Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A lesson on bus selection for OC Transpo

I'm a bit of a transit geek, and while I'm nowhere near as hardcore as some people, I do know that OC Transpo has made some questionable decisions on bus selection. The old Ikarus articulated buses, for example, had to be cannibalized to maintain them, then couldn't even be given away once decommissioned (AFAIK they may still be sitting in a field somewhere). Then there's the buses they bought in the '90s, whose windows only opened at the top because the buses came with air conditioning, but the A/C had been irreversibly removed as a cost saving measure early in their lifetime, resulting in some very uncomfortable buses.

More recently, OC Transpo bought 365 of the hump-backed buses in the 4200 series starting in 2004, and is one of very few transit services to have bought the now-discontinued model, meaning parts will likely be in short supply when it comes time for their overhaul nine years after purchase. The three double-decker buses it recently purchased (with the possibility of buying more) require a whole new garage to be built to service them, because three axles fit in the 40-foot frame instead of the usual two, and thus three lifts are needed--not to mention an extra-tall garage door. It was recently reported that OC Transpo does not have a garage that is licensed to certify buses for their safety inspections that has doors tall enough to accommodate the double-deckers. The inspections will have to be outsourced.

Oh, and did you know that the articulated buses in OC Transpo's fleet have four-cylinder engines, instead of the more popular six-cylinder option? That'll also hurt your resale value (as will the windshields popping out only a couple of years into service).

All this leads me to believe that OC Transpo doesn't properly test buses before selecting them.

The following BBC video shows some thorough testing of different styles of buses available in the UK. The test takes into account passenger comfort, accessibility, and speed of service. The test was also conducted on a closed circuit, to avoid casualties to cyclists and pedestrians.

OC Transpo, I hope you're paying attention.

- RG>

Monday, December 28, 2009

I'm poor again. That was easy.

I have a friend who declared earlier this month that she wanted nothing to do with Christmas. Not only did the constant reminders of rampant consumerism and religious messages bother her, but she was also averse to the ideal alternative of spending the time with family for a great meal, because her partner's turkey-eating family can't come to terms with the couple's vegetarianism.

We brainstormed ways of avoiding Christmas, especially on a nearly absent budget. This would be difficult: stores are closed, and those that are open are blaring Merry Christmas messages all over. I think we settled on "dig a hole" and "walk to Kanata" as the best options, though a few days before Christmas she gave in to celebrating the damn holiday, in some form or another.

But still, it's an interesting question for future reference: how could my friend avoid Christmas (for little to no money?)

* * *

I suffer a similar Christmas dilemma myself, because as much as I bemoan it and downplay it (for example, I keep my standard greeting instead of using a "seasonal" one when saying goodbye, except for the occasional "Happy Humbug"), I do, technically, celebrate it. That is, I go to the annual family gathering and stay a few days, and it's become a tradition for me to stay at my aunt's place where I watch Cable TV marathons of sci fi films and TV shows.

I also exchange gifts, though in a very limited fashion. My dad was kind enough this year to throw politeness to the wind and flat out asked me what I wanted, and gave me a list of gift ideas for himself (very useful, as we're both hard to shop for). This generally involved links to various products on the MEC website. I can't tell if it's superficial or transparent, but whatever it is, it seems to work.

* * *

I am also lucky enough to receive money for Christmas, plus a meagre bonus at work. Last year, I had enough to buy a new bed, and this year I was hoping to be able to replace my laptop.

Unfortunately, my savings are still low, due to borrowing from them to buy a projector in June and a camera last month (and I haven't sold the old one yet). To buy a new laptop, I'd have to borrow even more from my savings. Since my job is not secure past March 31st, replenishing my savings is the most prudent course of action.

After doing so, and deducting the price of my gifts to others, I calculated I had a hundred or two to spend on my whims. This is remarkably difficult for someone who delights in useless free shit found in the trash. So I went to Staples yesterday to gratify my consumerist desires, and noticed a bin of those big red buttons that speak out "that was easy!" when you press them. I wondered, who the hell would actually buy one of those?!? (No, I didn't)

As I left the store, I considered the total price of the new toy plus a spare camera battery from Henry's. As I returned to my bike, I muttered to myself:

"I'm poor again. That was easy!"

- RG>

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Greatest Mayor: Update

Back in August, I wrote the post Larry O'Brien: Great Mayor, or Greatest Mayor? on the topic of our mayor's trial. A recent anonymous comment on the post (likely spam; I've been getting lots of innocuous junk comments) reminded me of it.

Reading it over, I found the following passage rather telling:

I'm also open-minded enough to realize that if [O'Brien] can beat these charges so ballsily, maybe--just maybe--he'd be able to get us out of the multimillion-dollar Siemens lawsuit he got us in. If he can't, at least it's something else to put in the "zero-means-go-fuck-yourself" pile that he'll eventually face.
Sure enough, Larry didn't get us out of the lawsuit, and it will cost taxpayers $37 million.

Meanwhile, the 2010 budget is forecast, so far, to increase by 3.9% (actually around 3.995%, either way it's much more than his campaign promise of "zero means zero"). At the going rate of roughly ten million dollars per percent, that comes to $39 million--just a couple million more than what Mayor Larry cost us with the Siemens lawsuit.

So I guess that's what zero means. A steaming pile of go fuck yourself.

- RG>

Thursday, December 17, 2009

On the prowl...

During Bluesfest, I discovered this pair of plastic cutlery in my cutlery drawer. They're big and they're sturdy (they're very stiff), so I drilled holes in the ends and attached them to a lanyard, so I didn't have to use and discard a set of plastic cutlery at each meal.

Unfortunately, I can't for the life of me remember where I got them--no doubt in a restaurant or fast-food place, but damned if I can remember which.

If you know a local place where I can find these (either individually from a restaurant or in bulk--around 100), that would be SOO COOL.

- RG>

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Scrimshaws discovered near Percy

David Scrimshaw posted today a photo of a street art installation he saw on Gladstone just West of Percy. It was a little rectangle of painted canvas tacked to a street post, sporting the words "Looking Good!"

He said he saw this back in October and had been meaning to post the photo of it. Which he did.

I also happened upon some similar works, likely by the same artist, in late November. And since David Scrimshaw was the first to discover and describe one of these things, I'm hereby defining a Scrimshaw to refer to "a guerrilla inspirational street art installation". And in keeping with my recent trend of ripping off blog ideas from David Scrimshaw's blog, I'd might as well post photos of the Scrimshaws I found.

This one is on Gladstone, just East of Percy--kitty-corner from the one David posted. It has a mirror on it (in which I've cleverly reflected a building that matches the background (hmm... the 'background' in this case is really closer than the image in the mirrors (hmm... lots of brackets here...))). The slogan on this one is "Today is potentially awesome!"Potentially, yes, but it wasn't particularly so for me.

This other one is also nearby, this time on Percy itself, but further down, at Powell in the Glebe. It also has mirrors and a positive message.

Being a grouch, I'm not a big fan of unnecessarily positive messages, but this one--"You're looking Sharp Today"--is a pun, which balances it out. The sharp shards of mirror also help.

Whoever the artist is, first I apologize for not bothering to so much as do a simple google search to see if you've identified yourself somewhere. And second, keep up the good work dressing up the neighbourhood, but please apply a tone of dressing down in your future works.

Another street artist (or conceivably the same one) put something up on Elgin Street this past weekend, but unfortunately by the time I got to see it, it had already been vandalized. It looks like it had been in the style of El Maks' Tell Me A Story journals (Maks, were you in town? Was this you?)

