Snapped and Snatched

Recently, I lost my camera.

Bye-bye, Nikon
A photographer and somebody else’s Nikon.

Fortunately, I got it back, but not after the young photographer pictured above was done with it. It’s not the first time this has happened. On our recent jaunt to the UK, and following an enjoyable, if jet-lagged, lunchtime meet-up with Richard, Jenny, their not-quite-born-yet child, and Richard’s two daughters, she absconded with the Nikon rig on a few occasions: the South Bank of the Thames, the British Museum, Stonehenge, the Tower of London… more than just a few, now that I stop to count. And well and truly kicked my photographic butt with a few of her pictures. That might be another blog post, if I can let paternal pride over-ride the embarrassment and niggling jealousy.

While she was artistically shooting dappled light and foliage at the cottage a couple of weeks later, I snatched the photo above using good old analogue film. The camera I used was the circa 1970 Minolta Hi-Matic 11 pictured below. The film was Arista Premium 400, widely believed to be re-branded Kodak Tri-X. Fortunately, there are still photo labs nearby that develop black and white film, saving me from having to dig into that silver chemistry by embarking on home developing.

Minolta Hi-Matic 11
What a beauty. Features a Rokkor-PF 45mm f/1.7 lens, in case anyone’s interested.

The photo at the top, posted to Flickr two days ago, has rapidly become one of my most-viewed, and gathered up far more “favourites” than any other in my photostream. Most of this is due to it appearing in Flickr’s Explore, a daily greatest-hits chosen in a somewhat mysterious way that I’ve mentioned before. Whatever the reason, people seem to like it. And so do I.

Now it’s Thursday, the Third Day of School, and the pictured photographer’s eleventh birthday. Happy Birthday, you Nikon-snatching hoodlum.

Posted in Family, Hobbies, Photography | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

A little preparation – the 2013 Honda Indy Toronto

It’s the end of August, and high time I wrote something about my gig as a credentialed media photographer for the Honda Indy Toronto race weekend, back in July.

Carlos Munoz, Sunday practice at the Honda Indy Toronto
The bridge, a subtle reminder that this is the Honda Indy Toronto.

Each of the past four years that I’ve done this, I’ve made time during race week to get to pre-race publicity events – question and answer sessions with drivers, fan festivals, driver appearances at the children’s hospital, and the like. Although not always directly associated with the race itself, these lend some colour to the run-up to race weekend. Occasionally, these photographs have been used in press releases, and once in a while, picked up by the wider motorsports press. So there can be some value to covering these, although the vast majority of my photos are never used for anything.

However, sometimes things fall nicely into place – as they did this year, when former series champion and popular New Zealander Scott Dixon came into town having just won the previous weekend’s race at the curiously triangular Pocono speedway. Dixon was slated to open Toronto’s Stock Exchange – a perfect Toronto-themed photo op.

Scott Dixon opens the Toronto Stock Exchange
Dixon (centre) at the Stock Exchange. He’s obviously not required to wear a suit.

With a little extra time, I was able to pose Dixon next to the Honda Indy Toronto show car, complete with its “2inTO” tail logo announcing the two-race doubleheader. As it turned out, this was a fortunate choice – Dixon would go on to win both races. What was an obvious publicity shot became a perfect counterpart to the two victories, just because of a little bit of advance work.

But all of that was still in the future. On race weekend, it’s a given that photos of all of the drivers are needed, both on and off track. Shoot everyone, and by definition you’ve got the winner in there somewhere. Among the others, I photographed Dixon riding his scooter, signing autographs, and participating in a Q&A session with his fans – all good background in case of a victory, or two. And of course, the obligatory on-track shots as well.

Get every car on track, and you’ve got the winner in among them. Dixon rounds turn 11 onto the front straight, early in Saturday’s race.

After Dixon’s win on Saturday, more coverage on Sunday was an obvious need, so I stationed myself right in front of his spot on the false grid. He had brought his family, including his mother, wife and two daughters, making for a picture-perfect photo op.

Scott and Emma applaud the anthems - Honda Indy Toronto
Scott and Emma applaud the anthems. A nice, calm moment before the race.

And then he ran away with the second race as well, although not without some concern from his strategist and team.

Dixon's crew - nail biting time
Nail biting time – Dixon’s pit wall team keep an eye on their driver during Sunday’s race.

The race again offered up some nice photo opportunities – pit stops, isolation shots of the crew, and more on-track action. But the real highlight came when, with a dozen laps or so left, I escaped the “island” in between pit lane and the front straight and made my way to Winner’s Circle. Where I was unexpectedly stationed on top of the trailer used as a backdrop for the trophy presentations – a location I’ve never shot from before, and a ton of fun. Fortunately, I didn’t drop anything on the winners, and managed to snag both wide scenes showing the media scrum and crowd, and a nice tight one of the podium party itself.

