Saturday, January 21, 2012

Nutso Gusto

We were pretty lucky. The house is framed on three sides by trees, some of them older than others. A lot of branches fell, but the biggest ones didn’t hit the roof. The yard is a mess, with branches, branch tips and coniferous boughs strewn every which way.

Tuesday night’s gusts were the strongest winds I can remember in a long time. In the six o’clock newscast, our meteorologist had mentioned a freezing rain warning and a wind warning. From the street outside our studio, I did a live report about the weather and, at the end of it, right on cue, my camerman, Luke, tossed a generous handful of snow in my face, after which I pointed out the winds had already begun to pick-up.

Little did I know.

By the time I got home after midnight, the winds had really begun to howl, even roar!

Everyone in the house was asleep as I stood by the back door and watched the pine trees briskly wagging back and forth like soggy spaghetti noodles. The maple trees were terribly restless and their branches clicked and tapped on the windows and outer walls.

I could feel the sudden surging wind shoving against the patio door as branch bits swirled and flew all over the yard.

Looking out the front window I could see distant flashes of green, which I assumed were transformers shorting-out. About half an hour later, I realized the green flashes were lightning, because they were right outside our windows, dazzling and disconcerting.

The next day I learned wind gusts had reportedly topped 100 kilometres an hour on the South Shore of Montreal and had reached close to 100 km/hr in suburbs around the city. Tens of thousand of people lost power and many people had serious property damage.

Through the relentless roaring, we, surprisingly, kept electricity and cable television! I finally crawled into bed at around 2:15 and, though cringing each time gusts screamed their loudest, I continued watching the Australian Open from under cozy thick blankets. It was kind of surreal.

I’ve been putting off cleaning the yard, hoping snow will fall and cover the mess until spring.

All in all, the episode was quite nerve-wracking and leads me to dread with new urgency, the thought of living through a tornado or hurricane.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

HD = Heavy Duty

We've made the switch to high definition! Our newscasts are now in HD, which means anchors, reporters and meteorologists appear in HD! Last night was my first high definition newscast. Somehow, I managed to appear human.

They did tests in the early afternoon in preparation for the switch. A combination of make-up products were applied to our faces and then we were seated in the studio to see what looked most natural in front of the unforgiving HD cameras.

Pixels are picky.

They did my face in several pounds of goop and then had me wash it all off, only to start all over again. When they finally agreed on a sophisticated, 72-pronged plan of attack for my hopeless face, they had me wash it all off again and showed me how to apply it all myself!

I learned that where make-up is concerned, HD stands for heavy duty!

I was instructed to begin with concealer for redness, then foundation over my entire face, spread evenly with my finger. Then, I'm supposed to put a brush in number 35 powder, tap-out excess, put the brush in number 30 powder, tap-out excess and apply to my facial T-zone with a circular brushing motion for optimal blending. Apparently, I'm more like a 33 powder, but since that doesn't exist, I have to mix the number 35 and 30 powders before applying. Whatever. I've been given lip balm and I've been told to moisturize my face every night because the high definition cameras will reveal dry spots!

Last week, I could apply a presentable coat of powder to my face in less than a minute and I was good to go to air!

At the end of the session, I was handed a make-up bag complete with powders, concealer, foundation, lip balm, alcohol and brushes. The hefty ammo bag, equipped to outsmart 1920 x 1080 pixels, appears to be the price of progress!

HD is my friend.

HD is my friend.

HD is my friend.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Trailblazing Weather

Until Thursday, we hadn't any snow to speak of this winter.

Thursday morning, it began with a few very light flurries. By the time the day was over, we had received 16 centimetres, with another 10 centimetres to come Friday. Walking to the train station after the newscast Friday night, I snapped this picture at the corner of Rene-Levesque Boulevard and Mansfield Street.

Normally, Susan designs and excavates the Westie Trail that winds through our backyard on a typical winter day. This winter, I boldly initiated the project and sent the dogs for a romp yesterday and today. Here's one of the wild westies.

Here's the other wild westie.

Westie Trail chief engineer Susan looked out at the trail today and, quite snootily, demanded to know why I hadn't bothered to make the furthest point of the trail circle back toward the house.

This is the woman who, after urging me to park in any available space at the mall, constantly points out all the available spaces we pass that are closer to the entrance!

I've heard there are some people you can't please all of the time but, at least the Westies love me!

Saturday, January 7, 2012


It was late last night when, after our shifts, I asked Alain whether he had any special plans for the weekend. He told me he was working at the television station this weekend. He explained that because weekends are quieter, it allowed him to work on more time-consuming projects. This weekend, he planned to get the new HD television cameras ready to go.

I asked when our station would be making the jump to high definition. He admitted the switch was supposed to have already happened, but there had been problems with preparations to the net pipe.

I admitted that for the life of me, I would probably never understand the concept of digitization; how “ones” and “zeroes” come out of a cable in the wall and produce such incredible high definition pictures on our televisions. For that matter, I admitted, I can’t understand how “ones” and “zeroes” are transformed into the 5783 songs currently stored in my iPod.

Evidently, Alain, who heads our technical department, never shies away from a challenge! He began to try to explain how digitization worked. He explained how sounds were sampled and how digitization was like taking a thousand cross-sections per second of a picture, or sound, and how, once transmitted through fibre optics, the corresponding “ones” and “zeroes” were re-assembled at the other end, to reproduce the same sound, or pictures.

It was midnight when, still thick as a brick, I confessed I was no closer to grasping the concept, although I wholeheartedly appreciate Alain's patience and passion!

When I worked as a feature reporter on the station's morning show several years ago, I scheduled a visit to the local cable company, Videotron, in the hopes their experts could make me, viewers and my son, understand how digitization and the transmission of digital cable signals worked. It was actually Tristan who asked me how cable television worked and I had no clue how to explain the inexplicable! I remember the morning at Videotron as being immensely interesting, but it allowed no further comprehension on my part.

When, a couple of years ago, I was writing scripts for the television show, “Deconstructed”, I researched and documented the functioning of mp3 players. It involved the convergence of new technologies in acoustics, optics, electronics, electrostatics and magnetism. While compressing and squishing songs into mp3 files results in a certain loss of sound quality, that loss is nothing the analog hearing of most human beings can detect and represents a reasonable trade-off for a unit with such incredible portability. A printed circuit handles tasks demanded of the mp3 player and also decodes compressed music files, converting digital signals into analog ones before amplifying them. The printed circuit is made up of integrated circuits or microprocessors, composed of thousands of electric micro-circuits that, with the help of transistors, influence each other. Sequences of "ones" and "zeroes" are transformed into assignments for the player, including the retrieval of a song from the flash memory and the confirmation message that appears on the player's screen. One second of uncompressed stereo music amounts to 1,411,200 bits. The average song is four minutes long, which, on a CD, represents about 40 megabytes of storage space. Compressed into an MP3 file, the same song only uses 4 megabytes. 

All of that right there, unfortunately, for me; pure gobbledygook.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Blubber-Free Zone

What’s a sensitive man supposed to do?

My wife and son are personified cacti; not quite heartless, but not quite human, either.

They will not cry during poignant parts of movies or television shows. Are they lunkheads who don’t understand the significance of emotional moments? I’m beginning to think that’s a strong possibility. Forgotten by evolution, they prefer to mock what they cannot understand.

I, being the sensitive human in the household, am forced to fight back my tears, or face belittlement, humiliation and mockery.

A shame, isn't it?
Here's an example of what I'm forced to endure. Several months ago, when nephew Ryan came over, Susan and Tristan urged him to keep a close eye on my face as we watched the television show, “Undercover Boss”. When did I become a spectacle? They might as well have me pacing inside a cage behind a bronze plaque that reads, “Endangered Sensitive Man”!

If I offer even the slightest hint that I might be getting choked-up, one barely visible bottom lip quiver, Susan and Tristan begin circling like giggling sharks, waiting for the first involuntary spasm or the tiniest telltale secretion from my tear ducts!

Christmas morning, opening presents, Susan gave Tristan and I tickets to a hockey game. We were both pretty stoked! Tristan gave me a cool Expos hat. Then, after having secretly collected pictures and artwork for several weeks, Susan gave me a wonderful, personalized book, documenting Tristan’s development from birth to now. Many of the same pictures also document my incidental development as a father.

I politely flipped through three pages before losing it! This photo clearly captures the moment when the party really took-off.

