It's long enough and similar enough to the real thing that players can wear cleats if they want to. The field can be configured as one large, regular size pitch or as four separate fields for 5-on-5 play. The games are fast and the rules are a mixture of hockey and soccer, allowing player changes "on the fly" and no offsides. The nets are smaller than regulation size, but the goalkeepers are kept quite busy.

The walls in my drawing are not really the colour I've painted them (they're more of an off-white colour), but I wanted the giant posters to stand out, as they are predominantly white. The windows are extra thick, to withstand the impact of errant shots.

The building is state-of-the-art. Besides soccer, it has a fantastic training facility for gymnasts and also offers basketball and volleyball courts. A lounge area and lots of public viewing make the Hershey "Sportszone" Complex a great place for families. The St. Mike's Majors Ontario Junior "A" hockey team plays in the Hershey Arena next door.

I'm a big believer in the benefits of sports. Some time ago, in a short article that appeared on Helium.com, I outlined some of the reasons why I support soccer. If you're interested, you can read it here.

An inflexible, limited view of the world, life and death

The Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper has pieced together a riveting portrait of the Taliban fighters in Afghanistan through 42 videotaped interviews of militants in five different provinces. This dangerous assignment by the newspaper and its researchers provides valuable insight into what motivates the Taliban and what keeps them fighting.

The portrait that emerges, while not scientific, reveals men who are willing to die for primarily one main objective: removing non-Muslims from Afghanistan. The 42 fighters who were videotaped by the newspaper do not seem to have much knowledge of the Western world, even of the locations on the globe of some of the countries like Canada that are sending soldiers to Afghanistan. They seem to have very limited views of the world in general. Many receive funds from the cultivation of poppies and the drug trade. They provide pat answers to religious questions, giving the impression they blindly follow the teachings of certain religious leaders. They say suicide bombings are sanctioned by Islam. A few are fighting because they lost members of their families to NATO bombings. But mostly, they seem to have taken up arms to return a religious government to Kabul. They don't seem to have the international perspective of Al Qaeda-type organizations. Foreign fighters in their ranks appear to be a tiny fraction of their numbers. The people interviewed don't seem to care for much else other than the return of fundamentalist Islamic rule in Afghanistan.

The Globe's videotaped interviews will be a valuable tool for NATO commanders and politicians. They provide details that reveal much about the mindset of the front-line fighters facing Canadian troops in the Kandahar region. The interviews are perplexing and worrisome. Negotiation does not seem a short-term possibility. Even though large areas of the country are being restored and improved under the protective cover of European and North American soldiers, many of these fighters don't seem to care. They have no faith in the present government in Kabul.

The research project provides a lot of material for consideration and raises more questions for readers. One wonders: would the fighters be killing Afghan Muslims if their religious brothers were on the other side of the negotiating table?

The Globe and Mail will be publishing its special project in stages. Meanwhile, you can watch the interviews and read some of the work of Graeme Smith and his Afghan researchers at the paper's web site. See it here.

One really upset weather watcher


For those of us living in the Great Lakes region, the winter of 2007-2008 is one to remember, as we've been saying. While some people enjoy the snow, others just can't tolerate it anymore.

Scott Feschuk, who writes for Maclean's, Canada's weekly newsmagazine, has expressed his views rather bluntly in his latest column. Scott lives in Ottawa, a city that has received more than it's fair share of snow and ice this season. To say he and his neighbours are looking forward to spring is an understatement. To give you sense of his feelings, his column begins like this:

An Open Letter to Mother Nature

I always pictured you as a nice lady, but after this much snow you're one mean slut.

Dear Bitch....

Well, you get the gist of where he's going. You can read his rant here.

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Thanks to D. David Zane for his photograph of the Toronto waterfront.

Doing the laundry


The other day I needed to get my sleeping bag washed, so I took it down to our neighbourhood laundromat. Like the cafe in one of Hemingway's short stories, it's a clean, well-lighted place.

