Wednesday, December 25, 2013

2013 Ice Storm - Toronto Edition

Last Friday and Saturday we received a lot of freezing rain here in Toronto. A lot!

Needless to say many trees were adversely affected. Weighed down mightily, branches, both large and small, snapped. Everywhere.

Streets were blocked, power lines knocked down. People were left without electricity. No lights and, even worse, no heat.

To make matters worse temperatures were slated to drop from a low of a few degrees below zero the first night of the blackout to as low as -15C a couple of nights later.

I have to say, I was lucky. My power never went out. I guess those are the benefits of living in a condo at Yonge and Eglinton. I believe we have back up power here. As well, the area usually is pretty well serviced.

My parents and sister as well as many other friends weren't so lucky. My mother said the power went out at their place at 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning. She was luckier than a lot of others though. By 9:30 p.m. the same day their power was restored. Three days later my sister and many of my friends are still without power.

One odd thing was even though my parents had power their backyard neighbours didn't. I was over at their place on Monday night when someone rang the doorbell. My mother answered and a lady was standing there. She said she was the neighbour who shared the backyard fence with us. She wanted to know if her family could plug an extension cord from their house through the backyard to our outdoor outlet so they could turn on the furnace to heat their home. Of course we said, yes.

As well as dealing with no light and no heat people had to deal with damage to their vehicles and property. Not only did tree limbs fall on power lines and streets blocking access, they fell on cars and homes.

My parents next door neighbour's maple tree lost a number of limbs some of which fell on my parents' small, front deck. I had to go over on Sunday morning to saw the large branches into smaller, more manageable pieces so I could move them.

Making deliveries for work on Monday was pretty crazy. First of all the vans were coated in a thick layer of ice. It took an extraordinary effort to clean the windows well enough so I'd be able to drive. We literally had to use a chisel to get through the thick ice. It was especially hard on the side windows which couldn't be reached by the front window defoggers.

As well the mirrors were a bit of a chore. I did the passenger side mirror. I believe I did a pretty good job. Sid did the driver side mirror. Let's just say there are dozens of small scratches on it now.

Traffic was awful. Numerous traffic lights were out. Drivers had to treat them as all way stops. That made getting around on the roads extra slow.

It was pretty crazy looking at all the fallen tree limbs scattered about the city too. An incredible sight in some cases. Just incredible.

Anyway, power might not be restored to some areas for anywhere up to a week (including our workplace). Unfortunately, not a very good way to spend the Christmas holidays at all.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dinner with the Pink Flamingos

Our Cornerstone Sports Night team, the Pink Flamingos, had our team dinner at Rob and Kathleen's place at the beginning of the month. It was a potluck dinner. Since I can't cook I brought a caramel cake and four bottles of pop.

I was the first to arrive. Early. I came straight after my boarding home visit. Rob and Kathleen were still getting their food ready. Rob made ribs and Kathleen was working on a variety of appetizers like Jalapeno peppers stuffed with cheese.

Not everyone could make it. Ricky was out of town. I believe some people were sick like Freda and possibly Andrew. Either that or he was busy. Winnie made it out though. So did Philip, Derek, Josh and Kim.

Dinner was good. There was a lot of food. We had to take the leftovers home.

After dinner Philip brought out his board game, Ticket to Ride. I believe it's an award-winning game developed in Germany. The idea is to gain points by either building sections of train routes and completing longer routes between various cities on the game board from the route cards you pick up.

I believe up to five people can play at once. The game board gets pretty crowded at that point. You can build train routes by picking up coloured cards (up to two) on your turn. Route sections on the board are colour coded. To build a section you have to collect the number of coloured cards between the two cities. It's pretty simple. The problem is if someone else builds on the section you want. Then you could be in trouble.

Anyway, we played two games. I won both. At first everyone was employing the same strategy - trying to building the long sections of track connecting to distant cities.à

In the second game I tried something different. I didn't concentrate on connecting the long sections of track between two distant cities. Instead I noticed that a lot of points were awarded for building long sections of track (15 points for building a six section track as opposed for 1, 2 and 4 points for building one, two and three section tracks).

So I concentrated on building random six section tracks around the game board. Though I didn't get many points for connecting distant cities, I built up such an immense lead that no one else could catch me. And I finished all my trains before people could connect their distant cities. So they actually lost points for the distant cities they didn't connect.

I have to admit that strategy probably strayed from the main idea of the game, but it was a sure way of winning. Oh well.

Anyway, it was nice for us to get together to get to know one another a bit better over the holiday season. Our team is pretty strong overall. I think we'll do well this season.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Where Have I Been?

I have to apologize. It's been awhile since I've last posted. My computer died and I'm in the process of deciding what to do next.

Upon the advice of a friend I tried to repair the hard drive using the supplied Apple Install disk, but it failed. I also took it to his house so he could look at it, but he couldn't do anything either.

Next I made an appointment at the Genius Bar at the Fairview Mall Apple Store. They were very nice there. The girl who helped me tried running a few diagnostic tests and other things, but didn't get very far. She couldn't even figure out exactly what was wrong. She believes my hard drive is dead, but she can't be sure if that's the only problem.

The thing is my computer is a mid-2007 model and she said Apple doesn't repair computers that old. You have to go to one of the authorized repair stores on their website. I found one located close to me. They charge $65 for diagnostics. Hard drives start at $200. But, of course, who knows if there are any other problems?

So my options are to repair or replace. Until then I have to blog from various friends' computers. Sorry, no photos/images for now.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Black Friday

Black Friday, the day after American Thanksgiving, is known for massive discounts at cash registers of many stores south of the border. Though, in recent times, it's become popular here in Canada too.

Now, normally, I'd be off on Fridays, but I actually had to work Black Friday this year. Truth be told, I wasn't really very interested in going out to shop even if I was free.

Still, after church on Sunday, I walked over to the Eaton Centre to check out the action. Even though it's called "Black Friday" sales normally continue over a number of days (similar to Boxing Day/Week here).

To my surprise it wasn't overly crowded at the mall. I was happy about that. I checked out my usual favorites - Club Monaco, Zara and Banana Republic. As well I ventured into the GAP, Aldo and Mexx which had $15 ties and belts. If I actually wore ties or belts I would have considered picking up a couple.

Just before heading home I walked into Old Navy. I have to say I rarely shop there. Even though the prices are reasonable, I just don't think the style or quality is that great. Still, when I saw the $7 Men's Performance Fleece Logo Pullovers, I caved. Normally $25, they were too good a deal to pass up. I bought two for myself then went back and grabbed another one for my dad.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Past Three Weeks at Work

The past three weeks at work have been pretty crazy. Our boss, Sid, was away on vacation in China. He hired a new fellow, Peter, from our church to take over his everyday duties. Unfortunately he didn't get very much training beforehand.

There are a lot of things to do when you have a small business. You're in charge of everything from finances, to supplies, to making sure all the equipment is working properly.

One of the first problems Peter had to deal with was one of the machines that wraps the hot towels wasn't working well. Again. This machine has been acting up for a long time. Sid gave Peter a quick go through on how to fix it, but he couldn't seem to figure it out on his own.

Another problem we had was the late delivery of materials to make the wet towels. I believe we got the shipment before Sid left, but we were still playing catch up while he was away.

To make matters worse, the machine that makes the rolled wet towels stopped working. I guess something broke and it needed a new part. Peter called someone to make it and the machine sat idle for four days putting us even further behind.

Then there was the problem with the hot towels not being cleaned well enough. I'm not sure why that was. Whatever the case there was a mountainous pile of towels deemed unclean enough to use by Mrs. Li sitting in the middle of the floor.

Peter went to buy some replacements, but even they weren't enough. Near the end of Sid's vacation I was having to skip customers because I didn't have enough towels to deliver. If I could, I would go back the following day but, of course, that totally screwed up my schedule.

With all these extra distractions Peter was having a tough time keeping on top of things in the office. We were late with deliveries so people were constantly calling and complaining. He was getting really stressed out.

To top things off Peter was supposed to pay the company's GST at month end (end of November). But he couldn't get the numbers to come out correctly and there was no one to call for help. Sid was out of the country and Joseph (Sid's son), who had come in to lend a hand a few times, had gone away somewhere at the end of the month too. So they might have to pay a penalty for submitting it late.

