I attended a meeting tonight called “Our Future King” at Innis Hall, presented by the Pembina Institute, the Pembina Foundation and the City of Toronto, and sponsored by the Metcalf Foundation. No, this wasn’t about Charles or William: rather, the future of King Street, our busy transit corridor through downtown and beyond.

These are my notes from the meeting, mostly done live so not much in the way of analysis or commentary, just capturing what I heard.

City councillor Gord Perks opened the evening with comments on how we need to think about our city services to make changes to make things better: both big things and small things. Cars are the least efficient way to move people around the downtown, and people in Toronto are choosing other methods, including transit, walking and cycling. Tonight, we’re here to talk about King Street, Toronto’s busiest surface transit corridor: it’s dysfunctional as it is (IMO), and needs some bold new thinking to make it work for all of Toronto.

We heard presentations from six people who have quite a few ideas about what can be done to transform King Street, starting with Jennifer Keesmaat, Chief Planner for city of Toronto, who asked how we can make the most of our streetcar system and the King Street corridor. Streetcars are a critical part of our character as a city, but also a clean, quiet and efficient way to move people around. It’s the largest streetcar network in North America in terms of ridership and track length, and moves almost as many people each day as the GO commuter train network. King Street, as the busiest of these transit lines with 65,000 passengers per day, cuts right through our largest concentration of jobs: the financial district, the entertainment district, Liberty Village and the Distillery District. In the last 10 years, the population around King Street from Liberty to Distillery has gone crazy due to condo building, to the point where there is a current consideration to split some city wards to better represent these ares. This is our opportunity to transform how to move along and interact with the 6km of King Street from Garrison Common to the Don River, and that’s the point of the King Street visioning study that is launching today. We can learn from other cities who have undertaking similar areas, such as Melbourne, but also from areas in Toronto that have undergone transformation such as Roncesvalles. The plan is to roll out pilots beginning in 2017 where designs can be tried out and studied, collecting community feedback through a variety of channels.

Andy Byford, CEO of the TTC, discussed the challenges of transit in Toronto when we haven’t had the budget or mandate for expanding the modes of transportation that we really need: streetcars in downtown, but in a car-free environment either on dedicated rights-of-way or on streets where cars have been completely removed. The idea of removing cars from King is a key thought running through this visioning exercise, and I suspect that we’ll be seeing a removal of at least some of the car traffic from King in the pilot next year. Byford talked about what they’re doing to improve transit service, from better scheduling, to more on-street supervisors to avoid bunching, to all-door boarding; however, they are reaching the limit of what can be done with what they have. There’s a new streetcar service going live this weekend, the 514 Cherry, which will overlay the King 504 route across the busy downtown area, from Dufferin to Cherry Street.

It strikes me that although his name has not been mentioned, everyone here is giving a giant middle finger to the ghost of Rob Ford, who set Toronto transit back by at least 5 years.

David Kuperman, from the city of Toronto’s Transportation Services, got into more of the details of past studies and what will happen in the upcoming pilot projects. Compared to other North American cities, commuter traffic in Toronto is about in the middle: we have a lower transit % than New York, but about the same or higher than other cities. We also have a healthy share of bicycle commuters. In a recent study (still underway) on the King Street streetcar operations, they found that boarding/disembarking time was the biggest cause of delay — which is now being helped by the all-doors boarding — followed by traffic control signal delay (streetcars bunched up at signals), then traffic congestion. They have made a number of other improvements, including extended turning and no parking peak hour restrictions, increased fines in no stopping times, and improved transit signals including priority signals at some intersections. The new streetcars will also make an impact because of higher capacity, whenever Bombardier decides to start delivering them instead of delaying them even further. We need to consider a number of factors with surface transformation, not just the vehicles and their passengers, but also how this works with pedestrians and cyclists on the same streets. There are a lot of different models for how to remake streets to share transit, some car traffic (or none), cyclists and pedestrians, plus the businesses along the street.

Janice Solomon, executive director of the Entertainment District BIA, spoke on behalf of the downtown business improvement areas. She talked about it from the point of view of businesses along King, and how they can benefit from restricted car traffic and more flexible street configurations, including complete closures for events such as the Toronto International Film Festival (a hugely controversial closure). There are a number of privately-owned, public spaces (POPS) along King, many of these in front of and around the office towers, and public spaces need to be maintained and expanded where possible to encourage pedestrian traffic and provide locations for public art.

