Monday, December 27, 2010

What Camera?

Well, I've been using my dSLR for two years now. It's really worked brilliantly throughout that time.

I got it for Christmas (well actually I got it on Boxing Day) in 2008. It was $545 at Black's here in Barrhaven. I was extremely excited and amazed to have been bought such a gift. It was and is my first dSLR.

I couldn't wait to use it. No way. I had to use it as soon as possible. I walked it home myself and started right away. I played with the depth of field and exposure, and took "best quality" photos of everything from my cats to the Christmas tree. "High quality" was meant as in, "better than point and shoot."

I learnt everything about manually creating photos all on that camera. I learnt how to control the exposure and the ISO and f/stop. I progressed from using the 'No Flash' mode to the Tv mode (exposure priority) to finally, for the past year, manual mode. I never take photos on auto mode or 'No Flash' anymore, and I've progressed from taking jpeg. photos to RAW. I got Adobe Photoshop last autumn and everything went brilliantly from there.

So what's next?

I've been wondering about getting a new camera. My current dSLR is still a brilliant camera, but the thing is that it's an entry-level, low range, inexpensive model. It's the lowest camera model listed on the table of models produced by Canon, at the very bottom of the bottom-range chart. The cheapest you can get is the Canon EOS Digital Rebel 1000D (or Rebel XS). It came out the year I bought it. That camera, and its kit lens, the 18-55mm (most Canon cameras come with that kit lens, which is the cheapest and lowest quality lens you can have). I've since exchanged that with my 10-20mm by Sigma. Over those two years, I've accumulated three lenses - the 75-300mm telephoto (also a low quality model, but least expensive) for my 18th birthday, the very high quality (for once) but remarkably inexpensive 50mm (so popular due to its huge f/stop of f/1.8) and the Sigma 10-20mm wide-angle (perfect for panoramas). I don't know if it's amazing quality or not, I haven't read up on it, but it's a pretty amazing lens.

My most desired camera body though would be the Canon 5D Mk II. It's a high-end dSLR with 21 megapixels, video shooting capabilities (what fun!) and has a huge ISO range. Canon is the best for noise reduction with high ISO. What's more, the camera has been the prime choice, largely for its video capabilities, for independent filmmakers. Did you know that the season finale of the sixth season of House, M.D. was shot completely with Canon 5D cameras? The first official portrait of the current president of the United States was taken with that camera. It's a very popular model.

Originally my interest in that camera came from my following Daily Dose of Imagery, whose photographer has always used the Canon 5D. Because of the amazing quality of his images, I've always been drawn to that camera. Especially now when you can shoot extremely high quality video with it, using whatever lens you want or have.

Here's an example of the video quality:

Toronto from Sam Javanrouh on Vimeo.

To view it in high quality just view it on Vimeo.

Biking with 5D Mark II from Sam Javanrouh on Vimeo.

It's really fun when you can see the effects of the lens. The quality is amazing.

Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that I will get any such camera - I don't have that much money. It's extremely expensive. After all, it is a high-range camera. The best I could get now would be, like, perhaps anything between the 300D and the 550D (which does have video capabilities, and came out this year, but I probably couldn't afford it). All of these are in the low-range consumer end of the product spectrum.

While I do attend a program that pays me, I've done the math (correctly as it was actually done by my mother) and by June I'll have about seven thousand dollars, if I don't spend anything at all.

I am definitely not rich. My next dSLR will probably come in six months to a year. I'm not going to ask for a new camera body from anyone else as a gift, because it is so expensive and my mother wouldn't do such a thing when I've already got a perfectly working camera right now. Unbelievably, I got my first complete camcorder when I was fourteen - then a second one when I was sixteen. I got an expensive point and shoot for my seventeenth birthday - then my first dSLR six months later. And a third camcorder last Christmas. I'm still unbelievably spoiled. I don't come from a rich/affluent family (specifically, as in, my mother and I). I am not privileged like some people. I can't further my interest very often or that fast. We're not poor; we are strictly middle class. Not upper middle class or lower middle class, but middle middle class. And I think it's definitely something you can't take for granted because it's only my mother's income yet we live in a pretty normal neighborhood, in a single house  that's not connected to any others, and with my now meager income both of us do pretty good independently. I got my first debit card last week after getting my first paycheck.

It's just wondering, do I wait six months, buy an expensive new camera body, or do I wait six months, then contribute largely to my first car? With close ties to the government there's always amazing deals on used vehicles formerly used by services. Today I found out about a $31,000 Corolla reduced to $13,000.

