Thursday, March 31, 2011

YRT/VIVA Still waiting for the Bus


VIVA Bus Map at Golf Links Drive stop in March 2009
York Region Transit (YRT) has made a habit of launching ideas to improve the system or make current operations more efficient.  Unfortunately, there is a whole history of the Region of York's public transportation agency promising things at certain time points and then not launching these ideas in the time period promised.  What's even more frustrating to the ridership and the taxpayers that support the system through their fares and property taxes is that YRT fails to communicate the delays, the issues and the new timelines in an effective manner.   YRT is now celebrating it's tenth anniversary in existance and it's customers and taxpayers are waiting for updates on a number of items.

The earliest promised item came in 2007 from then YRT General Manager, Don Gordon.  Yorkregion.com reported in June 2007 that YRT was working on getting VIVA buses outfitted with wireless internet.  Gordon said then:

We are in the process of negotiating with our advertising firm,” Mr. Gordon said. “Part of our contract with them includes the implementation of SMS text messaging throughout the network and Wi-Fi on the Viva buses.” - Yorkregion.com Article.

Fast forward to 2011, and there is still no wireless internet on the VIVA buses across the system and no indication it is coming soon. The advertising firm that operates electronic screens on the VIVA buses was forced to turn off the screens for much of late 2009 and 2010 due to technical issues.  My sources tell me the rumour is that these screens may have had issues with the wiring that may cause a fire hazard. As well many of the screens, before they were turned off, showed incorrect information in terms of current weather conditions and old stale news.  Even now many of these screens have had issues with error messages popping up within Windows XP environment. This may have slowed down the wireless roll out, but again, YRT has refused to provide an update on this announcement.

Back in early 2010 as the January snow was blowing around new maps went up at all the VIVA stops with the usual fake photography (that ironically is duplicated at many McDonald's) that showed a map with a future routing of the VIVA Orange from York University to Downsview Station.  The routing supposedly uses the new TTC busway from York University to Downsview Station.  The map also was labelled the prospective route as coming in 2010.  Those maps quietly dissappeared as the seasons changed and the fake photography was changed from winter pictures to more spring/summer pictures. With the change the "coming in 2010" quietly disappeared but the future routing remained.  The VIVA Orange still operates from York University to Downsview Station along the same routing since it's inception (from York down Keele Street and around the backroads in the industrial area to Sheppard Avenue and onto to Downsview Station). 

Yorkregion.com reported back in January 2011 that the VIVA Orange routing was delayed because YRT needed to negotiate subleases with Imperial Oil, York University and the Province of Ontario to use the busway.  Meanwhile the TTC has the leases and has been operating their buses along the busway for at least a year.  Of course there was nothing said as to why YRT didn't inquire with the TTC to negotiate a shared sublease with each company or government agency so both services could operate along the busway.  This cost VIVA services precious time by being stuck in traffic on Keele Street while the TTC buses breezed by on their own dedicated lanes and saving seven minutes travel time one way.

What is even more infurirating is that, according to the Yorkregion.com article, in 2007 the Region of York put aside $100,000 to go towards the busway and constructing the newly required VIVA Stations.  The main question now is where is that money and how much of that money has already been spent, and how much longer until the VIVA Orange is using the full extent of the promised busway?

According to the same article, the VIVA Orange should be able to use the new busway this spring. Well the first day of spring has come and gone yet the VIVA Orange is still operating by it's own routing.  As well there has not been an announcement yet of the new routing or any indication that the new VIVA Stations along the busway have been constructed.  Again York Region taxpayers and YRT customers are left scratching their heads as to when this promised improvement to service will arrive.

In the Winter edition of the YRT My Transit Newsletter, YRT promises a new website coming in early 2011 along with "a new look, improved functionality and a few cutting-edge surprises..." yet here we are at the end of March 2011 and the old website is still up and being updated.  So where is the "new look, improved functionality and a few cutting-edge surprises"?  There was no update in the February 2011 newsletter either.  What's humourus is most of the VIVA buses have yet to change over the newsletter from the Winter to the February edition and thus, the message of "website coming soon in early 2011" is still staring at customers right from the front page.  You would think that YRT would quietly make the whole idea of a new website quietly dissappear like the maps for the VIVA Orange routing and the promise of wireless internet.  But, then again, there may be hope as the old YRT.ca website is still showing "New Website Coming soon check back for details.  At least that graffic hides the fact the gurus at YRT missed yet another promised self imposed deadline of early 2011 as there is mention of that.  Yet, taxpayers and riders are still wondering when the promise of a new website will come to fruition.

Recently York Region Transit (YRT) has delayed the launch of the Presto Card on it's system from Monday March 28th to some unknown date.  Yorkregion.com reports that the Region of York's Transportation Department, which YRT is under, refuses to comment on why the delay.  This is despite a report to the Region's Transportation comittee's March 2nd meeting from the transportation department making no mention of a delay and that March 28th was the target date. As well there was no mention of the Presto delay in the Region of York's council minutes for March 24, 2011.  One would think that an update to government officials on why delayed roll out would be required as there is signicant amount of the regional and provincial money being invested.  But politicians, YRT Customers and taxpayers are left without answers even after a news reporter asked questions.

This week, none of the VIVA Stations that I passed by in Richmond Hill had the Presto machines activated and operational.  YRT's website, http://www.yrt.ca/, only says that "Presto is Coming Soon" with no reference as to when.  The February 2011 edition of YRT's My Transit newsletter gives some details on how the Presto Card will work but no details as to when Presto will be rolled out in York Region.  YRT and the Region of York seem to be keeping the new timelines of the roll out of the Presto card under raps.  There is probably a good reason why the roll out is "HUSH! HUSH!" as there probably is some bugs in the system that still need to be worked out or YRT is running behind on rolling out the machines to the stations.  Nonetheless clear communication on the timelines of Presto being rolled out to YRT needs to be done soon.

YRT has a great reputation for unveiling new and innovative products.  The VIVA rapid transit system has finally worked out most of its startup issues and YRT/VIVA bus arrival times are easily accessible via the web, phoning in ,VIVA stations and all terminals.  But there have been some promises that seem to have been wished quietly away by YRT.  It seems the riders and taxpayers of YRT services that are waiting for the above promises are going to be "waiting for the bus" on these issues for quite sometime.

Friday, March 25, 2011

No Earth Hour for Me!

I believe the Earth doesn't deserve one hour a year, I believe it deserves something more everyday.

The above is an excerpt from my blog posting from last year at this time.  I still believe it even after I moved from Aurora to Richmond Hill.

VIVA Bus at Bernard Station in Richmond Hill.
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia
I watch intently from my new perch in Richmond Hill as single occupant gas guzzling cars and trucks sitting on Yonge Street going nowhere during rush hours and Saturdays.  I watch the traffic lights change and pedestrians are forced to walk around these car drivers who are so oblivious that the pedestrian is taking life into their own hands by just crossing the street. The car drivers sit there waiting for an opening in traffic to make their turn totally ignoring the pedestrian crossing the street. At any moment a pedestrian could be struck. The worst offenders are the ones making the right hand turns and inching out bit by bit so far that they start to obstruct the VIVA bus stop lanes.  Then these same drivers sit their dumbfounded why a sixty foot big blue bus comes roaring within inches of their front bumper into the lane they are beginning to obstruct.  Drivers are oblivious to this as they sit in their cars idling away and spewing exhaust from their tailpipes.  But the very next day, all of the above repeats itself.  The same care drivers are not just oblivious to pedestrians and large buses, but what their constant single occupant vehicle idling does to the environment.

These same drivers will probably participate in Earth Hour on Saturday by turning out the lights and unplugging their obnoxiously big televisions and dusting off a few board games that were last used at this time last year.  These same people will, once 9:30 P.M. comes around, put it all away until next year and fire up their lights and return to their obliviousness to pedestrians, buses and the effect their lifestyle has on the environment and fellow human beings.

A tree in San Juan, Puerto Rico
What these people fail to see is the environment needs them to rethink their lives on a daily basis.  Earth Hour is more a symbolism of what the Earth really needs at this point.  Adding to the travesty of Earth Hour is the Town of Aurora's promise for every pledge a resident makes to plant a single measely tree in their name.  One single measly tree and an hour without power.  The earth still needs more than this and needed it last year, this year and years into the future. The earth needs more than mere symbolism towards it.  The earth needs humans to change. 

I will not be lighting up candles or sitting in the dark on Saturday night this year again.  I will be living my life normally doing whatever I wish.  Possibly watching a movie on DVD with my wife or going for an evening walk to see all the houses darkened.  But I will not go out of my way to tip my hat towards Earth Hour.  Is it because I don't care about the environment?  Is it because I don't wish to inconvenience myself in the name of the environment? No, it is because I already do quite a bit for the environment. 

I concentrate on a daily basis as to how I can lower my impact on the environment.  After moving into my new home June 2010 I began to take a look of where I could make changes:
  • Where the budget and proper supplies of lightbulbs exist, I've begun to change my light bulbs over from the GU10 halogen to the LED lighting.   I've tried first converting over to the GU10 to the Noma GU10 bulb but found these lacking.  These light bulbs are the perfect size to fit in the fixture and look nice astecically.  However, they take forever to warm up and don't provide the same brightness as even an GU10 halogen bulb.  I've tried converting over to the Philips LED equivalents but Home Depot can barely keep them in stock. So when quantities and the budget provide, I pick these up and hopefully by the end of this year I should have all of my GU10 sockets switched over. 
  • I turn power bar to my Nintendo WII, DVD player and television off when they are not required.  This helps to reduce the "phantom power" that the Nintendo Wii, the DVD player and the television have when not in use and, suposedly, turned off.  
  •  For heating I have the furnace on a programmable thermastat so it comes on before I come home and goes off when I leave for the day.  We also reprogrammed it during our vacation so that it went down to twelve degrees celcius  and held the temperature there indoors.  That was so the furnace didn't have to heat the house as much when no one was there and so the water pipes didn't freeze and burst.  As well we ensure the blinds are open during the day to catch the warm sun when needed and closed when not needed. During the summer we very rarely turn on our air conditioner and spend a lot of time in our cool furnished basement.  As well, I recently finished a project of insulating drafty electrical wall plugs and light switches in my house.  In the future I will be looking at adding insulation and weatherstripping wherever possible to further reduce the heating bill. The only down side of all this is the savings on my heating bill.  Enbridge keeps estimating the bill to high and every three months or so requires a phone call with an actual reading.  Since moving in we have had twice had a credit on our gas bill because Enbridge hasn't estimated the reading correctly.  The last one at the beginning of the month was Enbridge overestimating our consumption by 200 cubic metres over what we actually used.  Thus, the above methods have produced significant savings as well as the environment.
  • When going to the store I bring at least one of the cornicopia reusable canvas bags so I don't get a plastic bag.  If I happen to forget a canvas bag I ensure the plastic bag I do bring home is used as a trash can liner.   This also has translated into savings as my wallet as most stores now are charging five cents per shopping bag. 
  • As well we have increased our use of our recycling as well as were introduced to the Green Bin for compostables.  At our old apartment we didn't have recylcing or Green Bin available to us.  This has changed immensly and instead of one garbage bag per week going to the dump we have one garbage bag every two weeks along with a full blue box and a medium full Green Bin.  Although, there are some changes coming to the Green Bin that I don't necessarily agree with which will force me to re-evaluate using this in terms of a cost perspective.
Why do I continously look for ways to improve my house and my life in this manner?  Mainly because savings are gradually realized as well as:

