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 I've gotten away from that over at City in the Trees, my blog [N.B. March 6, 2011: this post was originally made on LiveJournal].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.


When I was twelve, we moved from Nova Scotia to Ontario, and left behind pretty much everything I'd ever known. Okay, we didn't cross the ocean or wind up in a country where no one spoke English or had never heard of Christmas or something, but it was still a big adjustment on a personal level.

I was an overweight kid and I got targeted for a lot of abuse. It was worse being a new kid among a bunch who'd known each other for six or seven years at that point. It took me a while to find my own friends and fit in. But I had this wonderful crutch... this little gateway to something sweet a couple of times a week.

It was an animated show called Fables of the Green Forest. Produced in the 1970s by a studio in (I believe) Israel called ZIV International, it was an adaptation of stories by Thornton W. Burgess that told the tales of a group of slightly anthropomorphized animals living in the Green Forest. TVOntario, kind of Ontario's answer to PBS, used to show it at 6:30 on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. That year, I lived for those moments. For half an hour, I could just dissolve into this world that, in spite of its wildness, was oddly comforting.

The was a kind of a plot arch, at least in the beginning. The central character was a woodchuck named Johnny, and as the series opens, he's an adolescent cub on the verge of leaving home. After a fight with his brothers, he does leave home, and sets out for the Green Forest. He meets another woodchuck named Polly, and while they maintained separate homes throughout the series, it was obvious that sooner or later they'd make a home together. Secondary was Peter, a rabbit, and Johnny's best friend. Though not actually stupid, he frequently played Watson to Johnny's Holmes. The other characters ranged from mostly friendly (Joe the Otter, Patty Beaver, Grandfather Frog, Uncle Billy the possum, Buster Bear) to generally self-interested (Chatterer the squirrel, Sammy Blue Jay, Bobby Raccoon, Jimmy the Skunk) to the truly villainous (Granny and Reddy Fox, the Mean Weasel). Beyond their world was the human world, whose sole human representative was a young blond boy named Tom Brown, a farmer's son. He did occasionally interact with the animals of the Green Forest, but on another level; they did not speak to him, and his face was almost never shown. He represented a general, somewhat neutral, and uncounterable threat. Associated with him were a dog named Bowser, pretty much the only animal feared by Reddy Fox, and a cat named Blackie, who was a threat to the smaller animals. Ironically, these are the only repeating animal characters on the show without speaking roles; while most of the animals of the Green Forest worse some manner of clothing; they did not. The animals living most closely with humans were, intriguingly, portrayed as the only genuine animals in the show.

This was the show I clung to for several years. As I grew older, of course, it came to mean less and less to me. But it never lost its nostalgic charm. TVO ran it pretty much constantly till I was about 20, then, suddenly, stopped. For years I had always toyed with the idea of taping the series, but it was just always there... I never thought a day would come when I wouldn't be able to just tune in some night or on the weekend and get my fix. But the thing utterly evaporated.

It was a popular show among people my age in Ontario. You see it mentioned on blogs and forums. But it's not commercially available. A handful of episodes were released on tape, but that's it. There were something like 52 episodes, but I personally only have four, and that's courtesy of someone else who happened to have them, and his generosity.

Well, as it turns out, this place is offering about half the episodes on DVD. They're not cheap. But it's just been so long since I've been able to take my brain gently in my hands and just let it float and bob in that wonderful warm water; I think I'm going to bite and order them.

A sample of what I'm talking about...

...You might notice they say "Monday and Friday"... they did eventually shift the days. For me, it was Tuesday and Thursday, which was better, between it nicely split the week up into alternate days. There's a lonnnnng gap between Monday and Friday when you're twelve years old.

Well, that's straightened out...

Ages ago, when they forced us to tie a Google account to our blogs, I managed, somehow, to use the wrong one. I've been banging my head over it ever since, because not only did I have to sign in with a counter-intuitive name every time I wanted to blog, but I had to do it every time I wanted to comment on someone else's, too.

