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. 


  1. Peggy,

    I came across this post and notice that you've used a network diagram I created for the Bell Entertainment Service. I'm glad you liked it enough to include in your own work, but in doing so without my permission, you've infringed on my rights. :)

    You are welcome to continue using my diagram with my permission, providing you attribute my work, along with a link to the original post where you downloaded this image:

    Have a great weekend!
    -Ben Lucier

  2. Hey Ben, sorry I did not do this right the first time. Hope all is well now - and again, thanks for letting me use your diagram.



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