Monday, July 31, 2006

Back to Work

After three weeks of vacation in five weeks, it's back to the grindstone (back to the calculator anyway). Had a good time and did a bit of everything. Time to get back to a little structure in the daily routine.

I took these two pictures out on a job site where I was verifying they had enough steel in place before pouring the concrete. The nice thing about summer is we get out of the office once in a while.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Wife Voice

I have now been working 9 to 5 (or 8 to 8, 8 to 12, etc) for a decade. One aspect of life in the office that I have found funny is how many guys talk differently to their wifes.

Most everyone has their business voice. Quite straight to the point with occasional playfulness if there is a good relationship. Then many have their friend voice which much more relaxed and playful.

Now the wife voice runs generally runs between two levels. On one level, it is very similar to the friend voice, but maybe more relaxed and familiar. I'm pretty sure that's how I am. Even this is a departure from the normal business phone voice and can be recognized. The other level that I have seen is very lovey-dubey and bordering on pillow talk. The pet names like "my little dove" and "snookums" come out. It has thrown me the few times I've heard it. I don't have a problem with it, but I do find it a bit amusing.

Which brings me to a guy I used to sit next to. It was a very very cramped office. We were a rapidly growing office so people were shoehorned into closets. There were four of us in a office meant for one manager (about 10ft x 10ft). My office-mate was a bit of a know-it-all. Someone who would always correct you if you said something not encyclopedia-correct. The guy you would go to have a complex concept explained, but you would have to save an afternoon of time for the explanation with a triple expresso handy. And on three separate occasions he bored me to sleep about his favorite band, who he said were musically superior to every other band out there except maybe Pink Floyd. Something about simultaneous chord progressions.

Now, he would always talk to his wife in a monotone business voice. We sat so close there was no hiding conversations. So since he wasn't telling a client that they were doing everything wrong, I knew it must be his wife. Well quite often he would have 'discussions' with her that got semi-heated. One day they were having one of these discussions and I tried to ignore it by concentrating on my work. After a while he had stopped talking and I could hear her still going on the other end, then I heard a very gentle *click*. I couldn't believe it. He just gave up trying to prove his point and hung up on her. It was partly the act of the super sensitive hang up, but also who was doing it. I don't know how big of a dog house he was in when he got home, but they were still together when he was let go three years later.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Tour de France

Here are a couple pictures from the Tour de France in July 1995 at Place de la Concorde. I had just arrived for my second tour of duty and it was free, so we went to check it out. Both pictures were taken from where we stationed ourselves. The first picture is of some spectators from our vantage point. The second is the actual race. During our time at our staked out spot there first were a bunch of advertising trucks that circled the route. Then the cyclists came by and did seven laps up and down the Champs Elysee. Other than seeing them wizz by on the cobblestones, we had no real idea what the positioning was in the race.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Montreal's Bad Drivers

In lieu of a post on this site, I've asked the readers of Metroblogging Montreal where the reputation for bad drivers in Montreal comes from. Feel free to comment there or here if you like. I ask because I found driving here to be quite a refreshing change. I thought I might be mistaken, but I'm reminded everytime I return to Chicago. Read the post here.

In other news, time for blogging is becoming more and more difficult to come by. A good part of that may be because I'm sharing the available time with Flickr now. The ideas for posts are piling up, but I just haven't had the time to sit down and flesh them out. Surprisingly our vacation at home has left me with even less time. Guess I'm missing those lunch hours.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Tiffany Ceiling

Here are a couple shots of the Tiffany ceiling at the Marshall Fields Department Store in Chicago. They were taken during a 90 minute mad dash to take as many pictures as possible downtown last month. I managed to get off quite a few decent shots. Check out my Flickr photostream for more. I was surprised at the quality of the top one. I took it holding the camera over my head seven storeys below with not flash. I guess it was pretty well lit.

Sadly, Marshall Fields will be changing to the Macy's name shortly. Yet another institution from my childhood (heck, my parents childhood) will be disappearing. To a degree I guess that's just evolution. Luckily the building and the ceiling will stay intact.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Picasso Explained

When I was growing up in Chicago during the '70s and early '80s, there was one object whose image represented the city on most publicities. It was not the skyline or the gangster history, but the untitled Picasso statue in Richard J. Daley Plaza. Recognizable even by the Blues Brothers.