Richard Wintle shooting the Honda Indy Toronto
Yes, that’s me, on top of the trailer. Photo © 2013 Rick Andoga for Honda Indy Toronto, used with permission.

Victory Circle - race #2, Honda Indy Toronto
The podium finishers celebrate as the confetti cannon fires… again!

Podium ceremony, race #2, Honda Indy Toronto
The podium – Sebastien Bourdais, Scott Dixon, Helio Castroneves, and some sponsor representatives.

But the shot of the event still has to be this one, from Thursday morning – Dixon, prophetically posed with the doubleheader logo, as yet unaware that he’d be taking home both trophies. Just a little preparation and effort ahead of time, and we end up with the storytelling photo of the weekend – taken long before a single wheel even turned on track.

Scott Dixon - Mister 2inTO himself
2inTO, indeed.

More photos in four sets in my Autosport Collection.

Posted in Photography, Racing | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I smell a meme.

Some days ago, Henry posted a set of what he describes as “more or less impertinent questions” asked of “various working scientists”, and challenged his readers to answer them. Now, I’m not much of a twenty-first-century technophile, but even I know that such a thing is sometimes called a meme, and as such, absolutely demands a response, much like chain letters of yore.

Why two weeks late, you ask? Well, when Henry first posted, I was either en route to Stonehenge or back, or up the London Eye, or somewhere else equally devoid of internet connection. But more on that trip later.

Questions, questions… and answers.

1. Summarise yourself in the form of a title of a paper in Nature.
Work habits of a Canadian molecular biologist – a 45-year retrospective”.

2. What was your first experiment as a child?
Probably something involving vinegar, baking soda, and a corked test tube. Just imagine.

3. What makes a good scientific mentor?
The willingness to really “go to bat” for your trainees. Sometimes having the boss stand up for you can be a real confidence booster. Other times, I suppose it could have the opposite effect.

4. Who has been the most important mentor in your career?
Diane Wilson Cox, who took me on as an undergraduate, and subsequently graduate, student, despite my less-than-stellar undergraduate academic record.

5. Other than your mentor, whose graduate student would you most like to have been (historical impossibility notwithstanding)?
Lap-Chee Tsui, whose lab was next door. Many friends and acquaintances worked for him, and he was a member of my graduate thesis committee. His lab was also extraordinarily productive.

6. You are the only scientist at a party. How do you describe what you do for a living?
I tell them I try to understand how autism runs in families, like diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. That’s usually technical enough.

7. What single paper, talk, experiment or other event has been most influential in your career?
A tiny little exonuclease assay that proved I had mapped to the end of chromosome 14. While rather insignificant in the great scheme of things, it was the final nail in the coffin that was my PhD work, and allowed me to write up and finish.

8. What literary character would you employ as a postdoc, and why?
I rather liked Andy, from Jennifer Rohn’s “Experimental Heart“. Seemingly a bit directionless, when the going gets tough, he gets the job done. Saying any more would spoil the plot, so I’ll leave it there.

9. What was the worst/most memorable comment you ever received from a referee?
I don’t remember. It can’t have been that bad, I guess. A collaborator did once congratulate a former supervisor on having gotten so much work out of her summer student (i.e., me), which was a bit gratifying, if not exactly what the question asked for.

10. What gives you the most job satisfaction now?
Gathering data about our research and operations outputs – publications, billing information for the core facility, activity, outreach. I’m consistently amazed by how much we manage to get done.

11. Why is physics so hard?
I never found it particularly hard, and even considered adding a minor in Physics to my Molecular Genetics and Molecular Biology undergraduate degree. But I suspect the right answer is “integral calculus”.

12. What are your major frustrations?
Human Resources. Anyone surprised by that?

13. What book is currently on your bedside table?
It’s actually on the floor – Galen Rowell’s “Inner Game of Outdoor Photography“.

14. Do you have a burning ambition to do something of no practical or immediate value? If so, what?
I would really like to take a photograph that becomes an icon, like Robert Doisneau’s “The Kiss“, or Alfred Eisenstaedt’s “V-J Day in Times Square“.

15. Which field of science (apart from your own) deserves more funding?
Conservation research. Everywhere in the world.

16. What music heads the playlist in your car or lab?
Rock of various kinds, mostly not current.

17. What do you most dislike about having research published?
That nagging feeling that maybe, just maybe, I forgot some important control.

18. Where and when would you most like to have lived and worked?
I’ve always loved things related to Medieval Britain – castles, knights in armour, all that stuff. But I suspect the reality would be rather unpleasant by modern standards.

19. The job of Captain of the U. S. S. Enterprise in Star Trek has become vacant. Nominate any real person, living or dead, for the post.
Although a privateer and slaver, I think Sir Francis Drake has the right kind of swashbuckling and adventurous credentials.

