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.

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