Anyway, Sid is back now. I don't know if things are completely under control yet. But I think they're slowly returning to normal. Hopefully.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Carol's Birthday Party

My friends Carol and Mike had a get together at their house at the end of last month. It was to celebrate Carol's birthday.

I used to work with them at Trader a number of years ago. I believe Carol left in the mid-2000's. I was let go in 2009. I'm pretty sure I hadn't seen her since she left. And, of course, I hadn't seen Mike in four years.

We've "kept in touch" through Facebook. So I'm sure we all have a general idea of what the other person has been up to (depending on how frequently you update your status). But it's not quite the same.

I think one thing that prevented me from visiting earlier was the fact that they live in Brampton. I know it's not that far from where I live, but it's far enough. Anyway, when the invitations were sent out for Carol's birthday, I figured it was long enough. I had to go over.

I got there relatively early. Not too many people had arrived yet. Carol's sisters, Claudia and Jackie, were there as well as a couple of Mike's friends.

Some of Carol's co-workers from her latest, but still former job were there. She had been working at Blackberry for awhile. But, like many others in the now struggling to stay afloat company, she had been laid off.

I was the only former Trader employee who had made it out. So I didn't have a ready made circle of friends to chat with. I made small talk with some people, but most people tend to hang out with people they already know.

Carol's parents came too. I hadn't seen them in a long time. I believe they still live in their old home in the Finch and 427 area. It was good seeing them again.

Mike and Carol have a nice house. In the basement Mike set up a small office with some of his special Star Wars "toys". I suppose you wouldn't really call them toys since they're probably quite expensive and rare. Maybe you could categorize them as collectibles.

He also set up a small theatre in the basement. It's a miniature version of a full size theatre. I have to admit it looks great. He did a really good job with it. He showed a few of us some 3-D movie trailers on it. They looked spectacular.

One movie that looked particularly good to me was The Croods. It's an animated movie about cave people and their adventures in moving from their old home to a new place. I'll have to try and make it back to watch that one sometime.

Anyway, it was good seeing Carol and "Rock" again (as in Rocky Balboa, my nickname for Mike, after his Judge Dredd, Sylvester Stallone impression). Until next time...

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Warren Buffett Way (3rd Edition)

I'm in the process of reading The Warren Buffett Way (Third Edition). Unfortunately I ran out of time to completely finish it before having to return it to the library. So, here's a partial synopsis of what the book is about.

Born in Omaha on August 30th, 1930, Warren Edward Buffett is considered to be one of the most successful, if not the most successful investor in history. As of 2013, his career managing money has spanned nearly 60 years. It has been divided between the time he managed Buffett Investment Partnership, Ltd. (1956 to 1969) and the much longer period of managing Berkshire Hathaway, starting in 1965, the year he took control of the company. From 1965-2012 his company earned a compounded annual gain of 19.7% compared to 9.4% of the S&P 500 (with dividends included). His overall gain over that period of time was 586,817% while the S&P 500 was at 7,433%. Astounding.

His philosophy flies in the face of convention compared to that of financial advisors today. While they preach diversified portfolios and quick turnover, Mr. Buffett says one should pick a limited number of high quality stocks and hold them long term. He calls it Focus Investing - Choose a few stocks that are likely to produce above average returns over the long haul, concentrate the bulk of your investments in those stocks , and have the fortitude to hold steady during any short term market gyrations.

Chapter 3: Buying a Business: The Twelve Immutable Tenets

Also, Mr. Buffett has what he calls the Twelve Immutable Tenets (of investing). These are things you should look for when considering investing in a company.

Business Tenets:

Is the business simple and understandable? Mr. Buffett is able to maintain a high level of knowledge about the businesses he choses to invest in because he limits his selections to companies that are within his area of financial and intellectual understanding. He is acutely award of how these businesses operate in all aspects. 

Does the business have a consistent operating history? It has been Buffett's experience that the best returns are achieved by companies that have been producing the same product or service for several years. Undergoing major business changes increases the likelihood of committing major business errors.

Does the business have favorable long-term prospects? Mr. Buffett looks for companies that provide a product or service that is (1) needed or desired, (2) has no close substitute and (3) is not regulated. These traits allow the company to hold its prices, and occasionally raise them, without the fear of losing market share or unit volume. It allows the company to earn above average returns on capital.

Management Tenets:

Is management rational? When considering a new investment of business acquisition, Buffett looks very hard at the quality of management. They must be operated by honest and competent managers whom he can admire and trust. The most important management act is the allocation of the company's capital. Because, over time, it determines shareholder value. Deciding what to do with the company's earnings - reinvest in the business or return money to shareholders - is an exercise in logic and rationality.

Is management candid with its shareholders? Buffett holds in high regard managers who report their company's financial performance fully and genuinely, who admit mistakes as well as share successes, and are in all ways candid with shareholders.

Does management resist the institutional imperative? Buffett looks for managers who resist what he calls "the institutional imperative" - the lemming-like tendency of corporate managers to imitate the behavior of others, no matter how silly or irrational it may be.

Financial Tenets:

Focus on return on equity, not earnings per share. Mr. Buffett considers earnings per share (EPS) a smokescreen. To measure a company's performance, he prefers return on equity - the ratio of operating earnings to shareholders' equity.
Calculate "owner earnings." Instead of cash flow Buffett prefers to use what he calls "owner earnings" a  company's net income plus depreciation, depletion, and amortization, less the amount of capital expenditures and any additional working capital that might be needed.

Look for companies with high profit margins. According to Buffett there is no big secret to profitability: It all comes down to controlling costs. In his experience, managers of high cost operations tend to find ways to contunually add to overhead, wheres managers of low cost operations are always finding ways to cut expenses. That's what he looks for.

For every dollar retained, make sure the company has created at least one dollar of market value. Buffett looks to select businesses with economic characteristics allowing each dollar of retained earnings to be translated eventually into at least a dollar of market value. 

Market Tenets:

What is the value of the business? Paraphrasing John Burr Williams, Buffett tells us that the value of a business is determined by the net cash flow expected to occur over the life of the business discounted at an appropriate interest rate. Buffett uses the long-term U.S. Treasury rate as his discount factor.

Can the business be purchased at a significant discount to its value? Focusing on good businesses by itself is not enough to guarantee success, Buffett notes. You have to buy at sensible prices and then the company has to perform to your expectations. It is Buffett's intention not only to identify businesses that earn above average returns, but to purchase them at below their indicated value. That difference between price and its value represents a margin of safety. If the margin between purchase price and intrinsic value is large enough, the risk of declining intrinsic value is less.

Chapter 4: It discusses Common Stock purchases. It is a case study of nine companies Berkshire Hathaway decided to invest in - The Washington Post, GEICO Corporation, Capital Cities/ABC, The Coca-Cola Company, General Dynamics, Wells Fargo & Company, American Express Company, International Business Machines (IBM), and H. J. Heinz Company.

Chapter 5: Portfolio Management

1. Calculate probabilities. This is the probability you are concerned with: What are the chances this stock I am considering will, over time, achieve an economic return greater than the stock market?

2. Wait for the best odds. The odds of success tip in your favor when you have a margin of safety; the more uncertain the situation, the greater the margin you need. In the stock market, the margin of safety is provided by a discounted price. When the company you like is selling at a price that is below its intrinsic value, that is your signal to act.

3. Adjust for new information. Knowing that you are going to wait until the odds turn in your favor, pay scrupulous attention in the meantime to whatever the company does. Has management begun to act irresponsibly? Have the financial decisions begun to change? Has something happened to alter the competitive landscape in which the business operates? If so, the probabilities will likely change.

4. Decide how much to invest. Off all the money you have available for investing in the market, what proportion should go into a particular purchase? Start with the Kelly formula then adjust downward. 2p - 1 = x where 2 times the probability of winning (p) minus 1 equals the percentage of your total bankroll you should invest (x).

Here's a list of the first two chapters.