Camera or car? Passion or mobility? Then again I have to finish all that annoying license period stuff. I'm a tedious money-saver - I don't like to spend often at all.

My mother always said, 'to get things we have to work for them and earn them.' When I got my first long-awaited for computer game, SimCity 4, I had to do daily/weekly chores that earned me points, and when I achieved 100 I could start playing the game. Therefore I have a strong sense of work ethic when I really hope for something. 

One more thing - I can create videos out of my current camera - time-lapse ones. If I were to get a new dSLR, I'd use my current one almost strictly for time-lapse purposes. And I've figured out how to export it from my software in proper quality, the same quality as the actual photos used to make it:

Is that clear or what?

Justin C.


'Overdone' was a song on the album Absolutely, by Madness. It's the 11th track on the CD and it tells quite the tale.
This is my review on this song.

Note: Beware of volume problems - the only version I could find has a volume that rises and lowers all the time. Also note that of the whole band, Lee Thompson, the song's writer, isn't in this picture for some reason.

The album Absolutely is probably one of Madness's darker albums. Songs like 'Embarrassment,' which talks about huge mistakes that affect the whole family (such as unwanted pregnancy), 'Not Home Today,' about a man wrongly convicted and off to jail, 'Take it or Leave it,' seemingly about someone who can't find his niche in life, 'Shadow of Fear,' which talks about the wrestle with someone's inner, perhaps dark, conscience, 'Disappear,' which apparently, at least to me, talks about someone who is largely ignored and uncared for (makes me think of Charlie Brown sometimes), 'Overdone,' 'In the Rain,' about a meeting that never happens and the person is stood up in the rain, and 'You Said,' which is all about relationship problems. 

The only bright, cheerful numbers seem to be 'E.R.N.I.E.' (about the prospect of winning the lottery), 'Close Escape' (a bouncy, fun number which is a continuation of the story of nice man George, the underwear thief, from 'In the Middle of the Night,' on the previous album), 'On the Beat Pete' (a fast synopsis of the average day in the life of a jolly fat policeman), 'Baggy Trousers' (the memories of crazy days in school), and 'Return of the Los Palmas 7' (an instrumental that's just nice to listen to).

I am not sure why the band wrote an album with such dark material. The music is pretty good and fast, more ska-influenced than pop-influenced, though the lyrics are quite grown-up.

As for 'Overdone,' the song appears to be about a shady character who has come to terms with his life and realizes how ungrateful he has been, particularly to his meaningful parents. It seems to paint the unfortunate life of a con man or illegal business dealer. He always seems to look forward but knows he's a 'selfish bastard.' He does not keep any contact with his parents and knows they are ashamed of him.
This song is his plea for them to forgive him for who he is.

"Please forgive me for the things that I've done
don't feel ashamed if you're asked 'how's your son?'"

Basically the verses of the song paint his life as someone who moves around a lot, likely to avoid authorities, or because he is essentially homeless, and deals. Someone who only does things for his personal gain. Then the choruses outline his plea for forgiveness...and his ultimate need to have a response from his parents and loved ones.

"To drop a line, say 'hello dad,' I await your answer
I also...beg."

You can really see the desperation in this...especially how the singer pauses, hesitates before saying the word 'beg.' He is uncomfortable and embarrassed to reveal that normality in his life.

What's the most important in this song his is ultimate message - he has now overcome his ways and wants to make up for what he did, and asks for forgiveness. To his parents and probably everyone else as well. Originally he mentions often getting caught but never caring, and now all he cares about is writing to his parents, and if they can't respond, he'll still beg. This fast bit near the end is quite compelling:

"Running here and running there,
often caught but never cared
been courting every year
should have been a courtier
I'll understand if it'll matter
if you don't write, I'll still beg
you understand, I will mom
if you can't write, I'll still beg"

It's quite sad. After that crashy-shout out, the last verse ends with this:

"A letter's come, she has replied
read two years ago your mother...died."

Again, the voice and hesitation says it all. In the end, it's about an unfortunate person's reformation at a time that is too late to redeem anything. He missed his opportunity, lost his chance. His life is nothing but a waste of ungrateful and sad self-destruction. The song ends on that note, with the choruses repeating without the singer. I wonder what happened to him?

It's probably one of the most emotionally-charged songs on the album. While some have to do with wondering where one fits in the world, or being stood up in the rain, this one really has a sadness to it. It's a little redeeming when you know the singer is attempting to leave his life of shady deals and offences, but the problem is that he is way too late.

