Papillons en Liberté

Today Rosa, Lemin and I went to the Butterflies Go Free (Papillons en Liberté) show at the Montreal Botanical Gardens (Jardin Botanique de Montréal).

Rosa and her mother Lemin
Rosa and her mother Lemin

The Botanical Garden has a series of long connected greenhouses for their indoors exhibitions. Each contains a different ecosystem, such as tropical, subtropical climates, bonsai treesdeciduous forest and desert. There was also a display of carnivorous plants like Venus Flytraps, Lady’s Slipper orchids and Pitcher plants. Trés Cool!

At each end we’re larger greenhouses (the Main Exhibition Greenhouse and the Fern Greenhouse). The Fern Greenhouse housed hundreds of moths. Some were feeding on orange slices. Most were sleeping, as moths are nocturnal. At the far other end of the was the Main Exhibition Greenhouse containing the butterflies. There were hundreds multi-coloured butterflies flying through the building. I could not get any photos of the butterflies flying, because they darted around too fast and too chaotically. I could only get photos when they were standing on a leaf or branch or eating.

Afterwards, Rosa and Lemin went shopping on Saint Laurent Boulevard. I found a quiet place where I could write.

We met up for dinner at Casa Minhota.

Photos are posted at

Day of Photography

Today, I had the pleasure of spending almost the entire day taking

Carp Airport
Carp Airport


The day started early with a photoshoot organized by Hagen Hohn (graduate of Harry Nowell’s Professional Photography Program) through the BMW Car Club of Ottawa. It was at the Carp Airport. Hagen started with a 30-minute overview of the techniques, issues, tips and theory of photography, leaning towards the information necessary for taking picture of cars. This was one of my objectives I set last year.


My car, sadly, was quite dirty and I didn’t have enough time last night to clean it up. I tried to wipe off some of the grime with a cup of water and a paper towel, but that only seemed to smear the dirty around. I had to choose angles that would not show the dust around the wheels and lower bodywork. I also have the winter tires mounted, so my BMW is not as photogenic as I would like.

As the morning progressed, the representative from the Carp Airport opened one of the hangers so that we could take pictures of BMWs posed with an airplane. He was looking to get some shots he can use for his own promotional materials.

At noon, I had to leave and go to my next location, the Les Petits Ballets studio in Bell’s Corners. I was asked to take some photos of the rehearsals for the upcoming Beauty and the Beast performance (Dec 11th at Centrepointe Theatre).

Les Petits Ballets
Les Petits Ballets

These photos were a little better than some I have taken at the same location in the past. I still have lots of room to improve. This was yet another photo objective from last year.

I personally find it hard to get a good shot in the studio in the Nepean Creative Arts Centre. The walls are a mishmash of colours (white walls, red bricks, with blue doors), distracting objects (bright mustard coloured exercise balls) and all of the emergency lights and exit signs are just above the heads of the girls. There is also no good place to stand back to get a better perspective, especially when the room is full for the rehearsals.

The photos will be used in articles for the local community newspapers.

After the studio work, I went for a nature walk around the Nepean Equestrian Park. The weather was so nice, so I wanted to soak up as much Vitamin D as I could before winter. I used my iPhone and AMOD AGL3080 Phototracker to record how far I walked (it was 5.5km).


I started at the former Nortel campus. In the paths around the campus leading to the Equestrian Park, I came across a deer. I put on my zoom lens and tried to stalk closer. However, the dry leaves on the ground put the kibosh on that – the deer could hear me a mile away.

I continued along the paths and looped around the park. I saw many more deer, but none that I could get a good shot – there was often a tree or fence in the way.

In one open field in the park, I stopped and watched 7 deer and three wild turkeys.

By the time I made it back to the Corkstown Road, my knees were hurting, so I ambled back to my car.

In the evening, we had a nice gathering with friends to celebrate Rosa’s birthday.

Thoughts on STS-132

I’ve been thinking about what I learned from attending the STS-132 Atlantis launch on May 14th.

1. I learned that if I rent or borrow equipment, I should read the manual before I need to use the equipment. During the launch, when I was using the Canon 100-400mm, I did not set the correct focus length switch. This meant that when the camera needed to refocus, it would hunt for focus over the entire focal length. If I had set the switch correctly, it would have only used the longer focus lengths and should have focused faster.

2. Next, reviewing the photos later, I realized I should have borrowed or bought a UV lens filter, to cut down on the haze. All the launch photos have a bluish tinge.

3. Always remember to bring the lens hood if you have one. When I visited the Kennedy Visitors Complex, I forgot to bring the lens hood for the Canon 10-22mm. It didn’t greatly impact any photos but it could have – always be prepared.

4. Now, about the launch itself. As many people on the Internet have noted, it is very hard to both experience a launch and take pictures. I did my best to do both, as I only had one opportunity. If I had more chances to see a launch, I would go once to experience it, and once to try capturing the experience with my camera.

I was able to watch Atlantis as it was nearly at the official definition of outer space (roughly 100km), which was after the 4 minute point of the ascent to orbit. And as I looked up at the vehicle, two thoughts came to mind.

5. First, the planned height of the SpaceShip Two flights of Virgin Galactic will be about that height. It’s only a third of the height of the typical orbit of the International Space Station. And it doesn’t really seem very high, when you can see the shuttle attaining that in such a short period of time. You can see still the shuttle as it passes that height.

Graph of Altitudes
Graph of altitudes

6. Secondly, it absolutely stunning how thin the atmosphere of the Earth really is. As noted above, the official edge of space is 100km. All of the air that is used by every human being and every animal and every plant that ever lived on this good planet, all used that thin veneer of air. Just 100km of air, spread across the face of the Earth. That’s all there is.

And that’s where all of the air pollution goes. It’s not a limitless sky. It’s very very finite. To a single person, it seems incomprehensibly unending, but when you think about the output from 6.8 billion people, it seems very limited. All the cars of the world, all the planes, ships and lawn mowers and leaf blowers and electric generation plants – they all empty into that fragile sheet of air.

I worry about air pollution (and water pollution) and global warming. Even if a person, against all evidence, does not believe that man is contributing to the problem of global warming, certainly they cannot deny that air pollution is a problem that is created by man.

And I think about the entire trip. I flew down to Florida, which directly contributed to air pollution. I watched the shuttle, which uses aluminum-based material in the Solid Rocket Boosters. The Shuttle Main Engines (SSME) burn hydrogen and oxygen and do not pollute directly, but it took a lot of energy to create that volume of liquid hydrogen and oxygen, and another big electrical bill to cool those liquids and keep them cool. There are the transportation costs of moving everything around – the solid booster segments come from Utah, the external tank comes from Louisiana.

I’m scared sometimes that we have already passed the point of keeping our planet useful to future generations. I worry that the air pollution, global warming, pollution of our water, dispersion of all the man-man chemicals (in pesticides, medicines, leeching buried plastics, huge oil spills, garbage dumps, etc) has already put enough of our junk into the biosphere that the Earth will become uninhabitable in some distant future.

I do what I can to reduce my personal impact, but I know I am not doing enough.

Long Exposure Photography

This evening, I joined a group from the RA Photo Club at the Mackenzie King Estate in Gatineau Park. We were there to learn about night photography and painting with light.

I met the group at the parking lot of the RA Centre. From there, we convoyed to the estate. I unloaded all the equipment I brought and put the spare battery in my inside coat pocket – coldness decreases the capacity of a battery – and headed into the estate grounds.

I have not been to the estate before. William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s Prime Minister during World War II, had a long interest in architecture, and he brought examples to his summer residence in the Gatineau Hills. There are various imported ruins on the grounds of the estate.

When I arrived at the first ruin, everyone was trying to take pictures of the same thing, and I felt it was too crowded. We started the evening learning to paint with light. Mount the camera on a tripod and set the exposure to be a few seconds. Focus by using a flashlight, although apparently a red laser pointer also works, and then set the focus to manual (so that the camera wouldn’t try to refocus). Trigger the shutter with an external shutter release cable (so that the camera doesn’t shake) and then while the shutter is open, use the flashlight again to paint the area with light.

A few of the experienced people in the group also brought coloured gels for their flashlights to add colour to the photo.

I wanted to find an area that had fewer people, so I went further into the grounds and found a few interesting locations where I could experiment. Working by myself, I was able to figure out how to effectively paint with (a flash)light. After each attempt, I would check out the results on the back of the camera and then try again.

I followed a small group to another piece of architecture with columns. In a smaller group, I could get in and take a few pictures too. With an open shutter, you can take pictures while someone else is painting – i.e. sharing their light.