Chapter 1: A Five-Sigma Event talks introduces us to Warren Buffett

Chapter 2: The Education of Warren Buffett tells of his education and the people who influenced him, namely Benjamin Graham, Philip Fisher and his partner at Berkshire Hathaway, Charlie Munger.

Here's a list of the last three chapters which I didn't get much of a chance to go through.

Chapter 6: The Psychology of Investing

Chatper 7: The Value of Patience

Chapter 8: The World's Greatest Investor

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Indian Hut

I went to The Indian Hut for dinner with Dickie the other day. It's located on Church Street just south of Bloor. I had bought a voucher from Groupon for the restaurant. It was $17.95 for dinner for two (half price with the Groupon). The only parking is street parking at $3.00 per hour.

The restaurant is located in a converted house. It's long and narrow. Not too fancy, but it was fine.

I was a bit disappointed with the small number of items you could choose from. Though the ones they had tasted good I thought. I have to say I'm not really much of a food connoisseur, so I might not be that hard to please.

The "suggested" tip on the bill was a bit tacky. I mean, pretty much everyone gives a tip, so I don't think you really need to put that there.

A better value to me would be Chef of India which is across the street from where I live. It's bigger, has more selection and it's lunch buffet is $11.99 if I remember correctly.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Hope After Faith

I just finished reading Hope After Faith, an autobiography written by Jerry DeWitt a Pentecostal preacher turned atheist.

Mr. DeWitt grew up in DeRidder, a deeply religious town in Louisiana (as he puts it). His family was very religious and, naturally, that faith was passed on to him.

Mr. DeWitt's childhood wasn't all that rosy. He was a sickly boy. As well, he was a loner, never engaging much with the other kids at school.

To top things off, his biological father ended up killing himself after crashing his car while driving drunk. His mother remarried a car salesman named George. His job required him to move his family quite frequently. Not the most stable of situations for young Jerry.

The big turning point in his life was when he attended a Jimmy Swaggart revival with his elementary school teacher, Ms. Blair,  and her husband. Not only did he find acceptance amongst his fellow Pentecostal brethren, but he was greatly inspired by what he heard. It was at that time he knew he had to spread the Word of God to the masses.

The next part of his life was more tumultuous than you could ever imagine. He attended a seemingly endless string of churches. First as a member of the congregation and later on as an assistant pastor. All this with the hope of one day starting a revival that would bring the Holy Spirit to all mankind.

This goal of his brought incredible hardship on the now married young man and his family. He kept his wife, Kelli, and young son, Paul, constantly on the move. First from town to town in his home state of Louisiana, then to Des Moines, Iowa. This move necessitated the selling of all their belongings and basically starting afresh sans family and friends.

Jobs pastoring were infrequent. They were interspersed with low paying non-religious work. He did whatever it took to keep them afloat financially. That being said, they were dirt poor for the majority of his early years.

What broke Mr. DeWitt was not only the nagging doubt he always had of the doctrine of Hell (how a loving God could send people there to live in torment for all eternity), but the many ne'er do well pastors he met over the years while preaching the Word. Some of them were like cult leaders more than anything else.

Then there was the problem of so many good people dying around him. He lost his grandfather as well as his dear cousin, Gary, a fellow pastor. As well there were many other members of congregations he pastored to that passed on from various causes. His fervent prayers of healing as well as those of many others went unanswered. Was God really in control? If he was, did he even care?

These things combined with the fact that he toiled so hard over the years trying to spread the Word, only to end up failing miserably, pushed him to the point where he could no longer believe in an omnipotent God.

In the end he renounced his faith, his marriage fell apart, and he was shunned by his community.

Monday, November 11, 2013


So we did another Sandwich Run yesterday. I'm not sure where the group was from, but they were late. We were supposed to meet at the back of Knox at 2:30 p.m. Lilian, Tim and I called them, perhaps, at 2:45 and they were still on the Gardiner Expressway somewhere stuck in traffic.

Even though it was a Saturday, traffic downtown can still be both painfully and unpredictably slow. Not only that, after exiting the Gardiner, they had to wind their way up Spadina. Another headache. Eventually they arrived by, let's say, 3:15; 45 minutes late. Normally I wouldn't have cared too much, but I had to meet my father for dinner, so I was on a somewhat tight deadline.

Tim did the orientation. Only five of the 14 young attendees had gone before so he was got quite in depth. Tim likes talking and may have been unaware that I was in a hurry (especially since we were already behind schedule). I was kind of anxious to get rolling, but what can you do?

We split into three smaller groups after Tim finished speaking. Lilian and Tim each took five people and I took four. Tim was going to do his regular Spadian/Queen route; I was going to do my now regular College to Allan Gardens/Seaton House route; and Lilian was going to go across Gerrard and down Yonge with us all converging at the Tim Hortons near Ryerson at Yonge and Dundas.

My group and Lilian's started off the same way going south on Spadina, then heading east on College. Her group took the north side of College, mine the south. We met up at the Salvation Army Hope Shelter at McCaul and College looking to give out some bag lunches, but there weren't many guys out. It was at that point we parted ways with my group continuing east on College and hers going south on McCaul.

Now, I have to say, our group didn't get very far. Shortly after crossing University Avenue we noticed an elderly lady walking in front of the MaRS building wearing only a light T-shirt, pants and fuzzy, white slippers. This might not have raised eyebrows in the middle of summer, but this was the first week of November and it was quite chilly outside. The high was no more than 10C and it was dropping as the daylight quickly faded.

I asked her if she wanted a bag lunch. She mentioned that she had dementia and was lost and couldn't remember where she lived. She had gone out to get something (I can't remember what now and I don't think she did either) and now was just wandering the streets trying to find her way home.

It was at that moment that I figured we'd better put the Sandwich Run on hold and get her some help. Fortunately we were only a block or so from Police Headquarters on College and Bay. So we put a too small hoodie on her that the young folks brought along to give to someone who might need it, gave her a box drink and headed over there. Slowly. Wilhelmina (I think that was her name) wasn't a very fast walker being elderly and walking in fuzzy, white slippers which fell off a number of times.

As we neared the building the young, female officer at the duty desk came out to help us into the lobby. While there we tried to find out more information that would give us a clue to where Wilhelmina lived. She mentioned she lived on her own. We also found a MedicAlert bracelet on her with her name and an I.D. number.

After a bit of detective work the officer found out where she lived. She contacted some other officers to come pick her up and drive her home. We decided to wait with Wilhelmina to keep her company since there was no one else around. She was still a bit confused and we didn't want her to become anxious or anything like that. While there she kept trying to give her Parker pen away (numerous times) because she didn't realize it was hers.

A couple of the young volunteers sang some gospel songs that they liked for her. It was a funny scene being in the towering lobby of the headquarters with singing like that.

Now, of course, since it wasn't an emergency the officers who were called to take her home took a long time. I had planned to be at my parents' place to pick up my dad to go eat for his birthday between 5:30 and 6:00. It was already after 5:00.

I got in contact with Lilian who was nearing the completion of her route and she sent Tim up to take over for me. His group got to Police Headquarters by around 5:30 p.m.

At that point we had to say, good-bye, to Wilhelmina. I hope she was okay waiting on her own. Tim took my group (who still had all their bag lunches) straight down Yonge towards the Timmies. They would hand them out to whoever they saw along the way. Any extras, I assume Tim and Lilian would take over to Seaton House on their own.

I ran back to my car which was parked at church and hurried as best I could to my parents' place. Traffic on the Don Valley Parkway was terrible and I arrived at 6:45. Hmm.

Anyway, my father and I had a decent dinner. We went to a small, Chinese buffet restaurant on Eglinton at Brimley. Other than the Saturday special of all-you-can-eat lobster, the food was typical, deep fried, Chinese buffet fare. Not that great. But it gave us a chance to hang out together, which was the important part.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The National Women's Show

My friends from Nadurra had a booth at The National Women's Show at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre over the first weekend of November. While I couldn't help them set up because of work, I was able to help them tear down.

Michael asked me to come by at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday (the time the show was over). So, after church, I hung out downtown a bit with Yeon Hui. We dropped by the Umbra store down on Queen and John before heading over to the Chapters by the Scotiabank Theatre.

