Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Verdict

Earlier this year, I decided to write about my thoughts on the way the public was viewing the celebrity trial of that Ghomeshi character. It ended for the most part last Thursday with the final verdict. Of course it isn't all over for him considering his other trial in June.

The result split people two ways: Those who were relieved the justice system relied on traditional logic, evidence and fact, and those (almost all of whom I've seen are women) who were outraged that the complainants were failed by the system, that they had too much pressure and expectation put on them, that they weren't believed regardless of what they said or contradicted themselves with.

I fall on the relieved end of the spectrum.

I expect that those who are outraged are ready, if they read that, to judge me accordingly and dismiss the rest of what I have to say. So I'll start with their point of view.

There is no doubt that rape or sexual assault is a horrible, almost tragic thing that can happen to you (whether you are man or woman, though the latter gender do tend to get the unbelievable brunt of it). It wasn't a material thing that you were robbed of, like a car or your money, it was your own body, which by nature of the crime becomes the evidence as a whole. It is treated like an object while you are left helpless and silent, essentially.

This is why, as I have said before, policing agencies have to uniformly adopt non-judgmental policies and procedures for dealing with victims of any sexual crime, subject to common sense; if two people capable of their responsibilities and decisions willingly consent to get intimate, and one of them decides afterwards it wasn't a good idea and feels he/she were raped, that does not warrant the activity as such after the fact. The key basis of anything in that nature should be simple: Yes means yes, subject to any needs or boundaries given by either partner, and No means No, regardless of absolutely anything. In any affair or context that could be considered a 'grey area,' those words in that context should be considered the most black-and-white meanings in the English language.

It seems to be generally viewed that while agencies of authority have come some way to improving on this matter, they still have some way to go, and they should make all the effort they can, because we're all human. If the police can have resources and a safe space for those victims, they won't necessarily feel so silenced, alone, and perhaps they won't feel that the only way to deal with it is to either go to the media years later, or withdraw from life, or kill themselves, or turn to vengeance and find a way to punish the person responsible themselves or indirectly. Court hearings and trials should be private and tactful yet thorough and factual. Victims of crimes like this should be able to feel they can rely on a justice system that will support and work for them. This is perhaps a while away, but it must work towards that.

Now I must conclude on my own perspective of this recent case. I am relieved that the judge weighed what evidence and fact he could rely on, and used logic and common sense to arrive at his conclusion rather than a belief system that is unbalanced and warped in one direction.

I'll quickly expand on what I mean when I say that: Women and men are the same species; the only difference is biological and perhaps differences of thought processes. Why they should be unequal or treated differently beyond that is pointless and stupid; why one gender makes more for the same job is stupid, why one may have higher opportunities than the other is ridiculous. Both should be treated equally. I say it's unbalanced because to believe women 'no matter what' on an issue like that gives them power to be able to say anything regardless of whether it's truth or lie. There isn't an argument for believing men no matter what, so that puts men at the same disadvantage that they've always put women. That's not an equal policy - that's merely tipping the scale the other way. It's taking a gender and assuming that it's perfect and infallible when neither are.

The judge concluded that he could not prove the case without a reasonable doubt. Facts were omitted and testimonies were changed and tainted with bias. Mistakes were obviously made, no doubt in part due to the length of time between the assaults and the trial, and due to the complainants having Facebook chats about their strategies and intentions and stories, ruining the purity of each standalone case; correlated together they could have independently created a pattern and running background that could have been highly credible. The protesters will probably say that the victims were put on the spot and cracked under pressure and too-high expectation. The problem is that it was a trial surrounding a minor celebrity, and those always get scrutiny. What they said went into public record; this should have been a lot more private. But it hardly matters, because the purpose of trials and cross-examinations isn't to make someone crack under the spotlight, it's to thoroughly analyze the evidence and facts from every possible angle in order tie up every loose end. It is, among other things, the essential basis for how the justice system works.

I hope that after this mucky affair, agencies do their best to create a system and environment in which victims of assault and rape can feel cared for enough to report incidents as soon as possible, and directly; cases like that should be treated as private and non-judgmental as possible. However, no matter what, in law, an accused is innocent until proven guilty, and your gender alone should not be able to determine such on that sole basis alone, just because one said so verbatim. Nobody is perfect, whether they are man or woman or transgender or whatever. The side of feminism that indirectly says so by protesting that women should be believed 'no matter what' is just as bad as paternalism. Men get raped too, after all, and if a man should face justice for grabbing or groping a woman, so should a woman for doing the same to a man.

Red Cloud
"

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Landmarks

I absolutely love it when events, or places, or people circle back to each other in life. Maybe it's just a repetition thing. But I like the idea of being 'drawn' to something, until you have it or are in reach of it.

Being a visual and synesthetic thinker, my mind always instantly creates landmarks. I always memorize the positioning of things. Maybe that's why I'm great at orienting myself, where I can look at any map of a known area and immediately place it. Often I've been surprised by others who can't or have difficulty.

The reason I'm writing this is because of a great example of a landmark that has, in my life, been circled back to or been drawn to as a connection between times and people. I just think it's amazing. That's probably me, but let me try to finish.

To start, when I was very young, my father lived in an apartment downtown. The way he always took to get there when taking me with him was up the scenic Colonel By Drive; he once pointed at Dunton Tower at Carleton University and said "that building leads the way to my house." This was during the one time he and I biked downtown from Parkwood Hills, when I was six or seven. The university is a major landmark on that route. Once on the outskirts of downtown, we crossed the Pretoria Bridge onto Elgin, and from that point, we were basically there.

One quick thing about synesthesia: Mindscapes created with it are usually almost unforgettable. With the right stimuli they can be retrieved years after having not been considered. I hear a song I haven't for many years, the synesthetic backdrop it stimulated in my mind instantly comes back as if I'd heard it yesterday. Obviously there are minor changes - we edit and refocus our memories all the time - but more or less the general atmosphere, colour, look and feel of the mental landscape is the same.

When I remember those drives downtown, the scene I remember the most is the Queensway overpass on Elgin. It's grey, and behind it stands a white building. That's the mental landscape of landmarks I've preserved over all the rest in terms of the drive. If I were a kid and had to recognize a familiar scene that placed me rightly, it would be that location.

Moving forward, when I was in sixth grade, I was reading a history text of the city of Ottawa. The early stuff I largely glossed over, being largely interested in the latter half of the 20th century covered in the book. As I got there, the pages had oblique aerial photos here and there of downtown and other familiar places, pictures taken in the 1960s and 1970s. One of them stood out highly to me: An aerial photo of the Queensway's construction, in 1965, as it was crossing Elgin Street. The overpass was completed, but it hadn't proceeded across the canal. Otherwise, everything else looked familiar: The TD Bank in the Loblaws parking lot nearby (though probably not a bank in 1965) and the streets. The white apartment building wasn't there, but interestingly, an L-shaped mid-rise building stood out instead. It was recognizable, if not a main landmark in my memory, and I remember thinking it was interesting that it existed back then.

This picture, for perhaps that one very minor reason, cemented that L-shaped building as a notable landmark in my mind. It stood out to me in pictures of downtown, like the white L'Esplanade Laurier office towers did, or the huge Bell building on Elgin, or the Place de Ville tower in the west end of downtown. It just showed up to me.

In February 2009, I went on a skating trip with my high school on the canal. During that trip, I was realizing my attraction to a girl who had certain appealing facial features that I have since indirectly talked about ridiculously on here many times over the years. I was also freshly into photography, with my new first-time dSLR camera strapped around my neck, and I was snapping photos like crazy, keeping behind her group so that most of my shots included her ahead in the background. We came to the Pretoria Bridge, and after we came out from beneath the Queensway, I immediately decided to take two shots of that mid-rise apartment building as I recognized it. One close-up, and one wide-angle.

I'm not kidding when I say I took that picture, seven years ago, because I saw it in that picture from 1965, looking entirely the same.

