Thursday, March 12, 2009

Technical Difficulties

There's a bug in Blogspot. It won't let me upload photos. We all know that pictures are integral to the survival of this baby. So I'll sit with the computer/Blogspot and we'll go manno-a-manno until one of us comes out on top. Propbably Blogspot. But I'll be back up and running when I can.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Transit City for My City

Rarely do I step back from my own adventures and talk about stuff that’s going on in Canada. But this issue is something quite close to my heart. When I was at home during Christmas I kept seeing signs for the TTC’s Transit City plan. And I have to say that I am ecstatic about it. The plans look amazing: 120 km of LRT spread out over seven lines, 175 million new riders a year, 92% less emissions. Transit City aims to finally link Toronto’s suburbs (Scarborough, Etobicoke and parts of North York) to the core. As someone who has taken the Scarborough RT for years and suffered through the nails-on-a-chalkboard-magnified-a-million-times squealing of the tracks, I eagerly await a newer, modern LRT system.

LRT in Brussels that goes above and below ground

I know they’re at the planning stages still and that transit projects usually proceed with prehistoric-age speed, but I will not be discouraged. According to this, the Mayor Miller plans to have financing early in 2009 and break ground by the end of the year.

"If we have [federal] funding commitments in January, we can do a lot to get shovels in the ground by the end of 2009," Mr. Miller promises.

The first visible project of Transit City is a new light-rail line on Sheppard Avenue (from Don Mills Station to Morningside Avenue), with construction set for September, 2009. But the mayor says federal dollars could speed up plans for the next two projects in the lineup: the Eglinton Crosstown (from Kennedy Station to Pearson Airport) and a new Etobicoke-Finch West line (from Yonge Street to Highway 27).
That's all well and good, but don’t let the exclamation points and italics fool you. There are issues and problems with the plan (financing it not to mention that it probably won’t shorten the commute downtown by that much), but it’s a start and an effort at tackling a huge problem in this city.
Inside the LRT in Brussels

All the articles about the plan always mention the “European-style light rail” which is funny but completely true. Light rail in some form has been in most of the cities I’ve been to (with London a notable exception). I have to admit, when I first heard about the plan a year or two ago, I was very skeptical. Streetcars in Scarborough sounded like the worst idea I’d ever heard. But then I went to Europe. It works. The Dutch rely on nothing else in Amsterdam and streetcars cross major streets with no problem. It works for them, let’s see how it’ll work for us.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Picture of the Day

So maybe it's becoming a bit of a tradition.

Here's another fun sign. This one's a bit closer to home. It's graffiti near Borough Market

Monday, March 9, 2009

Fun Fact

In many "romance" languages (ie. French, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian) the word for subway is "metro." I always wondered where that came from. It's not even close to "train" in any of the aforementioned languages, which only fits considering that's what a subway is. Well, I learned in Paris that the French "metro" stands for "Métropolitain." Doesn't really help crack the code, but at least I have an answer.

Friday, March 6, 2009

One More Reason to Master the Art of Packing Light

When I flew to Dublin on Ryanair I took one small carry-on suitcase. I was only going from Friday to Sunday but I wanted to be well prepared: two pairs of shoes, a few change of clothes, make-up bag and a hair straightener. All together that’s 11kg. I know this because it was weighed and stamped with a bright orange ‘overweight’ sticker.

This meant that I was over the 10kg limit allotted to me by Ryanair. I thought they’d make me check it (for €10) or worse, not let me take it on to the plane. But they didn’t do any of that. I walked into the cabin, threw it up in the overheard compartment and was on my way.

Now they want to charge me for that.
Checking a bag will cost between 10 and 20 Euros, but anyone caught trying to sneak too much into the cabin can pay the 30 Euro fine, or stay home, because not paying the fine = no travel for you.

The system appears to be pretty well planned, as it does not seem like you are able to check the excess cabin baggage once on board - which should force people to just pay the checked bag fee instead of trying to take a chance the flight attendant won't notice your massive bags. [Source]
I understand the need for it. On that one flight I saw more flagrant violations of requirements. But on the other hand, I’m a little angry. The list of additional fees for Ryanair is substantial—if you’re not a European citizen, checking a bag, airport check-in, etc and so forth—now they want to charge me to bring anything. Sometimes hair straighteners and shoes weigh more than they should, but should we really be punished for that?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cyclist Insanity

In light of what I posted a few weeks ago, last week, this is a bit sad.
The Velib bike rental system has been hailed by Parisians and tourists alike for its convenience, as well as being a “green” alternative to getting around the French capital via taxicab, bus or metro. But the high cost of fixing, maintaining and, in many cases, replacing the fleet of about 20,000 bikes is proving too much for JCDecaux, the company that runs the program.

Of the 15,000 bicycles originally disbursed for the program, more than half have disappeared, reports the BBC, presumed to be stolen.

Though I'm not at all surprised. Put something worth even a little bit of money and it's a just a matter of time until they're either defaced, stolen or broken. But someone think of the cyclists.

Long live angry, rude cyclists.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Picture of the Day

I don't usually do this--put up pictures of the day--but this was too good to resist. This is another side value of travelling, aside from the enjoyment, cultural education and adventure.

Here's the article that went along with it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

City of Music

It happened on my second day. We were on a train back from Versailles. A man walked onto the train we were on caring a speaker. He turned it on, put the microphone to his lips and started singing. Among the classics he belted out was an off tune Sinatra rendition. It wasn't done particularly well but it set the mood.

It's events like these that make Paris so charming. Because it wasn't just on that train. In my four days, there was music everywhere we went. On the trains, on the subways, in the stations, in the restaurants.

What I liked the most was that it was all different kinds of music. American classics like Sinatra and singer songwriters. Spanish ballads and French accordion. It was nice to hear. Nicole rolled her eyes when we got on the subway late and night and were subjected to an accordion player directly in front of us asking us for money, but I thought it was Parisian. At least we got a nice show beforehand.

The band in the subway

Monday, March 2, 2009

Smile, You're On CCTV

You know that feeling you get when you're being watched? Well, I get it a lot here. But that probably has to do with the fact that, in England, you're practically always on TV. And by TV I mean CCTV--closed circuit televisions.

It all started when the Bulger case, a story of the murder of a little boy by two 10-year-olds caught on CCTV. The footage helped lead to a quick arrest After that, the British Home Office made grants available to any local council that wanted to install cameras. Four years later, the numbers have swelled and London is the biggest customer. After the IRA detonated a bomb that killed one person and did an estimated £1 billion worth of damage, after which the police put a "ring of steel" around Bishopsgate to prevent any more attacks, including hundreds of CCTV cameras.

Now, years later, CCTV is everywhere. The numbers are actually staggering. One fifth of the world's CCTV cameras are in the British Isles, which represent less than one five hundredth of the world's habitable land mass. No one knows exactly how many there are, because so many different agencies, private and public, have installed them. Here's one estimation:
"Clive Norris, Professor of Sociology at Sheffield University, calculated four years ago that there were "at least" 4,285,000 – one for every 14 citizens. Norris claimed in his 1999 book that a person could be caught on CCTV cameras 300 times in a day. This figure is on the high side; Prof Norris has described it as "a piece of rhetoric" intended to "make a point" – but a few hours' spent travelling around central London could take you past 300 cameras."
You see them walking down the street or waiting for the bus. Near shopping areas, tube stations and even around school. And I'm not sure how much safer I feel or am. There's a lot of debate about that too. While they may may sound like a great idea, but at what cost? Just consider this.
"A website run by the charity Privacy International publishes a world map, updated annually, in which countries are colour coded according to the level of surveillance to which their citizens are subjected – white for the countries where there is the greatest respect for individual privacy, black for the countries such as Russia, China and various Middle Eastern states, where surveillance is "endemic". Most years, there is only one European country coloured black – the UK. This is because the UK could be almost be called the home of the CCTV camera." [Source]
And now comes another development. There's a rumour that the Met (London police) want to install CCTV in pubs around London. Just imagine what will happen then.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Guess the Passfield Alum: Round 2

Every day I find out more and more cool people who've walked the hallowed halls of Passfield. Here's another one. See if you can guess. This one's easy.

1. It's a man.
2. He was here in the 50s.
3. He studied for a degree in accounting and finance,
4. He had a minor in physical education, though you'd never know considering he's still so skinny.
5. He couldn't get any satisfaction. He left after one year and didn't graduate.

Give up? Check it out.