Saturday, September 30, 2006

September Class Trips

Two more posts have been added to my European Memoir blog. They encompass two trips. One to the chateaus of the Loire Valley and the other a day trip to Rouen and Honfleur in the Normandy region. These trips were largely uneventful story-wise and they are largerly about the places visited. This is probably because I spent much of them running around on my own. There are a few interesting people stories coming up in posts of the October travel break.

Much more coming soon.

Friday, September 29, 2006


Taken at Navy Pier in Chicago in July 2005 at the same time as this photo and this one.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

We Are a Community

I was contacted last week about a post I had written for Metroblogging Montreal by Cecilia Jamasmie, an editor for Orato, an online journal "True stories from REAL people." She was wondering if they could repost one of the posts I had written about the Dawson shootings in their journal. I checked it out and Ed's article had already been posted. I procrastinated over the weekend and gave her a response early this evening (Tuesday). And it was up in a couple hours.

Rereading the post I'm kinda surprised that I had written it. Not for content, but that I managed to convey what I had on my mind fairly well. I had wondered if I may have written it telling people to act instead of suggesting. Rereading posts and realizing that they did say what I wanted to has happened before on this blog also. And seeing something that I had written on something that resembles a newspaper was also a bit odd. As I've said before, I was good in math and science in school, not english and writing. It was the subject that kept me out of 'honors' class. So whenever these recent recognitions by other bloggers or newspapers comes along, it's quite a pleasant surprise.

I'd also like to take a second and thank all of you readers. I enjoy writing this stuff and it's a bonus to see that you like some of it too. And thanks also to those of you who have linked to this blog. I keep coming across blogs that reference back here that I had not known about. I'm flattered and I apologize for not linking back. To tell the truth, I've been bad at creating the links back when I find them. Then I have trouble finding them again. Feel free to drop me a line. I'm interested in reading more of what you have written.

Also regarding their reprinting, I don't know if I agree with the title they chose. I didn't really talk about guns or fear in the article. It was meant to bring the focus back on what we could do in a positive way. I could have spruced up the original title "A Concerned Parent" to be more newspaper worthy. As it was, I kinda questioned whether "parent" should be in the title since "community" was the major subject. I'll ask if they can change it. And they reprinted my juvenile bio that I created for Metroblogging. I was trying to be funny and now I look like I have no credibility. I guess it's just another kick in the pants to grow up. You're not a teenage goof off anymore. So nothing more than dry serious monotone recollections from here on out.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Inner Court

A photo of the inner court of the Chateau de Versailles taken in 1991.

The first time I lived in Versailles, I was fortunate enough to live near the gardens and the chateau. Our walk to school with a minor detour took us through the gardens and out the front gate of the chateau. In the photo, we came out of a passageway on the left and walked diagonally toward the camera. It feels surreal to have experienced a place like that on a daily basis.

I've been scanning slides and negatives like mad. Currently I'm scanning pictures from our October travel break through northern Europe and I'll get back to Paris and Versailles photos after that. At this rate I will have enough pictures scanned to post one on Flickr every day for a few years. As my wife jokes, that's my Japanese side coming out. I take a lot of photos when we travel, or at least I try.

Sunday, September 24, 2006


Our car now has 225,000 km (140,000 miles) on it. And over the summer we had quite a few repairs done on it. We are hoping to stretch it until next summer, but in the possibility that it doesn't make it, we have been casually researching what new cars are available and what meets our needs. So we have been checking out all the other cars on the road and making mental notes.

Well, the other day a kinda cute thing happened. I got home and my wife says "Hey, I saw this one car that looked pretty nice. It's called a 'Tucksen'." I was kinda surprised that I hadn't heard of it before since I had already looked at pretty much every car in our price range available in Quebec. She continued "Yeah, it's a Hyundai I think." Then I figured it out. It was the Hyundai Tucson.

I still kid her about it, but it's true that Too-san is an odd way to pronounce Tuc son. So now it has become another pet name that I have given various vehicles and car lines. Here are some others:

Jag you are
Merk eh deeze (I just like pronouncing it different)
Innie (as in belly button)
Fix Or Repair Daily
Doo doo scooper
Horde Extorter
Sneeze on Entrails

I also say life is more exciting everytime I see a Montana and pronounce Pacifica with a Catalan lisp. Yes, I can get pretty dorky sometimes.

