116 – iPad

I bought an iPad.

I hadn’t wanted one until fairly recently when it just clicked that i would use one as more than an oversized iPod. I could use it to write and read comfortably in the couch or out and about. Up until now, my iPhone has been indispensable, and the iPad would allow me to do even more in an easier fashion.

So far, i’ve been right. It’s a much more comfortable platform for iBooks, which allows you to add PDF documents. I haven’t checked my Google home page, which is crammed with rss feeds I read, with my computer because I’ve moved (most of) them to an app called Pulse, which simplifies reading via RSS while making it a more visually appealing experience. Also, browsing the Internet really is a better, more intimate experience on a touch screen device. I thought that was all hype and spin. It isn’t.

Pages was the first app I downloaded, and used it to rewrite an entry in a brand new blog series I will hopefully one day soon start. I also used it to take notes during a CFFN meeting. Typing on the iPad is something I’m still getting used to, but hey, I’m doing it right now, thanks to BlogPress, which will hopefully allow me to update this blog more often as well! Email is nice on the iPhone, but it’s so much better on the iPad. As is Twitter. And the calendar.

The hilarity that PhotoBooth creates is astounding, when mixed with a bunch of teenagers, a toddler, and a mother who had no idea what was going on.

The photos get crazier, and the laughs escalated. I hadn’t laughed that hard in ages.

I can’t just do away with my laptop — I need it for photo editing, storage, and anything that still uses Flash. However, this iPad effectively kills my netbook. I can’t wait for iOS 5 to be released to make it, my iPhone (and eventual, inevitable iMac or MacBook purchase) that much more amazing. Not too bad coming from someone who bought his first apple device less than a year ago, eh?

The iPad does have its dangers though. I accidentally bonked Serene in the head with it as she was taking pictures (at almost 2 years old, she’s surprisingly adept at navigating and using the camera and photo apps). While she didn’t talk to or even look at me for maybe 10 minutes, she didn’t shed a single tear. Impressive! Here she is, recouping, ignoring me:

115 – The New Canon

201103_14_03 - Canon Rebel T3i

201103_14_04 - mud

201103_14_17 - Sun and Needles

201103_14_25 - LOL Butts

201103_15_05 - Thai Pipe

201103_15_07 - Peep Hole

201103_16_03 - Flight

201103_16_13 - Helicopter in the Window

201103_16_16 - Chatr

201103_17_02 - Again in the Snow

201103_17_04 - Bus at an Intersection

I got a new camera! It’s amazing! All the pictures above were taken with it. Whenever I get a new camera (which has only happened three times, including this one), I suddenly see the world differently. Now, I see footprints in mud, and sneakers hanging from phone wires, and unusual pipes that don’t seem to be doing anything other than look important. One thing I miss with my previous camera is its zoom though. I’m going to need to go and get a lens soon. And those are pricey.

I just need time to go out and play with it. Mysteriously, I have a family of small mannequins that I really want to use for a set of photos… I can not wait! But they are heavy. If you want to help, let me know.

This Canon T3i (ESO 600D) purchase is just one (albeit the biggest) of many purchases that I think has made this March a crazy expensive month it seems. But, thanks to me doing my taxes very early, I can afford it for the moment! Of course, the next big thing, also coming this month: Nintendo 3DS. That one I can’t wait for! I’ll take a picture of it with my camera, then turn around and take a 3D pic with the DS. It’ll be epic. Or not.

And yes, those are shots of Toronto.

114 – Ninety-Five Percent

201102_14_02 - Almost Complete

201102_16_01 - Northern Telecom

201102_16_02 - Traffic

201102_18_01 - Alley

Three of these four pictures were taken waiting at bus stops. The last one was taken walking to a bus stop where I had to wait.

I’m not happy that my local bus is on the list being considered to be downgraded from a regular black route to a red peak period route, going from available morning to night everyday to rush hour-only route for school kids at 8 and 3.

The city has the idea that they can ave money by taking the 98.6% of Ottawa that live within 5 minutes of a bus stop and shrinking it to 95% within 5 minutes… some of the time [article]! It’s bad enough that I have to wait so long at night between connections, but at least there is a connection. It doesn’t make any sense to make it hard for people to get home, especially at night. Aren’t buses supposed to be an alternative to keep people from driving after drinking? How about the parents who can’t always pick up their kids after going out with friends? Or all the older people who need buses to kneel for them? Can they walk an easy 20 minutes (because they tend to be slower than an average walker) in the rain or snow or humidity?

