The Amazing Weight-Loss Machine! (that might actually work)

I listened with  delight and amazement to CBC radio yesterday on my drive home from work. They were featuring an interview with Cory Kidd, a researcher at MIT who has designed and constructed a robotic weight-loss coach. The concept is simple, really. You have a small robot with a head-shaped top that you leave in your kitchen. It tracks your diet and exercise, and give you tips based upon the goals you have set.

While this is a fascinating and interesting field, and probably very helpful to those trying to lose weight and keep it of, what truly delighted and amazed me was the human response to the robots. According to Mr. Kidd, most of the robots used in initial studies were given human names by their users, that is, people anthropomorphized the robots, and gave them even more human qualities. And that apparently translated into a higher degree of success.

As a child, I assumed that by now we would all be living in a Jetson’s world of flying cars, and sassy robotic maids. Although that future is still a ways off, we are obviously getting closer. What is interesting is that, instead of waiting for sassy robotic maids, people are infusing personalities and human characteristics and attributes onto the machines we have now. This seems such a delightfully human response.

Now, how do I get one of those robots?

 

Let’s All Be Like South Dakota

There is an interesting Infographic in the Washington Post right now concerning the rise of hate groups in the united States since 2000. It gives a state by state breakdown on a variety of hate groups; the KKK, neo-nazis, skinheads, neo-confederates, and black separatists. It is strange and disturbing to see these maps of hate, color coded so that one can clearly see the number of different hate groups in each state, but there is one small bright light.

South Dakota.

According to the Washington Post, South Dakota does not have any hate groups. Now, I am sure there are at least a few groups of losers who meet in their parents basements and trash-talk  “them foreigners”, but it would appear that there are no serious groups in South Dakota.

I would like to suggest a new motto for the United States:  “Let’s All Be Like South Dakota”.

Now, I will be honest with you. I don’t really know all that much about South Dakota. I have never been there, and I don’t really remember hearing too much about it in the news. But from this Infographic at least, I like what I see. Good job South Dakota!

The Dark Side of Craigslist

I love craigslist. I use it all the time, and I have found many useful things. I love the simplicity of it, I love that it was just started as a hobby for some guy named Craig. I love the community that has formed around it, I love the best of craigslist. Basically, I love everything about it.

Except for one thing. Craigslist is responsible for killing my favourite guitar store.Songbird Music has formally filed for bankruptcy. Songbird was easily the best music store in Toronto, perhaps Canada. Found out in the further reaches of Queen West, where the actual cool stores are, it was that rare place that combined a friendly, knowledgeable staff, excellent stock, and a relaxed fun attitude that made fun to browse guitar stores again. It was even family friendly, as much as a guitar store can be. The staff was as happy to sell my son and I shaky eggs and vibra-slaps as they are selling the expensive stuff. 

But then along came craigslist. Suddenly it didn’t make sense for a lot of people to pay a mark-up on used gear. People could buy, sell, and trade effortlessly, no middle man taking a percentage. And so, Songbird music has now filed for bankruptcy.

I know that there are more forces at play than just craigslist, but it must share some of the burden. People are always railing against huge conglomerates, saying that the Wal-Marts and Targets of the world are squeezing out the Mom and Pop stores. That might be true. But sometimes it’s not the big guy that’s killing the competition and shutting down businesses. It’s just another little guy that got bigger. 

Seven Feats of Hercules Updated for the Modern Man

I was wondering what would happen if Hercules settled down and enjoyed the life of domestic bliss that only a father of two can enjoy. I imagine has takes, or the seven feats he had to endure, would be slightly different. I also think this could make one zany sitcom, but only if Mark-Lynn Baker can be cast as the much put upon next-door neighbour. Here then, are the seven new Feats of the Modern Hercules! 

1. Carrying a weeks worth of laundry down two flights of stairs.2. Changing a poopy diaper after the pooper in question has been on antibiotics for a week.3. Getting a squirming two year old to settle on the potty.4. Finding the very special lost toy that, although is almost EXACTLY like this other toy, isn’t the lost toy that is needed RIGHT NOW!5. Dealing with the crowds at Toys R Us. On Boxing Day.6. Jolly jumper lifts!7. Carrying clean, folded laundry back up two flights of stairs. 