I hope I never come to that...well, I think I did with someone important to me, but whether it was too late or not isn't something I can control or know. The song was written by Lee Thompson and I think it has to do with his former life as a petty criminal. Before being the fun, zany saxophonist in Madness, I read this quote here: "It was a fortunate privilege to have met Chris and Mike, I mean prior to meeting them, I was knocking around with a chap called Bobby and we used to get into some pretty serious trouble," he explains. "I was sent away for a year and a day, and when I was sent back into the smoke that's when I started hanging around with Mike and Chris who were not into the serious things that I was into, I think if I hadn't have met them I would`ve gone down the pan!"
Lee Thompson's former activities had an influence on a few of the band's earlier songs, particularly 'Land of Hope and Glory.'

Music-wise, the song's pretty good if not dark and a little repetitive. The piano can get to be a little boring after awhile (which isn't something I'd usually say).  But it sounds very talented.
As well, I find that repeating choruses (without the lyrics) to be a little long as they repeat over and over. Synesthetically it's mostly purple in color.

The piano is a bit sad and the bass is constantly descending very quickly, as if the life of the man is always descending in opportunity and negativeness, into dead end. A guitar starts rapidly playing in the background of the final verse, and it puts in mind a scene of domestic confrontation in a family living room, slightly sped up and in black and white. I get white/black gravelly texture when I hear it, and that translates into the domestic scene.

The big star in this whole instrumentation, though, is the tenor sax. It's constantly playing and reacting to the emotion, evoking it itself throughout. It's the dominant instrument during the chorus and sounds sad and desperate like the subject. It basically replaces the singer in the end, playing loudly and sadly, virtually crying out. It's that sax which drives the song's point home, especially for its writer, Lee Thompson, who plays the instrument. I think it was Lee's message to his own mother and it really shows how talented he is, even when at the time the band formed, he hadn't known how to play the sax in the right tune. He's amazing on this song and on 'Close Escape.'

It's an okay song (not super great due to the repetition) and the lyrics and music go well together. Suggs' vocals are as usual amazing - his inflections and tone, and hesitation, it all perfectly exploits the desperation, emotion and personality of the shady con man or dealer that is the subject of the song.

Lyrics: A-
Music: B

I gave the lyrics an A- because they are very emotionally charged and well-written. The music is a little lower due to my explanations above. But the music is quite well-executed as well - Mike Barson and Mark Bedford (and Dan Woodgate, of course) all did a perfect job, as well as Suggs with his singing. The drums are biting. Really, listen to Suggs sing it if you listen to it - he really turns into that down-on-his-luck reformed criminal. And listen to the sax as well. That's Suggs' assistance and backing singer.

Justin C.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Six Months

As of last Monday, I started a program.

My post on the Sunday prior to that mentions 'tomorrow is the start of the rest of my life.' I also very vaguely hinted at it throughout my other recent posts.

I was at my usual appointment with my job developer two weeks ago. Since having no luck throughout the summer in finding employment, and having lack of direction of where I want to go, what secondary education I want to pursue, what perfect career in life I want to choose, in September I started the job search program at a place called Causeway - a centre that deals with people having hard time finding employment as well as offers programs for success in certain life skills and housing. Mostly it's for people who have a disadvantage or disability and so can't find employment very easily, and are not in good financial states either. Some people verge on being homeless, at least the older ones. But it can also be a place for people who have certain barriers and need help, advice and encouragement in finding employment, like myself.

Throughout October to early December I'd have a weekly appointment with a job developer who would help me strategically find ways to get work. Once we walked around Barrhaven handing out resumes, and I even had a job interview (Tim Horton's seems to have been the singular employer I've had multiple interviews with this year). The problem was my lack of any job experience, likely stemming from the fact I should have jumped on getting some sort of job when I was a bit younger, like sixteen.

Out of it, I got a beautiful-looking resume as well as someone to talk to, in a way. Although, I shouldn't have been nearly as talkative on certain issues as I was, going through an unbelievably tough emotional issue at the time, it was alright. The problem was that by December we were still mindlessly dealing with resumes and cover letters, handing them out online and in person, and I hadn't gotten so far as a job interview at Tim Horton's.

Another problem was that other than the appointments and certain times where I did hand out resumes, I was still sitting at home by myself, boiling in excessive thought and wonder and sadness and obsession over emotional problems. Had I had something to do I wouldn't nearly have had so much worried focus on those problems. The result was my infinite pondering and conclusion I had real time to think about.

Two weeks ago, I began yet another appointment when my developer began to talk about this program - "solutions for youth,' she called it. Six months. Paid program (I'm paid minimum wage to participate). Learn about career ideas. Takes place within the building, every day. Figure out what I want to do. Learn things about what I'm perfect for. Be with other people.
That appealed to me like crazy.
Apparently they had an opening, and they were looking for more girls, but I was a perfect candidate - I was unsure about things, still hadn't found a job, didn't know where to go or where to begin.
A day later and I had filled that opening that most people are put on a wait-list for.

I knew that if I did this, not only was I paid but I had somewhere to go every day, something to keep my mind focused on, I had other people I could see and socialize with, and I could figure out my current insecurities and ponderings. I could get some sort of direction.

I knew that the program was for and appealed to youth - people aged 15 to 30 - that had a disadvantage or disability. When I started on Monday, there were two girls and six other boys. One had a disability caused by  a stroke, another that was three years younger than me had had trouble with the authorities a few times. Others seemed like they were like me - unsure about where to go next, and jobless.

Most people around me have been extremely pleased and happy for me, even if I'm in a program where I'm surrounded by delinquents or disabled people, which isn't a bad thing, just not something you'd normally find me apart of. I'm not used to that, being in a program.

The first day was a bit boring and I felt out of place and weird being there, around those people in that part of Ottawa, doing paperwork, but it got better throughout the week. I communicated with people a lot quicker than I thought I would, that's for sure. I've learnt a few very interesting things about myself, one of which prompted me to write about the whole astrology thing on here. That idea came from the fact that when I figured out my biggest values one day during the program (one of the exercises), I was surprised at the uncanny similarities.

Another cool thing is that it's six months long, so I'm occupied for the rest of Winter and Spring. I can save up money (and I can and have bought Christmas presents). I've made a few acquaintances as well as potentially a friend, a guy who, as mentioned, had a stroke (and yet he's only six years older than me). The guy on probation probably has the most talkative and likable personality. I won't name them here, but the disabled guy has at one point recommended I go into a career of teaching at a university, all from his awe at my large amounts of random information.
I will say that for the first time ever, there's two Justins. Never had to be identified by name and last initial before (other than when I sign off on these posts). It's kind of funny.

It's not only figuring out the perfect career, it's also managing things like budgets and nutrition and well-being, though I don't feel I'm perfectly in dire need of that; I'm not someone who doesn't know how to live at all. But it would be helpful nonetheless.

I'll be writing posts in the future about certain things I've figured out and things I've come across and learnt, particularly about myself which I didn't know I'd do. It's pretty interesting, and I hope it gets even more fun. The hours in a day go by quickly.

Justin C.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Power in Numbers

Today at four in the morning I did something unheard of with me and tagged fifty people in one photo, the amount Facebook allowed me. The last three had to go without being tagged.

It was an idea I had almost on the spur of the moment. At the end of the year, Entertainment Weekly Magazine has this double issue that has a cover with dozens of public figures, celebrities, characters, and even a few cartoons all grouped together. None of the people on the cover posed all at once, together; the cover artist or graphic designer took the character or person from a different photograph, digitally cut him or her out, and placed them in a position on the cover. They did this with every person, grouping them together. TV characters, actors, celebrities, public figures, popular cartoon characters, everyone from Jim Parsons to Harry Potter.

I had a copy sitting around, from 2009-2010, and I figured, it would be quite cool to do my own kind of version of that. Have a bunch of people from different photos crowded around together on the same image or poster.

That's when I decided to take every person I'm friends with on Facebook, every person on there that I know, take them from one of their photos, and put them altogether on one big poster.

I wasn't sure if I could do it; it seemed like a fun idea to think about and imagine, but actually accomplish that? I wasn't sure how to cut out someone from a photo on Photoshop, at least not very well.

I began the project and then started trying ways to get myself out of another picture and onto the canvas. Nothing worked. I looked stuff up online. Couldn't find anything straight forward or exactly what I wanted. Finally, I e-mailed my old graphic design teacher, Irv Osterer, and my old comm. tech. teacher, Scott Hughes, on how to capture someone out of an image and place it on another. I knew it was a lasso tool.

Osterer responded with a suggestion for the polygonal lasso tool. It worked brilliantly. Then I figured out by guesswork how to get the selected, cropped portion of the image out, and placed it on the blank canvas.