You want to hit a high ridership percentage, then the system has to be usable. If you want to increase (or maintain) ridership, you need to keep local buses accessible.

The public transportation system and ridership are always stuck in this cyclical chicken-egg pattern. But in order to save costs, you cut service, which cuts ridership – which in turn means less revenue, leading to more cuts. And what gets cut? The least profitable routes, which coincidentally are the routes that help make those bigger more profitable rapid-transit routes the successes that they are.

You need to save money, start at the top. Curb the overspending there. I’ve heard nothing but terrible things about OC Transpo management for years, and clearly this scheduling system isn’t working the way it was meant to on paper. You want to reduce inefficiencies to save a few pennies, then redesign the whole system! Keep to running the local buses more frequently (drivers get paid the same, regardless of where they end up) into hubs where other buses will take us riders where we want to go, quickly. Merge local routes at night if you have to, but don’t kill them altogether. Will Samuel, a fellow Ottawan that I started following during the last municipal election, has a great read here.

Spend a couple hundred million and get us light rail that can hold way more riders to the city’s biggest destinations! Where’s the fast, reliable way to go from downtown to Scotiabank Place, and all the stops in between? Building a tunnel where we don’t really need one doesn’t help either.

I would gladly spend over $100 on a monthly pass (we’re almost there now anyway; Toronto riders spend less than $130/mo for a system that, in my experience, works very quickly, but that’s another story) that saves me 20 or 30 minutes a day. Rail could do that. Frequent local buses could do that. Making me walk more and wait more won’t.

You want to give OC Transpo a facelift? You don’t need crazy fancy rebranding – OC Transpo is probably one of the top 5 known local brands. Concentrate on making buses a social experience. When people think buses, they think of dirty transports that rarely come on time and are crammed with strangers. Really, it’s a great way to find time daily to be with friends and neighbours on the way to work or play. Make it easy for riders to bring friends and family with them!

OC Transpo needs to change at a fundamental level, and it’s going to cost money, whether that’s new buses (I’m looking at you, double decker), rail, more drivers, redesigning routes, and or a new paint job on the brand. Spend the time and energy and money now to take OC Transpo to the next level… or a new level. Focus on increasing revenue through more stronger ridership. In return, can we just have an accessible system that just works for us all?

113 – Winterlude

201102_13_05 - Ask Me About My Breakfast

201102_13_06 - Yin and Yang

201102_13_10 - CEPJB

201102_13_17 - At the End

201102_13_25 - Musical Geese

201102_13_28 - Bubble

201102_13_36 - Parliament in the Snow

201102_13_37 - Smile

For all the trouble that winter causes, it really does have it’s fun side. Skiing, skating, snowmen, snow forts, ice hotels, ice sculptures. Winterlude combines a few of these into a really fun festival just when people usually start tiring of the cold season. I love going down and seeing the exhibits and sculptures and people out enjoying themselves (and Beavertails)! Fortunately I managed to make my way downtown this year (it’s been three or four years since I last went – even longer since I made it to the Quebec side of the festivities).

There were some very nice sculptures this year. Perhaps my favourite was this interactive domino-like sculpture that had windows that were perfectly aligned. It gave you the tunneling effect of looking in a reflection of a reflection of a mirror, without seeing yourself. Very cool!

Perhaps it’s because I’m more aware of these kinds of things, but the event seems to get increasingly more branded by sponsors. Rogers and Samsung were on hand to provide heat, photo ops, and a peek at their gadgets and services. Everyone at the Rogers tent were having a good time, snapping pictures of their friends in a Galaxy Tab, tweeting a rogers hashtag to get it on the big screen, and trying to touch the ice-encased smartphones. It’s brilliant how they created a positive interactive experience that fits the theme of Winterlude.

Of course, the best part of Winterlude is the Beavertail! The lines at Confederation park were pretty long (though efficient I noticed), so we opted to head to the storefront in the market. I haven’t been in a while, and in that time, they’ve developed a number of new types! I tried the apple cinnamon, which was amazing.

I had a great time and I wish there were more winter festivals in the area, which would give people more reasons to get together and be outside in this beautiful season.

More Photos here.

112 – How Did Shopping Carts Get Up There?

201102_11_02 - Next Stop: Carleton

201102_11_03 - 501 Heron

201102_11_04b - Bronson / Airport PKWY Overpass

201102_12_01i - Shopping Atop a Mountain

There’s so much waiting done each and every day. It’s so easy to become annoyed and pace while waiting for the waiting to end. I do most of my waiting at bus stops (and increasingly, O-Train stops), and for a while, I took a fair number of pictures for those 5- or 12- or 30-minute waits. Then DS games, books, and eventually the iPhone got in the way, demanding my full attention not only at stops, but for the whole commute. Yet lately, a sudden reversal. Perhaps I should apologize now!

Speaking of iPhone, the Google Translate app is available, free, and pretty much the most amazing tool ever. Just speak into it, and it can speak your phrase back in another language! Hoshi Sato might even be impressed. I want to go to a non-English-speaking area and see if I can really get by using it to communicate. Would anyone like to take a trip to India, China, or Mexico? In fact, Google if you’re listening, I would blog and Youtube the whole experience!

Photos: I love the view of the O-Train heading North from Confederation Station. If I were more daring, I would jump down onto the track after it departs to get a better shot. There’s only a few seconds before the train is too far away!

Also, on my way home tonight, I noticed that, somehow, a couple of shopping carts have ended up atop a parking lot snow mountain. Alas, I didn’t have my camera, but the iPhone worked to prove the insanity of such a discovery. I hope Loblaws isn’t missing their carts…

111 – Mountains in the Parking Lot

201102_10_01i - Mountain

201102_10_02i - Beyond this Point

201102_10_03i - Bayview

Perhaps the best thing about Winter is snow. It’s amazing how it can completely change the look of the land- and cityscapes. Unfortunately, in order to be able to get anywhere, it needs to be put somewhere. Often, it’s in a corner of a parking lot, which creates a sizable mountain that, as a kid, I loved to climb. Because there were no nearby hills to slide down (that I knew about, but I have since discovered a few…) these mountains of unwanted snow were where I would toboggan and slide and dig out forts. They were canvases where a young Ben could let his imagination go.

I haven’t climbed any this year. Yet.

The flip side of winter is the cold. When you aren’t playing, when you have to go from point A to B (or when I’m commuting home, A to B to C to D), the cold is a nuisance. Salt stains everything an undesirable grey, and waiting 10 minutes feels like an hour. Seeing your bus pull away as you run to the platform is the most depressing sight, because it means waiting 10 minutes, or 30 minutes.

Lately, I’ve decided to walk home rather than wait for that bus that just doesn’t line up with the other ones. I get home at about the same time, but walking and moving around in the cold, I think, is more desirable than standing still… as long as it’s not a piercing cold blowing right at you!

110 – Calm After the Storm

201102_03_01i - Calm After the Storm

201102_09_01i - Snowfall

201102_09_02i - Branches

One of the small things in life that I truly enjoy is the calm after a storm. One moment, it’s thundering and lightning bolts touching down all around, and the next, the sky is clear and the sun is beaming, as if it’s happy to be back. Maybe it’s the quick reversal of weather that intensifies the beauty that’s all around that makes me not take it, at least for a short while, for granted.

Last week, I had a moment when I was waiting for a bus, after the big “snowmageddon” (and I use that term in quotes, because it wasn’t a bad storm at all, at least not by Ottawa’s standards) where, yes, it wasn’t the best weather to be commuting through, but the next morning had a certain crispness to it. It was calming, despite the traffic zooming by. It’s that feeling that, if it could be bottled, I could make a fortune. I took a picture instead.

And yesterday, it had started snowing in the afternoon. Seemingly out of nowhere, huge flakes began to fall slowly, as if each one was taking it’s time. The thickness of the snowfall muted everything, which also created a certain serenity. If every snowfall in winter was like that one, nobody would be as quick to have groundhogs see their shadows.

I want to get using this blog (again) the way I wanted to when I first created it. A blogging hero of mine, Joseph Mallozzi (http://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/) says that a writer should write everyday. And in the three or four-plus years that he’s been blogging, he hasn’t missed a single day. Then again, he is a writer. And he eats a lot. I’m not committing to updating this that frequently, but I would like it to inspire me to take more photos so that I can share them here (and of course, on my flickr account, http://www.flickr.com/photos/myutopian).

Last year, despite going on two (2!) trips, I only took pictures on 77 days, which is the lowest it’s been since I got a digital camera! I would love to get back to 100+ calendar days this year, though probably not my peak year of 190 days back in good ol’ ’06. So, please enjoy and tell me to take more pictures!

