Monthly Archives: August 2012

Douglas Snow Aquatic Centre Shut Down Sept-Dec 2012

Our local city swimming pool, Douglas Snow Aquatic Centre, here in North York is shutting down for “state of good repairs” maintenance work.  We’ve known about the work for months now, but it’s still a shock to the routine we had the last 5 years.  In case you’re landing here trying to find info about the closure let’s see if I can summarize for you.

UPDATE: Jan 2 — The pool has not reopened as scheduled.  “Soon” is the time-frame given.

The pool itself has been open since 1985 and hasn’t had any major work done.  They have their twice yearly multi- week shutdown for cleaning and what not, but the larger systems need their up-keep too.  The work was first approved in the city budget back in 2004, so it’s my feeling that even some of the regular upkeep was not done with as much gusto as it could have been, knowing that the big project was eminent (in government timing anyway).

The official list of work being done is as follows:

State-of-good repair and renovation work. replacement of window seals, flashing and caulking; barrier-free upgrades to stairs and ramps in pool and recreation areas; barrier-free upgrades to reception millwork; replacement of exterior doors and hardware; replacement of acoustic panels in pool area; repair of water damage at pool area skylights; refurbishment of existing air-handling unit and controls; replacement of lighting in pool area, reception area and at exterior perimeter of building; upgrades to firm alarm and emergency lighting systems; safety equipment upgrades at filter room; removal of existing gas chlorine tanks and replacement with a liquid chlorine tank system with required sensors and exhaust.

The above is estimated to cost just a little over $1,000,000. I couldn’t find an estimate on how much revenue will be lost in the months of closure. Some of the regular pool patrons really hoped the sauna would get upgraded, but their petition to do so hasn’t seemed to change the 8-year-old budget. My big wish would be removal of the hair dryers in the change room. The decibels they pump out, not to mention the tremendous energy usage, is upsetting.

From what I’ve heard from staff, pool management will relocate to near-by offices for the interim (space available in North York Civic Centre and nearby Edithvale CC), while guard staff is left to fend for themselves.  Many have been hoping to hear from other pools in the city which require staff level adjustments but it seems most, if not none, have not heard about those positions.  I’m told they are guaranteed their positions come January, but how many people can go four months unemployed waiting for a layoff to end?  I should have inquired as to their EI eligibility.  It was unclear which category the recreation assistants fell into.  Pool maintenance staff is expected to stay involved in the repairs with the contractors.

Near by pools are:

  • Antibes CC – Located near Bathurst & Finch.  Lane swim, Senior Swim, and Lessons
  • Cummer Park CC – Located on Leslie at Cummer.  Lane swim, Preschool Swim, Aquafit, and Lessons
  • North Toronto Memorial Community Center – Located on Eglinton Ave. between Yonge & Avenue Road (probably the best option for subway user).  Lane swim, Aquafit, and Lessons.
  • Northview Heights SS – Located at Bathurst & Finch.  Lessons only.
  • North York YMCA – Located at Bayview and Sheppard.  If you want to go outside of the City’s system, this could be an option for you.

Note: People asked why I didn’t include the swimming pool at the Bathurst JCC/Prosserman Centre.  That’s because it was torn down and not rebuilt yet.

If you’re looking for the fitness classes that ran in the Multi-purpose room upstairs, they will be taking place at the Willowdale Lawn Bowling Club, across the street (west over Beecroft) and just south of the Cemetery.

All this info is from personal experience.  Always check with the city (Carol Bain) if you’re unsure of any thing and we’ll all cross our fingers they’ll stay on schedule and it won’t be April 2013 when we get back in to our favourite pool.

Personally, we’re going to try out the ‘Family Swim’ way out at Wallace Emerson CC as it’ll coincide with a homeschooler friendly drop-in program.  60mins transit vs 10minute walk is not something I look forward to.