These four presenters were joined by Nithya Vijayakumar of the Pembina Institute, and Dylan Reid of Spacing Magazine and Pedestrian Toronto (as well as my former neighbour — hi Dylan!). Vijayakumar gave a short introduction that included her opinions on how King needs to be restructured to better accommodate all modes of transportation, but especially to make transit service more consistent. Reid pointed out that King is not a “destination street” like Queen Street: whereas you can walk a long length of Queen and have interesting shops and things to look at, King has some pretty boring bits that don’t encourage you to walk there. That means that when that third overcrowded 504 streetcar passes you by and you start walking towards your destination, it’s not all that inviting. He also mentioned that we need more connections between King and the lanes, streets, parks and other areas just off King, to encourage people to explore the neighbourhoods and explore their businesses and attractions.

Byford took the first question on how much improvement can be done operationally versus requiring “changing things”, by which I assume the question-asker was referring to changing street configurations. He stated about 5% gains from working ahead with their current improvements, more still with the new streetcars, but much greater gains if they can move to a dedicated streetcar ROW. Kuperman also commented on the impact of signal changes: delayed greens for streetcars, for example, and more restrictions on cars turning and parking. Solomon pointed out the lack of bicycle parking in the downtown area, which she feels impacts businesses since cyclists may not choose to stop and shop if they don’t feel that their bike is safe. Vijayakumar — the researcher on the panel — feels that a pilot project is essential for seeing how potential changes are actually going to work, and the public feedback to them. She stated examples from other cities, but also our Richmond and Adelaide separated bike lanes, which have become hugely popular and benefited from a number of tweaks based on public feedback. Reid took on the topic of how to make King more walkable, including more obvious things such as wider sidewalks, but also improving the dark and uninviting train underpass just east of Liberty Village that cuts it off from the western downtown area, and addressing the planning for new buildings along the sidewalks to make sure that they have things of interest to pedestrians, such as public spaces, shops and restaurants. Keesmaat pushed the idea of the pilot as a way to try: there is a potential for failure, but also a potential for success. Although we can learn from other cities and other parts of our own city, it’s really tough to know exactly how something is going to work until we try it. Once there’s been a chance to study the effects, the pilot can either have more investment put in to make it a permanent change, or backed out if it doesn’t work.

There was a question from the audience on what is being done to improve safety of cyclists and pedestrians, given the high number of pedestrian deaths that we’ve seen this year. There’s a study going on now that is coming under some criticism since many feel that it doesn’t go far enough with the goal to reduce pedestrian and cyclist deaths by 20%; the ideal would be no deaths. However, many of the initiatives to make pedestrians and cyclists safer cost money, and the city doesn’t put a lot of money into that. Solomon pointed out that the concrete flower planters separating the bikes lanes from traffic along Richmond and Adelaide (only east of Spadina, unfortunately) have made cyclists feel much safer and likely led to higher cycling traffic in those lanes. Byford and Kuperman talked about the interaction between (car) congestion and transit-only lanes: although it seems that car traffic displaced from the streetcar ROWs would just cause gridlock elsewhere, the addition of the ROW would also result in the removal of curbside parking, leaving that (usually blocked) lane open for moving traffic. Keesmaat also mentioned the evaporation theory, where the reduction of car traffic lanes results in less cars since they also are correlated with better transit and cycling options. Solomon talked about how the improvement and maintenance of POPS and actual public spaces: she stated a case where their BIA spent their money to clean up a public park area, and received a letter from the city telling them not to trespass; obviously, the city and the BIAs need to be more in sync. Keesmaat said that POPS need to be seen as being publicly accessible, since some ambiguously appear to be private spaces. Kuperman addressed a question about restricting car traffic in downtown (such as congestion charges or tolls on DVP/Gardiner access highways) by stating that there are already a lot of restrictions caused by parking cost and availability, but that anything further would require more study. Pretty much a non-answer. Byford lived in London when congestion charges were introduced there, and said that it made a remarkable change at the beginning, although traffic crept up over time; all revenue from the London congestion charges go directly to public transit, which is definitely a great idea. Keesmaat said that parking in the downtown core needs to be rethought, and that autonomous vehicles will eliminate much of the need for it; Solomon stated that some of the restaurants in their BIA are upset at the thought of no parking in front of their restaurants, which seems terribly out-of-touch with the reality of so many of us who walk or transit to restaurants, and also isn’t an accurate representation if you consider that the average restaurant storefront would allow for about two cars parked: not exactly a full house of customers. Removal of street parking can actually improve business through more cycling and pedestrian traffic. Kuperman and Keesmaat addressed the related issue of delivery traffic in areas where car traffic is removed; this can be resolved with some special-use lanes for trucks delivering goods, or times of day (e.g., 1-6am) when trucks can make deliveries.