While I was waiting for the wash cycle to end, I took out my sketch pad.

The changing view of space

The Globe and Mail newspaper, in a small blurb in one of the back pages, peaked my curiousity today and led me to Scientific American, where scientists are speculating about the future of cosmology. They ask a tantalizing question: as the universe continues to expand rapidly, does it wipe out traces of its own origin?

In 1908, astronomers thought our galaxy was the entire universe. They believed the Milky Way was like an island, surrounded by limitless darkness. What we know now is that our galaxy is only one of 400 billion galaxies in the observable universe (yes, billion with a "b").

We are indeed tiny.

We also know the universe has been expanding since the Big Bang.

Which brings us to the core issue in the recent debate: scientists think that the accelerating expansion of our universe may eventually pull galaxies away from each other faster than the speed of light. This means we won't be able to see them anymore. We may lose reference points for measurement and we may lose all signs that the Big Bang ever happened. Currently, we may be living in the peak period for measuring the cosmos from Earth. In the future, the universe make look very dark and changeless, with only a few visible stars. It may be like being on the inside of a black hole while the real action happens beyond the event horizon outside.

Scientific American has an interesting video, that you can see here. If you can, expand it so you can see it full screen. The article by Lawrence M. Krauss and Robert J. Scherrer is here.

For related posts on zanepost, see:

To an observer in space, does our planet even exist? and
Are parallel universes real?
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Many thanks to Steve Woods in the UK for the great photograph of his son looking at the sky.
He made the picture available on the the stock.xchng.

The days are getting longer

In the last week, I realize a lot of the posts in this blog have been somewhat gray and dark, reflecting the inclement weather we've been having.

So today let's change it up a little. Time for some sunshine and energy! Here we are at Toronto's Harbourfront skating rink on a crystal-clear day.

Spring is on the way. We still have snow on the ground, but the sun's rays are getting warmer.

Happy St. Patrick's Day !

Thanks to D. David Zane for this shot he captured before we had our most recent storm. This morning looked much like this.

Spending time at the gallery

Here are the last of the Ottawa sketches I'm posting.

On the left is the hallway which leads up to the permanent exhibits at the National Gallery. It's an imposing ramp with lots of natural light streaming in from the windows on the sides and above. An atrium is at the top. When you reach it, you find the doors to the galleries to the right. An elevator is also available to go to the higher floors.

On the day I was there, children were playing with coloured building blocks and plastic puzzles in the atrium. Parents were sitting on couches by the windows.


The scene above is from one of the European galleries. The white marble statue is called "Dancer" and it's by Antonio Canova, an Italian sculptor. It was completed around 1818.

An imposing mother

Ottawa -- Meet "Maman" (Mother), a great egg-carrying spider that stands outside the National Gallery of Canada.

This is not a typical scene of Ottawa. I was surprised when I came across this enormous black structure outside the main entrance to the Gallery. It was created by the French-born artist Louise Bourgeois in 1999 and was cast in 2003. The Gallery purchased it in 2005 at a cost of over $3 million.

The spider is enormous and strange. When I saw it, it was covered in snow and its long legs were digging deep into the snowbank outside the Gallery. It stands over 9 metres tall.

The sculpture arouses a mixture of fear and curiosity. Maman appears menacing. At the same time, she is what the artist wanted her to be: a symbol of motherhood and fertility. The cage-like metal sac contains eggs of marble. They are supposed to emphasize the spider's maternal and nurturing role.

However, a pamphlet from the museum also highlights the mechanical aspects of the sculpture: "Traces of welding that appear like scars along the gnarled leg joints of her bronze shell (inside is an armament of reinforced steel), combined with a slightly off-centre body, suggest a creature that is both animal and machine, possibly from an industrial period in some alternate dimension. Despite her size, Maman's quirky Mad Max quality is so compelling that most viewers readily enter both her physical and psychic space."

Not me. I don't get along with spiders very well.