Five hours later, I had fifty-three people in varying states of pose and activity on there. People skateboarding, singing, running, spreading their arms wide, swinging, posing with one of those marker things you see on a film set, posing covered in blood like a zombie. And just smiling and looking at the camera.

It was perfect.

I'm not putting it here; I'd need the permission of all those people. I took their faces and images from their own albums on Facebook, and this is public. But it's a holiday poster, with everyone I know from friends to cousins to aunts, uncles, and acquaintances. 
With a great sense of accomplishment, I uploaded it to that website and tagged all the people I could tag in, until I hit fifty and I wasn't allowed anymore. Then I went to bed, hoping for feedback when I got up sometime near noon.

Here's the meaning of this: I won't put the exact thing on Flickr, either. Not just because of privacy - but because on Facebook, it will go unbelievably further in terms of exposure.

This is where the power of numbers comes in. I tagged an unbelievable fifty people all at once in one photo. On Facebook, when you are tagged in a picture, it will show up in every one of your friend's news feeds. "Justin Campbell was tagged in this photo." I tag myself in a photo and every one of my friends knows about it because it will say so.

If an average individual on that site has between 100-600 friends (and in some cases people have over a thousand), multiply that by 50. Fifty people with anywhere between 100-600 friends will see the photo they are tagged in. That's thousands of friends, thousands of people I know and don't know getting a glance at my handiwork, at my little holiday poster. 

Most of my friends on Facebook are friends with each other; they see a photo with themselves in it as well as their friends that we both all share. It goes far. Not everyone of someone's friends will look at it - not everyone's friends are very close, or even know the person well (or in some cases at all) so they won't really be interested - but the majority will. It's kind of funny and ironic when you think about it - I won't put it on Flickr directly due to privacy, yet it will gets hundreds to thousands of more views on Facebook, a tonne more exposure ten times quicker.

Getting up at eleven in the morning, I had ten unread messages, all from Facebook. All were messages about people commenting on my poster. I looked and saw ten comments and several 'likes.' That was the beginning. All day people came onto the site, saw that they'd been tagged, looked at the photo and either liked or commented on it. To my slight surprise, I got a friend request by someone who shared eighteen mutual friends with me.
I wonder if it was because they saw and liked my poster of all their eighteen friends? This goes to an international scale: My cousin from Luxembourg is in it. All of her friends over there will end up seeing in their news feeds that she was tagged in that poster. Chas Smash from Madness is in there (he's also on Facebook). That means a whole community of over 1700 Madness fans all over Europe and around the world will end up with that poster in their news feed, because they're friends of Chas Smash too and he was tagged in it. Like I said before, most or all of them probably won't click on it and view it properly, but it's still there and available to them. I've reached a whole new level in showing my work and getting exposure for it. It's a huge difference: when I tag myself in my photo, fifty-seven people have that show up in their news feed, because I'm their friend. When you tag someone you know in a photo, hundreds of people can end up seeing it.
Tag fifty people and...well, I don't know if you can grasp the sudden blast of exposure and possibility of who sees it. Especially if they're elsewhere in the world, or a pop star like Chas Smash.

On average, I get probably about sixty views per day altogether on Flickr for both my photostream, photos themselves, sets, and collections.

With all of this in mind, I would say that it was definitely worth it to stay up until 4am. Definitely. Because the prospects of people seeing what I've done is so huge that I might as well be a famous photographer, if it's many people and it's on Facebook.
Power in numbers.

Justin C.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Second-Best Novel I've Ever Read

Yay, I thought of something, and within the same day I said I couldn't. Actually, this has been on my mind. I've thought about writing this review for a little while now, but never had the interest in writing it just then because I'd have another, different idea that I thought deserved more priority.

Not a long time ago, I'd written an review and synopsis on the novel Lightning, by Dean Koontz. I'd described it as my most favorite novel above all others, and I stand by that. This novel that I'm going to talk about here is Watchers, which, actually, is by the same author.

I'm not a huge fan of Koontz but I like several of his novels, including Lightning, Watchers, Life Expectancy, the Odd Thomas series, The Husband, and The Good Guy. I spent a large amount of time in auto class during grade 12 calmly reading The Good Guy while my fellow students worked on engines and transmissions and got their hands disgusting.

Watchers is the second-greatest novel in my opinion, second only to Lightning. I love that book. It has three main characters and several secondary characters, and it's a very fun, sweet, frightening, adventurous read.

Before I review and discuss it, here's my synopsis. Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn't read it and would rather read it themselves other than see the plot here:

The novel likely takes place in 1987 (the year the book was published). While Koontz often states a date in his prose and then further states that this date was a Sunday or Wednesday, no date with that day matches the date in 1987 or any proceeding/succeeding year so it is strictly ambiguous. I just assume it's 1987. It begins in 1987 and ends in 1991. The setting is southern California (as with most of Koontz's books). More specifically the book takes place in Santa Barbara.

A secret government-funded lab called Banodyne has conducted a genetics experiment to create the world's most secretive and intelligent spy, as well as the most efficient soldier. Called the Francis Project, one of the scientists, Dr. Davis Weatherby, succeeds in producing a golden retriever of near-human level intelligence. Meanwhile, Dr. Elizabeth Yarbeck, another scientist, genetically alters the appearance, intelligence and strength of the baboon to create a monster that's intelligent and deadly, particularly for combat in war. Successful, this result is called 'The Outsider,' and it is viscous and horrifying.
In May, the dog manages to break out of the lab and sets loose in the foothills near Irving, where the lab is located.
Driven nuts by the dog's escape as one of the largest instincts of The Outsider is hatred of the dog, it manages to escape the lab as well. The dog is seen as the favorable product of the experiment, and The Outsider is acutely self-aware and knows it does not belong.

On May 18th, his thirty-sixth birthday, Travis Cornell wakes up extremely early and drives down the coast to the Santa Ana foothills, to revisit his childhood experiences in hiking them. This is the opening of the book. He has lived a life of loss and pain, and has been in depression for the last couple of years. Growing up, he lost his mother in childbirth, and his older brother drowned in an ocean undertow when they went swimming unsupervised. When Travis was a teenager and begged his father to take him to tennis camp, he died in a traffic collision while Travis came out with only a couple of scrapes. Joining the army as a young man and then the 'elite' anti-terrorist group Delta Force, he lost his entire unit on an anti-terrorist mission, with him being the only survivor. Later, running his own real estate firm after doing extremely well in the business, he fell in love with and married his first wife; she died barely a year later due to cancer. Isolated and feeling empty, and lack of purpose, he hikes the foothills to recapture a long-lost youth and innocence.

In a sunny clearing during the hike, the dog appears to him. It's been running for days and seems delighted to run into Travis. However, the dog unusually gets snappy and hostile when Travis attempts to exit the clearing and start down a another, darker trail. It becomes obvious that something dark and viscous is down there; eventually Travis realizes the nature of the dog's sudden personality switches and they both run for it.

Travis takes the dog home with him after he witnesses hints of its human-level intelligence: it responds to Travis's joke that there's a chocolate bar in the truck and finds it; it's unusually assertive and attentive; it seems to understand everything Travis says.

Meanwhile, Nora Devon, an attractive woman of thirty, lives alone and is afraid of the outside world. Being raised by her dominating, reclusive aunt Violet who shunned the world beyond the house, and particularly other people, since she was two, Nora is self-loathing and never leaves the house, even after her aunt as been dead for two years. Instantly afraid of the TV repairman she called, Art Streck, she keeps herself isolated and alone. Unfortunately, Streck comes on to her, and after he fixes the television and leaves, he starts repetitively calling her with erotic fantasies in which he envisions her. Completely inexperienced at confrontation and by nature of her aunt Violet an obedient person, she has no courage in standing up to him.

Another character, Vince Nasco, is a mob assassin who takes huge pleasure in his work and believes that he can absorb the 'life energies' of the people he executes, eventually leading to him becoming immortal. He is contracted by the Soviets to assassinate all of the leading scientists of the Francis Project at Banodyne, but he breaks the rules and decides to interrogate them once he discovers a pattern in the people he's been hired to kill. Realizing the potential having the dog could have, he begins the search for the canine, and the people who have it.

Travis and the dog bond and become closer as it continues to show him its amazing intellect and awareness, and he christens it Einstein. Eventually, Travis takes him to the park, where he meets Nora Devon. Nora, having forced herself to spend the day away from home in a desperate attempt to get to know the outside world and perhaps gather courage to meet other people and be rid of her dead aunt's worries and expectations, has been detained on a park bench by Streck, who reveals he'd been following her and watching her. Streck is the perfect example of aunt Violet's teachings of what men are expected to be like, and Nora has no courage to stand up to him. Einstein spots them and comes barking fiercely at Streck just as he's about to force Nora to leave with him.