Do you have any others?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Billy Loves Candice

Wow! What a bomb! I was starting to think shows like Survivor and the Amazing Race were falling into a pattern with the same personality types and the same interpersonal conflicts, but last night's revelation on Survivor: Cook Islands was a first. This is where I am supposed to tell those who haven't seen it of a spoiler alert.

The first hint of something odd was when after the immunity/reward challenge had been completed, Billy had an exchange with a couple women on the Raro tribe.

Candice: "I feel really feel bad for you guys."
Billy: "I'm next."
Candice: well "We love you."
A slightly stunned and earnest Billy replied "I love you too."

OK, that was weird. Everyone seemed to go on with what they were doing. For the Aito tribe, that was preparing to vote of Billy having just thrown the immunity challenge.

So we get to tribal council and Jeff is working the Ozzy vs. Billy angle when Billy has his revelation.

Billy: "I'm playing the game. That is what I came here to do. My prize isn't even... the million dollars. My prize was... that I... I fell...I...I...fell in love in this game. Love at first sight. Her name is Candice. And in between..." (girls bust out laughing)

Jeff: (stunned look and gesturing) "Candice... from the Raro tribe"

Billy: "Yeah. After the last challenge we sorta mouthed the words 'I love you' to one another. So that was my prize. My prize was her." (Jeff is now holding back laughter)

Jeff: "I don't think I've never heard anything that surprised me more than what you just said. And I want to be respectful because I don't know what happened. But what would she base feeling the same way you feel... on?"

Billy: "I think it's just ya know love at first sight. I think it's just a..a..a..a rapport thing."

Jeff: "So you're absolutely sincere right now."

Billy: "I'm dead serious."

Definitely one for a "Best of Survivor" special. Now I want for the season to be over to see Candice's reaction when Billy proposes.

Tiffany Stair

This is another shot that I took in Chicago this past summer. I'm not a big fan of Tiffany, but his work was some of the more interesting objects to take picture of during my 30-minute mad dash to take as many pics as possible. I've already posted other pics from that photo-quickie here, here, and here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Irish Samurai

Some of you may have wandered over to my photostream on Flickr. Over there, I go by the moniker "The Irish Samurai". You may have wondered where that came from, so I thought I would explain.

It was a nickname I came up with for myself back in high school. My sister and I were having fun sending in personal ads to The Reader, a weekly newspaper in Chicago. Like most people we were sending in vague <25 word submissions on 3x5 index cards (this was before internet) that were anywhere from slightly philosophical to random thoughts. The Irish Samurai was one of the pseudonyms underwhich I sent some of my submissions. Seeing as how many people come up with pseudonyms for Flickr accounts (David the Pretender, Leonzerider) I thought I would resurrect that name.

Basically the name comes from my two lines of ancestry that are most prominent. I'm a redheaded kid with a Japanese last name. Since I am also a quarter Irish, the name seemed to fit. I look vaguely Irish and all the ID's in my wallet say I'm Japanese. So that's it. That's the story. Plain and simple. No illusions of being military nobility in County Kerry.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Chaotic Order

A shot I took early this summer of the Victoria Jubilee Bridge which connects Montreal to the South Shore (and vice versa). I was struck at how such an orderly and fairly simple structure could look so chaotic at certain angles.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Grand Service

There are some people you come across in life who make you believe in the human spirit. Jerry, our mechanic, is one of those people.
For over thirty years our family has been taking our cars for Jerry to repair and maintain. It was back when my father worked at the Zenith plant on the west side of Chicago. The Grand Service Center was within walking distance so he began taking our cars there to be worked on during the work day. And although my father's workplace changed over the years, we continued to take our cars there. Even though it was out of the way with no convenient access to expressways or public transportation. There was reason for that.
We had the pleasure/misfortune of needing to return to Grand Service during our last trip to Chicago. The car started making horrible noises less than half way to Chitown and we desperately needed to patch it up for the return trip. We needed it done right and as cost efficient as possible, so we took it to Jerry.

So who is Jerry? He's a Vietnam Vet who now runs his own car repair shop with his wife handling the front office. He gives you the straight story about your car. Complete with examples of other times he's seen that or a similar problem. Sometimes they were last week, sometimes years ago. He always gives you back the parts he replaces so he can show you why they needed to be replaced. He walks you through what he has done to determine what the problem is. He showed us how bad the fuel filter was. He drained it and showed us that since you could not blow through it, the filter was finished. He genuinely wants for you to have a correctly running vehicle. Heck, he would even give you stuff for free if his wife as not watching out so that they make what little profit they make. It is the kind of service you would easily pay double if he would accept it. And he's always looking out to get you the best parts for the price. If he relocated to a more convenient location or to a better neighborhood, he could easily make much more money.
But that's it. He's a fixture in the neighborhood. He could never leave. Even though the character of the neighborhood has not changed for the better, he is still there to look out for all his old customers and their now grown up kids. He checks on the elderly and watches out for them. He knows all the local policemen which can be a rarity in the city nowadays.

Jerry is a talkative fellow. No trip to his shop was a short one. He always had a story to tell. And at times it was the same story. We made three trips to his shop and he told us the same story twice. It's not fair to call them stories because they are recollections. He told us how he had convinced an old customer of his who is now elderly that the grocery store was giving away free food. In reality, him and his wife were getting items two for one and giving the second one to her. She's on a fixed income and barely uses her utilities. No TV, only radio with the heat down to 50 degrees in winter. But that is just an example of so many stories he has told us over the years. There is always the latest car story, the latest neighborhood news, or just reminicing about how it was to fix cars in the old days.

It makes you feel good to know that good-hearted people like that are out there and hope that you can someday be the same.

Friday, September 15, 2006

And More Thoughts on Dawson

I have written a post over a Metroblogging Montreal with even more of my thoughts on the recent shooting at Dawson College.

This is one of the best aspects of blogging. Sharing eyewitness accounts and thoughts on tramatic events such as this.


This is some artwork that someone had done in a knothole along a major Montreal street. I pass by it when I walk to the local commercial strip during my lunch hour. The photo may be deceptive. It is about two feet tall. I thought it was a pretty clever idea.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

More thoughts on Dawson.

So many thoughts... where to begin.

Since yesterday I've been listening to 940 News on the radio constantly while I'm in the car. I listened for over an hour this morning due to the all the traffic. I normally don't like talk or call-in shows, but there is good information and viewpoints to be heard after an event like this. Even if it means wading through so many other viewpoints that seem off subject or biased. Here are a couple examples.

One person called in and blamed it on long waiting times for psychological care and the long waiting times for medical care in general. When the host pointed out that the shooter had no previous record of trouble and had not asked for psychological care, the caller suggested it was because the waiting times frighten people away from seeking care. The host politely moved on to the next caller.

Another caller stated that it was due to the internet and video games. He also stated that heavy metal music is getting a bad rapp. He's in his forties and has been listening to it all his life and he's a well adjusted person. I agree with him that a video game based on Columbine is a ridiculous idea and should banned. I also agree that point the finger at music is not the silver bullet. But I didn't see eye-to-eye on the internet. The host pressed him on this subject and he explained that he hates the internet and has only limited access to it. He said he didn't understand it. It's an interesting point because it always seems to be the things that are less understood that the general population points the finger at.

Another topic brought up was that someone should have seen it coming by reading his blog or looking at his photo page. They could have notified the authorities before. I'm not so sure about that. First, take a look at his photo page (if it is still available). In my eye, nothing screams that this is a violent person. It comes across as posturing. There is no shortage of people out there that do this, but should we investigate everytime somebody makes a threatening gesture in a photo or on the street. Yes, he has many pictures where he does this, but it does follow along with punk/goth subculture. And some of the captions are less than threatening. On a picture where he has his fist cocked to punch the camera, the caption says:"I'm gonna punch you... kidding, but I'll hug you (and poke you in your belly) hee hee" On another where he has his trench coat on and holding the rifle, the caption says "Where are my boots?" since he is in his socks. I'm only pointing this out because with my untrained eye the joking around takes away from the suggestion that he is about to go out and do what he did. There's not enough for me to notify the authoritied immediately. But again, I am not trained to recognize these things.

Ben at the Instigator brought up the topic of policing the blogosphere. The morning radio also asked if administrators or fellow readers could check their patrons to guard against it. But this was the case even before the internet. The internet is no different that the real world, it's just a new extension of society. People have missed the signs when they work alongside someone. It has always been, "Johnny always seemed a bit depressed and he had those satanic tattoos, but I never thought." That's the thing. At what point does characteristics like those suggest someone capable of something like this. And if we point out to authorities everyone with some of those characteristics, we would become a paranoid society.

I'm not suggesting these types of events are not preventable. Nor am I saying we can prevent all of them. But these knee-jerk silver bullets are not the answer. Vigilance, keeping our eyes open and informed would be the best route. We may all be a bit jumpy for a while like after 9-11, but common sense needs to be taken if any measures are taken to try to prevent something like this happening again.

Lastly, as far as fortifying our schools. I think this is the wrong approach. As an expert on the radio stated, it only provides a false sense of security. He suggested the best line of defense was for teachers and parents to get to know the children they interact with. Maybe those of us in the work world can heed the same advice. Get to know those around you. Talk to that quiet guy in the corner. Or even out in public. There are angry people out there, don't let them get to you and don't propogate that anger. It can be a vicious circle. Show courtesy and kindness in the face of aggression. If someone is less than polite, let them go. Water off a ducks back. Or even when you don't encounter anger or aggression. Everyone walks away feeling good about each other.

OK, enough rambling. Back to work.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Dawson College Shooting

For my readers who are not in Montreal and do not read Metroblogging Montreal, fellow author, Jay, has written his first hand account of the events. Quite an amazing recollection.

Personnally, I don't know what to say about the events. For some reason I feel quite empathetic to what he went through or the other witness recollections and I can't put my finger on why. Is it because they sounded so similar to those at Columbine? Or some other experience? I don't really know.

And I also have that yearning to know more about the shooter just to try to figure out Why?

Why We Fight

The other day I was in the video store and I came across a title that blork had recommended. Why We Fight is a documentary about the creation and propogation of the military-industrial complex, the American war machine.

I have to say it was a hard movie to watch. Why? I'm an American and the movie furthered my feeling that capitalism will and is destroying the country. It is happening too often that citizens are looking out for financial gain over social and moral values. And this applies to so many aspects, not just the military. One point was made that the machine of unilateral war by the US is nothing new. And that the removal of a few select people will not change something that has become so ingrained over the past half century. I find that thought disturbing since many of have been thinking the national outlook would change after the next presidential election. I love my country, but I worry it will go the route of the Romans.

I enjoy learning what is given by this and other works like (Fahrenheit 911, Fast Food Nation, Bowling for Columbine, or Supersize Me.) But it is disheartening to see people bypass concern for their fellow citizens to make a buck. And yes, I realize that no one piece of information should be trusted to be unbiased. But something says to me that much of what was said and suggested holds truth. I only hope that this tend toward materialistic concerns can be reversed.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Uncle Billy

He's a bit old to be called "Billy the Kidd". Taken at the Granby Zoo in July 2006. I like the depth of field, but I could have done a better job with the background. Maybe if I had moved to the right and used the trees as a backdrop.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Europe Revisited

Last winter I started another blog called European Memoirs. So far, I have spent a total of 19 months in Europe between living there and a couple trips. So I thought it would be best to document those times before more of it slips from memory. The blog laid largely untouched for the last 8 months so I thought of something that would help me finish at least part of it by next summer.

My first stay abroad was when I went to study there from Sept 1991 to May 1992. Of my time spent over there, those nine months were the most memorable. Probably because it was the first time. Seeing as it was almost exactly 15 years ago, I thought it would be great to blog the stay in real time over the next nine months. I had written journals during that time, but they were fairly dry and didn't elaborate on many observations. They tended to be "did this" - "saw that". In addition, I still can't find the journals from two of the big trips. Must have lost them during the moves over the years. It's something I'm still kicking myself over. So, much of what I write will be from what is left in my memory.

Posting to the other blog will take time away from this blog. I will post links, but there will be fewer posts here . Just over the past week, I have kept coming up with topics I'd like to cover. So there is a possibility that it may become a nine-month vacation from this blog. But I will try not to let that happen. Also, I hope it will be of interest to you, but for the most part that blog is written as a personal record for myself. Kind of like rewriting a trip journal though it will inevitably be blog-like. Heck, thats what a blog is. An online journal.

Since coming up with this idea a week or two ago, my mind has been filled with memories and recalled observations. Then there are all the slides from the trip that I have been sorting through. And the other night I read sideways through my old journal. It has been amazing how my memories are swirling through my head. It is also surprising how my memory of the cadence of time is different. Whereas I thought it was weeks before I ventured into the big city, it turns out it was only days. Or how I thought I took weekend trips only once a month and then only in the second half of the stay. Turns out there were trips every other weekend with many in the fall. Looking back now, it really surprises me how much was packed into those nine short months. Not to mention how much time it will take to blog it. But I will enjoy every minute of it, so that's what matters. What better way to spend your winter free time.

So there it is. Another blog. Four posts are already written. I am in the process of embellishing those posts a bit. There should be a flurry of posts in early October when we went on our first trip.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Navy Pier Carousel

It's funny that I never posted this picture on the blog. It is my most "interesting" photo on Flickr. The next few Fridays I'll post the best ones that haven't made it to these pages. Tuesday will remain the more recent ones. I've also changed my blog photo posting practice so that photos are vetted on Flickr first. In other words, I'll only post the best photos after I see how well they are received over there. Yes, it's all very complicated and anal, but that's how I am and I only want the best for you, the non-paying public.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Champions, Part Deux

Well last Wednesday night we won the finals to be the best of "Associates" C-League. So I guess we were once again the best of the worst. As our reward for winning two years in a row, we will be bumped up to the next league so everyone else can beat up on us.

As for our performance over the year as a team, we did well. We were not far and above the best team in the league. We were second in the standings by one point. And except for the bottom two teams, we usually didn't win (or lose) by a large margin. We did do much better than the three years before last. During those first three seasons we finished in the bottom three (out of six to eight teams).

For myself, my heart wasn't in it as much. I played as well as last year and I tried as hard, but I didn't get the satisfaction like last year. Part of it was a bit of guilt that I should have been home with the kids during the summer. Part of it was due to bad organization by the league president. More than once our game time was switched without notifying anyone on the team. That's a MAJOR pain the ass when you've planned your day, your evening, and made special arrangements for you kids so you can go. And lastly, it was partly because we had won last year and didn't have as much to prove.

As far as how well I did, my batting average was above the team average. I was third in the league for runs scored. That was in large part due to being the leadoff hitter with good hitters behind me. As long as I got on base, I would usually be able to score. I did have one inside-the-park home run. Basically a double with aggressive baserunning and bad fielding. On the field, I was only hit twice, though I only caught two or three balls. My position is closest to the batter so I have more chances of getting hit since I'm only 40 feet away. Last year I caught three line drives coming right at my head. This year I just got hit. This being my third year as pitcher, I have really gotten the hang of it. It is slow pitch underhand pitching so it is really about arc, distance, and aim. I have much better control so I can locate it where I want. It means more strikeouts and less walks. Though I can't say there was a noticable difference in the other teams total runs. Anyhow, it feels good to be able to put it where you want it.

So that means summer is over. Back to having my evenings free to spend time at home or pull some overtime. Maybe I'll even take a French class.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Air & Water Show

It is the event on the Chicago calendar that I looked forward to the most. The Chicago Air & Water show. I'm not a fan of the military, but something about those planes gets my blood pumping. It's a combination of the speed and the awe that a man-made object could do the things that they do. I had seen it a couple times when I was a kid and I loved it. But during my high school and college years I didn't get the chance to see it.

Photo courtesy of Stephanie in Chicago

When I returned to the city and started working 9 to 5, my excitement for it returned. Our office was on the top floor of a low-rise building just steps from the lake. One Thursday afternoon, there was that signature shrill followed by the loud deep rumble as they passed overhead. Everyone (OK, only us newbies) rushed to the window to see what it was. The practice for the airshow that weekend was taking place. We could not see anything from our windows so we were forced to keep working while it seemed the jets were passing only feet above our building. On the following day we walked down to the beach during our lunch hour to catch a glimpse of their practice. It was both a practice and publicity as the sounds of jets rumbled through the canyons of downtown and into the surrounding neighborhoods. Signalling to everyone of this weekends event.
Photo courtesy of ozmodier.

It's an event that draws two million people to the lakefront. An ideal setting with the city behind you, the lake spreading out in front, and the show overhead. It's a well planned event starting slow and rising to a huge finale. The start is usually the water portion with rescue divers (my uncle used to fly the CFD chopper), jet skis, and pontoon boats that are normally visible only to those nearby. Then the large planes like the B-52 bombers or the B-1 bombers are brought out. These are followed by bi-plane or prop-plane squadrons doing synchronized manouvers. There is also an acrobatic prop-plane performing their tricks. Mixed in are segments displaying the features of jets like the F-15 and the F-16. Occasionally the Apache or Blackhawk attack helicopters come out alsoPhoto courtesy of Stephanie in Chicago.

Photo courtesy of ozmodier.

Photo courtesy of Adarsh Bhat.

The finale alternates between two groups, the Air Force Thunderbirds or the Navy Blue Angels. For me, this is by far the highlight of the show. They flyby both slow and fast. The sound gives me chills. I can't explain why. They perform the show in front and above the beach between North Avenue and Fullerton Parkway. They would normally flyby parallel to the beach though sometimes come in from other directions in front. One interesting aspect of this type of show is that "backstage" is behind you or anywhere out of eyesight. For instance, a plane can go into a vertical climb until it is nearly invisible to the eye. Once they reach that point, the pilot can then turn to the direction they need to prepare for the next manuever. You don't see them again until they return. There are many gaps in the show where they are out setting up for the next element. For me it almost seems a tease, because you find yourself scouring the sky to see where they are or where they'll be coming from.Photo courtesy of ozmodier.

Part of that anxiousness may be due to one of the final elements of the show. They have a manuever where two planes are each coming toward the beach from the right and left. Your concentration is on them to see what they do when they meet in front of you. Just before they meet there is a huge rumble as one of other jets has come in low behind you completely catching everyone off guard. It gives you goosebumps.
Photo courtesy of ozmodier.

Other than at the beach, many watch the show from their hi-rise condos or from their rooftops. It gives a different perspective than at show center. We lived in a three story building the four years before moving here. The first year, we climbed the ladder up to the roof and I found the show just as fun. Since we lived behind the hi-rises lining the lakefront, our perspective was the backstage portion. We could watch them dive into show center for the manuevers then circle out over the city to setup for the next one.
Photo courtesy of zech zoo.

The final element of the show was very exciting from our location. In the maneuver, they start from high above show center. They come straight down and fan out to where they are flying low over the land/water in six different directions. They all go out, turn around, then return retracing their path back up to the sky. The show would end with them disappearing into the sky above. The thrilling part from our location is that the planes are not more than a hundred feet above where we were standing on the roof. You could make out all the details and see the pilot even at that speed. It was quite something to experience. Photo courtesy of ozmodier.

My excitement for the show has even led me to create a photo pool on Flickr. That is where all of these photos have come from and you can see more great photos in the pool. As much as I'm trying to convey the experience, it is really something that has to be experienced first hand to get the full sensation.

Friday, September 01, 2006


Another photo from my business trip down to South Beach last December. I was sent there to determine the structure of an existing store so the new owners could build a promenant Montreal-based shoe store. It was kinda fun. Climbing around the store taking pictures and measurements. Plus punching holes in walls and ceilings to see what was holding it up.

I had the night free to wander around the strip. Trips like this are great for sightseeing, but horrible for going to restaurants or bars. Sightseeing, you are free to wander as you please. Eating or drinking gets kinda lonely if you're not an outgoing personality. So you see what there is to see, then return to the hotel room to call home and fall asleep watching the Top 100 One Hit Wonders on VH1. If there's very little to see like in Albany, Georgia, the trip becomes pretty painful.

Though, this trip turned out to be pretty memorable.