Athenaeum update

I updated my athenaeum project today with the following features:

  • now populates a ‘currently-checked-out’ shelf so you can see in one place what you have out from the library.  I found that since I was running it for a few weeks now, I had over 100 items in my ‘checked-out’ total shelf so I wanted to be able to get more granularity over the items I had out.
  • Further to that, I also add books to a shelf per month they are checked out. More to just capture the data at this point.  Should help me know which books we check out multiple times too.
  • I also added the ability to have multiple library cards right in the config file and wrapped that up in a YourAccounts class.  That way I didn’t have to manually get the 2nd library card in the script each time I was running it vs. checking it in to the repository (didn’t want to accidentally check in my library card # to github).

Please let me know if you’re using the script at all.

Toronto Buskerfest 2012 Diary

Yesterday I took the kids down to the Toronto Buskerfest . What worked for us last year as well as this, is to arrive just before it opens so we can get the lay of the land and avoid most of the crowds.  I can’t imagine how busy it’d be on a Friday night or weekend because it felt very well visited yesterday afternoon.  We situate ourselves near the kids area and the CTV/CP24 Stage giving us access to a big stage, the shaded kids area, and some bathrooms if we need them (note the business we choose to make use of their facilities does post a sign asking for patrons only — I have no clue where official washrooms are).

We saw the following acts

I had remembered some of the press from Ernest from last year so was looking forward to his show. It got off to a rough start due to technical difficulties (sound system wasn’t powered correctly and it took two technicians to get it going) but while we waited for him to start we got to watch an early preview of Dream State Circus as they performed for a noon-time TV news (which I think we probably we in shot for — anyone see us?), the stilt guys doing this hockey bit, and the creatures the kids really enjoyed were the Giant Seagull people! Ernest gave us lots of laughs (jump over a car on his pogo stick).  A few bits weren’t kid friendly, but it wasn’t the kids area so that could be expected.

We headed into the kids area next for Rob Torres.  He is a fantastic clown, who doesn’t speak at all during the performance (but does make noises), and he really fired up the imaginations of the crowd drawing us all into his world of play and fun.  His show felt completely original and did not have some of the repetition some of the others have (perhaps because he doesn’t need banter which seems to get re-used a lot).

We stopped in at Fancy Pants Kids booth next for the kids to do some dress-up.   Ms Meyer Odell remembered us which made the kids feel really welcome.  We left the tent with temporary tattoos for the kids and a recommendation to see Wolfe & Petersen’s Pocket Carnival.

Daniel Forlano soon tried to start his act, even if some tv-show marketers had invaded his stage and seemed oblivious to him as the performer (one father who was taking pictures of his kids with the licensed characters even complained when “the man with the ladder” walked in front of his shot *sigh*).  His laid back character performance was an interesting change from the usual exuberant buskers, and he tried his best to woo an audience member in his romantic comedy featuring juggling throw pillows, balancing on a ladder as well as standing on the top of a bottle.

We rushed over to catch the end of Dream State Circus’s show back in the kids area.  As they were doing their acro-balance I felt at home putting one kid on each shoulder so they could see over the crowd.  The kids weren’t too comfortable though so I was proud when they decided to squeeze through the people standing so they could get close enough to see for themselves.  One of their balances was like the foot balance my son & I do, which pleased him to see.  Their finale of her standing on his head while they both juggle fire clubs is pretty impressive, but I liked their pre-finale of her doing a handstand on his out-stretched arm the best.

checkerboard guy profile picThis was later than I had planned to stay already, but my son caught sight of The Checkerboard Guy setting up and asked if we could stay and watch.  I’m glad we did.  The only Canadian performer we saw, he was extremely friendly and kept the show at a perfect level for the kids.  Turns out he’s been performing for so long, that an audience member there with her kids remembered seeing him perform in her youth (I took a group photo of them all so got to over-ear the story).

