Saturday, February 23, 2008

The Green Life Challenge

The Toronto Star has created a blog written by its two environment reporters. This week is the sixth challenge and the one I'm most working on for 2008. But before I elaborate on this challenge, here is what I've done so far to become more environmentally friendly.

1. I take the bus everywhere I go. So it helps I don't have a licence as of yet to drive a car. But taking the bus not only cuts down on the cost of owning a car (e.g. insurance, gas, etc.), it also reduces by a significant amount the amount of greenhouse gases I'm responsible for. Also, for the 12 monthly transit passes I bought last year I'm getting a tax rebate of $150.

2. Wherever possible I've converted to using CFL bulbs. Sure I still have a couple of CFL bulbs still to go, but these are for light fixtures that are trilights or have weird size of bulbs that I haven't been able to find a CFL for as of yet.

So for this year, challenge number six issued by the environment reporters of the Toronto Star, is perfect for myself. Along with my girlfriend, we have taken up the challenge of removing as many plastic bags from our lives. Since we shop at No Frills anyway, we invested in a single President's Choice cloth bag and bring a slightly larger cloth bag as well for our groceries. This means we not only don't have to pay a nickel a piece for a plastic bag, we also receive one hundred bonus PC Points for using our two cloth bags. This adds up to twenty dollars off our grocery bill once we accumulate 20,000 PC Points. We've found it takes about at least a year to accumulate twenty thousand points.

We also have a large collection of cloth bags from other sources. The federal government seems to like to hand out cloth bags as SWAG during job fairs. We have one from the National Defence Department which is the perfect size for us to take library books to and from the library instead of using a plastic bag.

If we do receive plastic shopping bags, we store them in a kitchen drawer. We use the bags for our garbage. Sure this isn't the best use of these bags, but at least we are filling them up before throwing out our garbage. If there was another way to handle are garbage after recycling and green bin, please let me know!

So we are well on our way to reducing the number of plastic bags we come accross and are continuing to reuse plastic bags in any way possible. Challenge six will be an ongoing issue for this year as sometimes I forget and accept a plastic bag from a store despite: A. Being able to take my purchase home from the store without a plastic bag or B. have a cloth bag with space in it after visiting another store with it. But then again, saving the environment will be an ongoing challenge.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Family Day Transit Fiasco

On Monday in Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan is a Family Day Holiday. The provincial governments of these provinces have declared this to be a holiday. The thinking was people needed a holiday in between new year's day in January and Easter in March or April.

So last October during the election campaign, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty announced that the third monday in February each year would be a holiday in the province of Ontario. This coming Monday, February 18th is the first Family Day Holiday in Ontario ever.

The execution of who gets the holiday off has been a nightmare. Toronto Police Officers are up in arms because they do not get a holiday off as their current contract has more days off than stated holidays. Federal civil service employees are exempt as the holiday falls under provincial legislation that, under the Canadian Constitution, can't affect the laws or powers of the federal government. The same goes for federally regulated institutions like banks and railways, those workers will continue toiling on Monday.

As the Toronto Star notes:

"an estimated 40 per cent of us will be reporting to work first thing Monday morning, trudging through more snow and sleet while the other 60 per cent, including our neighbours and friends, stay home in their flannel pyjamas doing battle with their kids for time on the computer. " - from the Toronto Star article here.

One would figure with about sixty percent of those staying home from work, traffic is expected to be lighter on Monday with only fourty percent going to work. Also noted is that transit service would need to be scaled back a bit in frequency but still needed for those unfortunate enough to have to work that day.

For those of us living north of the city like Aurora, GO Transit has gone with a Saturday schedule which means that instead of trains, buses will shuttle those down to Union station. The only downfall is that there is no GO Bus service along Yonge Street between Newmarket Terminal and the Sheppard Subway Station and points in between. No worries one would figure, as VIVA and YRT offer services along that stretch.

On Wednesday, I had to double check the YRT/VIVA website for how the holiday would affect travel. I had expected service to be scaled back to every fifteen minutes on VIVA and maybe a lax Saturday type schedule of service for YRT. I clicked on "Holiday Service" from their main page and came up with nothing. I thought that there must not be any changes. My girlfriend insisted there was.

