Caught!

Anyone who commutes in the east end has probably seen him at least once: a cyclist dressed head to toe in white, a neon orange safety vest over top and bright ankle straps around his pant cuffs, slowly riding a bike emblazoned with reflective tape and festooned with more flashing lights than Honest Ed’s. Pretty much every cyclist in the area that I’ve spoken to knows about him, and all marvel at the magnificent spectacle as he passes by. He rides at a relaxed pace, yet no one ever honks, no one ever asks him to get out of the way, and everyone’s day is brightened if only for a few seconds.

After years of fleeting glimpses, always headed in the opposite direction, on the other side of the Viaduct, or visible only as a strobing blizzard of light in the distance, I finally found myself coming up behind him on a quiet street in Rosedale. In our brief conversation, I learned that he cycles downtown every day from Markham & Lawrence. Even out there, car drivers have no trouble seeing him and give him a wide berth. My commute is often the best part of my day, but I don’t know that I’d have the gumption to ride that far every day, especially through the unfriendly streets of Scarborough. In keeping with his over-the-top bike, he is by far the most cheerful person I’ve ever met on a Monday morning.

I felt like a giddy schoolgirl who’d just bumped into Shaun Cassidy at the corner store when I sheepishly asked if I could take his picture. Victor, you’re an inspiration.

Austin miscellany part 2: City of signs

Regular readers of this blog know that I love signs. I could read, interpret, admire, ridicule, and wonder about them all day long. So naturally, when I went to Austin, I read, interpreted, admired, ridiculed, and wondered about a whole lot of new signs that we just don’t see in Toronto.

First off, