Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Transport: A Train A Day

My first train of the month was GO Transit train #254 from Bramalea to Toronto, Ontario passing through the construction site at West Toronto on 1-September-2009.

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This past month, I made a decision I had never made before. I decided I was going to see and "log" at least a train a day every day for the month. I had set similar goals on vacations before, but I had never kept up such a streak for an entire month.

My most frequently seen train of the month was Canadian Pacific's "Streetsville Turn," seen here heading west at Royal York in Toronto, Ontario with rare "Gen-set" locomotive 3GS21B #2100 leading on 4-September-2009

It's fairly common to end up seeing more than one train when setting out to see one, but I would not have predicted that the train count would be 78 for the month. 36 were GO Transit commuter trains, 21 were Canadian Pacific freight trains, 19 were VIA Rail Canada intercity passenger trains, and 2 were Canadian National freight trains. The most frequently-seen single train was Canadian Pacific's often-short Streetsville Turn local freight, seen seven times, though arguably the GO Transit trains were the fixture of the month, as they all look the same expect for having 10-car or 12-car lengths and having F59PH's or MP40PH-3C's for power.

The "Prince Albert Park" sleeper-lounge-dome-observation car carried the markers of VIA's premier train, the "Canadian," as it headed to the yard after its arrival at Toronto's Union Station on 17-September-2009

Unsurprisingly, I saw the most trains (28) around Union Station, where in one instance I arrived ten minutes early to see a specific train and ended up seeing eleven movements. The most interesting trains were VIA's "Canadian" transcontinental train, which runs only three times a week and features multiple dome cars, the Canadian Pacific train that ran out of gas already featured on this blog, and the GO Transit trains that detoured on a normally freight-only line because of fire hoses over their normal roue.

My final train of the month was Toronto-Chicago train #243, seen passing the old Lambton station site in Toronto on 30-September-2009

I can now say that I've gone an entire month seeing at least a train a day, but I'm unlikely to try any such thing again. It was clearly a waste of time to head out in light rain just to catch a GO train going by in poor photographic conditions. Quantity is over-rated, and I'm back to pursuing quality again.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Media: The PPM Has "Absolutely No Value"?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Long-time readers of this blog may recall some discussion of the Arbitron Portable People Meter (PPM), the new device that the radio ratings services company has been intending to replace diaries as a way of deriving ratings for radio stations. When I last explored this subject back in March, there were growing concerns that reduced sample size might be creating a problem for Arbitron.

I'm a bit late in reporting this, but it appears that sample size is indeed a big deal. In an open letter to Arbitron last month, KGO-KSFO General Manager Mickey Luckoff, arguably the most successful station boss of this era, specifically decried reduced sample size. In terms of the promised ability to better refine what caused a listener to change the station, Luckoff stated that the PPM-derived data provided "absolutely no value in making any such decision with any degree of accuracy or reliability." (I suspect any accurate mechanism would just tell them that the frequency was changed at a commercial break anyway.)

How bad is the problem? Harker Research's Radio Insights looked at what they expected to be a typical case. They found that during morning drive time, the key time for radio listenership, the median station in a major market had either one or zero PPM listeners for 70% of that time period. That's not a sample, that's a single listener. Luckoff clearly had a point in his open letter.

Morning drive in general has been an issue with the PPM--more people claimed to be listening to the radio in their diaries than the PPM is reporting. In another Radio Insights posting, they showed a 12% decline in listeners in the top 3 US markets during morning drive, according to Arbitron's publicly-released data. For an industry starving for advertising money, every listener counts, and a 12% drop is significant. It's so significant, in fact, that the ratings service in the United Kingdom dropped the PPM over the decline in morning ratings, which it claimed was not real.

As if the sample size and morning listener decline problems were not enough, there has long been a perception that minority listeners were not adequately represented. While I have yet to see any data on this issue, Reuters has reported that the Media Rating Council has found "persistent problems" with minority representation in the PPM data. Frankly, if sample sizes are as low as they seem to be, then it's not surprising that there are minority representation problems--there are majority representation problems as well.

The really interesting thing about the sample size problem is that it is not fundamental to the technology--it's only that Arbitron is trying to save money by having fewer PPM units in the field. The morning drive problem, on the other hand, may be a technological issue--people may not find the devices easy enough to integrate into their lives in the morning.

It has been noted that in the United Kingdom, the decision was made to abandon the PPM in favor of on-line diaries, which were deemed easier to use than the traditional written diaries. If I were an Arbitron competitor, I'd be rushing to present an on-line diary system to radio stations--the cost savings alone (Aribitron is charging about 50% more for PPM-derived data than diary data) would justify a switch, never mind the other issues.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Politics: Quit Makin' Things Up

TORONTO, ONTARIO - For those that don't follow, blogger Nate Silver has in recent days uncovered some reasonably disturbing information about pollster Strategic Vision LLC that implies--though does not prove--that the company has fabricated some of its data. In a series of posts, Silver has laid out statistical arguments that call into question the methodology of the firm--with specific questions that the company has yet to respond to, all of this coming in the wake of a reprimand of Strategic Vision by the American Association for Public Opinion Research for not revealing its techniques. Considering that some of their polls have had results favoring Republicans (an especially bizarre one last year showed John McCain with 74% of the youth vote) and that the company apparently sells tickets for events run by the local office of the Republican party in Georgia (see another Silver post), the upshot is a serious allegation that this firm made up data to support a right-wing agenda.

Considering that it was right-wing darling and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin that not long ago called for the media to "stop makin' things up", one would think that the left would be eager to put on display this seeming hypocrisy. Yet, so far the response has been pretty muted, though some organizations are undoubtedly still fact-checking and Strategic Vision president David Johnson has been aggressive in refuting the allegations, which may indeed prove unfounded.

One must remember, however, that this is fundamentally about politics. The truth does not matter in politics, as discussed previously, including this year-old post. What does matter is crafting a pre-conceived negative vision of the opposition, and then trying to place them in a position in which their actions appear to match that pre-conceived vision. Ironically, whatever the validity of the Strategic Vision polls, the fact that these accusations are out there will leave the right wing thinking that the left is again making up things about "their" pollster. If the polls do prove to be legitimate, that image will spread beyond the right-wing base into the mainstream, and those on the left will be widely perceived as liars. Never mind how careful Silver tried to be in his use of statistics or how much more careful he has been in his statements than I have been in this post. He'll still suffer in the general public, as will the mainstream media that pick up the story.

Of course, Strategic Vision could end all this discussion by simply releasing the key information at the center of the dispute, response rates and weighting procedures. They apparently consider this information proprietary despite the fact that all other pollsters examined have released this information, sometimes in remarkably simplified form. But, it wouldn't further the story line about a left-wing media "makin' things up" to release it quickly, so don't expect it to happen until the mainstream media in general and Nate Silver in particular can be made to look bad.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Photos: Toronto Summer Round-Up 2009

The new face of the foot of Spadina Avenue in Toronto, Ontario--the most gentle of the new WaveDecks--was captured on 27-June-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Summer 2009 has now ended, and it is time to look back at the season. This week's update to my photo site features a hodge-podge of photos from around Toronto, Ontario including the HMCS Ville de Québec, scenes on the waterfront, signs around Toronto, the garbage strike, railroad preservation and construction sites, the Toronto Aerospace Museum, a trip on GO Transit to Stouffville, and various other scenes.

Margin Notes: Birds, Bees, Simcoe Cats

A bumble bee enjoyed a flower near The Junction in Toronto, Ontario on 24-September-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I wore a jacket for the first time since a late July shower on Friday. It was a sure sign that summer has indeed ended in the last week. Summer may be over, but there are still a lot of flowers around Toronto inviting insects to pollinate them. At times this week, I almost thought it was spring--for example when catching the above bumble bee near The Junction or when walking with Governor Simcoe along the Humber River.

* * * * * *

Governor John Graves Simcoe came out of the forest near the Humber River in Toronto, Ontario on 26-September-2009

At least, it sure looked like I was walking with Simcoe. On Saturday, a "Simcoe Walk" was held re-enacting the first day of a 1793 walk that the Governor took north from Fort Toronto along the aboriginal Toronto Carrying Place to his first campsite located near what is now near Eglinton Avenue and the Humber River in Toronto. A local--and I mean local; he lives in Swansea not far from the Carrying Place--historical actor played the role of Simcoe during the walk.

* * * * * *

Walk leader Madeleine McDowell did not miss a beat as a cat decided to steal everyone's attention early in the Simcoe Walk on 26-September-2009

During the Simcoe walk, people came and went (mostly went as the walk was over five hours), but the most amusing moment may have come when a cat decided to check out what was happening and crashed one of the talks along the Humber River. The feline soaked up a lot of attention during that stop, but didn't follow along the Carrying Place.

* * * * * *

One of the largest groups of birds I have ever seen in Toronto was noted above the Humber River near the Eglinton Flats on 26-September-2009

If the cat had stayed with the group to the end, she might have scared away all the birds encountered near the camp site. It may be migration season, but the sounds and sights of the sheer number of birds encountered north of Eglinton Avenue along the Humber River was something I had personally never experienced in the city.

* * * * * *

The birds may have been high, but the CN Tower at 553 metres is higher and still resides in the Guinness Book of World Records. Recently, Guinness recognized the CN Tower as the tallest communication tower in the world, since it is no longer the tallest free-standing structure. However, as communication towers in China and Japan are planned to exceed 600 metres, it won't be long until the CN Tower is only the tallest concrete communications tower in the world.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Radio Pick: Overuse of Right Here Right Now

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week's radio pick again comes from the CBC. Quality writing has long been one of the stand-out properties of CBC's flagship news magazine, As It Happens. A great example came up this week in a commentary directed at the Ford Motor Company, also demonstrating how to integrate popular music into such a commentary. The voice of guest host Chris Howden was perfect for the three-minute feature, nineteen minutes into the segment.

Listen to streaming Windows Media of As It Happens "Right Here Right Now"

Heritage: An Urban Heritage River

Guides from the Weston Historical Society paused to provide background on the Humber River at Cruickshank Park in the former Town of Weston in Toronto, Ontario on 20-September-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - As part of the celebrations of the tenth anniversary of the designation of the Humber River as a Canadian Heritage River, the Weston Historical Society and Heritage Toronto put on a walk along the Humber River in the former Town of Weston, now part of Toronto.

The Humber River flowed quietly through the Weston neighbourhood of Toronto, Ontario on 20-September-2009

The walk traced the Humber River from the former Canadian National bridge over the river (currently single-track, planned to be replaced with a four-track bridge for expanded airport service) northwest of Weston to Raymore Park, south of the town, a portion of the river that I had never explored before.

Weston's old town bell was located in Cruickshank Park along the Humber River on 20-September-2009

The theme of the day was mill sites--the entire length of the walk was once contained them, many of them built or owned at one time or another by the Holley family. The major park, though, traces its lineage to the Wadsworth family, later succeeded by the Cruickshanks, who donated the land to the city in 1928, creating Cruickshank Park. By 1952, the city had purchased land between Cruickshank and Sunset Parks, creating today's longer Cruickshank Park along the Humber.

An ossuary (large pit burial ground) was located somewhere near this site in Lions Park near Weston in Toronto, Ontario on 20-September-2009

Pre-European history also is prominent in this section of the river, as near Lions Park is the location of an ossuary. In 1911, human remains dating from the fifteenth century had been found here, and aboriginal groups had gathered them an interred them in a large pit, called an ossuary.

The remains of the older Raymore Bridge destroyed during Hurricane Hazel in 1954 became a monument next to the new bridge over the Humber, seen 20-September-2009

Of course, the most prominent history in this area was the damage caused by Hurricane Hazel in October 1954. The Humber River had crested at 30 feet above its base in this area, sweeping away--amongst other things--an entire street of fourteen homes. The remains of the old pedestrian bridge at Raymore Drive marked the end of the walk at the replacement bridge.

