Foto Friday: Another Rainy Day in Glasgow

Rainy Day in Glasgow

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a Foto Friday post, partly because it was distracting me from doing “real” posts, but mainly because nowadays I have difficulty remembering what day it is. But today I felt inspired and it is indeed Friday for once, so here you have it.

It might come as a surprise to you to learn that it rains a lot in Scotland. At least it did when I visited in October. It rained almost every day I spent in this otherwise delightful country. I snapped this picture while walking back along the Clyde on my way home from the Riverside Museum. Hey, the sun is coming out!

Camera Obscura tunnel Edinburgh

A Year of Geektastic Adventures in 23 Photographs

2013 has been an action-packed year! It’s unbelievable that the year is almost over. It’s been an eventful one with huge highs and lows and it’s all come at me so fast that I’ve barely had a chance to post about any of it yet.

So I put together this photo essay to give you an overview of some of the positive highlights and a taste of the whackadoo adventures you can expect to hear more about whenever I get my act together. Here they are in chronological order:

Disneyland World of Color

I really did quit my job and go to Disneyland.

Nerd At Large at the Sambadrome

Roseitta and I attempted to blend in with the locals in Rio de Janeiro.

Iguazu Falls

I saw the astounding and magnificent Iguacu Falls in person.

Sad Gaucho Argentina

I got engaged to this sad gaucho in Argentina, even though his horse wanted to kill me.

A Nerd at Large Osorno

I crossed the Andes from Argentina to Chile and got photobombed by that grumpy redhead.

Easter Island bunny

I reached my long-standing goal of visiting Easter Island.

De LaSalle Victorian Castle Toronto Bloghouse

I was accepted to BlogHouse and briefly lived in a castle.

Toronto Distillery Segway tour

I rode a Segway for the first time in Toronto’s Distillery District.

Buxton settlement spelling lesson

I got schooled in Black History in Chatham-Kent.

Toronto Zoo Panda Da Mao

I indulged my panda fixation at Toronto Zoo.

Cable wakeboarding Dublin

I learned to wakeboard in Dublin. Major pwnage ensued.

TitanCon Belfast

I attended my first sci-fi convention in Belfast. It was out of this world.

Titanic Belfast Segway tour

I saw where the Titanic was made.

A Nerd at Large archery Ireland

I gave archery a whirl in Ireland.

Cliffs of Moher Ireland A Nerd at Large

I visited the amazing Cliffs of Moher and lush limestone lowlands of Co. Limerick.

A Nerd at Large Sword St Johns Castle Limerick

I wielded a sword in Limerick at King John’s Castle.

Rock climbing Dalkey quarry Extreme Ireland

I tried rock climbing.

Doctor Elton Sparklestare

I acquired a new friend in Scotland.

Camera Obscura tunnel Edinburgh

I experienced a world of illusions in Edinburgh.

Zombie Blitz 1940 reanimation

I was chased by zombies through the tunnels of London.

Madrid apartment

I lived like a local in my Madrid apartment.

Pueblo Ingles lumberjack song Canada

I sang and danced at Pueblo Ingles in Spain.

Sagrada Familia Barcelona Spain Gaudi

I marvelled at Gaudi’s brilliance in Barcelona.

All that’s left for me this year is to start thinking about what adventures I might pursue in 2014 and get writing about this year’s exploits. How are you making the last few days of 2013 count? What are your plans for next year? I want to hear about all the geektastic goodness you have planned so tell me about it in the comments below.

And remember…

there is more to explore

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to everyone who made these adventures possible and the terrific people I met along the way. All of the photographs were taken by me except for the ones that I am in, obviously. Much gratitude to those who have ensured that you occasionally get a glimpse of me on this blog, including: Roseitta Isaacs, Theresa Andreeff, Kris Goodbody, Ryan Wright, Marie Byrne, and Angel Martin.

Capture the Colour

It’s a well known fact that I am a colour-loving fool, so I was delighted when first Dave of The Planet D and then Karen from K and K Adventures nominated me for the Capture the Colour photography competition.

The idea behind Capture the Colour is that participants enter a photograph for each of the five colour categories, with each colour having its own judge. Entrants then nominate five other bloggers to participate.

Here are the photos I have chosen. Enjoy!


Toronto zoo pandas gift shop

Taking shelter from the rain during a visit to the Toronto Zoo is fun when the gift shop is full of pandas!


Niagara Butterfly Conservatory black orange butterfly on purple flowers

It’s easy to capture the colour at the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory where you are surrounded by vibrant colours.


Royal Botanical Garden hibiscus

This hibiscus at Royal Botanical Gardens demands a closer look.


macarons marriott eaton centre

Doesn’t the pistachio macaron make you want to dive in for a bite of this luscious dessert kebab?


Alice in Wonderland Jewellery Dublin Design Mart

I was instantly drawn to the colours of this Alice In Wonderland jewellery at the Cow’s Lane Designer Mart in Dublin.

I hereby nominate:

Niagara Butterfly Conservatory black orange butterfly on purple flowers

The Niagara Butterfly Conservatory Experiment

Niagara Butterfly Conservatory black orange butterfly on purple flowers

The Niagara Butterfly Conservatory is one of those attractions in my own backyard that I have been intending to visit for years. I almost took my nieces and nephew there are few years ago, but an ill-fated encounter with a horribly congested highway, a punctured tire, and an obstinate husband kept us from reaching the conservatory in Niagara Falls, Ontario that day. So when Rob suggested that we go take a photographic expedition there, I leapt at the chance.

Niagara Butterfly Conservatory yellow butterfly on flower

Getting off Auto

When I finally decided to upgrade to a DSLR, I was determined that I would learn how to use its features properly, and move beyond going around with it on Auto all the time. Luckily my friend Rob knows a thing or two about photography, so we combined our desire to be surrounded by beautiful butterflies with the drive to push our photographic boundaries. Niagara Butterfly Conservatory is a terrific venue for practicing photography.

Niagara Butterfly Conservatory butterfly on tree

I still only had the 18-55mm kit lens that came with the camera, so my ability to zoom in was very limited. I often had the camera, and my face, stuck in things to get closer, which seemed to amuse people, but by and large it was effective enough. We focused mainly on working with Aperture Priority and taking shots where the subject is in focus but the background is pleasantly blurred.

Niagara Butterfly Conservatory

Rock Beats Butterfly: An Experiment

On top of our photographic endeavors, we staged an impromptu experiment. Rob had been to the butterfly conservatory before so this wasn’t his first butterfly rodeo. He dressed like a rock, wearing a light grey heather long-sleeved t-shirt. Coincidentally, I was dressed a bit like a butterfly, wearing a dark black hoodie with blazing turquoise satin accents and lining the inside of the hood. We wanted to see what the butterflies would be more attracted to.

Experiment at Butterfly Conservatory

The result? Rock wins! Butterflies were constantly landing on Rob and I think they truly did mistake him for a rock at times. Our methodology was somewhat compromised by the fact that I didn’t wear my hoodie the whole time. A word to the wise: it’s really hot inside the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory! It stands to reason, as the butterflies need those conditions and the conservatory is a lot like a greenhouse. I just didn’t think about it beforehand. The butterflies didn’t take much interest in me, aside from my Converse sneakers for some reason.

Niagara Butterfly Conservatory butterfly on mans hand

No One Said There Would Be Snakes

Niagara Butterfly Conservatory snake free routeThe butterfly conservatory is laid out so that you start by watching an introductory video, and then you’re started along a meandering path that winds through a greenhouse-like structure filled with all sorts of different kinds of plants and trees, and of course thousands of butterflies. Maybe it’s because we were too impatient to sit through the whole video, but it came as a huge surprise to me when I encountered a sign saying “Snake-Free Route” with an arrow pointing in a specific direction. Nobody said anything to me about snakes!

Afraid of missing out on something, we forged ahead on the snake-laden path. Luckily the snakes are in enclosures, and it’s not as though you’re going to randomly encounter one when you least expect it — such as the scenario that ran through my mind where a snake would fall on me from above leading to a hysterical freakout on my part. That’s not going to happen.

Niagara Butterfly Conservatory worlds most poisonous toadIt also came as a surprise to me that once you exit the butterfly conservatory part of the building, you are let out into an exhibit space that currently houses a bonus exhibit called VENOM! featuring venomous and poisonous creatures (in sealed enclosures thankfully!) There was a guide walking around with a snake that you could hold, but I was gracious and let the kiddies who were queueing up have at it instead of taking up valuable time with it.

Finally there’s the gift shop which is almost as large as the conservatory itself and filled with every sort of butterfly product imaginable from rainbow butterfly lollipops to butterfly encyclopaedias to butterfly garden regalia and more. Being a colour junkie it was enormously energizing to be surrounded by so many colourful, pretty things.

More pictures from this adventure are in the slideshow below, or you can check out my Flickr stream and Rob’s blog post.

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Foto Friday: Royal Botanical Gardens

Sometimes you just need to be around living things. A few weeks ago, just as the seemingly endless winter was finally fading away, my buddy Rob and I took an outing to Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario.

There wasn’t a whole lot going on just then as it was still the off season botanically speaking. Perhaps I should have been more insistent that we wait a few weeks, but the city boy was super enthusiastic and who am I to dampen anyone’s enthusiasm?

Is there no end to this?
Is there no end to this?

The Bulb Room was worth the price of admission in itself. After such a desolate, ceaseless winter, the sight of all kinds of colourful tulips, daffodils, and other flowers was a huge lift. The greenhouse had lots fascinating cacti and succulents. We were constantly dodging the members of a wedding party who were getting their pictures done (seafoam green dresses and all!) but I think we both managed to take some good photos while staying out of wedding albums (despite being tempted to photobomb them on a few occasions.)

Royal Botanical Gardens also had a large dinosaur exhibit, which is not something I expected. We weren’t all that enthralled by it, but it probably had far more appeal to pint-sized nerdlets, which is the age group it’s aimed at. We did have some fun playing with the mutoscope, which is a device that foresaged motion pictures. Essentially it’s like a giant flipbook and when you turn the crank the cards in a giant rolodex thingy flip past and it forms an animation.

Without further ado, here are some photos:

Even just the small part of Royal Botanical Gardens that we saw was worthwhile, and that was only a fraction of their hundreds of hectares of gardens! I can’t wait to pay a return visit and photograph more amazing plants.

Foto Friday: Santa Monica Pier in Black and White

We got carried away at Santa Monica Pier. The pier was the first real sightseeing outing that Roseitta and I took during our trip and we kinda went crazy taking photos that day. Carnivals are one of my all-time favourite subjects to photograph, so it came as no surprise when I downloaded my pics that I’d shot over 1,000 images during our day surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, a mesmerizing Ferris Wheel, fascinating characters, fun and games. It was amazing to see how different everything looked as the light changed from afternoon, to evening, to night.

Lately I’ve been rather taken with black-and-white photography, which has surprised me given how crazy I am about colourful things. I recently offered to do a guest post for The Planet D on Los Angeles in black-and-white, and while I was compiling the photos for it I was drawn to so many of the images I shot in Santa Monica. So I created this photo essay for Foto Friday to show you some of the pier’s finer details in monochrome. In a way, black-and-white is also fitting because it was so frizzin’ frazzin’ cold when we were there!

Click on any of the images to view the whole dealio as a slideshow.

Foto Friday: A Taste of Easter Island

I’ve made you wait long enough. There will be oodles of posts about Easter Island to come, but here are a few photos to whet your appetite for this incredible destination. This barely scratches the surface of what I saw. I’ve spent half a day organizing and editing photos, and had to stop when I realized that I had only reached the half-way mark of our first day on Easter Island!

Most of these images are from Ahu Tongariki, where there is the largest concentration of restored moai, and Rano Raraku which is the quarry where the moai were carved by the Rapa Nui master craftsmen.

I’ve been experimenting with the layout and would love to hear what you think. Click on any photo to enlarge and view as a slideshow.


Camera Angst

This affliction strikes every time I book a once-in-a-lifetime trip. It is a particular variety of angst that involves the nagging doubt that my camera equipment will not be up to the task of doing justice to the destinations and experiences that are in store. Invariably, the temptation to buy a new camera builds.


Onset and Symptoms

I was plagued by a chronic case of camera angst for months leading up to the South America trip. It seemed unlikely that I will visit Easter Island again in my lifetime, and possibly many of the other places on our itinerary as well. As travel is my livelihood, I need to capture amazing images and video of my trips. These days one cannot just be writer anymore. One must be a “content producer” catering to a variety of different media and formats. On the other hand, as a geek, it does not take much to induce a serious case of technojoy that will have me pining over some gadget or other, convinced that it will change my life if only I had said gizmo. Having plowed waaaay to much money into whizbang tech toys whose ability to revolutionize my life was underwhelming in the end, I’ve learned to treat these pangs of technolust with a great deal of skepticism.

$500 hat
Sporting my $500 hat in Bray, Ireland

For instance, take my $500 hat. In the late 90s I convinced myself that a knitting machine would be the key to my salvation. I was into knitting but had developed a repetitive stress injury in my wrists. I had also accumulated an enormous stash of yarn. The logical thing to do was to acquire a machine to do the knitting for me! I got the machine and was eager to use it, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to cast on with it, no matter how many times I watched the blasted orientation video. A year or so later I decided to take a workshop on how to use it. I got the hang of it and made a very warm winter hat. Then space grew scarce in our apartment and I didn’t have room to set it up for months and months (my cat also peed on the pattern book, but that’s another story.) It didn’t take very long for me to forget everything I’d learned in class and be back at square one. That hat remains the only thing I have ever knit on the infernal knitting machine and therefore I have dubbed it the $500 hat.

My camera takes good pictures and is by no means at the end of its useful life. It is an 8MP Canon Powershot S5 IS and I bought it in the January sales in 2008. It was the best point-and-shoot that I could afford at the time and it has served me well … most of the time.

The Ghost of Camera Failures Past

Digital photography was just starting to become mainstream when I was chosen to participate in an Antarctic expedition in 2002. I took my trusty 35mm Minolta on that trip, but a colleague also convinced me to take the company’s digital camera along.

Dublin Spire
Spire of Dublin in heartbreakingly low resolution

It turned out that the Minolta was too bulky and awkward to take with me during our shore trips. I had to scale the railings of the sailboat (our humble abode in Antarctica) every time I went to or from shore and having several pounds of camera gear around my neck didn’t help matters any. I also didn’t want to get salt water on it, as seawater is lethal to cameras and electronics. So whenever we went ashore I relied on the little digital camera that fit in into the pocket of my foul weather gear. Imagine my horror when I arrived home to discover that the memory card had melted down, and none of the digital photos I had taken could be retrieved. I lost well over 1,000 photos and it still pains me to think about it. Shortly after that I paid a ridiculous amount of money for my first digital camera.

2012 was the biggest travel year I’ve had in a long time. I took four trips — Boston, Dublin, Denver, and British Columbia. It was only after returning home from the last of those trips that I discovered that partway through the Boston adventure the settings on my camera got changed somehow, and all of the subsequent photos were the lowest resolution. This actually made me cry as I had taken some shots I was pretty proud of and this essentially rendered all of my photos useless.

My Irrational Fears About DSLRs

I’ve known for a long time that I will eventually need to graduate to a DSLR. I have always been blessed with an eye for composition and a keen interest in taking beautiful photographs, but the technical side of photography intimidates me. I have been extremely reluctant to venture outside my point-and-shoot comfort zone. However it’s reached a point where I probably won’t ever get any better at taking photos if I don’t make the leap to DSLR and get technical about it. But what if I’m too dumb to understand how to use it?

I worry that a DSLR will quickly become a technojoy money pit. With point-and-shoot cameras, once you’ve made the initial investment there’s very little upgrading you can do, and few gadgets you can blow money on other than perhaps a spare battery, a tripod, and a couple memory cards. Not so with a DSLR. There are all kinds of expensive lenses to drool over, there are flashes and battery packs, there are gadgets to control the camera with, filters, ginormous memory cards, monopods, GPS receivers… you catch my drift. With so many things to spend money on and lust over, would it ever end?

What if I don’t know enough to pick the right camera with the right features? It’s daunting being faced with buying equipment before you know how to use it. My fear is that once I start learning about photography in a serious way that I will realize that the camera I bought doesn’t have the features or functionality that I need, or that it will be limited in some way that I’m too ignorant to look out for now.

The Decision

In September I decided to buy an expensive new laptop. In doing so, I resolved that I wouldn’t be getting a new camera for the trip to South America. I needed a computer to travel with and the only portable one I had, a little netbook, was starting to become unreliable. The MacBook was a better investment and that settled it. I was also glad that I would be travelling with a camera that I knew how to use and was comfortable with.

Then the camera angst came back.

Partly it was the residual anger over the low resolution debacle. Though it was entirely human error, the camera was tainted with negativity. What if it happened again and I got no usable photos out of this really expensive trip? Then there was obsolescence. My phone has more megapixels than my PowerShot. For obvious reasons, I read a lot of travel blogs, and the photos I was seeing on them started to majorly outshine the ones I was taking. What if the camera simply wasn’t capable of doing these destinations justice and taking pictures that stand the test of time?

Finally, in the run up to Christmas, I broke down and bought a DSLR. I had spoken to several people I know who use them, and who know me well enough to assure me that I would be capable of learning how to use it. I hadn’t actually looked at DSLRs for a few years and had been operating under the assumption that it would take an investment of $1,000-$1,500 to get started. I soon discovered that if I caught a good sale, I could get a kit for just under half that. I researched my brains out and settled on a make and model. I have been impressed with the Canon cameras I’ve owned over the years, so I chose an EOS T4i and took the plunge.

The Outcome

Over the Christmas holidays I gave myself a crash course in learning the new camera. You really can learn how to do just about anything from YouTube. With quitting my job and all, my mind was a bit too scattered to retain a lot of knowledge from reading the manual, so videos were a godsend. I also made a nuisance of myself to all of my friends who know anything about photography in that time. I experimented a lot.

Lots of experimentation
Lots of experimentation

By the time we departed Toronto on January 8th I was at least comfortable with the new camera, if not supremely confident. I had used it enough to know what the different modes do and to realize that even if I left it on Auto the whole time it would still take really good photos. So off I went, hell bent for leather, and determined to take amazing photos of South America. You can be the judge of whether the gamble paid off.


So, if you suffer from Camera Angst, you are not alone! What’s your story?

P.S. Anybody want to buy a knitting machine?

corcovado overlook rio de janeiro brazil

Foto Friday: Ascending Corcovado

In this photo essay, we start in the train station at the base of Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro, and gradually ascend until we see what we find at the very top of the mountain.

train station Corcovado Rio de Janeiro Brazil

train corcovado rio de janeiro brazil

rio de janeiro viewed from corcovado

cafe umbrellas corcovado rio de janeiro brazil

corcovado overlook rio de janeiro brazil

Christo Redentor Christ Redeemer Rio de Janeiro Brazil