We had to dig deep into the website by going back to the main page and clicking on "service changes" and then "Public Holidays" to get to the information. Now one one think that "service changes" would refer to the last change in services that YRT/VIVA has made (i.e. Route 32 will now show up five minutes earlier each day, etc.) and not a holiday services. If YRT/VIVA provides a link for "Holiday Service" that they would list Holiday Service changes there. But of course this would be to simple.

I called in Thursday morning to YRT/VIVA and pointed this out to the lady who answered the phone. She said that it was under the service changes link. I replied that if I'm your average rider and I see the "Holiday Service" link on the main page I would click there. If there was nothing listed there, then the average visitor to the website would think regular service would be provided for the Family Day Holiday. From there the average rider, I continued, would venture out for their normal going to work time just to find themselves frozen in a snowstorm without a bus in sight (FYI there is a winter storm watch from Environment Canada for Sunday and Monday). The customer service agent said she would let the marketing department know about the problem.

Frozen in a snowstorm withou a bus in sight? Yup that's right, YRT & VIVA are on a Sunday schedule for Monday's Family Day Holiday. The brains of the operation believe everyone doesn't need to get up before 8:00 A.M. because we will all be home in our pajamas sipping hot coffee and reading the newspaper because Dalt said so.

Wrong, 40% of the population has to go to work. So if, lets say, a person living in Aurora has to be at Union Station by 8:30 A.M. on a Monday and normally takes VIVA or YRT and the TTC subway to get there. The first VIVA bus that arrives at Yonge & Wellington Streets (dead centre of Aurora) 8:05 A.M. and arrives at 8:44 A.M. to Finch Subway, so that fails.

Other options?:

1. GO Transit has a bus leaving from the Aurora GO Station, but for those of us living in south Aurora that means a hike over the GO Station because, in their infinate wisdom, YRT will not run the local routes or shuttle buses to the GO Station that day.

2. Ride the local Route 98 YRT route south through Aurora to Bernard Station and then on to Finch Station. The first bus on this route leaves Yonge and Wellington streets at 7:22 A.M. and arrives at Bernard Terminal at 7:40 A.M. where one has to transfer to a Route 99 bus to continue on down to Finch Station. The next Route 99 southbound leaves at 8 A.M. and arrives at 8:30 A.M. at Finch (the same time one has to arrive at Union Station in our scenario).

So apparently YRT/VIVA doesn't care about their ridership living in Aurora or Newmarket who have to work on Monday about 8:30 in downtown Toronto, or for that fact anywhere in Toronto for that fact. If YRT/VIVA did, they would obviously:

A. Post the Holiday Service hours in the proper link i.e. "Holiday Service" in a timely fashion instead of waiting for a customer complaint to come in on the Thursday before the holiday.

B. Provided at least Saturday service like GO Transit or Sunday service with earlier start time like the TTC.

But of course, all of this would have required thought, for YRT in this case, that would have been a novel idea. That ain't the worst of it of it for passengers, YRT/VIVA increased their fares as of January 1st to become the most expensive in the Toronto area. Now if only YRT/VIVA would back up the most expensive fare with a little bit of the highest price thought. But of course that would make sense, and YRT/VIVA in terms of this case does not.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Dinosaurs are Back!

My first Family Day consisted of getting up and taking the bus and train to downtown Toronto with my girlfriend. From there, we separated as she had to work and I had the DAY OFF!

I picked up a coffee at Union Station then headed off to the Royal Ontario Museum to check out the Dinosaurs! It was stroller central at the ROM (as well as the Ontario Science Centre which I visited in the afternoon). I battled four and five year olds up the stairs to check out the ROM's Dinosaurs.

Following, the Dinosaurs, I headed back downtown on the subway, picked up lunch and ate with my girlfriend and her coworkers. Following that, I was dumb enough to go to the Ontario Science Centre where there were kids everywhere! Man has the Ontario Science Centre changed since I was a kid. There was a complete renovation of the builiding and most of it's displays since I was last there. Too bad the Science Arcade is gone, I miss running amok in it....PITY!

With that, onto the pictures of the DINOSAURS!

A balloon Dinosaur made out of over 10,000 baloons!