The chance to see a portion of Humber River with references to every era of its history was a great way to celebrate its tenth anniversary as a heritage river.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Politics: On David Miller

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Much has already been written, and more will be in the coming days, about the announcement earlier today that Toronto mayor David Miller will not seek a third term. Whatever the reasoning, Miller's decision was likely inevitable in light of the polls showing that he at best would have a tough road to re-election in the wake of the city worker's strike earlier this summer and a perception that many of his plans (transit and waste diversion, for example) that seem to actually be having their intended impact are not thought to be successful by the electorate. While I have been overwhelming impressed with Miller's long-term vision for the layout of the city and especially the "Transit City" plans, I have had my differences with some of Miller's policies (some of them expressed on this blog) and been mystified by some of his actions since I moved here. One thing I have never understood, though, is the sizable amount of people, only some of them bloggers and talk show callers, who claim to be convinced that Miller is the worst mayor in the western world.

Their claims are hyperbolic, but usually even those making exaggerated claims have some origin in real concerns, just of lesser magnitude. I have had trouble finding any grounding to many of the claims about Miller. The common claim is that "he has sent small business to the 905," meaning the area code of the communities around Toronto, with taxes. If that's true, it must be new businesses. In the places I visit within the city, most notably my neighbourhood, there have been a number of businesses closed since the recession began, but I have never seen a sign directing customers to a new location outside the city. The signs instead normally thank customers for however many years of patronage and announce retirement or bankruptcy.

There is a constant refrain that "people can't afford to live in Toronto anymore." I'm not going to argue about the high cost of living here or claim that Miller tried to reduce it, but neither did I encounter any people who left because they couldn't afford to live here. Of the people I know that have left Toronto since I moved here (a decent sample size), most were either older people moving to be closer to family that had been living outlying suburbs, or younger people moving closer to jobs--that might actually have been in Toronto, but farther from their old residence in Toronto than their new residence in a close-in "ring" suburb. Only a couple complained about Miller on the way out, and none of them seemed to have ever wanted to live in the city in the first place, no matter who was mayor.

The especially virulent say that "Miller has ruined the city and we'll spend decades undoing the damage." Where exactly is all this damage? I haven't lived here very long, but the only undesirable physical changes I have seen came from developers building structures that did not match the character of their communities, and that often came down to provincial-level decisions. The city isn't grossly in debt, so the damage cannot be financial. No high-profile sports teams or arts organizations have left the city that I have noticed, so it's not cultural. I have no visibility into the relations between the city government and the various sectors that it interacts with, but it seems to me that all changes with each new mayor, so there cannot be lasting damage there.

I honestly wonder what city the Miller critics are using as their standard. Would they really rather live in New York under Bloomberg? Chicago under Daley? Seattle under Nickels? Vancouver under Robertson? Even supposed conservative paradise Calgary is run by someone most closely associated with the Liberal party, Dave Bronconnier.

The bottom line to me is that it seems that most of the criticism of David Miller comes down to basic conservative rallying against taxes. (Indeed, a lot of the recent vitriol comes from the recent five cent tax on plastic bags--is it really that hard to bring one's own bags? Is a consumer from the 905 really going to be discouraged to come to Toronto to make a purchase because of a bag tax? It calls into question the validity of the overall argument--which has real substance behind it--to focus on a single tax that clearly will not have a major impact on health of the city's economy.) Considering that the mayor's race will be wide open, there may be a chance for a conservative to be elected--and my guess is that even if taxes are lowered and city services slashed, they still won't be happy--and those of us that appreciate the services certainly won't be, either.

I had a sinking feeling after Mayor Miller's announcement today that I might end up missing him more than I suspect I will today. I wonder how many people will reach the same conclusion, too late after the next election.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Transport: Out of Gas

The CN Tower, five rail miles away, had the best view as Canadian Pacific locomotives awaited fuel at Lambton Yard in Toronto, Ontario on 24-September-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I happened to overhear an interesting conversation between a Canadian Pacific Rail Traffic Controller (RTC, that's what dispatchers are called up here) and Binghamton, New York to Toronto, Ontario train #255 today. The train crew had gone on duty at 03:30 in the morning, and it had taken them seven hours to reach Lambton Yard in Toronto, Ontario, a distance often covered in half that time.

With Lambton Yard closed since April, it was rare for train #255 to stop there, but on this day their orders included pulling some stored cars out of the yard for transport to the main Toronto yard at Agincourt. So, about 10:30, they started that maneuver. The problem reported by the crew was that their locomotives were about to run out of fuel.

The original plan was for the train to be left at Lambton and the locomotives would run alone to Toronto Yard, as that would take less fuel than pulling the train. However, upper management decided it would be better to refuel the locomotives at Lambton, and a fuel truck was called in to meet the diesel locomotives there. ("We don't have to pay cash for the fuel, do we?" the crew ribbed.) Meanwhile, the second of the two locomotives shut down as it ran out of fuel, and the train crew decided to not even try to get to the originally-designated meeting place at the Lambton Yard office and instead stopped in the yard not far from the Rona Lumber near Keele and St. Clair.

A fuel truck tended to the Canadian Pacific and leased Capital Finance locomotives near Keele Street in Toronto, Ontario on 24-September-2009

Of course, the fuel truck did not go to the locomotive's actual location, even though it had been reported to the RTC. Having arrived on-scene, I decided to head toward the Lambton Yard office to see if maybe I could guide the truck in, but fortunately a Canadian Pacific maintainer was already there, and he piloted the fuel truck over to the locomotives' actual location.

A half hour later, both locomotives' tanks had been refilled, and their engines were restarted by the crew. They called the RTC to gain permission to move again, joking "we're all refueled, and our windows are washed." The locomotives returned to their train, and at 13:30, train #255 finally departed Lambton Yard for its destination of Toronto Yard, more than three hours after their arrival.

Train #255 pulled eastbound out of Lambton Yard in Toronto, Ontario after refueling on 24-September-2009

The train presumably made it to Toronto Yard before their hours of service expired at 15:30, but it may have been the longest fair-weather run for the crew in recent memory.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Media: Changing Branding in Toronto Radio

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The big media story this week in Toronto has been that what was once the city's premier radio station, CFRB, will be called that no longer. In conjunction with a schedule shake-up that amongst other things places possible mayoral candidate John Tory on afternoon drive, what has been "Newstalk 1010 CFRB" will now become simply "Newstalk 1010," not using its heritage call letters.

Calls letters are not nearly the big deal in Canada that they are in the United States. Whereas the Federal Communications Commission requires US stations to give an identification strictly formatted with the call letters and city of license (e.g. "WCBS, New York") once an hour, Industry Canada does not enforce similar rules here (though apparently they do exist). As long as the station is clearly identifying itself in a way that it can be identified, they look the other way on the format and frequency of the identification. On what has been CFRB, "Newstalk 1010 in Toronto" will likely draw no sanction.

The change in branding is no more than that--a change in branding. To Canadian Radio-television Commission and Industry Canada, the station will still be CFRB (at least until it applies for a change in legal call letters, which seems unlikely). However, owner Astral Media has decided that brand of "CFRB," once the strongest in Toronto, no longer matches what they want to do with the station.

The change has attracted so much attention because the "FRB" does stand for something. Once owned by the Rogers media empire, the call letters derived from "First Rogers Batteryless" for the new outlet-based radio that the Rogers Vacuum Tube Company was selling at the time the station went on the air in 1927. (The "F" was not really a choice but a convenient coincidence, as "CF" was one of the codes assigned to Canadian stations.)

Ironically, the station named after Rogers was sold after Edward Rogers Sr.'s death in 1941. It had been owned by Standard Broadcasting until that company became part of Astral Media in late 2007. Ted Rogers, of the current Rogers media empire, had always wanted CFRB to once again become part of the family's holdings, but he died in 2008 without having achieved that goal--but also without hearing the call letters dropped from the station branding.

In the large scheme of things, a change in branding without a change of legal call letters is not all that uncommon. Any multitude of examples could be given; one of my favorites was KPLZ in Seattle. Branded for most of my youth as "K-PLUS" (KPLS was already taken), it became "Z 101.5" in the mid-1980's, and then "STAR-FM" in the mid-1990's, still retaining the KPLZ calls to this day.

For those that remember the Rogers founding of CFRB, though, the current branding change seems like a big deal for Toronto radio.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Culture: Roncesvalles Polish Festival

Viewed from beyond its north extent, the Roncesvalles Polish Festival stretched as far as the eye could see toward Lake Ontario in Toronto, Ontario on 20-September-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - For most of the past few years, the end of the summer street festival season has been marked by the Polish Festival on Roncesvalles. This year was only a little different, with the Roncesvalles Polish Festival and the nearby Ukrainian Festival running simultaneously on the last weekend of summer.

Children danced on one of several stages as a cover band performed "Island in the Sun" during the Roncesvalles Polish Festival on 20-September-2009

As with most themed Toronto street festivals, the Polish Festival was actually quite multi-cultural in nature, reflecting the character of Roncesvalles Avenue. On the stages spaced out about every block along the street, there was a mix of music which included classic rock'n'roll as well as Polka and even an opportunity to perform karaoke (well, without the lyrics display) of Polish folk music.

A young woman performed the vocals of a Polish folk song, backed up by DJ Andy Kruk during the Roncesvalles Polish Festival on 20-September-2009

The food was a similar mix. The longest lines formed at the traditional Polish vendors, but everything from Thai to Italian to hot dogs were available at booths run by local restaurants located along the street.

The perennial Supreme Pierogies booth saw substantial business during the Roncesvalles Polish Festival in Toronto on 20-September-2009

A normal smattering of gaming vendors lined the street with entertainment for children, and someone had even set up a five meter by five meter chess board on the street which was in constant use. Free handouts were relatively sparse, but balloons from the Polish Credit Union seemed to be attached to many strollers.

A representative from the Polish Credit Union passed out balloons during the Roncesvalles Polish Festival on 20-September-2009

It was hard to walk away from the Roncesvalles Polish Festival, knowing that the next opportunity to meander a normally-busy Toronto thoroughfare while eating ethnic food and enjoying live music would not come until next year.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Heritage: Humber River 10th Anniversary

The Humber River flowed past the festivities at Étienne Brûlé Park (at right) in Toronto, Ontario celebrating its 10th anniversary as a heritage river on 19-September-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - On 24-September-1999, the Humber River was officially designated as a Canadian Heritage River over its entire length from the Oak Ridges Moraine and the Niagara Escarpment to Lake Ontario. The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority put on an event celebrating this decade of heritage status this past Saturday, 19-September-2009, in Toronto's Étienne Brûlé Park along the river near the Old Mill subway station.

Various native and early settler artifacts from all along the Humber River were on display during the celebration in Toronto on 19-September-2009

The history of the Humber River clearly started in a time (at the end of the last ice age, when the glaciers withdrew) when only native peoples were in the region, and they were well-represented on Saturday with musical and dance performance groups, speakers, and a variety of artifacts on display. In their introductions and speeches, there was a major emphasis on respect for other groups (native or otherwise) at the celebration, which set a very nice tone for a day honoring a changing piece of the landscape.

The Humber River Shakespeare Company portrayed a conversation between French explorer Étienne Brûlé and a member of the Huron tribe during the Humber River celebrations on 19-September-2009

The European history of the river was introduced by a series of performances by the Humber River Shakespeare Company. The first few acts focused on French explorer Étienne Brûlé, who definitely spent time in the river's watershed whether he actually followed the river to Lake Ontario or not. The actors did a good job of portraying both Brûlé and early missionaries as somewhat naive about the realities of life along the river.

A Harris Hawk would perform in a raptor demonstration during the Humber River celebrations on 19-September-2009

The natural world was far from neglected at the event. A pair of hawks were on-hand for a raptor demonstration, and there was a lot of talk about the fish ladders to be constructed at several weirs so that salmon runs could be more robust up the river. Personally, I've only seen a single salmon above the tall weirs on the lower portion of the river.

A model of the fish ladder to be built next to the largest weirs on the lower Humber River was on display on 19-September-2009

I would have liked to stay for the whole show, but there was another event to attend celebrating the river going on that day, a Heritage Toronto-Weston Historical Society joint walk farther up the river. Coverage of that event is forthcoming.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Photos: Milton Steam Era

A long line of Rumely Oil Pull tractors was just one of the impressive sights at the Steam Era event in Milton, Ontario on 5-September-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week's update to my photo site features the Steam Era event in Milton, Ontario. A visit to Steam Era on 5-September-2009 afforded the chance to see an equipment parade, many classic tractors, cars, and trucks, ride a steam tractor, watch a tractor pull, threshing contest, sawmill demonstration, and more.

Margin Notes: Informant, U2, Avocado, Innocence

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The Toronto Film Festival has wrapped up for the year, and one of the films that had been looking for a bump from the festival was The Informant!. What didn't occur to me until it was pointed out on the radio show was that the source material for the film was the same book that also spawned a memorable episode of This American Life that aired in 2000. That episode aired once again this weekend and is worth checking out.

* * * * * *

A sky banner advertised the U2 concert in Toronto, Ontario on 16-September-2009

Besides the film festival, another major event in Toronto this week that I did not participate in was a U2 concert at the Rogers Centre. That brought out a number of BlackBerry ads related to the concert, including a relative rarity here, a sky banner that circled above the city for most of the day on Wednesday.

* * * * * *

A line of Peter Pan buses lined up on Bremner Drive near the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario on the day of the U2 concert, 16-September-2009

Besides the unusual sight in the sky, there was an unusual sight on the ground near the Rogers Centre. A line of Peter Pan buses from Massachusetts apparently brought in a large group from western Massachusetts for a visit including the U2 concert. For someone accustomed to Peter Pan buses from my time around Boston, it took a moment to realize that they didn't belong in Canada.

* * * * * *

A few steps away from the Rogers Centre, there was another of the free giveaways at Union Station that I have mentioned in the past. This time, it was avocados. That's right, free avocados in Canada. The giveaway was especially clever since it used avocados that were not ripe. Thus, I've been looking at the bag with advertising for the avocado industry for several days now, waiting for the fruit (yes, technically it is a fruit) to ripen.

* * * * * *

I didn't get any free stuff at the Roncesvalles Polish Festival today (more on that event in a future post). While watching a musical act there, I did notice one of the street vendors walk away from his table, leaving his cash box in plain view and unattended, for at least a minute to greet a friend. Perhaps someone was watching that I didn't notice, but it sure seemed like the kind of super-safety and innocence for which Toronto had once been known.

* * * * * *

A lost stuffed lamb sign was noted along Jane Street in Toronto, Ontario on 14-September-2009

Toronto is well-known as a safe city, but the level of innocence in my Bloor West Village neighbourhood is so extreme that not only do we have "lost pet" signs, but even "lost stuffed animals" signs. The above sign looking for a lost stuffed lamb was noted still remaining on Jane Street, a week after the loss.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Radio Pick: The Beatles Changed the World

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week's radio pick comes from a series I have neglected to cite so far in this series, "Twenty Pieces of Music That Changed the World" on The Sunday Edition from the CBC. Not only is Robert Harris providing the social context of how these songs had a major impact, but he provides a musical history of the influences that created the music. This week's edition, a 29-minute segment located two hours and four minutes into the audio file of the show, focuses of course on the Beatles on the anniversary of their entry into the United States musical scene.

Listen to MP3 of The Sunday Edition "Music That Changed the World 14: The Beatles"

Culture: My Local Parade

The Toronto Ukrainian Festival Parade started on Bloor Street West near Runnymede in Toronto, Ontario on 19-September-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - There are a lot of parades in the city of Toronto throughout the year, many of the larger ones covered on this blog. I have to take the subway to reach many of them, and sometimes streetcars or buses as well. However, the parade at the Toronto Ukrainian Festival which was held earlier today ran right down Bloor Street West through my local Bloor West Village neighbourhood, only a short walk away.

A band from the Ukrainian Youth Ensembles marched down the narrow parade route on Bloor Street West in Toronto, Ontario on 19-September-2009

While many of the major parades in Toronto march down wide streets like University (or even Bloor farther east), the Ukrainian Festival Parade had a much more intimate feel as the parade route used only the two westbound lanes of Bloor. A double-wide float would not have made it in this parade.

Member of Provincial Parliament Cheri Di Novo was joined by former Member of Parliament Peggy Nash in the Ukrainian Parade on 19-September-2009

Rather than seeing politicians that I did not recognize, local representatives that I knew well marched in this parade. City councilperson Bill Saundercook, Member of Provincial Parliament Cheri Di Novo, Member of Parliament Gerrard Kennedy, and even former Member of Parliament Peggy Nash were all noted walking down Bloor Street West.

The local Ukrainian Credit Union had a large contingent of blue and yellow-dressed individuals in the Ukrainian Festival Parade on 19-September-2009

The parade felt comfortable as well because of all the local business that I recognized. Of course, the local Ukrainian financial, cultural, and culinary institutions were marching, but so were decidedly non-Ukrainian business like western European bakeries and martial arts groups.

In a decidedly multi-cultural Canadian scene, a Ukrainian Karate group marched in the Ukrainian Parade on 19-September-2009

The martial arts groups provided the most decidedly multi-cultural moments of the parade. I can't ever recall seeing a Korean and Ukrainian flag together before, as was seen in front of a Tae Kwan Do group, and where else but Toronto (outside of the Ukraine, anyway) does one find a Ukrainian Karate group marching in a parade?

A Tae Kwan Do group performed live demonstrations all along the route of the Ukrainian Festival Parade in Toronto, Ontario on 19-September-2009

The Ukranian Festival continues on Sunday, 20-September-2009, accessible from the Jane and Runnymede stops on the Bloor-Danforth subway. More coverage of the Ukranian Festival, including the parade, will be featured in a future update to my photo site.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Culture: Linguistic Oddities

TORONTO, ONTARIO - One of the delightful things about living in what amounts to a bi-lingual country (even if Toronto itself is broadly multi-lingual with the other official language, French, surprisingly rare) is the insight obtained by interacting with native speakers of the "other" language. Two recent examples from recent heritage events were particularly poignant.

The recent Heritage Toronto Bâby Point walk was led by guides from the La Société d'histoire de Toronto which has been leading the effort to create an Historical Park along the lower reaches of the Humber River. During the walk, it was pointed out that the historical sign in honour of the "Toronto Carrying Path," in both official languages, had a burgundy background. The name for the color clearly derives from the east-central region of France known in French as "Bourgogne."

However, as pointed out by the leaders, if speaking French, the color would be described as "Bordeaux," clearly derived from a region in southwestern France. Apparently, the regions of Bourgogne and Bordeaux have relatively little in common, so the reason why the color became known in English as "burgundy" is a bit of mystery. Most etymologies trace the word in English to the color of wine from the Bourgogne region of France, but it's hard not to speculate that some mis-pronunciation of the French during the Norman era in English might have something to do with it.

Another example came up at the recent Etobicoke-York Heritage Fair. There, I was engaging in conversation with La Société d'histoire de Toronto's representatives when a dandelion on the grounds came up and laughter ensued. Seeing my confusion, it was explained to me that the French word for dandelion is "pissenlit," which if taken literally (as it had by a schoolchild recently at a society school visit) means "pees in bed."

There seems good reason for the French etymology, as dandelion leaves are well-known (though not previously to me) as having diuretic effects. After eating dandelions, it is entirely possible that one might "pee in bed." The English etymology, on the other hand, is purely visual. Though I had never thought about it this way before, the name clearly derives from "tooth of a lion," which makes sense if one looks at the leaves, which indeed look like teeth. Apparently, in Middle English, the name of the plant had been "piss-a-bed," so at some point the name had changed radically.

The old adage that the best way to learn about one's own language is to learn another can come true in strange ways when living in a multi-lingual place.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Heritage: Davenport Hill 1920's Walk

Leader Doug Fife (at right) started the "Atop Davenport Hill in the 1920's" Heritage Toronto walk outside Spadina House on 13-September-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Last Sunday, there were multiple Heritage Toronto walks to choose from, and I chose to participate in "Atop Davenport Hill in the 1920's" which started at the house known as "Spadina." Built in 1866 and expanded four times (the last time in 1912), the home built by Albert Austin of Dominion Bank (appropriate for a walk sponsored by corporate successor TD Canada Trust) is sometimes overshadowed by its gauche neighbour, Casa Loma, but today is a city museum.

This pathway viewed on 13-September-2009 at Spadina House was once the road to the Eaton estate called "Ardwold."

As always, the anecdotes told by walk leaders Doug Fife and Dave Healy made the trip out to take the walk more worthwhile than just obtaining the guide and doing the walk on one's own. While still on the Spadina grounds, Fife pointed out that what looks like a walkway had once been the main road into the neighbouring estate of the Eaton family (of department store fame), who built the "Ardwold" house in 1909. The Austins decided that as friendly as they were with the Eatons at the time that they would rather not have the traffic passing right next to their house and had another entrance built for "Ardwold."

Sir Henry Pellatt allegedly paid children for the stones used in the fence at Casa Loma, which was still standing on 13-September-2009

One story I hadn't heard before about next-door Casa Loma was that original owner Sir Henry Pellatt was said to have paid children for stones to use in the fence outisde his 98-room castle. Looking at the stones seen in the fence (pictured above), this doesn't seem possible--I doubt I could lift most of these stones. Likely, according to Fife, the story may have had some truth to it, but the children's stones were used for the inside filler of the fence, and Pellatt made the gesture largely to flaunt his own wealth.

Ernest Hemingway had once been a tutor in this house at 155 Lyndhurst, observed on 13-September-2009, for the son of Canadian Woolworth owner Ralph Connable

Perhaps the most interesting story on the hill was back a few blocks at what had once been the home of Ralph Connable, the owner of the Canadian division of Woolworth's. Connable wanted a tutor for his son, and hired Ernest Hemingway in 1920. The few months of taking that position, which offered ample free time, served to introduce Hemingway to the Toronto Star, which would employ him as European correspondent as his writing career started to take off.

Combine these stories with that of the modern tale at 7 Austin Terrace described earlier this week and the "Atop Davenport Hill in the 1920's" walk offered quite a perspective on a Toronto neighbourhood.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Media: Remembering Glendale Federal

TORONTO, ONTARIO - In this era of financial bailouts, the banking atmosphere in the mid-to-late 1990's is hard to imagine. At the time, bank mergers were rapidly decreasing the quality of services available to bank customers. One of my all-time favorite political cartoons was published in that era showing a bank with its sign saying "Current Time," "Current Temperature," and "Current Name." Where I was living in California, the Bank of America and Wells Fargo were viewed most negatively in the public zeitgeist. Personally, I was becoming frustrated with the Union Bank of California, the result of a merger with the previously-satisfactory Bank of California.

Into that charged atmosphere entered two highly effectively advertising campaigns. American Savings Bank--which ironically had just been purchased by Washington Mutual and would eventually be changed over to the "WaMu" name--adopted its parent's "Do the Math" series of ads for its free checking accounts. These ads did a variety of gimmicks to point out that no matter how many times zero is added or multiplied, the result is still zero.

The most memorable campaign, though, came from Glendale Federal Bank. Written and voiced by southern California personality April Winchell, it featured a customer of a newly-merged mega-bank describing her travails in trying to keep using her account.

A typical gag went something like this: "I logged on to but the page just didn't load, and then this message popped up saying 'unable to connect with URL' [pronounced 'Earl']. I don't know who URL is, but I hope he's not a teller or it will cost me five bucks." In another spot, Winchell re-wrote "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" into "Where Have All the Branches Gone?" with lyrics like, "Where have all the branches gone? They are all closed now... everyone who knew my name, they got the ax... now I'm paying higher fees, no one even talks to me... when will I ever learn?"