At this point this has just been about my focusing on this one building. It gets more intimate. As I said before, it's like one is 'drawn' to something. In 2013, returning to Prof. Writing, I befriended a girl - one who had very similar eyes to the aforementioned girl on the canal - and when I drove her home for the first time, I was shocked to find myself directed straight into the parking lot of that apartment building. In the month that followed, I would be invited numerous times in, spending evenings up in what I found to be a roof lounge and deck. It's not just an orange-y mid-rise now, but a dwelling with a name - "Tiffany" apartments.

I took a dozen long-exposure shots off the roof deck. There's a picture of me posing with this friend. She almost resembles this crush I had in high school, and in the picture, the canal south of the Pretoria Bridge is obvious. This is exactly what gets me, because I took several photos of the canal with this old crush skating up ahead, with the bridge and that bloody building poking up in the background.

It's like a two-view connection: Looking from the roof at the canal upon which I took a picture looking towards the building, a structure I've always randomly taken notice of, both images including female lookalikes, who also by amazing coincidence live(d) on the same road at each end at different times. This building is addressed on the 'Driveway,' a scenic route that is really a continuation of Prince of Whales Drive, which meanders south through the city, passing the Experimental Farm, Rideauview, Carleton Heights, Merivale Industrial Area, etc.

No doubt this is just me, making connections out of thin air, but that's how my mind works, and to this day I always note the building whenever I am in view of it. It's just a building. I don't know anybody who lives there now. It shouldn't mean anything to me especially since I only noticed it after seeing an old picture of it when I was eleven/twelve. It was built in 1954, eleven years prior to that old picture, predating the Queensway and many other current landmarks of the city, but otherwise it's just there. The roof deck and lounge is very nice - I could spend an entire day up there watching the traffic on the highway pass by - but otherwise, its only defining feature I find is its unusual interior doorway arches and perhaps its age. The kitchens are galley-style, which I don't particularly like. But there are nice views.

Despite that, there's no doubt in my mind that this isn't over, and someday sooner or later I'll find a reason to be connected to that place, somehow. Because places, events, people, and circumstances always find a way to overlap or circle around in life.

That's how I like it.

Red Cloud
"

Monday, March 14, 2016

Lessons in Aerial Photography

I've still not got it quite perfectly down.

I flew on Saturday in a 1950s Cessna tailwheel plane. It was a neat experience, almost akin to riding in an antique car, something I've never done. I can't say I've driven or rode in anything older than the early 90s. Ironically, I do my flight training in a 1979 Cessna, which looks and seems modern and common for me, not old at all, yet this '50s plane was still quite interesting. It reminded me somewhat of the old fishbowl '70s era OC Transpo buses used right up until around 2008.

I was flying with someone who wanted me to take some pictures for him, and afterwards, I tried doing some more vertical orthophoto-style images (orthophotos are images taken directly straight-down at the ground, and true orthophotos remove any geometric distortion, i.e., buildings do not 'lean' to the side due to perspective). Orthophotos are the primary kind of aerial photos I intend on producing/focusing on, because the idea is to eventually be able to stitch the entire city together using these as one huge image.
Valley Ridge Crescent, Feb. 18th, 1500 feet, 104mm

I'm still having problems, however. Images still come out blurry or with sharpness issues. It's a learning process, particularly with the lens I'm using, because of the circumstances: Wind, buffeting, the window, airspeed, etc.

Saturday gave me the easiest circumstances I've had yet, but a lot of my images - more than half probably - turned out soft or wholly blurry altogether. The window had an arm that held it open instead of my having to hold that and the camera, and it wasn't too cold out. Yet at least once, with gloveless hands, I still managed to switch at one point to 'bulb' instead of 'manual' on the camera.

Those that turned out sharp still had blurry edges.
Montreal Road at Olgilvie Drive. The gas station roof is perfectly sharp; the bottom corners are not.

Each flight gives new reasons for my continued difficulty. First it was exposure time. Then it was inadvertent zooming out in the wind. Now it's simply blurriness as a result of the lens and not due to camera shake (at 1/4000th a second I expect there should be no problems there).

That leaves autofocus and image stabilization.

The lens barrel can be locked to prevent any zooming. That was checked. The exposure was adjusted. But what I didn't do was aim the camera out at the distance, focus it as such, and then take both the autofocus and image stabilization off. The ground is far enough below for the lens to focus to infinity on it, and the exposure time is such that I do not need image stabilization.

Autofocus re-focuses the lens each time the shutter button is pressed, so the lens may focus on something else or fail to focus altogether, at which point no photo is taken. In the picture above the front wheel of the plane as well as the foot hold below the door, and the side of the door itself, show up to be focused on or at least to mess it up. A lot of my images were potentially messed up thanks to those obstacles, or entirely focused on them. The motor in the lens seems slow to me - it's soundless and relatively quick, but it will focus the wrong way before it goes the right way; I can't take pictures of planes in the sky above unless they are close enough for the lens to literally be right on them.

Image stabilization works in one circumstance only: When you're in low light and don't have super-steady tripod-like hands/arms, especially if you're zoomed out. On a tripod, with long exposures, and in the sky, it more or less ruins the quality of the image. It works by having the lens elements free to move slightly in a solution inside the barrel so they can counteract any movement by the barrel as a whole in one's hand. They hold the image steady by keeping steady within. When the lens is already steady on a tripod, however, they're still free to move, if slightly, and with a long exposure you end up with the same result you would had you been holding the lens. With high exposures like the aerial photos I've been practicing, it's sharp - but only where the lens elements happened to be in perfect alignment on a given point on the sensor. The edges and other random areas are blurry because the buffeting wind and vibration exacerbated the lens elements in their free movement, causing them no doubt to go everywhere, in and out of focus randomly on a small scale via bad alignment, causing the edges where it's the most obvious to go entirely out of focus.

Next time I'm using my 50mm lens. It doesn't have image stabilization, its focusing motor is fast and smart, it's smaller and there's no zoom issues or other problems. Focus out once, and then turn it off. The wind won't have a long barrel to buffet, and furthermore, the lens itself is fast - it can go up to f/1.8. The focal length is perhaps the best as well, because I won't likely get any plane parts in the image and it's also not too close.

When I really get into this kind of thing, I'll also ensure I don't get any closer than 7,500 feet. 2,000 and less gives great detail but I don't necessarily need a 1cm resolution and I'd rather not take thousands of image to capture one part of the city. It would take forever and altitude at least gives range - both in the image and in the plane's fuel tanks.

"

Thursday, March 10, 2016

On Mars

This recently captured my interest:


At first I didn't take too much from it, but the second verse got me hooked. It's another 80s Canadian song, from a band called 'Pukka Orchestra.' There are many bands with the word orchestra in their names. This is the Canadian version, with the first word being Hindu, meaning 'genuine.'

I gave their debut album (self-titled) a listen the other night. They appear to have existed for only a moment in their time, as they don't seem like anything anyone's ever heard of unless they lived in Toronto at that time and were knowledgeable on local or national music. Like several other Canadian acts of note, their lead singer is from the U.K. (Scotland to be precise) and they didn't really go any further than this first album of note because singer Graeme Williamson fell sick with serious kidney problems that curtailed the band's momentum.

It also never really helped that they were a trio requiring a multitude of session musicians live and in studio.

The second verse, beginning with the line 'we lead such a sweet existence' really sounds good. I haven't tried to lay it out, but I'll be surprised if it isn't a 1-5 progression starting in E minor. E-B, over and over.

The lyrics sound simple but also well-written (probably the best mixture) and appear to be about one's knowledge that their relationship is getting ever more distant, so much so that they might as well be on Mars. This observation is surrounded by words of decadence - "sun is shining in my penthouse suite" - and words of emotional metaphor: "You watch your star flash into the sky, fall to earth again on easy street." Williamson's voice reminds me of A Flock of Seagulls' Mike Score, and it sounds both defeated, disinterested and slightly forlorn. "Monday night, another day goes by/your voice is telling me life is sweet." He sounds like he's blandly going through the motions in describing it because he knows that that's become routine and superficial. He does a great job.

