Saturday, January 11, 2014

Indirect Benefits of Writing an Annual Letter

For decades, my mother-in-law used to sit down in front of her typewriter and write her annual Christmas letter. Her audience is identified by the salutation used in each iteration -- "Dear Family, friends, and missionary friends." The content was a summary of the year's events and of course, Christmas season's greetings.

After we wed, my wife's mother asked us to contribute to this letter, which we did happily. A couple years later, we appreciated this valuable tradition and embarked on our own Christmas letter with our own style and to our own distribution list. The typewriter was replaced with Microsoft Word, and we wanted to share our year in pictures too. At some point in the early 2000's, we registered our own domain name, eBai.ca (pronounced e-bay". Sidenote: it was a toss-up between "ebai.ca" and "thebai.ca" which is a play on The Bay, a trademark of The Hudson's Bay Co.). Since we found it was difficult to get this done in time for Christmas, we called it the "eBai Annual Report" and sent it out in early January.

What started out as a simple text-based letter became not just about content, but also visual appeal. As I grew as a photographer, so did my skills in Photoshop. Let me be clear: I'm no graphic designer, but I try to be creative. My approach has always been the same -- to use photos and elements from the past year only as it helps tie the annual report together.

It's interesting to use the main banner of our annual report as an indirect indicator of the evolution of my photoshop skills. Another indirect benefit is that working on the banner helped me learn features of Photoshop I would never use otherwise, but now that I know them, are part of my "toolbox."   This year, I even made notes on some ideas I could do for next year's banner.

So here is the evolution over the years (I haven't included all the years). You can really tell when I stepped it up:

1999

2005

2010

2011
2012
2013

I encourage any couple, family or individual to write your own version of a Christmas Letter. Not only will your friends and family appreciate it, it will help you remember events or details that you may not otherwise years from now. Or you can just keep it to yourself. Think of it as doing a diary entry only once a year. It's also reason to pat yourself on the back or kick yourself in the butt to change things.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Best Motorcycle Movies to Watch During Winter - Part 2

In Part 1, I talked about what I consider the top 5 motorcycle movies. The rest of the top 10 follows below. Hopefully this will help you get through the winter blues.

The World's Fastest Indian (2005)
IMDB Link
Link to Trailer

Anthony Hopkins who I remember best as Hannibal in the Silence of the Lambs (which by the way was a terrible movie to go to for a date - don't ask me how I know), plays Burt, a man of meager means who chases his dream of going to the Bonneville Salt Flats. Now in his 60's and suffering from a heart condition, he brings his 1920 Indian motorcycle which he's been modifying for 25 years to be the first motorcycle to break the 200 mph barrier. On a shoestring budget and not knowing all the rules of the salt flats, he charms his way into doing the timed runs. By the end you'll be cheering for him and don't be surprised if you shed a tear or two.


Dust To Glory (2005)
IMDB Link
Link to Trailer

While not strictly a movie about motorcycles, Dust to Glory covers the Baja 1000 race across the Baja peninsula in Mexico. Motorcycles, cars, buggies and trucks aim to be the first ones across the finish line. competing in different classes and are timed versus being a scramble. Racers only have to arrive at the checkpoints so any route goes. I've heard of this race but after watching this movie I realize just how physically gruelling it is for the equipment and especially the riders/drivers! This movie follows several teams including two motorcycle teams -- a sponsored factory team, and a privateer. It's interesting to see the difference between the two. There are lots of exciting moments such as the two motorcycle teams neck in neck that take different routes to the checkpoint. I love how involved the spectators are -- they're so close they can touch the vehicles! I guess safety measures are a little different in Mexico than they are in North America!

(more after the jump)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Best Motorcycle Movies to Watch During Winter - Part 1


For motorcyclists living in Canada, winter is a bit like purgatory. While our beautiful two wheeled machines are in hibernation underneath a warm blanket, we are in a state of temporary suffering. Is there anything that can ease the pain? Yes there is!



In addition to going to a local motorcycle show during the off-season, I like to host motorcycle movie nights and invite my riding friends over. It's guaranteed good times ... until someone loses an eye. Then it's a sport :) Over the years my friends and I consumed dozens of chicken wings while watching hours and hours of great and not-so-great movies. Here is a list of my favourite motorcycle movies that I personally guarantee that you will love (this is not a guarantee).


Riding Solo To The Top of the World (2006)
Website Link
IMDB Link
Link to Trailer

By far this is my favourite. What Ewan and Charley do with a film crew and a support vehicle in Long Way Round and Long Way Down, Gaurav does by himself. Gaurav travels from Mumbai, India to one of the remotest places in the world, the Changthang Plateau in Ladakh, bordering China. He captures amazing footage and is given access to places and cultures that even National Geographic haven't. If you watch it, please buy the original DVD from his website to support Gaurav's courageous and costly efforts. Or if you're in the GTA, I'll lend it to you.



On Any Sunday (1971)
IMDB Link
Link to Trailer

This movie captures the fun of riding motorcycles and sucks you in with the opening scene of a five year old kid doing a massive wheelie. Being made in 1971, I thought the movie would seem dated. However, the "dated" feel is charming and added to my overall enjoyment. It's also cool to see what people could do with 40 year old technology, albeit new at the time. This movie is impossible to watch without having a smile on your face.

(More after the jump)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My Take on the 2013 Toronto Motorcycle Supershow


So what's the Toronto Motorcycle Supershow all about? Hundreds of vendors and thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts gather at the International Centre near the airport to sell and buy motorcycle gear (eg. jackets, helmets, gloves, boots, etc.), accessories, new and used motorcycles, motorcycle insurance, etc. There are also booths for motorcycle clubs and charities, featured racers, custom bikes, fashion shows, live bands, models, awards and interviews on the main stage, etc. etc. And sausages. All this stuff takes up a huge amount of space -- 5 halls which adds up to 10 acres of floor space! And it's still jam packed to the brim with wall-to-wall people! The parking situation is a nightmare too. The enormous parking lot always fills up by 11am with new arrivals having to park a kilometre or more away. That's a cold, long walk in the dead of winter.

There are many booths for clubs and charities such as WROAR (Women Ride
Out Against Rape). WROAR is an annual ride that raises money for the
Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape. I've
provided some photography services for them for the past few years.
(Click for larger photo)

There's lots of custom bikes on display at the show. Since most of the patrons
are men, having a pretty lady at your booth doesn't hurt traffic. I admit it, I'm a sucker!
(Click for larger photo)
This is Brittany. Head over to her facebook page and "Like" her. She's super nice too!
(Click for larger photo)
(More after the jump)

Monday, December 31, 2012

My Favourite Shots From 2012 (aka my 2012 Pic Picks)

The holiday season is a good time to look back and celebrate your successes and analyze your failures (I prefer to call them learning experiences). And looking forward, the new year is an exciting time full of anticipation of what's to come both known and unknown.

With that in mind, I wanted to do a retrospective of my photography for the year. My original idea was to do a Top 10 but I liked too many so instead I'm just calling it My Favourite Shots From 2012. :)

My only criteria was how the photos made me feel. Maybe it was the visual impact, maybe it was the technical challenge in putting it together, or maybe it was a happy memory of when the photo was taken. After putting these together, I realized it was a good exercise to learn a little bit more about myself as a person, a photographer, and what my favourite subjects are. Some things were fairly obvious such my love for motorcycles, sunsets and animals. However I did learn something interesting. Apparently I much prefer shooting the right side of motorcycles. I didn't say I learned anything deep.

In no particular order, here are my favourites from 2012:

1. The Bendy Photoshoot


(Click for larger photo)

(Click for larger photo)

Every year I plan a big motorcycle photoshoot where I get a couple models, make-up artist, a few different bikes, etc. I was at a loss as to what to do this year when a crazy idea fell in my lap. My friend Adrian from the YouMotorcycle blog asked if I wanted to a motorcycle photoshoot with a contortionist. So I bent over backwards to make this happen (did you get the pun?). It was amazing to watch these talented and flexible ladies right in front of me. It was like having a personal Cirque du Soleil performance! And they did it with grace, smiles and pointed toes.

Credits: Bendy in Black: Gabriella (Twitter @gabby_db), Bendy in White: Danielle Gnidec (Twitter @Gnidec) Makeup Shannon Spence (Twitter @shannonaveline), Motorcycles: YouMotorcycle and Mark Gornik.


More after the jump.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Memories from September 11, 2001

The memory is an interesting thing. When significant events happen, your memory takes a snapshot of the things that were happening at that time. When September 11, 2012 rolled around I posted a status update on my Facebook wall:


"I bet you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing 11 years ago today."


Ground Zero of the World Trade Center Towers. Taken from the
Millenium Hilton in 2005 with my old trusty Fuji F601.

I received a number of responses. Here is a look into 23 different lives on September 11, 2001:
Paul : "I was teaching an AIX sysadmin class at IBM 3600; I had just completed the first lecture of the day and the class started to do labs. I logged onto Sametime and a friend pinged me saying 'Do you know what's going on? Planes have flown into the WTC!'"
Scott Forgie For our parents it was " where werr you when JFK was shot?"...but for our generation it was 9/11. I will never forget.

Me: "I was on the bus (TTC #53 Steeles East) listening to the radio on my earphones when I heard the news."

Matt: "Getting ready for school. Had a first period spare. It was picture day."

Kathy: "I was at work, listening to the news on the radio."

Marta: "Sure do"

Morrie: "It's funny, 11 years later and I remember it so clearly.

I took time off work to attend the Toronto Film Festival. The night before, I watched the movie "Heist" (at the Uptown Theatre) with the full cast. They all wanted to catch the red-eye back to New York, so they held a highly-unusual Q&A BEFORE the film. It was a great film. When the lights came up around 11pm, the cast of probably 50-100 people were gone - on their way back to NYC.

Around 8:45am on the 11th, I crawled out of bed, with literally one eye open. I turned on the TV to check on the weather - to see how I should dress for the Film Festival that day.
l'm standing there, in a sleepy daze seconds after the first tower was hit. The damage looked pretty minimal. I remember thinking "weird, I guess a Cessna crashed into the tower". I'm standing there listening to them trying to figure out what just happened. No-one seemed to know exactly what hit the tower. Minutes later, I'm still watching, transfixed, as the second plane (this one clearly a large jet) slams into the second tower. Then it hits me, this wasn't an accident, we were under attack. Minutes later, the other planes hit the Pentagon and the ground in PA. Not long after that the towers come down.

During the coming days, reports of casualties and missing people are everywhere. Closer to home, TIFF resumes, but bomb threats are being called in all over the city. Many screenings are cancelled and many stores are closed. Now I never grew up in a developing country or communist regime. This was the first time I got a glimpse of living in the fear of uncertainty. My freedom felt as if it was being taken away.

That day and every September 11th since, my heart goes out to the innocent people that lost their lives and the heroes that gave their lives saving others. You will never be forgotten."


Goran: "I just started second year at Western... Turned on cp24, checked the weather, saw something about a plain crash... But i was running late so turned the tv off and left completely clueless what that plane crash actually meant"




Ray: "I was in bed recovering from a m/c accident watching the morning news. Just one of those events that you will never forget where you were when it happened. RIP to all those who perished that day and since combating the threat of future terrorist attacks."

Monday, September 3, 2012

Weekend to End Women's Cancers

(Scroll to the bottom of this post to donate now)

This is my 3rd year volunteering in the Moto-Safety crew for the Weekend to End Women's Cancers. My role is to ensure the safety of the 100's of walkers at intersections across Toronto as they march 60 km's over September 8, 9. I also ride along the route to report any safety or medical issues. 

Margot and I in action! I traded in my traditional green mohawk
for a pink one. About the ears -- part of our job is to cheer and motivate
the participants (apparently kitschy is motivational)

Stop!

Participants walk in memory of loved ones lost, for someone who is battling this disease, or are survivors themselves. They range in age from little wee ones to 100 years old! I have utmost respect for them all.

Every walker has their own story for why they're participating.
Norma carried these photos in her hand all day of her friend Karen
who is losing her battle with cancer. Handwritten on the
outside is "Walk For Karen. Best Friend. Love you
Forever!!!". It was very touching. The Motosafety
team does their job so people like this can walk safely.

These folks were walking for a family member, Sandra,
who lost her battle with cancer.

Sadly, everybody is touched by cancer. I'm sure you know someone in your family or group of friends that has been diagnosed with cancer. And no one is out of reach of cancer's grasp. Read this heart-rending story of Canada's youngest breast cancer survivor, Aleisha Hunter, at 4 years of age in 2010.

Please consider joining me to help cancer research in Canada by following this link and clicking the "Donate online now" button. You will also receive a tax receipt.

http://www.endcancer.ca/site/TR/Events/Toronto2012?px=3540763&pg=personal&fr_id=1463

Money raised will go towards the Campbell Family Cancer Research Institute at The Princess Margaret Hospital.

Thanks!