Monday, December 31, 2007

Better 401 time lapse experiment

I went to a website and took some of the author's advice: use a neutral density filter and take 1/2 second exposures to create motion blurs that enhance the sense of movement. Sadly, I didn't use a manual white balance setting so the brightness varies a lot. Live and learn. I think this one is a lot better than the first (see below).

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Point-counterpoint across the millenia

Quoted on a pro-gun website:
"Civilized people are taught by logic, barbarians by necessity, communities by tradition; and the lesson is inculcated even in wild beasts by nature itself. They learn that they have to defend their own bodies and persons and lives from violence of any and every kind by all the means within their power." -- Marcus Tullius Cicero
...And, of course, the best of those means within our power is civilized discourse. It's the reason that, unlike barbarians and wild beasts, we aren't obliged to rip each other to shreds whenever we come face to face on the street.

It's also the reason we have streets.

Time lapse movie making test

John F. Kennedy on secrecy in government

Friday, December 28, 2007

Artsy-fartsy video time

This is the kind of college-crap project I would have LIKED to have done... if the technology had existed when I was in college 15 years ago. :) Photos by me; music by a friend of mine tapping a marble pillar in the lobby of my building (yes... I'm serious).

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A lament for spring

I had to do a lot of driving over the last few days, it being Christmas and all, and I decided it would be a lark to put my S80 on the tripod riding shotgun and video the journeys. On the way, Justine by Indochine started playing on the CD, and it all just struck me as being a kind of dirge for the lost warm weather that's still so far away. Anyway, turned it all into a kind of kicky video that I think is fun to watch. Have a boo...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Open-air Baroque concert on the lake shore

In mid-August 2006, P-Doug suggested going down to the lake shore to take in a free, open-air concert of Baroque music by a quartet of players from across North America. It was a pleasant hour or two, and I captured a few minutes of it with my camera. Some of what I thought were the highlights I stitched together here... this runs about eight minutes. Hope you enjoy. :)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Friday, December 21, 2007

I want a divorce!

NAMES, Larisa! I want NAAAAAMES!!!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Maybe you can go home again

This morning I had a dream about going back to a place I went for years as a child to be looked after while my parents worked. When I got there, the family was gone, and their house was a library, filled with the myriad books I remember there. I enquired after the family and learned that the woman who'd looked after me had passed away, and that saddened me deeply. But her daughter and adopted son, who'd been like older siblings to me, were still in town and I got leads on tracking them down. I spent some time in the library, going through the old rooms and remembering what had once gone on there, all the living and learning and growing. For the most part, it was a happy, hopeful dream. Oddly realistic; I woke up almost believing it was so.

Sandford Farmhouse, Mississauga

About a year ago I went out to an old farmhouse in central Mississauga to photograph it. Standing near what is now the intersection of Eglinton Avenue and Mavis Road, it had been abandoned for around twenty years, and someone had set the place on fire... perhaps someone who wants to develop the property. For years, there's been a lot of yapping about restoring the place as one of Mississauga's heritage properties, but bugger-all's been done to restore it, even when that seemed likely.

Well, after I took those pictures last winter, another fire was set last March. I was at loose ends in Mississauga yesterday, so I thought I'd go and see the place for myself. There's virtually nothing left to salvage now, so I would imagine that, before long, this once proud monument to Peel's agricultural heritage will be no more.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Weird dreams for everyone!

Okay, I had this strange one this morning. I was in this older suburban neighbourhood, and there was a dog living in a tree. Not like up in the branches, but a big hollow cavity in the trunk, like some kind of snack stand, you know. And part of the opening was glazed… someone had put a pane of glass in it. The dog could get out above and below it, and lived inside the space with a squirrel. The dog came out and joined us on a walk. Didn't belong to anyone, but was accepted as member of the community and the people kind of looked out for him. Or her.

…Okay, it's not exactly War and Peace, but it was delightfully weird. And more like the kind of dreams I had when I was a kid, that were more about my yearnings than my fears. A welcome change.

Humber in winter

There's not much to tell, but you know I'm gonna anyhow. :)

Bassmentbeats on Flickr suggested I might want to check out the old bridge over the Humber on what once was Major Mackenzie Drive (or whatever it was called before then). It's a small one-lane bow arch bridge, bypassed some time ago by a new sweep of the road that, oddly, makes Major Mac discontinuous at Hwy 27, when it had been more or less continuous before.

We had a huge snowfall this weekend that caused me to cancel other plans. But I knew I was okay till at least Saturday afternoon, so I decided to head out there Saturday morning. It seemed likely it was a good prospect for wide angle shots, so I put the 18-55 lens on the XT and then the 0.4x modifier on that. I also brought the S80 and S70. I knew I'd want to track the trip, so I emailed myself to remember to turn on the PhotoTrackr, and I did.

I headed west about 9, I think. 401, 427, off at Hwy 7, then up Hwy 27. The PhotoTrackr route shows the little detour I made by turning one street too soon before Hwy 27. It's getting pretty built-up around there now.

When I got to the street, now called Humber Bridge Trail, it was surprising in a number of ways. First was how narrow it is. It was so tight, I wondered if I might be blocking people just by parking on it. Second was how short it was. You could walk the entire length in less than three minutes, I'd say. From the bridge, you can still see traffic going by on Hwy 27. But most surprising of all, just the other side of the bridge, the road ends at the foot of a steep drop-off from the heights into the valley. Looking at GoogleMaps, I'd never anticipated that. Just looked like a flat area of overgrowth where the road must have once been. The drop is so sharp, I'm hard-pressed to imagine where the road up the rise ever was. Obviously, there must have been one, or they never would have built the bridge there in the first place. Maps I've seen suggest it was probably south of the bridge, but looking at GoogleMaps, I'm still flummoxed trying to imagine where exactly it was or how it descended.

According to info I found online from York Region, the bridge was built in 1914, so it's closing in on a hundred years old. And it shows. Some of the concrete cladding has entirely fallen away, and rusty iron rebar is exposed like the bones of flesh torn off an arm... that's the image it evoked in me. If a bridge were alive, how this one would be suffering. The by-law — and the signs on the bridge confirm this — limit the weight of vehicle traffic to 5 tonnes. Probably the only reason the bridge is still open to vehicle traffic at all is that there is one, count it, one home on the other side, cut off from the rest of the world without that bridge.

And so the photography began. I took any number of shots with all three cameras, many of them pairs to be welded into 3D images later. When I got done, later on, mining them for good shots, I was surprised now often the ones I found really striking were the infrared ones. I only brought the S70 along as an afterthought, since I generally discount the use of infrared photography once the trees are bare. It's good to keep in mind.

After a few minutes I followed a path into a field on the northeast side upriver to get the bridge in context (and I needed to take a leak). By this time, my hands were freezing (hey, ever try to shoot with gloves?) and I was losing feeling in them. So I went back to the car to warm up and plan. I also wanted to shoot back the other way within my car in the shots, so I drove across the bridge, got my hands pink again, and left the car running while I completed some shots facing west. It was what it was, and I headed home in anticipation of the storm that arrived that evening.

In retrospect, it's surprising to me just how many abandoned bridges exist, or have remnants, on the Humber. I might be wrong, but it seems above average for the rivers I know well.

