Saturday, July 18, 2015
Well, I was right about the public transit expansion. They got around our dreadfully inadequate TTC by telling people to not travel, changing one lane on Toronto highways to three-people-or-more HOV lanes, getting buses for the athletes, and getting lots and lots of cars driven by lots and lots of volunteers, and increasing subway frequency. At the last minute, they got a few projects finished. Finally the three sisters are on again!
At last, Queens Quay is open for people, bikes, streetcars, and cars and looking very, very pretty. Union Station is finished too, with a yummy, hopping Union Station Market out front. If you haven’t been down to see and taste, you must go. And in between the still-sad, neglected parts of our city, people party, athletes play, and Pan Am cultural exhibits await our visits.
When I heard that the venue for the sailing races was free, I was off like a shot, my big camera in hand. An opportunity to relax, watch a Pan Am sports – my very first international Games ever, part of the Olympics too – and take my camera for a spin – what more could I ask for a summer day? Later I visited a couple of the cultural exhibits, clicking as I went. My Flickr album in progress till end of the Games:
Tuesday, July 01, 2014
Gwaii Haanas on the west coast, a Toronto beach on Lake Ontario, Baie de Chaleur on the east coast in New Brunswick: the beautiful waters of the greatest country in the world! Happy Canada Day! Bonne Fête du Canada!
Friday, March 21, 2014
Because of my Twitter activities and launching #ABIchat last year, the Communications and Program Assistant at OBIA, the Ontario Brain Injury Association, contacted me about writing an article on social media for their magazine OBIA Review. It’s rather nice to be invited out of the blue to write something, and so I did. Back in January. Just in time for their deadline. And then I promptly forgot all about it.
Forgetting isn’t always a good thing. But in this case . . . imagine my delighted surprise when the March 2014 issue (PDF) on social media came in my mail, and I opened it up. Actually, I opened it up after someone tweeted out their kudos, and I had to go look what they were talking about. Oh dear, brain injury strikes again. But wow -- so cool to see my byline!
Friday, March 14, 2014
I tweeted my outrage about the TTC changing subway line names to incomprehensible numbers to @BradTTC and our new TTC Chair Maria Augimeri. Brad Ross, the Head of Communications at the TTC, invited me to email my feedback to wayfinding [at] ttc.ca which I’ve decided to publish here.
Could you envision Toronto City Council changing the name of Yonge Street to 1 Street? Well, this is what the TTC is doing to our subway lines. Subway lines are underground routes for trains carrying people just like streets are routes for cars or bikes or buses carrying people. Our routes were named at the time of their creation, and main route names are rarely if ever changed because of their history and because it would cause major confusion.
Yet this is what the TTC plans on doing with not one but all of its underground routes. Worse, it's changing names to numbers, going from words with meaning to numbers that are inherently meaningless. Why? To improve navigability. Really? How is going from names that reflect the geography of the streets above, names that have meaning and history, require no memorization to have meaning to the user, and are familiar to every Torontonian no matter how cognitively challenged, to numbers that have zero correlation with the streets above, no history, and no meaning sans memorization, improving navigability?
Isn't it bad enough that Torontonians every few years have to relearn names of major buildings and lose part of their history without the TTC adding to our historical annihilation?
And when numeracy skills continue to be problematic and people hate numbers, how is going to numbers improving navigability?
If navigation is to be improved it should be improved with those who have the hardest time with it in mind: those of us with brain injury, memory issues, navigation issues. Changing names to numbers makes it immensely challenging. When I look at the new signage (see pictures), even though I'm fully aware "1" is a substitute for Yonge-University-Spadina, only the direction as stated in words eg "southbound", is clear to me. "1" has no meaning, and so I'm lost. And especially when I look at the big wide sign (see picture) I ask: Is this the subway line I'm supposed to be on? Where is the name of the line?!!
With only 2.5 lines and a stump RT at the end, it's hard enough. But if we had a robust world-class network like the New York system, it would be impossible to know where I was or to correlate with the above-ground city geography. We orient ourselves outside best. We can only orient ourselves underground by having a name connection that obviously links under to above. Numbers do not. At all.
I used the New York and London subways before my brain injury. I found the use of numbers and letters to name the NY lines obfuscating. I had to memorize in order to orient myself. And even though I had a photographic memory back then, it was still ridiculously too hard for just wanting to visit. And as a tourist, I often thought only the locals could navigate the NY system easily. In contrast, London using names made it easier, even when those names had no connection to the city above, like the Circle Line. At least I knew if I missed my stop, I could stay on and it would circle back around. I wouldn't have remembered that and been even more panicked if it had been named 10.