Another look at the balloon Dinosaur.



Duck Billed Dinosaur

A dinosaur waiting in line outside of the bathroom. I don't think he made it to the bathroom.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Pure Pizza in the Tummy!

On Saturday for lunch my girlfriend and I headed over to The Pure Pizza Company (located at :
15420 Bayview Ave in the Zellers/Sobey's plaza
) for a Saturday lunch. We arrived at about 1:00 P.M. for lunch. We were ones there for lunch. However, this should not be an indicator of the either the service or the food!

I had the San Vito personal pan pizza (pizza with sliced tomatoes, basil and oregano) with as side Ceasar Salad. It was very well presented on a decent sized plate. It was marvellous! I, of course, washed the it down with a glass of Coke.

The waitress, of course, wasn't that busy, so we received decent service. Why wasn't this place more busy you might ask? Pure Pizza is more of a dinner destination. On most Friday and Saturday nights this place is usually lined up out the door.

But the secret to this place appears to come at lunch when the same good food is offered (even at better lunch specials!) without the line ups.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Ordinary Joe's quest for Internet supremacy

In Thursday's edition of the Toronto Star, Joe Howell wrote about his experience and research in "Googling himself." Howell wrote that he was shocked after searching his own name on the popular website in hopes of finding an old paper he wrote a long time ago. Howell's search lead him to find that there were several other Joe Howell's out there that were ranked by Google's search engine way higher than he was.

After reading Howell's article I got thinking about my own name. The most noteworthy thing I found was that compared to myself, Joe Howell has one thing I don't, a common first name. Sure my first name "Michael" is common. I searched my first name and the first two entries are the popular craft store and a certain singer who we have know idea what race he is (is he black or white?). I obviously don't rank there to well. In fact I didn't even bother looking I figured so low. With my popular first name being, as my sister would call it "a GONG SHOW!", I soldiered on.

Let's search my first and last names together in a Google search which, unlike Joe Howell, should narrow things down a whole lot more. The results of this simple search show that I rank, first, second and fourth on the search entry. But who is third? Some guy with a profile named "Mike Suddard and fifth is a guy from Brampton, Ontario named Michael Suddard who plays the guitar. I wonder if Brampton Mike has ever googled his name to find this here blog or my website. (HEY MIKE! PLEASE COMMENT BELOW IF THIS HAS HAPPENNED!). Creepy, two of us living so close together with the same name. It has has happenned to my brother Peter, but that is another story for another day.

Finally, my last name is searched. Unlike Joe Howell's last name, Suddard isn't quite as common. But I do have lots of competition in order to rank very highly from a car dealership and a female car racer. Where do I rank on this one? NUMBER ONE BABY! I even beat out (a computer design agency that ranks third) and the car dealership (ranks second). This here blog ranks fourth.

Apparently online I'm popular. I rank first in my full name and my last name. But does it really matter to me? No, not really, if any of my rankings were to fall, I wouldn't really care. Why not? Because, to tell the truth, I have no idea how I did it in the first place.

Floundering at the Filly

My girlfriend and I walked into the Filly & Firkin (14888 Yonge Street, Aurora) and was greeted right away and were able to choose our own table right away. There seemed to be a few people in the pub, but the place wasn't that busy.

The drinks came quickly after we ordered them. However, the food took over half an hour an hour to arrive. The waitress seemed more interested in talking to the people at the next table over from us rather than checking on where our orders were. Half an hour to wait for food considering the place was barely busy and more than half the customers were only interested in sipping a beer or two without food. The waitress did check on our orders and said they would be out in a couple of minutes. Well within thirty seconds of her saying that, the plates came from the kitchen (did she even bother to help bringing out the food? NO!).

Once the food was served my girlfriend commented she'd had better Greek salad at Johnathan's Restaurant (accross Yonge Street from "The Filly") and better rotisseried chicken at Swiss Chalet. She obviously wasn't pleased. My burger was a little too well done for my liking, but was at least acceptable.

We didn't leave too much of a tip for this waitress considering how long the food took to arrive. It seems at "The Filly," either you receive your food really quickly or it takes "forever" to come out. WHY IS THAT? It seems at "The Filly" you either get your order quickly or you flounder.

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