Anime "translation" effort...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Photoshop nerd panic

Ten, eleven years ago now, I used to work in an electronic education company, animating characters in a primitive marriage of Adobe Photoshop (version 3.05 at the time) and Macromedia Director 4.0. One of the animators I worked with, a guy from down east named Neil (nicknamed "Slo-Mo" for his habit of animating characters with an excruciating series of in-betweens that slowed the sequence down like the Six Million Dollar Man running "fast") was an absolute wizard with Photoshop keyboard shortcuts. One that I never gleaned and always envied was his deft ability to instantly dart between one layer and another, just by quickly pounding the keyboard. Well, I finally learned the shortcut. To go up, it's Alt+]. To go down, it's Alt+[.

I don't think you care, but I do... I wanna be able to look this up when I forget. :D

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Band of Sopranos

I think this is kinda fun. :)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

No Country for Old Men

SPOILER ALERT I will be revealing details of the movie No Country for Old Men in this review, since it will be around a long time after the movie is on the shelves at Blockbuster. If you haven't it, and going in fresh is important to you, please don't read this review.


I saw No Country for Old Men yesterday. It really wasn't what I expected. Hollywood usually spins tales of bad guy does bad thing and good guy sets universe right.

This isn't that kind of movie.

Bad things happen in this movie. Really bad things. Some of them for understandable reasons, but many not. In that alone, it's a disquieting movie. Set in 1980, at its heart, it's a movie about four men. Three of them think they're smart and give their adversaries due respect. The scary thing is, they are. To a "t". And yet each one is defeated by the fourth, because his methods are utterly overwhelming. It's a frightening idea that you can make all the right moves and still lose.

Pursuit movies usually start with the One Big Mistake. Oddly enough, it's not the one that it appears to be. When Josh Brolin's character Llewellyn Moss comes across a massacre in the Texas desert, a drug deal gone wrong, and takes off with the two million dollars, effectively, he's scott-free. Later on, it's demonstrated that there's a tracking device in the case, but the odds of anyone successfully discovering it just by roaming up and down Texas are remote. No, Moss's big mistake is going back, apparently to give water to the dying man he confronted at the scene. When he arrives, the man is dead, and others are waiting. His truck and its various registration information will ultimately be his undoing, and that of a half dozen others, directly and indirectly.

Tommy Lee Jones is Sheriff Bell. Bell is the narrator as the movie opens, so indications are he'll come out on top. He's a man nearing retirement who's seen the society he understood and served erode away, leaving just the ugliness beneath the civility; the kind of man who pines, openly, for the days when a sheriff could maintain order without a gun, by sheer force of personality and the weight of civilization at his back. Bell sees in the escapade one last chance to defend the right, protecting a man (with whom he as only a passing acquaintance) from himself and the force he has unleashed. But events are always just ahead of him... sometimes by moments, or inches.

Woody Harrelson appears, although fairly briefly, as Carson Wells, an obvious closer used by the mob. His fate is perhaps the most distressing of any of the principal characters, because he goes in fully aware of the capacities of the man he's opposing, and is of no small ability himself, and yet he still falls prey.

The perfect storm on legs with which all these men are dealing is Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurn, a guy who looks deceptively like a beefed-up Emo Phillips. This is a man who seems to need to kill the way other people need to eat, and any person will do; a man who has honed murder to a hobby with his preferred method a skull-busting pneumatic hole-punch attached to a high pressure air tank. Hired to recover the two million from Moss, Chigurn goes rogue and sets out on his own course, for his own ends. Chigurn does not emerge from the movie unscathed, but he does emerge, after having (apparently) killed Moss's wife simply on a point of principle, long after he has killed Moss and, presumably, recovered the money. Like a child destroyed in the fire he started, even the men who first dispatched Chigurn on his mission are ultimately his victims, punished for the lack of faith betrayed in sending out Carson Wells.

Likewise, Sheriff Bell emerges alive, but not unscathed, though his wounds are psychological rather than physical. Bell has the skills to track down and confront Chigurn, but never the timing. Even at the end, in a heart-stopping moment of anticipation when it seems everything will now come to a head and justice will prevail, Chigurn manages to silently slip away, unconfronted and unseen, denying Bell even martyrdom. Chigrun gets away with it, all of it, leaving behind him dead bodies, corrupt and innocent alike, and Bell in an anticlimactic retirement of brooding regret and distracted preoccupation from which he will likely never emerge; possessor of a full career boiled down to a bitter residue of failure. Worst of all, he's not surprised and seemed to see it coming, in spite of all his best efforts. There's portent in his closing remarks, made to his wife in the wake of dreams, but I'm at a loss to identify of what, exactly. It will take repeated viewings, I think, for me to really get my head around it. It's an excellent movie, if a deeply unhappy one.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Champions

In relation to my order for René Lévesque's memoirs, I got thinking about a series I remember from my high school days, produced by the NFB and CBC (and broadcast by the latter) in the mid-80s. The series was collectively titled The Champions, and chronicles the parallel rises of René Lévesque and Pierre Trudeau and their clashes in the 70s and 80s. I found them in the catalog of the Toronto Public Library, so I now have them on request. It's been years, probably since the early 90s, since I've seen the series, running about three and a half hours, and I'm really looking forward to watching it again.

Part one is called Unlikely Warriors, and tells the story of these two men up to 1967, when Lévesque, who'd been a provincial minister in the Quebec Lesage government, split to form the Parti Québecois, and when Trudeau joined the federal Liberal cabinet under Mike Pearson.

Part two is called Trappings of Power, and tells the story of Trudeau's early years as prime minister (including the October Crisis), and Lévesque's rise to premier in Quebec, and the lead-up to the referendum. Since these first two parts were completed in 1978, they leave the question of result of the 1980 referendum hanging. I can barely remember those times, but I do recall the gloom of those days, constitutionally. Not the best time ever to be Canadian.

Part three, The Final Battle, was completed in 1986, in the wake of each of these men leaving power. It tells the story of the referendum struggle and the subsequent patriation of the Constitution from Britain, something that still causes us headaches today. What I recall from this part is the poignant footage accompanying Trudeau's "walk in the snow" at the end of February, 1984, the night before he announced his resignation from office.

Since the broadcast of this series, each man has passed on. Their legacy remains and affects our lives to this day, and far into the future. I would strongly recommend this series to anyone who wants a better understanding of the constitutional eggshells upon which we tread so very lightly in this ongoing experiment in tolerance and cohabitability we call Canada.

Qu'est-ce que vous pensez?

I think it was my post a few days ago about the census with regard to Quebec that got me thinking about separatists again, and more specifically of René Lévesque. In spite of his goals, I always kind of admired him and I could never bring myself to really dislike him. There was just something about him that made it impossible, for me at least. But I started wondering, what was it that brought him to the personal realization that Canada didn't work for Quebec, that it needed to be separate? And what kind of an insight would knowing that answer give me into the hearts of minds of separatists generally? So I thought, well, he must have written his memoirs... and indeed he did, published just before he died. They've been translated into English, and so I went looking for them and found a decently-priced copy on and ordered it. I'm really looking forward to reading it, and perhaps remarking on it here.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Everything old is new again

So I'm sitting here watching CBC News this afternoon and Industry Minister Jim Prentice is on right now talking about a new government agency to oversee foreign takeovers of Canadian firms and disallow them if they're not in the national interest. Ooo, let's all pat the Tories on the back, huh?