20. The internet is the bane of a scientist’s life because …
It’s like looking up a word in a dictionary. There are endless interesting distractions.

21. You have the audience in your hands, but some smart-alec asks you a killer question you’ve no idea how to answer. What do you say?
I’d follow an excellent piece of advice from a previous supervisor – if you don’t know the answer, say that you don’t know.

22. Assuming the dead can be raised and/or time travel exists, who from the world outside science would you most like to have dinner with?
I imagine photographer Robert Capa would have some good tales, as would John Steinbeck. Jesus Christ would be interesting too, naturally, although perhaps that would be theologically dangerous.

23. You are on a plane behind two students obviously going to the same conference, who start to talk about your work. What do you do?
I’ll go with Henry’s answer here: eavesdrop. Then lean over the seat and introduce myself, at a time carefully calculated to cause maximum embarrassment to all.

24. What one thing would you rescue from your burning laboratory?
My laptop. Except it’s in an office across the hall from the laboratory. Not sure there’s anything specific over there I really care about that much, unless people count as “things”.

25. What overlooked or underrated discovery really changed the science in which you work?
The micropipettor. How could you do molecular biology without one?

26. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
From the same former supervisor as provided the “if you don’t know the answer…” advice: “Positive control. Negative control. Every experiment.”

27. What do you do to relax?
Go to car races and take hundreds of photographs. Then spend hours and hours editing them.

28. What would you have become, if not a scientist?
Seems to me that junk bond trader might have been a good choice, although professional musician might have been an option. I used to play piano competently and clarinet quite well, once upon a time. No idea if I could have made a living at it, though.

29. What’s your motto?
I’ve had several over the years, but Bob Dylan’s line “Twenty years of schoolin’ and they put you on the day shift” has always been a favourite. I do like a line from a Pier Giorgio Di Cicco poem too: “There is another way of putting this. But I forgot it.” Not really mottos, I suppose, but they seem relevant.

30. Is there a ‘tyranny of reductionism’ in how scientists are trained today?
I have no idea what that means. So maybe.

31. If you were reborn as a comic-book superhero, what would be your superpower?
Am I allowed to choose? Teleportation would be good, since I enjoy visiting new places, but I really hate the mechanics of traveling. If it had to be something from an established comic-book superhero, flying like Superman.

32. What previously under-recognised sport should be included in the Olympic Games?
I’d like to see a return to the Classical days, where poetry and drama were included. Failing that, how about freestyle luge jumping for the winter games, and Jai alai for the summer?

33. What’s the one thing about science you wish the public understood better?
That sometimes it’s really, really hard to find an answer.

34. Under what conditions do you have your greatest or most inspired ideas?
Usually while walking from place to place, without anything available to record them.

35. Harry Potter or Lord Of The Rings?
Do I have to choose? Potter. But how about Narnia?

36. You’ve just been told (in confidence) that the world will end tomorrow. What do you do?
Find my family and do whatever they want to.

37. What’s the most interesting thing in your fridge?
Delicious chutney made by my father-in-law. Mmm chutney.

38. What’s your favourite conference destination, and why?
That I’ve been to? Bangkok. A completely mental city that nevertheless seems to have an underlying calm. And incredible architecture, tremendous modern shopping, wonderful night markets, and delicious food everywhere. I could go on for hours.

39. What one thing would you change about Nature (the magazine, not the concept)?
Much as I love that people study astronomy, cosmology, and high-energy particle physics, I really can’t get much out of articles on those topics. So I’d replace them with beautiful photographs illlustrating the findings.

40. Which actor would best portray you in a film of your life story?
According to this experiment, it seems the Internet prefers Patrick Swayze. I, however, would choose Kevin Bacon, because he’s cool.

41. Name one extravagance you can now get away with because of your eminence.
Eminence? That may be over-stating things. But I can close my office door, because I now have an office. Even seven years after first getting my own, it still seems like a luxury.

42. What music would you have played at your funeral?
Although Blue Öyster Cult’s “Don’t Fear The Reaper” jumps to mind, I think for the sake of anyone attending I would instead request the Air from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068 – the famous “Air on a G String”.

43. What would be the title of your autobiography?
Read Something Else, This Is Boring.”

44. What’s just around the corner?
Goodness knows. I’m only forty-five, with kids that aren’t even teenagers yet, and a wonderful wife. All kinds of things could happen.

Posted in Blogging, Science | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

A few weeks in May (condensed version)

Gosh, it’s been a while. Things have been happening, but blogging has not been one of them. In recent memory, I’ve said I intend to post about more of my recent film camera acquisitions, and additional delving into local history. I’m not sure this post is going to satisfy either of those promises. Not much, anyway.

Ryan gets it wrong
Racing season beginneth – getting it slightly wrong on the first lap.

In among some automotive shenanigans, the local sportscar racing season having kicked off on Victoria Day weekend, I’ve also managed to punch a few more rolls through the old cameras, mainly by haunting more old cemeteries – plus a few more modern ones.

Little Angel
King City Cemetery – Kodak Gold 200 film, Minolta Hi-Matic 11 camera.

Even more fun is the beginning of this year’s reprise of my role as an event photographer for the Honda Indy Toronto race weekend, coming up in July. This year’s first event was a photo call with popular Canadian drivers James Hinchcliffe and Alex Tagliani, as part of the publicity run-up to the Indy 500, which was last Sunday. Neither driver won, sentimental favourite and perennial runner-up Tony Kanaan finally taking his first title, but on this day, both Canadians were in fine form, answering fan questions on Toronto’s sunny waterfront.

Hinch and Tags in Toronto
James “The Mayor of Hinchtown” Hinchcliffe and Alex Tagliani, Harbourfront, Toronto.

Lest you think that all I’ve spent the last few weeks doing was chasing around with a camera, yesterday I spent the morning interviewing potential undergraduate co-op students from the nearby University of Waterloo. That requires an always-enjoyable drive to Wellington County – of course with a stop-off here or there if time permits. This time, “there” was the ruins of the old mill in Doon, Ontario, a lovely location I was tipped off to by excellent nature photographer and mill enthusiast Harold Stiver, whose work you can see on Flickr.

Old Mill, Doon, Ontario
Ferrie’s mill in Doon, dated 1839.

So there you have it – not much of great import happening, and a pretty lackadaisical approach to reporting it. Things will only get busier as the summer approaches… including, if all goes to plan, increasing by several hundred percent the number of Occam’s Typewriter authors I’ve met in person – a figure that won’t be hard to beat, since it currently stands at just one.

Posted in Blogging, Hobbies, Photography, Racing, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

My old new little friend – the Voigtländer VF-101

Oh, goodness me. I’ve gone and bought a handful of old film cameras on Ebay. Six, exactly – purchased on the cheap with the understanding that they might not work. I think I’ve done alright – three apparently just fine, one with a minor but non-fatal issue, and two that are clearly defunct, at least until someone more skilled than me works on them a bit. And what a motley crew they are:  Minolta Hi-Matic 7 and 11, Yashica M, Voigtländer VF-101, and the amusingly-named Taron Promaster and Super Westomat 35. For the record, the Westomat and the Hi-Matic 7 are the dead ones.

The main difference from my other old film cameras is that these are all rangefinders, meaning that you focus them by turning a dial or ring to make two superimposed images in the viewfinder line up. This is a step up from the distance-scale focusing of my Silette and Brillant, where you either guess at (“estimate”) the distance to the subject and dial it in, or carry a tape measure.

In recent weeks, I’ve run film through all four of the working ones, and a clear favourite has emerged. So, in the words of Al Pacino in Scarface (which I cheerfully admit I’ve never seen):  let me introduce you to my little friend – the Voigtländer VF-101.

Voigtländer VF-101
What a pretty little thing.

If you’ve read older posts here, you might remember another Voigtländer, the 1937 version of the Brillant V6. This VF-101 is a lot younger, dating from somewhere between 1972 and 1976, and was made not in Braunschweig, but Singapore. It’s from a time when Voigtländer was no longer an independent company, having passed through Carl Zeiss (those makers of fine microscopes) and into the hands of photographic heavyweight Rollei. To add further confusion, the camera is badged on the bottom as a Rollei, and is cosmetically nearly identical to the contemporary Zeiss Ikon Contessa S 312. It also came in a very attractive all-black version.

The camera is a lovely little thing – compact, seeming hardly big enough to accept a roll of 35mm film, but reassuringly solid. It has a built-in light meter that couples to the exposure settings, and miraculously uses regular 1.5-volt batteries, rather than the impossible-to-find and environmentally unfriendly 1.35-volt mercury cells of older cameras. It’s dead simple to use, too – a meter needle in the viewfinder tells you if you’re in the right exposure range, and a single dial on the lens barrel chooses an aperture, with the camera selecting a shutter speed to go with it. Focusing is by the old rangefinder technique of twisting a dial around the lens barrel, and lining up two images in the viewfinder – the “real” scene, and a ghost image from the little, round rangefinder window next to it. Easy.

Everything about this little charmer works exactly as I’d want it to, and it seems to take rather nice photographs.