My all-time favorite of the Glendale Federal ads was one in which Winchell described calling her bank to try to find out if the bank had found a lost item she left at a branch. After being on hold for an hour, the person on the other end of the line was actually at some other location [this was in the days before foreign outsourcing; today she'd be in India] and stated that she couldn't give out the branch's direct phone number. The punch line, "Well, can you give me the number for Amnesty International instead? You're torturing me." I've been ready to use that line every time I've called a bank and been put on hold since.

Unfortunately, the ads seem to be unavailable on the Internet, though Winchell herself tells an interesting story related to the ads on her blog.

More than a decade later, Glendale Federal is long gone, now a part of Citigroup. Where I escaped from fees, Washington Mutual, failed during the financial crisis of 2008 and its assets have been purchased by Chase. In the end, there's almost no avoiding what April Winchell would call the phenomenon, and now we don't even have the ads to console us like we did in the 1990's.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Heritage: 7 Austin Terrace

The building at 7 Austin Terrace in Toronto, Ontario, originally built in 1922, faced an unknown future on 13-September-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - On Sunday afternoon, I attended the Heritage Toronto walk "Atop the Davenport Hill in the 1920's." As with many of these activities, the walk stopped at a variety of interesting buildings in a neighbourhood, in this case the area north of Davenport Road and south of St. Clair Avenue between Spadina Road and Wells Hill Avenue.

One of those structures on the route was a 7 Austin Terrace. Built in 1922 by Lieutenant-Colonel John B. Maclean, who had published a magazine called "The Business Man's" which morphed into what we know today as "Maclean's," the building had clearly been rebuilt over the years and had become a multi-unit complex. While plenty was known about Maclean and the building's early history, its contemporary status was not known, and in fact a demolition notice was found on the door. Our tour guide, Doug Fife of the Spadina Museum, did not know what was happening with the building.

Just minutes later as the walk started down Wells Hill Avenue, local residents who were out working in their yards filled in some details. It seems that a proposed land use action to build a large condominium complex on the site had been posted while most of them were on vacation in late August, requiring comment by 31-August. When those who were in town called the telephone number listed to protest the proposed action, no human being ever answered.

Meanwhile, the doors to the building were being left open, apparently to encourage vandalism. The owners of the building--and nobody knows who they are--seem to be hoping that the building will fall into such a state of disrepair that the building cannot be saved.

7 Austin Terrace does not have a historical designation just like many homes in the neighbourhood built in the 1920's, which is retrospect may have been a major oversight by the city. Whether the home built by an iconic Canadian media figure survives in something like its present form or not, it is clear that a building with significantly more units than the existing structure would not fit its surroundings, which are mostly single-family homes with some two-story apartments.

This kind of additional information, beyond what even the researcher of the walk had been able to come up with, is one of the joys of Heritage Toronto walks.

Those concerned about what has happened with this building are encouraged to contact Toronto city councilperson Joe Mihevc, who represents the St. Paul's Ward.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Media: Rothmann Gets the Nod

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Perhaps the most-watched vacancy in the radio industry has finally been filled. KGO Newstalk 810 in San Francisco, which many view as the premier commercial talk radio station in the United States, has announced a host for its weekday, 10 pm to 1 am slot which has been vacant since December 2007. Longtime weekend overnight host John Rothmann will take over the time slot starting tonight.

KGO had been using a long series of rotating hosts from its fill-in stable since Bernie Ward was removed from the time slot (which he had held since 1992 except for a stint in the 7-10 pm slot) when he was indicted on child pornography charges. Early in the process (that's almost eighteen months ago now), long-time fill-in and one-time weekend host Christine Craft and weekend host Charles "Karel" Bouley alternated two-week assignments. That ended when Karel was fired from the station, and other voices including Rothmann, Pat Thurston, and Joanne Green were heard, as well as some who clearly were not interested in the permanent position because of other commitments including Brian Copeland and Jim Gabbert.

The varied voices in the slot kept the show fresh in the opinion of some, but it was also uneven, and it got to the point that even regular listeners didn't know who was on. When taking a taxi ride in the Bay Area in December 2008, the driver had tuned in to KGO and I asked him, "So, who's working the 10-1 slot tonight, Christine Craft?" "No, the other woman... Pat Thurston." It was actually Joanne Green's voice that greeted us after the commercial break ended.

While many observers had hoped that a woman would again get a weekday slot on the station (Sean Nix had once held the same 10-1 shift in the mid-1990's while Bernie Ward had been on 7-10 pm, so it wouldn't have been a first), Rothmann is a hard choice to question. His knowledge of world politics is impeccable and the biggest complaint about him has been that his topics do not branch off often enough into other areas (well, other than the minority that seems to dislike how he pronounces "Pakistan"). However, when he has gone into more pop culture areas when filling in for morning host Ronn Owens, reaction has been positive.

The biggest question is why KGO management waited until now to announce Rothmann as permanent host. Presumably, he has been available and interested the entire time. It almost seems like KGO was courting an outside candidate who finally decided he or she was not interested, and then they looked internally and decided Rothmann was the cream of their own crop.

The hiring of Rothmann is interesting in light of the host hired for Ward's other former show, the Sunday morning God Talk show. San Jose State professor Brent Walters has been holding down that position superbly since mid-2008, and he is well-known for his personal library called the Ante-Nicene Archive. Rothmann has been accused of sounding like a college professor on the air and has his own 15,000-volume library. Combined with weekend 10 pm-1 am host Dr. Bill Wattenburg, a former college professor, there's quite a stable of academics on the air at the station.

While that might indicate that KGO is increasingly pursuing more high-brow and intellectual talk shows, some have questioned whether that will help them pursue a younger audience. Like many AM talk stations, KGO's audience has skewed older and older in recent years. However, the young people that do listen to the radio at all (and not just their portable music players) do tune in National Public Radio in reasonable numbers, and perhaps KGO will be able to make inroads into that audience with hosts like Rothmann and Walters. Whether KGO returns to its glory era as I expressed concern about last November remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, another thing KGO is known for, Mike Amatori's production skills, have been put to good use in announcing Rothmann's new shift. A promo is running with sound from Richard Nixon: "There are so many decisions that are made that shape history and there is no longer a need for the process to be prolonged." Just perfect.

John Rothmann's first shift as 10 pm-1 am (Pacific time) weekday host on KGO airs tonight, 14-September-2009.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Photos: Summerhill Heritage Toronto Walks

The tipping fountain outside the former Canadian Pacific North Toronto station started a periodic pour on 22-August-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week's update to my photo site features a pair of recent Heritage Toronto walks that offered a chance to experience adjacent neighbourhoods on adjacent weekends. On 16-August-2009, a "Deer Park" walk started at Avenue Road and St. Clair Avenue and proceeded to Rosehill Reservoir, while on 22-August-2009, a "Marlborough to Summerhill" walk started at Avenue Road and MacPherson and also proceeded around Rosehill Reservoir before ending near the Summerhill subway station.

Margin Notes: Imbayakunas, Talking Bridges, TBTL

The Imbayakunas performed near the entrance to the CN Tower in Toronto, Ontario on 2-September-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - One day while working in Roundhouse Park in Toronto, Ontario this summer, our crew thought we heard Simon and Garfunkel's "El Condor Pasa" coming from the Rogers Centre. It turned out to be the Ecuadorian group The Imbayakunas performing outside the CN Tower. The group became a fixture for much of the summer, providing the far background music for the area. In addition to traditional Ecuadorian songs and "El Condor Pasa" (which was inspired by Andean music), their repertoire includes a varied list of pop music including The Eagles ("Hotel California") and even Celine Dion ("My Heart Will Go On"). Don't they count as "CanCon" (Canadian content) without covering Dion?

* * * * * *

The headline could have come from a model railroader, but these protest signs along the Georgetown Line were actually calling for electric-powered commuter trains. This one was along Dundas Street West on 2-September-2009

Many trains already pass the CN Tower every day, but many more will if GO Transit/Metrolinx's plans for expanding service on the Georgetown Line come to fruition. GO wants frequent trains to Pearson International Airport and longer-distance commuter trains to Kitchener-Waterloo on the route. The plans are encountering quite an organized resistance in many neighborhoods, not so much for their frequency as simply the fact that they would be diesel-powered. Protest signs against [Premier] Dalton [McGuinty]'s Dirty Diesels have appeared all along the line in Toronto recently.

* * * * * *

Some interesting graffiti was found on the Wallace Avenue footbridge in Toronto, Ontario on 12-September-2009

On the Wallace Avenue footbridge over the tracks that may be electrified, some interesting graffiti was found recently. If a bridge path could talk, what exactly would it say? Get off of me?

* * * * * *

Radio shows aren't alive, either, and the show called Too Beautiful To Live has lived up to its name. The last broadcast of the evening talk show aimed at younger listeners on KIRO-FM in Seattle, Washington was Friday night, though Luke Burbank, Jen Andrews, and Sean DeTore will continue the program as a podcast. I must give Blatherwatch and Michael Hood credit for making the comment of the week, noting that the programs replacing "TBTL" are not awesome. Frank Shiers is live and local, but not terribly exciting, and Allen Hunt's religious program is an odd choice for the otherwise-centrist station. Interestingly, the other major Bonneville effort at reaching a younger audience, KSL's Nightside Project in Salt Lake City, Utah, rolls on--maybe it's time for me to finally listen to that program.

* * * * * *

I have been listening to NPR's All Things Considered often enough to catch Noa Adams doing fill-in hosting, which has been a nostalgic return to the era lasting until 2003 when he was one of three regular hosts along with Linda Wertheimer and Robert Siegel. Hearing Adams and Siegel co-hosting again took me back a decade, though Adams fans probably most enjoyed his solo hosting on Labor Day.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Radio Pick: T.R. Reid on Health Care

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week's radio pick comes from a city that looks to the world, Seattle. For those frustrated with a lack of substance and perspective from all sides in the current health care discussions in the United States, a very informative background on various systems around the world can be found in the research of T.R. Reid. In the final two segments of this 53-minute episode of The Conversation, host Ross Reynolds quizzed Reid about what elements he found in different countries and how the lessons learned abroad could be applied in the United States.

Listen to MP3 of The Conversation "T.R. Reid on Health Care"

Culture: Junction Arts Festival

Dundas Street West in the Junction neighbourhood of Toronto was spotted with art like James McDonald's thinker-like "Catch Up Time" at left in this view of the Junction Arts Festival on 12-September-2009

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Throughout the summer, Toronto has a long series of street festivals, some of them with a clear ethnic theme and others mostly driven by a Business Improvement District (most with both elements). The Junction Arts Festival, which has closed Dundas Street west of Keele this weekend, clearly started as an attempt to draw attention to the area, which in the five years of the festival has become one of Toronto's rising multi-cultural areas.

Artists worked on a platform in the middle of Dundas Street on a mural entitled the "Art Fuzion Revolution" during the Junction Arts Festival on 12-September-2009

Even in the depths of winter, the Junction neighbourhood has interesting art galleries, and they were all open for festival. A total of 25 "Red Hot Art Spots" were prominently signed along the street where restaurants, galleries, and other businesses had invited visual or performance artists to use their space; there wasn't time in an afternoon to fully explore them all. There were even artists working in the middle of the street.

Toronto Hydro hosted artwork on the doors of retired refrigerators replaced by more efficient models, on display during the Junction Arts Festival on 12-September-2009

Like most Toronto street festivals, there were plenty of food vendors, and the junction is especially diverse in this regard--I found everything from empanadas to roti, fajitas to roasted corn on sale at the street. There were plenty of non-arts groups, such as the West Toronto Junction Historical Society, with booths. Arguably the most interesting was in the "Green Zone" of environmental booths, a Toronto Hydro display with art on refrigerator doors--from appliances replaced by more efficient models. Another unexpected sight was a 1957 Chevrolet police car, on display by the Toronto Police Service.

The Metropolitan Toronto Police's 1957 Chevrolet was on display at the Junction Arts Festival on 12-September-2009

The last day of the Junction Arts Festival is Sunday, 13-September-2009, including a mid-afternoon performance by Mr. Something Something.