I believe the Earth doesn't deserve one hour a year, I believe it deserves something more everyday.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

York's Bad Move with the Green Bin

Recently the Region of York has decided to implement a new process for it's Green Bin programme. As Yorkregion.com reports, York Region has passed a by-law that requires Green Bin items no longer be placed in plastic bags (e.g. plastic garbage bags, plastic shopping bags, etc.) but can be put in compostable bags only.  

The Region has apparently launched an education campaign valued at around $357,000. I clicked on the link from the scrolling menu under "News and Information" and the page gives a listing of acceptable compostable bags. But these compostable bags, as pointed out in the Yorkregion.com article, are more expensive overall than regular shopping bags.  Regular shopping bags are normally sold at No Frills for five cents or given away for free with purchase at Wal-Mart.  Whereas the compostable bags listed are believed to be about fifty cents a piece.  At fifty cents a piece per bag per week that is a significant increase in costs to take part in the green bin programme for the average home owner. To add insult to injury the Region of York will not sell the compostable bags themselves.  So what exactly is the $357,000 educational campaign going towards?  Probably just merely high priced help to create the york.ca webpage and advertisement in the local newspapers.  Really the only benefit of the campaign is the local Metroland community newspapers

Added to the problem is that "biodegrable bags" will not be accepted either.  Great, this totally confuses people as they must now check the list of approved bags before buying them during their grocery trips instead of picking up a box of bags that seems environmentally friendly.  Apparently "biodegrable bags" are not environmentally friendly enough for the programme as they do not break down fast enough. So, if an average weekly grocery trips are anything like what I go through, most residents will purchase the wrong bags.  Next, the resident will use one and have their wrist slapped by either facing a fine for infraction of the by-law or non-pickup of the green bin materials or, most likely, the local municipality's collection agents will simply pickup the green bin without knowing it is the incorrect bag.  This brings up an important question: Once the bags are removed from the box and used in the green bin, how are collectors supposed to know if a resident is using a biodegradeable bag as opposed to a compostable bag? 

What the Region should do is team up with the local municipalities.  Most of the local municipalities (e.g. Aurora, Richmond Hill, etc.) already take out full page advertisements on a weekly basis to promote local events and council happenings.  There could be a blurb placed in these advertisments about the change to compostable bags and contact information if residents have questions or concerns.  As of right now the Town of Richmond Hill has yet to notify it's residents using this method.  As well local municipal website should be used to also promote the change with a link to the region's website for a list of acceptable bags. Further, the Region and partnered municipalities should be purchasing a vast number of compostable bags from a supplier and making them economically viable to residents.  These bags could then be sold through libraries, town halls and leisure complexes similar to how the region's York Region Transit fare media is sold.   This would make the bags easy to find at an affordable price. 

Currently, response to the bags have been negative from residents so far.  On Yorkregion.com's article there are two negative responses as well as a letter to the editor on the subject. If the comments provided are anything like what the response will be to the introduction to the compostable bags only by all residents, the Region and local municipalities are going to be in trouble.  Most people will probably just forget to put out the green bin and start placing their compostables in with their regular garbage.  This of course would be step backwards but the Region of York is not really making the programme that easy with this little tweek.  The region needs to revisit this switch as the main issues arising are differences in cost between bags.  In times of great economic strife like York is experiencing, governments are looking for efficiencies and words like "revenue neutral".  Why then would it encourage this move that is far from "revenue neutral" and the efficiencies not fully explained?  The Region of York needs to answer this question and hopefully not spend an additional $357,000 on educating us on how.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Spirited Time at Spirits Bar & Grill

Spirits Bar & Grill on UrbanspoonYesterday my brother, his wife, my sister, my wife and myself headed down to the Bloor & Yonge area for some Indian food.  However, our favourite Indian restaurant is closed on Sundays.  So we headed down Hayden Street to the corner of Church Street and Hayden street to Spirits Bar & Grill (642 Church Street, Toronto). 

Our party of five entered and was seated immediately.  Of course it was pretty immediate as there were only two other tables occupied and a few at the bar on Sunday evening. 

We oggled the menus for a little while after ordering drinks.  The waitress checked in a non-rush style periodically to see if we had decided on what we wanted to order.  Eventually we did and placed our order.

The Order: 3 Spirits Burgers (Half a pound of grilled certified Angus Beef, served on a classic burger bun topped with lettuce, tomato, red onion, and a Strubb's pickle) with sides of fries,  1 pound of chicken wings, 1 Veggie burger with a side of fries, 3 glasses of water with lemon, 1 Pepsi and 1 7 Up.