Complaints about the kids area are similar to last years complaints.  Too many smokers — the local business people come out of the neighbouring buildings and use the square as their butt-ground and seem oblivious to the fact that it’s filled with kids for the event (probably not as much an issue on the weekend).  The candy giver awayers didn’t bother with any extra trash-bins so their single serving packaging blanketed the area with plastic.  The square itself isn’t too flat due to the stone layout which gives some of the performers an extra challenge.  Oh, and my usual complaint about the Buskerfest website (Flash ick) was alleviated a bit as I found an html version tucked away.

Afterwards we had a long walk up to Bloor from King St to surprise my wife as she finished her work-day.  I enjoy it when the kids impress me with their fitness.

Signed up for another session at Toronto School of Circus Arts

Have you ever wanted to run away and join the circus?  It’s never too late!

IToronto School of Circus Arts Logo‘ve been training at the Toronto School of Circus Arts for a couple of years now (after a long hiatus), which is Toronto’s premier Circus School, and the new schedule is out for the fall session.  Don’t let the older website distract you, just concentrate on the schedule pdf itself.  Since I’ve been going for a while, I sign up for “Package A” which gives me 4 classes for a discounted price (plus some open gym time), so on Monday nights I do two (I might do 3 this time around), and on Saturdays while my son is doing his class I do some conditions and stretching as well (an important component that lets you do your best on your apparatus).

I’ve made a few videos of classes from last year if you’re a curious what a recreational student can do.

Last year they added ‘Chinese Poles’ back to the schedule, which is something I had wanted to try for a while.

Last spring, after my son had shown me a few of the things he had learned, I tried out the aerial silks for the first time and I’m really enjoying the effort required for this apparatus (note you might not want to start with this class as it requires lots of strength). Note the video says ‘Silks 1A’ — they’ve renamed the levels this term so it’s ‘Silks Beginner (Level 1)’ this term.

New to the schedule this term are ‘Straps’ and ‘Mobile’.  I took an aerial straps workshop over the summer and if it didn’t conflict with silks I’d be doing more of it.  ‘Mobile’ isn’t something I know much about, but I’ve seen them hanging around the school.

They’ve also introduced some new baby & toddler programs to the schedule for those of us home during the day with our kids and looking to keep busy.

Oh, and just so you know you will be sore (for days) after each class. It’ll probably feel really hard the first time, but you’ll be surprised how quickly it’ll come if you stick with it.

If Downsview Parc isn’t an ideal location for you, there are other circus training options available in Toronto these days too.  I don’t have any direct experience with them, but I’ll leave the ones I know of listed here for your research purposes: Zero Gravity Circus/Centre of Gravity, Cirque-ability, FACT Aerial, Harbour Front Centre (only during the summer).  If you know of others, feel free to leave a comment.

And now for your amusement some of the stunts the kids do

And a recent article from the Toronto Sun introducing the school (mostly regarding flying trapeze).

Netflix’s “Available Until”

We’ve been using Netflix (Canada) for a few months now, and one of my (many) peeves with the service is the lack of transparency regarding content availability.  A few times I’ve seen an “Available until” date display on the bottom of the screen when watching on the Wii, and I’ve determined it seems to show up 15 days before the content expires, and content will expire on the 15th of the month, or the end of the month.  Now, this only shows up when you pull up the title, not in any of the browsing modes so if I see a selection that I might want to watch in the next while, I may end up missing out on it.  It’s quirky, but thinking I might miss it hinders my enjoyment of it, know what I mean?

My present dilemma is I finally started watching JeremiahJMS‘s post-Crusade post-Apocalyptic tv-show, last week and I got 4 episodes in when the dreaded ‘Available Until’ popped up.

Screenshot of a Netflix on the Wii showing the 'Available Until' date for Jeremiah

So… do I drop everything and try to watch all 34 episodes in the next 10 days, do I stop watching and figure I’ll come across it in another form at some point, or do I watch it like regular and when it disappears it disappears?

I assume the expiration of content is due to licensing & distribution agreements but a little googling on the matter doesn’t turn much up.  There is nothing on the website’s help (heck, the website doesn’t even show the available until restriction (other sites say that this is a per-device ui issue), and since there is no official forum or support email I guess I won’t ever know (yeah, I won’t be calling in to ask).

Anyone out there have any insight into how the content expiration works on Netflix?

Update: I checked with the Executive Producer of this show in particular and he replied: “This stuff happens far above my paygrade and my understanding.”

Perseids Meteor Shower

Pawnee Perseids (Photo © Michael Menefee)

This year the Perseid’s Meteor Shower will peak at 1200h Aug 12, so late tonight will probably be your best chance to catch 90 to 100 meteors an hour.  It’ll be tough for a single individual to see all of them though, so why not get a group of four together and lay down head to head so each of you gets a quadrant of the sky (if you’re into making an official count of them). And remember, don’t be discouraged if tonight isn’t a great night (weather or location wise) as it’s just the peak, there is still a pretty good chance of catching a few in the next week as well.

For us city dwellers, Light Pollution will serious hamper your chances of seeing many so if you can, get out of the city to up your chances of catching a shooting star.

If you’re keen to get info from experts, NASA will be holding a ‘Live Chat’ on their page starting at 11pm EDT.

For the younger crowd, here’s They Might Be Giants reminding us that “a shooting star is not a star is not a star at all”

Selecting a Rugged Point & Shoot Camera for the Family

The family point & shoot stopped working months ago, due to sand getting in the gears.  It started last year when I did a bit of urbanexploring and I jumped in a lot of mud.  Then after a couple of days on the beach it seized up, limiting our photo taking on our holiday.  I cleaned it up a few times, got it working for a while longer with the caveat of not using the zoom but then the kids banged it one day and the lens assemble just wouldn’t retract.  I did take it all apart, got the sand out of the gears, re-seated it etc which got the lens assemble working again, but something I did while having it apart (probably snapping a couple of tiny plastic clips) prevented it from booting up.  Jen decided she missed having regular video & photos of the kids (we had been getting by using her phone occasionally, and sometimes lugging the full DSLR around) so I was tasked with selecting ourselves a ‘waterproof’ camera for our next holiday, but wasn’t looking forward to it since I was expecting bulky bulbous things that I wouldn’t use the rest of the time.

Slick product image of the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX20 L (L for Blue)First up it seems that ‘waterproof’ cameras are coming into a new class marketed as ‘rugged‘.  That means waterproof, dustproof, freezeproof, crushproof and shockproof but still with some style and not all designed to look like they float.  I’m hoping dust-proof means sand proof too, but we’ll have to see as none of the literature I reviewed is explicit.

For those curious, I selected the Sony Cyber-shot TX20 (DSC-TX20L).  After reviewing a lot of info I realized that it really came down to size for me.  This guy is speced to be 96x56x18mm and only 133g with battery and memory card.  I think they call this a ‘slim’ or ‘pocket’ profile when it comes to camera sizes?  It was only 2mm wider than the old canon and the same weight, and 30% thinner and 40% lighter than the other rugged cams I researched.  I typically only have one bill, one key and 7 cards in my pocket when we’re out of the house so my pockets feel empty.  With the last camera I noticed it there (and it even wore out a pocket in one pair of pants) but it wasn’t a supreme encumbrance.  Plus it was on sale $50 off at *shudder* Futureshop (that sale ended, but it’s still $20 off for the rest of the month) (and for the record there were none of it, or the previous model the TX10, available on Craigslist or Kijijii).

The trade offs from some of the others: in the higher end of the price class, lacked GPS which the others in that price class had, and didn’t have the biggest aperture (f3.5 vs f2.0 from the Olympus TG-1), and it was also the least rugged of the lot (but that mainly means it’s not for scuba diving or the arctic).  I do like the idea of geo-tagging the pics, but I think the battery drain and boot-up delays that feature might cause aren’t worth it yet, and low-light is always a problem and can usually be over-come with using the DSLR since we’d probably be at home in those situations anyway.  Also, there have been problems with Sony’s Video codec and mac compatibility in the past, but they seem to have resolved it recently?

For those looking to continue their own research you might want to start here:

I tried out ShopBot.ca for searching Canadian retailers for the product, here’s an example for the Olympus TG-1.  It lead me to where I’d expect for high-end camera choices in Canada: Vistek and Henry’s (not that these models are high-end, rather consumer grade).

My other contenders were the Olympus TG-1 (they have an entire LifeProof line), the Nikon AW100, and the Lumix models.

And to finish with some fun-stuff: during my research I came across these really cute babies underwater, also this kid has lots of fun with his sony in a pool.  Wonder if we’ll try to get around the City of Toronto’s camera at the pool policy or not?

I look forward to posting more photos on my facebook, and more videos to my youtube channel in the next while.

Review of Zot!: The Complete Black-and-White Collection: 1987-1991 by Scott McCloud

 Zot!: The Complete Black-and-White Collection: 1987-1991 Cover ImageZot!: The Complete Black-and-White Collection: 1987-1991 by Scott McCloud

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Having read Scott McCloud‘s later treaties on comics and their form & function I snatched up this collection of his earlier superhero comics when I saw it on the shelf at the library.

The book is divided up into two parts: Heroes & Villians, and The Earth Stories. For me, Part Two was far superior to Part One.

As Mr. McCloud would say: “comics are a medium not a genre”; and I think in Part One he was still figuring that out. As these are “The Black and White Collection” we’re missing out on the first 10 or so issues of Zot! and I never really felt like we got the exposition we needed to fill us in. Zot! is a teenage superhero of his Earth. He travels to our Earth and is dating Jenny. They adventure back and forth from the mundane (a good thing!) to the idyllic. For me, I like to know the ins & outs of my superhero. All I knew of Zot!’s (or Zach as he’s called sometimes) was that he could fly (anti-grav gizmos?) and had a stun gun that frequently ran out of shots (later he gets an invisibility device too). Also, nothing of his ‘origins’ until many issues in when we learn his parents were killed (and that’s why he lives with Uncle Max) (insert joke about a hero’s dead parents here).

Once the portal to the other dimension is closed, and we begin Part Two: The Earth Stories, the black & white pages really started to gleam. “Looking for Crime” (#29) was a great bridge as it still featured Zot!, but in this case he was trying really hard to be a crime-fighter and he just couldn’t find any crime to fight in New York City. “Autumn” (#30) opens with a beautiful splash page of Zot! and Jenny landing in her backyard, but that’s about it for the super-heroics in that this is Jenny’s Mom’s feature. Wonderful nostalgia and reminisces on her part help us experience the world as she sees it: a frustrated mother and wife dealing with regrets of her past, and hopes for her future. The next two stories, “Clash of Titans” and “Invincible” are the weakest of the single character stories, in my opinion, but never the less feature real kids dealing with their lives. “Normal” & it’s follow-up were well done, irregardless of the fact that they were one of the earliest depictions of homosexual teens in near-mainstream comics. The nuances he included were palpable. The gimmicky ending has me laugh out loud too. The twisted metaphors of Jenny finally going into Zot’s box I won’t comment on. And, I won’t say anything about the final issue of the run, I’ll leave a little suspense in the collection for you. I will say Mr McCloud that when you complete your next work of fiction you’ll have yourself another reader.

A note I just sent to my city councilor

Councilor Filion,

A few complaints regarding city services.

The new garbage collection today… the recycling truck seems to be placing everyone’s bin on the road.  Taking it from their driveway, and returning it to the street.  Additionally, the green bins were all left on their side, not standing upright.

There is confusion over the hours of the swimming pool at Mitchell Field.  The city’s website said that the afternoon swim finishes at 4:35 (Update: I did this time from memory… the site at the moment says 4:25).  The sign on the door of the lifeguards office says 4:30. The flyer available at the community centre’s desk says 4:25.  The last time we were there we were asked by the lifeguard to leave at 4:20.  I wonder what their timesheets say?  Oh, and there was graffiti in the mens changeroom there as well.

Recently a contractor for the city drove their truck through Dempsey Park.  The morning after that big rain.  They sunk in the mud.  They tore up a large portion of the hill next to the kitchen garden, not to mention the compaction of the ground from the street through to the tree they were chopping.  The local gardener says there is nothing that can be done about it since it was a contractor which has no oversight and he doesn’t have anything in his budget to repair the damage.

Beecroft road is finally finished!?
The deck built as part of Canterbury Place Park overtop of the Creek exposure is shoddy (west side south of Churchill, north of Ellerslie).  Many of the pieces don’t line up, there are exposed edges that were never cut fully (i.e. waiting for something to snag on), and if you look underneath, one of the support beams does not connect — the cement pillar is there, and the wooden beam is there, but there is a 4 cm gap between the two.  Not to mention some trash from the construction (wood offcuts) that was thrown into the creek bed below.

Where’s the pride?

Chris ‘curmudgeon’ Nolan

Update: Here is the reply I received from John Filion on September 4.

Dear ‘Curmudgeon’ Chris,

Thanks for your comments, and sorry for the delay in responding to your e-mail. I share your sentiments and was, in fact, having a conversation on this point with a friend yesterday. Not that this makes the situation any better, but in my recent experience the same lack of pride in workmanship extends also to the private sector.

Please let my office know if the garbage situation has improved. The company that has the contract has been read the riot act by City staff and it is a changeover that we are watching closely.

Best wishes,

John

I can solder! 7-Segment Serial Display & Nunchucky operational

I’ve been toying around with some electronics projects the last few months, but have been putting off the basic requirement of actually soldering anything.  I got a basic iron and misc tools around 6 weeks ago, and a couple of components that needed assembly (piggy backed on our robot order) but just hadn’t made the leap.  Until now.

I started with the 7-Segment Serial Display (Blue) (ordered from Solorbotics) which needed a few wires attached if I was going to do any prototyping with it.  From looking around it looked like I only needed to wire-up the Gnd and the Vcc connections (these were labelled on the circuit board).  After putting way too much solder on the first pin (and subsequently using my ‘solder sucker’ to clean it up) the next pin went smoother.  After looking at some example code it became clear I also needed to wire up the “Rx” connection as well.  Three wires total soldered up.  Just plugging it into the arduino made it display 4 zeros so that told me it was operational.  Update: you don’t actually have to solder these wires on… just bending them through the holes would have worked too.

These projects are still a bit obscure for me, so I wasn’t sure how to get started.  I read through the User Manual which was clear enough, but I figured there was code out there already.  I found this wall of text which I managed to digest down into this gist (and updated it thanks to these notes) which you can see running in the above video.

While the ‘iron was still hot’ (ok, not really but it sounded good — I actually waited until my son was home so he could watch) I put together the next project, which was a NunChucky Wii Nunchuck I2C Breakout Adapter .  This adapter required some headers (male & female) to be soldered on (while the WiiChuck wouldn’t have).  For the first bit of soldering I used my little ‘helping hands’ gizmo for holding both the circuit board, and the wire going in, so my hands were free; this time around I just set it on the table with the header poking through and soldering it that way.  This resulted in a slightly lop sided connection.  For the 2nd header, I used my other ‘helping hands’ (i.e. my son) to so we could solder with 4 hands instead of 2.  I made a video of the NunChucky in action too (and combined with the 7-Segment display) if you’re curious.

The code for the Nunchucky is based on Tod Kurt’s library (which he based on Chad Phillips code) and you can see my mods to his demo in this gist to output the button presses to the display.  Aside: did you know a “1” is different than a ‘1’ in Arduino?

Next time, don’t put off til tomorrow what you can do today.

What will you make?