Totem pole, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto
Not too bad indoors with 400 speed colour film – Totem Pole, Royal Ontario Museum

Fallen angel, St. James cemetery, Toronto
Black and white film – St. James Cemetery, Toronto

Celtic cross, St. James cemetery, Toronto
That 40mm Color-Skopar lens is wickedly sharp at narrow apertures – St. James Cemetery, Toronto

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Eversley, Ontario
Colour film again – St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, in the long-lost hamlet of Eversley

I’ve taken a break from the VF-101 recently in order to try out some of its cousins (that Taron Promaster was a pleasant surprise, in case you were wondering). But I’ll come back to it, with some slower colour film, because it really is a joy to use, and it tucks away nicely into a pocket. I have a few new locations in mind where it might do well. In the meantime, stay tuned for examples from the others.

A selection of photographs from this camera is here. If you want spoilers, the other cameras appear in this Flickr collection.

Posted in Hobbies, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Crawling around the back yard

This is the kind of thing that happens when I’m waiting around all day for a plumber to appear to fix a leaky valve in the upstairs bathroom:


Yes, that’s a perfectly ordinary Earthworm, wriggling into the earth under a border stone in the back yard. Having run out of other things to occupy my time (ok, I confess – that should probably also read “except for things I didn’t really feel like doing”), I decided to finally give the reversing ring I’d bought for the fabulous sum of a couple of dollars from some Hong Kong-based Ebay vendor a whirl. This lets me mount a lens backwards on my camera, which sounds all wrong, but through some optical magic results in the lens focusing at much closer working distances than it usually does. I’m probably about four or five inches from the worm here, using my good old 50mm f/1.8 (not too different from the one you can see in this useful article about reverse-mounting).

While I was turning over stones, I came across all kinds of interesting things. A lot of the creatures I found were just too quick to run away while I was juggling my camera and a flash mounted on a tripod. With the reversed-lens setup, there’s no way to use autofocus – in fact, manual focusing is pretty hopeless too, so the only real option is to move the camera back and forth until the subject is in the rather narrow focal plane. Fine for earthworms, as long as they’re not moving too fast, but far too slow for speedsters like spiders. The net results from an hour or so of poking around were:

  • Earthworms – lots. Some good photos.
  • Pillbugs – lots. A few ok photos, but I need to try again. A bit wiggly and not very interesting when rolled up into a ball.
  • Pillbug relatives (Sowbugs and the like) – probably lots but I can’t tell these things apart. If they don’t roll up like Pillbugs, they simply run away.
  • Centipedes – several attractive bright red and orange ones. Very wriggly and demonically speedy. No good photos.
  • Millipedes – only teeny-tiny ones, that insisted on holding still for just slightly less time than it took me to focus on them. No good photos.
  • Slugs – several. I don’t find these characters terribly photogenic, to be honest.
  • Spiders – one. It ran away.
  • Ants – a bunch. Completely hopeless. Tiny and ridiculously active.
  • Wasps – entirely too quick.
  • Other things – some weird-looking caterpillar or grub or larva of some kind.

All of this makes me think I should be participating in something like the Great Garden Worm Count, and I can’t help but think that it might be fun to attempt species identification on some of these – along with the attractive pink one up top, I also came across ones that were brown, bright red, pale yellow, and even a murky green colour.

Of course, I also took a photograph of a Mourning Dove, since they are (a) frequent visitors, and (b) fearless, at least of dolts with cameras. This, as you might imagine, was taken with an ordinary telephoto lens.

Mourning Dove

There’s a whole lot more miniature wildlife out there, and I think this will be a lot of fun once I build up some more experience and as a result spend less time fumbling around. Which I can get a start on, given the ongoing plumbing problems here (minor, but annoying). In the meantime, you know where to find me.

Posted in Nature, Photography | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

Strange history, and thoughts of trying times

In between grant writing, which has consumed much of the first two months of this year, and the inevitable mountain of other things that have been set aside because of it, I’ve managed to escape and explore a little more local history, to go with my previous exploration of the quicklime industry. This part of southern Ontario was, at one time, riddled with small settlements, dating from the mid-1800’s. Canada’s a very young country, at least in its present form, and it’s only recently that the suburbs where I live stopped being farm fields. Before that, the landscape was punctuated by small communities, in many cases seemingly created at the whim of someone who built a store, or decided that a post office ought to be in a particular spot. Some, like Lloydtown and Laskay, still exist, whereas others have changed their names. Many have simply disappeared:  Kinghorn and Strange are nowhere to be found, Hope is now an intersection near a new subdivision, and Snowball is a gas station and a general store. But look hard enough, and there are traces:  the settlers left their dead behind.

Kinghorn Espiscopal Old Methodist Cemetery
Episcopal Old Methodist cemetery, Kinghorn.