An Open Letter to Joss Whedon

Dear Joss,

Where you been? I don’t mean to be bold, or question your work ethic or anything, because I know all about procrastination, but it just seems strange to me that  things have been so quietin your camp for so long. I mean, few years ago you couldn’t swing a cat around without it coughing up a hairball on one of your projects. And by projects, I’m not talking the comic books. I don’t mean to demean them as an art form, but your writing is suited to the screen, big or small.

Lately, you can’t turn around without bumping into that J.J. Abrams fellow, doing all the things that you should be doing (or have done, but nevermind that). Exciting show with strong, powerful yet still feminine female protagonist that overstays it’s welcome? Check. Enigmatic, darker show that changes focus a few times? Check.  Working with Drew Goddard? Check. But this Abrams guy, he’s all over the place. Lost, Cloverfield, Heroes (What? Really? Oh, never mind), Star Trek, the list goes on and on. Now, don’t get me wrong, he’s got talent. But he’s not you. You could write circles around the guy. You have. I know it’s not a competition or anything, but come on. He’s producing a Drew Goddard-written monster movie that has made $50 million in one week, and you are doing what, exactly? It’s been too long, Joss. Fandom needs something deep to get excited about. Come on, put something out. Blow us away like you have done so many times before.

We miss you, man.

History of The Toronto Transit Commission

History of the Toronto Transit Commission

Introduction

The Toronto Transit Commission has a long and fascinating history, spanning decades. Indeed, currently they are boasting that they have moved the equivalent of 25 Billion people, 4 times the world’s population.

What is mostly unknown here in Toronto is the origin of several of the TTC station names. While are usually named after nearby street, they are often captivating glimpses into the history of Toronto.

I would like to examine some of the different names, in the hope of sharing some of this intriguing history.

Museum Station

To begin with, we will take a look at the history of Museum Station. Located directly beside the grandiose Royal Ontario Museum, many people assume that it is named for the ROM. This is, amazingly enough, untrue.

It is obvious, to the discerning thinker, that if it were supposed to be named for the ROM, it would in fact be named “Royal Ontario Museum Station.” In actual fact, it is named for the Textile Museum of Canada, which is, strangely enough, closer to the St. Patrick subway stop.

Why then, you could very well ask yourself, is it not called “Textile Museum of Canada Station?” Well, Phineas McGovern, the maverick impresario who took over operations at the early TTC (who will play a remarkable role in this history), was noted to say “I’ll be dead in the cold cold ground before I have any subway station with an “X” besmirching its good face.” The name was thus shortened to “Museum Station.” Confusion has reigned ever since.

Bloor Station

One of the busiest stations in Toronto, Bloor station, found at the intersection of Young and Bloor streets, is another example of a TTC station with a fascinating history.

Bloor Street is the most important East-West corridor in Toronto, excepting highways, and perhaps Heath Street. It spans the entire width of the city (although it changes its name to “The Danforth” in the east end, we all know what it really is.) Bloor Street gained and kept this popularity at the beginning of the 19th Century. Back then, it was a popular area for bars, dens of inequity, and the occasional house of ill repute. Any upstanding Torontonian who wanted to seriously get their drink on would head to one of the several drinking establishments found along this as yet unnamed avenue. Indeed, now tony hot spot Yorkville was founded in 1853 to have a close proximity to this avenue, finally nicknamed “Blur Street,” do to the ocular inhibiting effects of its most regular product, a sort of Bathtub Gin that was cheap to make, and often somewhat dangerous to consume. Many of the Yorkville glitterati of the 1800’s could be seen stumbling home, their hands outstretched in front of them to ensure they did not crash into one of the new fangled lamp posts that had recently been installed (indeed, if one were to visit this area now, one would still see much of the same thing.) For years, this street was known as Blur Street, and one can still find signs to this effect along its furthest stretches in the wilds of Etobicoke.

But where, then, came the alternative spelling (and slightly different pronunciation) Bloor? Well, once again Phineas McGovern has a role in this. McGovern was a noted teetotaller, indeed, he was a vigorous supporter of American Prohibition, and fought to have it extended across the border. He was visibly upset that one of his glorious stations would be named after so shameful a history. In a letter to his dear friend Marcus McCallum, he lamented, “What should be the jewel of this system will instead be a complete mockery. It heavies my heart to even contemplate it.” He decided to name the station Bloor instead. This was one of his most difficult times. His efforts to change the name were thrown out of City Hall, and finally, he had to resort to bribing the painters and sign makers at the station to change the contemptuous “U” with the far more civilized “OO.” Imagine the surprise when the station was finally unveiled, double O and all! Eventually the people of Toronto grew to call the street as well as the station Bloor, and its’ true, disreputable history is now mostly forgotten.