The meal took about twenty minutes to arrive from the kitchen.  Everything arrived at perfect temperature.  The Spirit burgers arrived with the lettuce, tomato red onion and pickle on it.  The ketchup and mustard came in bottles to be added by the eater.  Once this was done it was time to dig into the burger.  The burger was deliciously juicy yet well grilled.  The only problem was the ketchup and mustard dripping from the burger which made things a little messy.  This really was my own fault as these are the toppings the eater adds themselves from the bottles brought to the table by the waitress.

The fries were quite good as well.  They were potato skin fries fried to perfection.  There could have been a little more in quantity but they tasted good nonetheless. 

My brother and his wife split a Spirit Burger and a pound of wings together and seemed to enjoy them.  

My sister, as the comment below notes, enjoyed the Veggie burger immensley.

Then the bill came.  My brother had 3 7 Ups and I had 2 Pepsis.  Each one of them was individually charged for instead of free refills. So this got a little pricey as each glass of fountain pop was around two dollars a piece.  With the exception of this little tid bit of contention we had a good time. 

Overall Spirits Bar & Grill is a good place to eat.  Just watch how much you drink as it can get pricey especially in terms of what you get in terms of soda pop.  Otherwise dig in and enjoy the bar food.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Is it "Pho Xe Lua" or "Xe Lua? WHO CARES!

Xe Lua Vietnamese Cuisine on UrbanspoonLast night my wife and I headed down to what we call "Pho Xe Lua" (180 Steeles Avenue West, Vaughan) for some good old fashioned Pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup). 

A couple of years ago my wife showed me this place she had been for lunch a few times with her work colleagues. I wasn't really happy with it overall at the time.  The food was good but the optics of the place seemed a little questionable for a suburban restaurant.  It used to be you walked in the front door to be greated by a server who asked how many in your party.  The server asked this question while, in the background, the area where they collect the dirty dishes was completly visible. 

A month later after the first trip we returned to try the place again to see if it truly was this bad or if the optics were just bad that day.  To our chagrin the place was closed for renovations.  We let another month go by before venturing back.  We were quite impressed with the new wood finishes on the booths and tables as well as the new modern atmosphere. Since the renovations Pho Xe Lua has become a regular place on our visit list.

But try to find this place under "Pho Xe Lua" and you're stuck.  Urbanspoon.com, where I cross post my reviews from this blog, didn't  have a listing under "Pho Xe Lua".  I merely thought this place hadn't been found yet.  That was until my wife and I had a double date with my brother and his wife who said there was another location downton.  So later I looked up "Pho Xe Lua" and came up with a review on Blogto.com that called it "Xe Lua" without the word "Pho" in it.  Blogto reviewed a downtown location and not the Vaughan location on Steeles Avenue that I normally go to.   Thus, I tried "Xe Lua" in Urbanspoon.com and came up with at least four locations spread out across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).   I still call the place "Pho Xe Lua" as that is what is on the door in their logo.  But you know, "tomato, tomato, let's call the whole thing off".  That is because they serve great food, so who really cares what the place is called?

So on this yesterday my wife and I entered and were seated immediately in a booth which is usually one  of the more popular places to be seated. We were handed a menu, a checklist and golf pencil to order.  This ordering method I've found is quite common at Asian restaurants (it was used as the ordering method when I recently had dumplings with my brother, his wife,my wife and myself).  We flagged down a passing waiter, (again something different in Asian restaurants every server that walks by is your wait person) and handed it to him.

The Order: #108 - Pho with rare beef noodles and meatballs, #102 Pho with rare beef and tripe and gobs of tea to wash it all down. 

Within ten minutes the Pho dishes arrived along with the traditional bean sprouts.  The pho was excellent.  The rare beef was of good quality and easy to pick up with my intermediate "chopstickery".  I enjoyed the noodles and the beef meatballs (also using my "chopstickery"). 

Aside:  This is the place where I learned to use chopsticks.  Ever tried to pick up a round meatball with chopsticks?  It isn't as easy as one would think, especially over a bowl of Pho with beef broth that can splash. 

The tea was of good quality and not the watered down tea you get sometimes from some Asian restaurants trying to skimp. 

The price was also pretty good with the entire meal costing about eighteen dollars including taxes.

Overall Pho Xe Lua is an excellent place for Pho and other Vietnamese food.  I thoroughly enjoy it everytime we go.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

And now a Movie!

I've completed editing, uploading and fussing with the photos I took of San Juan, Puerto Rico from the cruise I went on in January of this year. 

Earlier today I've aspent about two hours at the local library uploading the video.  Now I've just finished twenty minutes worth of searching around and choosing music for the video.

I hope you enjoy a better Picasa Slide Show (than last time) uploaded to YouTube with some tunage!

Election Fever: Vaughan

Back in February I pointed out that Ontarians have had Election Fever.  But Ontario is not the worst hit by election fever at all.  Compared to the entire province of Ontario which has had three elections, sections of the City of Vaughan in Ontario will have had four elections in just barely more than a year. 

As this article points out, sections of the City of Vaughan will have an election every 3.5 months in about a years time.  Residents of the riding of Vaughan have been through a recent municipal election and are due for a provincial election in October 2011 as well as a now expected federal election sometime in 2011 whenever the current Conservative government falls.  Add to this the resignation of Liberal MP for Vaughan, Maurizio Bevilacqua, which caused a By-Election soon after last years Municipal Election.  Bevilacqua resigned his seat in order to successfully run for the position of Mayor of Vaughan.