Picasso never gave an explanation as to what the sculpture is to represent. So speculation has been going on ever since. Take a look at the image to the right. What do YOU see? A baboon? A horse? A bird? Or just a totally abstract shape?

Well a few years ago someone clued me into what it is an abstraction of. Look at it from the view on the left. Do you see anything? This is most likely the angle that Picasso wanted the viewer to observe the sculpture. You can see some elements start to pop out that tell you what it is. But since the sculpture is made of the same Corten steel as the building behind it, it can get muddled.

If we continue around the sculpture, the figure-ground relationship with the shadows should make it clearer.

Look at the photo on the right. Now the shadow gives a clear outline of what this is an abstraction of. The left side of the shadow is a clearly the outline of a face complete with lips, nose, and eye sockets. This is supposed to be a woman due to the long flowing hair that follows from the face over to the back of the head.

Now if you return to the second image, you can see that he included both an eye(s) and nostrils to the image. It is still more difficult to read as clearly as from the backside, but then again it is an abstraction.

Ever since learning this, I have come to appreciate the sculpture much more. Not that I no longer see it as a baboon, but because I really enjoy the abstaction in 3d. It's really a great piece of art in one of the most active plazas downtown.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Downtown Transition

Took this photo in Chicago over Labor Day weekend in 2004. The Lurie Garden and the Pritzker Pavilion of Millenium Park are in the foreground. In the back there is the Standard Oil building on the right, 2nd Prudential on the left, and the John Hancock tower in the middle.

I really like the transition from horizontal in the front to jumbled vertical in the middle to skyscraper vertical in the back.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Construction Holiday

Coming to Montreal there was one aspect of work that was pretty interesting. The last two full weeks of July are the Construction Holiday here in Quebec. Everyone from architects to welders to foremen to even engineers take that time off. They all flee the city to fill up already congested vacation spots inside the provence and abroad.

This has been an interesting change for me. Back in Chicago like everywhere else in every other profession, people are alloted two or more weeks of vacation to use when they please. People take the time at any time during the year. My habit was to take a day or two at a time or at most take a week during Xmas (usually to come to Montreal). Also, everyone is usually alloted sick time which can either be 'use it or lose it' or get paid out at years end for unused time. My old office was the latter so it was a bit of a bonus for myself around Xmas for not getting sick or at least not formally using sick days.

So when I came up for interviews I was told about the holiday schedule. There were a handful of Canadian holidays which half the time would not be the same day as a US holiday. The office I work at said they took four days off for Easter, Lord knows why. But the winter and summer holidays were different. The office actually shuts down for two weeks surrounding Xmas and New Years. How it works is that there are four holidays (Xmas eve, Xmas, New Years Eve, and New Years) during that stretch. You are also alloted six sick days during the year. You are to apply the unused days toward the remaining six days. Any missing time should be made up with overtime. I could gripe that it is forced time off, but it's like getting an extra two weeks of vacation.

As I mentioned, construction comes to a halt for these two weeks during the summer. Offices shut down and heavy equipment is quiet during the two weeks during the year that the almighty buck would say is the best to complete work. Sunshine, less rain. Heat, no snow or freezing temps. Didn't make sense. Must have been created by a union. Again it's forced time off without the choice of when you can take it, but it is nice to be forced to take it all at once. It is quite different than the extended weekends we used to take.

But it's a weird thing when EVERYONE at the office goes on vacation for two weeks twice a year. There is no shifting of responsibilities to cover for people's absense. Clients don't gripe that you're not there. And unless there is some real (life threatening) emergency, you are assured not to get any nagging phone calls. We all celebrate the last day before, share what we are going to do, and have such a peace of mind that it is a real vacation. No nagging guilt can be perceived.

We are now five days into the sixteen days off and it is quite relaxing. No big get-away plans. No major projects. Just hanging out doing knick-knack things around the house and enjoying the family. Pretty fricken cool.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


While in Chicago we encountered two signs I found pretty funny.

This first one we saw while going to pick up the car from the mechanic.Maybe it's just me but I don't think the fish and chicken are very happy after being beheaded and deep fried. Not to mention the Cat Steak.

