Tuesday, October 30, 2007

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

6 Year Old Vandal? New York has gone to chalk

A six year old girl was out on her front stoop in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn within New York City doing what any other six year would do, help her mom redecorate the boring concrete with run of the mill sidewalk chalk.

The six year old girl is disrupted by some idiot working for New York City's departmant of sanitation who hands her mom a letter stating that unless she removes her daughter's artwork, that enforcement action will be undertaken against the mother by the city.

Apparently the City of New York has nothing better to do than harass a six year old passing some quality time on her front stoop and nearby sidwalk with some sidewalk chalk. Horrors! This kid isn't hanging out at the store asking for spare change or raising a ruckus on the New York City Subway.

The buffoon from the city said enforcement would be undertaken under a New York City law that was passed in 2005 saying:

"any letter, word, name, number, symbol, slogan, message, drawing, picture, writing … that is drawn, painted, chiseled, scratched, or etched on a commercial building or residential building.”

Further on in the bureaucratise of this law it states:

"...not consented to by the owner of the commercial building or residential building."

The daughter was being nailed on the first part of this law while the city idiot, nonetheless employed by the city itself, failed to even look at the second part of the law. This is obvious because if the mother, who owns the property, had of been asked if she consented to the chalk drawings obviously would have said "yes I do. " The "yes I approve" from the mother would have easily cleared this young suspect of the crime under the section requiring lack of consent. But obviously that would be too easy.

The city of New York instead wishes to waste their taxpayer's money on chasing a young six year old holding a piece of chalk. Whats next? Enforcement money being asked for by the city for preventing Staples from selling your basic sidewalk chalk?

Doesn't the city have anything better to do like cleaning the subway stations of the gum marks, sticky floors, the graffitti, etc.? How about educating students about manners and the importance of a good education. Or how about encouraging school aged children to get active in physical education lessons considering the increase in obesity in the United States is at epidemic proportions. These are only a couple of suggestions that would improve the city rather than checking up on the activities of a law abiding six year old.

Apparently the city has nothing better to do than harass a six year old and her mother over a bunch of harmless chalk drawings that will dissappear during the next rainstorm. What's next? The city hunting down six year olds for not having a vendor's permit to hold a lemonade sale or a building permit for that snow man?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

What a Barrel of Pickles

The Pickle Barrel on UrbanspoonLast night my girlfriend and I headed out to dinner at the Pickle Barrel restaurant at Promenade Mall. We had hoped to have a nice dinner out before heading home for the evening. I had been to a nother Pickle Barrel restaurant before with my fellow coworkers and thought the food and service was excellent. The Promenade Mall location was on our way home so we decided to try this other location out.

What a disaster it turned out to be!

We arrived and were seated at 6:00 P.M. The hostess had a long line up and several reservations to deal with. There didn't seem to be any help for her, but she did keep plugging away and was very courteous about it.

My girlfriend and I pondered over our menus for about five minutes before putting them down. We waited until 6:10 P.M. to even know who our server was! Mitchell, our server, then took our drink order. Now normally in my restaurenting experience drink orders are normally taken at most five minutes after the people sit down. This got my ears perked up that something was wrong.

Perhaps another inclination that we were not in for at least decent service was Mitchell, even before approaching our table for the drink order, was seen playing around with a three year old a table behind us.

Next when Mitchell brought us our drinks he explained there were no large cups left and that he would have to keep refilling our small cups. He even switched our drinks around so my girlfriend and I had each other's drinks instead of our own. We quickly rectified that problem after Mitchell left our table.

At 6:25 P.M. Mitchell refillled my 7 Up. However, instead of getting a 7 up, I recieved a large glass of water! Nice, after paying the usual outrageous restaurant price of $1.99 for watered down pop with free refills, they forget to get you the same thing to refill!

After a few dirty looks to Mitchell, I flagged him down and asked why I received water. He quickly got a new 7 Up in a large glass.

The food came about 6:35 P.M. which was adequate timing between ordering and receiving of the food. However, I was a little dissapointed with what I ordered:

CANADIAN CHEDDAR CHEESE BURGER ~ 7.99
Original deli burger topped with Canadian cheddar.Served with French fries & coleslaw.
Add bacon...1.00

The above is what the menu said I ordered. The burger was decent and I added the bacon for an extra dollar. However, there number of fries was dissapointing. My girlfriend ordered:

MUSHROOM & SWISS BURGER ~ 8.99
Original deli burger topped with Swiss cheese, grilled onion and mushrooms, served with French fries & coleslaw.