While there I showed her my trip photos from New York City, Chicago and Washington on her new iPad. She's interested in going to New York City and maybe some other places.

After looking through the shots I still had a bit of time to kill. So we walked over to Marshalls, the relatively new discount fashion store from the States. It's just south of Chapters on John Street. Yeon Hui bought some winter boots there. They were a bit big, but they looked nice and were warm. They said you had until January 12th of 2014 to return them if you wished. So we may check some other locations to see if they have her size (7).

By then it was nearing 5:00 p.m. So we walked to the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. That's where we parted ways.

I got an Exhibitor pass from the show office to get in just before closing time. I was wondering why I couldn't have just walked in since it was so close to finishing.

When I saw Michael at their booth he said I was early. It turns out my stupid Wind Mobile phone didn't change over to Day Light Savings Time like everyone else's and I was an hour early. It did the same thing last year only changing later in the day.

Anyway, now I had an hour to kill. I figured I could take a nap somewhere, but I thought I'd take a look around instead.

I have to admit I felt like a fish out of water. It was weird walking around in a place where just about everything was geared towards women. It was kind of like the time I mistakenly walked into the teenage girls' fashion store Forever XXI at Yonge and Dundas. Previously it had been a GAP, but they changed hands and renovated really quickly a few years back. I walked in and got really confused because I couldn't find the guys clothing section.

One good thing about The National Women's Show was there were a number of food vendors who were more than happy to give free samples out. I had some Greek yogurt, some pizza and sampled some curry sauce on rice that was too spicy for me.

The weirdest thing was the so called "fashion show" starring the buff Toronto fire fighters from the annual fire fighters calendar. They were supposed to be showing off clothing from Marks Work Warehouse. But, all they were really doing was strutting around showing their muscles to hooting and hollering ladies. It was pretty funny.

All-in-all it was a pretty good spy mission for me. Now I know what women are really interested in... well... not really.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Chuck and Betty's 55th Anniversary Party

The main purpose for our trip down to Long Island was to attend my aunt and uncle's 55th wedding anniversary. They held it at the Sand Castle, an event centre on Long Island where their son-in-law, John, is the executive chef.

The party was a ritzy affair. It was held between noon and 5:00 on Sunday, October 20th. All the relatives met up a bit early in one of the reception rooms where they served hors d'oeuvres and booze. Any of the guests that arrived early hung out there too.

After that we moved to a large dining area on the second floor. There they served all manner of meat, pasta, seafood and other goodies at different stations around the room. In the middle of the room there was a replica sailing shipped stocked with sushi, shrimp, oysters and lobster. It was all you can eat. And, of course, you could have whatever you wanted to drink. There even was a bartender who descended from the ceiling in a mini bar who made "Chuck-tinis" and "Betty-tinis" in honour of the couple of the day.

But, that was just the warm up for the main sit-down meal which was served in another lovely decorated room back down on the main floor. Diners started with a fruit medley, followed by penne a la vodka and mesclun greens. They then had the choice between filet mignon, rack of lamb, grilled swordfish, sauteed veal chop, French breast of chicken or a vegetarian platter. That was followed by a Viennese café bar where they wheeled out, perhaps, ten trolleys full of a variety of desserts and ice cream to finish off the afternoon ( if you could actually eat any more).

In between courses there was music played by a DJ and the MC gave dancing lessons. As well there was a photo booth where you could go have your picture taken. You could do three poses and the machine would print out two copies; one for you and one for a souvenir scrapbook.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Highline Park, Manhattan

I recently drove down to Long Island, New York with my parents for my aunt and uncle's 55th Wedding Anniversary. My sister and nephews and aunt and uncle from France also went down.

I took advantage of one of my free days to go into the city. Though I've been a number of times before there were a couple of things I wanted to see. One was the High Line park, the other the 9/11 Memorial. Unfortunately I didn't get down to the Ground Zero site in time so I missed that one.

I took the train in from Huntington Station on Long Island to Penn Station in Manhattan. Angela and Jacques joined me on the ride in. Off-peak adult fare is $21.50 round-trip.

When we arrived in the city we headed to Times Square. My cousin David said we could pick up a tourist map there. While I didn't find a tourist information place I was able to procure a map off a bus tour operator. After that Angela and Jacques went off to find the High Line and I hung around to take some photos.

After I finished shooting around Times Square I headed over to 10th Avenue. The north access point of the High Line park is in between 10th and 11th Avenues at West 30th Street. It ends in the south at Gansevoort Street which is a few streets south of West 14th Street. It took me a little while to find.

I have to say the park is quite nice. There are a lot of plants up there along with benches for sitting and relaxing on. At the south end there are vendors selling food and other things. It's pretty fancy. I spent 2 hours walking it and taking photos.

Here is some info I pulled from their website.


What is the High Line?

The High Line is a public park built on a 1.45-mile-long elevated rail structure running from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street on Manhattan's West Side.

What was it used for?

The High Line was a freight rail line, in operation from 1934 to 1980. It carried meat to the meatpacking district, agricultural goods to the factories and warehouses of the industrial West Side, and mail to the Post Office.

Who owns the High Line?

The High Line is owned by the City of New York and is under the jurisdiction of the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation. It was donated to the City by CSX Transportation, Inc.

The land beneath the High Line is owned in parcels by New York State, New York City, and more than 20 private property owners.

The High Line is a public park built on an historic freight rail line elevated above the streets on Manhattan’s West Side. It is owned by the City of New York, and maintained and operated by Friends of the High Line. Founded in 1999 by community residents, Friends of the High Line fought for the High Line’s preservation and transformation at a time when the historic structure was under the threat of demolition. It is now the nonprofit conservancy working with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to make sure the High Line is maintained as an extraordinary public space for all visitors to enjoy. In addition to overseeing maintenance, operations, and public programming for the park, Friends of the High Line works to raise the essential private funds to support more than 90 percent of the park’s annual operating budget, and to advocate for the preservation and transformation of the High Line at the Rail Yards, the third and final section of the historic structure, which runs between West 30th and West 34th Streets.

The High Line is located on Manhattan's West Side. It runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues. The first section of the High Line opened on June 9, 2009. It runs from Gansevoort Street to West 20th Street. The second section, which runs between West 20th and West 30th Streets, opened June 8, 2011.

The High Line is operating on its fall schedule, with the park open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Access between 10th and 11th Avenues:
Gansevoort Street
14th Street (elevator access)
West 16th Street (elevator access)
West 18th Street
West 20th Street
23rd Street (elevator access)
West 26th Street
West 28th Street
West 30th Street (elevator access)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

When All You Have Is Hope

I recently read When All You Have Is Hope. It's an autobiography by Second Cup co-founder Frank O'Dea. I have to say, it's quite the comeback story. From someone who was down and out to a man who beat immense odds to come out on top.

Mr. O'Dea's story began in the well-to-do neighbourhood of West Montreal. He was the son of a handsome, Irish-Canadian man and a Quebecois woman. His father was the manager of a paint factory; his mother a doting wife. He was emotionally reserved; she, as best can be described, tolerated her children. There wasn't a lot of emotional support for the four O'Dea children; Sean, Frank, Maureen and Bill. Frank O'Dea describes his childhood like "Growing up among strangers."

Frank looked up to his father even though he was emotionally distant. In his heart he knew his father cared for him. When Frank was thirteen his father included him in helping one of the local Conservative candidates in his bid to win a seat in the federal election.

On election night they celebrated the win. The adult reveling with alcohol, young Frank with a soda. As the night wore on Frank was approached by a visibly intoxicated campaign volunteer named, Lana. One thing led to another and she ended up sexually assaulting him. This was the first of four sexual assaults he faced as a young person. The others were by a police officer and two different priests.

Though he doesn't say it outright, this could have been the catalyst in his downward spiral of alcoholism. He started drinking as a young teen. At first it was an act of curiosity. Later, a way to "Provide a release from his unbearable loneliness."

This addiction destroyed his life. His grades began to suffer. Life at home understandably became even more intolerable. He stole money from his parents. He wrecked the family car a number of times after driving drunk. Though he miraculously escaped serious physical harm, his home life was a disaster.