Uhhhh, yeah. I liked it fine the first time when it was called FIRA, the Foreign Investment Review Agency, created by the Grits under Trudeau... and then guillotined by the Tories under Mulroney.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The law isn't "a ass", it's a bully

The case of Robert Latimer must be the all-time Gordian knot of Canadian jurisprudence. I feel now pretty much the same way I felt ten years ago when he was on trial. What he did was wrong, but understandable. I felt that the jury and the judge in that trial reached the correct balance. Robert Latimer was guilty of the murder of his disabled daughter, Tracy, by poisoning her with carbon monoxide. He contended that he did it out of compassion, because Tracy's pain stemming from cerebral palsy was unceasing, and all she had to look forward to was operation after operation throughout a tortured life. The judge and jury all understood and accepted his claim, and he was sentenced to one year in minimum security and a year of house arrest. To me, this was an act of tough mercy very much in keeping with Latimer's own for his daughter. It sent the message that society could not condone one person taking it upon himself to take the life of another, but also accepted that this was not a crime of passion or hatred or utter disregard for others... it was anything but.

Understandably, the champions of the rights of the disabled were alarmed at the ruling, fearing it might encourage similar cases. They miss the point. Robert Latimer knew he was risking prison. But his love for his daughter and urge to end her suffering trumped that. It's hard to imagine any sentence in a supposedly compassionate society that would have dissuaded him.

The case was appealed and eventually went to the Supreme Court, where they overturned the sentence and applied the maximum in that case: life imprisonment. The Court said at the time it issued the ruling in denunciation of the act. The Court ignored that fact that the people of Canada, in the persons of the jurors, had already done so, to the extent that they, the people of Canada, saw fit. The Court was wrong, grasping, in its hammer-and-tong application of the letter of the law over the spirit, as expressed in Latimer's 1997 trial.

The parole board that heard and denied Latimer's plea for day release has committed the very same error as the Supreme Court in effect, and yet, this time, in denial of the law. Their mandate is to decide if Latimer represents a threat to society, not to weigh his conscience. He is a human being in a free country, and has the right to his own opinions with regard to his own actions. We all do. The parole board decided instead to play Orwellian games with this man who has himself suffered so much, and returned him to Room 101 until he will admit, against all personal logic, that 2+2=5 because Big Brother would have it so.

The Supreme Court and the parole board have between them short circuited the will of the Canadian people (as evidenced by today's Globe and Mail poll, running 86% opposed to the board's decision), and have performed a disservice to Canada that, in my opinion, brings the administration of justice into disrepute.

Isn't it incredible?

I'd like to think I'm not that old yet. I'm 39. ...Wow, that's old. Really seems like I was 26 just a couple years ago, but I wasn't. Just feels like it. Oh, Christ, anyway...

Anyway! When I was 26, I bought my first AT computer, a 486 DX-66. That was October, 1994. I don't remember anymore precisely how big its hard drive was, but I think it was in the neighbourhood of 450 MB, or just over that. Seemed big then, but even at the time, I was bottoming it out in six months and having to decide what to keep and what to throw away. Today I carry around a USB memory pen with more storage, 512 MB, just for schlepping stuff around.

It was sometime in late 1998 when I bought my first 1GB drive. It cost something close to $300 and was pretty cutting edge at the time. Now I have a chip for my S80 that holds 4GB and cost me about $80 last summer.

I now have a computer with three internal drives. Between them, they hold around 800 GB. The main drive, C, I keep almost exclusively for the OS and the program files, though I have been storing downloads there. D is some kind of dinky utility drive carved out of C by the manufacturer; it's basically the computer's appendix as far as I'm concerned. F (320 GB) is where I've mostly been storing all my digital photos, and using it to temporarily house the files needed to back up DVDs. E (250 GB) was mostly the briefcase file to back up the photographs on F.

Well, I ran out of space on E to back up all my new photos and video captures. Can you believe that? Over 500 times the capacity of my first HDD, just dedicated to that. Obviously, that also meant I was nearly the limits of F. Incredibly, I needed more space. So, yesterday, I bought an external USB drive, 500 GB... yeah, over a thousand times the volume of my first drive; and it was only $140 or so. Took three hours last night, but I transferred all my photos to it. Takes up half the space on the drive, so there's still room to grow... for another year or so.

I deleted the originals off F, and instead created a briefcase there to back up M (the new external drive... the other letters are assigned to the two DVD drives and the built-in card readers. I think the days of A and B drives are behind us, though). So, I think that frees up E to be the catch-all. The ripped files, the downloads, the various things that collect in "My Documents" but don't really fit there... stuff like that.

It is amazing, though, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Me, me and my stone...

I don't want to give you the impression I'm a boozehound, but I'll cop to this much: there are days when I like come home and just settle into a buzz while I watch something stupid and familiar. There are weekends where I have nothing much going on and I like to blow off the afternoons the same way. And when I do, my liquor of choice for the last few years has been rum... the darker the better (ironically enough, one of the ones I used to dote on is clear as vodka... the buttery-flavoured and ironically named Black Stripe... but the LCBO delisted it).

For a long time, my favouite was Black Seal, which hails from Bermuda. But every so often I'd try something new, and a guess a couple of years ago I stumbled onto one from India, of all places, called Old Monk. I find it extremely agreeable; mingling flavours that, to me, are reminiscent of vanilla and raisins, with a little bit of spice. If I were to be honest, I'd have to admit that Old Monk has edged out Black Seal as my favourite.

A couple of weeks ago I went looking for a bottle. There was supposed to be some at one of the outlets near me, but when I got there, there was none. I decided to try a different rum. Won't name it, but I didn't like it overmuch. But every time I checked the stocks online, they seemed to be locked in place... only a handful of stores in the province had it, and even then, the numbers never changed.

Well, I found out why a couple of days ago. Apparently, glass particles have been found in some bottles, and the LCBO hauled Old Monk off the shelves. They say it's a factor of the bottling process, so hopefully it's something that can be addressed. But it sounds to me like it's going to be a while before I taste my favourite rum again. Ah, well. The waiting will make the first taste all the sweeter.

The Cuba Libre

Recipe: 2 oz Rum 3/4 oz Lime Juice 5 oz Cola

Preparation: Put lime juice and a twist of lime into highball glass. Add rum and fill with cola.

Hall of Mirrors

I heard on the CBC this morning that for the first time since the 1930s, the percentage of mother-tongue francophones in Quebec has dropped below 80%. This is according to the 2006 census. It's true; I just checked the numbers at Statcan and if you don't figure in the 70-some thousand who gave their mother-tongue as French and something else, then the figure comes in at right around 79%. (By the way... according to the same table, the mother-tongue percentage of English speakers right here in Ontario is only 68.4%.)

Naturally, someone in the course of the story cried that this was the signal for independence for Quebec. What isn't? The numbers of francophones are down, so the language and culture are under threat, so Quebec must separate! If the numbers had been up, that would mean Quebec was self-assured and could go it alone, so Quebec must separate! Too much rain? A lot of sunny days? Long hair, going bald, need a boob job? Separate! Blah blah blah. Anything to break the ties to "others" and wallow in the xenophobic Hall of Mirrors they wish Quebec could be.

I don't know what the answer is to the declining numbers of francophones in Canada. Maybe there isn't one. Frankly, I don't think independence is really the answer, because it doesn't change a damn thing about the realities of Quebec, which are: it's embedded in North America, 5.5 million francophones in a sea of 300 million anglophones. Separating from Canada won't change that. The reality is that there are simply more opportunities, in North America and around the world, to live and especially work in English than in French. I would like to see "the French Fact in America", as they've called themselves, continue into the distant future; part of my own roots lie in that soil, and that blood is in my veins too. But sooner or later Quebec's going to have to come to peace with where it is in the world. I'm not saying, by any means, that they ought to abandon French or cease to promote its use at home and in the workplace; I understand the need for that and I support it. But if 500 years from now everyone in Quebec is speaking English, or Mandarin, then so be it. That's how people then will want things; it'll be as natural to them as this is to us. I don't vastly lament the loss of Gaelic in my own heritage... I'm proud to be of that stock, but times moved on, and I have a different set of symbols with which to express myself. If French is meant to survive in North America, it certainly will, because people will use it because they want to use it, they love to use it, and because it makes sense to use it. Not because someone closes the border or sticks a legislative gun in their face.

Quebec, sit back. Love your language. Love your culture. Be who you are, here, now, today, and enjoy it. That's the surest way of all to influence the character of your posterity. Impoverishing them geographically, economically, and symbolically will be doing them no favour at all.

More weird dreams :)

Last couple of days I've had three dreams that I can remember. Here's what I can recall...

This morning's dream was about places I know well that looked different from what I remember. It was December, but unseasonably warm, so I was in the jean jacket, peddle pushers, and sandals again. I was going to my old university library. I remember there was a collection tray for some charity at the bottom of some stairs (that have nothing to do with the library where I went to university), and people were dropping loonies and other change in. I dug in deep, hauled up a big fistful of change and dumped it in. I went up the stairs, looked around in the stacks for a while.

Afterwards, I took my DSLR out with the 300 mm lens because I could shoot off Bayview Avenue bridge down to the old one (which is actually not a bad idea; I should give that a try). Then I decided to get both bridges in the shot, so I pulled back to the heights of the university (oddly enough, York University does have a campus in the vicinity, but I went to university nowhere near there, and not at York anyway). I set up the shot and noticed there were all kinds of kids, dressed for winter, lining up and falling over backwards off the bridge and the bank into the water. It was like some kind of weird "polar bears" thing, except with heavy clothes on. They were having a blast, waving to people taking pictures, and falling in again and again. I think the idea was to get in the papers or something.

...Yesterday, the first dream I had was about catching a mouse in some small apartment above a storefront. The mouse tried to bite me and get away but I held on. It turned out the mouse could talk, but in a voice that was believable for a mouse. I talked the mouse into being a pet, since I could assure him a soft option in life. I remember a long conversation but I don't remember its nature. He was afraid of my cats but I assured him they weren't hunters and were no threat. I have the impression that near the end, the mouse was discontented with it all and wanted his old life back.

The second dream was about coming home to some well-appointed home, and finding a homeless man had broken in and was asleep on a settee near the door. I woke him up and told him to leave, but he wouldn't. I threatened him with outside assistance, and I picked up the phone and called my dad, who worked for many years as a security guard, and loudly asked him what I should do. He gave me a phone number with three numbers, two more numbers, and two letters. I asked what the letters were for and he said they were a security device so that not just anyone would be able to dial that number. Uh, yeah, okay, whatever... made sense in the dream. Well, both I and the homeless man knew that if I dialed that number, I meant business, so, cowed, he left as I ended the conversation with my dad.

And there you go. A lot of significance with not much sound and little fury, but a whole lot of nothing. :D

The very latest in weird dreams

Last couple of days I've had three dreams that I can remember. Here's what I can recall...

This morning's dream was about places I know well that looked different from what I remember. It was December, but unseasonably warm, so I was in the jean jacket, peddle pushers, and sandals again. I was going to my old university library. I remember there was a collection tray for some charity at the bottom of some stairs (that have nothing to do with the library where I went to university), and people were dropping loonies and other change in. I dug in deep, hauled up a big fistful of change and dumped it in. I went up the stairs, looked around in the stacks for a while.

Afterwards, I took my DSLR out with the 300 mm lens because I could shoot off Bayview Avenue bridge down to the old one (which is actually not a bad idea; I should give that a try). Then I decided to get both bridges in the shot, so I pulled back to the heights of the university (oddly enough, York University does have a campus in the vicinity, but I went to university nowhere near there). I set up the shot and noticed there were all kinds of kids, dressed for winter, lining up and falling over backwards off the bridge and the bank into the water. It was like some kind of weird "polar bears" thing, except with heavy clothes on. They were having a blast, waving to people taking pictures, and falling in again and again. I think the idea was to get in the papers or something.

...Yesterday, the first dream I had was about catching a mouse in some small apartment above a storefront. The mouse tried to bite me and get away but I held on. It turned out the mouse could talk, but in a voice that was believable for a mouse. I talked the mouse into being a pet, since I could assure him a soft option in life. I remember a long conversation but I don't remember its nature. He was afraid of my cats but I assured him they weren't hunters and were no threat. I have the impression that near the end, the mouse was discontented with it all and wanted his old life back.

The second dream was about coming home to some well-appointed home, and finding a homeless man had broken in and was asleep on a settee near the door. I woke him up and told him to leave, but he wouldn't. I threatened him with outside assistance, and I picked up the phone and called my dad, who worked for many years as a security guard, and loudly asked him what I should do. He gave me a phone number with three numbers, two numbers, and two letters. I asked what the letters were for and he said they were a security device so that not everyone would be able to dial that number. Uh, yeah, okay, whatever... made sense in the dream. Well, both I and the homeless man knew that if I dialed that number, I meant business, so, cowed, he left as I ended the conversation with my dad.

And there you go. A lot of significance with not much sound and little fury, but a whole lot of nothing. :D

Monday, December 03, 2007

Canada's statesman, part II

It's funny how it works out. I just blogged about Joe Clark kind of out of the blue a couple of weeks ago, and now this.

An opinion piece by Lawrence Martin in this morning's Globe and Mail suggests that Brian Mulroney might owe a lot more to Karl Schreiber than just three hundred grand and some influence. He might owe his political career to him.

Schreiber, an Austrian named Walter Wolf (chair of the supervisory board of — guess what? — Airbus Industries), and a man named Franz Josef Straus — incredibly, the premier of Bavaria at the time — orchestrated and bankrolled between them Joe Clark's fall. Why? Clark was a red Tory, and didn't wasn't the kind of guy to look after their Canadian interests the way they wanted. There's a tacit suggestion they were working elsewhere to export their 'preferred' brand of conservatism as well.

It turns out that these guys were putting money into Mulroney's sneaky little campaign to unseat Joe Clark as leader of the Progressive Conservatives in 1983, to the point that they even used to Boeing jets to get anti-Clark delegates to Winnipeg to vote against him, all expenses paid, including their wives' shopping trips. They did enough to tip the balance against Clark, who had stated before the review that he wanted a 70% mandate from the party. He got 66.9%, resigned to face a leadership campaign, and lost it to Mulroney. Our entire history turned on this.

In other places, in other times, this would be called a coup. And now it's coming out it happened here. And for nine years, this country was run by a man put there to serve the interests of rich German and Austrian investors. Brian Mulroney huffs and puffs and tries to blow the truth down, but I think this time it's made of bricks. I've hated the man for years, and I'd be loving this if it weren't so sickeningly unbelievable and soberingly chilling.

How Joe Clark managed to walk into that cabinet room every day for all those years without vomiting in that man's face, I can't imagine.

The proof of the pudding... in the eating, as they say. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has narrowly lost his referendum bid to expand his powers and remove term limitations. The vote was 49.3% yes, 50.7% no. Chavez has appeared on television to acknowledge the defeat.

The people have spoken. Now is crunch time for democracy in Venezuela. Will Chavez sincerely honour the result, or try to find some sly way to circumvent it? Will democracy survive in fact, or will Chavez simply dispense with it now in the "best interests" of Venezuela — especially when the result was so close? We'll see.

Personally, I've largely supported Chavez and his aims and most of this actions. He's been strong and bold and gone a little beyond the Pale on occasion, but he's still upheld the democratic ideal and has, in my opinion, done an excellent job focusing on leftist principles of improving the lot of the people. So long as he's willing to bow to their expressed wisdom in these matters here, I'm willing to elect him to my personal pantheon of tough fighters for what's right in the developing world... there've been all too few of them in history.

Please, Mr. President... don't let us down now.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Maybe the strangest one yet

Okay, here’s a weird dream for you. Had this one this morning.

A Russian gymnast dies at the Olympics. She’s cremated, and for some reason, it’s up to me to get her ashes back to Russia. They’re heavier and bulkier than I expected, and I managed to knock them over in one of the upstairs bathrooms of my parents’ house. The ashes go everywhere. I have to get a Dust Buster to gather them all up… and a new one, so it’s clean inside!

On the trip I end up at this tiny restaurant in southwestern Ontario (somewhere in Cambridge, I think, for some reason). Two men are arguing at the table in the window, and the one with his back to the wall shoots the one with his back to the counter by the door. A lot of fighting, a lot of confusion for a few moments. The dead man and the murderer are taken away. With some reluctance, I take a seat in the dead man’s chair. The other people in the restaurant are shocked at my being willing to sit where a man was murdered, and some resent my presumption. But I sit there quietly, every second more and more certain I have every right to have done so.

I’m in a car, being driven along a country road westward somewhere up in the forests and farmlands of western York Region. The driver of the car is Jody (Jody is a friend of mine who died of cancer in June, 2004; we knew each other for ten years over the net but never actually met in person in life). We’re both anxious to see this over and done with. I have the box of the gymnast’s ashes in my lap, but suddenly I notice all the ashes have disappeared, probably blown away during the trip, and all we have left is a horrible skull, grey with ash and still kind of pink with its newness (are newly defleshed skulls pink?). It’s too terrible for either of us to look at for long. I’m worried the police will think we murdered her if we get stopped. What will the Russians say if we show up with just this, having lost all the rest? We start thinking about just burying the skull somewhere.

That’s about all I remember. A couple of points I’m sure tie in… I actually do have a small vial of Jody’s ashes; they were given to me by his roommates at his memorial service in Texas. Second, I also have a copy of the state-issued certificate declaring them human remains… Jody’s Uncle Jesse was pretty insistent that I would want to have that while transporting his ashes, especially across the border.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Since my return from my stay on the moon... random thoughts

I guess there's some value after all in having a blog or in this case a live journal. When I looked at this one last night, I was surprised to find how frank and personal it is. I've gotten away from that over at City in the Trees, my blog [N.B. March 6, 2011: this post was originally made on LiveJournal]. That's mostly about politics and my experiences, but not so much about what I'm feeling. That seems to be more what this has been about here. Probably because of the way it began, in the wake of Jody's death.

It's a Friday morning right now. Sometime around this time tomorrow, I'm supposed to meet P-Doug to go to the ROM (the Royal Ontario Museum, for them what dunno). I've never been inside the ROM, aside from the gift shop. The collection we're going to see is one that's passing through... an assortment of things from across the country that you wouldn't ordinarily get to see without crisscrossing the land. There was a day when a Canadian had to see his country to enjoy its treasures... now the treasures come to you! :) One of the things that's supposed to be there is the landing gear of an Avro Arrow, the holy grail of Canadian technological nationalism. That's what I'm going to see. The rest is gravy.

Speaking of gravy... well, P-Doug's suggestion for afterward was going to Hernando's Hideaway, a really great Mexican restaurant on Yonge Street. I agreed. But I've reconsidered. As much as I love the place, and the food is fantastic, well... I'm looking at old LJ entries whining about being 215 lbs. and having to "put the brakes on". Well, two-and-a-half years later, I'm 228. So much for putting the brakes on. Okay, it could be worse over 54 or so months, but if that's putting the brakes on, I definitely at least dinged the other guy's bumper. There are things I love I just can't quite wear anymore, and I'm holding onto them for when I can. I know what I have to do; I'm just not doing it. One of those things is not going to Hernando's Hideaway, et al.

The other suggestion I've kind of put aside was the "we'll bring a roast" suggestion. P-Doug and G's oven died on them about five years back, and they still haven't replaced it. I find this utterly amazing, myself. A couple of months, maybe. But all these years? I live alone, I'm not a big baker, but even I need my oven a few times a month. Anyway, periodically, they suggest bringing a roast over. The food's great, and it's plentiful, but that's kind of the downside, too. And there's always a dessert. And G is way into dessert. We're talking about a woman who pours the "Sugar In the Raw" left for coffee onto a spoon and eats it waiting for her entree. Well, I'm also into desserts. It doesn't take much to unchain that monster in me. So it becomes yet another hurdle. And, too, the place is always a mess afterwards. You'd think three people could get by with three plates, maybe six, and a few forks and knives, but typically, something like two thirds of my usual flatware and cutlery wind up casualties of the event. Plus whatever large thing was on the stove or in the oven, now coated with grease. There's the fork for testing, the fork for tasting, the spoon for stirring, the plate for the meat, the bowls for the salad, the bowls for dessert... I'm getting better at tackling this stuff, but it's still a big job, and it usually fills my drying rack two or three times over. And P-Doug always dumps stuff in the sink. Not just dishes, but actual garbage. Or it gets left on the counter. The kitchen's never exactly spotless, but after a roast night, it's a two hour clean up. On the flip side, they usually pay for most of the stuff, so I'm caught between feeling parasitic and not wanting to blow twenty or thirty bucks on stuff I'm only going to get to eat about a third of, boiled bones notwithstanding. Okay, I'm cheap. Not asking for absolution, just explaining my motivations.

Another problem is... what to do? P-Doug and I have a lot of similar tastes in movies and documentaries and stuff, but G's tastes and mine (at least) have significantly less overlap. So we usually sit there and watch something one or the other of us really isn't all that interested in.

The solution, to me, to all this is just to meet up with her after the ROM and go to Swiss Chalet, then see a movie I think we all want to see (that being Before the Devil Knows You're Dead). It's an inexpensive meal, someone else cleans up the mess, and I can eat sensibly there. P-Doug suggested just meeting up at the ROM, and that made sense when we were heading back to my place, but now it seems to me that meeting him at his place and heading down on the subway with him is better, because then I've got my car to go to Kennedy Commons (where the theatre is) and home with. That's if my suggestion flies. I fired it off in email this morning but haven't heard back yet.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

GiSTEQ PhotoTrackr: second impressions

Well, the software's kind of buggy. Once you've created a photo group, that's it. Clicking delete does fuck-all. It's bolted in like an iron plate. So I'm stuck with two demo ones that it defaults to and come up every time I try to do something.

Also, trying to apply geotags to older photos doesn't really work. I mean, I think technically it does it. But one photo at a time. And even when you've placed it on the map, the thumbnail of the photo doesn't appear. So it's extremely impractical and simply doesn't work properly.

But, for what I really bought it for — geotagging my trips and archival shots moving forward — it seems to do just fine. So really, I got what I paid for. But I still thing I'll write to them and let them know what doesn't work for me. Then when the next release comes out, who knows?

Geotagged photo from Tuesday:

It's a stretch

Latitude: N 43° 53' 59.5"
Longitude: W 79° 20' 42.8"
Altitude: 206

Baby I won't drive this car...

I had this really weird dream this morning (well, aren't they always?). I was on the web looking at cars. I saw one that was interesting and priced around $5900... strange price; I wonder where my mind came up with that one. Anyway, I clicked "BUY", the way you will when you don't really want to buy something but you want to see the bottom line. But this one was like eBay on 'roids or something: you click, you commit. Instantly. Suddenly there was some kind of notification that the car's price had been charged to my line of credit! I had two cars, two payments... and there's only me to drive them!

I called them up and spoke to this woman, explaining and begging them to reverse the purchase. The dream segued to the office, where she told me there was no way to reverse it. I was on the hook.

I semi-woke up at that point and convinced myself it wasn't real. The telling point is, I don't have that line of credit anymore; I dumped it last summer. And there sure wasn't six grand of room in it. :)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

GiSTEQ PhotoTrackr: first impressions

Overall, my impressions are positive, and in cases, very much so. It wasn't easy to set the whole thing up, and I wouldn't call the driver installation seamless, but eventually it it was all go.

As I emailed P-Doug this morning:

You should see the thing in action. Something it does that I didn't anticipate, but I got a big charge out of, is play back the trip. When I downloaded the log file, I was first amazed when it suddenly jumped up with a map and there was my whole route on it. Then I noticed there was this play button, so I clicked it and it ran through my drive, including a stop for gas, stops at lights, a more rapid pace along straight-aways... I was just delighted. Then I corralled the photos from that trip and added them. It processed them, showed them on the map, and then offered to embed the GPS data in the EXIF – which is what I was really after, after all. All the rest was cream.

Sadly, while it's possible to embed location data in older photos, it's a hassle. I was hoping it would just be a matter of opening the map, finding the location, and dragging photos onto it and telling it "embed the data". It's not so easy. You pretty much have to re-open the map every time and tell it the approximate location (like "Toronto"), and then keep zooming in and moving the pin to tighter and tighter approximations. So while it's possible, it's such a pain that I can't imagine doing it en masse for trips I took. Hopefully they'll add such functionality in upgrades.

(Hmmm... I didn't try selecting a GROUP of photos and doing this... if I can at least get them all on the map in one shot, then it's just a matter of moving them around. That might make it practical. I'll have to try that this evening.)

Last summer I was considering that little Sony one, but it's only guaranteed to work with their cameras, it was more expensive (this thing was barely a hundred bucks), and it has nowhere near the utility. I'm going to take it for a photowalk at lunchtime and see what I come up with.

Which I did. I'll see how it performs walking instead of driving.

George, enough already!

"Dimpled chad."
My Pet Goat.
Iraq (a.k.a. "Cake Walk"; a.k.a. "Mission Accomplished")
New Orleans.

...Middle East peace process?

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Hit the road, Jack, ...something something photo track...

My GiSTEQ PhotoTrackr has arrived! It's a neat, inexpensive little device that corresponds frequently with the GPS and logs your position as you move. When you get home, its software matches up the log and the timestamps of your photos and then embeds the geographical location in the metadata of the image. This is called "geotagging".

I got the unit at a bargain price on eBay… a bargain because at the time I ordered it, the Canadian dollar was worth $1.08 US. I wanted it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I wanted to be able to look back in the future a know just where I was, to within a few yards, when I took a particular image. Second, since I'm hoping to start recording the city (especially in 3D) for people in the future, it's important they be able to tell exactly where a photo was taken, especially if the location changes a great deal.

Here, there, and everywhere

John Howard was, until Saturday, the Prime Minister of Australia. He held power for 11 years and oversaw a huge upswing in the financial fortunes of Australia.

But he refused to address global warming, despite seven years of drought in Australia that has seen farms abandoned and wildfires threaten the cities. He has been hand-in-glove with George Bush in both Afghanistan and Iraq. These policies were unacceptable to the Australian people, who massively turned away from him and to Kevin Rudd, their next prime minister, who will sign Kyoto and begin the withdrawal of Australian troops.

Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper goes to the Commonwealth conference in Uganda and isolates us from nearly every other member — including Britain, who's usually on the wrong side of any moral question — by refusing to agree to binding commitments on climate change (the two others were New Zealand and, tellingly, Australia… whoopsy, Mr. Howard…). Harper talks of extending Canada's mission in Afghanistan, when all that really means is expending the lives of Canadian soldiers and Afghan civilians caught in the crossfire.

Polls consistently tell us that these policies are unpopular with the people of Canada. They were unpopular with the people of Australia, too. Mr. Harper, please pick up a newspaper.

Or, better yet… don't.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

401 Redeye Express

A song by Devo from my youth accompanies you on this high-speed trip through Toronto's west end on the 401 from about a year ago. Leslie Street to Kipling Avenue in three minutes flat. Don't we wish! :)

Enjoy. :)

The perils of photography :)

Caution: strong language and weak mind. :)

A trip down the valley

On Saturday, November 17, 2007, Hamilton's Red Hill Valley Parkway opened to the public. On the books for over 50 years, in the works for over a decade, the expressway hurdled provincial underfunding, federal interference, and the objection of a sizable local minority to finally be completed this year. At long last, Hamilton Mountain is served by a circular controlled-access route from the QEW-403 combo comprised of the Lincoln M. Alexander Parkway ("the Linc") and the RHVP, supplemented by by the new Highway 6 bypass to John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport. The RHVP provides an access between the QEW and the Mountain, without having to drive clear through downtown and up through Ancaster via the 403. The hope is that it will facilitate the growth of light industry around the airport. With the decline of the steel industry and the city's fortunes over the past 25 years, this opportunity was sorely needed.

I was fortunate to be in the city that day, and privileged to be among the first people to drive it. Starting up on the Mountain, I took the Linc to the new parkway (it starts where the asphalt goes from ten-year-old grey to month-old black on the big curve), down to the QEW, and then back again. So, accompanied by Froggy's Lament from Buckner & Garcia's album Pac Man Fever, let me take you on a quick tour of the province's newest expressway. Ride shotgun, seeing through my camera's eye. You've got a ticket to ride! (Do you care?) :)

[N.B. By the way... the first 10 seconds or so are black; that's deliberate, so bear with me. You'll see what I mean. ;) ]

Updated post: Trip to Ottawa Overview

I've added a video of my impressions of my trip to Ottawa in July. I hope you'll find it to your liking.

Updated post: Of Squirrels and Men

The original post is from December, 2005, just about two years ago. Now that I know how to embed YouTube vids in posts, I'll be doing so moving forward, and updating old posts where it would be of value. This is one, I think. Come watch us feed a wild squirrel by hand. It's wonderful. :)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Squared to it, faced to it, it was not there

This is what I think of as a "Bill Cosby" story. It's one of those stories you tell by first telling something else to set it up.

I got my first credit card before I started working. Walked into a hardware store one day and they asked me if I wanted one. I was out of school but still unemployed at the time and I said so. They didn't care. Filled out the form, bang, got the card. At first, it was only good at that particular store, so no big deal. But they pretty quickly slapped a MasterCard logo in one corner and I was officially on the big time credit grid. Been there ever since.

I amassed a fair amount of debt over the years. It was never an amount I couldn't keep up the payments on, or had to sell of my car to manage, or lost sleep over, but it was still an anchor on me, taking a share of my earnings every month. So, about a year ago, I got rid of the last of my credit cards. I have a loan that will be paid off over three years, a little at a time. Effectively, at the moment, I don't really have any credit immediately available to me. It's weird living this way, but if I can learn to do this long term, I'll probably be the better for it.

One of the down sides, though, is how hard it is to do any shopping online, where a lot of the real savings and bargains are. So for a long time I've been looking for one of those prepaid credit cards... one that's on either the MC or Visa system, but the money you're spending is your own... it's already earned and in your pocket. You're simply paying to join a system to facilitate payments. I finally found one that I like, which is the MuchMusic MasterCard they're flogging mostly to teenagers.

Okay, as Bill Cosby would say, "I told you that story to tell you this one."

One of the perks of getting this card is ten free MP3 downloads from MuchMusic. I wasn't expecting much, but when I went there to check it out, I was surprised by what was available to me. An awful lot of songs are available for downloading at $1.19 (plus tax). I started thinking. It took me back to my early teen years when I didn't buy whole albums; I just bought the popular songs on the radio on 45s... for about what they're selling MP3s for here. Okay, you also got a B side song, but usually, it wasn't anything you wanted. Something had to be there. But after 20 or 25 years, it's nice to see it still so affordable.

This represents a real shift in the way music's distributed. One of the things that drove people to things like Napster and BitTorrent was that you couldn't just go and get the song you wanted. Generally speaking, the days of the 45 were well and truly over. No, you had to buy the whole album, usually sure of only one or two songs, for whatever they wanted to stick you for. I think people resented that. Some people will never buy if they can get it for free, true. But I think most of us will. $1.19 seems like just about a perfect price to me. And where I might have found another way to get a song if it was going to cost me $15-20 before, and they'd get nothing out of me, now they'll at least make something. And since they let you listen to samples of other tracks, potentially even more sales. This strikes me as an eminently good idea, and one of the best uses for the net so far.

Of course, this is bad news for the retailers. SAM the Record Man, iconic in my youth and known across Canada, faltered in recent years, and pretty much folded. Its flagship store on Yonge Street, which had been in business for around fifty years, closed for good last summer. Sunrise is in the process of shutting down. That will leave HMV and department stores. I'm not sure how to feel about this. It represents something very different from the way things were done all my life so far, and there was a real charm to wandering a record store and flipping through the colourful album covers and finding new things. I once bought an expensive import, 154 by Wire, in a record store on the basis of one haunting track they were playing while I was there. It would appear, then, that such experiences are to become a thing of the past, and end with my generation.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Just when you thought it was safe to read my blog... :)

Kind of a strange thing to blog about, especially after having so recently said I'm not the type to do this kind of thing, but here goes anyway:

Yesterday, I went to a really interesting supermarket.

There, I've said it and I'm glad.

Tuesday night I was out at The Three Monkeys with P-Doug, and to get there from picking up the pens at Yonge and Steeles, I had to cross quite a bit of town. I decided to head across on Cummer/McNicoll to Warden, and down it to the pub. It's not a part of town I'm in very often and it was a course I probably hadn't taken in years. I hadn't seen a Price Chopper in some time, but I spotted one on Warden just north of Finch, and made a mental note to check it out.

Got my first opportunity yesterday. More correctly, I made an excuse to check it out. The Price Chopper I once used to go to on Leslie was kind of seedy, so I didn't go with great expectations, but I felt I ought to see for myself.

It was gloomy and drizzly when I got there... as I was driving down Warden I remembered words from the movie Watership Down. "They seem sad, like trees in November." Perfect description. I fell a little bit out of time; something about it all reminded me of the early 70s... I didn't quite feel of my own time. It's hard to explain but I suppose I don't have to.

I walked across the parking lot to this tiny little parkette... It had low iron chains connecting pillars, and sloping stonework walls. As I stepped into it, I realized the walls had headstones pressed into them. It was a cemetery. A tiny little cemetery from the 1800s, sandwiched between the mall and the parking lot. Peaceful little last acre with PRICE CHOPPER towering and glowing above it. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. And yet, somehow, it didn't seem undignified. In a way, it was kind of charming... coming to terms with the dead, and surrounding them with life. Oddly enough, it sort of made me happy.

I went into Price Chopper and it was one of those places that's much bigger on the inside than it seems from the outside. It was clean and orderly, and surprisingly well-appointed. A bakery? In a discount supermarket? Yup. Quite a selection; in fact, the variety of breads they had on hand seemed more impressive than some of the bigger, pricier supermarkets. In fact, they had pretty much everything I was looking for, with the exception of a brand of cheese I like (that's not in every store anyway). They had the cold cuts I like, loose buns at a competitive price (and quite a few different kinds), they even had lime juice, which you usually can't get in discount stores... and I've taking a liking to Cuba Libres lately. They even had disposable pepper mills for a little over two bucks; I picked one up. Nice, fresh, sharp pepper. I was really impressed.

The place is a little bit out of the way; it's not really on the way to or from anything for me. But it's not so much out of the way that it causes regrets. I tend to impulse-buy groceries because there's a supermarket just off the highway on my way home. This would just mean planning a little more. But I think I might start stopping in once in a while. Made a good impression and I'd like to see if it holds up.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Stop! Nerd Time!

Okay, so, I was at The Three Monkeys with P-Doug about two weeks ago — this was after coming back from Brimstone — (wow, that sounds like a Hemingway novel, doesn't it? Back from Brimstone...), and while we where there, a woman dropped a pen. Well, I'm a whore for pens. So I waited till she left, then I darted and scooped. Score! Awesome pen! Maybe the best pen I ever found. Nice feel, good grip, solid heft, smooth flow, and black, black ink... like India ink. I was in love.

Naturally, I lost it within days. Well, I knew I would. Which is why I took careful notice of its make and model. It was a GR8 Roller, by Zebra. I went looking for it and was delightfully surprised to discover that, yeah, I could get it in Toronto. Grand & Toy carried it, but didn't regularly stock it. The outlet at Markville Mall wanted me to order a dozen at the cost of nearly $40. I like this pen, but not to the tune of a dozen. Luckily, the outlet at Centerpoint Mall offered to order as many or as few as I wanted. I ordered four. They arrived last night and cost me just over twelve bucks. Three dollars seems like a really good price for this pen.

Have a nerdtastic day. :)

Where the fuck am I?

Okay, I think this is funny. When I went to Centerpoint Mall to pick up the pens, I went to look at the mall map to find out where Grand & Toy was. I was a little flummoxed to discover I had my choice of where "I was". Four, in fact. I think this is taking the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle just a little too far. :)

Blondin Avenue, better late than never

Sometimes these things have a long history. Sometimes I forget to blog them, or I write them up elsewhere. I don't mean to be one of those people who blogs every time he sees a butterfly or eats a really nice cheese sandwich, but there are some things I ought to record... mostly so I remember them in detail over time, but also because I think they'll be of interest, if only to a few like-minded people. And so, better late than never.

It usually starts with maps. At some point a couple of years ago or so, I noticed that Flindon Road, on what used to be the border between North York and Etobicoke, seemed to once have bridged the Humber River; my supposition was right, it did. I've been there a couple of times and my interest in the place has grown as I've explored it.

Sometime earlier this year I mentioned it to P-Doug as a possible outing, and directed him to Google Maps to show him the area. Casually, almost as an afterthought, he expressed interest in a little slice of pavement, completely isolated from the road system. Obviously, it had once been connected. What was it? I admit, I wasn't initially all that fired up about it. It looked to me like just part of a parking lot that had been abandoned, or something. But Google still had it labeled "Blondin Avenue", and I guess I was intrigued just enough to eventually check it out. Well, it turns out it was once quite a bit more than what I'd imagined.

I found myself at the City Archives on Friday, August 17, 2007, to research the bridge at Flindon Road. In the course of that, I also decided to look up the chunk of pavement. It turned out that Blondin Avenue in Weston was part of a now-vanished section of postwar suburbia. It used to have a substantial number of homes on it. For about fifty years, dozens of families made their homes there. Equally surprising to me was the discovery that at least as many homes had once been on the south side of Walsh Avenue, which today seamlessly turns Albion Road into Wilson Avenue and vice versa. All of this seems to have changed in just the last decade or so. Today, it's virtually erased from the city, memory, and even the eye. Almost from the imagination.

Let me start you off with some of the images I got at the Archives, matched to a modern image courtesy of Google Maps.

Blondin Road is the little diagonal cut at the lower left. This is how the neighbourhood appeared in 1950. At this time, the 401 had not yet been built. You can see that the handful of homes on Blondin are among the very first in the entire area.

This is how it appeared in 1959. The 401 existed by then and had an pitchfork-shaped offramp at Weston Road just south of what you can see in this view.

Here's how the neighbourhood looked in 1975. You can see the "new" offramp system of the 401 now, built in the mid-60s. Notice that Wilson Avenue no longer connects to Weston Road, but at the time, Blondin Avenue itself still did. That must have made for some intense moments as people barreled off the 401 into people trying to make turns at 15 mph from Blondin onto Weston. Little wonder that the shots of 1983 show Blondin ending in a cul de sac just shy of Weston. Take note, too, of the plaza at the increasingly complicated intersection of Albion and Weston at the upper left.

Here's how the place looks today, more or less. Blondin is cut off from the road system, and all its homes are torn down. Amazingly, and inexplicably, so are all the homes on the south side of Walsh... with the single exception of one, #35, which you can see at about the centre of the image. Even the plaza at Albion and Walsh is gone, replaced by a sales office for condos. This image is a screen cap from Google Maps.

Now here's some of what I saw when I was there Saturday, August 18, to explore what I'd seen from "above"...

Looking down Wilson Avenue eastward. To the left is Walsh, which in modern times sweeps traffic from Albion to Wilson and Wilson to Albion. What you're seeing here is a largely forgotten, but still open-for-business (literally) butt-end of Wilson Avenue... it's still officially called Wilson Avenue, in fact.

Turning around, this is the view. Until the mid-60s, what you would have seen would be Wilson Avenue straight to Weston Road. When the 401 was expanded from four lanes to the current express-collector system in about 1965, Wilson was cut off from Weston by the land requirements of the new interchange of the 401 at Weston Road. But the intersection of Wilson and Blondin, just the other side of the heap of rubble, was still open. Until fairly recently (and I'm not sure exactly HOW recent; I'm hoping some of you might know), there would have been houses on the right beyond the foreground tree.

Climbing the rubble that segregates Blondin from the street grid, this was my first view of what was once a tidy residential street. This is Blondin Avenue as it looks today. Jaw-dropping. It looks like something out of the Love Canal Photo Album. I think this scene would be heartbreaking for anyone who once lived there, especially if you grew up on this street. I'm no expert but the rate of decay here suggests to me that the neighbourhood was torn down 10-15 years ago. Does anyone know for sure?

This is a shot of Blondin Road as I moved past a fallen tree above and headed towards a rubble field that seems to have been dumped in the mid-point of Blondin Avenue.

A couple of views across the field that was once two rows of houses and their adjacent backyards. The second, infrared, shot is probably the remains of someone's driveway.

Humanity has a knack for making lemonade from lemons. Here, in the debris field in the middle of a one-time residential street, someone is growing vine vegetables. Looked like plum tomatoes.

Clearing the debris field and catching an unhindered glimpse of the remainder of the road towards Weston.

A couple of shots approaching the end of Blondin Avenue, where it once met Weston Road.

Here's the cookie. Today, and for over 20 years now, Blondin Avenue ends in a cul de sac at the very edge of Weston Road, which you can glimpse through the gap in the trees at the left. Beyond the trees on the right, you would have been able to see a plaza at one time. Until sometime around 1980 or so, this would actually have been an intersection exchanging traffic between Blondin Avenue and the northbound lanes of Weston Road. Immediately to my right once stood what appear to be a couple of large multi-unit low-rises, and across the street on the right, there were bungalows... single-unit homes. Just off to my left would have been the TTC terminal you will see in one of the shots below from 1968, showing a bus turning at this intersection, viewed from the other side of Weston Road.

These signs are visible from the field just south of Blondin Avenue and a bit north of the 401 offramp to northbound Weston Road.

At this point, I headed back. Blondin road takes about ten minutes to walk, but part of that is getting over the three or four dunes of sandy debris dumped midway. Anyway, the shots from here on in are the return trip away from Weston and towards Wilson again.

Heading east in infrared, just before the resumption of the debris field in the road.

Views of Blondin heading towards Wilson after clearing the debris field.

This once would have been the view of anyone heading off the work, turning onto Wilson from Blondin... before all the crap was dumped here, of course.

Having cursorily explored Blondin, I decided to walk up Walsh, the other half of this devastation. I was particularly interested in the state of the one, solitary survivor of all this...

Somebody's driveway once, fronting onto Walsh Avenue.

This is the only house still remaining on the south side of Walsh, #35. As you can see by the car and the state of the place, someone still lives here. This is a great mystery. Why only this place? Did everyone else sell except them? Why didn't they sell, then? What's to become of this one, single remainder of that lost neighbourhood?

And here it is... looks like it could be the reason for it all. At the corner of Walsh/Albion and Weston Road, where the plaza used to be, is now this small sales office for this development. I wonder how long they've been sitting on the land? Have they owned it all along, or did they just buy it up once the homes were torn down... and if so, why were they torn down in the first place? Are these guys waiting for the moment they can clear #35 off the block as well?

...Most of the above is cribbed from my post on Urban Toronto from late August. Other people there chimed in with interesting information.

Construction plans for the site... Notice the gap for 35 Walsh Avenue. I'm reminded of that cartoon where Bugs Bunny fights off the burly construction worker to save his burrow, and a huge apartment building features a semi-circular divot all the way up, clearing his property. :)

An aerial photo, looking southward, from 1953...

And perhaps most amazing of all, the following information and image...

Blondin was well known as a bus loop until the interchange was built - it was the end of the Weston 89 Trolley Coaches, as well as serving Wilson and Woodbridge buses. I have a postcard somewhere that shows a Marmon-Harrington Trolley Coach pulling out of Blondin Loop (with the post war 1 1/2 floor houses behind) in the early 1970s.

The Westchester sales office has been abandoned for at least a year now. Don't know what Sorbara Group is up to there anymore.

There were a few more houses on Walsh a few years ago, they all went quite slowly, I think.

Here's the postcard. It's by Ted Wickson (TTC staff photographer) from 1968.

The image shows a bus turning onto southbound Weston Road from Blondin Avenue. The houses in the background are, of course, gone... as is the terminal on the right... and Blondin Avenue itself, actually. This turn would have been impossible circa 1980 when Blondin was disconnected from Weston.

I came back about two weeks later with P-Doug and we had a look around.

Here's the path that once led from the disconnected end of Blondin Avenue to Weston Road. The path you see here would once have been the sidewalk to the left of the turning bus in the shot above, and in close proximity to the now-missing homes in the same image. I find that idea deeply wistful, verging on depressing. Imagine how it would be for people who once called it home.

This is where the strip plaza on Weston between Blondin Avenue and Walsh Avenue stood until sometime in the 1990s.