All this has reminded me that I've wanted to make a swap box for quite some time, though it isn't exactly a priority for me. Maybe I'll make a few Scrimshaws instead, as I hear there's a big market for them overseas.

- RG>

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

More stuff XUP can't have

In the post Weekly Treasure, I described some neat stuff I found being discarded in Centretown, and I mentioned that finding neat stuff is a regular event. True to form, the last couple weekends have been fruitful as well, what with the first of the month being near.

On Monday (which is garbage night for Centretown east of Kent Street) I happened upon a stash of goods that included these items I collected. Some packaging also being thrown out revealed that the mysterious KUN house on MacLaren is a manufacturer of violin shoulder rests, and not a fraternity or cult, as their ominous street presence had led me to fear. I guess that's reassuring. There were also some items that would make for good Swap Box swag.

These LERSTA reading/floor lamps from Ikea are another commonly discarded item. They're often thrown out not only still functional, but also with a lightbulb still inside. I guess people upgrade, or they dent the bell of the shade. Since it's only $14.99, it's early on the chopping block when it's time to cull. They're great because they're decently-made bendy lamps, and you can remove the bottom piece of pipe for a shorter height. (Conceivably, I guess you can add them too for a taller one.)

Anyway, twice in as many weeks, I've picked up one of these translucent globelike lamp covers. I transported it home on the back of my bike, with the open end pointing toward my tail light, which makes for a neat effect.

The upshot is that you can bend the LERSTA lamp so that its bell points straight up. Plop the globe on top and you get a pretty, neat effect. (Make sure to use CFL or LED bulbs to prevent overheating in the now-enclosed space). I think it has a Jetsons type look to it.

Last week, an oriental couple on Somerset West were throwing out a whack of stuff, and us sharks were going after it as they were still bringing it out. Among the swag were three of these ACCO 401 single hole punches (this page advertises them under the "Mutual" brand).

These were occupying space on my kitchen table over the last week, so finally I decided to 'put them away' on Saturday night. Not having a defined location for "single-hole punches" in my apartment, I figured they'd look nice mounted on the wall as an installation of found art. But I actually do have a use for these, so my mounting technique had to preserve their utility.

I used a piece of white-covered MDF as a backplate, covered by a piece of translucent red fiberglass (both also found and didn't require cutting). I attached the two with a can of spray glue left over from a project from a few years ago. To mount the punches to the board, I cut holes at the top just big enough to accept screw heads that stick out of the board, but not big enough for the chips to fall through. Regrettably, I didn't take photos along the way because I wasn't sure if any of this would work. Though it did, and I think it came out wonderfully:

I call it "Three Hole Punch".

- RG>

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mister Scrimshaw...

I see your [colleague's] Shredddy the Snowman and raise you Sammy the Shoelaced Sumo Snowman:

You know he's classy because he has a top hat.

On an entirely unrelated note. Anybody need bags of shoelaces or old flying discs? (not Frisbee® brand)

- RG>

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sending an amateur to do a veteran's job

Apparently, if you are declined permission to solicit in private property, it's newsworthy, so long as you are a volunteer doing things for veterans. The hilarious icing on this story's cake is that this was the volunteer's first time selling poppies to the masses on behalf of war veterans, i.e. she was not a veteran of the poppy trade.

I don't care who you're working for, I quite like my hotel visits uninterrupted by solicitors. Unless they're offering motherhood and apple pie. That's a special case that nobody should be allowed to turn away.

I wonder if we can use this sense of Veteranary entitlement for other things too.

I'm imagining a group called Vee Pee, where volunteers go to various restaurants' washrooms and take a whiz, in solidarity with those veterans whose continence was lost on other continents. If we are declined access because we're not paying customers of the establishment, we should raise a stink (harder to do without washroom access) and tell the newspapers that the restaurant doesn't care about veterans because their washrooms-are-for-paying-customers-only policy doesn't have an exception for veterans.

Oh, and as with the campaign manager in the article who dispatched the novice poppy volunteer, we won't make reservations.

- RG>

Friday, November 06, 2009

"We will be greeted as Lansdowne Liberators"

I've compared Larry O'Brien to George W. Bush before, if only because he did it first.

And here I go again. This time, it has to do with the long-anticipated results to the Nanos poll evaluating public opinion on the Lansdowne Live proposal. As fellow blogger David Reevely says, you can read pretty much anything into this poll.

However, one thing this poll puts to rest is O'Brien's assertions that Lansdowne Live has widspread support from the "silent majority". Using the Bush analogy, O'Brien was saying of himself and the Lansdowne Live people that "we would be greeted as liberators," and the Nanos poll shows that success at Lansdowne takes a heck of a lot more work than that.

I'll be at the Rally for a public solution to Lansdowne Park at City Hall (Marion Dewar Plaza) at noon next Friday, November 13th. Hope you will too.

- RG>

Monday, November 02, 2009

Fight panic - get a Flingol

"Help prevent panic before it happens: get a Flingol"


"There's a panic epidemic right around the corner and we need to prevent it. Scientists and public safety officials are recommending that everyone be supplied with a Flingol, lest the panic ruin the economy and cripple our health services."

And how would it do that, exactly?

"Well, do you have any chronic medical conditions?"

I have asthma.

"Then you're in a high-risk group. You're a high priority to get a Flingol."

Okay, assuming the panic epidemic is any worse than the normal crazy that goes around at Christmastime, how would a Flingol prevent it?

"You've probably heard rumours that some ingredients in the Flingol can cause spontaneous amputation and percussive cardiac asphyxiation... "

What?!? No, I've never heard that!

"Be assured that laboratory tests have demonstrated that the components used in the Flingol are very safe, and such incidents are extremely rare."

But you still haven't told me how the Flingol prevents a panic epidemic.

"The Flingol provides you with a mild electric shock at random intervals, which makes you less susceptible to real panic when it occurs."

And has this been tested to actually prevent panic?

"The Flingol is like the annual Flangel treatment that has been distributed for years. The Flingol has been prepared quickly to cater to the specific form of panic that is predicted to become an epidemic this year. Don't be worried about the very long lineups of people at Flingol clinics. Yes, some people are being turned away after waiting in line for hours, but we fully expect that a Flingol will be available to everyone who wants it by winter Solstice."

Okay, first, you still haven't given me any signs of evidence that this Flingol thing has been tested and is effective at preventing panic. In fact, if it will take hours out of my day, I'm definitely going to want to have sound evidence-based reasons for getting a Flingol. Second, aren't you encouraging the thing you're trying to prevent by having these long lineups and turning them away? Doesnt' that just create panic?

"We're constantly adjusting our system to maximize the communication to the public about availability of Flingol. Our suppliers, who are major manufacturers of pain-causing medication, are working as hard as they can to get the Flingol ready for every person in the Country."

Wait, so this Flingol thing is lining the pockets of the harmaceutical industry? At this point I'm very frustrated and I've heard no reason to get a Flingol. I don't usually suffer from the annual mass holiday panic, so I doubt it will be useful to me.

"Even if you don't get panic very often, you could pass it on to someone else who is unable to get a Flingol for health reasons."

In that case you're risking my health, according to these anecdote-based rumours you told me about. Even if it's a very low risk, I really want to know about the effectiveness. What scientific studies have been carried out to demonstrate its effectiveness? What is the empirical measure of the Flingol's ability to prevent panic from spreading? The only science-based information on all the public safety websites is that the Flingol is not unsafe, and that certain people should get it sooner than others.

"If you have any concerns about the Flingol, please contact your Family Safety Officer."

At this point, my primary concern is that you're telling people to get this Flingol thing...

"We're not telling you to get it, we're saying it's available, and that you're in a high-risk group. It's your decision whether or not to get the Flingol."

Right, sure. Because you don't want to get sued. But how can I inform my decision when the only information you're distributing is how it's supposed to work in theory, where to get it, and that it's not unsafe?

"Out of office reply: Thank you for your message. We will respond to your request within 2 working days."

Shit, you're as bad as the homeopaths.


It's been three full business days since I sent my initial message to the public health department asking about the effectiveness of the H1N1 influenza vaccine and got the Out-of-office reply. Based on the media hype, I'm thinking of getting the H1N1 flu shot, but none of the information on the Ontario Ministry of Public Health website and the Ottawa Public Health H1N1 vaccine FAQ page seems to have any evidence of the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing transmission/infection of the H1N1 flu virus. At most, it talks about the makeup of the vaccine, and the differences between it and the seasonal flu vaccine, but this vaccine had an accelerated production.

Presumably our politicians (informed by public health officials) made the decision to issue the vaccine based on hard scientific evidence, not just media hype and lobbying from Big Pharma. I would therefore like to see some of that evidence (or even evidence of that evidence) before getting the vaccine. This could take the form of something as simple as "in laboratory trials, the H1N1 influenza vaccine prevented transmission of the H1N1 influenza virus in XX% of laboratory rats, and reduced the average number of days of infection by X days." I'm frankly shocked that no such statements are in the public health documentation on the websites. This information should not be so difficult to find, and is far more powerful argument for getting the flu shot than "it's not harmful, so why not?"

Given the size of the lineups, I've got plenty of time to wait to hear back from Public Health before deciding to get a flu shot.

- RG>

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Blue Line Taxi #522 is a menace to society

This afternoon, while walking to lunch, I made the decision to jay-walk across Cooper at Elgin (as I frequently do while walking). There was only one car coming, and it was far enough away that I'd be out of the intersection by the time the car approached.

Turns out, the car, which was Blue Line Taxi #522, sped up. As he went to turn left through the intersection, I felt his tire rub against the heel of my shoe.

"Motherfucker!" I exclaimed.

Two women who had just crossed Elgin (with the light) turned and looked at me, I guess to see if I was referring to one of them.

"That taxi just hit my foot!" I clarified.

The ladies remarked that they were just talking to each other about how fast that taxi took the turn.

I'd report the driver, but I've had bad luck. Last time I reported a driver glancing me (at the time, I was on my bike), the only witness I had (an OC Transpo driver) didn't see the car contact me because he was on the other side of the car. Similarly, these two women didn't see the taxi glance my foot. I could have gotten their information as witnesses to the speed at which the taxi was going, but pedestrians can't judge the exact speed at which a motorist goes--he might have technically been going the limit, but it looked faster because nobody in their right mind goes 50 km/h on Elgin, especially around a corner.

Also, the previous time, while my brake lever made some marks on the driver's rear passenger door (I saw them in great detail because the incident happened in slow-motion for me), the police claimed there were no scratches on the door, and therefore no corroboratory evidence. In today's case, I just felt his tire rub the back of my shoe, but that made no mark on the tire or the shoe.

So there's no point in bothering to report this asshole to the police. The most it would result in is a jaywalking ticket for me. So instead I'm calling him out.


There are some who think that I deserve what I got (or could have gotten) because I was jaywalking. The City of Ottawa, for one, who had a Walk like your life depends on it campaign earlier this year.

The campaign's reasoning goes--applied to this situation--even though the taxi driver could have not accelerated in a high pedestrian traffic zone, and even though the driver could have not passed me so closely to endanger my life, the whole situation is really my fault. Even though a taxi driver is a professional driver who should be held to the highest standards


Pedestrians and cyclists probably account for a high proportion of taxi passengers. So why are they so antagonistic?

Two years ago yesterday there was a consultation on the City of Ottawa's Transportation Master Plan. Someone I know attended the focus group where Hanif Patni, president of Coventry Connections (Blue Line Taxi) claimed that the City shouldn't spend any money on cycling because cyclists only account for 1% of the population traffic (which is an inaccurate figure, especially if you look beyond the city-wide level to ward and neighbourhood cycling levels).

From the day I heard about that, I've used other taxi companies when I've needed a taxi.

After today's incident, I think I'll keep a running tally of specific taxi drivers (by car number) who do dangerous and reckless actions (as well as the good ones). Feel free to contribute your own in the comments. It would be neat to eventually make such a list into some sort of mobile phone app, so that when you want to take a taxi, you can see if they've endangered your friends and neighbours.

- RG>

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Holy fuck! Google Wave!

Back a few years ago, Google introduced a paradigm shift to e-mail with Gmail. Those of you who have and use Gmail at home, for example, know how annoying it is to have to go back to work and use the traditional e-mail interface, which doesn't make threads of e-mail discussions, and doesn't allow multiple tags for conversations.

Google Wave, designed by Lars and Jens Rasmussen (creators of Google Maps), is the next paradigm shift in communications user interface. Frankly, it does so much that I'm a bit afraid of it.

Here is a 1hour, 20 minute video on YouTube introducing Google Wave from a developer conference in May. (You can safely skip the first 2-3 minutes)

As an example of what problems Google Wave solves is this:
- On a wiki (such as Wikipedia), it's very easy to edit a document collaboratively, but the discussions on that page are difficult to do. You have to manually structure the tree of the conversation, and manually add your user signature.
- Conversely, on e-mail, it's easy to see who made what comment about a document, but it's very annoying to pull that together.
- With Google Docs, they made a bit of inroads, by allowing discussion via Google Chat (or whatever their chat module is called; I hate using chat), but that's in a sidebar to the Google Docs window.
- With Google Wave, the whole thing is all together, you can see comments about parts of the document inline, as well as who made them and when, and you can also hide the comments to see just the document itself. You can add someone new to the document, and they will see the most recent version, but they can also see a playback of where that document came from.

Another example:
- In Gmail, messages with the same subject line are grouped into threads or conversations. Gmail tries its hardest to figure out when these are the same conversation and when to split them.
- If someone in the conversation changes the subject line, it will start a new thread, which is annoying when a non-Gmail user replies with their own comments in the subject line.
- Furthermore, when you're having a conversation among a dozen people, and you separate comments out to have a private conversation with one of the others, you have two options: you can change the subject line--making it harder to find the sub-conversation when looking at the main conversation, or you can keep the subject line the same, burying the private conversation in the larger group thread.
- Google Wave solves this very well, and keeps privacy relatively secure. (I'll note, however, that it seems anybody can add an additional party to a conversation very easily, and that additional party will be able to see back into that conversation. This is a security risk, as when someone on a private e-mail list forwards the message to someone outside the list.)

Google Wave has lots of extensibility and existing integration with other services, such as image searches and (*sigh*) twitter, but the neatest aspect is the live interaction:
- Google Wave updates the conversation/discussion/collaboration live on other participants' Google Wave interfaces as well. So unlike in a chat client, where at most you'll see that someone is typing a response, your response will appear character-by-character as you type it (you can disable this when composing more delicate messages).
- Google Wave also corrects your spelling live. Not just identifying non-word typos, but contextual typos. The example they use in the video is "I would like some been dip": even though "been" is a valid word, it understands from the context that it is not the right word, and it corrects it live. Grammar Nazis rejoice: It also recognizes to/too/two errors and, I assume, their/there/they're errors. If it is not highly confident, it will underline the word instead of automatically replacing it.
- Even more rock-awesome, it has a translation feature, so you can converse--live--with people in other languages, and it will translate your message as you type it! (Toward the end of the video, last 5 or so minutes)

The best part is they plan to open-source it, and users on different implementations will be able to communicate amongst each other.

It's really hard to understand what Google Wave does without seeing the video. The video is a bit long-winded at times, but watching the whole thing reassured me of some of the concerns I had with it early on (such as privacy and version control). I'm still not sure if I've got my head wrapped entirely around the paradigm, but it looks like a promising extension of productivity tools. (There's even a text-based terminal interface!)

I've requested an invitation to Google Wave, and I hope that those I collaborate with will also be early adopters. It has a lot of potential, and I hope to be able to use it.

- RG>

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

15 Ways to Celebrate National Grouch Day

October 15 is National Grouch Day. For those amateur grouches out there wondering how to make it through National Grouch Day who weren't satisfied with my last suggestion of how to celebrate National Grouch Day, here is a list of fifteen ways to celebrate:

  • Don't.

  • Look for fault in everything and everybody you come into contact with. If you can't find any, turn your attention elsewhere and try again.

  • Correct the spelling, grammar, and factual errors in the newspaper with a pen. Then put it back in the pile at the coffeeshop (or the newsstand).

  • When people ask questions they don't really want to hear the answer to, like "how's it going," waste their time with longwinded answers.

  • Let something bother you. Wake up in the middle of the night to blog about it. Extra points if you tried to ignore it by going to sleep but instead let it keep you up until the middle of the night.

  • Rant.

  • Go to any length possible to be in a position to say "I told you so," but let it go without saying.

  • Always be prepared to tell the story of the last person you saw saying or doing something stupid, or who pissed you off. Tell this story to everyone you have the opportunity to tell (except the person in question). With each iteration, refine the narrative and be more cocky about your role.

  • Put someone on hold. Or time your absence from your office when you know someone is going to call.

  • USE ALL CAPS AT LEAST ONCE A DAY to make your point.

  • Make others uncomfortable by telling outrageous (yet technically plausible) lies about yourself. Using their reaction, turn the conversation to them.

  • Procrastinate.

  • Visit and vote down the entries that aren't funny, and the ones that are funny but in the wrong style.

  • Bait [other] nitpickers and lash out at them for not seeing your subtle point. (Avoid Muphry's Law)
Have a nasty National Grouch Day.

- RG>

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Swap Box Testimonial

On Friday night, I wrote the post Swap Boxes Save Lives! immediately after meeting Andy Williams.

That night, Andy e-mailed me with photos and his story, entitled How a piece of garbage saved me from trashing my life (or a serendipidous story of how salvage saved my life) (reprinted with permission). It speaks for itself.

- RG>

Dear Grouchy,

Firstly, I must say that your name is misleading. I do not find you grouchy at all, and I think its a shame that your parents chose that name.

It was nice meeting you tonight, although we met briefly about a year ago when you overheard me talking to a staff member at Bridgehead about an orange rubber band bracelet that someone "threw away". You were in the cafe typing on your laptop ("coffee culture" is intriguing in how people like to be alone together), and when I asked the staff member if it had been his, you seemed surprised and interrupted the conversation telling me it was your bracelet that I claimed as my treasure. Little did I know that your refuse would be my refuge. That rubber band would not only
change my life, but save it at least once.

My sister was visiting from near Almonte and I wanted to show her a neat little thing called a "Swap Box". Nailed to the side of a telephone pole by Bridgehead at MacLaren and Elgin was a wooden box adorned with paisley type groovy letters drawn on with marker, indicating, "Swap Box". It was a repository of refuge for some and treasures for other. The concept was that you would take something you need, and leave something you don't. I proudly displayed it to visitors to my sector of Centretown, each time they would visit, and, held it up as an example of "where community met creativity".

On that fateful day I opened the Swap Box I saw an orange elastic bracelet, similar in style to the Yellow Livestrong bracelets worn to commemorate cancer survivors. Engraved in the orange rubber were the words, "I count". Words are only words unless we breathe life into them. Still, the words attracted me. I rubbed my thumb over the letters as I thought of all the times I had been unfaithful towards myself and irresponsible towards myself at the expense of accommodating others, and, a demanding profession. Did I count? I had not been acting as if I did.

As I placed the bracelet on my wrist, I thought particularly about my health. Why was it so hard to commit to my health? At 41 I needed to get serious about exercise. It was no longer optional. I had begun smoking 3 years earlier and was ashamed of that. I resolved to make a change. I had been diagnosed diabetic, a disease shared by a sister and my mother. I would use that bracelet as a reminder to commit to myself the time and energy I needed to be healthy.

Immediately I quit smoking. I sold my car and I bought a bicycle. I began running. I felt defeated each time I went out to run, but I reminded myself to be gentle towards myself. Every time I wanted to tell myself I was "too tired" or "didn't feel like it", I rubbed my thumb over those words "I count", and got up and did what I needed to do. My energy increased. My lung capacity increased greatly. I could breath easier. I could run further and faster.

A few months later disaster struck. My intestine burst from something called Diverticultis. I had severe blood poisoning and periontinitis. I had to have emergency surgery and a cholostomy. The emergency surgery was rough. After surgery, the surgeon told my sisters that the following 48 hours would be crucial in determining as to whether I would live, and, that I would likely need to be put on artificial respiration if my breathing didn't hold up, which was tenuous. Needless to say, I believe that recommitment to my health and the constant reminder with the physical presence of that rubber band saved my life. In some ways my recovery was quick and in some ways it was slow. I made it though. And I keep wearing that bracelet to this day. And each day in all the decisions I made--especially the ones about exercise--I reminded myself that "I count" with that visible flourescent orange band on my wrist.

I joined 2 baseball leagues and I bought a bicycle. I continued running. This fall I won a prize on my baseball league for being the fastest runner. I bicycle from Parliament to Carp and surrounding communities to Ottawa on a regular basis on weekends. The cholostomy was reversed and the health of my intestine recovered. The diabetes reversed and my blood sugars returned to normal levels.

This winter I am playing floor hockey and taking swimming lessons and I am going to keep on running. My goal is to complete my first triathlon next summer. I know I can do it. I am showing myself the same dedication and loyalty that I have shown so many others all my life, because at the age of 42 I have finally finally come to understand that I really do count.

Grouchy, I'm not sure if I asked you this but, I felt that when someone put that bracelet in there they did so with a wish and that I was the benefactor of the wish. I always wondered did I make that up in my head, or, did someone really make a wish when they put that bracelet in the Swap Box?...

I believe humanity is interconnected. We never know what impact our actions might have. When a stone is thrown in a pond, the impact is made not only where the stone lands but across the pond. Regardless of whether you made a wish or not, when you put that rubber-band bracelet in the Swap Box, you "threw a stone in the pond", and the impact of a stone on water if felt in ripples through the pond. This month, my work takes "across the pond" to The Hague, Switzerland and Italy, and I hope the ripples keep going on and on...I am grateful for how a seemingly meaningless act by a total stranger has contributed to a profound impact in my life. The adage says that one person's trash is another one's treasure. I have come to treasure my life.

Grouchy, I wishing you the deepest successes in life, however it is that you may define success, and, whether or not you become more or less grouchy.

Yours very truly,

Andy Williams

Friday, October 02, 2009

Swap Boxes Save Lives!

UPDATE: Read the story in Andy's words on this subsequent post

Last September, I blogged about a swap box story: after repairing a swap box on Elgin street (a box which I would repair again), I had met a man at Bridgehead whose life had been touched by a cheap silicon bracelet I'd left in a swapbox.

We happened to meet again tonight (coincidentally sitting at adjacent tables), and thirteen months later, Andy Williams is still wearing his bracelet:

We talked for a bit, and he reiterated his story: he used to weigh 290 pounds, and the bracelet helped motivate him to lose the weight. Whenever he felt like cutting short an exercise regime, he'd look at the bracelet and remember that "hey, I count!"

He used to have a few medical issues that were either caused or complicated by his weight, which are now under control or gone. He's involved in a host of different sports and physical activities, and he's the fastest runner on his baseball team.

I have difficulty appreciating many forms of art (for one, you can't take photos in most galleries), but swap boxes are a form of interactive art that leaves you with a free souvenir. Like tweenbots, swap boxes are out in the open, vulnerable, depending on the trust of passersby to not only not destroy it, but also to help fulfill its function. A swap box that survives for months is a source of community pride. As Andy's story shows, the interactive element provides an opportunity for the unexpected to occur, for someone's life to be touched. That's not just art, that's a public service.

Now that El Maks is in Montreal, there aren't so many swap boxes in Ottawa. It's time the rest of us pick up the slack!

- RG>

PS: Dachau is in Germany

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Lansdowne Live: Go To Heckle

[After attending tonight's lengthy Open House and Q&A meeting on Lansdowne Park, I accumulated a lot of handouts and took a lot of notes. I'll try to post as much of the more useful information as I have time tonight, split into separate posts.]

Around 4:30 pm this afternoon, City Hall announced that tonight's consultation for the Lansdowne Live proposal would include a Question & Answer session, something that was sorely lacking at the first two sessions on Monday and Tuesday.

While the sign below announced the session would start at 7:30, I didn't hear anybody announce that it was starting to the hall, which is normal procedure for this type of thing. I walked in while someone read the long list of guidelines and expectations for the event, then repeated them in French. It was a bumper crowd in there.

While City Manager Kent Kirkpatrick's September 15 memo to Councillors about the consultation process said that "Residents are encouraged to voice their opinions, comments and questions, all of which will be recorded by City staff and incorporated into the final report on the consultations," it was not clear that anybody was taking notes, aside from me. I gave up two hours in after my wrist cramped and I filled my pad of paper.

The questions were long and preambled, and the responses from Kirkpatrick were also long, but that was good because it meant he was explaining these things, instead of just referencing an argument buried in a report in order to dismiss the concern. Since the public record won't be available until the report is prepared months from now, I thought I'd get as much of it out as I could from my notes:

Unfortunately, things took a quick turn for the worse when the second speaker, John Vincent (names are all phonetic), asked (half with words, half with numbers) why the private sector gets its return first. Kirkpatrick's choice of the term "closed financial system" drew heckles from the crowd, accusing him of using jargon. These heckles then drew heckles from others in the audience, telling everybody else to shut up and let him answer the question. I kept my pen to paper and rolled my eyes.

Third speaker, twelve-year-old Jason, asked "why do we need all these stores & cinemas," listing a variety of shops and services (including, of course, a candy store) available already in the Glebe and nearby.

Kirkpatrick gave what would be a standard response to many of the questions: it's what was in OSEG's (Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, the proponents of Lansdowne Live) proposal, and is part of the cost of rebuilding the stadium if it is to be paid by development charges.

Kirkpatrick continued. "Why is it necessary? It's not necessary--" (applause cuts him off).

He tried again. "It's not necessary if--" (applause again)

He abandoned that way of framing his statement, and went on to repeat that Council wanted a plan that was revenue-neutral, and which also had no residential development, and this was the amount of commercial development required to pay for the other development.

Fourth speaker Kevin O'Donnell said that since he's from Kitchissippi, that makes him a "NITBY" - "Not In Their Back Yard". He asked when will we get to the point of no return, i.e. where there will be penalties or obligations for pulling out, a reference to the recently-settled lawsuit by Siemens for the cancelled Light Rail project. Kirkpatrick said that a timetable of future steps would be presented in November, which would identify the next steps, including point-of-no-return decisions probably in early 2010. Kirkpatrick pointed out that there's lots of development needd on the plan, for example the transportation strategy outlined on the panels needs to be developed through a transportation study into a transportation plan.

At 8pm, Fifth speaker Ron Cooks of Mooney's Bay asked why a tendering process wasn't considered, and why the international design competition was canceled. This sparked an impassioned response by Kirkpatrick: "A lot of people in this room believe that I unilaterally canceled that competition..." and then went on to say that he suspended the design competition and immediately informed Council, and recommended that Council consider the OSEG proposal. Then the Senators proposal came in, and in April, Council decided to tell staff to negotiate with the OSEG proposal. "At any point in time, Council--any member of Council--could have said, through a motion of council, to direct staff to re-initiate the design competition... that didn't happen."

In response to this, eighth speaker G. Paterson asked, why should Council vote to re-instate a design competition when it didn't de-instate it? He likened Kirkpatrick's "Council was aware" argument to "the dog ate my homework."

At 8:30, twelfth speaker Dan Mullaly asked Kirkpatrick to reveal all communications and information related to the initial proposal to make it an open and transparent process. Mullaly said that the five councillors he spoke to don't know who in the City was the first to be approached by the developers. Kirkpatrick mentioned that there were issues with privacy legislation and that Council asked the Auditor General to look at the project. By this point, Capital Ward Councillor Clive Doucet was fuming. "When first contact was made? No one knows."

Responding to Kirkpatrick's comment a half hour earlier, Doucet pointed out that no councillor would have had the power to cancel the design competition (which, he pointed out, had been initiated with almost unanimous support), and that canceling it would have required 3/4 of councillors to vote to do so. Yet Kirkpatrick somehow made it happen. An "Abrogation of the democratic process," Doucet called it, to strong applause.

Somerset Ward Councllor Diane Holmes suggested that the suspension may have been done in response to a request from the mayor, but we don't know, hence Mr. Mullaly's request to reveal the correspondence.

Since all the other councillors were speaking, Gloucester-Southgate Councillor Diane Deans spoke up: "I voted to move to the next step of the process," she said, "but with specific direction." The motion she sponsored for the City to talk with OSEG, which passed 17-4, was because of the conditional franchise. The motion specifically called for no housing, no large-scale commercial, and other requirements. "It was my expectation that that direction from Council would be respected. And I can tell you tonight that if I had known it would not have been respected, I would have never put it forward."

Orleans Councillor Bob Monette was not pleased by this, and he was next to speak: "Kent Kirkpatrick did a great thing to give you people an opportunity to speak tonight, and the disrespect that you are showing them is unacceptable..." bringing on a loud hail of boos.

He chastised that crowd would "...attack the credibility of Kent Kirkpatrick, of City Management, of Council, of the City, and I am walking away from this meeting," ironically performing one of Clive Doucet's common tricks. The boos turned to cheers as he left.

Councillor Doucet then called on everybody to have respect and silence for Kent Kirkpatrick's responses.

Councillor Marianne Wilkinson, who also sat through the entire night, added that she came to this meeting to hear from the public, and asked people to keep the questions (and answers) short to allow as many people as possible to be heard.

Skipping ahead, the 21st speaker asked his question at 8:55 pm, five minutes before the meeting was scheduled to end (spoiler alert: it went overtime). This speaker said he was a supporter of Lansdowne Live, but there were red flags, particularly in the financials. "I love the deal, but the numbers don't work. We're at the bottom of the waterfall." What's the benefit, he asked.

Kirkpatrick agreed that "What's the benefit?" is the central question. What's the value to the City of Ottawa, to need an open-air sports facility, what's the entertainment value. "If the answer is none, then that really gets to the heart of whether this should be a priority for the City or not."

The thirty-fourth speaker speaking just shy of 9:30, asked a question, mainly to the Councillors in attendance, about moving forward. "How do we get this back on the rails." In other words, the public process was interrupted to let Lansdowne Live through, how can we get that public process back? There were no other proposals because there was no framework for the City to ask for one. (One of the attendees of the open house told me that he had been working on a team for an alternate proposal when the design competition was canceled).

Of course, you ask a question about how to get back on the rails, and the discussion gets derailed. Councillors had the floor for the next few minutes:

Diane Holmes said that the first step would be to get a majority of councillors to vote against it at Committee and Council.

Diane Deans identified the Councillors present, as well as Clive Doucet (who shortly returned to the room) and Bob Monette, who had left. Councillor Deans said that she was the only one who was on Council the last time it was proposed to redevelop Lansdowne park, and the feedback from that public process informed the limits placed in the motion she had moved (the one that passed 17-4 to move forward). There isn't only one point of view, and "you're all doing your part tonight," she said. "I'd rather make no decision than a bad decision."

Councillor Doucet pointed out the procedural lack of precedent for the City's situation. Within a year of making a decision Council needs a 3/4 vote to reconsider it, and once the procedural motion to reconsider passes (if it does), the decision itself is reconsidered, and 50% plus one will decide the actual issue. But does Council need a motion to reconsider when it never decided to cancel the design competition in the first place?

Councillor Wilkinson pointed out that there are some councillors who will be for Lansdowne Live no matter what happens at the consultations, and some who will be against it no matter what. Wilkinson says she's in the middle, and therefore Q&A sessions like this are important, as it's a very complex and important decision. "We need a more-right-than-wrong decision."

This was when I ran out of paper, so I left. I hear that a few more speakers came up to the microphone, and the last question was given to Catherine Gardner.

- RG>

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Lansdowne Live: City Hall Open House

[After attending tonight's lengthy Open House and Q&A meeting on Lansdowne Park, I accumulated a lot of handouts and took a lot of notes. I'll try to post as much of the more useful information as I have time tonight, split into separate posts.]

So here's some of what happened at the Open House on Lansdowne Park. I don't have the time or the energy to go through all 200 minutes of audio recording, nor even the twelve pages of handwritten notes from the Question & Answer session (I will post a summary of that session after this post).

Here's a view of Jean Pigott Place at Ottawa City Hall. The many billboards with logos of the City of Ottawa and "Lansdowne: The Transformation of Lansdowne Park / La transformation du parc Lansdowne" were spread around the room:

Friends of Lansdowne Park had their own handouts, and their members were on hand, wearing green "Ask Me!" t-shirts and collecting petition signatures. Copies of their handouts and others were left on the tables, including the Glebe BIA's "Stop The Lansdowne Mall" brochure. Meanwhile, the City of Ottawa had many copies on hand of the various materials (including comment forms) for people to pore through.

Those with alternative proposals were stuffed into a corner. John Martin found a spot under a staircase to make his case to passersby heading to the official City of Ottawa consultation (according to this Citizen story, he was issued a trespassing notice. Any wonder pro-Lansdowne Live councillors say they haven't heard alternate proposals come forward?):

I learned some interesting things talking to the various consultants and attendees. The following photo (click to enlarge, as always) shows a display panel on "The Retail & Commerce Approach". Pasted onto it is a smaller plaque that reads "The Glebe Business Improvement Area (BIA) has commissioned, with the assistance of City of Ottawa funding, a retail market study conducted by Ottawa based Market Research Corporation. The results of this study will be available at"

During the Q&A session, City Manager Kent Kirkpatrick said that an assessment by the Glebe BIA (presumably the one referenced in the panel appendix above) found the market capacity to be much less than that conducted on behalf of OSEG (Lansdowne Live proponents).

I spoke with Mike Foley, of Trinity Development Group (who specializes in retail), about this panel. Specifically, it suggests 16,000 square feet of space allocated in the Horticultural building to the Ottawa Farmer's Market. I asked him how many stalls this would accommodate, and he said he didn't know, but he'd ask the Farmer's Market people next time he comes across them how big their stalls are. He says that the feedback he's gotten from the Farmer's Market people is that they're excited that they're part of the plan, yet they also are also asking him if they are part of the plan, and if they'll have enough room.

Eyeballing it based on how much room the farmer's market takes now, it looks like they're getting a cut in space, despite constantly growing.

Then someone else came up and asked Mr. Foley some questions, including whether they had planned bike parking areas at Lansdowne Live, and Foley admitted they hadn't.

I moved on to this panel regarding transportation:

I was curious that "Aggressive Transportation Demand Management (TDM) initiatives" would be taken for events with over 15,000 people, but even more would be done for larger scale events. Unfortunately, no consultants were standing anywhere near this panel, so it took me a while to ask them what size of event would trigger this, if it had to be greater than "greater than 15,000."

I asked the question at another Transportation panel, which had some better information about the size of different events and what measures they would take. Evidently, they're counting on being able to use the NCC-controlled Queen Elizabeth Drive for large-scale events. We'll see.

This panel also made the discussion with Mike Foley more interesting (the one where he said they hadn't even considered a bike parking area), as it suggests that 10% of people attending medium-to-large events would bike or walk, representing 1000 people at a minor event, 2000 people at a CFL game or large concert, or 6000 people at a very large event. Strange that they'd suggest so many people would bike there, yet no place would be provided for them to lock their bikes.

Ron Jack of Delcan did some smooth talking on the traffic impacts of the site, essentially saying that day-to-day traffic along Bank wouldn't increase more than ten per cent, and that we've already had large events where we've closed parking along Bank (or close Bank itself) so everything will be fine.

I then listened to David Jeanes' various commentary on transportation issues. He pointed out that the Carling O-Train station was not considered as a place to shuttle patrons to Lansdowne Park, even though it's closer than the downtown, Carleton U and Billings Bridge rapid transit stations, and there's a nearly direct route along Queen Elizabeth Drive. If rail rapid transit is built along Carling, it will serve as an excellent node for passengers coming in on rapid transit from the West. Currently they have to come from Carleton or Billings Bridge, neither of which is convenient for west-end residents.

David also pointed out that new retail development to be built on top of the large metal struts on the Civic Centre will partially block the view of the Aberdeen Pavillion from Bank Street, even though the new retail development on the North side of this vista was carefully designed to protect the view to the Cattle Castle.

We all wondered where the bus loop was for buses dropping off passengers. Pat Scrimgeour of OC Transpo explained that they'd lay up along Bank Street, where parking would be prohibited for large events, and they'd also use Queen Elizabeth if required and permitted. A safe pedestrian crossing will be needed for passengers coming from the North.

It's very frustrating that while the City is trying to invest its transit funds in a rail rapid transit network, we're seeing a proposal here that is heavily dependent on significant levels of bus service. This will invariably cost us a lot of money on having buses available and drivers working odd shifts, which will eat into the savings we're supposed to be getting from a rail-based system that is less expensive to operate.

Next up: a summary of the Q&A session.

- RG>

Lansdowne Live: Monette the environmentalist

[After attending tonight's lengthy Open House and Q&A meeting on Lansdowne Park, I accumulated a lot of handouts and took a lot of notes. I'll try to post as much of the more useful information as I have time tonight, split into separate posts.]

If you've been following the Lansdowne Live issue, you'll know that one of the big controversies is the environmental impact.

Luckily, as Councillor Bob Monette puts it in this recent letter to the Citizen, "This plan has elements for everyone, from the environmentalist to the football fan."

I waited patiently during the open house for Councillor Monette to finish speaking with someone tonight in order to ask him to elaborate on what the Plan has for "the environmentalist", especially since the plan would inevitably attract huge amounts of automobile traffic to access a site that is kilometres away from the nearest rapid transit route. Unfortunately, Monette managed to finish his conversation with the gentleman and escaped at the precise moment I looked away. I literally had to run after him, and at that point figured he just didn't want to talk with me.

I later saw him in a media scrum, expounding the virtues of Lansdowne Live to Radio-Canada:

Perhaps the central environmental issue is how much greenspace does the Lansdowne Live proposal provide? Much of the greenspace is on NCC property. Of the green elements on the Lansdowne site itself, at the centre of the issue is whether the "front lawn," which comprises a good chunk of the site, counts. As you can read in this Citizen article, it is to be a lawn area for most of the time, but on "rare occasions" it will be used for parking, and an expensive substructure will allow it to be able to support cars parked on it. They're no longer proposing Turfstone, but something called "Grass Pave2."

So what is this new Grass Paver?

Councillor Monette was busy, so he couldn't answer the question, but luckily details were provided on the many copies of this high-quality glossy handout, which bears a City of Ottawa/Lansdowne logo. Here's a scanned copy of the full handout:

You can see that it is presented in a format that Monette can understand: they left out any text that might confuse an environmentalist, and they went to extra trouble to colour it in in advance, lest members of the public run out of crayons partway through the consultation session.

(As for Monette, he stormed out of the Q&A session... juicy details to follow.)

- RG>

Lansdowne Live: Watson's Letter to Doucet

After attending tonight's lengthy Open House and Q&A meeting on Lansdowne Park, I accumulated a lot of handouts and took a lot of notes. I'll try to post as much of the more useful information as I have time tonight, split into separate posts.

On September 22, Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs Jim Watson sent a letter to Councillor Clive Doucet (cc: other members of Council) stating the Province's position that it will not provide funding for Lansdowne Live's implementation if the City comes to the province asking for financial help. Doucet was passing out copies of the letter at the consultations. Here's a scan: (click to enlarge)

- RG>

Saturday, September 26, 2009

RIP Marco

Un bon ami du famille activiste d'Ottawa est décédé 3 le 5 septembre 2009.

Marco Chénard, connaît aussi come « Marco Québec, » fréquentait le café Bridgehead sur le rue Elgin et aussi plusières événements activistes à Ottawa. Voici la nécrologie (PDF)

J'ai seulement une photo de Marco, qu'il à aimé quand je lui ai montré:

Il défendait toujours la langue français, mais il était toujours polit en le faire. Je n'était jamais peur de lui parler en français : quand je faisait une erreur, il a répété ce que je voulais dire.

Un service a eu lieu ce mercredi passé, que j'ai manqué:

Il y aura un autre ce soir au parc Minto sur le rue Elgin à 19h30:

Merci pour tous, Marco!

- RG>

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Getting over e-mail

The last few days, I've managed to accomplish a lot of personal projects. I've cleaned a bunch of my house, made and found homes for "new" things, prepared some meals for lunches, repaired broken gadgets, blogged, and even purged some old electronics that have been broken beyond repair for years (all of which had their full original packaging). For as long as I can remember, I've so busy doing things for groups I'm involved with (or indulging in entertainment to recover form all that work) that domestic affairs have fallen by the wayside. I mean, why do something that benefits only myself when I could do something that benefits many?

I'm not sure why I'm so productive all of a sudden, but I've got a few theories.

Maybe I'm just high from overexposure to social situations (curse you, friends and local bloggers!), or maybe my brain is trying to cope with my cash flow problems by occupying me with free work. I've also re-discovered the addictive computer game Jardinains, which has the side benefit of mindless fun.

Normally, I'm most productive when I'm overrun with things to do and I develop a new scheme for tracking them. I tend to change schemes every six months or so. But very few of the items I've completed recently are the type of project that would ever make it onto any to-do list. Maybe the absence of a tracking scheme is the new tracking scheme, and I'm just getting through the things on that non-list.

Then there's the fact that none of these tasks were particularly important. Usually I don't get things done because there's some important deadline looming for a big project and I spend all my time procrastinating and agonizing over the fact that I'm not doing it. I might procrastinate by accomplishing a less important task, but doing so comes with the guilt that I'm spending productive energy by not doing the top item. I don't have any major time-sensitive projects coming due soon, so my current productivity burst isn't from that kind of pressure. Though things have been crazy busy at work...

I've also been really tired during the day this week. Really, really tired, like how you get when you barely slept the previous night. But I've been getting solid nights of sleep. Maybe this fatigue means there's something else happening, like a hormonal or vitamin imbalance that is a common cause for the fatigue and the productivity.

But I really think it has to do with my breakup with e-mail. There would be nights when I'd come home from work, check my e-mail, and by the time I've finished, it's too late to eat dinner and sometimes even too late to get a full night of sleep. A couple nights like that in a row can leave me very undernourished, which causes all sorts of troubles.

Lately, I've approached my e-mail inbox with a very light touch. Last week I had pushed aside a few long e-mails (e.g. links to reports) to read on the weekend, and on the weekend I barely checked my e-mail at all. I'll ignore group discussions for a couple days, then read up on the entire subject all at once. Most of the time, problems have already been resolved, and anything I'd have said was already said by somebody else. If I do have to contribute, it's minimal--a couple suggestions to add to the discussion, or an acknowledgement. All that's left is to categorize the thread and archive it. Once I get my inbox back to a certain number of unread messages (currently at 650 660), I don't feel bad about closing the Gmail window and doing something else.

Why is this so important? Because I'm a packrat, and an information-hoarder. My Gmail account is my memory; it documents everything I need to do, and everything I've done. It is a reference library of schedules, meeting agendas and minutes, correspondence, committee work, arguments, contact information, et cetera. If I'm trying to remember what happened on a certain date, my first stop is Gmail. If I vaguely recall talking with somebody about something, I search my Gmail for that discussion to recall it. If someone phones me up to ask me to do something, I tell them to e-mail me a reminder, or else I'll probably forget. Most message threads have a half dozen or so different labels on them, so that I can filter them accordingly. My Gmail archive (currently at 35% capacity) goes back to 2005 when I got my Gmail account, and even earlier now that I've uploaded via imap all the messages from my previous inbox.

So for me to say I've become apathetic about e-mail is kinda like the Bishop saying he's no longer into the whole God thing (or whatever it is Bishops do..moving diagonally?): it's a radical paradigm shift. For me to be spontaneously productive (and paradoxically tired at the same time) is even stranger.

