Sunday, January 31, 2010

Gosh, is the Weekend Over Already?!?!

I must confess, this weekend quite got away with me. I spent pretty much the whole weekend in the room you see pictured here... well - with brief forays into other rooms in my condo... I have something I need to confess.  My name is Peggy and I am a geek and a gadget person.

Fate conspired to deliver unto me not one but two new computer gadgets and in addition, several issues with the other technology that surrounds me and I spent the entire weekend attending to these "tools of my trade"  (ok, toys, if you like LOL).

 I have written in this blog before about my home office.  Last spring my daughter Laura moved out of the nest and I was able to reclaim her bedroom and convert it to a guest bedroom/office.   I blogged at that time about my weekend "screwdriver" project to put together all the Ikea furniture.  Since then, I have kitted it out more fully and it is very comfortable now.  In the last few weeks it has been a guest bedroom as my son Eric had been staying with me whilst he got himself re-organized after his return from several years living in Phoeniz AZ.  He moved into his apartment on Saturday, so I got my work space back.  A few things had piled up and so I dove right in after he left. 

It is a very nice place to work, with a view of the CN Tower and the downtown skyline which is quite spectacular - even on a cold and cloudy day.  There is a comfy couch to recline on if I want to read or watch TED talks, a great view when deep in thought and a tidy workspace when I need to be productive.  I had lots of work on my list for this weekend and also for the coming weeks, I might add. Being - 12 Celcius (-18 with wind chill), it was quite alright that Bella and I just had brief walks to keep on top of the necessities.

One of the things on my to do list was to get proficient with the two new tools which I received this week.  I am so excited about each of them - a Livescribe Pulse "smartpen" and a Bamboo writing tablet.  I am not going to do a review of either of them today.  This is just a teaser, because while I am very confident that both these items will be a wonderful productivity aids, I am still working out the wrinkles with the best uses to put them to and so will need to save the main details for another blog.  I will give you a Reader's Digest preview though.

Livescribe Smartpen
The most useful (work wise) of the two devices is the smart pen.  It really is a computer on a pen!   The pen has a camera at the ink end which records what you write in the proprietary stationary which has these tiny dots which enable the software to digitize what you are writing and reconstruct it when uploaded onto the computer.  With the add-in to convert the images to text you can instantly take notes in a meeting and upload them to printed form with ease.

If that were not enough, there is a very sophisticated audio recording system in the pen which can  create a surprisingly good recording of a conference, meeting or lecture you are attending.  But the real deal about the pen is the way the software indexes the audio to the written words, allowing you to play back the recording relating to a phrase simply by pointing the pen at those words written on the page.

The Vendor provides a web based app for uploading the "pencast" and producing a You Tube like movie you can share with collegues.  Wonderful for design or planning sessions. Oh ya, and also the vendor provides an open platform for developers to create new and interesting applications which can be installed on the phone.   

It came with a couple sample applications.  The first, a Spanish translator, translates the written English word into Spanish and then pronounces the word.  The word is spelled out in Spanish and flashed on the tiny pen screen.  I didn't mention another great feature - that the pen has a display and also a little man inside that talks to you and tells you what is up.  It will be perfect for taking notes in Spanish Class (when I get that organized!).  The other demo application included was "Guitar Chords"  you can look up a chord and it shows you the fingering and plays it for you!  Before you ask, no I am not going to take up guitar.  Hmmm, but maybe I might one day try to learn to play a Ukelele - no really, I am serious!  LOL  I sure hope I live another 40 or 50 years, I will need them to do everything  on my life list!

Anyway, that was one thing I was "playing" with over the weekend.  I intend on using it at work and needed to ensure that I don't look foolish not being able to operate it.

For more detail, if you can't wait a few weeks for the proper review, you can go here and get the skinny from the horses mouth.

The Bamboo Fun Tablet

 The other device I got to play with is a Bamboo Tablet, which is marketed by a well established maker of professional quality tablets used by artists, animators and designers - a company by the name of  Wacom.   As you can see from the picture to the left, it is a sleek and professional looking device.  There is a stylus which is used to write on the tablet and it feels very much like a pen on paper.  You can also use your fingers on the tablet, much like you would on an iPhone - and of course as we will do on the iPAD when it comes out. 

Of course, an artist would be able to make much better use of this device than I can.  It came with Corel Painter Essentials which is a dynamo software product.  I was blown away by the painter's brushes (they pop out of a drawer on the GUI LOL) and the paint mixing pallet and that the paint had seemingly real depth on the screen... but I am no artist, perhaps a real one would poo poo this product, I don't know.  I shall have to ask around.

You might be wondering what I would be doing with it, particularly if you know me well you know I have very little in artistic skill.  It is an experiment I am doing with alternate input devices and because the device was really not that expensive, I justified its purchase based on two of its functions.  Firstly, it can replace my mouse.  I have been having an issue with (don't laugh) my "mousing finger" lately and since this device also performs the functions of the mouse, either with your fingers, like an iphone, or with the pen, I wanted to try using it as a mouse alternative.  It also has a great handwriting to text interface, so I can use it with another tool I use, Evernote.  It will be perfect for jotting notes and more importantly drawing scribbled "idea association" or mind mapping charts which I use in planning and in writing.  Also, who says I cannot get some enjoyment from working a bit more with my left brain? So this device is mostly (for me) a hobby purchase.  You can find out more about the Bamboo Fun Tablet here.

Evernote for the Compulsive Organizer
Another thing which took up a pile of time this weekend was a review of my Evernote "notes" and setting up a tagging system for them and a GTD system for work, for which I had previously used a paper book. Now I want to record these in my smartpen book and upload them into Evernote, which is just the most spectacular productivity product I have ever used.   I have well used up my quota of words for this blog - if you have not heard of Evernote, go here and prepare to be amazed at what this free product does.

I have been collecting Evernote notes for all sorts of stuff for about 6 months and have finally decided that it is going to be given a permanent place in my "toolbox" and I want to move it up a notch in terms of things I do with it.  So, I was sorting and organizing all of the research materials I need for my novel 2nd draft (which is rising fast on my to do list) and at the same time getting all the other stuff in order.  You might say I was cleaning up my "computer house".

iPhone Troubles

The last thing which ate up my weekend was a fight with my iPhone.  Somehow a gremlin had stolen into the damn thing and had eaten up all the free space!  When I checked it had 8 of the 16 GB of space devoted to something called "Other" - which should be less than 1 GB since "Other" is really just the Operating System.

I fritzed around for quite a few hours reading through the support forum and trying the things they suggested before I gave in and scheduled a support call with an Apple Techie.  29 dollars and 3 hours later I was on the phone with a guy who was enjoying the warm weather in California.  The long and the short of it was that something had gone kafuey and I had to put the phone back to factory settings and reload everything from scratch.  There was a dire warning that it might have been a corrupt app or which caused it, so I may not be out of the water yet.

I only installed the "must have" apps on my phone cuz I ran out of time to fiddle around, so I am hoping that none of those are causing the issue. I lost all my settings and application data I had stored in my iPhone, but of course I was able to re-install all the pictures, music and applications themselves.  It will take me a bit of time to get everything in order.  It took until 7:30 p.m. before I had my phone back in business and I still have to fix up all the settings.

Next weekend I will need to limit my time in geeky persuits and get out and about a bit - after all the Toronto Winterlicious and Wintercity celebration started this week and will run for the next 2 weeks.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

BenchMark: Musical Bench and School Bakery & Café

BenchMark Blogs: the Art Benches of Liberty Village

If you have missed the previous posts explaining the Liberty Village Benchmark program and the art benches we have located in our village go here to fetch them all and read the earlier posts. This is the 9th post in the series to feature each of our 19 art benches.

The bench I am featuring today is on the north east corner of Fraser and Liberty Street. It is bench number 12 on the Benchmark Map which can be accessed here.  Titled "Musical Bench", it was created by Paul Aloisi and sponsored by the Softchoice Corporation.   Softchoice is a local business providing Business Solutions, IT Asset Management and Technology Acquisition from their Liberty Village Offices.

Don't you just want to pick up the mallet and tap out a tune?  There are so many clever art benches and most all of them make me smile as I walk through the village.   When I first wrote this blog I used the summer pictures -the two left most - and noticed that there was something missing - a mallet to play the benchzylophone with.  I was thinking that perhaps  someone made off with it - I have noticed that at one other art Bench (which I have yet to blog about), pieces have gone missing.  I drove by the bench on Sunday and saw that the mallet was now in place!  So I took some additonal pictures of the Music Bench with mallet, though the day was rainy and they are not so good as the summer ones do add a lot to this bench blog's completeness. 

A restaurant or Café on Every Corner...

Across the street from Musical Bench is the School Bakery & Café, located  at 70 Fraser Street.  It does seem that there are a tremendous number of restaurants, bistros, bars, coffee shops, and the like in Liberty Village.  Just to recap the ones I have already covered in previous blogs:  Mildred's Kitchen (where I went last summer for a scrumptious birthday treat), Liberty Bistro (lots of blogs about the Liberty Bistro!), Brazen Head and the Roastery.  I have just done a mental count and that still leaves more than a dozen places that I've not even mentioned yet.  For an area which is only 38.6 hectares (less than .15 square miles) it is quite dense, consisting of 109 properties zoned commercial or industrial, home to about 500 businesses, employing 6,000 full and part time employees.  The residential area, mostly the easterly half, is (by my guess - I've seen no census) maybe only 1,000 people but will reach perhaps 10,000 in the next decade when the 10 or so high rises eventually fill that area.  So there are lots of restaurants now and there will be even more needed in the years to come.

 You can see the Toronto Carpet Building in the background. It is a really hopping place during the summer with tables in the front and side patios. It services mainly the daytime business crowd and the brunch - lunch weekend crowd - the kitchen is closed at 4pm, although the bakery is open until 7 pm on a weekday.  They are open for dinner part week during the summer.  Go here to read a review which describes the school house decor and also gives a very unflattering judgment of the food. There are however a few rebuttal comments from the local regulars. As I said it seemed to be pretty busy whenever I walked by this last summer.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Courtyard filled with Interesting Things at Simcoe Place

Simcoe Place is an office tower located to the east of the CBC building which I blogged about last Tuesday.  Between these two towers and immediately to the south of a new tower under construction - the Ritz Carleton - is a wonderful courtyard with 3 major pieces of public art.  To see an aerial map of CBC and Simcoe Place showing the courtyard, which is called Simcoe Place Park, go here.

Built in 1995, it was the only major office tower built in Toronto during the mid-1990s, a period between the early decade real estate bubble and the building boom of the 21st century.  Designed by architects Carlos A Ott and NORR, it stands 148 metres (486 feet) and houses 33 floors consisting of (750,000) square feet of office space, 48,000 square feet of retail space, including a 650 seat food court, a three level underground parking garage, and a daycare.  BOMA Canada has awarded Simcoe Place with the 2008 Office Building of the Year.

Historically the site which Simcoe Place sits on has figured prominently.  It was the location of the seat of the Parliament of Upper Canada from 1829 to 1841.   Simcoe Place is named for John Graves Simcoe who was the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada (now Ontario) and the founding father of Toronto (then York). It was his surveyors who cleared the road leading north to Lake Simcoe - Yonge Street.

Campsite Founding

Adjacent to the office tower is Simcoe Park. The Park situated on one acre of land contains a number of public art pieces that acknowledge the historic stature of the site while adding a new dimension of interest to Simcoe Place. The memorial pieces commemorate the contributions of the Governor General John Graves Simcoe, and his wife Elizabeth to the founding of the City of Toronto.

Following are some pictures I took of the multi-component installation which sits within the courtyard.  It is titled Campsite Founding and was created by Brad Golden and Lynne Eichenberg in 1994 to provide a visual and text based historical narrative.    I found a City of Toronto Brochure describing some 22 peices of street art located in the downtown area, and from it I found:

The coverered portion refers to the canvas house, also depicted and described on a plaque, which served as a base from which the Simcoes embarked upon their forays into the surrounding environs.
There is survey equipment, maps and charts as one might have seen in a surveyors campsite during the time of Governor Simcoe.  See here for more details - It is identified as #7. 

WSIB Simcoe Park Workers Monument

The Workplace Safety and Insurance Board is the major tenant of Simcoe Place and it is fitting that a memorial to individuals who have lost their lives in construction accidents occupies a prominent street side place in the courtyard.   The WSIB Simcoe Park Workers Monument  consists of 2 pieces.  The first, titled 100 Workers, by John Scott, consists of a series of 100 bronze plaques topping a granite wall. Each plaque represents a year between 1901 and 2000. The first 99 are each engraved with the name and cause of death of one worker who died that year.

John Scott received the first Governor General Award for Visual Arts in April 2000.

Anonymity of Prevention by Derek Lo and Lana Winkler is a life-size sculpture that depicts a construction worker chiseling a message on the granite wall: “Remembering our past…building a safe future.”

The WSIB's Board of Directors commissioned the memorial as a millennium project for Simcoe Park to serve as a daily reminder to everyone of our commitment to the prevention of workplace injury and illness

There is one other piece of art located in Simcoe Park which has nothing to do with John Graves Simcoe or Workman's Health and Safety.  It is a work by British artist Anish Kapoor.  It is a water-jet cut aluminium sculpture and it is untitled.  Looks like a mountain, doesn't it?  A nice place to sit and contemplate the world on a sunny afternoon during lunch break. 

Areal map of CBC and Simcoe Place

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ted Talks and Some Ideas Worth Spreading

I had a very leisurely day and as a consequence, somehow, the day escaped my blogging motivation until late in the day.  Can't say I did much, although some time was spent doing the normal Saturday chores such as cleaning and shopping.  I have my son Eric living with me at the moment and so having someone else around uses time as well ...  chit chat and socializing on a Saturday is a nice change to my usual solitary pursuits.

In addition, I was internet challenged until the afternoon.   My wonderful Bell Entertainment Service, which I blogged about last week, went on the fritz on Wednesday night and I was without both my internet and my TV since then!  The price of being on the bleeding edge of technology, I guess.  When the guy came to fix it today he said that a wire had been dislodged in the telephone service room in our building and he suspected it was as a consequence of some work some other service man had done on Wednesday.

In any event, I ended up browsing the net and in reading some travel blogs I bumped into a recommendation for a TED talk which really appealed to my tug of travel urges I have been having lately.  As a result I spent a few hours watching this one and and a few others I found to view before I decided I should attack my Saturday blog. 

In any case, it is time I talked about Ted Talks again. It has been quite a while since I have gone on about some of the great videos I watch on this very informative web site.  
 TED is a small nonprofit devoted to “Ideas Worth Spreading”. It started out as a conference bringing people together from the worlds of Technology, Entertainment, and Design (thus, the TED). During the annual conference, attendees get to hear riveting talks (18 minutes in length) by more than 50 remarkable people.  The site TED Talks grew out of the idea to give everyone on-demand access to these most inspiring voices.

The TED content has expanded to include talks on business, science, culture, arts, and global issues.

Stefan Sagmeister: Graphic designer - The Power of Time Off

Sagmeister is a notable designer based in NYC who has 3 TED talks under his belt.  His clients include the Rolling Stones and Lou Reed.  He is a genuine maverick whose intimate approach and sincere thoughtfulness elevate his design. According to I.D. Magazine:
"Sagmeister's CD package designs are what poetry is to prose: distilled, intense, cunning, evocative and utterly complete. His intentions have set a new standard."
I have been toying with the idea of an extended travel time sometime in the next number of years.  I am thinking that I could start taking extended "time off" anywhere from 1 to 5 years from now, depending on my mood and the strength of the stock market at the moment I am dreaming of it.   His talk, "The Power of Time Off"  was music to my ears!   Sagmeister has taken several 1 year sabbaticals - he is known for shutting down his shop every seven years for a full year!   His reasoning is that we spend the first 25 years of our lives learning, the next 40 years working, and the final 15 in retirement. He wanted to intersperse some of the retirement years within the working years.  My thinking has been along those lines - keep working longer, but take extended time off over the next ten years, interspersed between work.  I am not sure if I would do a full year, as Sagmeister did, maybe 6 months might be enough for my first go, but it would be a long sabbatical none the less.

So his talk was extremely interesting to me.  If you dream of taking extended periods of time off and want some good justification you should listen to his talk!

The value of of time off is to rejuvenate and refresh, in his case, his creative outlook which is essential to his career. After his first sabbatical, he found that:

* His interest in his work was rejuvinated,
* Over the long term the sabattical paid for itself since his "recharge" allowed him to produce superior work and charge a higher fee when he returned to work,
* And everything his shop designed in the seven years following the first sabbatical was originated in that year.

Anthony Atala:

Growing new organs:

The second TED talk grabbed me because it relates to something I am doing right now (but no, I am not growing new organs LOL) .  I am interested in organ regeneration because I am (as you might recall), writing a futuristic novel and am steeling myself to start my 2nd draft in the very near future.  Growing new organs is something that plays a role in my novel.

Anthony Atala's state-of-the-art lab grows human organs -- from muscles to blood vessels to bladders, and more. At TEDMED, he shows footage of his bio-engineers working with some of its sci-fi gizmos, including an oven-like bioreactor, which "exercises new muscle" and a machine that "prints" human tissue.   The picture on the top right is an ear which was bioengineered for transplant. 

So I was thrilled to hear about the specific techniques being used to grow organs for transplant and that they are doing this today.  Most of the things being talked about are  just in the lab at this point, however he did make a point of saying that they do have some engineered organ transplants which have been in use for over 10 years.  So it won't be long - in my lifetime for sure - before we will be able to re-grow some types of damaged organs - which fits into my novel's timelines just right.  You might be surprised how far along this science is.  Watch his video and start thinking about the implications.  It is quite extraordinary!

If you missed my blogs on the other TED Talks I have particularly enjoyed go here to read them.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

BenchMark: Face It and the Roastery

BenchMark Blogs: the Art Benches of Liberty Village
If you have missed the previous posts explaining the Liberty Village Benchmark program and the art benches we have located in our village go here to fetch them all and read the earlier posts. This is the 8th post in the series to feature each of our 19 art benches.

The bench I am featuring today is on the east side of Pardee Avenue near Liberty Street. It is bench number 7 on the Benchmark Map which can be accessed here.  Titled "Face It", it was created by Ian Arnell and sponsored by the Liberty Village Business Improvement Association.

The interesting thing about this bench is that each board of the bench is filled with emoticons.  While there is no agreed standard definition of emoticons - except a few basic ones like :) and :( - they all share the same feature that if put on their side they resemble a face i.e. eyes, a nose and mouth.  If you want to brush up on your emoticons, you might need to access the following while you sit on the bench and drink your coffee.

Dictionary of Emoticons and Internet Lingo -

The Roastery
Across from the Bench "Face It" is the Roastery, which while not a heritage building, has an interesting fascade none the less and does make a statement about how important food for the eyes is for the village locals. We do like to have the scenery "coloured up" - more on that in a future blog - art is everywhere in Liberty Village.

One of several European styled coffee shops in the Village catering to the local work force, you can also get a light lunch there.I hear their jerk chicken is quite good.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Toronto CBC Building - 250 Front Street West

This beautiful building is a definitely a landmark in Toronto and a place you should see if you're a tourist visiting the city.   If you have a favourite CBC program you can probably get tickets to be in the studio audience in the studios housed there.  I got to see Mike Holmes (Holmes on Homes, anyone?) when I went to see the recording of the The Hour featuring George Stroumboulopoulos.

The Barbara Frum Atrium is HUGE.  There are a couple of food court and cafeteria style restaurants (but the real food court is in the lower level) and an inner courtyard with lots of open space, tables for eating and a lounge with a giant TV showing - of course - CBC. The inside of the building is 10 stories high with many elevators and brightly coloured walls to mark each floor. If you look up you will see the balconies and far up above the glass ceiling.  To really see what I am talking about go here.  CBC have set up a web page which you can use like an interactive google streetscape like map - using the controls you can look up and around the interior of the atrium.

You might also want to go here and also have a look at the Lobby area immediately in front of the piece of art described below.

There is also quite a few art installations in and around the building.  The one I am going to feature today is one of my favourites in the building.  It is located just off the foyer as you decend to the food court area which connects to Toronto's underground Path System - a maze of walkways connecting several square kilometres of downtown area buildings  underground. 

 On the south side of the building, which is on Front Street, there is the Glenn Gould Studio, a 341 seat concert hall.  Outside this entrance is a bench/sulpture which features this Toronto native himself, sitting on the bench as you might imagine he once did.

The Glenn Gould Studio is unique in North America. It is a combined recording studio and public concert hall, designed principally for recording and broadcasting classical music and other radio performance programming. If you would like to have a virtual tour of the Concert Hall Lobby go here.  The CBC is the largest producer and distributor of classical music in Canada and the recording facility is well used for this purpose.

So who was Glenn Gould and why is a concert hall named after him?  Glenn Gould was a Canadian pianist who became one of the best-known and most celebrated classical pianists of the twentieth century. He was a well known eccentric with a long creative history with the CBC both in radio and television as well as live recording.  His last live performance was given in 1964, he preferred the recording studios and stayed off the public stage until his premature death at ag 50 in 1982.  When the CBC building was conceived it was appropriate that the studio be dedicated to his memory. 

Next Tuesday I will focus on the courtyard to the east of the CBC building which is between it and the Workman's Compensation Building on Front Street.  This is an extremely interesting and imaginative public space and I have lots of pictures to show you.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Weekend Grab Bag - Sunday Edition

Patricia Kathleen Page, known as P.K. Page, a poet, novelist and painter, passed away this week at the age of 93. Prolific and productive to the end, she published two new books just last fall.

P.K. Page travelled widely lived an interesting and  varied life which included many types of creative endeavours aside from poetry.  When you search for her name  in the NFB Collection there are 9 results returned.  The most well known of these is the film Still Waters: The Poetry of P.K. Page.  From the NFB description:
It encapsulates the varied life of a Canadian woman who has reached international stature as both a painter and a poet. Her imagistic brilliance is here explored through the multiple places of her life and the several forms of her art. This film shows how the powerful works of P.K. Page extend beyond literature and painting into the realms of anthropology and ecology.
Her poem, Planet Earth, was selected to be part of a United Nations program to foster dialogue among nations, involving readings in countries around the world and possibly from Alpha, the new international space station.  It is featured, along with the other author selections on Ecosphere, an anthology of ecological, philosophical, spiritual, economic and cultural articles, editorials and reviews exploring the values of the planetary Ecosphere, its ecosystems, communities and wild species - as the natural and time-tested source of a new and compelling "Earth Ethic" for humanity.

There is a very excellent and comprehensive article on P.K. Page in the memorial published in the CBC News article on January 15th. Go here to read IN APPRECIATION - The constant writer -Remembering the life and lessons of poet P.K. Page by Rosemary Sullivan.

I particularly liked her poem Single Traveller.

Single Traveller

P.K. Page

What is this love that is my life's companion?
Shape-changer, sometimes faceless, this companion.

Single traveller, I wander a wasting world
awaiting the much anticipated Companion.

A trillium covered wood one April day
served as a nearly consummate companion.

A horse, two dogs, some cats, a blue macaw
each in its turn became a loyal companion.

Behind the loved embrace, a face of light-
demon or angel-lures me from my companion.

The street of love is neither wide nor narrow.
Its width depends on me and my companion.

Am I too bound and blinded by coarse wrappings
ever to know true love as my companion?

O Poet, squanderer of time and talents
why do you search for love as your Companion?

TACtv - The Accessible Channel
Whilst exploring my new HD channels available on my new digit service, I found a channel I hadn't encountered before and was intrigued.  It is called The Accessible TV Channel and it is actually classified as a charitable organization (which means you get a tax receipt if you donate).

I quote from the TACtv Website:
... is a national, English-language, descriptive-video, closed-captioned, basic HD digital TV specialty service.
TACtv broadcasts popular TV programs from conventional and specialty TV services and foreign-rights holders in “open format” for persons who are blind, vision-impaired, deaf or hard of hearing — a world first. All TACtv programs are described and closed-captioned and can be accessed provided you have a basic digital package ...
Its unique approach to describing cinematographic works makes it suitable for open broadcast — and that’s why with the support of broadcasters across Canada sighted and non-sighted viewers can watch the programming together without any loss of enjoyment.
I think it is fantastic that we are becoming more aware of the needs of people with disabilities.  However, I had to chuckle while listening to the programming.  For a sighted person, it is a bit weird to hear action which I am seeing on the screen described.  For instance, during a fight scene in a short drama, the narrator described the fight - "The bald man delivered 4 round house kicks but the brown haired man ducked them both and delivered a good blow to the other man's torso."  When the hero kissed the lady - "Tony walks over to the lady and smiles, grabs her hands and looks into her eyes. He puckers his lips and delivers a long kiss full on the lips."  Maybe it is just my pecuilar sense of humour, but it did make me chuckle.  Not to say it isn't absolutely necessary for those who are visually impaired to get the jist of the story, but I just found it a bit distracting to watch because I am so used to observing these details visually. 

Described video isn't the only feature which has been added to TAC.  All the other ways of making visual images more accessible have been employed, such as announcing commercial breaks, sizing up text, etc.

This is just one of the Accessible Channels, designed to deliver programming to the more than 5 million Canadians who can’t independently access regular TV and other media due to low literacy, blindness, vision restriction, physical or learning disability or other impairments associated with ageing.

The other channel is called Voice Print which broadcasts readings of full-text articles from Canadian 24/7 from more than 600 of Canada’s newspapers and magazines.

Now, obviously, someone has to read all the discriptive video scripts so they can be recorded and played with the video content.  Since this is a charitable organization volunteers are welcomed.  Fancy yourself as a volunteer reader for the TAC channel?

AMI (formerly NBRS), who broadcast TAC  couldn’t operate without the support of dedicated volunteers. If you’d like to be one of the readers or sign up for  other volunteer opportunities with them you can call 1-800-567-6755 ext. 244.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Weekend Grab Bag

Last summer I was unable to spend many weekends up at my "Collingwood Shangri-La" - my northern retreat - as my elderly parents, having sold their rural property a year earlier, needed to use the place until their under construction Toronto Condo was ready to move in. For the first time in many years I sought out Toronto city activities each weekend, many of which I wrote about in this blog.

Tuesday Toronto Wanderings

Toronto outdoor activities are really focused in a 3, or at most 4 month period (with the notable exception being WinterCity), which starts to gear up in May and closes down, pretty much, after Labour Day the first Monday in September, as the city readies itself for colder weather. In those 3 months there are outdoor activities every weekend,  sometimes several outdoor events each day in the core of the City  and I was hard pressed to attend them all.  Even if I did get to several in one day, there was far more to write about than I was able to cover in my blogs. I did get to write about a lot of them, but in reviewing some photos this last week I realized I have a lot of material I did not get time to include in those blogs.

In the time I spent wandering Toronto City streets last summer, I observed that Toronto is becoming a city of street art - there are a lot of art installations in public places such as this one in the Garment district. Many of our new condo buildings, seemingly sprouting up like tulips in a garden, have art installations in their front courtyards. I wrote about one such installation in a blog highlighting a bronze peice which sits in front of a Condo on Yonge Street near the Lakeshore.

Some of my friends from the blogsphere, in cities in Great Britain or Europe might wonder what all the fuss is about.  Of course cities with more than a few centuries of history might think that having sculpture or other art installations in public places is nothing to brag about - you have, over time, managed to get numerous wonderful old statues and sculptures all over the place. But for us in North America - where old has a different meaning when it comes to local architecture and art - it is a big deal. The "New World" was a unitarian   place until more recent decades.  It is a different mentality, you have castles, we have forts.. - so please indulge us "newer" cities and allow me to be excited about so much street art.

The bottom line is that I saw a lot of very interesting things this summer which deserve some air time on my blog. I have decided to devote a regular day of the week blog to this topic. The new blog feature is my "Tuesday Toronto Wanderings" to join my regular weekly blog schedule of 3 or 4 blogs per week - Tuesday Toronto Wanderings, BenchMark Thursday and on the weekend a popuri of whatever seems right for my mood, the season and what is happening in my life.

I really was born in the wrong country - from a weather perspective - I do struggle with winter. It is with a quiet resignation and determination that I bundle up every day for my 25 minute walk to the office. Only on the rare day do I wimp out and take the short trolley car ride across King Street. I get out ice skating occasionally and on the good weather weekend days manage a long walk.  Once ever 3 or 4 weeks I get up north go to snow shoeing with my Collingwood friends. None the less, I am outdoors only a fraction as much as I am during summer. I think it is a great idea to I write about the things I saw in my Toronto summer wanderings through the winter. I like looking at the summer pictures, it reminds me that the snows will melt eventually and the sun will once again be able to bake my body as I recline on my patio "couch" on my balcony next summer.

So stay tuned on Tuesdays.

My new Techie Toy - VDSL, IPTV and A Smart PVR!

A week or so ago I had a new internet/cable service installed called "the Bell Entertainment Service." Our building is wired with fiber-optics to the Bell offices and this enables a new type of internet called  VDSL and new TV delivery method called IPTV.    The interesting bit is that the fiber optics, faster than regular cable,  enables this new type of TV delivery method - a little like VOIP telephone but applied to TV signals.   As infrastructure catches up in other areas this new type of TV/Internet service will be more widely available, but for right now (as the Bell advertisement highlights) it is available only to the lucky few.   Aside from the wonders of this new technology,  Bell has also provided a new promotional price at a 50% cost saving.

Please See Addenda Below regarding the following Diagram

Diagram by Ben Lucier, source:

It is an incredible offer which saw my internet speed move from 256kbs, which my previous Rogers service provided me, to 20 mbps  (1 kbs is a thousand bits per second where 1 mbps is 1 million bits per second - tremendously faster ) which the Bell service now provides! Blazing fast internet at half the cost! The sweetest part of the deal was that in an attempt to win back market share from Rogers, Bell is waiving installation charges, requires no contract and is providing a free HD PVR!

OK, so enough of the Bell advertisement.

To make it clear, I am not a TV couch potato. I might be an internet surfing couch potato during winter, but I generally just use the TV digital cable service I subscribe to to listen to great quality radio - CBC radio precisely. I don't think I watched a TV program on my TV over the previous 6 months before getting the new service installed.  In one previous winter I was hooked on a daily dose of West Wing - so I am no stranger to TV addiction either. It is not that I now have anything against TV, there are many good documentaries and a few regular programs, such as Californication, Bones, Numbers and Grey's Anatomy, which I would watch if I had the time. It is just that with the little time I have  when I feel like watching TV there never happens to be anything on that interests me. Maybe because I refuse to get anything more than basic digital - I don't have a million channels or time shifting, so my choices are somewhat limited but then so is my available time.

Of course the value in having a PVR is that you can easily record your favourite programs and watch them when convenient. Even better you can "hold" a program you are watching (i.e. start recording it) when you are unexpectedly pulled away from the TV. The added value in recording a program is that it can be watched by skipping the commercials - the PVR has a button which when pressed once jumps to the next commercial - thus 5 presses at the beginning of the commercial break lets the program continue uninterrupted! Fantastic idea - and it also liberates about 15 minutes for each hour of programming and so the TV viewing does not suck up as much of your time!

I have even found that the PVR can extend my CBC Radio listening - because the CBC radio channels can also be recorded just like any other TV channel. I must admit, they do podcast most of my favourite CBC radio programs, but I now can use it to accomplish "time shifting" of my evening listening and catch the first hour of the CBC Radio 2 Drive Program (not podcast), which starts at 4:00 and always plays fantastic music. I normally start listening to it sometime between 5 and 6 when I walk home from the office.

Even better - I can start the PVR recording from a distance using my iPhone.  Maybe I discover during the day that a great movie is on that night and I won't be home in time to watch it.  No problem - I just hop on the internet and select the program for recording on the "My Bell" site.  Come to think of it, I  will probably watch more of the 2010 Olympic Games next month, because of this device.

Last night was my first "TV night" and I caught up with the week's recorded TV. It was great and I am quite excited, but of course there is a downside. Now I have another thing to suck up my time.   I can surf at lightning speed and watch lots of great quality HD TV!
Good thing it is winter - cocooning inside is a thing us Canadians do well during these 6 months until the May outdoor frenzy of weekend activity begins!

Addenda: Re the Bell Entertainment Service Diagram

On Nov 5th, 2010 I received a blog comment from Ben Lucier who created the diagram I found via Google Images to explain in this blog how the Bell Entertainment Service that I had recently installed worked.  As he pointed out, I  infringed on his rights by not attributing the work to him.  As a nice gesture, he has allowed me to continue using the image provided that I remedy the situation and post a link to the original post. 

If you are a techie and want to know way more about the service than I have presented above, please go visit his site and learn all about it and read his assessment of the service.

Thank you Ben for letting me use your diagram. 

Friday, January 15, 2010

I had a nice surprise the other day.  But let me back up first and tell you about how many people it takes to keep a condo apartment of 24 floors, maybe 12-14 suites per floor in tip top shape....

I might add that we have actually 3 buildings in our complex.  The first one built, the one I am in is called Battery Park.  It is positioned in the centre of the 3 buildings and it was the first one to be built.  It's address is 50 Lynn Williams, but the main entrance is on Battery Park Road- the street to the north.  So the building is called Battery Park

The next building to be built was given the name Zip - it is actually more correctly on Pirandello street,positioned to the east and slightly north of Battery Park.  The 3 buildings are surrounded by a square of 4 streets - I get a bird's eye view of their balconies.

The third building, which is under construction now - just a bit further along than my Liberty Towers Condo, is called Vibe and it is to the west and slightly north of Battery Park.

So back to the 2nd diversion to the main story of this blog. I was talking about the number of people it takes to run the complex of 3 buildings in order to explain my gift, which is pictured in this blog.

There is one main entrance and front desk for the complex.  There are 3 shifts of  guys - maybe you would call them security guards - I prefer to call them "concierges" (but they really are not in the hotel concierge sense) anyway there is two guys on guard for day and evening - and one during the overnight from midnight until about 7:30 a.m.  I walk the dog at least twice a day and these guys always open the door for me - saving me to have to fumble for keys.  They also always say hi and give me a smile and wish me a good day - morning and night.

The building also has cleaners.  Two guys who work my building.  Rene and Marianne work my building - a different guy works the weekend day shift.  Not sure who does the other buildings.  They work all day - each morning Rene is mopping the elevators as I take Bella out in the morning and usually Marianne is cleaning in the front foyer when I come back in.  In the evening there is another guy (sadly, many of these guys who work my building remain nameless), who cleans during the early part of the evening - these days that mostly means cleaning up all the salt tracked in through the entrance to the elevator lobby.

Of course, we also have the property manager - who works in his office each day and stays late on Wednesday in case any of the owners need to chat with him they don't have to take time off work.

You might be wondering why I am going into such a long winded explanation of all the guys it takes to run the building.

At Christmas I like to give something to every person I owe thanks to for helping me out during the year. That means all of these guys.  My idea is that it isnt the value of the gift, but the fact that there is one, and that it is nicely wrapped and accompanied by a card which thanks them for their kind service during the year. Usually it is a box of chocolates, although the "main guy" at the front desk - in previous years Rolland and this year Frank - would get a bottle of brandy.  Anyway, I feel strongly that we need to show appreciation to those guys who make our lives easier whilst they do what I would consider pretty thankless jobs.  So I make a point of seeking out each and every person during Christmas week and giving them their thank you gift.

This year I got a gift back!!!!  Frank - our new "main front desk guy" rang me on the weekend and said he had a gift for me.  He then brought me up the nicest box of beautiful hand made marzipan candies in a gorgeous box that his wife made!  I was really flattered to receive this giftp andarticularly since he repeated several times "because you deserve this!".

Pretty nice.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

BenchMark: Wired Up and the Toronto Carpet Facory

BenchMark Blogs: the art benches of Liberty Village
If you have missed the previous posts explaining the Liberty Village Benchmark program and the art benches we have located in our village go here to fetch them all and read the earlier posts. This is the 7th post in the series to feature each of our 19 art benches.

The bench I am featuring today is on the west side of Mowatt Avenue near Liberty Street. It is bench number 1 on the Benchmark Map which can be accessed here.  Titled "Wired Up", it was created by Michael Brown.  The artist has very cleverly made the boards of the bench look like cabling and has painted the boards with the codes for various cabling standards.
Michael Brown is a Toronto-based visual artist working primarily in Painting, Installation and Performance art.  For Michael Brown's Web site go here.  There is a significance to the bench in that there were/are a number of .net startup ventures which were/are housed at the Toronto Carpet Factory.  When we think of internet we think of cabling.

This bench is sponsored by the Toronto Carpet Factory, which is not really a carpet factory!     If you go to the York Heritage Properties Website it is described as follows:
A centre of creativity, a full city block in size, originally built as a carpet manufacturing facility between 1899 and the 1920s. A historically listed, turn of the century office complex featuring several buildings clustered around internal courtyards and laneways. They feature high ceilings, exposed brick and beams with large, operable windows and extremely secure, economical internet connectivity. Companies in in the Toronto Carpet Factory maintain that the nature and quality of the office accomodation has enhanced their ability to recruit and retain employees.
 Note the words "centre of creativity" - that is because Liberty Village is the home to many creative types (as mentioned in my earliest blog on Liberty Village).  and this is the kind of clientele that York Heritage caters to as it specializes in alternative office spaces. 

It seems that the Toronto Carpet Factory and the York Liberty buildings in Liberty Village have acquired an international reputation for the adaptive reuse of historical complexes, thanks to York Heritage Properties. The York Heritage designers have attempted to create space that is youthful, exhilarating and attractive to a new corporate culture that requires its office accommodation to be a resource rather than merely four walls to house employees and equipment.  (according to the York Heritage Properties web site).

York Heritage Properties website also has a page detailing  building history and  pictures from 1899 and during WWI.

Our Liberty Village is full of Heritage Buildings and I intend on featuring each them, along side the benches which sit near them in the coming blogs.
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