I definitely need to touch upon the music video. I won't go into detail over the introduction, which looks more or less like a commercial - it echoes the vocal introductions laid out in their album - but the rest of the video looks virtually brilliant to me. It's the most inexpensive-looking thing I've ever seen, the most simple, and the most inventive. In summary, all three sit there and either look on or mime guitar movements, or sing. A boombox sits up close, obviously playing the song for them to mime to. Movers do random things in the background. It looks very much like the three are roommates, they're being evicted, and their furniture is being repossessed, so they make the best of the situation by singing along to a boombox. At the end, the music fades away faster than the boombox, so you're left listening to them actually singing to the speakers until they break down laughing.

If I had a little band and had license to do a music video, I'd do exactly the same thing, except I'd take it a step further and have something to eat while the singer did all the work. Instead of a boombox I would have a cover band playing the song in the background while the singer mimed his lyrics and I ate lunch. It would look pointless and silly and extremely cost-effective.

Song: A-
Lyrics: A
Music video: B+

Red Cloud
"

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

In Pieces

I've probably mentioned before that each decade has a musical sound to it, and when it comes to the 80s, New Wave, synthesizers, booming drum machine effects and keyboard/guitar power music really dominate. For us Canadians, in terms of latter, we had our pick with Platinum Blonde, Honeymoon Suite, Paul Janz, and others. In really getting into Canadian music, I've noticed that we seem to have our own versions of The Police (The Tenants), Elton John (Gowan), and all the metal/power ballad artists out there (I can't come up with big names at the moment - maybe Metallica?) Harlequin ('Thinking of You') kind of sounds like Guns and Roses. Payolas nearly sound like Madness ('I'm Sorry') but not quite, with ska and new wave both mixed in. It really helps that a few Canadian bands - like Payolas, The Tenants or Platinum Blonde - had English lead singers, really helping them sound like their British equivalents. Saga fills in the New Wave and power genres - heavy keyboards mixed with heavy guitar, heavily synthesized. Loverboy covers the rock genre.

I'm not a huge fan of the power ballad genre. Honeymoon Suite is okay - I like 'Wave Babies' somewhat, as well as 'All Along You Knew,' but their other notable songs (virtually all of them) are too love-focused to me. They all deal with the same subject matter (relationships) and have too much of the same sound. 'New Girl Now.' 'Burning in Love.' 'Feel it Again.' I don't like Platinum Blonde at all. I dislike the singer's voice and their sound is too heavy and hard-edged for my liking. Only 'Not in Love' is tolerable for me.

Despite all of that, there is one song that manages to break through to my tastes, largely thanks to its progression for its chorus. I recently discovered a Paul Janz song called 'I Go To Pieces' that's precisely in league with the rest - focused on love/relationships, and full of edgy power-driven sounds. It even goes as far as to include silly vocal and repetition effects that weren't unusual to hear back then. The ultra-low bass voice sound is probably a trademark of the decade for music, highlighted by the 80s fixture 'Oh Yeah.' The low voice actually meshes extremely well with the progression of the chorus in this song. Janz even looks like all of his contemporaries in that genre and style, complete with long, styled hair.

The lyrics teeter on being corny, over-used, and predictable ("if fire can turn to passion, me and you in the name of love," "when I feel your warm embrace," etc.) but I like that they actually focus on a different aspect of love: The knowledge that when you don't feel good about anything, or nothing is okay, when you've 'gone to pieces,' you have someone you can think about or turn to, someone whose very face or essence or person can make you smile despite anything. They just have to exist in your life to make you feel good again.

Most of the verses and instrumental style of the song sounds too produced and false (especially the keyboard sound) but the chorus works well. The lyrical melody is nice and the progression itself starts on the predictable route of 1-5-7, but the final note changes it altogether - it ends on a 2 instead at first, and when it goes around the second time, it deflects back to the fifth. I've worked out the song as being on C sharp minor, so it goes C sharp/A flat/B/E flat, then it repeats the first three but returns to finish on A flat after B. The low voice follows this progression exactly and sounds really nice when it returns to A flat. The bridge, which is just synthesizer, hand drums, and probably the corniest of the lyrics, follows this as well.

