Garstor's World, My realm of 3D art, LEGO and atheism

Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

The Netherlands & End User Event 2017

Monday, June 19th, 2017

Two weeks ago – late in the evening – I left Toronto Pearson airport on an Airbus A330-300 for Amsterdam. This would be my first time visiting Europe.

Several months back, Dax Pandhi of Quadspinner had posted on Facebook that he would be giving a talk at End User Event 2017. I had not heard of EUE before and none of the other talks covered technologies that I use. But it was in The Netherlands! In a bar! How cool is that? I decided to make this my major vacation.

Flying overnight, we landed at Schiphol airport around noon on Tuesday. I made my to Utrecht via the excellent train system. EUE didn’t start until Thursday; but there was to be a Wednesday night pre-conference drink-up. It was raining on and off Tuesday afternoon; I walked to the hotel from Utrecht Centraal station. I nearly got lost – a portend of things to come – but managed to arrive damp and tired.

In spite of more drizzle and rain on Wednesday morning, I set out with my camera to explore Utrecht. My passport was stowed into one of the camera bag pouches for safe keeping…

The adventure begins! I got lost. In the rain. It was all in fun though and I eventually found the hotel again. That evening, I had a really nice dinner with Dax and Cynthia at the hotel restaurant. If you visit Utrecht, be sure to stop into Luden Restaurant & Brasserie for a meal and a few bottles of Bastaard. We became instant friends. Very cool.

On Thursday morning I registered for EUE and attended the first talk, followed immediately by Dax’s talk. Awesome stuff. Things were off to a great start!

This is where the sound of a record player needle scratching across your favourite vinyl album should play in your mind. Over lunch I realized something awful. My passport was gone.

not really a pouchThe zippered camera bag pouch was not a pouch. There was a second zipper along the bottom – this was actually meant as a way to secure the camera bag on an extended luggage handle. My passport had fallen out while I was exploring Utrecht.

I had a few things in my favour; I had made copies of the passport bio page and the hotel staff was super helpful. So much for attending the other EUE talks though!

I had to file a police report and got lost again while walking to the station. Me getting lost would become a recurring joke with my new EUE friends. With the police report in hand, I had to take the train to The Hague and deal with the Canadian consulate.

There was a ton of paperwork and they wanted four non-family contacts who had known me for at least three years. I also had to provide my ticket home to prove that this was an emergency. Since I only had my cellphone with me, I had come back on Friday to complete the forms and provide them with new passport photos. That wiped out attending the morning EUE talks.

Your whole life is an application errorWhen I returned to the pub where EUE was being held, it was just after the lunch meal. They had provided chocolate fortune cookies. Being a mite bit peckish, I ate one and looked at the fortune inside.

I wish I were making this up! “Your whole life is an application error.”

Indeed…

EUE wrapped up that evening. Dax and I “stole” the flags that had been flying outside of The Florin pub during the conference.

I spent Saturday in Utrecht, walking around with my new friends and taking a ton of pictures. Roman lives in Russia, Zakhia is in Lebanon, Barry lives in England, Daniel is in Germany – and all of us were immediate friends. United by the common threads of digital art and drinking beer. The perfect way to achieve peace on earth!

Amsterdam 05 - VondelparkOn Sunday I went to Amsterdam for the rest of my vacation. I had to wait several hours for my hotel room to be ready but Vondelpark was only a block away. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon, so the park was packed with people. Lots of trees and walking/biking paths and large ponds.

Monday was the hop-on / hop-off city bus tour. I also visited Gassan Diamonds. I don’t really have decent photos from that – but it was interesting and I learned quite a bit about diamond cutting and polishing.

Tuesday was the canal boat tour in the morning. I was supposed to have a day trip to Bruges, Belgium on Wednesday but my temporary passport was ready – so I had to make a third trip to The Hague. The tour company swapped the Bruges trip with the Windmill / Volendam tour on Tuesday afternoon.