And got way more fries than I did! Basically both orders of burgers were the same except hers had added mushrooms, swiss cheese (instead of chedder), grilled onoin and mushrooms. So why does she get twice as many fries as I did? I didn't question it verbally with the waiter, but my mind was now not leaning towards ever returning to this restaurant again.

Finally, after we finished our meal, we asked for a refill on our water and 7 Up. It took Mitchell another five minutes to complete this task and then get our bill.

Our bill was screwed up. On the bill for my order to add the bacon the price was $1.99 instead of the $1.00 listed in the menu. I got up immediately to speak with the manager. The manager gave us a discount of $1.00 off the price we paid (including taxes).

My girlfriend and I gathered up our cash for the bill. I approached Mitchell to pay for the bill. I asked for change, he searched and said he didn't have any below a five. A waiter not having any change below a five? HELLO! Something is wrong! Usually wait staff have gobs of coin as that is what tips are usually done out in. I grabbed the cash and receipt and asked him to bring the change to our seat. My girlfriend and I refigured out the cash and got it to within ten cents and left.

To say the least we both hope Mitchell enjoys his ten cent tip. Do we care? No not really as we will never be back to this location again.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A walk in woods on a fine Autumn Day

Last Sunday my girlfriend and I headed for Case Woodlot in Aurora to check out the fall colours. Here is what we saw:







More photos of our hike in the woods can be found in the Aurora area of the Scrapbook section of my website.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Happy Customer Appreciation Day! Have a muffin and a fare Increase

This past Thursday was customer appreciation day on YRT and VIVA. While I waited to transfer buses at Richmond Hill Centre, I was approached by one of YRT's marketing gurus and offered a muffin. I thought this was nice YRT and VIVA were honouring their customers.

Little did I know that later that night in confines of the York Region Council Chambers in Newmarket that some skulduggery was occurring (according to the local newspaper):

"York Region council made it official Thursday by voting for the increase and paving the way for the single-ride cash fare to rise by 25 cents to $3. The introduction of the $3 cash fare will give YRT and Viva the most expensive single-ride cash fare in the GTA." - York Region Media Group.

Apparently YRT & VIVA believe that a great way to show appreciation to their customers. YRT and VIVA never made a mention that they were proposing a fare increase. Some would question if it was York Region Council calling for a fare increase. Not so as it was YRT's Finance Manager who proposed the increases and many York Regional Councillors who fought the hikes against students and seniors. As I read the newspaper article, I didn't feel appreciated as a YRT/VIVA customer, I felt slapped in the face.

YRT management contend that ridership needs to bear more of the burden then the ridership currently has. Fine, then add more riders to the existing routes. Ridership has been on the rise as YRT and VIVA's ridership figures show which means more money coming in per trip. In order to continue ridership increases fares should be held at the same levels as at least the previous year and not raised. For if fares are raised, as YRT management agrees, then ridership does decline a bit. A decline in ridership will mean more cars on the road. Lets remember one of the reasons for the creation of transit in York Region was to remove cars on the road instead of adding more. So in that case the fares should be held the same.

If costs need to be clipped in order to avoid a fare increase, here are a few suggestions:

1. Cut the VIVA advertising banners that seem to be replaced three times a year due to the weather. These are mainly found in Aurora on Yonge Street, Bathurst Street near Highway 7 and Highway 7 near Yonge Street. If you provide a decent service on these routes, people will flock to them. VIVA doesn't need flashy banners to promote this. Just slap a http://www.vivayork.com/ sticker on the back the back of the existing bus fleet and forget the banners!

2. Cut the number of supervisors. VIVA and YRT have two seperate supervisory teams to oversee the buses. Can't one set of supervisors oversee both the rapid transit and conventional bus services? It seems a little outrageous.

3. Increase fare enforcement on VIVA. VIVA fares are paid on the honour system. Some people have figured out where fare enforcement is and where they are not. Fare enforcement can mainly be found on the VIVA Blue routes, hit and miss on the VIVA Purple (especially around Promenade Terminal and Richmond Hill Centre areas), and hardly ever on the VIVA Orange routes (I've only once ever seen fare enforcement in my two years of commuting daily to work on the Orange). Tickets for not paying your fare is $150 per infraction.

4. Increase enforcement of the other infractions listed and York Region's No Smoking By-Law. For to long I've seen passengers, and even drivers, smoking at the bus stops. Yet I have yet to see one fine issued. Would YRT and VIVA like to explain how the cigarette butts are found when smoking is prohibited here? Where is the enforcement at this major terminal. At $150 fine for each infraction like smoking, there would be some serious cash generated.

