Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Final Holiday Guffah

With the holiday season coming to a close, and plenty of plans to start off the new year in a positive fashion, one sometimes need to look back at the holidays for a smile.

The Christmas season always brings a smile to my face. Usually it happens with the misunderstanding of something such as Christmas carols.

During the Christmas season I heard a story from my church where one young lady was singing the second verse of Away in a Manger which she sang as:

"The castles are lowing..." The music director stopped playing during the rehearsal of the song before the church service started and said "The cattle are lowing..." The young girl replied "O...Ok....cattle...got it."

To end this post, I link to Mary P. with the best story of kids misunderstanding a christmas carol.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Transit Trip Planner

York Region Transit has been promising since their October 2006 newsletter to create an online trip planner for people wishing to plan out a route from point "A" to point "B". The fare increase coming in January 2007, which according to media reports will raise an additional two million dollars for YRT, will also provide funding for new technologies including the online trip planner. Now, as a YRT transit rider, I wait for this come to fruition.

Toronto also has one in the works as well. However, I would think the Toronto one might even happen before the York Region transit one due to the fact the TTC (Toronto's transit agency) is attempting to team up with techno geeks at Google to accomplish this. Google already has the experience in this trip planning with trip planners already created for U.S. cities like Burbank and Tampa. So the technological expertise of Google is already there and all that is really needed is for the TTC to turn over the needed maps and schedules to Google. Once Google acquires these necessary items, the techno geeks can start working on creating the interface.

Why will the Toronto one happen before the York Region one? Knowing the bureaucrats running York Region Transit, they will try and do it themselves instead of handing it over to a company like Google to do it for free. A company like Google, who already has experience in doing this, would have completed this task probably as little as three months. But of course, for York Region Transit, this would make too much sense and thus would not be possible to do. Thus, I don't the promised York Region's transit planner until at least six months to a year from now.

Are there other cities in this world that have great transit planning technologies?

New York City currently has four transit planner

SUBWAYblogger takes a look at the four of transit planners that New York City has complete with links to the planning websites themselves. I've used Hopstop.com while during my time in New York City and found it to be pretty reliable and convenient to use.

What would York Region and Toronto need to include in their trip planning systems?

Here is a list of needed features the trip planners would require:

1. A clean and easy to read map in order to clearly show the directions visually to the user. Hence why Google would be a good company to do a transit planner considering they have the Google Maps technology already in existence.

2. Integrate the system maps and schedules of TTC, GO Transit, YRT, Missisauga Transit, Brampton Transit and Durham Transit. This is to ensure a full Greater Toronto Area transit systems are available to transit riders. Currently it takes flipping between websites, schedules and maps of at least two transit agencies to complete an inter regional transit trip. This only leads to frustration. With all of these transit agencies in one easy to use trip planning system, it will be easier to use transit across borders (e.g. Mississauga to Toronto, etc.).

3. Clearly worded instructions on directions of where to go. Basically clear instructions on how to get from point "A" to point "B" which means the instructions need to include what station or intersection to transfer at and what route (and direction!) one needs to get on. Also, these instructions need to include what time the connecting bus is expected to arrive at the stop.

4. Indicate the fares required to complete the trip. If one is crossing from Toronto into York Region, a rider needs to currently pay two fares in order to ride the TTC and York Region. These fares need to be clearly listed of how much each fare will be for the individual transit agency (e.g. YRT $2.75 TTC $2.75 for a total of $5.50).

5. The route taken needs to have the shortest travel time possible. With the schedules included in the trip planner, connection times between buses can be optimized for riders. There is nothing more frustrating than to realize that you have to wait half an hour for a a connecting bus to arrive. Hopefully, the mapping system can avoid this and suggest another route that may take longer distance wise, but at least the overall travel time is shorter.

6. Take a look at the New York City's and other versions of trip planners. Why should Toronto and York Region "re-invent the wheel" when ideas have already been thought of and implemented? The inventors of the planners should take a look at hopstop.com's options of walking routes, less connections, etc. These options will further assist the transit planner technology to be even more useful to people.

7. Use of GPS technology should be . GPS units on transit vehicles will provide real time arrival times (i.e. is the bus going to arrive on time?) and assist planning an appropriate route. For people with PDAs (i.e. Blackberries) the trip planner could quickly re-map the route one is taking in case unexpected problems (i.e. accident or heavy traffic) occur.

These are just some of the possible suggestions that York Region Transit and Toronto should investigate for their respective online trip planning gizmos. Their own transit planning gizmos? Why can't the transit agencies of the Greater Toronto Area get to together and provide Google with the required information to do an excellent online transit planner? Because that would be thinking and, as we all know, bureaucracies would never do that!

Footnote: Google explains how the Google Transit Planner came about here on the Googleblog.

Tipping at Restaurants & Clubs

I was out with a friend last night at The Laugh Resort comedy club in downtown Toronto. The comedy was good and the price of admission for two hours of stand up comedy entertainment of $15.00 was excellent.

However, I was disturbed when I received the bill for one pint of Rickard's Red beer which came to $6.66. No, I wasn't disturbed by the "666" price, although that is weird too. But the fact that there was a 15% charge on there for "service." Why this charge? I can only think of two reasons:

1. The Laugh Resort was charging me for having to hire a waitress to take orders and bring drinks to the table instead of me getting up and going to the bar myself. But then again, wouldn't I be tipping the waitress for this service instead of being forced to pay this service charge?

2. Forced tipping. This gets to me every time. The fifteen percent charged goes to the waitress as a guaranteed tip for serving me. But why should a waitress, or waiter for that matter, receive a tip if they provided bad to mediocre service? This concept offends me every time and I avoid places as much as possible that have a guaranteed tip or a "gratuity" automatically added on to the bill either at a flat rate or as a percentage. Sometimes this gratuity is added on to parties of six people and over.

I believe, in the case of The Laugh Resort, that the "service charge" is probably option #2. However, it did say on the bottom of my bill that "tips were not included." If tips are not included then what is the charge for then? I assume it can't be option #1 above as there was no notification (i.e. sign or verbal indication) that I could find anywhere in the club.

So on the basis of it being a "forced tip" then I'm going to assume the fact, in case of The Laugh Resort waitress, she made exactly twenty-six cents. Also, obviously the waitress either doesn't want any more of my money or the club is shafting their waitress/waiter staff in tips. Shafting? Sure, I was willing to leave the comedy club waitress a two dollar tip after I left. Why two dollars? The beer came at a reasonable time and, when serving other tables around me, she made sure she didn't block the view of my or other tables of the main stage. But I guess she doesn't need any of my money if there was a 15% charge on the bill.

Forced gratuities or tipping makes me sick. Wait staff should be tipped based on the service level they provide. If the food is slow or cold, if a waiter is grumpy, etc. then the tip should reflect that. Sure if the food is cold or slow it might be the kitchen and some would argue that perhaps it is not the fault of the wait staff. But I argue that if the establishment doesn't provide a decent kitchen, then the wait staff should indicate this to the owner of the business through either complaint or resignation. Also, some restaurants and clubs share the tips that the wait staff collect with the kitchen staff as well. So everyone should loose money in terms of poor service. A restaurant or club is a team employment environment. To be successful each person must work as a team to make sure the customer is satisfied. Failing "the team" idea means a customer is less likely to return and provide even more business and possible tips for the staff. So there should be incentive for the team to work together to ensure customers are happy. Thus, tipping should not be "forced" because if "the team" provides great service, the customers will overwhelming ensure "the team" knows their appreciation through the tips left behind.

Gratuities and tips automatically added to the bill only give me one impression: The owners of the establishment do not believe their employees will give satisfactory to excellent service to their patrons. This is because if the owners did, obviously there would not be a need to force customers to tip or provide a gratuity for possibly bad service. With this in mind, why would anyone want to work at a place where the owners of the business do not believe in the staff? That is what I left The Laugh Resort last night thinking.

FootnoteThe Laugh Resort closed by at least October 2008.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Mental Note...

When going to the store to buy milk to make Macoroni & Cheese, always make sure you have Macaroni and cheese first.

This is very important! Otherwise you will be left to swill milk without Macaroni & Cheese.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Total Weirdness

There are two kinds of weirdness I felt over the past week:
1. On December 24th I was at my church's ten o'clock Christmas Eve Service. It is a tradition that near the end of the church service, the lights of the Sanctuary (the place where the worship service occurs) are dimmed, each member of the congregation has a candle lit and the carol "Silent Night" is sung. On this night as the pipe organ was finishing, the town clock, located across Yonge Street and a little to the north, chimed off the eleven o'clock hour. The bell was the only thing that could be heard after the organ finished and there we were, 150 people holding candles enjoying the silence with the bell tower quietly chiming off in the background. It was eerily weird. I still want to know if the minister and the organist had this planned or whether it was an eerily weird coincidence.

2. Here's an excerpt from Joe Warmington's column from today's Toronto Sun that totally gave me a "that's totally weird" moment:

" 'It was actually supposed to be Gretsky,' laughs Walter. 'My dad did the 's' backwards and it become a 'z.'" - Walter Gretzky, father of current Phoeniz Coyote Head Coach & Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame Wayne Gretzky.

This column also gave me a "who knew?" moment as well.

Some things are just kinda of weird. But at least there are different kinds of weirdness which, in itself, is kinda weird as well.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The loss of someone special....

"That voice on the subway!" "Who is it?" "What will they say next?" "How will they make this trip more interesting?" A first timer might ask.

"I love that voice everyday. I even wait for that train to show up because I love that voice!" A regular might recall.

But all that is disappearing on subway trains accross North America as transit agencies relieve conductors and drivers of subway trains from the responsibilities of announcing stops.

In New York City the new subway cars announce the stops in both a female and male voice. Usually, the female voice announces the stop and the male voice announces the connecting trains and services at the stop (an mp3 example can be found here). This new automated system works remarkably well for New York City because the automated voices are clear and match up with what is being shown on the automated scroll signs. That way both the blind and hard of hearing people can know where they are going on the subway.

However, the automation removes the uniqueness of the some of the conductors that people enjoy. For example, in New York City when at Atlantic Avenue on the 2 train, (click the above link to here the automated announcement) a conductor will give the transfers available and then announce "connection is available to the

Loooooooonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnngggggggggg

Island Railroad." This announcement usually makes the riders smile and giggle. However, with the automated system this is lost.

New York City has gone one step further with the automated announcements. Unlike VIVA in York Region that uses a computer voice to announce the stops, New York City had paid two real life radio announcers to do the announcements for each stop and connections. The New York City announcements have been much more successful than the VIVA version. Why? Because by hiring people the annunciation is properly done in New York City. Whereas, VIVA had been struggling with the announcement at Richmond Hill Centre (one of its major stations) with the a simple announcement like this "Next stop Richmond Hill Centre, passengers can transfer to VIVA Blue, Purple and Pink Routes." However, this announcement turned into" Next Stop Richmond Hill Centre, passengers can transfer to VIVA Blue, Purple and Pink crews." Another example is "Golf Links Drive" which the VIVA voice turned it into "Goolf Links Drive."

With automation comes problems like those experienced by VIVA require a lot of time and frustaration to solve issues like those mentioned above. However, with New York City they seemed to have automated voices correct through the use of radio personality voices. However, with the automation of announcements some of the "personalization" of announcements have been lost. As conductor's announcements of upcoming stops is gradually phased out, this personalization will become a part of transit history.

No longer will you hear from fellow passengers "this conductor has the best voice!" or "That conductor sounds like he is announcing the stops via an old rusted tin can and string system." Its a shame really. But first timers on New York City subway will at least be grateful because they will know where they are going due to the clear automated voices telling what stop it is and which of the over twenty train routes they are able to transfer to.

Footnote: Click here to try these out for yourself using the AT&T demo of the voices. Funny examples include the word "Aurora" (which is one of the towns VIVA goes through). To here the "VIVA voice set the language to "U.S. English" then the voice to "Crystal". Don't forget to type in your message!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A fairly busy but good week at work and musings on the holiday season

Leading up to Christmas at work is very busy and stressful. There are so many deadlines my company is trying to meet during this busy shopping season.

From the time I walked in the office door until I left every day I was working steady. There were demos being planned, customer surveys being done and regular merchandising being done. All of this is just part of the merchandising industry during the biggest shopping season of the year. To say the least, I sleep well every night, just to get up and do it all over again the next day.

Do I have my own Christmas shopping done? Yesiree! Now I just have to wrap it all and send it.

I even got extra items like an electric toothbrush and shaver as I will be doing demos this coming weekend for one of our clients. I love these demos as I get to interact with different people and show them how a product I know well works and benefits them. On the plus side I get some product afterward and paid very well.

Even better in this industry is the gifts you receive from the clients. From Fedex I received a new key chain (of course it says Fedex on it, but that works for me) as well as a new watch from one of the clients our company merchandises for. I needed a new watch, my old Timex was looking a little battered. The one I got actually looks pretty good and sturdy for the day to day beatings that I seem to inflict on the time pieces that reside on my wrist.

I look forward to this coming Christmas season as it is really the first time I will have my own apartment to celebrate Christmas in. I already have Christmas lights in my window to make my apartment feel more "festive". Will I have anything else to decorate my "humble abode?" Probably not as I really don't have room to store a Christmas tree or anything else when not in use. Perhaps I could just hang a picture of a picture of a tree on a wall or something. Even better! I should tape a video of a Christmas Tree and loop it on DVD for my T.V. HOW FESTIVE! Oh the fun of apartment dwelling!

Monday, December 04, 2006

The First Snow

The first major snowfall in Aurora is now coming down. The traffic on Yonge Street (pictured below) is slowing down.



I looked out my apartment window to see a sheet of white snow. I love how snowstorms sneak up on you in the winter sometimes. At one moment it is clear blue sky and the next a sheet of white.

Ottawa is well known for this phenomenon happening. When I was in first year university in Ottawa I used to love watching from my 20th floor residence room the snow storms advance from the Gatineau Hills to the north, southward until I could barely see across the street.

Also in Ottawa I used to enjoying the quiet the snow used to bring to the downtown. I loved walking around the National War Memorial and the Parliament Buildings hearing the snow pile up. The scraping sound off in the distance of snow plows trying to keep up also added to the poetic sounds in a strange sort of way.

I do a lot of thinking while walking in the snow. In Ottawa, I used to think about university term papers I was writing (some of them can be found here) on these walks. The questions that wandered through my mind in terms of the paper writing included: "Where am I going with this?" "Do I have enough info to write this?"

History has been made with walks in the snow. Just ask Pierre Trudeau who made a famous walk in the snow. Will there be more history to be made in the future with walks in the snow? Probably because "history repeats itself."

Canada is made of snow, or is that "snow makes Canadians"? People are considered "unCanadian" if they cannot deal with the snow.

So I guess I, like Trudeau, am Canadian because I love the snow!

That is until February rolls around....

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Chapter 11: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this post....click here.

"If Toronto is a sort of amalgam of New York and Chicago, Montreal can be understood as the best of Boston and New Orleans, a combination of old-world charm and modern technology." -Alan F.J. Artibise, "Canada as an Urban Nation" quoted on page 161.

Fiorito calls Toronto bland in chapter 11 and then proves it by going on to tell about how various facets of Toronto are merely 'mediocre'.

Is Toronto mediocre?

Since Toronto is supposed to be an amalgam of New York and Chicago, as the above quote from Fiorito's book would suggest, lets start there. Since I have never been to Chicago, but do know New York City quite well since I lived there for a year, lets compare Toronto to New York.

1. Transit: New York City has a kick ass subway system that moves millions of people a day (1.4 billion trips in 2005 according to Wikipedia) into and out of the city. The system not only connects with commuter trains (Metro North and the LOOOOOOOOONNNNNNGGGG Island Railroad), Staten Island Ferry, annoucments of transit connections (announcement: "This is Times Square-42nd Street...Transfers available to the 1, 2, 3, 7, A, C, E, N, Q, R, W and Shuttle to Grand Central"), but also has express trains that moves people quickly past smaller "local stations" that the majority of people would not want to stop at. Sure the subway system is more than 100 years old, but it was built right from the beginning with switching redundancies between lines which helps to detour trains during construction on weekends as well as helping to keep the trains moving when there is a medical emergency. Medical emergency? Max ten minute holdup in New York to get things back on the move.

Toronto's subway system is becoming antiquated and useless. The system needs to expand big time! York University is Canada's largest bus station with GO Transit, TTC, YRT, VIVA and York University transit buses feeding passengers into, out of and through the campus. There is a proposal for a subway extension through the university grounds, but this is starting to become bogged down in political blame and bureaucracy between the municipal, provincial and federal levels of government.

Perhaps one comparison between New York City and Toronto on the transit issue is how many people does each subway station serve (i.e. divide the population by the number of subway stations).

New York City has 468 stations serving aproximately 10 million people (living within the 5 Boroughs of Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhatten, and the Bronx) whereas Toronto with a population of 2.5 million (within the former cities of Scarborough, East York, York, North York, Toronto and Etobicoke) has 69 subway stations. So on a per capita basis:

New York: 10,000,000 / 468 = 21,367.52 people

Toronto: 2,500,000 / 69 = 36,231.88 people.

What does this mean? There are more stations in New York serving the population than Toront. Considering that many trains in New York don't stop at the smaller subway stations (i.e. Express trains) and better connections to connecting transit, as well as the ease of their fare system it is no wonder why New York's subway system just totally rocks and Toronto's looks just plainly mediocre. Not only that, New York's transit system (subway, trains and buses) combined gets you everywhere. Toronto's transit system is so disjointed, confusing and stuck in traffic that the only thing one gets is to be late for work.

How to fix Toronto's subway problem?

Simple: 1. Complete the Sheppard Avenue line Eastward to Scarborough Town Centre and Westward to Downsview (and not further) to connect to the current Scarborough RT (and future Bloor-Danforth line extension). 2. Extend the University-Spadina line to Major Mackenzie Drive and Jane Street in order to service the booming new development in that corridor as well as finally give York University subway access. 3. Demo the Scarborough RT (because the system is coming to the end of its life span and no replacement parts are easily accesible as well as demand oustrips capacity) and extend the Bloor-Danforth line out to at least where the Scarborough RT currently ends. 4. Extend the Yonge Street line north to at least Bernard Avenue (one block North of Elgin Mills Road) to reduce congestion on Yonge Street. 5. Twin the Yonge Street line with an Express Tracks and local tracks like the 2/3 line in New York City. This would probably catch Toronto up on it subway stations and provide far better service.

2. Sports: The Toronto Blue Jays keep increasing their payroll year in and year out in an attempt to keep up and hopes (!) of surpassing the New York Yankees in terms of bringing in on field production. The Jays are hoping to eventually get back to winning the World Series for the first time since 1992 and 1993 dynasty years. So far this can only happen if The Boston Red Sox (like in the 2005 season) and New York Yankees are plaqued by injuries allowing Toronto to inch by them into second place in the East and into the Wild Card spot.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have been trying to get back to winning a Stanley Cup on a regular basis since 1964. If that doesn't spell out a history of mediocroty what else will?

The Toronto Raptors are just plain losers considering this team has been around for at least ten years and has spent more time on the wrong side of the scoreboard than on the right. This barely even qualifies as mediocre.

3. Architecture: Toronto has hints of great architecture but more often than not this has been subdoed by the mediocre cement and/or glass buildings that surround them. The hints of great architecture include the new Ontario College of Art and Design on McCaul Street (page 162), Queen's Park, ROM, the CN Tower and others. But these buildings are surrounded by boring buildings like Metro Hall, Toronto Convention Centre and other office buildings. These buildings hold back or even block the amazing sightlines to the spectacular buildings. The rising condo buildings along Toronto's waterfront are starting to imped the spectacular view of the famous Toronto skyline of office towers, the CN Tower and Rogers Centre (SkyDome). In fact, Rogers Centre is almost totally blocked out by the condo towers depending on which angle the skyline is viewed from the Toronto Islands. It is sad really that such great architecture is being glossed over by mediocre utilitarian buildings.

Toronto is a unique city. It just wants to be like New York, but it has to come to the realization that it is not. Perhaps if Toronto found its own niche market like London, like Paris, like New York, like Berlin and others, then perhaps Toronto could become great. But until then, Toronto will have to sit it the realm of mediocrity.

Torontoist: An Open Letter to Toronto's Drivers

Torontoist: An Open Letter to Toronto's Drivers

An interesting posting (click above) that reflects my feelings on car drivers.

Will someone come up with a funky graphic to link to this for one of those blog campaigns? Is there a blog campaign against bad drivers? If not, why not, there is ones for Liberals, Conservatives, bloggers that hate either of the two preceding political parties, cyclists, little old ladies crossing streets, etc....

It's a Cavalcade of Lights!

I went on a walking adventure last night of Downtown Toronto last night.

I started by taking the subway to Union Station and beginning there. Union Station is a great place to start considering it is practically the centre for everyone's adventure in Toronto.

From Union Station I walked up to the Great Hall of Union Station (the VIA Concourse). I have been trying to take a picture of this hall for months now. But the pictures never seem to pan out. I finally have a decent shot though. I'm still not totally happy with it because it doesn't should the full view of the greatness of this hall. Here is what I have so far:




In this picture there is room behind me, so I guess I should move further back in order to capture more of this grand hall. I compare this hall to New York's Grand Central Station's main hall. This is where people are coming and going from outside Toronto. Down the stairs, in front of you in the picture above, is where arrivals from VIA rail arrive and another concourse for both GO Transit and TTC Subway. When one surfaces up this stairwell the grandeur of the hall you are looking is revealed! It is a site to see. Too bad I just can't seem to get a good picture of it that I'm happy with.

On with the treck though....

I walked out the front of Union Station and westbound on Front Street to John Street. I then walked north along John Street to Queen Street West. On the South East corner is Toronto's famous CityTV and Much Music studios. I then walked Eastward along Queen Street West and entered Nathan Philips Square.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get great pictures of the Cavalcade of Lights display in focus. I decided this was a great opportunity to try the "night time" function on my camera. \

Note to self: A novice digital camera operator should not fool around with the functions when trying to take night pictures. It is best to leave it on "Auto" mode and let the camera do its own work. There is, though, some out of focus shots I thought were decent in the Toronto section of the Scrapbook area on my website.

After visiting Nathan Philips Square and Toronto's City Hall, I continued Eastward on Queen Street West to Yonge Street. I then headed northbound on Yonge Street to Yonge & Dundas Street where Dundas Square is located. Here is what I found sitting near the corner:

An interesting rendition of a Christmas Tree is what I found!

After visiting Dundas Square, I continued further north on Yonge Street to Rosedale where I picked up a Steamed Cider at Starbuck's.

Now that I was warmed up again, I was eager to continue northward on Yonge Street. However, in Rosedale, on the railway bridge that crosses Yonge Street I found this view:

The tree seems to be like a shooting star coming from the bridge with a trail of blue stardust glistening behind it.

I furthered my treck further up Yonge Street to Eglington Avenue. This was the farthest I had ever walked before up Yonge from the Downtown Union Station / Rogers Centre area. According to Google Maps, I walked, not including my side excursion to Toronto's City Hall, eight Kilometres.

I forgot to mention, one of the purposes of this adventure was to test out my new winter jacket I bought myself earlier that day at Mark's Work Warehouse. In case you're wonering, the jacket kept me perfectly warm!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Friday, December 01, 2006

TTC Picks on a Pregnant Woman

Mike Strobel - Heavy-handed behaviour by TTC officers leaves single mom convinced there has to be a better way

Say it ain't so....as the Toronto Sun's Mike Strobel reports, a pregnant lady with her own four year old son in tow, on her way home has been picked on and threatened with being arrested by the TTC's Rent-a-Cops (a.k.a. Goon Squad).

Apparently, the pregnant woman had produced a December Metropass (monthly transit pass) while going through the turnstiles at a Toronto Subway Station at the end of November in order to show she paid her fare. The woman had mistakenly left her November Metropass at home, but did have the receipt for the November pass with her.

When asked further about her fare by Toronto's finest Transit "Fare Hosers", she easily explained what happenned and then produced a receipt for the November pass. This would seem to be a simple mistake of a pregnant woman with obviously quite a bit on her mind.

Toronto Sun columnist, Mike Strobel put it best of what any sensible person of authority would have done. Which would be to say to the lady: " 'Okay, ma'am, please be more careful next time,'... "

Then tell her four year old son, Johnny, that everyone makes a mistake and this time we will let this one slide.

But sadley this was not the case. The "Goon Squad," who obviously has nothing better to do than intimidate and harass a defenseless pregnant lady, decided to confiscate the legally paid for December Monthly Pass and issue her of a hefty ticket. The Rent a Cops did this instead of moving on to more important crime prevention matters like patrolling the stations in order to prevent something like a recent situation where someone was recently killed by a brick at the Jane Street station on the Bloor-Danforth line.

No, that would be too easy.

Here's an even better idea!...according to the TTC: First you accuse a lady, who has basically proven she has paid her fare and her son's fare, of not paying a fare. Then you let this same "fare beater" ride the subway anyway. If you believe someone hasn't paid their fare, why would you let them board the subway? This must be TTC bureacratic reasoning at its best, because who can figure out this logic? In fact, there isn't any logic in the TTC's actions in this case at all.

If the TTC, and other transit agencies, want to continue to increase ridership they must become a little more accomodating. This dooen't mean opening the fare gates to allow passengers to ride for free. This means in this pregnant woman's case to simply write her a warning for this simple mistake and let her and her son go on their merry way. If this particular lady tried to pull this stunt again, then the TTC should hand her the ticket.

The TTC needs to remember that we are all human, and humans make mistakes. But apparently at the TTC no mistakes are allowed by their customers. Especially pregnant customers who have a four year old in tow. Apparently, customer's mistakes, like this one, only provides the opportunity for the TTC's Goon Squad to pick on defensless pregnant ladies. Perhaps the TTC's should really learn which ones are the "goons" in this case, it's the ones wearing the uniforms! SHAME ON THE TTC!

UPDATE! : Mike Strobel's column today (Saturday) in the Toronto Sun provides an update on the situation. Strobel notes that Sun readers have come forward offering to pay both the fine and the new December pass. Strobel figures that with the offers from the readership be taken into account, the pregnant lady could easily ride for a couple of years on the TTC for free. Congratulations to the readers for stepping up. That is what Toronto is all about.

The TTC even stepped up to the plate and returned the December TTC back in, what they called, "an act of compassion." The TTC should do even more by waving the the fine and offering up a free January monthly pass as compensation. But that would be common sense and, as we all know, transit and government bureaucracy doesn't have a lot of common sense. If the TTC was a business and treated it's customers like this, they would be bankrupt in no time. Instead, because the TTC is a government agency they are able to still operate and be bankrupt in another sense, in this case it is morally bankrupt.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Santa is here!

Saturday night, after doing some extra in store demonstration work on behalf of my employer, I attended the Aurora Santa Claus Parade. The Aurora parade is a little different from most others, it occurs at night. For over ten years Aurora has held their parade at night.

Santa at the end of the Aurora Santa Claus Parade.



Check out further pictures of this here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Happy U.S. Thanksgiving.

Happy Thanksgiving

The company I'm currently working for released a little something fun for the upcoming U.S. Thanksgiving that I thought I would share.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my U.S. readers.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Happy Birthday!

Last week I celebrated my birthday. I received a new digital camera that, finally, I have been able to download pictures from. An example of a picture that I have finally been able to download is below. The bear was made by my former roomate from Brooklyn when I was living in the United States. She hand knit all by herself. I'm proud of her. The card is also from her.

The camera is awesome! I thank my Aunt, Uncle and cousins for buying it for me. No longer will be I be seen fumbling with batteries for my old camera...NO SIREE!

Today is my sister's birthday....HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTINE! Thanks for the purple tie that I have to match my purple shirt!

Thanks to everyone who helped celebrate my birthday.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sign, Sign...Everywhere a Sign...


Over at Torontoist blog, they take a look at the different aspects of effective election signage. The blog takes a close look at what makes a sign eye catching and what makes a sign "ho hum" boring. Of course the blog, Torontoist, uses Toronto city Council candidates as examples.

In the province of Ontario right now municipalities (i.e. towns and cities) are currently holding elections for their respective local councils.

 As everyone knows elections usually brings forth a plethora of signs (as the above picture of Aurora council and mayoral candidates will show). At least the towns making up York Region all are able to recycle the plastic and paper signs in the recycling programs. So the chances of the above signs entering landfill in Michigan is far less likely. What does Aurora & Toronto have to do with garbage in Michigan? That's where these two places send their trash!

 True some council candidates try and go without using election signs claiming it damages the environment. I applaud these council candidates for trying to reduce the amount of paper and plastic being produced. But on the downside, the candidate's names are not widely known because their names aren't on signs that are seen repeatedly by prospective voters.

From past Aurora municipal elections I have found council candidates who do use signs and use them effectively tend to get elected. With the Torontoist blog taking a look a deep look at election sign design, lets take a look here at sign location.

As I have traveled around Aurora I have noticed two different places and two different times election signs are used:

The places:

1. Most council candidates first place the signs on the lawns or in windows where supporters reside or have their business. In Toronto, due to fact election signs are hard to pound into cement, businesses put election signs in their front windows. At residences these signs are easily placed on the lawns. The lawn and business signage is quite effective in the eyes of the candidate. This is because people going by will see their neighbour is supporting a certain candidate, so why not vote for them too? This type of thinking can be a voter loser in some cases if the homeowner is thought to be a nuisance or "local renegade". Then perhaps the neighbours might dismiss the candidate's name and vote for one of the competitors. Otherwise, they are usually pretty safe because these same signs are seen by everyone on the street at least once a day as neighbours walk or drive by one residence.

2. On public lawns like parks or boulevards. Today I noticed along one major road in Aurora that the signs look worse than dandelions in spring! There were signs near the trees, signs giving the curb of the road a challenge to stay in on place and a plethora of signs competing for space (even worse than the above photo). These can be effective if used in a repetitive fashion. I have found that the signs located on public lawns tend to multiply like rabbits the weekend before voters go to the polls. This is because candidates believe if they can just get their name stuck in the head of the voter just before they go to the poll then perhaps they may gain some additional votes. In Aurora this is especially so considering that each voter can elect up to ten positions (1 mayor, 8 councilors and 1 school trustee). So in Aurora's case, keeping ten names straight can be hard to do for some voters. With this large number of candidates to vote for, in Aurora's case, some voters might forget one council candidate's name they originally intended to vote for. Instead, the voter might choose another candidate's name because it was on a sign just before they got to the polls. Basically the signs planted on public lawns are meant to re-enforce the name of the candidate on the mind of the voter.

Timing:

1. Usually election signs start sprouting as election day draws to within one or two months. The signs located on residential lawns are the first to be placed. These lawns are usually the ones the candidate knows pretty well. In other words most of the first election signs are placed on family and friends lawns. Next the ones on public lawns in prime locations are placed. This is to stake out prime real estate like on corners at intersections of major roads. This ply for public lawn locations is because the candidate who gets the spot first, gets to leave their sign their for the entire campaign. Also throughout the campaign candidates are knocking on doors and finding supporters. These supporters may request a lawn sign. The candidate, not wanting to upset a prospective voter, will usually oblige as it usually secures the vote of the property owner as well as helps to promote the candidate's name in the neighbourhood (this is discussed above).

2. The weekend before the election day the signs start to grow even faster. This is because the final push is on in order to get the candidate's name known. So public lawns usually start seeing signs multiply on them and challenge each other for space. Today in Aurora I walked along a major road for just over one kilometer and estimate I saw more than fifty to sixty signs. Most of the signs were for two mayoral candidates. I definitely have her name on my mind. She claims to be for the environment but the over doing of the election signs on this particular street tells me differently!

Signs are generally seen as being a positive for candidates to get their names out there. However, what some candidates don't see, that I have illustrated above, the signs can have negative effects. But nonetheless, it seems, signs are required to win an election. That is because for the most part those candidates that refuse to put up election signs don't seem to be successfully elected.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Chapter 10: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this post....click here.

In chapter 10, Joe Fiorito investigates what different cultures do best. Fiorito investigates the a Lebanese family restaurant during a breakfast on a Sunday, an Italian family pork shop, a Polish Met Market and others.

I find these "ethnic food places" have some of the best food to be found in any town. Perhaps this is because the owners of these fine eating establishments take great care in preparing their food. T.C.'s Fish & Chips in Aurora, located conveniently right next to my church on Yonge Street in Aurora, a Greek family makes fabulous burgers, fries, salads and of course fish! My favourite at this fine establishment is the cheeseburger combo. After ordering your choice of drink, medium fries and burger you can listen to the jokes and tomfoolery of the staff. Usually Chris, the owner, is at the grill with either Glen or one of his compatriots. Talk from the grill ranges from women, to life in general to how much the Toronto Maple Leafs rule or stink. The food, while the banter is going on between Chris, his assistant and yourself goes on, your burger is put on fresh and flame kissed and your fries are being fried. The burger? Top it just the way you want it. Its like Harvey's but even better because the food and staff are exceptional instead of some pimply teenager who you may never see again slopping stuff on your burger. Once the food is done your mouth is just salivating to dig into it! Portions are quite generous as your paper plate overfloes with a burger and fries. On the tables there is ketchup galore to cover your fries. You never go home hungry after visiting T.C.'s. In fact, some people request smaller portions so no food is wasted. I still wonder why people would go to McDonald's when a place like this exists in Aurora.

What are different ethnicities known for making?:

Italians - Pizza, Pasta & Pork Products.

Polish - Pork products.

Chinese - Chinese food of course!

Canadians - Bacon, Beer and Donuts.

Have I missed any? Probably, please let me know in the comment section.

Santa Claus and Christmas at the Northpole

Santa Claus and Christmas at the Northpole

When does the official shopping season for Christmas begin?

This year it seems to be as soon as the pumpkins, the ghouls and the gobblins of Halloween have been laid to rest for the year. I was in Canadian Tire store here in Aurora last weekend when I passed by the seasonal area. Already in eisle were the LED Christmas lights, the garland and other Christmas bric a brac were being put on the shelves.

Heck, Friday the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City was being erected. When I was in New York City, I loved the tree and the festive skaters of Rockefeller Center, but in November? This seems to be a little much.

The question is who is driving the season of Christmas earlier and earlier? Commercial establishments, like Canadian Tire & Sears, would be the main culprits. My question to these multi million dollar corporations is why do you have your Christmas Commercials on now?

Canada Post has even gotten in on the rush to get Christmas going by sending out a flyer that says when the last day Christmas packages can be sent via mail. Is this really necessary before December 1st? Sure Christmas presents headed overseas must leave before December 1st in order to be gaurenteed prime real estate under someone's Christmas tree.

As for me, well I bought some LED Christmas lights this morning from Canadian Tire. Am I a hypocrite? No, I'm just prepping my window that faces Yonge Street for next weekend's Santa Claus Parade in Aurora. Aurora has "Santa under the Stars" parade which means the Santa Claus Parade occurs at night. Want to see the parade in Aurora? Check out the local cable company, ACI, website because apparently the cable company will be taping the parade and broadcasting it on their website. As for the lights, I'm hoping to be apart of the celebration that evening of fine Aurora community spirit.

The only dissapointment I have about the lights, and I only noticed this when I opened the box, is that the LED lights I bought, when they burn out their done! Yes, no replacement bulbs are available for this string. I find that a little environmentally irresponsible of the people at NOMA. NOMA, the company that made the lights, should have all their strands of Christmas lights have the ability to have their bulbs replaced instead of being forced to throw out the entire strand and buy a new one once some of the lights have burnt out. It just doesn't seem right.

As I'm in the marketing business with my job, however, I don't mind Christmas hitting the stores earlier. This season secures my employement as this is the biggest season for merchandising and associated product placement industries in large stores like Loblaws and Canadian Tire.

But, I do find it weird to be looking at Christmas crap in November. Christmas should not start until December 1st. Otherwise you might get tired of Christmas by the time Christmas Day actually arrives. But I guess that is why people usually take the week of Christmas off....because people have grown weary of the Christmas season. Its a pity really.

What ever happened to Christmas starting on December 1st? What ever happened?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Is the Commute the Best Part of your Day?

Re: Kopun, Francine. "Commuters say they enjoy the ride; Even StatsCan analyst surprised Liking your job helps, survey finds." Toronto Star. 8 November 2006: Page A3.

When I read this article I nearly fell of my chair laughing. It turns out that people consider commuting to be not bad. My question to these pollsters is:

Did you talk to anyone in Ontario?

 Most Ontarioans, I would bet, think their commute stinks! Stuck in gridlocked traffic, being cut off by some @%! hole driving a BMW who believes he is much more important than thou.

I did agree with the finding that those who took mass transit find their commute the worst. Over stuffed Subways, buses that leave you at the curb because there is no room (and your lucky if they even arrive on time!) and unpolite people jamming their bags into you and/or talking on their cell phones are just some reasons. In York Region, it seems the mass transit system needs a lot of work, even with the advent of the VIVA system. Why does it take an hour to just over two hours to go from central York Region (Aurora) to Downsview Station? This is because connections between buses are obnoxious (i.e. one bus just misses the other by a minute forcing passengers needing to transfer to wait ten to fifteen minutes or even more). When you call VIVA customer service they give you lame excuses like: "the system operates just like the subway" and "there is traffic causing delays." Well news flash, the Toronto subway, unlike VIVA, doesn't operate every 10 minutes or 15 minutes apart. Also, there is constant traffic, so if you promise a bus will arrive every ten minutes or less or fifteen minutes or less then perhaps you should be running them less than ten minutes apart or less than fifteen minutes apart. No wonder this commute take so long!

Considering that the average commute in the Greater Toronto Area (Toronto and its surrounding suburbs) is 79 minutes and growing, how can these commuters be enjoying their commutes?

I know when I was in Ottawa as a student, I noted similar traffic conditions to those of Toronto. Bumper to bumper and overpacked OC Transpo bus system into the downtown core is also the rule in Ottawa. So how can people claim this a good commute. I'm not sure how people enjoy sitting in a car or bus that isn't going anywhere.

People enjoy their commute in smaller centers? Perhaps, I will concede this. But I would imagine that most jobs are in big cities like the Greater Toronto area, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa and others where the traffic arteries are clogged worse than an obese person chugging down mountains of McDonald's french fries. Transit? The transit systems are choking on their own success with overflowing buses and subway systems. I'm still wondering how could this be possible that people enjoy their commute?

Perhaps the pollsters called quite a few rural farmers whose commute involves hopping in the pick-up truck and driving down the half kilometer driveway to barn. These country bumpkins only have to worry about a non moooooooving cow instead of an idiot whose car broke down in the middle lane of Highway 401 at Yonge Street in Toronto. No wonder these people would say they have a possible commute, their work is only max one kilometre away! This would offset the percentages of those in urban centers who hate their commutes and the related daily grind of work.

Perhaps Statscan should try this study again. Perhaps Statscan take can exclude the rural folk who don't commute into an urban centre on a regular basis to work. Then perhaps Statscan would have a more true commute to work responses that look like this:

Have you ever tried to navigate through Toronto during rush hour? Do you think Statscan really knows what it's like to try to drive downtown - can't turn left, can't turn right, construction, etc.? -- Calvin Lam, Toronto

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Election Issues

Elections are all about the issues for both the candidates and voters. In local election politics these issues can range from how to increase the rate of recycling, what roads need to be repaved or how much taxes will increase. These are usually the issues that tend to get the attention of the politicians, the media and the voters.

However, other election issues do arise. Take my case when I received a letter from the Deputy Clerk of the Town of Aurora stating they could not confirm my Canadian Citizenship and thus am not on the voters list. Then the Town of Aurora sends me a voter registration card which basically says I'm on the voters list and please vote at this poll. I'm still confused about how I could be on the voters list since I have not followed up on the letter from the Deputy Clerk and confirmed my Canadian citizenship. (For the full story on my situation click here)

Perhaps even worse is a story I read today in the Toronto Sun. A gentleman has received a voter registration card for the upcoming municipal election in the city of Toronto. This particular voter registration card was issued to the name of his wife who is dead. To make matters worse, his wife has been dead for thirteen years and yet he continues to receive voter registration cards for elections at the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government. Perhaps voters lists could be updated a little more thoroughly using the written applications for death certificates. But of course this would be too simple.

Another issue that doesn't get much media attention is the problem of election signs. Oh sure there are pictures of politicians banging in election signs on some nicely manicured lawns of your typical single family suburban home. But what about the people who live in apartment buildings? How do they publicly show support for a candidate? The Torontoist blog takes a look at this very issue in terms of the upcoming Toronto municipal election in this post. Apparently there are so many legalities around if and when an election sign is put up on both public and private property it would make your head spin. So how do candidates figure these rules? How do private citizens figure out these rules?

For that matter, who even knows all the rules? Friends of mine have lived together in Aurora for about two or three years in an apartment together. These friends have not received their voter registration cards yet. Even worse was a letter to the editor in the local newspaper I read recently. The author of the letter stated after living in the same house for over twenty five years, she did not receive a voters registration card for the upcoming municipal election in Aurora. These two instances just make you want to go "Hmmmm..."

Election issues are fun to read about and investigate. Sometimes they make you laugh and think "How can they be so stupid?" While others make you go "Hmmmmmm". So if you live in Ontario, please remember to vote on November 13th. And for my sake, please ensure your over the age of eighteen, a resident or tenant of the municipality you are voting in, because, trust me, the powers that be sure won't.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair

Today I headed down to the Exhibition Grounds in Toronto to check out the 84th Annual Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. I love seeing farm animals and vegetables at their best. Below is a sampling of what I saw:


Can you pick your nose with your tongue?
How many pies can one make from a 950 pound pumpkin?
"Please tell me my tail is nicely braided. Please tell me."
"Phew...thank goodness, my tail is nicely braided.."

More pictures of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair can be found here

York's Best Graduate

Re: Millar, Sarah. "Massive Fines." The Excalibur. 1 November 2006. Online. Internet. 1 November 2006: http://www.excal.on.ca/?option=com_content&task=view&id=2341&Itemid=49

From the York University Excalibur:

Hamed Taghatti owed the university $10,775, which included a $15 administration fee, to cover 287 parking incidents that he had incurred over his years as a student at York. 

As per York's policy, his convocation privileges were withheld until he paid the balance in full. 

Taghatti said he paid off the balance the day before convocation a few weeks ago, but he did not elaborate on how he paid it off.

He considered pursuing legal action against the university due to the occurrences but decided not to because it would drag things out for too long, and he needed his transcripts in order to get a job.

Despite that, he felt frustrated that York did not give him any notice as to the fact that he owed so much in fines before graduation. 

"There's no way they shouldn't let you know after the first infraction. There's no reason why they wouldn't stop all your activities or something on the first month - that you've done such an infraction rather than do it five years later. 

"This is just for profit because they know if they don't give out these notices or if they make students think this is not serious stuff, they'll just keep doing it and doing it and doing it, and then, in the end, they're the ones who win," Taghatti said. --The Excalibur Article

Should Taghatti even been allowed to:

A. Be allowed to hold a driver's licence

and

B. Graduate?

Since Taghatti has received over 200 parking infractions at York University alone, why should he even be allowed to drive a car? His eye sight must be way out of wack because the parking restrictions at York University are well signed including the fines. Park in the VIVA bus cutout near York Lanes $200 fine. There are even no standing signs around the fire hydrants.

I would expect the average driver to probably have one or two tickets over their educational career at York University. These two tickets might accumulate through mistakenly not displaying the parking pass in the window or stopping in a No Standing zone. But 287 tickets? That seems more than excessive.

 I would love to know how many parking tickets Taghatti has in the rest of Toronto. Considering the York University campus size compared to the size of the overall city of Toronto, I would say over 1000 parking tickets. Where does this guy get the money to pay off these fines? He must work at McDonald's nightly alone in order to pay off the parking tickets.

But what does 287 parking tickets at York University say about the legal officials? This guy should be pulled off the road as Taghatti cannot obviously legally park a motor vehicle let alone drive it. Further, Taghatti wanted notification that he owed so much in fines before graduating. MEMO: The parking ticket nicely tucked under your windshield wiper is the notice you owe chaching, buckos, sheckles, etc. Need more notice than the tickets? Then don't drive because perhaps you might miss the STOP sign and kill a pedestrian. There are no second notices for STOP signs.

The Administration at York University need to get at a life here. I feel my teaching degree from York University has been cheapened by letting Taghatti graduate. Someone stupid enough to accumulate 287 parking tickets at your campus alone should be sent back to start university all over again and not graduate. Why should I, a graduate of York University, hold the same educational certification level as a guy who cannot simply park a car, as 287 parking tickets would prove, and then demands notice of the amount due from the university? It doesn't seem right, not right at all.

Even worse, Taghatti believes York University is winning in handing out 287 tickets and that fact that believes that he owes a lot of money. How else to explain this quote from Taghatti: "This is just for profit because they know if they don't give out these notices or if they make students think this is not serious stuff, they'll just keep doing it and doing it and doing it, and then, in the end, they're the ones who win." Taghatti is wrong, the University is the ultimate loser in this situation. If they graduate a person this stupid, what does it say about the rest of the graduates and current students? That our certificates are mainly paid for parking tickets and do not show anything about our education. If this previous line isn't true, then why did York University graduate Taghatti?

WARNING TO YORK STUDENTS: Stay off the sidewalks, your fellow York Students may be at the wheel trying to park!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Bad Restaurant Service

Things that make you go hmmmm:

From the Calgary Sun:

It takes 20 minutes to get a coffee at the drive-through and after ordering seven large double-doubles to take back to the shop, the rocket surgeon on the other side of the window will ask if you need a tray.

Perhaps he's thinking you'll balance the boiling hot cups on the dashboard and try to avoid any turns.

You need the patience of Mother Teresa to get a seat at a restaurant and if you order fast food, there is a definite chance you'll be chomping into someone else's burger when you open the bag.
Hope you're not allergic to pickles.
-- Jose Rodriguez column.

It seems not only Calgary has the above issues.

On my travels over the past five years I've seen the worst:

1. Near Kitchener, Ontario at a McDonald's Service Centre on the 401 Eastbound, it took ten minutes to serve me a simple Big Mac Meal. Normal volume of customers seem to be there. Question: Isn't McDonald's a fast food location? If I wanted to wait 10 minutes for food, I would have gone to a gourmet burger place or perhaps ordered a steak. But then again, if I wanted a real burger I would have waited 10 minutes. Trust me, the jury is still out if the words "real beef" and "Big Mac" were ever truly associated without criminal charges being laid.

2. New York City restaurant bathrooms are so small for the number of people frequenting these locations that often the two toilets (one for men and one for women) are so dirty and disgusting you don't even want to walk into them. Wendy's in Downtown Brooklyn is one of these. I tried this bathroom once and mistook the men's toilet as a sewage treatment plant. This is one of the most busiest Wendy's restaurants I have seen in my life!

3. Idiot customers who, after paying for their order and moving on to wait for the order to be assembled, want to add a cheeseburger to their order. This means the said idiot customer in front of you must push back around you twice (once to get back to the cash and once to reclaim his spot in front of you). Of course the fact the fast food location has us hearded like cattle through narrow turnstiles doesn't help matters.

4. The "may I take your order" introduction from the attendant at McDonald's as a greeting. Hmmm....lets see....NO! Perhaps I just want to stand hear and oggle you in your sexy blue robes and dorky visor. YOUR SO SEXY in that fast food uniform! OF COURSE YOU CAN TAKE MY ORDER! What else am I there for? To wash the floor?

5. At McDonald's and Wendy's locations the person serving you is often both the cashier and the person who assembles your order. So the attendent usually takes your order, your money and then asks you to step to one side so the attendent can do the same with the next customer after you while your order is being prepared by the kitchen. I just love when the next customer after me has a million questions to ask the attendent or they don't know exactly what they want and this only leads to even more questions. Meanwhile during the interrogation of the lowly pimply teenager is going on about every single ingredient in the burger, your order is ready to be assembled. There are times I just want to hop the counter, grab my fries, burger and coke and get the hell out of there. Its like the food is teasing you saying: COME GET ME, YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO! BONUS ANNOYANCE: There is some loser standing behind the counter doing nothing of much importance that could have easily helped out his fellow co-worker by retrieving my order. But apparently this said loser wasn't told by a manager to do this, the thought of helping a co-worker never crosses their mind.

6. Not having my order taken within 5 minutes at a fast food location. Um....if you can't take my order, never mind fill the order, in 5 minutes then why call yourself a "fast food location"?

7. Finally, and this happenned to me this morning when I went for coffee at Tim Horton's. As I was standing waiting for the attendant to pour my coffee in the store, I heard the drive through attendent say: "We don't have any donuts ready yet this morning." Tim Horton's and no donuts? That is like a peanut butter and jam sandwich without jam, Bert without Ernie on Sesame Street. IT SHOULD NOT HAPPEN. BONUS! I was in the store this morning at 6:45 A.M. as the morning rush was starting.

Oh the fun of food service industry!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Am I on the Voter's List?

In September I received a letter from the Deputy Clerk for the Town of Aurora. The letter mentioned, at great length, mentioned that I was not confirmed to be a Canadian citizen or a resident of Aurora. Thus, I was not on the voters list for the upcoming municipal election in Aurora.

I thought to myself, how weird, with the exception of my time in Ottawa and New York, I've always lived in Aurora, how could I not be a Canadian citizen?

Also on the letter it stated that I could sign the declaration stating:

I declare that I am a Canadian citizen, that I have attained the age of eighteen years on or before voting day, and that I am entitled to be an elector in the Town of Aurora.

and present the above declaration at the Town Clerk's office in person.

Now it makes no mention that the Town Hall offices are only staffed between 8:30 A.M. and 4:30 P.M. Monday to Friday. Considering this how am I supposed to ensure that my name is on the voters list considering I work during those hours? Am I to take the financial hit in order to ensure my name is on the voters list? It seems like an odd thing to have to endure just to ensure my right to vote.

So I figured, as advertised in the newspaper, that I could just bring my passport and proof of tennancy in Aurora (i.e. Hydro Bill and Apartment contract) to the local poll in order to vote in this upcoming municipal election. I take voting quite seriously and do my research via candidate websites, debates and press coverage in order to vote for the best candidate. So I was prepared to not have my name on the voters list and figured I would have no problem as I was following the instructions the Town Clerk's Department had advertised in the local media if a person's name was not on the voter's list.

Earlier this month, I was puzzled when I checked my mailbox to find a voter card with my name on it with my apartment address on it. The card indicates all I have to do is prove who I am and then I can vote. Considering I have made no action myself to convince the Town Clerk's Department that I am in fact a tenant in Aurora and a Canadian citizen, this voter card continues to puzzle me.

On one hand I have a letter stating I need to prove my Canadian citizenship and Aurora tenancy. On the other hand I have a voter card stating I can vote at a certain polling station on November 13th. So am I or am I not on the voter's list.

I went online to investigate if I was on the voters list. On the Town of Aurora's website there is an "Online Voter Lookup" page in the Elections 2006 section. On this page I filled in my name and address and pressed the "submit" button. No entries were found. I tried my first initial and my last name and address and nothing happenned.

I figure since the page doesn't have a space for apartment numbers, my name will not show. Considering there are over twenty units in the building I live in, there are probably more than five voters in this building who are on the voters list. So perhaps next time the Clerk's Department might want to add a apartment number space for a case like my own. Then I might find my name.

But this still leaves me with a question:

"AM I ON THE VOTERS LIST?"

Friday, October 27, 2006

Troubles at VIVA continue

This morning on my way into work, while waiting for 9 minutes to transfer buses between VIVA Purple to VIVA Orange, I decided to purchase my November monthly pass.

I used the automated fare machine to purchase the pass. However, nothing came out after the machine's screen finished saying "please wait, I'm printing your tickets." I looked in and saw the problem. There was a gap between where the ticket is dispensed from and the receptacle. There was a white piece of paper in it. It was my receipt. I managed to fish that out of the machine. Next, I searched for the pass in that same hole no wider than your pinky. I nudged the piece of paper in the gap and it fell lower out of reach. This pass cost me $120.00!

While my hands and knees were getting acquainted with the concrete sidewalk, I copied down the Location# (9715) and Device # (0802) from the tag at the bottom left hand corner of the machine. I then reported it to the VIVA Orange bus driver on bus # 5132. He called it into transit control who said I had to call customer service instead.

So, I got to work and called customer service. I listened to their two minutes of pre-recorded information and was told that now my call was being transferred to the customer service agent. The phone rang four times and then I got nothing except dead air. I waited a minute and then nothing.

So I dialed the number again and waited through the two minutes of pre-recorded information (including for more information please visit our website! ARGH!). Then, I had to wait in the usual que for a customer service agent to pick up. This call occurred shortly after 8 A.M. and there isn't enough customer service agents to handle the calls? Perhaps more agents need to be hired or perhaps the bus system is receiving so many questions and complaints that communication with the customers need to be thought out.

Elsie picked up and I explained what happened. She said that I should expect a response to my query sometime next week.

I pointed out November started next Wednesday and what was I supposed to do then, get a $150.00 ticket from VIVA/YRT's Rent a Cops because I didn't have a monthly pass and the receipt would not suffice? I asked why one of the supervisors who always seem to be hiding in their cars sleeping instead of assisting the passengars, might be able to deliver me the monthly pass in question. I pointed out that I did work really close to one of their major terminals (Downsview Station) and perhaps they could deliver one there sometime by Wednesday.

Elsie said she would transfer me to someone, she said I had to lose the sarcasm though.

I thought to myself, I'm out $120.00 right now, I believe I've paid for the right to be sarcastic.

Elsie noted that person is not working yet as this person starts work at 8:30, so I should leave a voicemail.

I was transferred to another line and someone picked up. She said Elsie had transferred me to the wrong person. This person transferred me to Vanessa.

Vanessa was awesome! I gave her all my information of where, when, and how I lost the pass. She said she would call dispatch to see if a technician could visit the VIVA vending machine in question and figure out when I could get the pass. She called back in five minutes to say a technician was en route to the machine.

In fifteen Vanessa called back to say the technician would visit me at the office in under an hour. She apologized profusely about the situation. She also noted that the technician said there were two problems at this machine.

Apparently, there was a report of another Michael Suddard who had his debit card stuck in the machine as well as Vanessa's request to retrieve a pass for Michael Suddard. I said to Vanessa that I never said I had my debit card stuck in the machine. In fact, I noted, I have my debit cards on me and their perfectly fine. Elsie hadn't been listening to my story about losing the pass. But at least Vanessa did. She noted she was going into a meeting later that day and would bring up the problem I ran into. I also pointed out that the VIVA Orange to Downsview and the VIVA Purple to Martin Grove miss each other every day by one minute, yet I just get the runaround that "VIVA operates like the subway." I pointed out to Vanessa that perhaps VIVA should run the Toronto subway and have the TTC Subway trains operate every fifteen minutes! We both laughed at this, but she got my point and would pass it on.

Within the hour, Wade had dropped off the pass and again apologized for the confusion.

So BRAVO to Wade and Vanessa for quickly fixing the problem. I was imagining a possibly bureaucratic nightmare. I'm ecstatic that didn't happen.

JEERS to Elsie for screwing this up and the customer service line where you have to wait for two minutes and cannot press "0" to speak to a human.

JEERS again to customer service centre and the VIVA Rent a Cops for not ensuring the Ontario Smoke Free Act and the YRT Customer Code of Conduct (Region of York By-law # R-415-2005-028 section 3.21) at Richmond Hill Centre Terminal is enforced. People smoke at this transit terminal despite the no smoking signs being posted at the station,. the above customer code of conduct posted on the York Region Transit website and a report by myself that smoking is an ongoing issue. The terminal is also littered with cigrette butts and yet enforcement never seems to be around! Even BIGGER JEERS and a BIGGER SHAME! to the transit supervisor at Richmond Hill Centre Termianl who, every morning, stands next to a VIVA driver on break and lets this said DRIVER SMOKE! So why go about posting the signs on every single window at the station and post it on your website if your own enforcement refuses to even enforce it? SHAME ON YRT!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Chapter 9: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this post....click here.

In chapter 9 Joe Fiorito investigates Toronto's Seaton House. Seaton House is a homeless shelter for men located near downtown Toronto. The homeless that attend this shelter usually have lost their jobs, have an alchohol addiction, and/or are mentally unstable.

Heres the question I have always had about my experience between Toronto and New York City: Why are the homeless more noticeable in Downtown Toronto as opposed to Manhatten Island?

I have several theories for this:

1. New York City has quite a few subway lines that operate twenty four hours a day. New York's Subway system provides the homeless great spots to curl up in warm and dry locations in trains, passages stairwells and stations for the day and night. Heck, even the homeless advocates go from train car to train car handing out free sandwiches and other nutritious meals.

Whereas Toronto's subway system shuts down around one or two in the morning which means the homeless are forced out onto the streets as the trains go out of service for the evening. So the homeless would rather lay on heating grates an sleep

2. The New York City Police Department (NYPD) enforces the loitering laws far better than Toronto's Police force. This is particularly true considering that the homeless in Toronto can be found throughout the downtown sprawled out on street corners or begging for spare change. Whereas, in New York City, the homeless are barely seen and if they are seen, you can bet they are not sitting around begging for change. Perhaps this is because New York's finest ensure the sidewalks are not obstructed by anything or anyone.

3. Better housing services are offered by the New York City than Toronto. I have no proof on this one, but the fewer homeless on Manhatten's streets would indicate there are fewer homeless. Manhatten, considered the "downtown" of New York City would theoretically have more homeless in this city of over ten million than Downtown Toronto would with a population of just over 2 million. Yet I can find more homeless in Downtown Toronto than in my extensive adventures throughout Manhattan. Could this be because the homeless in New York city are routed towards programs that encourage them to find "geared to income housing" and away from the street corner?

These are just theories of why I believe the homeless are more noticable in Toronto than New York City.

I'd like to finish up with an anecdote though. When I was going to the University of Ottawa, I used to walk over the Mackenzie King Bridge behind the Rideau Centre there was always a pandhandler. This spot, you would think would be a prime location for a person down on his luck to gain quite a few sheckles in order to purchase some food and clothing. Or you would think shyster could do pretty well here if he played the part. Well, there was a shyster playing the part. Except the shyster had one problem: Why would a homeless person down on his luck have a brand spanking new leather jacket and winter toque on?

Naps & Colds

Late this past week I came down with a cold. Not a full blown runny nose cold, but a soar throat and slight headache cold. The nose, on Saturday, tried to start running, but that was short lived.

Now here I am Sunday afternoon feeling fit as a fiddle. How did that happen considering Thursday the symptoms were only just beginning?

Simple. I have a plan when it comes to challenging colds to test me:

1. Increase the amount of milk or milk products that I consume. The invention of chocolate milk makes this even better.

2. Increase the amount of Orange Juice in order to ensure I am getting more Vitamin C than I know what I do with.

3. Soar throat and sinuses congested? Try chewing Wrigley's Excel Extreme Gum which will just kick the hell out of your soar throat and do a number on the sinuses all in a positive way. I learned this one day after trying a pack of the new Extreme Gum from Loblaws. When I first tried this particular product, I was healthy, and thought the gum was disgusting. But I did note that the gum had an intense menthal tasting action that might be good for getting rid of disgusting mucas tastes in my mouth like you have when a cold is in full swing. After my first cold, I will never leave without this gum! Its widely available at Shoppers Drug Mart, Loblaws and its affiliated stores (e.g. Real Canadian Superstore, Zehrs, etc.).

4. Chicken Noodle Soup. At least I learned something from my mother....when your sick, Chicken Noodle soap is for you!

5. Naps & Nyquil. er...Nyquil then nap. Nyquil, the night time cold and flu edition is will clean out your sinuses and runny nose. But be careful, after taking the recomended dose on the bottle, be sure to act fast in putting the cap back on and racing to bed. This is because you might fall asleep before your head even hits your pillow.

All of the above helped me kick some serious cold ass leave me feeling energized and ready for the world!

Naps are perhaps the best idea, even if you don't have a cold, to re-energize yourself. My sister explained naps in this post that is well worth reading. All though, I don't take setting the alarm part as necessary, I do enjoy a nice weekend nap out on your favourite futon or chesterfield. My favourite napping is usually on a Saturday afternoon on a dreary rainy day. I lay out on my futon with a "throw" on watching boring Saturday afternoon television and drift off to sleep. I have the knack of awakening from my 'power nap' feeling totally re-energized.

Usually I use naps to reward myself from a busy morning. Saturday mornings are usually the best times to get things done. The line ups at the local Canadian Tire are usually nice and short. This is great because I love going in, getting what I want in a store and getting out as fast as I can. Also, at the Candaian Tire I go to, there are usually free Toronto Sun editions right after the checkout counters. These free newspapers are gone pretty quickly though, so you have to be there early to get an edition! The bank on a Saturday morning at 9:30 A.M. is a ghost town! I can get in, see a teller, and get out in five minutes. Later on in the day I would be lucky to get in and out in under twenty minutes.

So with all this in mind, I love Saturday afternoon naps....especially when battling the evil Dr. Cold bug!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

An Autumn Walk in Aurora

Tonight, shortly after six p.m., I headed out towards Sheppard's Bush to enjoy the fall colours. Unfortunately, many of the pictures didn't turn out due to bad lighting within Sheppard's Bush. But at least I got out to enjoy a nice fall walk full of fresh air and rasque squirrels looking for food before winter.

Here are the pictures that did turn out though:

The parkette at the corner of Edward Street & Royal Road.

A look down Royal Road at sunset from Edward Street.

Sheppard's Bush entranceway from Industrial Parkway South.

A look down the fitness trail at Sheppard's Bush.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Chapter 8: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this post....click here.

In chapter 8, Joe Fiorito takes a look at entrepreneurs who have moved from Asia and try and make it in Toronto. These entrepreneurs open everything from restaurants, where Fiorito reminisces about good soup to vacuum dealers who had to struggle with unfair competition from next door and succeed.

Every single businessman who has struggled to make it big in Canada and, for some, the world. There are a couple of businesses in Aurora that have seen recent immigrants come to Canada and start their own small businesses.

First, the most famous person in Aurora to own a business is perhaps Frank Stronach who founded Magna Autoparts, and later, Magna Entertainment. Frank Stronach started it all in Sweden and gradually moved his operations to Toronto. Eventually Magna (after merging his with another company) got its first contract for autoparts from General Motors. Magna has emerged to become the leading autopart manufacturer in the world with companies ranging from Ford and General Motors to Honda and Mercedez Benz. The Magna Autoparts world headquarters is located in Aurora, on the former farm of Frank Stronach (who still lives there as well). More on Magna's history can be found on their website.

Another recent immigrant making big, but not as big as Frank Stronach but could have if he had of left Aurora is Omar Khamissa. Recently, Omar passed away, which was a major blow to Aurora's business community considering he was in business for over 30 years and has seen several thousand pairs of feet that required shoes. In fact, I probably got my first pair of shoes fitted by either Omar himself or a member of his staff. An article on the difference Omar has made to Aurora can be found here.

Aurora, for what was a small town, has made it big both within small business in terms of Omar, but also big worldwide in terms of Frank. Fiorito's looking for the average small business owner left this out. However, Fiorito's book was more based around telling the stories that aren't usually told in the Toronto area.

But I do find, at least recently, that I find books on how entrepreneurs made it big to be very interesting. For example, I have recently read The Google Story which explores how Google has gone from a company run out of a dorm room and a garage to a multi billion dollar company. Perhaps one of the biggest people I look up to in business is my own uncle, Bob Young, who made it big in the field of Linux as founder of Red Hat Linux. His book, Under the Radar, formed the basis for the research I did for a paper for my Business History course at the University of Ottawa on the rise of Linux in the marketplace. This paper can be found here.

Who knows, perhaps down the road I will have my own successful business story.....

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A night out on the town...

I was out last night to visit a comedy club with a friend of mine at the Bad Dog Theatre. We were out to see "the Booby Benefit Deux". This comedy show's proceeds went to breast cancer research. The show starred five women doing improv in the style of "Whose Line is it Anyway?" from Television.

Following the show, my friend and I went to The Willow restaurant for after show drinks and snacks. Soon after the cast of the show came into the restaurant and invited us into the back of the restaurant to joined them. So we did. I helped the producer of the show, who my friend knew from doing improv classes at Second City in Toronto. We sat down next to each other with two seats across from us.

Two ladies, around my parents age, walked in and sat down accross from us. The producer recognized one of them immediately and struck up a conversation. I sat in awe at the lady sitting directly across the table from me.

She looked through the menu and looked at me and said "would you like to split some calimari?"

I was flabergasted, her was a person that most Canadian's admired (heck... a Juno and slab with your name on it on Canada's Walk a Fame with your name on it might make you famous) and she would choose the only seafood on the menu.

"I'm not one for seafood," I told her.

She offered the rest of the table to split Calimari.

I split my potato wedges with everyone else. I got asked by the lady sitting directly across the table if I had a nutritious dinner that night considering the potato wedges were high in calories.

I smiled and replied that I had a nice medium peporoni pizza.

The lady looked at me and asked "What would your mother think?"

I replied, with a smile "She would say: If you have the metabolism, why not?"

The lady laughed for a bit and the conversation continued on.

I left about 11:30 P.M. from the restaurant and took the subway and VIVA bus home. I was beaming the entire way thinking about who I had drinks with.

Who was it?

None other than Royal Canadian Air Farce's own Luba Goy.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Chapter 7: Union Station

In case you are wonderin' what is going on with this post....click here.

Chapter 7 of Union Station takes a look at the contributions the Italian community has made to Toronto as both city builders and as current residents. Joe Fiorito contends that Italians built most of Toronto by hand. Everything from the skyscrapers to the Yonge Street Subway Line.

The history of Toronto and its surrounding cities is quite vast. Take for example Aurora, and other cities between Aurora and Toronto. Aurora was founded as "Machell's Corners" and eventually was renamed Aurora when formed as a town. Aurora's growth was spurred by the founding of Yonge Street which stretched north from Lake Ontario from Downtown Toronto northward towards Lake Simcoe. Industrial growth was encouraged by the building of the railway and especially so considering Aurora was the 'end of the line' on Canada's first railway. But the real question is not who the 'movers and shakers' were who lead the creation and building of both Aurora and Toronto, but who were the everyday workers who did the grunt work? These are the people Fiorito tells the story about. The person who owned the local corner store, the person who is the matriarch of the local market and others like these are the true city builders. These are the people who history seems to forget.

Footnote: For a complete history of Aurora click here.

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