We finished up with Keesmaat talking about the TOcore, a broader downtown planning initiative, and heard from Adam Nicklin, the planner working on the larger initiative. There’s an open house for three days next week — June 20-22 — in the Metro Hall Rotunda if you want to learn more about TOcore, and a stakeholder workshop next Tuesday night. Lots of exciting things going on for the city!

Check out the very active Twitter stream during the event, both from people here at Innis Hall as well as those watching the live stream.

HoHoTO is a fundraiser event put on each year by Toronto’s digital community: a great party with dancing, raffles and a chance to catch up with your friends (at the top of your lungs to be heard over the dance tunes). Since its inception in 2008, HoHoTO has raised over $350,000 for the Daily Bread Food Bank – an awesome organization that helps to feed people in our community – but this year, HoHoTO has turned its eye to supporting “the next generation of founders, funders and tech professionals”. In particular, the focus will be on organizations that help to bring more women and minorities into technology and digital businesses. The event is on December 11 at the Mod Club, and early bird tickets are on sale here.

The primary focus is on the YWCA Toronto’s Girl’s Centre, with a 3-year goal to completely fund the Girls’ Centre and push for the opening of another one. This centre provides programs for girls from 9-18 to allow them to try activities and develop skills, including “Miss Media” for designing online media such as blogs and websites. It’s located in Scarborough, the easternmost 1/3 of Toronto, serving a community that has upwards of 65% visible minorities (and the best ethnic food in the world, according to one economist), meaning that it is a great match with HoHoTO’s focus on promoting women and minorities in business and technology from an early age. HoHoTO is also bringing together professional women as mentors, including me.

The HoHoTO event, run by unpaid volunteers, is raising money through tickets and sponsorships. If you or your organization recognizes the value of diversity in business, and wants to support the success of women and minorities in digital and technology fields, consider becoming a sponsor of the event. Details are here, and most of your contribution is eligible for a tax receipt. You’ll get recognition on HoHoTO’s site and at the event, other promotional opportunities throughout the year, a handful of event and drink tickets to bring your team out to enjoy the evening, and a nice warm feeling in your heart.

My book numbers for March were back up, but that includes one reference book and two books written for children: one a favourite from my childhood, which I happened to see mentioned on Facebook, and one that I had never read but was referenced in Gilmore Girls, which I’m marathoning my way through on Netflix right now. [As for Gilmore Girls, I’m over the target demographic by a few decades, but watched an episode or two and was hooked on the funny writing and the pop culture references.] This post is a bit late, since I was on vacation including three days on a train.

I was thinking about not listing two of the attributes from the 2015 Reading Challenge list – set in a different country, and written by a female author – since so many of the books that I read are one or both of those. I track them on my list, but it just seems silly to keep listing them over and over again here. Living in Canada, pretty much every book that I read is set in a different country, although I do read Canadian authors. The women author issue is interesting, since I’ve never thought much about the gender of the author except for explicitly feminist work, but I do tend to read a lot of women authors. What I found really interesting was a recent post that claims that men don’t read books written by women. I have no idea if there’s any data to back that premise. For now, I’ll keep them on the lists here.

The Paying Guests came up (I think) on one of the “best of” lists. It’s about a lesbian relationship between landlady and married lodger in the years following WWI, and the terrible secrets that they keep. Beautiful writing, especially dealing with the guilt feelings of the main character.

Categories checked:

  • Female author
  • Set in a different country
  • Love triangle
  • Author I’ve never read before
I burned through The Martian in a day, most of that on a 5-hour flight: it’s a great story that moves along really quickly and carries you with it. Lots of technical and scientific detail, fairly well researched from what I could tell. Passed it on to my other half, who almost never reads fiction, and he went through it in a day, too.

Categories checked:

  • Book that became a movie (or will, later this year)
  • Funny book
  • Mystery or thriller
  • Set in a different country
  • Based entirely on its cover (I’ve seen explanations of that this attribute means in this context, and most people interpret it as a book that you select to read based just on seeing the cover, which was the case here)
  • Can finish in a day
  • Set in the future
  • Made me cry (teared up a bit when he re-established contact)
  • Author I’ve never read before
When Judy Blume wrote Deenie in 1973, I was in the right age range but had already given up “kids’ books” and was reading  adult fiction such as James Michener novels. In fact, I don’t recall reading any of her books except Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. However, I’m on a bit of a Gilmore Girls binge on Netflix, and Deenie was mentioned in one of the episodes, and I read it out of curiosity. Some interesting issues about standing up to your parents’ opinion of what you “should” be doing with your life (I became an engineer in spite of protests from my family, so might have related to this), but a too-strong and outdated focus on female beauty norms. Blume wrote this after meeting a fourteen-year-old with scoliosis, using the attitudes of the girl and her mother as the basis for the book, although not biographical.