Windmill Tour 01If you visit The Netherlands, be sure to take the Windmill and Volendam tour. The windmills are fascinating and you tour a cheese factory and a bakery in Volendam.

It is a quaint and quiet town with a long fishing heritage. A new dyke has all but eliminated fishing as a livelihood; so they have had to re-make themselves for the 21st century.

You won’t want to miss out on the Amsterdam Icebar either. It is a small venue and a steady flow of patrons is kept flowing in and out of the place. It is themed on the Dutch explorer Willem Barents’ search for the Northwest Passage.

My Flickr album for this trip is located here. I will add more photos to it over the next few days.

Here is the official EUE photos on Facebook.

I strongly recommend visiting The Netherlands. They are a very friendly people. They love bicycles more than you can know. There is a vast history here and plenty of things to see and do.

I will have to return – probably for End User Event 2018. With my passport secured nine ways to Sunday this time.

Photoshop World 2017

Wednesday, April 26th, 2017

Alright, today is not Sunday as originally promised. I arrived home at about 1 AM Sunday morning and spent that day in a daze. Then it was back to work.

However, Photoshop World 2017 was absolutely awesome! I cannot wait for the next one! Photoshop World and the FFRF National Conventions are going to be my annual rituals from now on.

I met some wonderful fellow Canadians as well as some of my Photoshop heroes (Corey Barker, Glyn Dewis, Scott Kelby). Most of the talks were spectacular and I learned a lot. I tried to balance between photography talks and Photoshop talks – there was so much though and often it was tough to pick between talks when they were being held at the same time.

KelbyOne opened PSW with a hilarious TV show spoof, “Photoshop Cops.” Be sure to watch the blooper reel afterward. That link also includes the keynote address by Adobe’s Julieanne Kost.

Canon is at every single PSW and offers free camera cleaning and minor repairs. There were professional models posing – for hours! – so that people can walk up and take photos. I still have to edit my photos; however, I will write another post once I have them on Flickr.

Stacy Pearsall’s talk would tear your heart out – this was definitely a show highlight and worth the price of admission. The photos and videos that she shared were just incredible. I had to keep checking myself that this stuff is not Hollywood and that it really happened. Really powerful.

Stacy made jokes throughout her talk but we rarely laughed – not because they were bad jokes; but rather the emotional weight of her story kept us silent. She had to remind the audience that it was okay to laugh!

Stacy is now working on the Veterans Portrait Project – she started taking photos of vets while waiting in the VA hospitals. That turned into emotional/psychological therapy for her own healing.

Bibliophile that I am, I bought a bunch of books. Glyn Dewis signed his new book Photograph Like A Thief for me. I also picked up Scott Kelby’s newest Photoshop CC For Photographers and Corey Barker’s How To Create Bad-Ass Effects In Photoshop.

Since they offered a great deal, I bought all of Topaz Labs’ software.

Phew! My AmEx card is still twitching from all of that. But so very worth it!

Pittsburgh & Fallingwater

Monday, January 9th, 2017

The first weekend of October, I was in Pittsburgh for the 39th National Convention of the FFRF. Part of that was a group tour of Fallingwater; I did not get around to posting a Flickr album of the trip for a variety of (bad) reasons.

  • I switched to Adobe Creative Cloud and didn’t get all my apps updated in a timely fashion
  • I had just moved to Etobicoke and still needed to unpack and settle in
  • Most honestly, I was scared my photos would all be ruined – I kept a UV filter on my lens and feared it would make the pictures garbage

There was a lot of noise and I suspect the UV filter there. In many images, I used a slight Gaussian blur and then applied Smart Sharpen. All in all, I’m rather happy with how the pictures turned out.

You can view the Flickr album here.

Pittsburgh Point State Park fountainMost of the pictures are from Fallingwater, but I did take some while walking around Pittsburgh. I loved the fountain at the tip of Point State Park. In this shot, I think I got really lucky.