Some early cemeteries, like the one pictured above, are remarkably easy to miss, consisting of just a few stones tucked away behind some bushes and a small marker sign. Kinghorn was an important place once, with a large tannery, an important school, and an Episcopal Old Methodist church founded in 1848 that finally closed its doors in 1890 and is now nowhere to be seen. Only the cemetery remains, the schoolhouse having been relocated a short distance away on the grounds of the King Township Museum, and everything else gone.

A few pieces of Strange, by contrast, can still be found, although there’s not much of it. Named after Dr. Frederick William Strange as thanks for his securing a post office, its church is extant, although converted into a private dwelling – still with the graveyard attached. A short distance away is another, this time of the Wesleyan Old Methodist flavour. There were plenty of others:  Hammertown, Linton, Temperanceville, Eversley.

Wesleyan Old Methodist cemetery, Strange, Ontario
Wesleyan Old Methodist cemetery, Strange.

Many of these monuments have decayed over time, either due to the elements, or through vandalism, to the point at which King Township has put up signs warning any sporadic visitors to take care that their children don’t climb on them.

Kinghorn Cemetery, King Township, Ontario

Some have had their gravestones compiled into cairns, and others are just long gone, despite appearing on the occasional map.

Primitive Methodist Church cemetery, Maple, Ontario
A cross-shaped cairn – Hope Primitive Methodist Church cemetery, now in Maple, Ontario.

For these recent visits I’ve taken advantage of the snow, which has added some pretty sculpting to the landscape, set off by long shadows from the late-afternoon, wintry sun. While a few storms we’ve had recently have snarled traffic and cancelled flights, we’ve gotten off pretty lightly compared with other parts of the continent. That hasn’t stopped a certain degree of grumbling about late commuter trains and driveway shoveling, though.

It may be de rigueur to complain about the weather, but these expeditions are a reminder that even as little as a century and a half ago, life in this part of Canada was much harder. Some of the headstones tell heartbreaking stories of lives cut very short indeed. There were plenty of documented fires in these early settlements, and diseases and farming accidents would have taken their toll. But doubtless many deaths were simply due to winter. All of these towns, now easily accessed by highway, concession line or sideroad, would have been hours apart, even in good weather. In winter they would frequently have been completely isolated. That, along with mid-19th century medicine, would likely have turned infections that are innocuous by modern standards into killers.

In Strange, I came across this headstone:

Testament to heartbreak - Strange, Ontario

The inscription reads:

Emma, dau.[ghter] of Joseph and Catharine Wood
Died Mar. 15, 1852
Ae. [aged] 8 Ys. 6 Mos.
Also Evanjaline
dau. of the same
Died Mar. 2, 185[2]
Ae. 13 das. [days]

What must this have felt like? Two daughters dead within weeks, one a newborn. The stone is footnoted with the beautifully poignant epitaph:

These loving buds, to us a while were given
Transported now they brightly bloom in Heaven.

All of these cemeteries contain similarly young victims. In Strange, we also find Edith, who died at 4 months, and Hellen, just short of her twenty-third birthday. In Kinghorn, Sarah, Ellen and Mary Ann, ranging from 10 to 26. In Llloydtown there is Susan, 20, and little Edwin, recorded to the exact day at only 1 year, 9 months, and 14 days. Although there are plenty of citizens who lived to (reasonably) ripe old ages, the message is carved in stone, quite literally – times were tough in mid-1800’s rural Ontario, even here in the comparatively mild south.

John Carley - Aged 9 years, 5 months
But nine years old when he died. Strange, Ontario.

There is a lot more of this history to explore, and my hat is off to the local historical societies, and the Ontario Genealogical Society, who have collectively done much to preserve and catalogue these sites. I’ve recently managed a visit to the much larger cemetery in Lloydtown, a place infamous for being one of the hotspots during the Upper Canada Rebellion. That story, and those photographs, can wait. In the meantime, the weather here’s lifted above freezing, and spring’s crocuses can’t be far off. Time to remember the sisters Emma and Evanjaline, and be thankful for easier days than theirs.

Further information:

Posted in Canada, History, Hobbies, Photography | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

More Monochrome – Toronto’s Spadina Avenue

For the second time, I’ve been featured in a gallery on the website of popular photography magazine, Popular Photography (see what I did there?). So it’s time for some more shameless bragging, tempered with a mild introduction to one of Toronto’s more colourful and interesting streets, Spadina Avenue.

Popular Photography - Your Best Shot Gallery: January 2013
PopPhoto’s “Your Best Shot Gallery: January 2013”

Oddly enough, both gallery selections have been film, rather than digital photographs, taken with the same 1958 point and shoot camera. This example is on black and white Arista Premium 400, a rather more modern, sophisticated and predictable beast than the ancient film stock I wrote about recently. The previous one was in colour. It’s enough to make me begin to wonder why exactly it is that I own two digital SLRs and a bagful of lenses.