The second was when we first went to take the car to the mechanic.
I busted out laughing when I saw this. Is it just me or does Gina have something other than Italian ice on her mind. Look at the combination of the tall Italian ice and the two lemons and tell me what you see.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Permanent Resident

Friday, I became a permanent resident of Canada.

But what exactly does that mean. I am not a Canadian citizen....yet. As my wife keeps telling me, I will undergo a blood-maple syrup transfusion when that happens.

During my first three years here in Montreal, I was on a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) professional exchange temporary work permit. Under that visa I was betrothed to work at the place that originally offered me employment and I could not take any educational courses. I was required to obtain a Quebec drivers license along with a social insurance card and a health care (Regie de l'assurance maladie) card. I paid taxes and received benefits like paternal leave just like everyone else. One very important difference was that we had a very difficult time obtaining a mortgage because of my "temporary" status.

In June I obtained an open work permit since my permanent residence application had been accepted in principal. That meant I could work at any place of employment if I so chose. Otherwise, not much had changed. Currently I have no grave reason to change jobs.

So what is different about being a permanent resident. My social insurance number will change so everyone will know that I am not temporary. We should be able to get a better mortgage. And I don't have to keep reapplying for temporary work permits every year. Oh yeah, and I think I have a right to a Canadian pension now. The only way I could lose the permanent residence status is if I am both living outside of Canada and not with a Canadian citizen for three years time out of five.

Citizenship would offer two things as far as I can tell. First I would be able to vote and second I would have a Canadian passeport. Of course I would also be able to call Canadians my brethern and it would be interesting to have that maple syrup running through my veins.

As for citizenship, I'm still not quite willing to give up my US citizenship. I liken it to saying you are disowning your family and joining another. The other family may have similar characteristics and viewpoints, but you grew up with your family and you share the same genetics. So really I'd have to share families. I would become a Canadian citizen if I don't have to renounce my US citizenship. I need to get an clear answer whether both countries accept dual citizenship. So far I have heard both sides. I have two to three years to find out and decide.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Bonne Fête de la Fédération

Happy Bastille Day.

Pictures of the Fete de Nuit at the Chateau de Versailles in Fall of 1995. My second attempt at taking night shots and fireworks. Maybe one of these days I'll take some more.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Schedule Hunters

Can somebody explain to me what the heck is going on?

We got excited earlier this summer when we heard there would be a new reality show called Treasure Hunters. We love the Amazing Race and this looked to be very similar but maybe with a bit more intrigue like the Mole.

So the night of the first episode, we got our times mixed up and missed most of the first hour. Luckily it was two hours , so we didn't miss much. The Yuppies were eliminated. The second week we were out of town so we missed it, but my sister filled us in. She said they also played two hours, but the first one she described sounded like they replayed the second hour we had seen the week before. The second hour had the Brown family eliminated, but the previews showed them still in the race. Made sense since one of the Grad Students were injured and maybe they had to duck out. As for the double episode format, OK, so maybe they play the previous week's new episode along with this week's new episode. Sounds good for people who may miss an episode. It's summer.

So last week we sat down to the first of the week's two hours and consistant with the previous week we saw the episode we missed with the Browns out and the Grad Students injured. But the second hour confused us. Instead of picking up where the last left off, not one team, but two were missing. Did we miss something? Both the Grad Students and the Wild Hanlons were eliminated. Plus the Browns were back in it. It turned out to be a cliff hanger with the Geniuses debating whether to return for Sam and whether the Browns would continue without an injured Keith.

The next day I jumped online and saw what really was supposed to be that week's episode. The Hanlons continuing their inept effort getting themselves eliminated while scuffling with the Browns. I was quite disappointed to have missed it wanting to watch the Hanlons bumbling around and the Browns getting a bit of revenge.

This week, I was hoping they would have things straightened out in order to see a new episode. We didn't see a new one, but did get to see the one we missed. Problem is that the cliff-hanger goes on another week. Actually, in essence, the episodes were shown in correct order this week, episode 3 then episode 4.

But the reason for all this verbage is to find out if it was like this everywhere. Was it just a Canadian thing? This TVGuide blog has the episodes in order by week, but maybe they got previewed and printed them in the correct order. Did everyone see the same episodes we saw last week? Episode 2 then episode 4?