Midland Station

Today we will look east, to far off Midland Station. Midland station is part of the LRT (Light Rapid Transit) line that runs in the wilds of Scarborough. Looking more like a streetcar than a subway, the LRT runs on a dedicated track, away from roads and traffic.

Midland station is something of a compromise. Originally envisioned as a subway stop leading to the city of Midland Ontario, it was decided that a 150 kilometre subway line that would cost over 7 Billion dollars to build, serving a population of less than 16000 people was perhaps not the wisest investment.

Phineas McGovern fought long and hard for his vision of a country link. “Just because we are the Toronto Transit Commission,” he said, “That is no reason to be limited to one singular metropolis. Imagine the economic benefits to the City of Midland, and to Toronto. To have the country-side a mere 3 hour TTC ride away, well, it’s magnificent!” There is speculation amongst the most cynical of TTC historians that McGovern had invested in land rights in the Midland region, and was merely attempting to inflate the value of these investments. These salacious charges have never been proven.

Don and York Mills Stations

Today we will look at not one, but two TTC stations, Don Mills and York Mills. Although geographically diverse, with many years separating their construction, these stations have a direct link, which once again leads us to our old friend, Phineas McGovern.

Elsewhere in this series, we have touched upon the fact that Phineas McGovern was a theatre impresario who later, through a Byzantine and Machiavellian plan, took control of the TTC Board of Directors. It is still unknown why he was so desperate to control the TTC, but he has cast a long shadow over its history.

Don Mills and York Mills stations take their names from now almost-forgotten vaudeville performers Don and York Mills, a pair of brothers who revolutionized McGovern’s travelling entertainment. McGovern’s acts such as The Flying Diphtheria Family, Squish the Wonder Pug, and Little Sammie’s’ All-Castrato Review were not putting bums in seats as they once did. After years of dismal box office receipts, the Mills Brothers approached McGovern with a new idea for an act, known as “The Aristocrats.” Although no details of the performance survive, it galvanized audiences, playing to sold out shows almost from its initial run, and revived McGovern’s waning fortunes. A grateful McGovern promised the brothers that he would ensure their names were never forgotten in Toronto.

McGovern was unable to include the Mills brothers in the initial stations, but left specific instructions that, as stations opened, the TTC would use the names Don Mills and York Mills. York Mills station opened first, in 1973, with both Mills brothers in attendance at the lavish ceremonies. Sadly, Don Mills station did not open until 2002. Neither Don Mills nor York Mills survived to see the day, but their names will live on in Toronto forever, just as McGovern promised.

Castle Frank Station

Long after Phineas McGovern was but a memory to most TTC employees, and the good citizens of Toronto, a board of governors, who would these days be called nerds, led the TTC. Long before the nerd-chic of the late 1990’s, this group was interested in all things nerdy. Science Fiction, robots, math, astronomy, and The Lord of the Rings were what the board truly loved. They were actually responsible for many great improvements at the TTC, including the installation of the first computer system in Canada, and the first electric switching station in North America. They were true visionaries, visionaries of all things nerdish. One of the nerdish things that they all loved was comic books. Comic books littered every corner of the TTC head offices, and many a staff meeting devolved into arguments as to who would win in a fight, Thor or Superman (aside: Thor would obviously win this fight. He is, after all, a God) One of their favourite characters, a character they could all agree upon as being “neat o,” was The Punisher.

Their love for the Punisher knew no bounds, and they all decided that they should use their station in life to honour their hero. Construction was just finishing on “Prince Edward” station. The board vetoed this name, and voted unanimously to call it “The Punisher” station instead. In a rare move, Toronto City Council vetoed this name, arguing, quite sensibly in fact, that both residents and visitors would be afraid of travelling to a subway station with such a threatening name. The TTC board was grudgingly able to see the logic of this, and changed the name to “Frank Castle” station. Frank Castle is of course, the alter ego to The Punisher (his Peter Parker to Spider-man, as it were). Both the board and the Toronto City Council were happy with this compromise. For several years, “Frank Castle Station” was the name of this station.

In 1980, Toronto hosted the largest convention of Comic Book Inkers ever seen. Hundreds of Inkers flocked here to enjoy 3 days of ink-related mayhem and high jinks. Inkers are surprisingly high-spirited individuals, and there are still people who talk of the inkers converging on CN Tower and covering it totally in Hulk-Green ink. One of the visiting inkers took a photo of himself next to “Frank Castle” station, and hung it in his cubicle at Marvel Comics Headquarters. A passing Marvel lawyer happened to notice it, and decided this was in total violation of Marvel’s copyright on the character. After a hard-fought battle in the courts, a compromise was established. The station would, once again, change its name. It would henceforth be known as “Castle Frank” station.

In an interesting coincidence, Castle Frank was also the name of the summer home of Lieutenant-Colonel John Graves Simcoe, who was the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada. This home stood very close to the location of Castle Frank Station.

Conclusion

This is but a small sampling of the rich and varied, fascinating and exciting history of our TTC. There are still literally dozens of stations to be examined. Someday perhaps there will be a definitive history that will examine all of the glorious old times of the Toronto Transit Commission.

Scenes from a Bedtime (a play in one act)

The setting is a small toddler’s bedroom. A young boy lays on his bed, tucked under his Lightning McQueen blanket. Heaps of stuffed animals surround him, and he is lit up by the glow of a pale blue night light. Beside him, in the world’s most uncomfortable Ikea rocking chair, sits his father. The father leans back, trying desperately to not hurt himself on the terrible chair he curses every night.

Father: Goodnight, Potato Boy.

Potato Boy: Goodnight Daddy.

Father: I love you very much.

Potato Boy: I love you too daddy.

Father: Sleep tight. Don’t let the bed bugs bite.

Potato Boy: Thank-you, daddy.

Beat

Potato Boy: It’s time to wake up now, daddy?

Curtain

Why NaNoWriMo Did Not Work For Me

I have been in a funk these past couple of weeks. I have been busy. Frankly, I am always busy. I’m one half of a team raising two boys, I’m in my third year teaching and once again I am teaching a brand new curriculum (science!), and all of the things that go along with life. Really, everyone is busy, everyone has about twenty thousand different things going at once – this isn’t some pity party. But, in the past couple of weeks, the business has increased. Report cards, parent teacher interview nights at work, and at home we were remake/remodeling a little bit to get the place ready for an interview my wife had with a day care agency. This has affected my writing output greatly. Now, I signed up for the National Write a Novel Month in October, thinking that this year I will really try to see if I could do it.

And I couldn’t. Wrote 28,000 words in November. Not bad. Not enough though. And for the past few days, I have been in a funk, watching November come to an end, like the last few ounces of bathwater, slowly trickling away. The days passed, and my word count did not increase. And that is when it hit me; NaNoWriMo is not for me.

For many of the people, it is more of a community activity. There are several events that take place during the month, writing sessions, movies, parties, things of that nature. Each and every one of this events was something I could not attend. The timing just wasn’t there. And, while it is interesting to get into conversations on the online forums, they really were not an effective way to make friends and influence people. They were very slow most of the time, and it always felt odd to me, being at the computer, wasting time while pages loaded, time I should have been writing.

And then, the days when I could write, well, there is nothing like a 50,000 word deadline hanging over your head to make 5,000 words in two days seem pitiful. Instead of enjoying watching the word count go up, I despaired. And grew frustrated. Lots of people writing this seem to do it for a lark, just for fun. Although I am not a serious novelist, I hope to be published some day. This just did not help. It was fun, and it pushed me for a while, but, in the end, it was not worth it.

Settling In

Slowly, ever so slowly I am getting used to things here.  I was so used to doing wordpress.com, I forgot there was actual time involved in running a web site! I’m still using WordPress, just hosting the site on a shared server. Still some problems (can’t find a template i REALLY like) and playing with the logo (the above one will not stay), but it is coming together.

Talking With Tots, Episode #2

Here is Talking with Tots, episode two. It’s a little bit longer, and Tarquin was in a tiny bit of a contradictory mood for the recording, but nevertheless, here it is:

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 Download Here!