I’m not sure what it is about this photograph that seems to have struck a chord with viewers, and presumably one or other of the editorial staff at PopPhoto. It was featured in Explore, a collection of photographs selected each day by photo sharing site Flickr’s magic interestingness algorithm. It’s been marked as a favourite more than fifty times, far more than any other image I’ve posted. It certainly feels nice to be Explored, although photos do drop in and out, since each one’s rating can change from day to day. To date, 33 of mine have been featured at one point or another; this one is the second-latest, preceded by an ice-skating one you can see at the top of my Happy Holidays post, and followed most recently by a barrel. But Explore isn’t really an indicator of what makes a good photo, nor necessarily of which ones will be generally popular. I’m beginning to think that perhaps the film itself is adding some magic quality, although I wouldn’t rule out that using the old camera is forcing me to visualize and photograph in a more creative way than I do with my digital beasts.

The picture has human interest, which is unusual for me, and the reflections in the glass make it a little more visually interesting. But overall, I’m not convinced this is composed or cropped particularly well – that panel of building stones to the right hand side seems a little awkward now that I’ve lived with the photo for a while, for example. But the most obvious feature, I guess, is the words “Open Dumpling?”, which although they make no sense, seem to have caught a lot of people’s attention. I cheerfully confess that I had no idea I’d captured them like this, especially since “Dumpling?” is a fragment of the phrase “Got Dumpling?” in the right-hand window, and the “Open” sign is just that. The words don’t even go together, for goodness’ sake, which you can verify for yourself on Google Street View.

Those misgivings aside, I’m actually quite pleased with how this turned out, since it was just a grab shot on a quick jaunt through Toronto’s Chinatown. Spadina Avenue is the heart of this neighbourhood, and is bustling most of the time, becoming jammed in summertime with shoppers frequenting its street-side markets. It’s been an interesting place for a lot of years, and older heads than mine remember it as previously being a vibrant Jewish neighbourhood. Look hard, and vestiges of that history can still be found, in an old theatre building, and some of the storefronts. But nowadays, from College Street down to the theatre district, it’s an unruly conglomeration, its southern reaches even including a block or two of leftovers from the fur fashion industry, all dominated by a delicious mix of Asian food markets, specialty stores and restaurants. In late December, it’s still busy enough to provide plenty of street shooting opportunities.

Spadina Avenue, Toronto
Spadina Avenue, just before Christmas 2012.

Noodle Wink
A winking noodle bowl statue.

Although I’ve spent most of my weekdays over the last 25 years downtown, and I’ve walked Spadina and its side streets many times, I’ve never photographed here very much, so shooting off a roll of black and white film was good fun. I even made a detour across parts of the University of Toronto campus, pausing for the alchemical symbols on the side of the chemistry building.

Lash Miller Chemical Laboratories, University of Toronto
I tried to find out which elements these are, and got hopelessly confused. Maybe there’s a legend in the lobby.

All in all, I’m rather pleased with this low-cost black and white film, and might run another roll through the Silette, which is currently loaded with generic, drugstore-brand colour film. In the meantime, my urban exploring has largely given way to the pursuit of pioneer-era cemeteries and other buildings in rural York Region, dating from roughly the same period as the lime kiln I’ve written about before – which I’ll tell you about another time.

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Black and White, Silver and Gold

With the holiday season over, the late winter grant-writing grind in full swing, and spring still separated from me by the inevitable February blahs, I need something shiny to cheer me up. Although, truth be told, a recent visit from fellow Occam’s Typewriter blogger Steve Caplan helped a bit. I can report that the real Steve is completely consistent with his online persona, and as a bonus delivers a good talk on endocytosis.

Professor Steve Caplan - international man of mystery
Steve Caplan, recently.

Also on the topic of cheerful news, Frank recently posted about a favourite shiny metal of his, Palladium, whose worth in this case far exceeds its monetary value. If you go and read his post, you’ll understand why, and learn a little organometallic chemistry as a bonus. I haven’t studied such things for, oh, twenty-five years or so, and I enjoyed his discussion of Ferrocene, which reminded me in turn of my favourite class of compounds from second-year organic chemistry, the Grignard reagents.

Grignard Reaction Mechanism
A generic Grignard Reaction. Image: Wikimedia Commons, public domain.

Backing up a bit to the end of the holidays, after a slightly nervous drive home in what can best be described as a blizzard, I was able to sit down and look through some precious metals of my own – in particular, the silver grains on some old black and white film negatives that my father rescued from a drawer in the downstairs bathroom, which once upon a time doubled as his darkroom.

Winter Hazards
The drive home along Highway 401. “Reduced visibility” was an understatement.

Long ago, like many others of roughly my age, I used Kodak Instamatic cameras, loaded with cartidges of either 126 or 110 format film. The cameras were, in a word, dreadful, but cheap. Neither 126 nor the teeny-tiny 110 version still exist. But I took enough photographs at the time to have an album full of the products of these old plastic boxes, some of which you can see on Flickr (126, 110).