After numerous attempts at giving young Frank a chance to redeem himself, his father finally had enough. He shipped him off to Toronto with a few dollars in hand and a promise of a job as a paint salesman when he arrived there. He was no longer welcome at home.

Frank was determined to prove his family wrong for kicking him out. And, for awhile, he was successful at what he did. He was a charming man and he managed to make quite a few sales. But, this success did not last long. For lurking in the shadows his demons awoke. He began drinking again and his world, once again, fell apart.

First he lost his job, then his car, and, finally, his apartment. He was homeless.

While this may have been of great concern to most people, Frank only had one thing on his mind - to panhandle $1.50. 99¢ for a bottle of cheap booze; 50¢ for a shared room in a flophouse. This is what all but consumed him while living on the mean streets of Toronto in the early 70s.

It was two days before Christmas, on December 23rd, 1971 that Frank's life turned. He had come to the realization that he had only two options left: Die or change. After saying, tomorrow I'll change, tomorrow I'll change, tomorrow I'll change, he finally took charge. He remembered a commercial he heard on the radio promoting a self help group for alcoholics.

After panhandling for a dime, he looked their number up and gave them a call. They invited him over to their second floor office on Yonge. That was the beginning of him turning over a new leaf in life.

Frank's volunteer support worker was, Joe. Joe helped Frank immensely. While he had never lived on the streets, Joe, had encountered the same struggles with alcoholism as Frank. His support was invaluable.

After staying sober for some time Joe helped Frank get a job selling industrial equipment to clean grime off buildings. Not long after he started dating a woman, Joanne, he met at the support group sessions. She was there in support of an uncle of hers. They married not long after.

The marriage didn't last long. Just six months. Though they cared deeply about one another, their differences were just too vast. She was from a family of the social elite; he was a recovering alcoholic. It just wasn't an ideal mix.

After the break up of his marriage, Frank continued his salesman job which he did well. He bought a car and, eventually, was able to afford an apartment of his own.

Frank met his business partner and Second Cup co-founder, Tom Culligan, while they were working together on the election campaign of Liberal candidate, Frank Philbrook. Frank was a saavy campaign strategist, while Tom was the finance committee chairman. Besides both having a Roman Catholic upbringing, they shared an even stronger connection - the same birthdate, June 14th, 1945.

After a successful election campaign in which Frank Philbrook upset Tory contender, Terry O'Connor, Frank and Tom considered their future. Would Frank return to his salesman job and Tom to his job managing shopping malls? Both had been successful at what they were doing, but they wanted more. One day Tom proposed they should go into business together.

Their first gig was selling mail order coin sorters. They sold these mostly to Roman Catholic churches across Canada. It did relatively well, but it wasn't raking in the big bucks.

Their big break came when Tom approached a husband and wife couple with the offer of expanding their coffee bean selling business from their current location at a kiosk in a Burlington mall to one in the Scarborough Town Centre. The 80 kilometre travel distance between the two malls didn't appeal to the couple so they turned it down. It was then Tom suggested to Frank, maybe they could operate it themselves.

While neither of them knew anything about coffee, Frank was a born salesman and, Tom, a retail business guru. They jumped in feet first.

Their new business still needed a name. They enlisted the help of a fellow named, Jack Burkholder, whom they met while working on the election campaign. He was a marketing whiz. One day while watching television, Jack's heard a beer commercial with the slogan, "The one beer to have when you're having more than one." He thought it was catchy. His wife had overheard him saying that and suggested calling the coffee bean business Second Cup.

At first Frank and Tom just sold dry coffee beans. One day, while sampling different flavors of ice cream at Baskin Robbins, Tom had the idea of giving customers cups of coffee to try. But, instead of giving it to them for free they would charge them.

At the beginning their kiosks didn't having running water. So they had to buy five-gallon containers of water from Canadian Tire. They did this for over a year. The problem was finally solved when they eventually moved into a larger, store-sized units.

This book is fairly long. So I'm going to skip a few chapters and sum things up neatly.

Tom and Frank were revolutionary in the world of selling high quality coffee. While it's commonplace nowadays, it was unheard of in the early 70s.

After ten years in business together in which they did extraordinarily well, they hit an impasse. They could solve their disagreements in management style. Frank decided to buy Tom out. He made him an offer, but as a gesture of goodwill, said that Tom could buy him out if he wanted. He just didn't think Tom would do it. But, he did. And, with that, Frank's dream of becoming sole owner of Second Cup was over.

Frank went on to head many other successful businesses and philanthropic endeavors over the next few decades. He married a second time to his current wife, Nancy. They have two daughters, Taylor and Morgan, together. He's a multi-millionaire who in May of 2004 walked up the red carpet at Rideau Hall and was declared an Officer of the Order of Canada.

All in all, light years away from his darkest days on streets of Toronto begging for spare change in order to lose himself in the haze of alcohol addiction. An amazing turn around if I don't say so myself.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Old People Can't Drive.

Perhaps I should qualify my statement... Old people can't drive well.

I'll give you an example. I was out making deliveries for Sid a week ago in Oakville. I had just finished dropping some hot towels off at a dental office and was making my way back to the van which was parked in a medium sized parking lot of, perhaps, 100 spots.

As I was getting into the van an elderly lady in a minivan pulled up. She wanted to park in the empty spot beside me.

I thought she might wait until I left before she tried parking, but she didn't. The spot was tight especially since she was pulling in going forward. That's because the back end of your vehicle has a tighter turning radius than your front when you park that way. It's always much easier to back into a tight spot.

Anyway, as I was sitting in the GMC I watched her trying to pull into the spot beside me. It wasn't even close. She barely got the front of her minivan into the spot before the side of her vehicle touched the front-right bumper of Sid's van. That didn't seem to concern her.

She kept going totally ignoring the crunching sound the side of her minivan was making as it was scraping noisily against the GMC's hard, steel bumper. She only stopped when she literally couldn't move anymore (because her minivan was wedged so very tightly against the front bumper of Sid's van).

At this point I would have licked my wounds and tried to back out accepting whatever damage was done. She didn't. Instead she hit the gas, squealing her tires, forcing her way into the parking spot doing even more damage to her vehicle. That's how badly wedged up against Sid's van that she had to literally squeal her tires to get it to move. Incredible.

After that she got out and came up to me and said she thought she had more room than she did to get into the parking spot. Ob-vi-ous-ly not, lady.

Now I have to say, Sid's van is quite old and beat up. It has bumps, scratches and dings from many, many years on the road. A little more green paint on the bumper only gives it more character. If it were any other vehicle I'm sure this old lady would have done a thousand dollars damage to it at the very least. She got lucky. The only thing she had to worry about was the four or five foot long, Godzilla-like claw marks along the side of her minivan. Unbelievable.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Brunch with Anne-Marie and Bonita

I finally met up with Anne-Marie and Bonita, my floor mates in my condo. Bonita lives in the unit next door; Anne-Marie, two units down. I believe Bonita was one of the first people to move into the building besides me. Anne-Marie moved in about five years ago at least.

I knew Anne-Marie from our days at George Brown College. We were in the same Graphic Design class. After we graduated we lost touch (like most of the people from my class).

A few years ago the elderly gentleman who owned her unit (whom she and her parents actually know) moved out. I believe he was the priest at their church or something like that.

Anyway, the person who moved in had the same name as my college classmate. I noticed this one day after walking by the unit and seeing her name on the newspaper in front of the door. So I left a note at the door asking if she, indeed, was who I thought she was and, lo and behold, she was.

The next two or three years were punctuated by brief meetings in the hall or lobby. We kept saying we would get together for a drink, but never did.

That was until I bumped into both Bonita and Anne-Marie chatting in the hall around month or two ago. It was then we set a firm date to meet.

As it turns out, Bonita, is Anne-Marie's high school classmate. Small world, isn't it? Next door to Anne-Marie is her high school classmate and two doors down her college classmate. All in a row. This wasn't new news. Anne-Marie had mentioned it to me previously.

We met for brunch at 1:00 p.m. I requested that time because I wanted to make it to church on Sunday. I went down with my parents and took the subway back up.