As for the show itself, I wish Anderson Cooper would return to host shows like this. The guy they got is way too stiff and polished. Regarding the teams, I'm pulling for the CIA Flunkies. They seem like normal Joe's with above average intelligence. I'm also a big fan of the Nerds because they remind me of my friends. As for the Hanlons, was I the only one who thought their rebuke of the Browns was more than just because the didn't deserve to be there. I could be reading into it, but their attitude had a bit of bite to it. The Deceive and Pray family is now my team to root against. Let's screw over the other teams then ask God for forgiveness. The preacher seems halfway normal though. But just halfway. The other three (Princesses, Beanheads, and Kens & Barbie) I could take them or leave them. Can I also say that the Grad Students were much cuter than the Princesses.

Lets just hope the network has their act together next week.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


Too-fer Tuesday. Both shots were taken from the same corner (Madison & Michigan) during our trip. With our packed schedule I had all of thirty minutes to run around downtown to take some photos. I managed to get off some pretty good shots, so there is more to come.

If I would have planned this better, the second shot would have been bookended with last Friday's photo. I like the too-fer idea so I think I'll make it a weekly thing.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Just Visiting

It was a bit odd the week or two before the trip back to Chicago. There was this mixture of feelings. Enthusiasm to be going back, but also a bit of sadness realizing we are no longer residents, but only visitors. What I mean is no longer being a insider. Specifically it was about restaurants, bars, and buildings. To know a city is to know the good places to eat or have a drink. Not the fad places, the good places. Unfortunately, that line of business can be fleeting, so usually residents are the ones who know relatively new places other than the stalwarts.

As for the building industry. I came across a post talking about upcoming additions to the Chicago skyline. Of course the major projects I had already heard about. It piqued my interest to catch up on many of the new projects. As I was checking out the website showing current construction photos, it was then I felt the outsider. Project after project were unknown to me. Plus many had been worked on by offices I had worked at or offices where friends or acquaintences do work or had worked at. It was very uneasy. You see, I have been following construction of downtown high rises in Chicago since high school. I have been compiling books about it and studying the history. So I was quite happy when I began working on those buildings when I entered the work world. Becoming part of it all. Now, I'm not terribly sad to not be a part of it today, but I was a bit sad that week before leaving.

The interesting thing is that the morning after arriving, we took a quick drive around downtown. Although I have been out of town, I was able to point out to family members who live there which building was which or what new building is planned for this site or the other. It wasn't much, but that connection to the city felt better.

Here are a few other minor points about the visit.

This visit has been different. More time observing and thinking about how things are different between the two places. I had done that before, but this time many of my previous observations have been documented here on this blog. So my mind was not rehashing many of the same observations. I spent more time looking at the minor details and how they contribute to the whole. Sometimes trying to pinpoint vague perceived differences.

One thing that felt comforting and made me feel like home was being in the presense of a much higher percentage of African-Americans and Latinos. Seeing them and their sub-cultures added to the feeling of being at home. I found this a bit odd because when I first got here to Montreal, I found the homogenaity of the population a bit comforting. Weird isn't it that both situations could have a comforting affect.

Extremism, bigger, more selection (or at least more choices of the same thing). Again it was odd to have a sense of being home with things like 24 hr phamacies, ATM's in every nook & cranny, monster grocery stores. Or the increased materialism. Everyone with the latest gadgets whether they need it or not. A life at full throttle that I'd not necessarily prefer to experience everyday, but comfortable for a short visit like an old sweater. There are pluses to these things along with the negatives.

Lastly the trip reaffirmed how aggressive the drivers are in Chicago. It still makes me wonder how Montreal has gotten a reputation for bad drivers. It's a question I'll post on Metroblogging Montreal in a couple weeks.

As I mentioned last week, there are many other ideas for posts that came out of this trip. So many more observations and comparisions to come.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Rue St-Paul

Taken one evening in late May 2006.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

On the Road

We spent a total of 36 hours driving from Montreal to Chicago and back. That doesn't include the extra 5 hours to western Illinois to visit relatives. That's an awful lot of time for your mind to wander. Here are some other tidbits from the voyage.

The car started making some very scary sounds after only 7 hours on the road. It made through the remaining 11 to get to our destination. During our 7 day stay in Chicago we made 4 trips to the mechanic. The upside is that the final cost was a third of their worst case estimate. The downside is that the original sound we heard before the trip has still not been fixed. At least we made it OK. Time to start car shopping.

Every good parent scoffs at the idea of having a DVD player in the car. Just like they say they'll limit TV in the household. But boy was it practical. It's alot to ask a kid to keep themselves occupied or asleep for a 10-hour drive. To our little one's credit, she was well behaved and played by herself for almost half the time.

Everyone talks about how bad the roads are in Quebec, but the roads seemed just as bad or worse in some places. Quebec may get that reputation because Ontario decided to repave the 30 km stretch just over the border. After that it returns to semi bumpy road. And why can't Quebec pave a brand new asphalt road flat. They just repaved a 20 km stretch just over the border and it was waveyer than any new road I have ever seen.

Speaking of bad roads. What is up with Michigan? The interstate there was as bad as the worst country roads in Quebec. Going through there with an already dicey car made for some nervous moments trying to determine if a noise was the car or the road. My guess why the roads are so bad there is because they experience extreme freeze-thaw being down wind from Lake Michigan. But also because they don't salt the interstate. We drove through there one winter and there were 1 cm patches of ice all over. A five hour drive over a constant rumble strip.

Ontario has a ridiculous practice of placing rumble strips 2 cm over the white line on the edge. Any minor lack of concentration and your car makes one heck of a racket. That's great when you have a car full of sleeping people. Plus your wife jumps up fearful that you have fallen asleep at the wheel. The reason they are so close is because the paved shoulder ends shortly after. Saving a little money for a meter of asphalt. If you did hit that paved edge at 120 km/h, you'd have a difficult time keeping control.

During the whole trip the average speed was about 120 km/h (72 mph). But for some reason that jumped 15 km/h (10mph) or more between Toronto and Kingston. After Kingston everyone slowed back down. I've noticed this before on other trips through that region.

We passed through Jonas Parker Land, but didn't stop to see any islands.

Lastly we stopped for a few hours in Toronto. As an architect, that city is really putting itself on the map. Recently finished buildings by Calatrava, Will Alsop, and Thom Mayne, and ones under construction by Libeskind and Gehry. They have adopted a common practice of bringing in world-renowned architects for big projects instead of keeping things home grown like here in Montreal. I'm all for fostering local talent, but I have to say I really want to go back to Toronto to see all these buildings when they are finished.

Gay Games or Outgames?

I wrote a little piece on this question on Metroblogging Montreal.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Sweet Home

We're back in Montreal. We had a great trip to Chicago with great weather the whole time. Although I was joking about looking for more material for this blog, I easily have half-a-dozen posts floating around in my head. Things are fairly busy at the moment, so it may take a while to get the thoughts written down. Plus I need to organize and upload all the photos. More to come soon.

Monday, July 03, 2006


A couple good friends of ours got married while we were in Chicago last week. A very contemporary ceremony befitting the personalities and character of the happy couple. The concise evening ceremony was presided over by a friend who was also a minister. He gave some very thought provoking prose on what it is to be two people united together. There was perfect weather for the proceedings in the courtyard of the Smart Museum on the campus of the University of Chicago. Plus there was good food and ample beverages fitting of a gathering of architects. Though we spent more time reminiscing about our inebriated histories together than creating new ones.

Socially, it was quite an evening. We caught up with many friends and aquaintences who we had not seen for years. Even met some of John's older friends, including Eric who moved recently from Japan to New York and also writes a blog. We may make a trip down there this fall. Events like these are quite interesting in that if it is your event you get to gather all the people important to you. If you are a guest, you get to meet all the important people of the couple. We spent so much time talking, we only got on the dance floor once. And they had a really good band.

It's hard to believe that we met John & Karen almost ten years ago and it has been eight since I went to work elsewhere. I also realized at the reception that I have been a 9 to 5'er for ten years now. The other thing is that although I only spent two years working at my first job, I have more friends from that time than the other eight years. Maybe it was because we were all newbies starting out, but I really think it is more the character and the shared interests that have contributed to the enduring friendships.

Lastly, I took this picture from my seat during the reception. After I took it, I realized it was from almost the spot where they exchanged vows. I thought is was quite interesting how the light played on the leaves close to sunset and viewed from below.