I thought it would look cool with the sun immediately behind the spray. But there was a huge risk of getting completely blown out. That didn’t happen though and the shot works.

Just the same, I should probably invest in a neutral gradient filter sometime in the near future.

FallingwaterBut Fallingwater is nothing less than breath-taking!

You are not permitted to take photos during the tour itself. That’s why everything I have is exterior shots. I understand the rationale behind that rule; but it is still disappointing that I could not fully chronicle my visit there.

I’ll definitely have to return sometime to get more shots from this magical place.

A shout-out must be given to Adobe Photoshop and the Content-Aware Fill technology. Fallingwater keeps a steady flow of tourists through the house, so there is always going to be people on the cantilevered balconies. But I removed a few strong distractions with the Spot Healing brush and Content-Aware. Amazing results!

I am looking forward to some photowalk opportunities around Etobicoke soon.

A camera and kit upgrade may also be in my future – we’lll see!

FFRF 2016 National Convention

Friday, October 14th, 2016

Last weekend I was in Pittsburgh for the 39th National Convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

This was my fifth convention already! I’ve been to Hartford, Portland, Madison, Los Angeles, back to Madison and now Pittsburgh. Next year will be in San Francisco. This is one reason that I attend; I get to travel to cities that I might not otherwise visit. First and foremost though is the socializing with like-minded people.

This convention was no exception to that. On Sunday afternoon, I walked around Pittsburgh for over two hours with a fellow attendee. We crossed two bridges (Pittsburgh has more bridges than Venice) and used two funicular railways to ascend and descend Mount Washington. But I get ahead of myself!

The link above will tell you the names of the speakers. I’d like to summarize how many of them made me feel.

FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel gave a preview of his forthcoming book with his talk, “Is Christianity Un-American?” This promises to be an excellent read – I cannot wait for it to be released. Andrew has set out to completely dismantle the argument that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.

Friday evening was rather moving when a former preacher from East Tennessee came out publicly as an atheist. “Adam Mann” was one of the first people in The Clergy Project and he went to great lengths to conceal his identity. He had yet to tell his wife that he no longer believes in the fairy tales of the bible.

I hope his coming out to friends and family goes just as smoothly. It really is a serious problem for many clergy. Welcome to the ever-growing family Carter! We’ve got your back!

Professor Lawrence Krauss accepted his Emperor Has No Clothes award and gave a science-heavy talk that built on his excellent book A Universe From Nothing. He suggested that last year’s confirmation of gravitational waves might be used to see beyond the cosmic microwave background. Exciting stuff!

Unfortunately, my copy of A Universe From Nothing is still packed in a box somewhere. So I bought The Physics Of Star Trek and had Professor Krauss sign that instead.

The new Forward aware was bestowed upon Rafida Bonya Ahmed. She barely survived the Islamist machete attack that killed her husband Avijit Roy. Her speech was inspiring and helped to explain the major problems facing atheists in Bangladesh. I certainly never had to fear for my life while living in Texas; so the atheist bloggers and publishers in Bangladesh deserve mighty praise and even more support.

Professor Jerry Coyne – who won Emperor Has No Clothes at the Hartford Convention – spoke on “Evolution & Atheism: Best Friends Forever.” My recent move thwarted me again, I couldn’t get my copy of Faith vs. Fact signed. Professor Coyne has given a interim blog post about the Convention.

Lastly, Professor Daniel Dennett spoke on “Has The Dam Broken? Omens and Worries.”

It should be obvious how much I love the FFRF National Conventions. There is always interesting and inspiring stuff – I only scratched the surface here.

I have intentionally left out the group tour of Fallingwater. That amazing part of the weekend deserves its own post after I have sorted through my photos.

New York, New York

Saturday, May 14th, 2016

The trip went well and I am very glad that I went. As expected the Hilton Grand Vacations was an extremely hard-sell that had to be resisted. But I am getting ahead of myself.