109 – Vancouver

201011_10_02 - Somewhere Over Alberta

201011_10_07 - P A R K

201011_11_07 - Flag Bearer

201011_11_17 - 4OZ Beers

201011_11_23 - Olympic Cauldron

201011_12_02 - Pedestrian

201011_12_17 - Hike Self-Portrait

201011_12_27 - Outdoors

201011_12_33 - Ducks Relaxing

201011_12_44 - Reflection

201011_13_19 - German Friendship Globe

201011_14_05 - Wake

201011_15_22 - Haida

201011_15_24 - Bowen Queen

More pictures here: Flickr Vancouver Set

Ignore the fact for a moment that I went to Vancouver in November and it’s now the following February. Time passes quickly, and everything you want to do always seems to get bypassed for all the things you have to do. That makes making the time for the important things in life that much more of a priority. It’s for this reason that I’m finally sitting down to write about my trip.

It’s also for this reason that I was extremely excited that my friend Cat invited me all the way to the other end of the country for a week mostly to hang out and see and do a bunch of the things that I’ve only heard about. Granville Island, Stanley Park, Cypress Mountain, ferry, Mickey’s cache, Skytrain.

Before this trip, the farthest West I had travelled was a weekend camping trip to Banff, on a month-long french program in Saskatoon (interestingly, where I met Cat to begin with). Travelling to both Saskatoon and Banff was all done by bus. Slow, but an awesome way to see a large swath of the country. Flying over the Rocky Mountains was a spectacular sight. Many of the peaks had just got snow, which really reinforces that snow-capped mountain stereotype. I was amazed that nobody in the plane was taking in such beauty.

The “Skytrain” I took went mostly underground. And I relinquished my seat for a little boy and his mother – the boy kept asking his mom what my luggage was. The plane in was so early that it left me with a fair amount of time to kill before Cat’s class ended. Thankfully, I had my trusty iPhone that directed me all over downtown. I managed to find streets and shops and bathrooms and, eventually, Cat’s campus, luggage in tow. How did people live without Google Maps in their pockets?

I have to say that Vancouver is stunning. I was expecting it to be nice, but wasn’t expecting to be blown away every time there was a mountain in the distance. The view of the city from the house makes me want to live closer to downtown (and at a higher elevation that really doesn’t exist here). One day, we did a geocaching-inspired coastal tour, and despite the overcast weather, I could barely take it all in, there’s so much to see! I’ve always had a hard time grasping the idea that people can make homes out of trees, but that was made easier by the massiveness of some of the trees (and stumps) at Lynn Canyon, where yes, I did stand on a suspension bridge perilously high above rock and water. I was in a parade, saw an Olympic cauldron, celebrated a birthday, went to the original Old Spaghetti Factory (closest one is in Toronto, they have good lasagna), learned boardgames, and even made it to Victoria (the ferry at Swartz Bay is now officially the most West I’ve been).

Every time I’ve goon anywhere, I’ve been blessed with amazing hosts. Cat’s family and friends raised that bar. I ate incredibly well (had Yorkshire pudding for the first time. It was great, even the day after despite warnings from the locals), was taken care of being on the verge of being sick, and putting up with my tiredness that kicked in surprisingly early. And wine. And putting a whole wagon wheel in my mouth. And my kidnapping a blanket by mistake.

The six days blew by so incredibly fast – you think “six days? I can do everything!” It doesn’t work that way. I would have loved to find time to meet up with a couple of friends I made in high school that live out there, or sneak into Bridge Studios and steal a glimpse of a stargate (we did drive by though!), or run into 3 famous people, or see the former Olympic Village, or find whales… Six weeks might have made most of that possible. But for the six days that were, I had an incredible time and my senses were overwhelmed and I wouldn’t have had it any other way!

108 – Election Day

Four years ago, my vote in the municipal election would have come down to equal parts name recognition, what the polls said, and a quick read of the top issues for each candidate.

Then the O-Train plan for cancelled, costing us $100 million in settlements and expenses. Then there was a bus strike, in which I often walked to school for 40 minutes in often sub -25C conditions. Then an idea for a random tunnel came down and was hailed as a billion times better than the first plan to extend the current train to the Airport, which is all of 5 minutes away anyway! Oh yeah, and our mayor was out fighting criminal charges.

So I followed this one a little more closely. In 4 years time, the Web has changed dramatically. Candidates are tweeting and answering questions directly, are putting debates on YouTube, aggregating every article that mentions their name… It’s become so much easier to see where everyone stands, and to hear others’ opinions, and agree or disagree with them. I honestly don’t know how people did it before!