So, this morning, in anticipation of someone possibly joining my blog as a contributor, I decided to do some housekeeping and transfer my blog to the right account. Unfortunately, the blog now attributes two and a half years of my posts to the other account... and, I suspect, every comment I've ever made out in the blogosphere. But oh well. :)

Anyway, I suppose I should go mention it on the handful of blogs out there I frequent.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Canada's statesman

I have a lot of respect for Joe Clark. More, I think, as time goes by. I just read an article by him in the opinion pages of The Globe and Mail, and while I was reading it, I realized, this man is now the premier statesman of this country, if he hasn't been for a long time already.

I want to be careful what I say about him because some of it is going to sound like faint praise or backhanded compliments, and I really don't intend them that way at all. So my preamble must be to point out that this is man who faced a lot of adversity in his career, but nothing stopped him. Whatever rocks came his way, he just kept hiking on.

I first became acutely politically aware in the 1979 election when Clark was the Progressive Conservatives' freshly-minted new leader. He was facing Pierre Trudeau, who had been prime minister since 1968, and the NDP's Ed Broadbent (another man I think is cut from the same durable cloth as Clark, by the way). What I remember from the time, long before I was old enough to vote, was how wearied everyone was of Trudeau. That was partly his own fault; the man didn't suffer fools lightly, and he seemed to find them everywhere; but also, we were in a bad way economically and he was bearing the brunt. People turned to Clark and the Tories... but not in the numbers he needed. Joe Clark became, at 39 (my age now), the youngest prime minister in Canadian history. But he led a minority government, and he had an unfortunately frank, honest character that didn't serve him well in that role. In other times, in other places, he might have had a long run... and I personally think Canada would have done just fine if he had... but nine months into his government his loose coalition collapsed and his budget was voted down. He was bound by honour and tradition to resign the government to the Governor-General and call an election, which he lost. Trudeau was back in office for his own final term, telling the cameras, "Well, welcome to the 1980s."

That Clark stayed on after that isn't too surprising. He'd been PM; he'd stumbled, but he was still new, young, and remained a viable alternative. Unfortunately, some Tories didn't see it that way, and out of corporate Quebec came Brian Mulroney. Rich, successful, quasi-American, he was everything the business interests in Canada wanted in 24 Sussex Drive. Clark decided he needed a firm mandate, and he called a leadership review in, I believe, 1982. I don't recall now exactly how that was brought about, but I do remember two things about it: he did get a majority, but it wasn't as large as he'd wanted. And so, he voluntarily submitted to a leadership convention for 1983, in which he would face the other contenders... principally, Brian Mulroney.

It was a big mistake. There are a couple of ways you can take it. On one hand, it seems a little arrogant. The party endorses you, but you say, "not good enough", and put their backs to the wall to prove they love you? That might work in the short term, but I think it's a prescription for them to start looking around. Another way of looking at it is as hopelessly idealistic, even naïve; the whole "if you love something, set it free" ethos. I choose to be charitable and see it that way. But I think ultimately, the vibe was, well, if Joe isn't confident in the party even after most of us declared our confidence in him, maybe we do need to offer the crown to someone else. And that's just what they did in May, 1983. Brian Mulroney replaced Joe Clark as Tory leader.

I was cheering for Joe, and disappointed in the result. But, I was a Tory supporter at the time (for what it was worth; I was still too young to vote), and the party said that Brian was our guy. I warmed to Mulroney for a while. The fact that Clark stood by him helped a lot, I think. Not just for me, but for Canadians everywhere. Okay, maybe Clark wasn't our archetype of 'prime ministerial' after the flamboyant bon-vivant Trudeau, but we still knew he was a rock-solid decent guy, and his endorsement meant something.

A lot of people... most people, I think... would have quit at that point; headed off to green corporate or academic pastures, licked their wounds, bided their time (think John Turner). But Clark didn't. He had a job to do, and if it wasn't to be prime minister or leader of the Conservatives, it was to participate in government. And thankfully, he did.