I guess I could waste my time trying to figure it out. Or maybe it'll pass. In the meantime, if it works, why bother asking why?

- RG>

Monday, September 21, 2009

Walking with Woodsy

A while back, Woodsy posted We Love Zoom, or The Canadian Culture, Eh! Game on the Elgin Street Irregulars blog. My thorough comprehension of Canadiana won me a door prize (as documented in the comments): the next time we got together, Woodsy would buy me a treat from a bakery.

I redeemed my prize last Wednesday. We met up on Elgin street (which we do regularly), and walked to the ByWard Market. I was reminded that I don't go there often, especially during daytime.

As we passed by the National Arts Centre, we came up behind a tall man dressed up in cowboy getup. Woodsy, having forgotten her camera, whispered anxiously at me to take a photo. Instead of sneakily shooting the cowboy from behind, I just asked him as we passed, "Excuse me, my friend really wants to have her photo taken with you." He obliged. The two chatted, while I photographed. Then he turned to leave, without posing for the camera. I was worried about how I'd post the photo without revealing Woodsy's secret identity.

He explained photos look better in a natural setting. I cursed myself for claiming Woodsy wanted a photo of him with her. Nevertheless, I had a plan.

So here is a photo of the cowboy (played by himself) talking with Woodsy (played here by Elizabeth Garvie):

Woodsy says the following about the cowboy:
He is from Wyoming, he has been a fireman for over 35 years, he was here for the memorial, he's 63, and he has a good firm handshake - Woodsy likes that in a man.
We continued into the market, sat down for a sandwich and remarked at the sanitation habits of the deli staff, and continued on to this great little antique store, Roy's Rubble:

It was quite serendipitous that we went there, as the first thing I laid eyes on were some door brackets, which another friend of mine was searching for. There was lots of other interesting kitsch in there, none of which I was particularly interested in. Woodsy bought some things and we began our return trip. We stopped at the "Obama" bakery along the way and Woodsy (as promised) bought me a pastry (it was very tasty--thanks Woodsy!)

We noticed scattered throughout the Market a bunch of these sets of four yellow spots on the sidewalks, such as this one outside Irving Rivers:

Noting the recent chatter about the City wanting to regulate buskers in the Market, we speculated that these must be Free Speech zones. They really need to be labeled more clearly...

We headed back under the Terry Fox underpass, lamented the fence, and returned to Elgin.

'Twas a fun time!

- RG>

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Weekly treasure

Every Sunday, downtown residents perform a sacred ritual: they throw shit out. Not only is waste discarded, but useful items are also left out for passers-by to take. It's like a garage sale without prices for people who are too cheap to haul their stuff out to a free market.

Apparently there's a by-law against this. In the suburbs, people need permission to take stuff from the curb. Downtown, if the police try to enforce this law, it's front page news:

I even phoned the City about this, back in Spring of 2006, and the person who called me back said that as long as they don't make a mess, trash-pickers are diverting waste from the landfill and therefore not a problem.

(Incidentally, in the incident that made the article above, Gerard--who every now and then goes into Bridgehead to sort the newspapers by section and tidy up the bulletin spaces--wasn't even taking anything from the garbage. Gerard was simply sorting the non-recyclables--styrofoam, plastic bags, etc.--out of the recycling bins. The same officer gave Gerard a ticket for cycling on the sidewalk later this summer.)

My own relationship with the garbage gods started in summer of 2005. My window in a Sandy Hill walk-up looked out over the apartment building's dumpsters. Every morning, I'd wake up and look out the window to see what interesting things had been discarded overnight. Once, shortly after my laptop's screen died, the gods left me a 17" monitor that someone had been unable to sell at a garage sale. Another time, someone threw out a futon frame, which I dismantled and reassembled into this homely spice cabinet:

Shortly after I moved into my current place, which has no dumpster, my new upstairs neighbour said she was looking for a foot-operated garbage bin. I told her that Sunday nights, between 6pm and 10pm, you'll find anything you need. She was skeptical. Sure enough, that very Sunday, I wasn't even looking and I found a foot-operated garbage can. It's in perfect working order, its former owner told me, just they were moving and didn't want to bring it with them. My neighbour lost out--I decided I wanted one, too, and I kept it for myself. Since then, I've found four or five more foot-operated garbage cans and found them new homes.

While Sundays are great for garbage-picking, the first of the month (and the Sundays nearest it) has the sweetest fruit. Especially May and September, which is when many leases come due (especially those of students).

Case in point, this past September first, I was late meeting some houseguests because I had came home along McLeod, and ran into house after house of interesting stuff. One place had a big pile of treasure on their front lawn, which I had spent some time going through. Of it, I picked out the following (the rug is a previous find):

One item was this wonderful chrome-plated juicer. I repaired the grip and cleaned it up, and it looks marvelous:

Of course, I don't make my own juice. If I want fresh-squeezed orange juice, I'll get some from Boushey's, who juice oranges and bottle it on-site. Rather, I love the industrial rack-on-pinion action going on with the plunger:

When I was a kid, I used to love visiting my grandparents' place and making stuff from the random bits of wood and jars of miscellaneous fasteners in my grandfather's workshop.

My place is now full of things I've recovered from the trash, or received from people who downsized. I have an entire drawer in my own workshop filled with knobs, hinges and handles from discarded furniture for eventual projects. My kitchen is filled with more utensils, dishes, and serving containers than I have cupboards for. You can imagine why my apartment is such a mess. But some day, I'll have a project where I'll need this juicer's little mechanism, and when I do, I'll be glad I picked this up! In the meantime, it will look nice on a shelf with all the other kitsch.

- RG>

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Raw Fun at Raw Sugar

On Friday night, local bloggers gathered at the Raw Sugar café in the Dalhousie neighbourhood. Zoom also blogged the night, with links to various attendees' blogs.

The event was ostensibly to celebrate the opening of Milan's photo show at the Café. Hella Stella also performed a couple of songs in anticipation of the upcoming broadcast of her performance on Vinyl Café.

Here is Hella Stella getting her banjo ready, as Milan ghosts into frame:

But the highlight of the night was certainly the performance
by local the brain-tickling troupe, Astronaut Love Triangle.

I had heard about them before, and wasn't sure if I would be terrified or delighted. Well, they are terribly delightful.

I made a point of not taking too many photos, because typically at the end of the night you end up with a bunch of photos that all look the same. This is not a wise tactic with Astronaut Love Triangle (though most of the time I was too busy enjoying myself--gasp!--to think to take a photo).

Many of the other bloggers' shots were taken with flash. But Mr. Gordon is not technically a member of ALT, and those photos seem to sanitize the warm atmosphere of the performance. Here is my photo with no flash:

ALT's songs are feasts for the imagination. At times abstract and experimental-artsy, but not the least bit pretentious, and always down-to-earth.

With all the things going on in Side Effects, the piano is only occasionally noticeable. This is a good thing; it serves as a resting place to gather your thoughts before shooting your ears back between the three vocalists. Definitely one of the better list songs I've heard, and until Friday night, the best list song I hadn't.

Ponzi brings with it a great metaphor for ALT: the implied references to pyramid schemes describe a figure that is triangular, yet has four sides (plus base), just as ALT is a triangle with four members. A brilliant act of subtle self-reference.

Blogger meet-ups are the best form of brain candy, because of the inevitable mental acrobatics required to navigate the multiple persona of the various attendees. Tragically, it's hard to understand this if you aren't there, because most of what goes on isn't documented out of fear of revealing a secret identity!

- RG>