Well, as soon as I began tearing up, the eye rolls and guffaws came pouring down! Even on Christmas morning, no one's safe! Again, what’s a sensitve man supposed to do?

Quite inexplicably, I've been deposited in a blubber-free zone.


Human emotion can be a wonderful thing, but just try to explain that to the gargoyles.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 - Year of the Intervention

“Do you mind if I look in here?” she asked, almost sweetly, as though she sensed that after being pulled through Bath and Body Works, La Senza, Tristan and Jacob, I was about to bump against my ceiling for shopping tolerance.

“No problem,” I replied, almost sweetly, as though I knew that after being pulled through Bath and Body Works, La Senza, Tristan and Jacob, I had already bumped against my ceiling for shopping tolerance and had begun struggling to suppress telltale symptoms.

I have a brain and I understand. As I have documented repeatedly in these Free Writes blogs, Susan loves to shop! For a couple of days now, she had been itching to wander through a mall and was simply making the most of yesterday’s trip. She had already purchased a couple of sweaters and a bag full of smelly stuff!

We entered the electronics store and, suddenly, as though a powerful tractor beam had latched onto her mind, her zombie-like steps led us straight to the flat screen televisions.

She stood in front of a 46 inch, LED flat screen priced at $899.99 for too long, talking about where she would put it and what components she would attach to it and who would be able to use it and for which shows and games! After several long disconcerting minutes, we would finally wander off to look at a few other things in the store and then, she’d go right back to the same 46 inch television and stand there, longingly.

At one point, with her trembling hand resting on the unopened box, she looked at me and announced, “I’m buying it.” By gritting my teeth, I successfully fought the reflex to blurt out a stream of logical reasons against such an impulsive purchase, but I’m fairly certain some part of my face began twitching involuntarily.

She seemed to manifest a dire need for this 46 inch television. It was kind of eery.

Evidently, the iPhone4S was not enough.

On Monday December 12th, I walked into an Apple store and asked to buy an iPhone4S. The sales clerk asked, “Do you have an appointment?” 
“What for?” I inquired.
“We only sell the iPhone4S by appointment,” stated the clerk.
My mouth said, “Oh”, but my brain screamed, “Are you friggin’ kidding me?”

He informed me that after nine o’clock each night, customers interested in buying the device must log onto the Apple site and schedule an appointment. 

Susan loves gadgets. She adores gadgets and, at times, I fear, may even crave them! This phone is the hottest thing in gadgets and comes with iOS and iCloud, all-new 8MP camera and optics, along with a dual-core A5 chip. It would make a fine Christmas gift.

At work Tuesday, moments after nine o’clock, I dutifully logged onto the store site but was unable to complete the appointment process because of a connection problem. By the time I logged back on, the white 16G version of the iPhone was no longer available.

Wednesday night, I encountered the same problem; connection problem during the final phase. Thursday night, I forgot to log on right after nine o’clock and by the time I did, none of the iPhone4S models were available.

Friday night, the white 16G version was unavailable, although I noticed in one of the edit suites at work that website filters had been installed. Perhaps the filters were the reason I was not able to complete the on-line appointment process from work.

I had begun to consider other gift possibilities.

At home Saturday night, Tristan, who helped finance the venture, tried from his Mac and “boom”, he got an appointment for the next day, the desired model of iPhone, reserved! Exciting stuff! Next, the website had a list of things to bring when collecting your iPhone; they included such suggested items as a passport, driver’s permit, social insurance number, proof of address and a strand of DNA. Gimme a break!

Whatever happened to walking into a store, choosing an item, paying for it and leaving with it in your hand? Honestly, after the hassle of obtaining this phone, I wanted to suggest they change the name of their store to Rotten Apple.

Tristan and I got to the Apple store at 12:30 Sunday afternoon December 18th. A sales clerk named Nancy verified our appointment, typed a bunch of stuff into her iPhone, looked over our ID documents and then, we stood there for several minutes, waiting for an employee to bring it from the back room to the front of the crowded store.

Finally, I had it in my hot little hands. I was fairly sure that when Susan got it in her hot little hands Christmas morning, her craving for a new gadget would have been satisfied for at least a couple of weeks! I was wrong. There we were, New Year’s Eve, she, drooling on the 46 inch LED flat screen and, me, wondering what my next step should be.

I’m thinking intervention.