We hadn't made any plans on where to go to eat. I suggested all-you-can-eat sushi at Echo. Anne-Marie doesn't like raw stuff (or is it Japanese food?) and Bonita thought it was too early for all-you-can-eat. We considered Sunset Grill on Yonge, but they don't have windows in there, Bonita said.

Bonita suggested a couple of places. We ended up choosing The Homeway on Mount Pleasant and Erskine. It's a small family-run restaurant that's been open since 1948.

It was fairly busy when we arrived. There was a short wait to get in. We noticed free tables on the patio, but we were warned that there were wasps outside. So we decided to wait for one of the tables inside. That turned out to be a wise decision. The wasps outside were terrible. One brave (or foolish?) couple outside had an awful time fending them off.

After we were seated the waitress took our order. The girls both had orange juice. I had a coffee and so did Bonita. I don't know what she ordered to eat. Maybe it was eggs and something. Anne-Marie had the steak and eggs. I ordered the "Fabulous Florentine" - 2 large poached eggs on a bed of baby spinach and fried tomatoes, atop a toasted English muffin smothered with homemade hollandaise sauce, baked porky beans or home fries. It was very good.

We had a nice conversation over brunch. We talked about what we did for work and what we thought about living in the neighbourhood among other things. I think both of them have a Catholic background. Maybe they went to Catholic schools. Bonita is a high school guidance councillor. I think Anne-Marie is a "runner" at CBC downtown.

After lunch we strolled across Erskine to Yonge. It was a lovely day out. Bonita headed off to do something when we reached Yonge. I can't remember what. Anne-Marie and I walked back home.

I'm happy we finally got a chance to meet up.

*No photo of the girls. Bonita was camera shy.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Subway Hanging Contest

I was riding the subway home from church one Sunday not long ago. I was on my way to meet a couple of my condo floor mates (from the two units beside me) for lunch and was running a bit late.

I got on the southbound subway at St. Patrick station intending to take it around the loop at Union Station and back up to Eglinton, my stop.

Since I was short on time I wanted to try to get to the subway car nearest to the front of the train. That way when I arrived at Eglinton Station I could immediately go up the stairs and run over to my condo (where I was supposed to meet my friends in the lobby).

Unfortunately I only made it to car number 3 (from the front) when the train arrived in the station. So that's where I hopped in. I knew the train would stop a bit longer at Union Station and planned to move up one car there.

When we arrived at Union Station I quickly changed cars (before the doors closed and would end up stranding me until the next train arrived).

I found a seat opposite these four 20-something-year-old girls, two of which were getting ready to have a "Hanging Contest". Basically they were waiting for the train to start moving then they would see who could last longest hanging from the ceiling bar.

All four of them moved up the car a bit to a less crowded spot because they thought they might inadvertently kick someone while they were hanging there.

One girl who was sitting brought her smartphone out and her friend said, she'd better not be videotaping them. The smartphone girl said she was just taking pictures. She then turned to me and said I should join in their contest.

At first I resisted, saying I'd just watch. But, then I thought, why not, and opted to join in.

It was pretty funny. The subway car wasn't that full, but I'm sure the passengers there probably thought we were crazy. We were laughing our heads off all the way up towards King Station.

The girl on the far right of the photo dropped first. It was harder than she anticipated. The girl in the middle and I lasted until one of the other girls who was sitting figured, enough was enough, and tried to tickled us so we'd let go.

Silly fun.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Rest In Peace, Doug

I received a text from my friend, Jan, this afternoon that both shocked and deeply saddened me. He reported that our friend, Doug Lem, had passed away this morning.

I believe I first met Doug through mountain biking with mutual friends. Doug was an excellent cyclist. He was especially proficient at traversing steep mountainside descents. Something that would scare the pants off the rest of us.

For a number of years a group of us would regularly drive to Mont Tremblant in Quebec over the Canada Day long weekend to go mountain biking. We would rent a number of condo units and pile in. During the day, we'd take the lift up and ride down. It was great fun.

In the winter we would play hockey together. Doug would normally play defense like me. But, more often than not, you'd see him rush end to end trying to score a goal.

Doug was in excellent shape. Pretty much skinny like me. And he wasn't very old either. I'm guessing in his mid to late 40s like most of us. That's why I was surprised to hear he may have died of a heart attack.

Our Friday night ice hockey was supposed to start this upcoming Friday (October 18th). And, Doug, was slated to play. There will be a large hole in our line up that will never be filled.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Friday, October 11, 2013

2013 Scotiabank Nuit Blanche

I went to Scotiabank Nuit Blanche again this year. It's an annual all-night contemporary arts and culture exhibition held normally on the first Saturday of October here in Toronto. It's the 8th time it's been held here. I believe I've attended every year since the start.

This year it was slightly different for me. Instead of going to a bunch of different installations throughout the evening, I was part of one of nine teams of photographers and videographers hired by the folks at the Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art (CCCA) to take pictures (or videos) at five different installations. Mine were C11 - Smoke House, C19 - Display-Displace, C28 - The Soniferous Æther of The Land Beyond The Land Beyond, C29 - Pink Punch v.2, and C34 - Mariner 9.

I went down early because I wanted to talk to the artists to see what their displays were about and if they had any particular instructions or direction of what they wanted me to shoot. Only two of the five artists were actually there though. For the other three I either talked to a helper or one of the Nuit Blanche volunteers assigned to that particular installation.

After doing my rounds I headed over to Nathan Philips Square to kill a bit of time before the action heated up. Ai Weiwei had an installation, Forever Bicycles, there. It consisted of 3,144 interconnected bicycles forming a shiny, three-dimensional structure. I took a bunch of pictures there before returning to shoot my assignment.

The first one I shot was C11 - Smoke House. It was on Richmond Street, east of York. The artists had constructed a large-scale cedar smoking hut powered by three bicycles. Participants were invited to pedal throughout the night to keep the salmon smoking and ultimately served the smoked fish. It was the best installation to shoot because there was a lot of audience participation.

The next installation I shot was C19 - Display-Displace. My CCCA contacts gave me the wrong address for that one. They said it was 130 Richmond Street when it was actually 130 Adelaide Street. So, needless to say, I had some trouble finding it.

It was the worst installation to shoot. The artist had rejigged three pieces furniture in the lobby of an office building. The thing is, no one was allowed to go in to view it. They had to look through the building windows. So I couldn't get any audience interaction.

Even when I gained access to the building the security guard said I had to stand behind the perimeter barriers to shoot it. And if people had been allowed into the lobby I wouldn't be able to take pictures of them. That was pretty stupid. I don't know why they had this particular set up. The Nuit Blanche volunteer who was assigned to this particular installation thought it was ridiculous. She was quite upset at having to oversee it. Most passersby didn't even realize there was an installation here. And when they saw it weren't at all impressed.

Next was C29 - Pink Punch v.2. For this installation the artist had wrapped six trees along the courtyard at First Canadian Place on King Street West in bubble wrap with pink LED lights underneath. It was so-so. I got some okay shots, but the construction vehicles parked on the street behind the installation sort of ruined some of the pictures I thought.

C28 - The Soniferous Æther of The Land Beyond The Land Beyond was nearby in the lobby of First Canadian Place. It was a film installation shot at the CFS ALERT Signals Intelligence Station on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut, the northernmost settlement on earth. It was the only real indoor installation I shot. There had been some warnings by the weather forecasters about the possibility of rain this evening, so I was hoping for more indoor shoots. But the weather actually turned out to be quite good. It only sprinkled a few times.

Finally I made my way to C34 - Mariner 9. It was a video installation where the artist set up a 12-metre-long panoramic view of a Martian landscape set hundreds of years in the future, littered with the rusting remains of various missions to the planet. It was neat to look at. I think it was the second best installation for me (out of the five) to shoot. There were benches for the audience to sit on to watch it. A number of people went up to the screen to take pictures of themselves standing in front of the "Martian" landscape.

After that I went back and shot the whole thing over again. They wanted us to get shots at different times with different people viewing the installations. It was the second time around the Smoke House that I bumped into Richard's brother, Kerry. He accompanied me the rest of the evening.

At 5:30 I ended up crashing on the couch at his mother's condo instead of going back home. It made more sense than taking the subway back up to my place and then having to turn around and come right back down to go to church a few hours later.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Virginia's Housewarming

Virginia invited a bunch of us over for her housewarming party. She actually had moved in a little while ago, but had been earnestly renovating. The results were very nice. Her place looked beautiful.

I carpooled with Di. We were the first to arrive besides, Denise, who came early to help prepare the food. I just brought some wine. A bottle of Jackson Triggs Merlot that I had sampled at Tony and Iris' not long ago.

I believe I knew over half the people in attendance. Most of them through gatherings at Tom and Florianne's. Though the last time was nearly a year ago at a Christmas dinner at their home.

It was good seeing everyone again. And to meet some new people. Virginia's next door neighbour came over. She was an older lady. We had a nice chat mostly about traveling. I had brought my free Shutterfly books over that I made. They had photos from my trips to Chicago, Washington, and Beijing and Cambodia.

As well I brought my nephews Smart Games, Camouflage and Airport, over. It seems like most people enjoy the challenge of trying solve the puzzles. Though, tonight, I don't believe people wanted to think too much. The games were giving them a bit too much trouble.

Anyway, the food was great. I got to try a few different types of wine (I still liked the one I brought the best). And it was nice hanging out with everyone again.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Traffic Court Advice - This Could Save you Money and/or Points

I went to traffic court today. Back in the spring I had received a ticket for "Failing to Stop" at a stop sign. To me, it was pretty much a ridiculous ticket. I had been driving south on Avenue Road and came to a stop at the traffic lights at Dupont Street. The car in front of me turned right at the lights and I followed him. A short distance away there's a stop sign at Bedford Road. The car in front of me stopped and went. I came up next and I believe I stopped and went. I remember looking ahead and seeing no cars, then to my left and not seeing any cars then proceeding. The next thing I know there are flashing lights in my rearview mirror.

Now it may be possible that I didn't come to a complete stop. I can't be sure of that. But, let's be reasonable, no one ever follows the traffic laws to the letter. According to the court prosecutor (as I was listening in when she was talking with some people who had received speeding tickets) she said that even if you go one kilometre an hour over the speed limit you're breaking the law. It's just another tax grab if you ask me.

Anyway, after receiving the ticket you have the option of paying the fine and receiving whatever demerit points that come along with it. Or you can choose to set up a court date. I don't believe you can ask for a specific date. It's whatever they give you. They send you the Trial Date in a letter in the mail.

You're asked to arrive half an hour early (of your trial time) to speak to the prosecutor. That's important. You should definitely try to talk to her (in this case) ahead of time.

Since this was my first time in court for a traffic offense I didn't know what to expect. I thought I would go and talk to the prosecutor and explain my side of the story.

When I first arrive at the courthouse (Old City Hall), the prosecutor was outside in the hall. A few people had lined up to talk to her. Most people had speeding tickets and different explanations of what happened. She wasn't really interested in listening to any of the explanations. Though she did offer to reduce the speed infraction, say from 30 km/h over the limit to 20 km/h over the limit, thus reducing the fine and possibly demerit points if they plead guilty. She said it would save the court money if they didn't have to go to trial. Most people took that.

When it was my turn to talk to her a court clerk came out into the hall and said we could go into the courtroom. So I had to wait.

After a few minutes I had my chance to speak to the prosecutor. I thought I could go up to her and explain what happened (as I related above). I was going to tell her that there was a car ahead of me and that if I hadn't come to a stop I would have run into him.

But, she wasn't interested in hearing any of that. She only wanted to know if I wanted to plead guilty or not. What she didn't tell me was that if I agreed to plead guilty she would reduce the charge from "Failing to Stop" to something like "Failing to Make a Proper Stop". The fine would be reduced from $110 (plus costs and a Victim Fine Surcharge, whatever that is) and 3 demerit points to $60 (plus costs and Victim Fine Surcharge) and no demerit points. All I heard from her is if I wanted to plead guilty or not, and that if I didn't want to plead guilty she would go to trial and if I was found guilty she would seek a maximum fine of $500.

Faced with the possibility of paying a fine of $500 I decided the best thing to do would be pay the original fine of $110. So I asked her if I could do that. But, all she wanted to know is if I wanted to plead guilty or not. So I said, yes. That's when she told me she would reduce the charge (resulting in a lower fine and no points). I believe I asked her if there were any other options earlier in our conversation, but she didn't say anything about it. Perhaps they're not allowed to give advice like that. Anyway, I guess I got lucky.

A few minutes later, after I had finished speaking with the prosecutor, another lady walked into the courtroom. She went up to the prosecutor with the same traffic infraction as I had. Like me, she had an explanation of what happened. She told the prosecutor that she had stopped before the line then moved up so she could see if there was oncoming traffic. The prosecutor told her she just admitted that she didn't stop on the line (where the stop sign was) and that she would be found guilty. She also mentioned that she would be seeking the maximum $500 fine. I guess the lady was flustered and didn't know what to say. The prosecutor told the lady to sit down (in the gallery) and wait for her trial then proceeded to talk to other defendants.

Like me, the prosecutor didn't offer the lady the lesser charge with the lower fine. She only asked the lady if she wanted to plead guilty or not. As well, the lady "admitted" her guilt in talking with the prosecutor, so she was in serious trouble. I was worried she would have to pay the $500 fine which is way worse than paying the original $110 fine.

I wanted to go over to the lady and tell her what happened to me. That if she told the prosecutor that she would plead guilty she could get away with a lesser charge and lower fine. But, I was worried if I went over and talked with her I might get into some sort of trouble. After all it was a small courtroom and we were only sitting a few feet away from the prosecutor. So I just sat in my spot in the front row.

In the following 5-10 minutes a larger group of people had crowded around the prosecutor talking with her. The lady with the same ticket as me got up and was walking in my direction (presumably to go around the railing to speak with the prosector). I discreetly waved her over and motioned for her to sit down as she was passing by. I let her know the deal I got and told her to go to the prosecutor and tell her you want to plead guilty. When she got the chance to speak to the prosecutor she did that and she got her charge and fine reduced with no demerit points.

Anyway, if you ever get a traffic ticket and decide to go to court I hope this helps. I'd suggest going early to talk to the prosecutor. But, instead of just pleading guilty at first (because that would be too obvious), try making up some excuses for your offense. Only relent after a short time and admit you were wrong. The prosecutor should offer you a deal at that time.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Steve's Birthday at Montana's

My friend, Steve, celebrated his birthday recently. A mutual friend, Bobby, organized a dinner at Montana's Cookhouse at Don Mills and Steeles for him.

Most of the attendees were from Steve's Richmond Hill Christian Community Church fellowship. As well, there were a few of us stragglers; friends of friends like me, Dickie and Big Jon.

Since I don't see the RHCCC gang very often I decided not to sit with Dickie and Big Jon. Not that I don't like hanging out with them. I just wanted to mix things up a bit. So I sat at one of the far tables. I'm not sure of the name of the girl I was sitting beside. But, later on Sam and his wife Aileen sat by me. And Pastor Fred sat opposite me when he came. So I got to chat with those guys.

My dinner was fine. I had penne with chicken. Aileen and Sam shared a steak. It looked almost raw. She ordered it medium-rare. And she said it was a bit tough. So she wasn't too happy about that. Fred had soup. He had already eaten beforehand.

I went around to take pictures for Steve. He e-mailed me earlier about doing that. Of course, Dickie and Big Jon had their cameras too. We're always snapping away at different events. I tried to take my photos early so I could put my camera away and concentrate on eating and mingling with people. But, I had to take it back out for the cake presentation and opening of gifts and things. Oh well. That's typical for an event photographer. You never get a chance to rest at all.

It was nice seeing everyone again. I don't get a chance to see the Richmond Hill gang too often. We did go out on a Sandwich Run not too long ago. The previous meeting was probably Steve's birthday one year earlier.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Michael's Birthday Dinner

My friend Michael invited me out to his birthday dinner on Friday. I know him through my other friend, Rob. They all work together at Nadurra an eco-friendly, hardwood flooring company near Yorkdale Mall.

Michael had e-mailed me earlier in the week telling me about the dinner. It was going to be at Churrasco Villa, a Portuguese restaurant located on Eglinton, near Mount Pleasant. Only a few blocks from where I live. He said they were going to meet there between 5-6:00 p.m., but he'd get back to me to confirm the exact time.

When Friday rolled around I still hadn't heard back from him. No problem, I thought. I only live about 5 minutes from the restaurant. I didn't think they'd be able to get there that early coming from work and having to worry about traffic and parking. 5:00 p.m. rolled around and still no word.

At 6:00 I sent Michael a text and told him to let me know when they arrived at the restaurant. A short time later he replied saying they arrived at the restaurant at 5:00. Hm. I walked over quickly.

Everyone had already ordered their food sometime between 5:30 and 5:45. When I got there they had just been served. I glanced through the menu, but instead, to be quick, asked for suggestions. Brian said, the fire-grilled chicken was good. So I ordered the double-leg with seasonal vegetables and rice pilaf.

The waiter brought my dinner less than five minutes later (I'm estimating). I believe he put my order in ahead of the queue so I could join the others at my table who were already eating. That was nice of him.

It was good seeing everyone again. I don't go in as often to help at Nadurra. Normally I go in and help with labeling samples at the office. And, sometimes, they ask me to help set up or tear down at trade shows. I think they're trying to cut down on costs now. That's alright. I'd rather have my Fridays off to tell you the truth.

I got the chance to see Sandro again. He left the company a few months to a year after I had first started going in. I thought he was a really nice guy. Brian, Ian and Samantha were also there along with Ian's wife and daughter and Michael's friend, Gary, and Michael's wife, Amber. Sandro brought his young son, Luka (sp?) too.

After dinner Michael, Gary and I hung out a bit longer. We grabbed beverages at the nearby Timmies and headed over to the new Minto condos on Yonge. They have a courtyard with outdoor seating. Since it was nice out we decided to take advantage of that instead of sitting inside.

We hung out there for an hour or so and talked about a variety of things from the condition of Gary's father who is in hospital to Shin Dong-hyuk, the Korean man who escaped notorious Camp 14 in North Korea.

It was nice hanging out with the guys. I'm happy I made it out. Even if they almost forgot about me at the beginning of the night.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

50 Designers You Should Know - My Top 10 (6-10)

The rest of my Top 10 list from the book 50 Designers You Should Know.

6. Arne Jacobsen, 1902-1971. Yet Arne Jacobsen himself, one of the most influential Scandinavian designers of the 20th century, resisted the term "designer." Although he created timeless modern seating furniture such as the Egg and the Seven, he always saw himself as an architect. In fact, outside Denmark, his architectural work, which includes private residences and settlements as well as public buildings, has rather unjustly taken a backseat. His constructions were part of the pioneering achievements of Scandinavian modern art before World War II. His visionary designs for the circular House of the Future (1929), a flat-roofed building constructed of glass and concrete with a heliport, and the Bellavista settlement (1931-1934) in particular made Jacobsen a forerunner of the International Style.

7. Charles & Ray Eames. Charles Eames, 1907-1978. Bernice Alexandra "Ray" Kaiser, 1912-1988. They were not the first to experiment with molded plywood, however Charles Eames adn his congenial partner and wife, Ray, were able to literally bend the wood into new shapes and change furniture design of the 20th century forever with their designs. In 1941, in their apartment in Los Angeles, the newly married couple set up a workshop with their homemade plywood press - the Kazam! Machine - named for the magic spell "Ala Kazam!" (hocus pocus). Of course it was not magic; it was heat, pressure and glue that bent the thin veneer plywood into sweeping complex curves in the press.

8. Eero Saarinen, 1910-1961. Eero Saarinen's architectural masterpiece is the TWA Terminal at New York's JFK airport; his greatest triumph in the field of design is the Tulip Chair. If one considers the flowing, curved lines of the departure hall and the sculpturally shaped seat of the Tulip Chair, one is struck by their expressive, organic design, which was futuristic-looking in those days. It was thus with good reason that a slightly modified version of the Tulip Chair found itself on the set of the Spaceship Enterprise in the science fiction television series Star Trek.

9. Verner Panton, 1926-1998. Verner Panton's colourful, sculptural designs make him one of the most innovative designers of the 20th century and also the enfant terrible of Danish design. With his furniture, based on geometric shapes, mainly in bright colours, and made out of plastic, he broke with the sleek naturalism of classical Scandinavian design.

10. Karim Rashid, 1960- . Karim Rashid is one of the most productive designers of his generation. He has created over 3,000 designs for numerous famous companies such as Artemide, Cappellini, Magis, LaCie, Samsung, Veuve Cliquot and Swarowski, and has won more than 300 international design prizes, such as the Good Design Award (South Africa), the Good Design Award (Japan), the red dot design award and the Design Plus Award. His most popular products include the Garbo Can trash basket and the Oh Chair plastic chair. Rashid's interior designs for the Morimoto Restaurant in Philadelphia and the Semiramis Hotel in Athens also won prizes, as did exhibitions for Deutsche Bank and Audi. His works can be found in the collection of renowned museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

50 Designers You Should Know - My Top 10 (1-5)

I took out the book 50 Designers You Must Know by Prestel Books recently. I must admit I have a passion for all things design - architecture, product design, interior design etc. This book deals mostly with product/furniture design.

I'd like to highlight some of the designers in the book that I admire. I'll type in the first paragraph of the description in the book about them as well.

1. Michael Thonet, 1796-1971. Around 1830, Michael Thonet began to experiment with a new process that permitted him to bend laminated wood and later even solid beech-wood rods into curved shapes using steam and pressure. With the bentwood, he broke new ground in design during the mechanical and industrial age.

2. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, 1886-1969. As a leading representative of the International Style, Ludwig Mieds van der Rohe dedicated himself to modernity in both his architecture and his furniture designs, and he experimented with the latest technologies. His target group was the modern city dweller and, in contrast to many of his contemporaries, he was less concerned with mass production and social housing construction, focusing instead more on technology-based design combined with quality and elegance. True to his principle of "less is more," he created modern design classics with the Barcelona chair and the Brno chair, which still enjoy cult status today.

3. Le Corbusier (born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris), 1887-1965. Modern design and modern architecture are synonymous with the name Le Corbusier. It was during study tours from 1907 to 1911 and whilst working in well-known architecture agencies in Vienna, Berlin and Paris that the young Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris acquired the basic knowledge that would subsequently make him one of the most renowned architects, urban planners and designer. As early as 1914, he succeeded in designing a skeletal system in reinforced concrete that made it possible to build multistory construction with ready-made individual concrete parts. In 1917, he settled in Paris. As it was not yet the right time for his architectural ideas, he devoted himself to painting and published the journal L'Esprit Nouveau. From 1920 on, he presented his avant-garde architectural concepts in this journal and used the pseudonym Le Corbusier for the first time, which he chose in memory of this grandfather (Lecorbésier).

4. Raymond Loewy, 1893-1986. In 1919, the Frenchman emigrated to the U.S., where he first worked as a window dresser for New York department stores and as a fashion designer for Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Vanity Fair. His career change came ten years later when the British office furniture manufacturer Gestetner commissioned him to create a new design for one of their copying machines within a few days. Loewy used plasticine to create the prototype of a new elegant cover for the machine, which subsequently became a best seller. He had thus discovered a completely new approach, which he continued to use for a number of diverse industrial mass products: whether it was a kitchen appliance or an automobile, most of the less attractive mechanical parts were hidden beneath an elegant, modern exterior. Today, product design is a matter of course, but in the 1930s, this was a radical new way of thinking. For Loewy, the potential of his ideas was apparent immediately: "Between two products equal in price, function and quality, the one with the most attractive exterior will win."

5. Alvar Aalto, 1898-1976. (3rd paragraph) The focus of all of his designs was always functionality, albeit a functionality that nevertheless radiated comfort. So, quite in contrast to his design colleagues from Germany and Italy, he used natural materials instead of glass and steel. The typically soft, often irregular shapes, such as waves and folds, also became symbols for the move toward a more human functionalism.