In 1984, the Tories finally got their majority, and it was a huge one. Their first in decades, actually. It didn't take long for the bloom to come off the rose for me; by 1985, I had my first stirrings of real dislike for Mulroney. His cabinet was largely unlikable. Mulroney himself was a loud, arrogant show-off; a real stuffed shirt. He was, in and of himself, the embodiment of everything we feared becoming in drawing too close to the Americans. Mike Wilson was sycophantic and came across kind of weaselly. John Crosbie was a clownish blowhard and a perennial embarrassment to anyone who championed the Conservatives. But in the midst of it all, there was Joe Clark, a team player, doing his job and handling it well. To put it hockey terms, Clark's curse was that he was reasonably good in any position. You put him on that spot on the ice, and he could do it. In a weird way, he was too useful to be the prime minister. During an age of Cold War tensions, "Star Wars" SDI nonsense, and the fight against apartheid, he shone as Minister of External Affairs, giving Canada a good and decent face in foreign capitals and international forums. He was the one guy in the Mulroney government that pretty much anybody could, and pretty much everybody did, like. And he worked all those years under a man who would eventually become the least popular prime minister since such measures started being taken.

When the Mulroney lid finally blew off and the Tories self-destructed... exploded, over and over and over for ten years into more and more fragments... Clark was eventually called upon to perform the thankless task of being a caretaker leader while the broken, bloody, bleeding parts all crawled back together to finally recongeal; midwife at this gory rebirth. What reward was he ever going to get out of that except the knowledge that he answered the call? And I give him credit here, too. He didn't just do a job nobody else would, he did a job nobody else could. And he did it until, as expected, some new young Turk appeared to give him the golden handshake.

When I was younger, I used to feel sorry for Joe Clark. But I'm older now and I don't anymore. Now I just feel admiration and a measure of gratitude. This is a guy who sees what has to be done, and does it. He doesn't show up mugging for the camera and gathering glory; hammer, nails, workboots. Whatever it is, he'll be there, and he'll pitch in, and he'll give it all he's got. To me, he's come to epitomize something truly Canadian; humble, honest, tenacious guts. Like Jimmy Carter in the US, underrated and unappreciated in his lifetime while lesser men garnered far more (and less deserved) praise. It's not about him, it's about the people. The country. The world. Of Joe Clark, I can say this: whatever the job is, he's the guy you want in your corner.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

First trek in 3D

Just about a week ago now, a lens I sent away for for my Rebel XT arrived. It's the Loreo 3D Lens-in-a-Cap, and basically, it's a beam-splitter that takes two slightly different angles of the same view and conveys them to the sensor of the camera. What you get is an image with two essentially identical views, left and right, side-by-side I the same image. Taken at the same instant, they capture a moment in time that, when they're superimposed together (like, say, by crossing your eyes slightly), recreate the view in three dimensions. It's a simple, but effective and inexpensive means of stereography.

(Incidentally, before I really get rolling here, let me suggest to you that if you want to see any of the photos here in detail, particularly the stereographic ones, you'd probably do best to view them large. This can done by clicking on any of the images here... or better yet, click this link which will open a new window to my Flickr site where you can peruse them and others without disrupting the reading of the blog here. The trick, by the way, in case you don't know, is to cross your eyes slightly and bring the two sides of the image together, and when they're close enough together your brain will suddenly "click" the two of them into a single, three dimensional whole. One last note: anything you see with a white dividing bar up the middle is actually generated from two separate photos, taken with either the S80 or the S70. Ones with no divider and just a blurry merge are genuine one-shot 3D images taken with the XT and the Loreo 3D Lens-in-a-Cap.)

This summer just past, I became interested in a couple of old bridges on Dundas Street (a.k.a. Highway 5) in Halton Region; one over Sixteen Mile Creek and one over Twelve Mile Creek, which is also known at Bronte Creek. They've both been removed in favour of newer bridges, but the pillars that once carried those spans across their respective valleys are still there (in one case, at least in part). I visited the Bronte Creek bridge with P-Doug in July, though the shots I took then were from the existing bridge and from the old western, poison ivy-strangled abutment of the former bridge... I didn't take any shots of the pillars from down in the valley itself that day. As for the former six pillars once to be seen at Sixteen Mile Creek, they're now down to two... the other four have been torn out in recent months to make room for the newer-still bridge about to recover their course (and be twinned with one that will mean the destruction of the currently-existing span there, if I've understood the plan correctly). I suppose at any time in the past sixty years or so I might have wandered down there and seen those six tall, slab-like pillars standing like a row of dominoes, but by the time I realized they were there, most of them weren't. Well, at least I made the journey there — three times now, because it's under construction and the view changes week to week. It was that very fact that prompted me to want to record that change for people like me in the future who won't have had the chance to see it for themselves... and then to start recording how things look around here more generally. All this led to a desire to shoot it in three dimensions, and so I ordered the lens, and there... now you're up to speed.

So like I said, the lens arrived last week, and I knew the first thing I wanted to do was go back out to those bridges and record them in three dimensions. I asked P-Doug to come along. I was hoping for bright skies, because even with the limited work I'd already done with stereography, I've noticed that a strong contrast really enhances the effect.

No such luck, at least starting out. We got to Bronte Creek, and at P-Doug's suggestion, parked on the north side and began to wander down into the valley under the bridge. It was gloomy, but I started shooting anyway. In addition to the Rebel XT with the Loreo lens, I also had the S80 and the S70 there, and I was alternating between taking genuine one-shot 3D pictures and "cha-cha" two-image versions with the other two cameras. Something I can only manage this way, it occurred to me, was 3D infrared photography, which I've done now. I wonder if that was a first? :)

A couple of guys showed up and, while they weren't rude about it, they kept getting into the shots. They were trying to get down into the valley. Then they left. A few moments later, we were in their way when they started driving a red jeep down to the river! What for, we never did figure out; they were there less than ten minutes and then they took off again. But I got a number of nice shots down there of the valley, the pillars of the old bridge and the supports of the modern one, and then some shots similar to those from last summer, taken from the new bridge and the abutment of the old lost bridge itself.

I guess we were there a little over half an hour. On our way out, we bumped into a guy who was all suited up to go fishing in the river. Six weeks ago I was swimming naked in the Humber, but here we are in mid-November and this guy was all decked out in rubber to the top of his head so he wouldn't die of hypothermia standing in Bronte Creek. That's progress...

Smashed cell phone abandoned on the crash barrier of the Dundas Street bridge.

The three shots below were taken from the western abutment of the former Dundas Street bridge, now just a platform overlooking the valley below...

We headed along Dundas Street eastward to Sixteen Mile Creek, where construction of a new pair of bridges is underway. I guess there was a time when you could just turn and drive down into the park, but right now that's not an option. We did walk down that road into it, once we parked in the adjacent suburb. Those two pillars I'd seen before were still standing, but the new ones that will carry the next span across the valley in a year or so are already taking very visible shape. I keep wondering if those last two remaining pillars will survive, and as what, and for what. It's my self-appointed task to see. And record.

By this time, the sun had come out at last, and I played around with the new lens a little more. I took pictures of simple things; the grass, the edge of the creek, the flood plain, the sides of the valley, the bridge itself in the distance. That's important, because in a couple of years, that bridge itself will be gone, just like the one it replaced. Someday people will wonder what it looked like, just as I wonder about the old one long gone. Hopefully, I'll be able to show them.

The flood plain was, 150 years ago, a village; it's now a park. There's a little pagoda down there that talks about the town, wildlife, and stuff like that. I stood back and tried to photograph it. It was at that point that P-Doug pointed at the new lens, which has three focal settings, and gently wondered if I had it on the right one. I didn't, actually; it was set for 1.5 m "close-ups", if they can be called that. There's a setting for 5 m, and another for infinity. I told him that I hadn't seen much difference between the three settings, but I decided what the hell and adjusted it appropriately. Well, once I got home and viewed them, I realized that most of what I'd shot till then wasn't bad, but was kind of soft-focus. Not really impressive. The shots after P-Doug's comment are sharp and definitely more striking. It's immediately obvious because the first "good" shot follows one that's essentially identical, except fuzzier. So... live and learn, live and learn.

We decided to go, but as it turned out, we ended up spending another half hour there at the eastern foot of the bridge. P-Doug found a way up into the scaffolding for one of the new pillars. I was game to follow, but the means of getting up to the first set of stairs was too daunting for me... I'm not a fan of heights, and I was carrying too much equipment to want to risk crushing it or dropping it. So, I took pictures of him climbing instead, and they were actually pretty interesting once I got home and looked at them.

I wanted to shoot from the level of the lip of the valley, but the shortest route was actually up the edge, rather than back up the road and around the church, and back down the "new" old course of Dundas Street. The way was steep, really steep; something like 60 degrees, I think, and it was just loose gravel and dry clay. Every yard gained meant two feet slipping back, sometimes more. I had this really weird sensation as I struggled with this. I suddenly remembered doing exactly this kind of thing dozens of times as a kid, but it was the kind of knowledge you sort of file away as irrelevant as you enter your teenage years and effectively forget. But I got this "oh yeah" moment of recognition as I tried climbing this stuff, and it was like being 10 again, all that once-practical information bursting forth after being dammed up for decades. More recent hiking experience suggested to me that climbing where there was vegetation — something to hold the soil — was a better idea, so I did that. I sat in the grass near the top for about five minutes, shooting down into the valley. In the meantime, P-Doug climbed the clay and was haunting the riveted undercarriage of the bridge at its eastern anchor. I joined him, and got some very nice shots of the ribbing of the bridge, built so long ago by men now almost certainly gone, with their handiwork itself due to follow in a year or two. But I have recorded it, in three dimensions.

We had a date with beer. We'd decided to cap the afternoon at Bryden's, which is, perhaps, our very favourite pub (mine, anyway), with its only possible competition the salubrious The Bishop and the Belcher near Church and Bloor downtown. Bryden's, on the other hand, is at Jane and Bloor, almost in Etobicoke; we've been to it a half dozen times or so since the start of the summer. But it was no mean feat getting there that Saturday. Heading back into the city on the QEW, we baled at Hurontario because that's where the traffic started. Then we followed along Lakeshore Road to Islington Avenue, up Islington to the Queensway, along the Queensway to Park Lawn Road, up Park Lawn to... its end. We wandered around trying to find Bloor and finally did the unmanly thing and consulted the map (hey, at least we didn’t stop and ask directions!). It took nearly an hour from Sixteen Mile Creek, but finally we parked south of Bloor and walked to the pub.

At Bryden's, some rare local beers are to be had, and we both like Red Leaf, by Great Lakes Brewery. That's what we ordered, in fact; a pitcher. Bryden's also has the best nachos I have ever had, anywhere, in my life, bar none. We got the El Grande with ground beef, jerk chicken, and pulled pork. My God, my mouth is literally watering right now remembering it. We also tried a couple of other Great Lakes beers... one is their seasonal pumpkin beer. I know what you're thinking; yuck! But it was actually very enjoyable... it had hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, and other spices, and I swear to you, had the subtle but definite aroma of pumpkin pie. It was a good, slow, easy-drinking beer. Another we split came in a can; this was Great Lakes' Devil's Pale Ale beer. To me, it tasted very much like their answer to Guinness, however "pale" it was intended to be (I suspect it's intended ironically, actually). The slogan was, "The Devil made me brew it." I kept the can and the coaster.

So, once again, lots of topical conversation lost to the moment, but the grease of the wheels of good times. We headed back to the east side of town, rendez-voused with P-Doug's missus, and all did the roast chicken thing that evening at my place while watching 28 Weeks Later. All told, a fine use of a Saturday.