Numbers gain meaning and are understood through association with words. Names have meaning in and of themselves. No memorization required when use word names unlike numbers or letters. Calling "southbound" "1" is as meaningful as calling Yonge-University-Spadina line "1". 1 only makes sense if a person *can* memorize.
Brain injury is a hidden epidemic, people with memory problems are more numerous than you would think, changing to numbers is causing all sorts of upset.
Changing our history is just outrageous.
And one last note: I know my south from my west at least. But [someone I know] constantly gets all those mixed up. When she can't memorize numbers and has no clue where southbound will take her, how is this "new" "improved" signage going to increase her ability to get around? It won't. It'll make it much harder. This is the opposite of inclusive. Accessibility isn't just about wheelchairs, it's also about cognition.
Monday, March 03, 2014
“At one minute past midnight Pacific time on March 2, the special Smashwords Read an Ebook Week promotion catalogue goes live on the Smashwords home page. Readers can browse the catalogue and search by coupon code levels and categories. At the stroke of midnight Pacific time at the end of the day on March 8, the catalogue disappears.
The coupon codes only work at Smashwords, not at retailers served by Smashwords.”
I’ve enrolled all my ebooks in this super sale, from anywhere from 50% to 75% off to FREE. Click on the book cover of your choice to get your super-discounted copy and start reading.
Thursday, February 06, 2014
CBC and CTV have been taking turns covering the Olympics, and with each switch, we ask: will CTV meet CBC's coverage, will CBC reach CTV's video streaming standards? The latter was no small question. CBC is known for its pitiful video streaming quality. You go to watch your favourite drama, and the pixelation is so bad, you never try again.
They took a long time to make their app available. I downloaded it as soon as I could. But I hesitated in launching it. I went to my TV first. Nice TV set, grownup hosts for Olympic Morning. I'm very happy to see Diana Swain back. I enjoyed her Olympics hosting duty last time the CBC broadcast the games. Finally, I could no longer procrastinate. The moment of truth. I launched the app.
Navigation: The one big problem with CTV's web presence was that its navigation was obtuse, opaque, aggravating. It took me ages to figure out how to navigate it in the first few days of the last Olympics, never mind trying to find the streaming video I wanted in only a few seconds.
No such problem with CBC's Olympics iOS app for iPad and iPhone. Within a second of launching the app (yes, a second), I saw within the clean, minimalist design the image for Olympic Morning. I pressed it. I barely waited with bated breath to see what CBC had wrought.
Video Quality: A streaming video player immediately filled the screen, and an ad appeared. It took a few seconds for the ad to play, and I did begin to wonder if we were going to have freezing issues if the ad was taking so long because ads never have problems playing, do they? But once it began, all good. After two ads -- which I can see I'm going to get heartily sick of as they're the same ones -- the video stream immediately began playing in HD. Whoa.
On the iPhone, there's a little TV-like icon that when pressed pops up image links to other videos. And on both, there's a search bar at the bottom that you can use to go back in time through the video. The only problem is that when I pressed the Go to Live button that appeared after I began searching, the video player froze. No going back to live. Argh! I went back to the main app screen, relaunched Olympic Morning, waited for the ads to finish, and I was back watching the live feed. At least it happened quickly. Thank goodness for improved technology.
Only when I launched the CBC Olympics app on my iPhone while still streaming video on my iPad over my low-speed broadband Internet connection, did I have initial pixelation problems. Well, I guess I was being a bit WiFi and Olympics hoggish. But by the time Mark McMorris hit his first rail in Slopestyle snowboarding, the video was in full HD.
Design: For people with problems perceiving or reading, the app design is particularly pleasing to the eye and easy to discern. The images are clear and large enough to see but not so large that they hog screen space, necessitating a lot of scrolling. The font is very easy to read even in a small size on the iPhone screen. There are no extra style filips that clutter the display. They have sharing icons, and a standard iOS 7 menu button to open up a menu for videos, photos, Olympic Feed, schedule by day and by sport, countries, athletes, TV schedule, and so on.
The most important part of any Olympics app is at the top: the live feed. And although the medal counts are in a band above the live feed, the size of the window is such that you don't have to scroll down to see the live feed image. Beside it are all the upcoming videos for the day with their start times in a clear font, and underneath are the graphic links to the sports coming up that day. Next comes the videos of previous plays that Canadians are probably the most interested in seeing. And underneath that are Olympics news stories.
There is practically no learning scale to using this app. Launch it and use it. Excellent!