With typical election campaigns averaging sixty to ninety days in length residents of Vaughan typically go through one election campaign, get a fifteen to thirty day breather before having their dinners interrupted by knocks on the door and/or phone calls from their campaigning candidates.  I would imagine that this would cause a lot of people to either unplug their phone or hang a "Do Not Disturb" sign on their front door nobs for a little well deserved rest and relaxation.

Another issue with the frequent elections is voter apathy.  The "heck I just went to polls" mentality sets in.  This is derived from voters forgetting to vote because they just did for another election.  As well voters just may become apathetic and tune out the issues as they are now tired of hearing the problems and/or solutions for their communities and wish to tune it all out.  This is especially the case in Vaughan where the frequency in the elections is so high and the controversy over the politics at the municipal level and the high profile personality of Julian Fantino in the recent federal by-election would leave any voter a little fatigued.

So please have some sympathy for the voters in the City of Vaughan as turnout at the polls drops.  They will have been through a large political circus in little over a years time. You would get apathatic too if you had four elections in just over a year.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

WIN WIN = Free showing = WIN for me!



Last Friday my wife found a free movie preview on the Smart Canucks forum for a screening on Monday for the new movie "WIN WIN" which opens this coming Friday in theatres.  I pounced on the free tickets via Gofobo.com

So last night we headed down to the the Silver City theatre (8771 Yonge Street, Richmond Hill) with our free movie passes in hand to arrive at 6:30 P.M. for the 7:30 P.M. screening.  We arrived early to prevent dissapointment of not being able to get in like the last time my wife and I visited a movie preview.  We handed our passes in and were given tickets!  But we had to wait in line as the theatre hadn't opened yet. 

Eventually we were let into the theatre and we got decent aisle seats.  The movie overall was pretty good.  I won't give away the plot but the above trailer provides the general idea.  Overall the movie was funny yet compelling to watch. The only downfall for the movie is it really didn't have any big name actors in it.  This is probably the reason why the movie hasn't yet received a lot of reviews or acclaim.

But overall it didn't really matter if the movie was good or not, we got to see it for FREE!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Dumplings!

Mother's Dumplings on UrbanspoonYesterday for dinner my wife and I joined my brother and his wife for dumplings in Chinatown at Mother's Dumplings (421 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, Ontario). 

I was excited about going on a Sunday afternoon as it provided a day out in downtown Toronto and to have something that I really hadn't experienced much of before. DUMPLINGS!

One of the best things about Toronto on a weekend is that a family day pass for the TTC can be used by two adults for only $10.00!  This is equivalent for a two way trip for two adults using tokens.  So we decided to pick up the Day Pass and spend some of the afternoon wandering downtown Toronto.  We left our place and arrived at Yonge & Bloor for about 3:00 P.M. and wandered down Yonge Street to College Street to visit the Winners.  We then returned to the subway and scotted over to St. Andrew Station (King Street & Spadina) and walked over to the Moutain Equipment Co-op to see if they had any spring jackets on sale.  Unfortunately they did not at this time.

We ventured along King Street and up Spadina Avenue through Chinatown to meet my brother and his wife at Mother Dumplings for dinner at 5:00 P.M.  We were quickly seated and handed menues. 

Now normally I know right away what I want to order in a restaurant as I'm quite familiar with the food choices.  But in new atmospheres like a Dumpling Restaurant I'm a little stuck.  Mainly for two reasons: 

1. I do not know what is good to eat.

2. I dislike seafood that includes crab, shrimp and lobster.  

So with that out of the way I normally did what I normally do in an Asian restaurant where I haven't really had what is on the menu, take a look at the ingredients that I like and hope for the best.    In this instance I chose some pork dumplings and others chose other kinds of dumplings that I have no clue what they were.  So.....

The Order: A vast quantity of dumplings that I have no idea what is in them washed down with copious amounts of tea.

The food took a little while to show up.  But that is mainly because each dumpling is made by hand in the kitchen and cooked either fried or boiled.   But eventually they do hit the table.

The first round of Dumplings we had four different plates.  However, one plate had dumplings that were a little frozen inside.  Um...don't they check these things for temperature before serving?  Apparently they missed this plate and it went back to the kitchen.  With that hiccup out of the way the rest of the meal was pretty good. 

I enjoyed my time here using chopsticks to try different dumplings.  My brother and "the wives" were great at explaining what each dumpling had in it before I tried it. 

As for whether I liked dumplings and this restaurant?  I like dumplings and would gladly try this restaurant again as well as others so I could have a better comparision.   So for a first time dumpling taster I had a great time and can't wait to return!

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Aurora Museum with a Little Culture

Church Street School
Growing up in Aurora two of my favourite places was the Aurora Public Library and the Aurora Museum. 

The library was a favourite place for finding a terriffic book to read, being read to by Mrs. Baxter "the story lady" and a film once a week.  Of course I had to drag myself upstairs and trail my mother looking for a good book.  This last part seemed, according to my little five year old brain, to take FOREVER!  There were lots of books Mom, surely the one I hand to you from the second shelf from the bottom would be an excellent read and you don't have to keep looking.  Heck, these books stink anyway, they have no pictures!  Such is life of a five year old at the library for his weekly visit with his Mom.   The library grew and moved across the parking lot to it's current location, a nice bright airy and bigger facility. 