Painting with Light and Stars
Painting with Light and Stars (f/2.8, 17mm, 20s, ISO800)

I broke off from that group to work on some more experiments on my own. I am very pleased with the results – the evening clouds parted enough to see the stars.

Lastly, I set the tripod down in a field, pointed it towards Polaris, and tried to get star trails. The first few (shorter) attempts were ok, so I set up for a much longer exposure – 30 minutes. I was glad to have my iPhone – it gave me something to do while I waited – play Angry Birds and surf the web. The trick to good photos of star trails is to include something in the foreground. In my case, I used the tall trees around the field.

Star Trails
Star Trails (f/8, 17mm, 32 min, ISO 200)

Around 10pm, it was starting to get cold and late. After the last long exposure for star trails, I packed up and headed home. I am very satisfied with the results and want to try it again sometime. I’ll go to Henry’s and see what sort of coloured gels they have.

A Walk in the Woods

I wanted to go for a walk while the weather was still so nice. I saw on Google Maps that there was a nearby wooded area called Heart’s Desire Park. I wanted to see what it was like and maybe take some pictures.

When I arrived, there was no designated parking so I parked next to the (locked) gate. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to park there, as the vehicle gate to the entry road was locked, there were no signs, and no one else was around. I didn’t want anything to happen to my car.

Purple flowers
Purple flowers

I entered through a gap in the fence and walked up a vehicle path into the woods. Soon, I could hear others in the park, walking dogs or with their children, so I relaxed a little about where I had parked my car.

At one end of the paths was a waterfall over a small (1 metre) dam. I stopped and tried to take longer exposure photos of the water, try for that silky look from the moving water, but it was too bright (water is a near-perfect mirror for the sun). I could not get the correct exposure even at f/22. To the look I wanted, I would need a neutral density filter.

Tree stump
Tree stump

I walked along the banks downstream and realized that this was the same stream that I wanted to explore from the kayak a week ago. I tried some more longer water exposures in the shaded areas but it was still too bright.

I walked down to the far end of the park, closest to the Rideau River before turning back.

As I was walking back, I noticed three blue jays who were making a lot of noise and seemed to be flying from tree to tree in an unusual way. I stopped to see what they were doing. When I looked up at where they were flying, I saw the biggest owl I have ever seen in my life. It was HUGE! The blue jays were flying at it, but it just sat there unperturbed trying to sleep away the day. The owl must have been 40cm tall. It was the size of a small eagle.

Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl

I was thrilled to see such a huge owl. I’ve only seen a few owls before, possibly because of their nocturnal feeding.

I left after a few minutes of staring up and taking lots of photos. I wish I had a better lens or brought my tripod. With the cheap Canon 75-300mm (non-IS), the photos look blurry (ISO 250, 1/80s, f/5.6, 300mm focal length). The camera shake is noticeable – the shutter speed should be kept as the inverse of the focal length. In this case, I should have used 1/300s for the shutter, but I could not open up the aperture enough to get the correct exposure. I should have also increased the ISO as well, but the higher I go the more noise I would get. A trade-off: more noise versus more blurring. Sigh.

When I got home, I looked up owl references on the internet. The blue jays were performing a tactic called “mobbing“, which they do to draw attention to a predator. That behaviour was what caught my attention. After lots of research, I discovered that I had seen a Great Horned Owl. The Great Horned Owl is also known as the Tiger Owl due to the feather patterns. They are an average of 55cm tall and have average wing-spans of 124cm – WOW! They can weight 1.4kg.

Seeing the owl really made my day.

Summer is Ending

A Gaggle of Geese
A Gaggle of Geese

I went for a long walk this evening. I need the exercise. As I was walking along, overhead I saw the first gaggle of geese flying in a V-formation, preparing to fly south. It’s been been 5 months and 2 days since the geese first arrived back in Ottawa, and now it’s time for them to leave again.

Summer is ending.


Today there was an Ericsson BBQ on the fields in front of the former Nortel campus. There was great food (too much food!), lots of people, some volleyball and a soccer tournament.

Ericsson BBQ
Ericsson BBQ

After the lunch, door prizes were given out. I sat down on the grass while the winners were randomly drawn.

The earth started to vibrate. It started like a truck passing along Carling Avenue, or like a plane taking off, but there was no planes or trucks around. Everyone started looking around to see what was the cause before it sank in that it had to be an earthquake.