All of this began while I was still in Texas. Hilton Grand Vacations contacted me because I had stayed at one of their properties on a business trip. At first I had thought that their offer was an inexpensive stay at a newly-built property and they wanted to guests to evaluate it before an official opening. Since I had not been in the Big Apple since I was a teenager, I figured, “Why not?”

I had booked some time off of Avanade last year for this trip. But United Airlines fucked me over and cancelled the entire flight due to “crew availability.” This was just a few hours before my cab arrived to take me to the airport. Needless to say, I was pretty pissed-off about that.

Then came my Avanade resignation and moving back to Canada. More delays. This was a time-limited thing and also featured extra fees for cancellations. So I really wanted to go. I cut it to the wire with only one week remaining before the offer expired.

As it turns out, it was a timeshare program that they were trying to sell. I may do a separate post on that program just to get the word out about it.

My goals were simple. Since I only had two nights and two days, I wanted to visit the Empire State Building and Hayden Planetarium. Anything else would be nice extras. I landed at LaGuardia airport at about 11:00 AM last Monday and caught a cab over to Hilton’s West 57th Street Club.

A word about New York City cabs. Use them! First and foremost, you do not want to face New York City traffic. I am a proud atheist, but the traffic here nearly got me praying again! Treat your cab ride as part of the Big Apple experience, you won’t regret it. Second, they are surprisingly reasonably priced!

Empire State Building from West 34th and 5th AvenueGiven my experience in Dallas, I expected to pay upwards of $100 to get from LaGuardia to West 57th and 6th Streets. I paid $40 and that included a tip for the driver. To get from West 57th to West 34th to visit the Empire State Building, was only $9 before a tip!

The ESB was my first stop after dropping off my stuff in the room. It was the primary reason for my visit. My family spent a couple of days in NYC when I was 14 or 15; we visited the 86th Observation Deck but did not have the time or money to visit the 102nd Observation Deck. That was going to be rectified on this trip!

Empire State Building looking southMy Flickr album for this trip shows that the weather was not willing to co-operate unfortunately. It remained cloudy and drizzled rain every day. Bummer; but a good excuse to return one day!

In the photo to the right, you can just barely see the Statue Of Liberty (center-right of image) through the mist. The new One World Trade Center spire stabs through the clouds, completely obscured.

One very strong recommendation about the Empire State Building tour; buy the tickets online pay the extra for express service. The tickets are good for a year and the express option is absolutely worth it.

I recommended using the taxi system above. But I also did a lot of walking because that is a great way to see any city. After taking the picture above of the ESB from the corner of West 34th and 5th Avenue, I decided to walk the 23 blocks back to the hotel.

That allowed me to pass by Rockefeller Center, the Central Branch of the New York Public Library (made famous in Ghostbusters), St. Patrick’s Cathedral (I took photos for 3D reference but did not put them on Flickr) and Trump Tower. Once I reached West 57th Street, I kept going north until I was in Central Park. Some of my favourite photos came from Central Park.

Times Square 1Aside from the weather, I only had one other minor disappointment. I ended up getting to the Hayden Planetarium and the American Museum Of Natural History late (after the 2 hours hard-sell timeshare presentation). The  complex closes at about 5:45 so I could not attend all of the programs. At least I saw the Neil deGrasse Tyson program Dark Universe.

More walking after the museum closed. I was wandering back to the hotel when I recognized the structures of Times Square several blocks away, so I kept walking. I wasn’t down there for very long, but I took a couple of pictures there.

Checkout time at the hotel was 10am, on Wednesday morning I debated trying to do some more sight-seeing or heading back to the airport. The weather being what it was, I opted for the airport. My original flight was not until 8pm, but I managed to arrange an earlier trip home.

Definitely worth a return visit. Just without the hardcore sales pitch!

Big Apple

Sunday, May 1st, 2016

Time for a short vacation!

This was triggered by a stay in Charlotte for Avanade. What appeared to be a routine customer satisfaction survey follow-up was actually a barely concealed recruitment drive for a time-share program with Hilton Grand Vacations. I get a couple of cheap nights in a (presumably) ritzy New York City hotel and in exchange I must attend a 2-hour propaganda-feeding for the time-shares. Naturally, I have no intention of getting into something like that but I haven’t seen NYC since I was about fifteen years old.

So, what the heck? I see a few sights and chillax. Just so long as I am careful to avoid getting legally-entangled in the time-shares.

I’ll post updates and pictures when I get back later this week.

L.A. Misadventures And Moar Science!

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

As I mentioned earlier, I was in Los Angeles, California last week. My primary purpose was the FFRF annual convention. However; one of my work colleagues lives nearby, so I came out early to meet up with him.

What a beautiful hotel. The Millennium Biltmore was opened in the mid-20s and the first Academy Awards shows were held there. The architecture and décor blew me away. But I had showed up early and thus my room was not yet ready. So I set my luggage (just a duffel bag actually) down and continued reading my novel.

Then things took a turn…

I looked up and noticed my bag was gone. I had set it next to some other luggage that I had assumed was also waiting for a room to be readied. It turns out that this other luggage was now on a tour bus headed for Las Vegas. My stuff was probably with it; my camera, razor and – most importantly – my clothes for the weekend. Oooops!

I must say though, I have nothing but compliments for the management of the Biltmore. This was entirely my own fault but they totally owned the problem. They worked around the clock to stay in touch with the tour company. First confirming that they did indeed have my bag on their bus and then afterward helping to make plans for resolution.

I ended up going to a Macy’s store to buy clothes for the weekend. I was able to meet the tour bus and collect my bag on Sunday, just before my flight home. Close call!

But Moar Science!

I spent Thursday with my colleague and pal Gene. We went to the California Science Center and the Griffith Observatory. Very memorable – even if I only had a crappy cellphone camera to capture things. I’ll get my crappy pictures uploaded to Flickr and post about them later today.

Heading To Portland, Oregon

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

In a couple of hours, I’ll be flying out to Portland, Oregon to attend the 35th FFRF National Convention.

I loved last year’s convention in Hartford, Connecticut. This year’s will be every bit as wonderful. All the more so if I get a chance to meet Richard Dawkins!

Once I return, I’ll post more about the event.

Spending My 40th In Canada

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Last week, I spent my last remaining vacation days for the year back in Hamilton, Ontario. Saturday the 8th was my 40th birthday. Ah good times! It is trips like this that make me miss Canada and all my friends there.

As is my custom, I made sure to drop by Bayshore Hobbies and Chester’s Beers Of The World. I’m still recovering my weight gain after all of that alcohol (not to mention Tim Horton’s bagels and coffees). I had to leave some clothes in Canada in order to fit the new Dominion: Dark Ages game into my suitcase. These minor inconveniences are totally worth it though!

I spent time in Toronto and Brampton visiting my friends Trevor, Tim and Julie. It had been a few years since I have seen Tim and Julie. I only wish I had had more time.

For my 40th birthday, I spent time with my long-time friends, Mike, Mark & John plus their wives and girlfriends. We used to work together ages ago at Proctor & Gamble and we spent time in the Dominican Republic to celebrate Mark’s wedding last year. Even more alcohol was consumed and we were talking and laughing and drinking until 4am – leaving me with just a few hours until my flight back home to Texas.

Time to roll-up my sleeves and get back to work!

I Will Never Fly On Southwest Airlines Because Of This

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Airline travel has not been a pleasant experience for many people for a very long time now. I am astounded that the boards of directors for these companies have trouble grasping why customers dislike them so.

Then there are announcements like this one from Southwest Airlines.

Are they freaking kidding? Sadly, no. I immediately swore an oath to never use their airline.

Mechanical problems are completely within the realm of human control. Calling this hideous change "more consistent with the industry standard" was particularly offensive to me. Which other carriers consider mechanical problems to be Acts Of God? I’ll boycott them too.