The Aurora Museum was located at the former Church Street School which was Aurora's first public school building.  In fact the building's claim to fame is it was the public school of Lester B. Pearson who was Canada's Nobel Peace Prize winning Prime Minister.  I still remember visiting the Aurora Museum as a both a school kid and being brought there by my parents.  As a school kid I remember climbing the long carpeted stairs to the second floor to see what "Ms. Stuart" had for us to do in terms of history, games and crafts.

A few years ago the Aurora Museum at Church Street School was packed up and moved to Hillary House for safekeeping.  The Aurora Museum and Church Street School were going under renovation for a little "TLC" and new features.  After three years of closure the results have been magnificent.  The building today looks better than it ever did before with hardwood floors throughout, the old tin ceiling restored and the old blackboards uncovered.  There was even a climate controlled artifact storage area for the history of Aurora to be stored and displayed.  This place was a work of art!


This Historical Plaque of Church Street School
 But there is one thing missing.  The Museum.  Where is it?  Well it left in boxes to Hillary House for proper storage and it has yet to fully come back.  Sure there are a few large artifacts in the basement and on display in a few display cases in the building, but the vast majority of the collection is still in boxes hidden away I presume at the new Aurora Cultural Centre (i.e. Church Street School) and Hillary House.  Some of the items may have made into the climate controlled area but these items are obviously behind glass and are hard to see if they are in fact in there.   But there really isn't any museum at the Old Church Street School to speak about.  There is no long climb up the stairs to see what Ms. Stuart, or whoever her replacement is following Ms. Stuart's retirement, had dreamt up using Aurora's artifacts.  All we have now in the old museum space is a grand piano and a wide open room mainly used for an indoor farmers market.  I have nothing against the piano or farmers market being there, a lot of people enjoy these activities, but the museum portion is missing.

Aurora Councillor Evelyn Buck shares the history of the transformation in a recent blog posting.  In the posting she describes how the original idea for a Heritage and Cultural Centre came about.  The Aurora Historical Society raised money to complete the transformation but found it didn't have enough money or the volunteers to complete the project.  So the Town of Aurora took it over.  Grants were acquired in the name that a museum would be there and the project moved forward with grand schemes of climate controlled rooms for artifacts, displays created, cultural events taken place and a full update and restoration would be undertaken.  It took about three years for the project to be completed. But somewhere the Museum component seems to have gone missing. 

Over at the AuroraCitizen Blog there is a posting with currently 40 comments about what people think should happen at the Aurora Cultural Centre in terms of a Museum component.  There is lots of opinions for and against the Cultural Centre hosting the Museum.  Arguments that the Cultural Centre is drawing lots of people as is and should be left alone.  Arguments against that the current building is being subsidized by Aurora taxpayers for the exclusive use of "Artsy Fartsy" types and their bretheren.  There is even people pointing to the "Novita Report" saying the current Cultural Centre is striving to live up to it's mandate.  Lots of debate and valid ideas.  

On another note, the Council of the Town of Aurora is currently dealing with a large property tax rate hike to the tune of close to eight percent and requests from a variety of places for even more money. Everyone from the Jazz Festival to the Historical Society is requesting funds from the Town of Aurora for various things.  The Historical Society has requested a second curator be hired to assist the first curator with putting on displays.  This request for funds and the currently projected high property tax increase has lead to a debate over where the museum in the Cultural Centre is and how to best use the money already available.

The Aurora Museum belongs at the Cultural Centre on the second floor where it had it's home before the renovation.  The Museum was packed up and stored in order to renovate the facility.  The old Victorian school room that used to be on the second floor could see a revival with the original blackboards and old tin ceiling to be available.  That would truly bring the "Heritage" of the building as a school back to life in one room.  It would also be a great resource for school children to see how old school rooms looked like and used.  Another room on that second floor could be used to provide historical displays as well as possible research space for people interested in researching the history of Aurora.  These activities were similar to what used to happen at the Aurora Museum before the renovation.  But now they could occur in a newly refurbished space.  That was the original intent, I believe, that the Aurora Historical Society had when they started fundraising for the renovations of Church Street School. 

As for the Cultural Centre component?  There is lots of space in the building for both the Museum and the Cultural Centre to be together.  Overall including the basement there are three floors that could house museum uses, programme uses, storage uses and administrative space. 

Two rooms on the second floor should be used for regular museum operations.  As well perhaps a third space would be a shared room of travelling paintings and museum displays could be created. The Grand Piano could be relocated from the second floor onto the first floor where current cultural classes are held.  This room would be a multi-purpose place for programs to be held in the arts, lectures, readings and children's activities.  The offices of the Cultural centre currently on the first floor would remain where they are as they are already installed.   The basement area is still available for some storage like the current larger artifacts of the museum (i.e. an old horsedrawn sleigh) and other uses.  Overall there is lots of space in Church Street School that both the current Cultural Centre and the Museum could be housed and coexist together.

As for budget worries, The Town of Aurora, as the Aurora Banner article states, is providing $340,000 over four years and another $143,000 in operating costs to the Cultural Centre plus a $50,000 grant to the Aurora Historical Society for a Curator.  This should be enough money for both the Cultural Centre and the Historical Society to house a museum at the Church Street School location and for a some programming at the Hillary House.  Town Council should, thus, deny the request for additional funds from the Historical Society for a second Curator and reply that perhaps the Historical Society should investigate partnering with the Cultural Centre for this purpose.

If something doesn't come about after a year of negotiation, perhaps the Town should dissolve the Cultural Centre board and take over operations of the Cultural Centre itself.   Next the town would negotiate with the Historical Society itself over an agreement that would see $50,000 for a Curator to be used by the Aurora Historical Society and a portion of the Cultural Centre funds to be used as well for an Aurora Museum Curator at the Church Street School location.  The Church Street School Curator would be responsible for utilizing the Historical Society's artifacts to present displays and provide programming to school groups at the Church Street School.  The use of the artifacts would be a condition to the Historical Society in return for rent on storage and housing of these artifacts.  Of course Historical Society and Cultural Centre volunteers would be more than welcome to take part in the operations of the buiding.



The Museum and Culture Centre should be together.  That was the original intent of the council motion put forward by then Councillor Ron Wallace and seconded by Councillor Evelyn Buck to start the process for a "Heritage & Cultural Centre" to be created at Church Street School.  Together the Museum and Cultural Centre would provide ample space for both history and culture to coexist together and yet still be a destination to draw more and more people to downtown Aurora. This partnership as well would create an interesting building again where I could point to as being a "favourite place" again.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Characters at the Library

The past couple of weeks I've spent ample amount of time at the Richmond Hill Public Library system for a variety of things.   While at the libraries I've noticed some interesting characters who just don't understand what the library is used for because they have no idea the rules and expectations of the library environment.

The first is no food in the library except at the coffee shop.  This means you shouldn't bring your Swiss Chalet take out and hang out in the magazine area.  It also doesn't matter if you are homeless looking and have a McDonald's bag to go with your finished chicken bones, No food means NO FOOD!

In the quiet study area of the library where there are tables for people to work on their laptops, read quietly, and complete homework.  There are explicit signs on the tables of the expectations which included no talking and no cell phone use.  Yet we have people yapping away on their cell phones and attempting great feats of oratory that would make Winston Churchill seem like a whiny five year old.  There are places for talking, try outside on Yonge Street on a soap box!  The library is for quiet reading and writing, a place to contemplate life to oneself and not with anyone else!  It is also not a place for necking either.  If you need to do this with what I presume to be your significant other than you perhaps you should book a room at the Summit Motel, I hear their rates are real cheap!  Oh, and necking in the stacks isn't an option either, cross that off the list.  But koodos to you guys for even finding where the library is.

People who just don't understand the concept of equal space for everyone.  While sitting at the quiet study area take a gander at the entire area.  See what the space is like and where people are sitting. You know, get the lay of the land.  That will prevent you from sitting down right next to me even though there are another ten more chairs available for your sitting pleasure that are all the same as the one right next to me.

What has ever happened to library etiquette?  It is really simple really, libraries are quiet places for reading, taking notes and writing.  Some libraries, like the Aurora Public Library, have rooms available for group work, this is where small group discussion can take place. Otherwise please keep your mouth shut or whisper only if you absolutely need to but this shouldn't be longer than "honey, I'll be over there in fiction section."  That's all people, there is no more to a library, no eating, drinking or having debates worthy of the House of Commons.  It's simple really, reading, writing and arithmatic,  that's all a library is used for nothing else.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Happy International Women's Day!

Today is International Women's day! Perhaps I should be writing this post tomorrow after today is over. But then the point and context might be missed. 

Today we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of Women's Day.  This day is to celebrate everything that women have been through and struggle to attain in societies around the world. Everything from equal pay, jobs, equality, education, sharing of responsibilities in the home and so much more.  Women have lots to celebrate.  

Lets also remember there are other days and months of recognition throughout the year.  There is Father's Day, Mother's Day, Black History month and others that I cannot remember right now. There seems to be a day or month to celebrate everything unless you are a white man without any children.  Now why is that?

With 365 days in a typical year there has to be a day, just a day, not a month or week, for the average caucasion male without any children?  Perhaps the day could be made for all men worldwide to show the struggles in this day in age that we must endure. 

Recently there have been reports out that boys tend have a lower reading levels than girls in the public school system.  As well, women are now holding more spots in universities than men. Should this issue not be recognized in a "menism" movement similar to the feminist movement that helped to bring about "International Women's Day"? 

What about all the accomplishments in history that men have accomplished in traditional women's roles like nursing and teaching.  Women seem to take great pride in showing how women have climbed into more "male dominated roles" in the workplace and society in general.  Everything from the first female Canadian Senator to the first female doctor to practice medicine in Canada.  These are indeed great accomplishments for women everywhere and should not be downplayed but aplauded.  But shouldn't men also be encouraged and applauded to investigate and take on historically women's roles in occupations and society?  There should be at least a day to celebrate this. 

Of course biology may prevent men from taking on all of women's roles.  Men obviously have yet to sucessfully give birth and provided natural sustanence to a natural baby.  But after a period of time men are able to take over the caregiving role of father to a child.  A true partnership between the couple who brought the child into world could then be given.  Fathers should be recognized for taking on the role of caregiver while there wives return to work after giving birth to their child. Perhaps this should be celebrated on a "Men's Day".

There is lots to celebrate about men in this world.  There is lots to celebrate about women in this world.  Why not have one day for each to celebrate and encourage men and women to strive to be anything they can be.  That, of course, would mean true equality between women and men.

Monday, March 07, 2011

A Movie! A Real Life Movie!

This Friday I frittered away less than an hour trying out the movie feature in the Picasa picture software.  I didn't read the instructions (Read: I'm a man and, as the old saying goes,"real men don't read instructions") and just hit the "Movie" button to see what would happen.  Up popped a text screen with the folder's title and a photo I had previously selected with a four second movie premade.

I returned to the folder I was working on, selected all the photos and hit the "Movie" button again.  There before me was a complete slideshow movie.  I fumbled around a bit with the "Transition" function and came up with my first movie using the photos I took at Grand Turk while I was on  vacation on the cruise in January 2011.

I uploaded the movie to Youtube and the mucked around with the "Audioswap" feature (Read: added some cool jazz music) within Youtube and the below is the result:




IIn the future I will probably play around with the photo sized I used as several times I've noticed the pictures aren't quite big enough when panned around int his format.  So hopefully in the future I can fine tune the movie.

But none the less it wasn't a bad first attempt.

Friday, March 04, 2011

How a Wild Wing Reno = The Expensive Big Mackie with a side of Poor Service at McDonald's

I met my wife at Promenade Mall after work and walked across the street to the Wild Wing location.  However, the storefront was dark and nobody was in the place.

There was a sign on the front window that said "Under Renovation."   This seemed a little weird considering the location is less than two years old and has been open before.  Could there have been something stupid done that required the location to close to renovate in less than two years?  I doubt it unless there was some crazy management overseeing the design, construction and operation of this Wild Wing when it opened.  Something just doesn't add up here. 

So we headed across the street to TNT Supermarket for my wife to pick up some Sushi and I to McDonald's at the Food Court (Promenade Mall, 1 Promenade Circle, Vaughan, Ontario)

There was a small line of three people in front of me.  It took the cashier over five minutes to even take my order which was a little frustrating since the two guys in front of me only wanted two small coffees (which are FREE until March 6th this week!) and a muffin.  However at this location there isn't much manouverability for the cashier to move back and forth as the aisle behind the counter is a little constricted due to the way this Food Court front was constructed.  So she had to push her way past her coworker to get to the other side and return back.  But eventually she got to me.

The Order: A Big Mac Meal (1 Big Mac Sandwich, Medium Fries and a Coke)

Of course after waiting the five minutes by the time she retreived the Coke, again having to push her way to the other side of Food Court front and back, the fries were all gone and she needed to wait for new ones to be fried.  Normally all of this wouldn't disturb me but the price for a Big Mac Meal has risen dramatically (my receipt shows $7.79 including taxes) so a little service would be in order and, as per the Promenade Mall Directory, McDonald's is supposed to be "fast food" not verging on "medium food" proportions.

Finally the fries were ready and one of the cashier's coworkers put them in a container and on hold.  The cashier though asked the cook for another Big Mac.  I interupted saying I needed a Medium fries.  The cashier apologized, corrected the cook and got my fries quickly.  She had to get them quickly though, the friers were basically right next to her barely a step away. 

I sat down with my wife after ten minutes of lining up, ordering and waiting for the food.  I quickly demolished my meal.  It really wasn't anything special or notable except the fries were fresh.  But they had better be considering they just came out the frier. 

The price of $7.79 seemed a little over the top for the meal as well for the portion size I got.  So I doubt I will be returning to McDonald's until I receive some new coupons in the mail for a "Two Can Dine for $8.99" or something similar because, quite frankly, the price to meal ratio just isn't worth it.

Overall, this trip ended in dissapointment and showed how a Wild Wing reno equals an expensive Big Mac Meal with a side of poor service at McDonald's.

Does this place exist? An adventure on the Wild Wing Side

This afternoon I will meet my wife to go out to dinner tonight. We had been to a Wild Wing in Newmarket a while back as well as one in Toronto with my brother, sister and Alice. So I thought let's try it again for tonights meal. 

I scoured the internet on Thursday for a location to suggest to my wife to meet at and found one near her work from the Wild Wing Restaurant Locator.  

My wife returned home from work yesterday and said there was an more convenient location near Promenade Mall.  I checked on Google Maps and found the location at 11 Disera Drive, Vaughan, Ontario complete with Google Street View and a couple of reviews so this place either currently exists or recently shut down.

The only way to know for sure is to visit and check it out.  Oh the adventure!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Saving some CHA.......CHING!

At my new home I have found small drafts coming through the light switch near the front door.  I could feel cold air coming in and the face plate was colder than than the wall above it.  As a new home owner I hate to see my money going out the door...er...faceplate for no return except to heat the outside, use up more energy and hurt the environment. 

And if there is one thing my Mom ever taught me growing up in a Canadian winter it was "close the door, we don't heat the outside!"  I would imagine she would say the same thing about losing heat through light switches. 

But how to solve the problem?  In this day in age if there is a problem one only has to "Google it" to see if there is a solution.

Below is one of the responses I received to my Google query.



So I set off to my local Home Depot recently and picked up a pack of these babies.  My pack was $4.99 plus tax and came with enough insulation pieces to cover three light switches and seven wall plugs. 

I watched the video again, called my wife and off we went to save the world from drafts from my house...er...save my house from a cold Canadian winter draft. 

The only thing we did differently from the video was to turn the power off to the light switch (REMEMBER SAFETY FIRST!) and then on the with the task. A quick off with the plate via the new drill, slap two insulation pieces in there and replace the plate.  A couple of whirs later with the drill and I was king of the handmen in this house and a Earth saver extraordinaire.

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