Categories checked:

  • Female author
  • One-word title
  • Set in a different country
  • Based on a true story (more like “loosely inspired by”)
  • Can finish in a day
  • From my childhood
I’ve been an avid Margaret Atwood fan since I read The Edible Woman back in high school, and Stone Mattress did not disappoint. The book contains “nine tales”, although several of them are interconnected. It’s very evocative of Toronto, especially bits about going to the Riverboat coffee house in the 1960s (I made it there to prior to its closing in the late 1970s, although a bit too late to see many of the famous acts that played there) and one story that used the recent ice storm as background.

Categories checked:

  • Female author
  • Short stories
  • Book from an author that I love that I haven’t read yet (well, now I have read it)
An Education is the latest read related to the Books on Film series at TIFF; the movie and discussion with Lynn Barber is coming up in mid-April. The movie is based only on the second chapter of the book, which she originally published as a magazine article; the full book came out the same year as the movie.  I found the book overly narcissistic (although I realize that anyone writing their own memoir, or a blog for that matter, has a dollop of that), and didn’t like the author very much by the end of it.

Categories checked:

  • Became a movie
  • Female author
  • Set in a different country
  • Nonfiction
  • Memoir
  • Can finish in a day
  • Author that I’ve never read before
I ended up buying How Companies Succeed In Social Business (the ebook) after reviewing the library copy: there’s a lot in here that I can use in my work on social enterprise. It has a number of good case studies on enterprise social collaboration, but also a lot about how to manage your external social media, which is not an interest of mine. I haven’t read it cover-to-cover yet, but expect to use it as a reference.

Categories checked:

  • Nonfiction
  • Antonyms in the title (many would consider “social” and “business” to be in opposition)
  • Author I’ve never read before
The Velveteen Rabbit was a favourite of mine from childhood, and I had completely forgotten about it until someone posted a quote from the book on Facebook recently. I read and reread this book, likely wearing it out as badly as the eponymous rabbit was worn. Delightful book about the magic of loving your toys.

Categories checked:

  • Non-human characters
  • Female author
  • Can finish in a day
  • From my childhood
  • Made me cry (c’mon: it’s about a stuffed bunny!)
  • Contains magic
Big Little Lies was hilarious in spots, but dealt seriously with issues of domestic violence and bullying using a deft hand. Throughout the book, there is an unrevealed (until the end) murder as context. Excellent writing and compelling characters. I’m looking forward to seeing it on the screen.

Categories checked:

  • Became a movie (actually a TV series: Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon have signed up)
  • A funny book
  • Female author
  • Set in a different country
  • Antonyms in the title
  • Author I’ve never read before

I’ve included the Amazon links above, if you click through on one of those and buy something, I’ll get a few pennies. However, I encourage you to donate the money to your local library instead, and get the books from there.

Following on from January’s reads, I did a bit less in February since I was busy working on a project, and went on a conference/vacation trip for 10 days. Here’s the rundown of my Reading Challenge for February:

The Remains of the Day was the first of the books that I’m reading in preparation for the TIFF Books on Film series: we will be seeing the movie – starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson – plus a live discussion with Kazuo Ishiguro, the author, in March. I saw the movie when it was first released, but have never read the book, which won the Man Booker Prize. The book is beautifully written; the language is a joy to read. It’s sad in a “wasted opportunities” sort of way, and the main character is oblivious to many people’s true nature and feelings, as well as to the changing times around him. Interestingly, having watched Downton Abbey made this richer to read, since I have some additional visualizations of life in an English manor.

Categories checked:

  • Became a movie
  • Set in a different country
Although the first of the Books on Film series, I read Coriolanus after Remains of the Day, and have to confess that I skipped over parts and read the study notes and Wikipedia entry instead: reading Shakespeare is not my strength. Having now seen the Ralph Fiennes movie adaptation and heard it discussed with Shakespearean scholar James Shapiro and CBC’s Eleanor Wachtel, I definitely understand it much better; I highly recommend the movie although you may struggle with the actual play.

Categories checked:

  • Became a movie
  • One-word title
  • Set in a different country
  • More than 100 years old
  • A play
After reading Station Eleven in January, I went on a bit of an Emily St. John Mandel binge, and read Last Night in Montreal. It has a similar driven yet melancholy view of travel as in Station Eleven, and is the story of a slow-motion collision of lives. Well-written but tragic in spots.