Because of its finely-produced style and arena sound, and its silliness, it's one in a multitude of similar-sounding 80s songs, but it redeems itself to me with its progression and its lyrical focus. Perhaps it may only end up as a song I like a lot for a short while before moving on, but either way, I'm happy to have discovered it. Prior to it the only song I'd heard by Janz was 'Every Little Tear' which is the same if not even more corny-sounding, and I don't like it at all. He currently lectures at King's College in London, so he's done well for himself I'm sure. Interestingly, his background is mostly gospel and religious music rather than hairspray metal or whatever it's called.

Song: B-
Lyrics: C+


Red Cloud
"

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

YOW!



I finally went up and did my flight to Ottawa International (YOW) the other week. Bad weather had delayed it all; my instructor even said that had the weather not been adverse I'd be solo by now. I'm coming up to that soon.

The video itself is quite self-explanatory. We fly up and over Gatineau, change coarse towards Ottawa, and cross over via a "checkpoint" which is the airspace above the Champlain bridge. The rest of the video is the circuit for runway 22.

My instructor was going to ask for clearance to land/take off on RWY 14/32 or 25/07 (the two main runways) but they were too busy with air traffic at the time. That was alright. The point was that I got to the airport at all, even if it was just touch-and-gos on the minor 22/04. Than runway is primarily used by light aircraft usually flown by the Ottawa Flying Club.

I narrated the video because it was easier explaining the process verbally than trying to fit subtitles in as I'd done with other videos, and I think I may narrate them from now on.

I do want to explain a couple of things in more depth here than I could in the video, however. Landing, for example. The process is called a 'flare out' because the plane has to settle back onto the ground. That's why I pitch the nose up near the end: It reduces speed and allows the plane to settle down on its two rear wheels, and gently. Keeping it level would cause the plane to bounce off the ground due to a hard impact.

I also never mention flaps. Right before we begin the turn for the base leg, 10 degrees of flap is added, and by the time we land we have 20 degrees or more. Flaps reduce airspeed but also add lift, as the plane is slowing down over the course of the last two legs of the circuit.

The circuit itself is a rectangle that includes the runway. Take off is the departure leg; crosswind brings you to the right or left of the runway, and downwind takes you directly opposite the direction you took off in, so you're parallel to the runway in the opposite direction. Base is the opposite of crosswind, and final is the direct entry towards the threshold of the runway on which you took off, in the same direction. I kind of wish I had my phone's tracking app on during the flight, as it would show my inaccurate oval of a circuit as shown in the final sped-up part of the video. Circuits for runway 22 are right-handed (circuits are normally left-hand turns) because in this case you'd be flying over the airfield and airport, and circuits are laid out the way they are to avoid having air traffic directly over the terminal buildings (though it is important to note that as a controlled, towered airport, if ATC wants a left-hand circuit, their directions take priority over this general rule).

I also mention the checkpoint and VFR. I should have pointed out that "VFR" means "Visual Flight Rules." All pilots navigating by visual landmarks and not entirely or largely by their instruments (IFR). There are radio checkpoints all over the region, all depicted on VTA & VNA charts of the area. To land at YOW, there is a VFR 'route' on the map that shows all VFR traffic must make a radio call at the Champlain bridge and then head in from there to the airport. VFR & IFR traffic follow different rules on many respects in aviation.

The flight was very good, and afterwards I managed to capture a few aerial photos. The icing on the cake was the positioning of the circuit: The downwind leg is directly over the Merivale Industrial District, as well as Mooney's Bay and Carleton Heights, so I got to see a lot of good recognizable landmarks of my old neighbourhood and area, My instructor had to remind me to 'keep flying' at one point instead of staring out the window. It was great to see many things I'd only imagined for so long.

Solo is coming up soon...that'll be a big milestone.

Red Cloud
"