*I'm using the app on an iPad 3 and iPhone 5S.
Update: Over 3G, the video is not as clear and can freeze briefly. The rest of the app works the same as under WiFi.
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Ice Storm T.O.: a disaster but not an emergency -- yet, said Mayor Rob Ford mid-Sunday, December 22, 2013. By that Sunday morning, one after the other, many parts of the biggest city in Canada had lost power and were continuing to do so. Toronto Hydro said 250,000 were without power; that was before all the power outages had occurred. Hour after hour the so-called up-to-date radio news on CBC Radio 1 continued to report this number even though it was obvious to us slowly chilling Torontonians -- as we heard -- whump -- trees fall down and -- crack -- power lines break and arc -- that way more people were continuing to lose power. That number had to be higher.
In the early evening hours, I saw Councillor Shelley Carroll tweet that it was one million people. Yeah, that sounded more like.
Toronto Hydro and the TTC worked hard to restore power and service -- we knew this because the radio and politicians in their tweets told us and because pockets of the city lit up -- but the former’s ability to communicate sucked.
One million people sans electricity and heat led to the Mayor not calling a state of emergency (still quoting that too-low Hydro number) and had Toronto Hydro’s phone line overwhelmed, quickly going from busy to a message that pretty much said: surrender! Their voice message system was full, and no one was answering. One million people in the dark and cold, and Toronto Hydro’s website remained inaccessible to me and others. The best I got was a text list of menu items. Their outages map was offline then online and soon out-of-date and offline again. Worst of all, as of 5:30 pm, they hadn’t updated 311 since 2:00 pm nor supplied 311 with a dedicated phone number (311 only had the one for the public) so that operators could get the latest info direct, and with 311’s computers also down -- not enough backup generation power? -- they couldn’t check Toronto Hydro’s on-again-off-again website either for those of us without power. And so 311, whose phone lines were working, couldn’t help Torontonians.
One million people without power -- or in Toronto Hydro parlance, updated in the evening, 300,000 customers -- and the best our utility company could do is to tell people sans power to report outages on their website. Let that sink in a minute. Landline phones work during power outages; internet connections do not, assuming their website, you know, worked and your cell data worked and your smartphone wasn’t dead (hey mister, can you spare a phone or power?). A robust call centre or using 311 in a two-way communications loop works best in #darkTO.
Looking at the row of icy dagger teeth hanging off all the power lines, I am reminded of how Toronto Hydro in the last century had started a 25-year power line burial program in anticipation of these kinds of storms then scaled it back hugely due to lack of funding commitment. Most of us would not be sitting in the cold dark if that program had remained funded.
I wrote this on my iPad by the warm light of candles 12 hours after my place went dark.*
More than 24 hours after Toronto began going dark and after they knew restoring hydro was a massive job that had to be done quickly in plunging temps, Toronto Hydro announced they were holding preliminary talks with crews in the US to help us cut down fallen trees and restore power lines.**
*Between Christmas changes, navigating power outage, and finding the willpower from me, it took awhile to post this. I now know how to use a personal hotspot though.
**As of Christmas Day, I've heard of crews from Manitoba, Windsor, the Sault, southern Ontario areas helping Toronto out, but no one from the US. Yet on Christmas, Toronto Hydro's reconnection rate slowed down considerably as they had restored major feeders and were now going street to street for local outages, the kind requiring the greatest number of workers to fix. Without sufficient bodies, is a Sunday deadline realistic? In sub-zero temps, is this even remotely acceptable and not an emergency as our Mayor keeps insisting.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
As I write the first draft of this post, I'm supposed to be resting not venting. Since April, I've been slogging through relentless medical treatments for my brain injury; the first week of September was my one break. But Canada Post thought I was being ridiculous expecting to stay at home, put my feet up, and snooze. They decided not to deliver the hefty textbook I’d ordered from Indigo for my upcoming course because "there was no safe place" to leave it at my front door. Courier after courier has no trouble immediately spotting the safe place at my door to leave boxes more visible than the one-book package Canada Post was tasked with delivering. But, you know, maybe that safe place, hidden from the public eye, really was not safe. Or maybe it was hidden from the unique eyes of the Canada Post employee. Or maybe the letter carrier thought the owner wouldn't know Canada Post leaves packages in the same place as all the couriers do. Better to force the package recipient to schlep to the local postal depot and pick it up. I mean, safety trumps service.
The only blog post of mine that still receives comments, seven years on, is on how Canada Post doesn't deliver packages. Back then, I would receive notices that since I wasn't at home, a package couldn't be delivered and to go pick it up. But I was at home. The whole day. And so I knew the Canada Post employee/contractor hadn't even attempted to deliver the package; they had simply mailed off cards stating where to go pick it up. That problem continues for too many.
For me, that problem pretty much ceased. Instead, I now have attempted-delivery-go-pick-it-up notices for packages that require no signature and should have been left at my front door while I was out.
The new excuse is "no safe place."
So I called to complain. The pert young thing on Canada Post’s complaints line was "ecstatic" that I have a place to express my views, when I mentioned to her my most popular blog post was on their terrible parcel delivery service. She "regretted" that delivery could not be made because one attempt had already been done. There are no second attempts with Canada Post, even when it's their fault. The depot manager, of course, would speak to the letter carrier. But let's not kid ourselves: there are no repercussions on any employee at Canada Post for failure of service.
The pert young thing probably gets danger pay to handle irate customers. It's her job not to respond but to remain polite to people wigging out on the phone. And yes, I broke my rule --
I went full bore at her. I have always found a polite or a well-controlled voice yields better results than yelling. Honey and flies and all that. But what results will I get from Canada Post, I asked myself, by being my usual polite self? Will the book be re-delivered? Will they offer to refund the shipping (to me or to Chapters, since it was free to me)? Will they go the extra mile? Nah. That's not the Canada Post way, I thought. They will "speak to" the letter carrier. But my book will not be delivered. Big whoop.
I got a call back. I was flabbergasted. Maybe blogging on Huffington Post Canada has its advantages. Maybe Canada Post is upping its service. The person was willing to go the extra mile for me because unlike the pert young thing, she really did sympathize with my situation. She emphasized the safety issue; packages have gone missing from front doors. I didn’t think to ask: didn’t Canada Post used to provide homeowners with a secure box to put packages into?
Polite or yelling, I still had to find someone to pick up the book for me that day, someone who had to come to my place first to get the delivery notice I had to sign to authorize them to pick up my parcel for me. I still had one less day to get a head start on my course reading. I wonder what seniors or disabled do when the parcels they depend on to be delivered aren't because there is "no safe place" or the letter carrier doesn’t try in the first place, when they have no one to pick up their parcels for them?
Canada Post is losing big bucks. People talk about doing away with front-door delivery and forget the stability a well-run parcel business provides. With companies forcing people on to e-bills and people mostly corresponding via email, Canada Post's main business is becoming parcels and ad mail. Their continuing attitude toward parcel delivery will be their undoing. As long as they use "no safe place" as an excuse for not delivering packages that require no signature or continue pretending they attempted delivery, Canada Post will watch their bottom line redden as customers march over to couriers for guaranteed delivery to their front doors.
The local post office gave me Canada Post's complaint number because funnily enough Canada Post no longer includes it on their delivery notice. The local office even told me what numbers to press so that I wouldn't have to sit through the interminable options:
Step 1: Press 1
Step 2: Press 1
Step 3: Press 3
Step 4: When the automated voice starts talking, press 0 for a live person. Have the number on the delivery notice handy. That number will tell Canada Post who screwed up, and the depot manager will have a nice chat with him.
Then come back and comment here on your experience and if Canada Post changes those option numbers since I've now made them public.
I'm sure the pert young thing is ecstatic I gave my readers the instant 411 on how to reach her office quickly.
Saturday, August 31, 2013
"It’s hard to fight for home when you’re dumped into an alien future with a pack of three boys gunning for your death."
Today, August 31st, is the last day of the 2013 Orangeberry Book Expo, in which I participated with my time travel novel. Time and Space is in row 7 of their Booths. Click on the cover, and you'll be taken instantly to the Amazon buy page. One-click shopping! Even after the Expo ends today, Time and Space will remain in the Orangeberry bookstore. Check it and their bookstore out today!
And so ends my book tour of Time and Space. Between my exhaustion trying to keep up with daily life, leaving no room for flogging the life out of my tour, and the gods, the sales dived deep under my expectations. I think I need a new cover. But I'm feeling right out of ideas. Or maybe I could use the same concept but different colours or something. Well, I'll keep that stuffed down deep in my mind where the creative neurons can chew on it while I take the next nine days off. It's staycation and digital detox time! For those who've yet to come across that nugget of a term, a digital detox is when you go offline and off computer and re-enter the analogue world of papers and pens. I'll be reading or photographing what passes my fancy.
Except for hosting #ABIchat on Monday, September 2, I'll be back Monday, September 9. Have a great Labour Day holiday everyone! And enjoy your first week back at work or school. I'll be thinking of you as I lounge around!
Friday, August 16, 2013
There is a certain mindset out there that thinks whatever we do for the environment, as long as we call ourselves green or environmentally responsible, then it is unadulterated good. So it was with Toronto’s revised garbage policy under former Mayor David Miller. From now on, garbage would be the god that would rule Toronto, for Toronto the good had followed the pack of look-good and created an urban landscape of bins bins bins, giant bins on sidewalks, in front gardens, and in parks, all because we the good folk of the good city are being environmentally responsible with our garbage.
Well, we’re not.
But that’s another story.
This is about how making garbage into the god of environmental responsibility has harmed the most vulnerable in our society. People talk about diversity, the lefts laud Toronto the haven for the disenfranchised, the right yak on about taxes -- all enact policies that don’t take into account how the vulnerable will be able to cope. While Mayor Rob Ford is fixated on who picks up the garbage, the real problem is the policy itself.
When Miller revamped the garbage policy, there was much blowback. As a result, the city ramped up a little-known service for the disabled: side door pickup. Basically, can’t manage the garbage and get a doctor’s note saying so? You’re eligible for side door pickup, which means the workers pick up your garbage at the side door or front door, depending on your house configuration. If the bins are beyond your physical ability, then you are allowed to put out bags.
There is no help for managing the cognitive challenges of sorting the garbage. When even healthy, intelligent human beings can’t figure out what goes into recycling or organics, it’s a problem. The garbage calendar is so poorly designed that one gets a headache and needs a nap after trying to discern the images and instructions. The colours of the garbage and recycling bins are so close in colour that I cannot tell the icons apart (thankfully there is a recycling icon over the blue bin), and except under bright sunlight, I cannot tell the actual bins apart without a good stare. I am not colour blind.
There is also no help for managing the physical challenges of sorting the garbage. One tries not to stumble and fall in the kitchen while attempting to sort dinner makings into their requisite bins or bags. Nor does it help that with the halving and quartering of all the various parts of the garbage pickup that the individual loads have become heavier to carry out. Instead of a quarter bag of garbage, you have to carry out a full bag. Instead of half a bag of recycling, now it’s two bags.
It is far, far, FAR harder to deal with garbage today than when I was growing up. And I’m not finished.
Although side door pickup sounds good – and is in reality hugely easier, so much so, one weeps in relief to get it – it is a misnomer in one sense: the garbage isn’t always picked up. In fact, side door customers get to know their regulars’ vacation schedule and shift changes by the regularly missed pickups. At best, it’s every three months. At worst, monthly or maybe weekly. 311 is efficient – except when dealing with an operator who is new and unfamiliar with this common problem. At that point, one not only has to deal with a regular problem, one also gets accused of having done something wrong. Then one waits the phantom three business days, gets less sleep as poor sleep cycles are interrupted to put out the organics every morning in the futile hope it’ll be picked up, when in reality it doesn’t happen until next scheduled pickup day.
The garbage crews are really nice. But they cannot pick up side-door garbage if it’s not reliably on the map. I have no idea why management has no reliable mechanism in place to ensure workers know about these customers. I believe the schedule is fast; it’s probably easy to whizz by a side door pickup location.
If the city were truly interested in being environmentally responsible, they would include humans in that equation and thus would actually be environmentally responsible.
- For complete, accurate sorting, the city should use mechanized sorting instead of requiring imperfect humans to do it.
- For reduction of garbage (which includes recyclables, they’re not magically not garbage because they’re recycled), the city should band with all municipalities and force manufacturers to reduce their packaging by at least a half and look at reducing waste production without making life more onerous for the vulnerable and people with three jobs living under the poverty line.
- For reduction of pollution, the city should not stuff garbage into land for an eternity. They should use methane from old landfills for energy use, not pipe it into the air.
- For productive use of our garbage, the city should look into and build modern, 21st century methods of turning our waste into energy.
- For ensuring every citizen can participate and for not turning our city into an inaccessible, non-inclusive UGLY mecca of garbage, the city should dump the bins, increase pickup frequency (lighter loads), and pick up every form of garbage (the vulnerable don’t always have someone to take them to the special environmental days, you know). Batteries are such a part of life these days that they should be on the pickup schedule, for example.
- For making our parks beautiful again and not making us see honking, huge, UGLY bins as soon as we enter a park, the city should design and use beautiful garbage receptacles.
This is the real issue that Mayor Ford should be yelling about. But the vulnerable are by virtue of their situation a silent lot and so easy to ignore. But by putting people first, the city would ironically be environmentally responsible, not just look it.