Somewhere along the way, I ordered an even worse camera, from some box-top-collecting, mail-in scheme. This thing, which is sadly long gone, really was awful: all-plastic, tiny, and as I recall, sporting bright yellow panels on its front face. I really wish I still had it now. Fortunately a single roll of negatives still exists, perhaps the only one I ever put through it. What the film was, I can’t say – some kind of unperforated 35mm bulk stock, probably manually spooled. From the negatives, it seems I took it to school and to the cottage, as well as using it around the house.

And what a collection of delightfully crappy pictures I took. The dodgy film, home processing by my father, truly awful, light-leaking, plastic-lensed, zero-technology camera, and almost complete lack of photographic skill, combined with storage for more than three decades before scannning, have all combined to create some photos that can, at best, be described as “vintage”. But there is some gold in those silver crystals, like this wonderful, if off-centre and light-contaminated portrait of my mother on the front steps:

Lomography? Pah!
My mother, circa 1978.

There are others – some blurry shots of a caterpillar, some double-exposed photographs of trees and houses, and a couple of boys and girls I knew at school. But the real surprise for me was a pair of photographs I don’t remember taking, documenting a long-standing piece of Wintle family lore: the day Uncle Mike fished a large and very disgruntled Northern Pike out of the lake at the cottage using, I kid you not in the slightest, a Ronco Pocket Fisherman.

Mike's Pike
Mike Howard, a predatory fish, and Desert Lake, Ontario.

A former Royal Marine deployed in the 1950’s in Southeast Asia, achieving the rank of Major, Mike later became an Officer Commanding his local Marine Cadet detachment. He was also involved with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award program for youth, smoked a pipe, and sported an excellent, military-issue handlebar moustache. Originally from northern England, his accent was thick enough to puzzle my friends. He died in 2009 after a protracted battle with Motor Neuron Disease, several years after Mary passed. Mike was six and a half feet tall and burly, so that fish is a lot bigger than it looks!

Mike and Mary Howard were not biological relatives – Mary was a schoolfriend of my mother’s, and she and Mike were my Uncle and Aunt for as long as I can remember. Living in Crawley, just south of London and convenient to Gatwick Airport, we’d see them on every visit to the U.K. No strangers to the outdoors, they visited us in Canada several times, and joined us on camping trips to northern Ontario, and on one occasion all the way to Nova Scotia. They’d come up to the cottage every time they visited, too.

The day in question, as I recall, was dull and overcast, with choppy waves. Mike had already taken some good-natured ribbing over his fold-out fishing rod, remarkably similar to the modern version, although I recall the handle of his being an unpleasant brown. Casting from the shore, where I’d never caught anything bigger than a rather undersized Largemouth Bass, on about his third cast Mike began jerking the rod as though he’d caught something. I thought he was just joking around – until he hauled that Pike out of the lake, bludgeoning it into submission with a handy piece of driftwood before putting his fingers anywhere near its toothy mouth. In due course, the pike was cooked and eaten, and a bland and bony meal it made.

Awful though that photograph is, it and another adjacent to it on the roll are, as far as I know, the only visual record of this memorable episode from my childhood. I had no idea these were hiding in my parents’ basement. The grains on the film may be made of silver, but to me this find is pure gold.

More photographs from this roll can be found here.

Posted in Canada, Hobbies, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Happy Holidays, you lot

I’ve not much to say at the moment, except “Happy Holidays” to anyone who may be reading. It’s been not even a year since this blog appeared here at Occam’s Typewriter.

I’ll be heading out tomorrow to where my relatives live, to join the rest of the family who are already there. I’m allegedly cleaning the house and doing a few other associated chores, although it should be pretty obvious that what I’m really doing is writing a blog post.

I’ll leave you with a few photographs:

1. Beautiful downtown Toronto – the always popular skating rink at Nathan Phillips Square, in front of Old City Hall. Not long after sunset on my way to the train home.
Skating Time! - Nathan Phillips Square, Toronto


2. A festive holiday (OK, “Christmas”) tree. Slightly let down by a distinct lack of snow.
Christmas Tree, Downtown Toronto


3. A gentleman talking on the phone, silhouetted in front of some pretty decorations in one of the big bank buildings of Toronto’s financial district.On the phone - Christmas 2012


4. And last, some ornaments, as seen through an ancient camera.
Christmas Ornaments - Eaton Centre Toronto 2012


And finally, my best wishes to all of you for an enjoyable holiday season, and a healthy, happy, safe and enjoyable 2013. Me? I’ll be writing another grant. The Perils Of The Season, indeed.

Posted in Photography, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments