Friday, June 29, 2012

Car Troubles

I took my 2005 Saab 9-2X into the dealership last Friday. They were going to replace a vent valve. They said that was the cause of the engine warning light that had gone on in my vehicle.

I booked my appointment for 1:00 p.m. When I arrived there the mechanic mentioned he was pretty busy and might not be able to look at it for an hour. So I was advised that I should come back at around 3:30 p.m. because the scheduled work was supposed to take about an hour and a half.

That was no problem for me. Sherway Gardens (mall) was nearby so I walked over there to kill some time. I figure I could window shop if I was bored. I also brought some Sudoku puzzles with me as well.

I returned to the dealership on time. Not because I thought my car would be ready, but because the Euro2012 soccer quarter finals between Germany and Greece were on TV and I thought I'd watch it there.

As it turned out my car took a lot longer than they thought it would. By closing time (5:00 p.m.) the service consultant, Michele, told me that the mechanics weren't able to figure out the problem. It seems there was another issue with wiring or electronics or something.

She asked if I could make another appointment to come in and have some more tests done (for another $200-something of course). I told her I'd check my schedule out and try to make it the following Friday if I was available.

With that she gave me my keys and I went to my car...

... And that's when the adventure began...

I started my car and drove out of the parking lot. I had to turn left to go to the lights at the Queensway. From there I was going to head west to the Gardiner east onramp.

Well, when I stopped to wait for the lights to turn green my car started to sputter then the engine died. Even though I put my hazard lights on, the car behind me honked because, by now, the light had turned green.

I restarted the engine and made the turn. In my mind I was thinking, I should turn back and go back to the dealership, but instead I pressed on. There may have been a couple of reasons I did this. One, the dealership was closed; and, two, there was no easy way to turn around because there was a concrete median in the middle of the road.

So I headed on to the Gardiner in rush hour traffic. Bad move as I soon discovered. When my car was moving it was fine. But as soon as I slowed down or had to stop the engine would sputter and shudder. Sometimes it would keep running, but most of the time it would die.

I nervously drove in the right lane ready to pull off the highway in case anything happened. I learned to adapt. Whenever I saw the rush hour traffic slowing ahead I would slow down much earlier just to avoid coming to a complete stop. If my car was moving above a crawl it was still okay. But, sometimes it was unavoidable.

Luckily I only stalled once on the Gardiner. Instead of going up Jarvis (through the city and hitting all the red lights) I decided to continue to the Don Valley Parkway and get off on the Bloor/Bayview ramp. I figured it would be the lesser of two evils. I believed I would need to come to a complete stop less on the highway. I think I made the right choice because I only stalled once on the DVP.

Going though midtown was another story. There were a lot more lights and stop signs. I lost count of the number of times my car died after exiting the highway until the time I arrived back at my condo. It was more than 10 in total. Another trick I had to employ was rolling stops at stop signs. Of course if other cars were at the intersection I'd have to come to a complete stop and that spelled trouble.

Now I don't know why the mechanics let me take my car in that condition. Especially without saying anything about it. Of course I was upset and called to show my displeasure.

I got a call the next day from, Paul, the service consultant working that shift. He said he spoke to mechanic and they told him they had reset the computer or something like that and that it would take a day or two for it to learn the ideal idle speed of the car. He suggested I drive it for a day or two and if there were still problems to call back.

Well, that wasn't exactly what I wanted to hear. But, I took it out for a 20 minute spin later in the day. Just around sides streets with little traffic in my area. I drove at slow speeds and stopped to see what it would do.

A few times it managed to keep going, but at other times the engine died. At that point I thought, I'm just going to take it back to the dealership for them to look at now, even though I knew the service centre would be closed. I figured I wasn't going to drive it in that condition anyway. Better it be there so they could look at it first thing on Monday and (hopefully) see what the problem was.

Going through the side streets to the DVP was challenging again. But, I was more used to the idiosyncrasies of the car by now so it wasn't as nerve wracking (just a little). I knew as long as I got it to the highway it would be fine. And the dealership was right off the Gardiner Expressway so that good.

I got there at about 2:00 and told the service consultant, Paul, everything that happened. He took note of everything and said he'd have Michele (the service consultant who normally deals with me) call me on Monday to update me about what was going on.

After that, Jason, the shuttle driver took me to Kipling station and I hopped on the subway and went home.

P.S. - My car was ready on Tuesday. I gave them another $500 for their troubles. Everything seems to be back to normal now. I hope nothing else goes wrong for quite awhile.

Monday, June 25, 2012

How to Grow a Planet

TVO (TV Ontario) has some really great shows I must say. One type I quite enjoy are the nature documentaries. TVO aired a three-part BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) series recently called How to Grow a Planet. It was hosted by geologist Iain Stewart.

This program was utterly fascinating. It showed how plants played an all-important part in shaping not only our physical planet, but all life forms we see today - ourselves included.

We are shown the evolution of plants from humble, water-based life forms, to those which developed roots that allowed them to gain a foothold on land. This gradually transformed our planet from a desolate, barren rock to one teeming with life. Early plants (grasses and trees) provided sustenance for insects and other animals including the prehistoric dinosaurs.

This was followed by beautiful, complex flowering plants which use insects and other animals to pollenate and propagate. Many of these flowering plants produced seeds which could lie dormant until the most advantageous time for them to germinate arrived (rainy season for instance).

As well, a number of flowering plants provide fruit which sustain many different animals. This was another way for them to spread their seeds (which are in the fruit). After an animal consumes them the seeds pass through and are deposited elsewhere starting the cycle of life for that plant once again.

We see how they transformed our atmosphere from one that would be nearly impossible for any animal to survive in to one where we thrive. This was done by creating the oxygen we need to breathe.

At one time our planet's atmosphere was very different from how it is today. There was relatively little oxygen in the air. Plant life changed all this using the truly amazing process of photosynthesis. It's where plants combine sunlight with carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) to make the sugars it needs to survive. Its waste product - Oxygen.

If you have the time I'd highly suggest watching the videos. They're about an hour long each.

How to Grow a Planet: Life from Light

How to Grow a Planet: The Power of Flowers

How to Grow a Planet: The Challenger

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Car "Shopping"

I went car "shopping" last week with one of my friends just for fun. We were just looking for an activity to kill some time on a Saturday afternoon.

I thought we would start at the Toyota/Scion dealership on Steeles Avenue a bit east of the 404. I was interested in seeing both the Toyota Prius C and new Scion FR-S there.

The C is the smallest version of the three Prius models. It's great on gas, but a tad too small as far as I'm concerned. The standard Prius, while a decent size, is pretty ugly looking. The V is the largest one. It looks reasonably good, gets good gas mileage, but is probably too large for my needs.

I sat in a few Scion models while I was there too - the iQ, xD and tC. The iQ is the smallest one. You could compare it to the Smart Fortwo. It is tiny. If you never had any passengers or never had to go buy groceries or anything it would be a fun car to putt around the city in. I never actually considered buying this car. My friend and I just sat in it because we wanted somewhere to sit while discussing what we were going to do next (after we left the dealership).

The xD is about the size of a Volkswagen Golf. According to the Scion website it starts at a very reasonable $17,280. But, being a Scion (which is like a poor man's Toyota) the interior finish seems a little chintzy. You get what you pay for.

The tC, starting at $20,940, was pretty sporty looking. The interior space was good too - both for the passengers sitting in the front and back seats.

Still the only Scion I really find appealing is the new FR-S, starting at $25,990 manual and $27,170 automatic. It's super sexy. They didn't have any in the showroom. But, my friend and I saw one in the parking lot as we were leaving. A couple of guys had just come back from a test drive and parked it there. It looks amazing.

Toyota and Subaru collaborated on this new car and came out with similarly styled models. There are a few slight differences in styling. But, as the Subaru salesman we talked to later in the day explained, the biggest differences were in the tuning and interior finish. He claimed the Subaru's were higher quality.

Following our trip to the Toyota/Scion dealership we went next door to the Lexus lot. There was only one car there I was somewhat interested in - the CT 200h (2012 model starting at $30,950). It's a hybrid. A few thousand dollars more expensive than the comparably sized Prius with fuel consumption rate slightly higher. But it's a Lexus which is considerably more luxurious.

After that we headed to Yonge and Steeles to check out the Acura dealership. There weren't any cars I was really interested in seeing there. But, we had some time to kill and couldn't think of anywhere else to go.

My friend thought the RDX, starting at $41,000 (according to the sales person), looked nice. A couple I know have one. It's a nice looking vehicle. Though the new one is larger than the older model. Too big as far as I'm concerned.

I sat in the TSX, starting at $31,890. It's a handsome 4-door sedan. I'd never seriously consider it though. For the same price I'd rather have the fuel concious CT 200h or sporty Subaru BRZ... which brings us to our final dealership... The Subaru dealership on Yonge (south of Drewry).

There were a couple of cars there I was interested in seeing - the Impreza, starting at $20,895 or $22,1950 for the automatic, and the new, flashy BRZ, starting at $27,295 or $28,495 for the automatic.

I have to say, the base Impreza is kind of plain looking. The Touring or Sport Package will set you back $23,895 and $26,095 respectively (for the automatic models).

So you have a conundrum... the Subaru Impreza with Sport Package for $26,095, the BRZ for $28,495 or the Lexus CT 200h for $30,950.

The Impreza with automatic transmission (CVT - continuously variable transmission) uses 7.5/5.5 litres/100 km city/highway. The 5-door model I'm interested in is very practical.

The BRZ has no fuel consumption numbers available on the Subaru Canada website. It's just a sexy beast.

The Lexus CT 200h only comes in an "automatic" version. Out of the three cars it has the best fuel economy using 4.5/4.8 litres/100 km city/highway. Yes, it uses less fuel in the city which is backwards compared to typical gas engines. That's because the electric engine is in use at slower speeds (in the city) so it uses less fuel then.

On top of the base price for all the cars you have to add between $1,500-$2,000 for delivery (which I find is ridiculous). Do we pay 79¢/lb for bananas plus 20¢ for delivery? Why not be upfront with your pricing and include all the charges?

When you add the HST and all other fees expect your bill to balloon to $5,000-$7,000 more than the base amount.

I'm not considering buying any time soon. My current car is still in reasonable condition. I plan on holding onto it until it's not worth the upkeep. Only at that time should I consider looking into one of these other cars.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ajimi Sushi

Ajimi Sushi is a new favorite of mine for great all-you-can-eat sushi. Located just north of Davisville Avenue, I'm sure I must have passed it many times on my frequent trips up and down Yonge Street.

I don't remember exactly why I first went there, but I believe one of my friends and I were hungry one day and decided to go in and try it. It probably had something to do with the fact you could get dinner for $18.99 less 10% if you paid cash.

The food turned out to be very good. They have quite a few items to choose from including a selection of dragon rolls, one of my favorites. The dinner menu also includes a variety of sashimi which a lot of people like too.

Lunch is $11.99. The same 10% discount for cash payment applies. Now, while the price is quite reasonable during lunchtime, the selection is pared down quite a bit. They have maki rolls and sushi, but no dragon rolls or sashimi.

Nevertheless, I don't think you can go wrong whatever time of the day you choose to go. Just bring a hearty appetite and be prepared to enjoy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

2012 Doors Open Toronto Part II

After visiting One King West I headed over to the Canada Life building at 330 University Avenue (at Queen Street West). It's another building I was looking forward to seeing. I have to say I was a bit disappointed with it too.

There were only two areas open to the public - the lobby, which was lovely, and the 17th floor observation room that provides a panoramic view of downtown Toronto. At 276 feet, it was the tallest building on University Avenue when completed on March 16, 1931.

Following the Canada Life building I headed up St. George Street to the Robarts Library in the heart of University of Toronto downtown campus. The Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library is located there.

The Library holds 700,000 volumes and 3000 linear metres of manuscripts and reflects the wide diversity of research conducted at the University of Toronto.

Just up the street at 111 Queens Park is the Gardiner Museum. It showcases ceramic arts from around the world. It was originally designed by Keith Wagland in 1984. In 2006 a third floor was added. I had come here before, but this was the first time photography was permitted inside. So I was pleased about that.

Finally I ended the day with the Church of the Redeemer at 162 Bloor Street West. It was another place I had visited previously, only at Nuit Blanche. It's nearby the Gardiner Museum. That's the main reason I revisited it.

Built in 1878 the exterior of Church of the Redeemer is clad in rough stone while the interior features polychrome yellow brick with a banding of orange brick in geometric patterns. The stained glass windows depict Biblical scenes.

All in all the day was fine. There were some disappointments, yes. But, I also saw some really neat architecture. And that's what I really love about Doors Open. It gives you the opportunity to see a part of Toronto you might not otherwise get to see.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

2012 Doors Open Toronto Part I

On Saturday, May 26th I made my annual pilgrimage to see the various buildings open for Doors Open Toronto. It's something I like to do every year if I have the time. This year I had eight buildings on my list.

I started with the Princess of Wales Theatre at 300 King Street West (a few blocks west of University Avenue). It's a building I'm sure many Torontonians have gone to before. Since I'm not one to see plays or musicals I have to say, I'm not one of them. The only opportunity I get to see the insides of most theatres is during events like this.

Unfortunately, they had the same ridiculous policy as the Canadian Opera Company at the Four Season Centre for the Performing arts - you could take pictures anywhere in the facility, but the auditorium (where the performances are held).

That's pretty much the only area in the building worth shooting. So I was quite disappointed in that. When they mentioned photography was permitted, they forgot to say everywhere, but the auditorium.

Next I headed to the John Street Roundhouse at 255 Bremner Boulevard, just south of Rogers Centre. That was another big disappointment. I had gone there in previous years, but the place was a mess. I believe I heard it was restored, so I was looking forward to getting some better shots.

Well, what I forgot, this time, was that they turned most of the roundhouse into a Leons Furniture store. There was only one small section for the railway museum squeezed in between that and the Steamwhistle Brewery facilities.

After that I headed south to 60 Harbour Street to see the Toronto Harbor Commission (located west of Bay Street and just north of Lakeshore Boulevard. It's a Beaux-Arts style building, built in 1917. It's been the headquarters of the Toronto Harbour Commission (now Toronto Port Authority) since 1918.

It's a really neat building. The lobby is small, but elegant looking. And the boardroom on the second floor looks wonderful finished in rich, warm wood. But, they ruined the front of it by putting up an awning for the restaurant occupying the main floor and basement. It definitely looks out of place.

My next destination was One King West Hotel & Residence (which is located appropriately enough at 1 King Street West). Before I made it there I decided I'd go into the Hotel Victoria located at 56 Yonge Street, right next door. It was built in 1909, and constructed as Toronto's first fireproof building after the Great Fire of 1904.

I had gone into the Hotel Victoria before and it was pretty much the same this time. You could access the lobby and room 302. Though I think I got some better shots of the lobby.

Built in 1914 the Dominion Bank called 1 King West it's home. In 2006 redevelopment was completed and a modern hotel and condo complex was added atop the original 12-storey structure.

While some areas of the former bank have been repurposed the original 40-ton steel door to the bank vault still remains. The Grand Banking Hall has been turned into a dining hall as well.

To be continuted...

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Boarding Home Visits

I've been visiting the Boarding Home on Tyndall Avenue for at least 12 years now. I started going soon after the founder of Boarding Home Ministries, Rodger Hunter, came to our church to speak. Four of us, Debbie, Richard, Armin and I decided we'd like to join him in his visits.

Over the years the faces at the home have changed, both for the residents and the volunteers. Currently I'm the only person from our church that goes. I believe there are only around 4-5 residents out of the original 30-something who are still there from when I first started as well.

I've had a chance to meet a lot of cool individuals. They like chatting with us and munching on the snacks we bring on our bi-weekly visits. On special occasions like Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving/our yearly anniversary Rodger will order in a meal for dinner. We've had everything from KFC and Swiss Chalet to Chinese and Greek food.

We're making a small difference in people lives, just like they're making a difference in ours.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Ryder Hesjedal wins 2012 Giro d'Italia!

After placing 6th in the 21st and final stage (a 30-kilometre time trial) Ryder Hesjedal of Victoria, B.C. overtook former leader, Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver, to win the Giro d'Italia by a scant 16 seconds. He's the first Canadian ever to win one of cycling's three Grand Tours (the Tour de France and Vuelta a EspaƱa being the other two). In terms of Canadian cycling history this has to be ranked the greatest achievement ever.

Ryder, 31, began his pro cycling career in mountain biking where he was a top level racer. He first showed up on the road cycling radar a couple of years ago after placing 6th overall in the 2010 Tour de France.

This year his team, Garmin-Barracuda, placed enough faith in him to make him their team leader for the Giro. Of course, it's unlikely he'll be chosen to lead the team for the Tour de France coming this July. There's just not enough time for the body to recover. These days racers normally concentrate on performing well in one of the three Grand Tours.

The first Canadian to achieve success in a Grand Tour was Alex Stieda of Belleville, Ontario. In 1986 he became the first North American to don the Maillot Jaune (Yellow Jersey) as the overall leader in the Tour de France. He only held it for one day, but it was enough to make history.

In 1988, Steve Bauer, of St. Catharines, Ontario became the highest placing Canadian in the Tour de France when he finished 4th overall. That year he managed to wear the Maillot Jaune for five days.

Other notable Canadian cyclists - Alison Sydor dominated the Women's World Cup Cross Country Mountain Bike scene for three years in the mid-90s. Roland Green won the Men's version of the same event in 2001 and 2002. Clara Hughes of Winnipeg, Manitoba won two bronze medals in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta in the individual road race and the individual time trial.