The ground vibrated strongly. It was not like the ground was moving up and down or side-to-side. It was like a very strong vibration deep below. As the shaking continued, I tried to take in all of the experience. It was exhilarating. The earthquake lasted about half a minute. There was no sound as we were in the middle of a grass field and there was nothing to move around and cause noise.

Reading about the quake later, I found that it was strong enough to break windows in the Ottawa City Hall, break chimneys around the city, and it destroyed a bridge closer to the epicentre. The epicentre was just over 50km from the former Nortel campus. It was an magnitude 5.0 quake. It was the largest quake to be felt in Ottawa in 65 years.

About 10 years ago, when I lived in the Glebe, I was awoken by smaller quake. I had a glass jar of change on a table in my bedroom. It was the coins shaking in the glass jar that woke me up.

There are forces and powers in nature that are awesome and humbling if you spend time thinking about it.

Visiting Cocoa Beach

The day after the launch and I decided to stay in Cocoa Beach with Janice and Richard and relax.

Janice and Richard on their pontoon boat
Janice and Richard on their pontoon boat

In the morning, they took me out in their pontoon boat. It was really nice to be out on the water. It reminded me of being back in Nova Scotia. We motored past some really nice homes along the waterways. Along one of the waterways, we saw some dolphins swimming along! It was awesome! I asked Janice if people can swim in the water, but she advised against it because of the alligators. Oh, right. I forgot about that. It’s so strange to live in a place where you are at risk of being eaten.

As we cruised along, we saw a few pelicans, although not as many as Janice and Richard expected. Later, as we were returning home, we came across a grove of trees that were full of brown pelicans. They look so odd roosting like that – perched up on the branches but with big webbed feet.

Once we docked back home, we went out to the beach, eating lunch at Coconuts on the Beach.

Later in the afternoon, I went out on my own to do some more sightseeing. First I drove to the famous Ron Jon Surf Shop. It’s open 24-hours, although I can’t see that there is much business for selling surf boards at 2:43AM.

Janice suggested I go to the Dinosaur Store. I’m not much of a shopper, and don’t have a huge interest in dinosaurs, but it was close to Ron Jon’s so I went. I am very glad I did go. They had many fossils for sale, ranging from recent post-Ice Age artifacts stretching back into the unimaginable past. They had plant, animal and sea creature fossils. After looking around for at least 30 minutes, I finally decided to buy a fossil. It’s a 280 million year old fossil fern. I just stared at it, trying to imagine what it was like then (Permian Period), and then what it would be like in another 280 million years. It occurred to me that humans would not be around then – our species would evolve just as much as we evolved from the animals who would have feasted on this fern.

Flora in the Lori Wilson Park
Flora in the Lori Wilson Park

I bought the fossil because it really made me think. And also as a tool to think about my own life. Work has been so incredibly stressful in the past few months, it occurred to me that no matter what decisions I make, good and bad, none of it will matter in 300 million years. So why should I get so stressed?

Finally, I went to Lori Wilson Park, a maritime hammock. It’s a 32-acre area of what this part of Florida looked like before people started building. It was also very relaxing, and deep in the walking paths it is much cooler than the hot Florida sun on the nearby beach.

Janice, Richard and I finished the day having BBQ Ribs at Sonny’s Real Pit Bar-B-Q.

A walk in the woods

Today I took a walk in the woods. It was so peaceful and calming. Work has been going so very badly with a huge stress load. So this was a much needed stress relief.

I went to the NCC green space on Slack Road. This is a mostly evergreen forest, so there is little underbrush, and the paths are carpetted with the needles that deaden the sound of foot steps. It was so quiet. There were only a few people around, less than 10 in the 90 minutes I was in the forest.

In one area is swampy, and the frogs were surprisingly noisy. At first, I thought it was a flock of birds, as I have not heard frog calls that sound like that. It must be a different species of frog than I am used to hearing.

The sun was shining down through the trees in great shafts of light. I stopped at one spot, set down my camera bag and played around taking self portraits with the timer on the camera. A good self-portrait is one of my photography goals.

Self Portrait

Here are two other photos that I took that I felt looked interesting.

One in Every Crowd

Zen Bench
Zen Bench

Duck, Duck, Goose

Today the first goose pair returned to the Nortel campus. I saw them this evening.

In the morning, I saw a pair of mallard ducks.