This scares Streck away and Nora sees the dog as something of a protector. Travis introduces himself, expresses his concern for the man with her, and she ultimately leaves in shyness.

(Note: I know, I'm getting too descriptive, I'll pick it up).

Finally, Lemuel Johnson is an NSA agent who is the leader in the search for both the dog and The Outsider. He and his partner Cliff Soames track The Outsider with every killing it commits, whether on people or animals; The Outsider has a constant habit of ripping out the eyes of every victim it kills, and they know it's heading north.

Nora returns home and eventually finds Streck lying on her bed, waiting for her. Meanwhile, Travis returns home with the dog, which for some reason starts to get agitated. Eventually Travis figures out that the dog is worried about Nora, and they end up driving to her house, only to find Nora and the man struggling on the floor as she has tried to run away from him. Travis breaks in, Einstein subdues Streck, and the police is called.

Nora and Travis ultimately develop a friendship wherein she begins to experience what life is like on the outside; Travis is genuinely interested in her and takes delight in her often childlike awe at new sights and sounds. Very soon the dog begins to show its intelligence to her, and by June, realizing its self-awareness, they try to learn things about it. Nora transforms from the obedient, reclusive, self-loathing woman she was into a very outgoing, optimistic, patient person with whom Travis falls in love with (likewise Travis leaves his depression and finds new joy in life being with her). Eventually, Nora finds herself trying to tell him she loves him over a game of scrabble, and he proposes marriage.

They teach Einstein to read throughout this time as well, and learn of The Outsider, as well as Einstein's worry that it's coming for them. Travis acknowledges that this might be another likely attempt by fate to wipe out all the people he loves from him, like it did before.

Returning from their honeymoon, Travis is confronted with The Outsider in his house, in which it has killed Travis's landlord and ruined the place, and they manage to escape. They get advice from Nora's lawyer, Garrison Dilworth, who agrees to wire them all of their savings. Knowing that the government is probably going to find out about The Outsider's presence in his house and connect them to the dog, he and Nora change their identities in San Francisco and buy a cabin south of Carmel. With Travis's background knowledge and experience in Delta Force, they prepare the place with defense mechanisms and security measures. Nora becomes pregnant with their first child. Bad times hit as Einstein unfortunately contracts canine distemper, and they both spend over a week at the vet, not leaving the dog's side. (The dog "changed their lives and brought them wonderfully together" in their own words)

As Einstein begins to recover, the vet, Jim Keene, eventually notifies them that he knows Einstein is a lab animal (the NSA had been sending out flyers to every vet/pound/licensing institute with a fake cover story of the dog being vital to cancer research) and they tell him the truth. Einstein recovers, and after Jim sees the dog's extraordinary intelligence, he burns the flyer in ecstasy.

Eventually Vince figures out and successfully tracks Travis and Nora, forcing himself into Nora's pickup as she finishes her appointment with the obstetrician. He forces her to drive back to the house, where he intends to kill them both and take the dog. Unfortunately for Vince, Nora manages to shoot him in a rare moment of inattention, then Travis finishes him off as Vince insanely regards him with humor under the belief that he's now immortal.
Throughout all of that, The Outsider uses the distraction to gain entrance to the second floor of the house. Travis and Nora try to dispatch it, but it grabs Einstein as Travis wildly shoots at it through the walls of the room it disappeared into. It escapes through the window and flees to the barn, where Travis, after pitying it when it amazingly shows mercy for what it did, finishes it off.

Two weeks later, Lem Johnson and his men arrive, but Travis threatens Lem about going to the press and informing him the dog is dead, and they leave. They dig up The Outsider and take it with them.

The story ends several years later, in June of 1991, as the Cornells celebrate their son's third birthday. Einstein actually survived (but has a limp) and has a female partner with whom he's had offspring, all of which are as smart as he is. Nora is pregnant with a baby girl.


For me, I often tend to read the parts in which Travis and Nora's relationship buds. I love reading Nora's transformation from mousy recluse to outgoing, social, happy optimistic. I often wish I were Travis - in the book, he takes to Nora immediately, and helps bring her out into the world. He gives her confidence and lets her grow socially at her own pace. Einstein helps out very much as well; if it weren't for him, Nora would have been raped by Streck, and Travis would have had his eyes ripped out by The Outsider.

The character of Lem Johnson was also interesting as well; I didn't say very much about him above as I wanted to finish my long synopsis, but he's probably the most strained, uptight character in the book. Committed to success, driven to the job at all times, he's ridiculously joyless. He grew up under his father's constant philosophy that a black man has to do twice as much work to equal that of a white man's, which may have been true in those times, but which drove Lem to abhor leisure and have a workaholic lifestyle he cannot escape from. Throughout the novel, he is always stressed out, unlike his colleagues at the NSA. 

I particularly liked reading the bit where Nora's lawyer, Garrison Dilworth, manages to get past Lem and phone the Cornells from an unsecured phone to tell them to break off all contact with him. When Lem realizes Travis might have been coming back from a honeymoon after finding his abandoned pickup truck, he figures out that the woman is Nora Devon (now Cornell) and connects them to Dilworth, their lawyer, who is almost 71. I virtually laugh out loud reading "after his frustrating and unsuccessful questioning of Dilworth..."
To contact Travis and Nora on a phone the NSA isn't monitering, Dilworth actually jumps out of his boat as a friend pilots it, to swim around a breakwater, onto a public beach, and to the payphones there. When Lem figures his strategy out, he manages to hitch a ride with teenagers on the beach who take him to one of their homes where he can use a phone.
Just as Lem is about to question Dilworth's friend on the boat as she pulls back in, Dilworth re-appears behind them before they can say a word, and all Lem does is glare at them before turning away.

Often when I read the book I just read all the sections that have to do with Travis, the dog, and Nora. They really are great parts. It's probably a romance I long for myself, the kind where I meet a girl who's shy or something and kind of introverted, and we love our own company. In fact I sort of had a romance like that - sort of.
The sections on Vince aren't my favorite parts but they aren't awful either. If they were I wouldn't consider the book so great. The guy is very good at what he does, and also very impassive and calm. His fantasies are horrible of course; his aspiration is to kill a pregnant woman, something he longs to do, because in his thinking he'd absorb not only the woman's life energy but the unspoiled, untainted, pure life energy of the unborn child. The man finds anything sexual disgusting - the only clever, informed, normal side I see of that character is of his knowledge and awareness of sexually-transmitted diseases and his disgust of them - although that disgust is so upfront in him that he detests anything sex-related at all. I find it kind of funny that you can get a guy who thinks he's the child of Destiny, yet he's repulsed by the very idea of sex because of the diseases that could kill him. But his interests and hopes and dreams are despicable and horrible, and the idea that his immortality would render him perfectly able to freely conduct acts of child and infant murder to his delight as much as he wants is not something to entertain (and it's thankfully not possible). He clearly goes completely insane at the end, laughing at the Uzi pointed at him by Travis and yelling 'look at me, look! I'm your worst nightmare!' All because he thinks he's immortal.

For the whole part, the novel really is amazing. I just love reading the romance between Nora and Travis, the dog, Garrison Dilworth's efforts (I picture him exactly as Morgan Freeman in voice and visually) and I may have pointed out in a previous post that I envision Nora as looking like someone I'd immediately be attracted to or fall in love with. Her hair color, demeanor, personality, the voice I hear (the same voice as the female vocals of that song I talked about in that post) and the face I see. I guess it's another reason I wish I could be Travis.

Watchers was the very first Dean Koontz book I read and it has a lasting impression on me. It's just a fun adventure with a lot of sweetness and romance on the side, but with the lingering evil and unspeakable acts on the other.

They made a movie out of the novel, but I have absolutely no use for it at all. Whoever wrote the screenplay shouldn't have had the liberty to say 'based on the novel.' It's not based on the novel at all. The only things similar to the novel and the movie is that the lead character's name is Travis, there's a smart dog and an Outsider. "Travis," played by Cory Haim, is instead a teenager, I don't think there's a Nora or if there is, she's "Travis's" girlfriend in the beginning, and Lemuel Johnson is an evil white man. Cliff is black instead, and unsuspecting. There is no Vince; Lem is part-Vince in the movie. It was obviously filmed around Vancouver, I recognize the scenes and scenery, and there's a particular shot filmed on the Capilano Suspension bridge, which I've been on myself.
I do not think Dean Koontz was happy with the movie either; two sequels were made as well, but I never had the interest in watching them.

The book, though, as I will always say, is wonderful, and a great read. Travis and Nora are just amazing. Einstein is fun and full of humor and wisdom as a dog as well. I can only wish that someday I'll meet and fall in love with my own Nora. That's my big aspiration - not killing pregnant women. Or being a workaholic.

Novel: A

I highly recommend this book. Highly.

Justin C.