Categories checked:

  • Female author
  • Popular author’s first book
Continuing with Emily St. John Mandel, I also read The Singer’s Gun. Lots of great complex interactions between the characters, and everyone has secrets, many of them illegal. Good read.

Categories checked:

  • Female author
  • Set in a different country
I read The Maze Runner as a piece of vacation fluff, purely because I saw some hype about the movie. The story has a good concept, but the writing is terrible: “Goose bumps broke out all over him, a creepy fear trickling down his spine like a wet spider.” Not recommended.

Categories checked:

  • Became a movie
  • Non-human characters
  • Mystery/thriller
I didn’t read this cover-to-cover, but it was a trusty source in our trip to Phoenix, Scottsdale, Sedona and the Grand Canyon at the end of February. I find the Fodor’s to be very informative and well-organized, and use them often for travel.

Categories checked:

  • More than 500 pages
  • Non-fiction

Only six this month, with one really being a reference book rather than a cover-to-cover read. I am working on two or three others, but not far enough along to include here.

I’ve included the Amazon links above, if you click through on one of those and buy the book (or anything else), I’ll get a few pennies. However, I encourage you to give the money to your local library instead, and get the books from there.

Reading ChallengeReading a book per week isn’t really a challenge for me – I learned to read early, and typically read quite a bit for entertainment as well as learning – so I was interested in the Reading Challenge that originated on PopSugar. Note that some of the categories are ridiculous in that they represent a huge portion of books read so are not much of a challenge, such as a book by a female author or a book set in a different country or an author that I’ve never read before, but there are a few categories that I will have to actively search for.

I created a spreadsheet with the categories in the first column of each row, then added each book that I have read to a column header, and ticked off the matching categories. A summation on the left shows me how many matches I have for each category. If I assume, however, that each book can only be used to check off one category, then the matching will get a bit more complex as the year goes on. Haven’t come up with an automated optimizing algorithm yet to decide which category to assign each book to in order to maximize the category coverage, but I have several months to work on that. Smile

January started off with a few of the “best of 2014” reading lists, plus recommendations from friends, plus books that I saw in reviews or even referred to in other books. In all cases, I was able to borrow the books from the wonderful Toronto Public Library, either as an e-book or paper book; so far, I ended up purchasing one e-book since I found it valuable for ongoing reference. I have a long reading list ahead of me, and looking forward to it.

Here’s what I’ve read so far:

Station Eleven was the first book that I read in 2015, and possibly my favourite so far (or a close tie with The Bone Clocks). It’s post-apocalyptic and futuristic, with lots of good themes. I saw it on some of the best-of lists, and it was recommended by a friend.

Categories checked:

  • Number in the title
  • Female author
  • Set in the future
  • Author I’ve never read before
  • Takes place in my hometown (Toronto)
  • Recommended by a friend
Before I Go To Sleep was recommended by a friend when we were discussing the book (and movie) Gone Girl; there are definitely some similarities in creepiness. It was a good read, and I didn’t twig to the ending until it was upon me. Good escapist reading, although you may find some scenes of domestic violence disturbing.

Categories checked:

  • Became a movie
  • Mystery or thriller
  • Set in a different country (UK)
  • Recommended by a friend
  • Author I’ve never read before (that is going to come up a lot this year)
I tried to read Hilary Mantel’s  Wolf Hall, but just could not get that into the history of Thomas Cromwell; maybe that will become the book that I started but never finished for the year. I did a bit better with her short stories in The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, although I found it a bit of a mixed bag. Some were good, some were not very compelling, and some were downright weird. In all, readable but not my favourite read. I’m also not a big fan of the short story form: I would rather dig into a longer novel than a book of short stories, so probably good to have this category out of the way early.

Categories checked:

  • Female author
  • Short stories
  • Set in a different country (UK)
New Slow City had a ton of great tips on living slow and consuming less even when you live in the middle of a big city (as I do), not out in the wilderness (which is the author’s previous experiment). 

Categories checked:

  • Set in a different country (US)
  • Nonfiction
  • Antonyms in the title (I’m considering “slow” and “city” as antonyms in this context, although will search for another title that matches this category in the remainder of the year, as long as I don’t have to read War and Peace)
  • Author I’ve never read before
How To Deliver A TED Talk is the only book that I’ve purchased so far this year, and I did it after I read the e-book from the library. Although I will likely never give a TED talk, there is a ton of great advice in here on preparing and delivering excellent presentations, and I do many presentations each year at clients and conferences. In particular, chapter 2 “Organizing Your Talk” is completely applicable to any type of business presentation.

Categories checked:

  • Non-fiction
  • Can finish it in a day (although I kept it around for reference)
  • Author I’ve never read before
I decided to read Pomegranate Soup after seeing the terrible story about the author’s tragic death: it appears that she starved herself to death while obsessed with writing her next novel in a remote village in Ireland. A contrast with her novel, which was quite funny – with some very dark bits – and about new beginnings. It was quite reminiscent of Chocolat, with the magic qualities of foods plus cultural melding. Also, recipes. I have her sequel “Rosewater and Soda Bread” on my to-read list.

Categories checked:

  • Became a movie
  • Author under 30
  • Funny
  • Female author
  • Set in a different country (Ireland and Iran)
  • Author’s first book
  • Contains magic
  • Author I’ve never read before.
I really wanted to like Lila, but just couldn’t. I abandoned it about halfway through. Depressing, Dust Bowl-era drifters, and a whole lot of the bible.

Categories checked (although not sure if this counts for a book I didn’t finish):

  • Female author
  • One-word title
  • Set in a different country (US)
  • Didn’t finish Sad smile 
I really liked The Bone Clocks, and didn’t realize that it was written by the same author as Cloud Atlas until afterwards. This is a long book, but I burned through the first half in 24 hours: I started one evening and finally put the light out at 2:30am, finishing it a couple of days later. The supernatural bits leave just enough mystery to keep you guessing, but not so much that you’re totally lost.

Categories checked:

  • More than 500 pages (in paper form, although I read the e-book)
  • Non-human characters
  • Set in a different country (UK and others)
  • Set in the future (ranges from 1984 to 2043)
  • Contains magic
  • Set during Christmas (not the entire book, but some pivotal scenes)
zombie The Happy Zombie Sunrise Home is a delightful collaboration by Margaret Atwood and Naomi Alderman, available on Wattpad.  Quick read, fun, and some practical advice on the use of garden implements and rhubarb on repelling zombies.

Categories checked:

  • Non-human characters (if you assume post-human zombies to be non-human)
  • Funny
  • Female author
  • Set in my hometown (Toronto)
I didn’t quite finish The Sixth Extinction by the end of January, the last few chapters are lined up for tonight’s reading. It’s a beautifully-written look at how humans are causing massive species extinction, and have been doing so for 40,000 years. It appears to be well-researched (I’m not an expert in this field) and the writing reminds me of the wonderful descriptive prose of Oliver Sacks talking about cycads in Island of the Colorblind or Diane Ackerman’s The Moon By Whale Light, mixing history, science and culture.

Categories checked:

  • Number in title
  • Female author
  • Set in a different country (several of them)
  • Nonfiction
  • Author I’ve never read before

That’s ten in total, although I only got halfway through Lila and haven’t quite finished The Sixth Extinction, so more like nine. February and March I have a lot of work and travel, and the numbers probably won’t be as high, but I will start on the books related to the TIFF Books On Film series that I will be attending over the next few months. Plus, some interesting things on hold at the library.

I’ve included the Amazon links above, if you click through on one of those and buy the book (or anything else), I’ll get a few pennies. However, I encourage you to give the money to your local library instead, and get the books from there.

The street in front of my condo building does not permit parking during the day, but a few months ago, I noticed that the same few vehicles were parked there every day, arriving in the morning and departing in the afternoon. They all displayed Toronto Accessible Parking Permits (a.k.a. handicapped parking permits), which allow them to park in no parking areas and otherwise ignore most parking laws. I thought it was a bit odd that so many handicapped people would all of a sudden decide to park on our street each day during business hours, so started to watch for them arriving in the mornings.

What I saw (and still see) is a blatant misuse of accessible parking permits by people who appear to have no physical disability that would prevent them from parking in a nearby paid parking lot, or in paid street parking spots. Many of them appear to be working at the construction sites in our neighbourhood – of which there are many – although a relatively new one seems to be a local shop owner. They are mostly expensive vehicles – a Mercedes, a BMW, a Lexus and a couple of Ford F150s – which means that the owners can probably afford to pay for parking.

A call to Toronto Parking Authority, which would normally ticket and/or tow cars that are illegally parked, won’t touch anything with an accessible permit; they said that they would send someone to put a “notice” on the cars one day, but never showed.

Normally, I would just live and let live on this one, but there are a few problems with this: first and foremost, I have a friend in the building who uses a walker, and has the TTC WheelTrans service pick him up in front of the building several times each week. When the “fake” handicapped drivers have the entire front of the building blocked, he has to negotiate between the cars, or walk down to our driveway, in order to get to the WheelTrans vehicle. In today’s snow, I imagine that he won’t try to venture out at all, since there is no guarantee that the WheelTrans vehicle – which must be reserved several hours in advance – will be able to stop at the curb in front of the building to pick him up.

The other problem is with deliveries and garbage pickup: with the vehicles parked there, our garbage and recycling trucks often can’t get to the curb to pick up the bins, and trucks making deliveries have no place to stop in front of the building and may refuse to make deliveries.

Here’s a couple of examples. In the first pictures (taken earlier this week, without the snow), the driver parks in front of the building in the no-parking zone, gets out of his car, walks around to check that he is clear of the driveway, then puts the handicapped permit in his windscreen and walks away around the corner. This car has been parked there every day from early morning until evening for the past week or more. The later pictures (with the snow) show one of the worst offenders, who has parked in the no-parking zone several times per week for the past three months; today, there were other vehicles already parked in the no-parking zone so he went around the corner to the side street where parking is allowed but requires payment – except if you have an accessible parking permit. First, he parks his truck, then gets out and walks away across the park without purchasing a parking ticket from the machine. The last two shots show the accessible parking pass in his windscreen (I have taken close-up shots of this same truck and the parking permit on other days).

I am not a doctor, and do not claim to be able to diagnose any kind of physical condition, especially from afar, but every person who I have seen using an accessible parking permit on our block seems to exhibit the ability to walk several blocks to their place of work, then back again later in the day. Other residents in our building have made the same observations.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any recourse to curb this behaviour: calls to 311 just get the standard line that the city won’t ticket the cars because of the accessible parking passes, but they also won’t bother to investigate if the passes are being used improperly. I’ve put notes on the cars asking them not to park there on garbage pickup days, which works for a day or two before the same activity restarts, and I really don’t want a new job as a meter maid. I sent an email to Jack Lakey, a.k.a. The Fixer at the Toronto Star, who investigates problems with Toronto municipal services, but haven’t heard whether he will take this up. Other than that, we seem destined to wait out the heavy construction that brings out this sort of parking behaviour.

I’ve been at many technology conferences this year and heard a lot of different speakers, but one struck me in particular: a well-known analyst from a large analyst firm gave what was likely a very well-paid keynote. He’s known as being a “funny” speaker (a label that is up for debate), but he definitely crossed a line from maybe-funny to definitely-unfunny when he made references to his wife in jokes. In particular, he was talking about how he’s a big audiophile, and he started with the statement that “no man should have speakers smaller than his wife”. Okay, a bit cringe-worthy, but I would have let that pass. Not content with the first laugh, he followed with “If your speakers are smaller than your wife, you need to get rid of your wife”.

Aside from the veiled reference to how women are to be judged on their size – by a man who is well beyond the normal range of the BMI scale – there are two explicit problems with this line:

  1. The “wife” in his joke is a commodity; another piece of chattel like his stereo speakers.
  2. The line was specifically delivered to the men in the audience –  “if your wife…” – which sends the message that he considers the women in the audience to be invisible and unimportant.

This is not funny, it’s just misogynistic bullshit. It’s completely unacceptable from someone who is in a position of authority in the industry, and it’s completely unacceptable for companies to continue to hire a speaker who includes material like this unless they want to be considered to hold the same opinions. I’m pretty sure that customers of both the analyst firms and the vendors would hesitate to support this behavior, and might choose to spend their budgets with companies more aligned with their values.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident: in another keynote at another enterprise software conference, a senior executive from the host company used an analogy about children playing with bows and arrows, with the comment that that activity only pertained to boys. I had to double-check to see if I misheard that, it was so blatantly gender biased. How can we expect women to feel welcome in an industry that has “thought leaders” with those sorts of thoughts?

I suppose that it’s a small mercy that enterprise software vendors behave somewhat better than their startup tech counterparts, where there have been a number of gender discrimination scandals lately and this sort of crap has been going on for years. And enterprise software conferences don’t have the toxic environment of sexual harassment that many geek conferences do, I suspect because of the high number of women customers attending. But those are minor victories in the overall landscape of the treatment of women in the technology industry: it’s slowly shifting, but a few old dinosaurs still need to evolve or go extinct.

The new Toronto streetcars have been running on Spadina for more than a week now, and I confess to going out the first day and taking a ride just to try them out. A lot of other people were doing the same; I ran into a friend on the car and we rode together up to Spadina Station, where she departed to head home, and I stayed on to ride back down to my point of origin.

2014-08-31 18.05.56One thing that’s different is how you pay for your ride: you can board at any door of the streetcar and you don’t interact with the driver, so you need to show proof of payment (POP) if requested by an inspector. To get your POP, you can pay using the machines on the platforms or on the streetcars directly. Here’s how it works:

  • If you have cash (coins only, exact change required) or a token, use the machine to print a POP receipt by entering the cash/token and hitting the Print button.
  • If you have a student or senior ticket, validate it in the small machine on the left of the machine, and that validated ticket becomes your POP.
  • If you have a Metropass or a transfer from another line (subway, bus or streetcar), nothing for you to do: just get on the car and ride. Your Metropass or transfer is your POP.

This should speed up boarding considerably, since you can board at any of the four doors, and pay on the streetcar if you don’t have time before you board. The low floors make it easy to board – a nice change from the big step up on the old cars – and a ramp can be deployed at the second door using a pushbutton from the inside or outside.

They are still running old streetcars on the Spadina line as well as the two new ones (thanks to the Bombardier strike that stopped production after two of the new cars), and the old streetcars now also require POP onboard even though you board at the front: the driver will hand you a paper transfer even if you think you don’t need one. I’m not sure if they are actually going to use POP inspectors on the old cars; this would be good, since it would mean a switch to boarding at all doors even on the old cars.

All this will change in a few months when Presto is rolled out for payment; it wasn’t ready in time for the August 31 new streetcars, and apparently these machines are a temporary stopgap.

A point of new streetcar etiquette: if you’re on a streetcar and see someone get on and not purchase a fare onboard, don’t openly accuse them of being a fare cheat, since they may have purchased the fare on the platform before the car arrived, or have a transfer or Metropass. I had to wave my Metropass to appease some random passenger last week when he accused me of that, although maybe it was me calling him a dickhead that shut him up.

I have a brand new Frigidaire fridge, purchased at The Brick Warehouse less than 3 months ago. We made our first service call within 48 hours of delivery, and are now working on our fourth service call. They have finally agreed to fix a deficiency in the freezer door, although that will take another few weeks, but every service person from The Brick and their post-sale warranty service outsourcer, TransGlobal Service, has told us that this noise is “completely normal” (starting at around 10 seconds in):

It’s sort of like popcorn popping, only without the delightful smell. And no, there’s no ice-maker in the fridge, so it’s not that.

Here it is another time, starting at around 18 seconds:

This is not an occasional noise: it happens every time that the fridge starts up, and runs for several seconds. We live in an open loft-style apartment, and it is clearly audible everywhere in our home. Not good.

I’ve had a lot of fridges. I have never heard a noise like this, and don’t consider it normal, or acceptable. It is also clear that the TransGlobal Service people (and possibly the one person from The Brick who finally responded to my request for assistance) have been coached to say that about any noise, since most of them said that the noise is normal without having even heard it. In fact, one of the TransGlobal technicians told me that this model was “known for being noisy”, which may be news to Frigidaire.

It’s probably clear that I won’t be buying from The Brick again, and likely not from Frigidaire either, but I’d really like to get the noise problem resolved so that the $1,000 that we spent on the fridge doesn’t go to waste when we chuck the noisy thing over the balcony.

A couple of years ago, I discovered my grandfather’s WWI journal, which he wrote in from the day he left home in November 1916 until the day he arrived back in May 1919. I wrote a day-by-day blog publishing his journal, which was a wonderful exercise in family history.

During his time in Europe, he took leave in Dublin a couple of times, and appears to have struck up a friendship (or maybe more) with a woman named Hannah, and referred several times while he was in Dublin to visiting Pembroke Cottages for evenings of dancing. I looked up the address entries in the back of his diary and found a page that is almost certainly Hannah’s address at the time, based on various references:

Misses K. & H. Whitston
29 Pembroke Cottages
Donnybrook, Dublin

He wrote about her often in his diary, apparently they traded letters quite regularly, and one entry noted that it was her 22nd birthday on April 6, 1919, which means that she was born in 1897.

So here’s what I have about Hannah Whitston:

  • Born April 6, 1897 (probably in/near Dublin) – may have been 1896, as per census records (see comments below).
  • Had a sister (probably, although could have been a cousin), first initial K.
  • As of 1919, living with her sister at 29 Pembroke Cottages, Donnybrook area in Dublin.

I would love to find out more about Hannah, especially if there are any journals or letters that she may have written or received mentioning my grandfather, Frank Kemsley.

Anyone have any ideas?