Anyway, I drew this before going in to the Gallery. The view is looking south, with the Parliament buildings to the right and the Fairmont Chateau Laurier to the left.

Fairmont Chateau Laurier

I hope you're not getting tired of all these sketches. I have a few more from our recent visit to Ottawa. This is a view of the Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel with the Parliament bell tower in the background. We're looking north west from the corner of Colonel By Drive and Wellington.

This luxury hotel was built in the tradition of the grand castles of France. It sits across from the Rideau Canal, which during the winter is a wonderful outdoor skating rink that stretches for several kilometres through the heart of Ottawa.

The exterior of the hotel is limestone, while the turrets have a copper roofs. The hotel was commissioned in 1907 by Charles Melville Hays, who ran the the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway of Canada. Hays did not see the hotel completed. He was a passenger on the Titanic's maiden voyage.

To read more about the hotel's history, read this account on its website.

March break at Camp Fortune


This is a scene from Camp Fortune in Gatineau Park, Quebec, just outside of Ottawa. School children are on the annual March break this week and a lot of parents dropped off their kids Monday for a day or a half-day of skiing or snowboarding.

The main chalet is to the right and below this view (not shown). Inside, a number of parents were reading, working on laptops or unwrapping sandwiches. We visited the nearby village of Chelsea while our son explored the slopes.

A Vancouver attraction


One of the interesting buildings in downtown Vancouver is the Art Gallery. Located at 750 Hornby Street, the gallery resides in the former provincial courthouse building. The square is located near a shopping mall and hotels, so the steps are often a meeting place for people of all ages.

A commissioned work sits on the rooftop of the gallery. It's called Four Boats Stranded: Red and Yellow, Black and White. The Vancouver artist Ken Lum produced replicas of four vessels that played a part in the city's history. Seen on the front of the building are Captain George Vancouver's sailing ship (top left) and an Aboriginal longboat (right).

Currently, the gallery is featuring an exhibit called TruthBeauty. A huge banner covers the front columns. The exhibit focuses on the artistic photographs of the "Pictoralist" movement of the early years of photography. For more information, here's the link. The show runs until the end of April.

The museum is also hosting a presentation of the most renowned Canadian painters of the 1920s and 1930s. Emily Carr and the Group of Seven will be on display until April 6th.

Later in the spring, something completely different is coming to the Vancouver Art Gallery. The exhibit is called Krazy! The Delirious World Of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art.

It sounds like a lot of fun and is sure to attract younger visitors. It begins May 17th. If you're interested, more information can be found here.

Back to normal


Hello, I'm back.

I was in Vancouver on business last week and then in Ottawa to watch my daughter play in the Canadian university national women's hockey championship. (Her team won! )

Weather made transportation difficult in recent days all over the Great Lakes area. Ottawa received more than 50 centimetres over two days. Snow tires were absolutely necessary for getting around and I'm very thankful my wife had them installed on her vehicle and also packed a shovel in the trunk. Both were indispensable.

Anyway, I'm happy to be home. I brought some sketches with me.
The one above shows a section of downtown Vancouver. It's a view from the Fairmont Vancouver Hotel looking North-West. The street is Alberni street. One block over is Robson, a popular street with boutiques, restaurants and bars.

Snowed-in

Hi, there.
Thanks for coming to the blog.

I'm currently in Ottawa. We're snowed in after a very heavy snowfall last night. We spent the morning shovelling, in an effort to open up my brother-in-law's driveway. Roads seem impassable until later this afternoon when snowplows can get to them. It appears we received at least 35 centimetres, probably more, and the wind created drifting and poor visibility. Driving was treacherous last night.

I've been doing some sketching on my trip to Vancouver and here and will post some when I have access to a scanner.

It's been a long and snowy winter so far...

On the road

Thanks for visiting Zanepost.. I'm travelling for work this week and I will resume posting when I can.

Have a wonderful first week of March.