I think my most important vote is for city councillor. I never heard anything from my current councillor during the bus strike, and certainly not a whole lot came from him in the seemingly endless battles at city hall over important issues like transit, taxes, Landsdowne, etc. The key qualities I looked for was open communication, leadership potential, ability to work with others, and transit opinion.

The best thing I did was start a dialogue with every candidate through YouTube (view here). And right away, I got responses. The most unusual thing was that not everyone responded. And I’m not talking the little guys, but one particular candidate with huge signs everywhere! I’d like to thank everyone who took time to get their message out to me. Means a lot!

After this experiment and reading through websites, I’ve decided to vote for James O’Grady. His leadership in my backyard lends well to what I’d like to see in the ward as a whole. He has really solid ideas on how to improve the area and supports LRT and wants to see it now. He also has a firm grasp on how to make municipal work exciting and active through empowerment and not hogging the spotlight. While he isn’t overly active over Twitter, he took the time to discuss his vision over the phone with me when clearly there were a number of other phone calls coming in in the background, without hurrying or trying to get me to go away.

In terms of mayor, I was on the fence the whole campaign season. Jim Watson knows what he’s doing and seems to have the ability to make things happen. Clive Doucet, however, has a romantic whimsy about what Ottawa should be. And I like it. He’s interested in having a transit system that works and expands its userbase to become even more useful to everyone as a whole. He’s a champion of the O-Train and the U-Pass (while I never got in on that, it’s a fantastic idea), and to quote my January 2009 self,

In other news, I’m really starting to like Clive Doucet. He’s a city councillor for the Capital ward, central Ottawa. He speaks his mind, and usually his mind is on the people whom he represents. He thinks the 15ish million saved from the bus strike so far, and what they’ll continue to save, should be funnelled back into making OC Transpo free for as long as possible once service resumes. This is probably the most brilliant thing the city can do to gain as many riders as possible.

I owe him one for at least trying to end the bus strike, while nearly everyone else at the time treated it as business-as-usual. Thank you, Clive! He’s the first politician that I started following on Twitter, seems that he would continue that if he becomes mayor, and this huge online push in the last week or two really shows his and his volunteers’ passion, when everyone else (especially the incumbent) showed signs of fatigue and dare I say disinterest. I don’t want anyone who could care less whether he or she leads my city. I want progress. Clive will get my vote when the polls open Monday Morning.

I wish James and Clive the best of luck, as well as everyone else! And everyone, please take your signs down in a quick and orderly fashion Tuesday morning!

107 – Vanquished Malware at N45.113 W75.347

201010_05_02 - Mushrooms in the Field

201010_05_04 - Photo Op

201010_05_21 - Jason Mraz XIII

201010_12_04 - Glancing Upwards

201010_17_01 - Gum Post

201010_17_04 - New Trick

Much has happened in the past month. I’ve been to two concerts, tried Geocaching, got an iPhone, cleaned my website, and got into following the municipal election.

Concerts:
Jason Mraz and Stars. Both were fantastic in their own way. I met Mr. A-Z (do people call him that? Shoulda asked), and fell in love with a few of his new songs, most notable What Mama Say. First concert at Scotiabank Place, to! Stars had fantastic lighting and a great crowd, and are really good live. Very impressed.

iPhone:
iPhone4. Is there more to say? It’s perhaps the best device I’ve ever owned.

Website:
It was attacked somehow recently, and unwanted script ended up on every page. So I cleaned it out old school, and now there shouldn’t be any malware warnings when people visit. Check it out: BenjaminWood.Net! My blog, as part of the site, had also been flagged, so I hadn’t updated it just because of that headache. Maybe I’ll write more often now.

Geocaching:
One of the results of having an iPhone. Now I can know exactly where I am (within 5 metres, or sometimes 10)… which means I can find caches! I’ve found 17 so far, with Jen, Susma, Grace, Jon, and Leo. Leo is so awesome by the way! I’ve never seen a dog do a handstand before. Just knowing that peole have hidden things all over really renews my sense of the world around me. the Geocaching App is the best app investment I’ve made so far (Cut the Rope being a close second).

Election:
Mayor, councillor… the bus strike really showed me how important this municipal thing is! I’ve been following websites, news, blogs, etc, trying to figure out who will hold my interests in transit and transit and, well, that’s mainly what I’m concerned about. I’ll write more tomorrow probably.