5. Space the buses out more. Some days on Yonge Street at Richmond Hill Centre on the VIVA Blue route I see a Newmarket Terminal bound bus pull in followed immediately by a Bernard Termainal bus. Both buses are heading in the same direction on the same route (the Bernard bus short turns on the route). The Newmarket bus will be packed to the nines while the Bernard bus be less than half full. These buses are supposed to be at most five minutes apart. It doesn't serve the customers to well if they have to be packed onto the bus and the next one is mostly empty. Run the buses on time!

6. Provide accuratly scheduled service and more people will ride with less frustration. YRT and VIVA currently don't provide resonably scheduled service. As an example, according to YRT & VIVA's online Trip Planner my trip home from work, my trip should take 81 minutes. Instead, I normally arrive home anywhere between 89 and 119 minutes. What is the main problem? My trip on the VIVA Orange from Downsview to York University is not thirteen minutes in duration. On a good day, without gridlocked traffic, it normally takes fifteen minutes. The connection, according to the trip planner should take place in one minute. The same connection time occurs at Richmond Hill Centre. To this day I have never made the two connections (@ York Unversity and @ Richmond Hill Centre). I have barely made the York University connection once. With this in mind, YRT and VIVA needs to relook at what is reasonable timing for their vehicles to get from point "A" to point "B". Failure to do so only results in frustrated passengers. Simple math would tell you: frequently frustrated passengers = loss in ridership.

7. Cut the customer appreciation day mumbojumbo. Customers of transit would feel appreciated if their fares weren't increased year after year. I don't need some overpackaged miniature muffin offered to me in order to feel appreciated. Also, I don't need a marketing student decked out in brand new kaki pants and blue YRT / VIVA sweatshirt offering me promotional items. It's even more ironic that the same day as customer appreciation day, Regional Council approves a fare increase for passengers. Way to make us feel appreciated!

8. Cut the newsletters on the buses. My Transit is a complete waste of money. The only thing YRT/VIVA needs to do to update passengers of route changes is to post it on their website, laminated posters at the affected bus stops and posters at the major terminals (e.g. Newmarket Terminal, Richmond Hill Centre, Finch Terminal, Promenade Terminal, etc.). If people are truly looking for more information (e.g. trip planning, fare information, etc.) they can either visit the website, call customer service, inquire with ticket agents, ask the bus driver or YRT/VIVA Enforcement officers. My Transit is a complete waste of money as it is printed in colour and is really only used for littering the buses and the VIVA & YRT stops. Significant savings could be had by cutting the coloured printing for this newsletter alone.

9. Provide better customer service. By cutting the number of marketing positions, increase the number of customer service representatives available on the phone to answer questions. When customers have questions or concerns they don't want to listen to prerecorded information or wait lengthy amount of times to talk to a human person. During the week at 5:00 P.M. it is not unusual to have to wait more than five minutes to speak to a live operator. If customers cannot ask their questions they are more likely to not be customers much longer.

VIVA and YRT have much to work on in order to appease customers. Making the small cuts above may not save much, but it will make it appear the YRT/VIVA operations are working to keep costs down. If customers see an efficently run system, they are more likely to swallow a fare increase. However, the way YRT/VIVA pushed through this fare increase, considering the above nine items, it seems they don't care about their customers one bit. Further proof of this is that the fare increase was approved the very same day that YRT/VIVA claimed they were trying to appreciate their customers, on Customer Appreciation Day. Yes YRT/VIVA, you really do appreciate your customers, with an overpackaged muffin and a FARE INCREASE! Yup, I feel appreciated.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Death of a Blog

No, Michael's Blog isn't going to the grave....this posting is not about this blog.

With that out of the way.....

Blogs seem to die for several reasons.

1. The Blogger has finished with the Blog's concept. Steven has done this with Toward Jerusalem blog. Steven though has continued on with contributions, like myself, with The Art of the Rant and his other main blog Outside the Box. Steven was just finished debating his own ideas in Christianity in modernity on a continous basis. However, on his own blog postings on this issue appear once in a while.

2. The Blogger simply doesn't have the time or abilility to blog anymore. This can head into two directoins. The first example is Snaars who was forced to put his blog on hold due to personal issues and Huricane Katrina in 2006. But once Snaars was able move and resettle into a new job the Blog back up and running again.

Another way a Blogger simply doesn't have time to blog anymore can be found at Glenn Garnett's Inside the Sun. For a short time Glenn Garnett was the Editor-In-Chief of the Toronto Sun newspaper. In his blog he gave the inside scoop of what it was like to put together a major Canadian newspaper. However, Garnett was recently promoted within the Sun Media chain of newspapers to the position of Executive Editor in Chief of the chain's English language dailies. Obviously, with Garnett's new position, he will no longer have the time in his daily workday or the ability to blog from the position as Editor-In-Chief of the Toronto Sun. This is basically because his new job will take up more time. As well, Garnett is simply not the Editor-In-Chief of the Toronto Sun anymore. So, it seems, the blogs days are over. For that reason, I will be removing this blog from the "Blogs of Interest" catergory from the sidebar of my blog.

There are probably more ways that blogs "bite the big one". If you can add to the two above examples, please do by commenting on this post.

Sometimes it is sad to see a blog "kick the bucket". Some of the blogs I read become part of my daily routine while others I check once in a while. I will miss Garnett's daily insights into the Toronto Sun. I used to read this blog infrequently throughout the week to see what the Sun editors were up to and why they made that decision. I will most definately miss the blog after the blog's death.

Blogs are also like maturing people like Steven's old blog, I read it occasionally, but I don't miss it as much because he has continued on in his other blog. In that case I just think his blogging matured and he had to transition into a new blog. Like a human, Stephen had finished one phase in his life and moved in.

Snaars is also like a human, Snaars needed time to take a break in order to re-evaluate life and then get back into it and begin blogging again.

Blogs die for different reasons, but hopefully the blogs that do die, they will rest in peace forever on the internet in order to be reminisced and refound again by former readers in the future.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Air Farce Live!

Last night after work my girlfriend and I headed down to the CBC Building in Downtown Toronto for a live taping of CBC's Royal Canadian Air Farce. The show, for those that aren't familiar, is basically a satirical weekly look at world events and daily living from a Canadian perspective. An example of their sketches:





For the show, doors open an hour before the show. So Yvonne and I claimed our free tickets, which we previously requested by following the instructions on the website, and went on up to Studio 42. We were sat front row facing the left hand side of the sets.

For each of the scenes in Air Farce, there are different backgrounds. So for the show we saw there were about six to eight diferent sets set up alongside each other. Each set is maximum the size of your living room. There are four main cameras for the show. Each scene utilizes two cameras at a time. That way there are always two cameras shooting and the other two cameras are busy setting up for the next scene of the show. This can be a little tricky for the audience to see as there is the floor manager, other cast members and two cameras in the way of the scenes. This is perhaps the only downfall. However, it is really interesting to see how this show was put together.

After the show is finished and the closing credits have rolled, the cast comes out to try a couple of items for upcoming shows in order to see how the audience takes it. Ours was a scene the cast had filmed earlier that Air Farce needed to test out as well as song that they were still working on filming aspects. It was interesting to be able to have an affect on what the cast would be utilizing for future shows.

The real question of the night was "was the show really live for this Air Farce's Fifteenth season?" The answer is yes and no.

The first tip off for the show is that the show starts at 7 P.M. Eastern Standard Time (Toronto time) yet the show is not actually broadcast in Toronto until 8 P.M. Why the difference in time if the show is claimed to be "LIVE". Well in Atlantic Canada the show is live as it is 8 P.M. Atlantic Standard Time (Halifax time) when the show in Toronto is performed. Then accross the country from 7-11 P.M. the show is shown either live (in Atlantic Canada only) or taped (Quebec westward to British Columbia). The taped show, Roger Abbott one of the cast and producer of the show, assured the audience all the bloopers are seen no matter where in the country you are. This is because, Abbott noted, no editing is done.

This coming Monday, the Season Premier of Royal Canadian Air Farce is being repeated. So watch for me in the front row of the audience as sometimes the camera does pan the audience for audience shots.

Who to Vote For?

With the election coming this Wednesday in Ontario (October 10th) I’m a little confused as to who to vote for. In past elections, both federal and provincial, I usually had my mind made up the week before the election on whose name I would put my “X” next to. As of this morning I’m left in doubt.

The last two federal elections in my riding the factor of Belinda Stronach was there. The first time she ran as a Conservative I supported her and the second time I didn’t vote for her. The second election I felt stabbed in the back that as a constituent she never consulted us about the switch from the Conservatives to the Liberals.

Provincially I thought the province was going downhill by running up deficits and the provincial debt. So I voted according to my beliefs economically that the province needed to right the financial ship in order to avoid bankruptcy.

So this election what have I thought about when deciding on possibilities of where to place my vote?

The possiblities of electing a local candidate in Aurora to a Cabinet seat to seem to be slim to none. In my hometown of Aurora for the past couple of elections seems to have lucked out with electing two cabinet ministers under two different administrations, Al Paladini (Conservative’s Transportation Minister) and Greg Sorbara (Liberal’s Finance Minister). This time will most likely be different as the Conservatives are not likely to win the election due to their faith based school platform fiasco, thus Frank Klees is unlikely to attain Cabinet. The Liberals? Christina Bisanz is not likely to make cabinet as she would be a rookie politician if elected. The NDP? Mike Seaward doesn’t have a hope in winning this riding even on his third attempt especially since in the last election he only garnered little more than 7% of the vote. So there is little hope in electing a cabinet minister in my riding with the way things stand so I cannot stratigically place my vote that way.

Perhaps I should investigate the party platforms in Ontario. Should I vote Liberal to elect Christina Bisanz in order to at least have an MPP on the government side of the benches? Not likely since Dalton McGuinty has lost a lot of my trust with such issues as raising taxes after he promised not to in the last election; handing out taxpayers money to groups that have some links to the Liberal party and without very little paperwork to explain why the money was handed out; the problems with Bob Edmonds and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation and the fact the provincial Minister responsible for this organization refused to ask any questions of what was going on; Liberal Cabininet Minister Harinder Takhar being the first politician admonished by the provincial Integrity Commissioner; and on and on it goes. So this election I definately won’t vote Liberal.

The Conservatives I had potentially thought of voting because I didn’t like the Liberals recent political history in Ontario. However, the whole flip-flop on faith based schools by Conservative Leader John Tory. Tory calls it real leadership by allowing a free vote in the Ontario Legislature. I beg to differ as he came out originally that all faith based schools should receive funding. I believe only true public schools should receive funding. The Catholic school system? A Constitutional Amendment for Ontario should be undertaken to remove the right to fund the Catholic school system. The main basis for my argument is that the Catholic school system in Ontario discriminates. One example is even I’m a certified teacher in Ontario, under the Ontario College of Teachers, I’m not allowed to teach in a Catholic school because I’m not a follower of the Catholic faith. As a publicly funded system receiving provincial tax dollars via the educational funding formula does that seem right to you? And John Tory makes no mention that if, under his faith based schools plan, whether or not these old private schools/new publicly funded schools will be able to exclude people based on gender, race, religion, etc. This would seem to contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms under the Canadian Constitution. This is only just one issue that I totally dissagree with.

The NDP are way to left leaning for my vote. The NDP in the early 1990s almost bankrupted this province under Premier Bob Rae’s leadership. Howard Hampton, the current Ontario NDP leader was Bob Rae’s Finance Minister. So would Howie bankrupt the province again with all his funding promises? Probably. Howard has also wanted to bring in more taxes against the rich and corporations that provide jobs in this province which would probably further drive job creating corporations out of the province. With large corporations like General Motors already starting close down and leave the province, whill a union backed NDP government help anything? Probably not, just look at the mess the city of Toronto is in financially with NDP card carrier Mayor David Miller at the helm. Toronto refuses to contract out work and insists, when it does contract out, that union level wages be paid by the contractors. This causes problems because these wages are ten to twenty percent more than what it would be for wages to be done right next door in the city of Mississauga. So under a provincial government lead by Howard Hampton and the NDP, provincial wages are more likely to up meaning more taxes would have to be paid by taxpayers or more debt in order to fund these wage hikes. My vote will definately not go to the NDP.

The Green Party? I only know of the Green Party by the name of “Frank De Jong”. I have barely heard of their platform even though I read the Toronto Star and the Toronto Sun on a daily basis. My local candidate for the Green Party? I have no clue who he or she is. If your not going to make yourself known when trying to get elected with either pamphlets, signs or media appearances then why would I bother voting for you. I know there will be some who say the media seem to shut out the Greens, but really in this day and age, where are the Greens with their pamphlets and signs made of recycled paper or plastic then to make their platform known?

So I cannot base my vote on the party platforms as I have severe disagreements with most of them.

Who to vote for in Ontario? I’m not really sure, I may have to go down to Wal-Mart to pick-up a dart board in order to figure out who to vote for. Or even better why not try at least one of these methods in Aurora that the Toronto Star did in Toronto: visit here, here, here and here. Ah that’s the ticket on who to vote for! Problem solved!

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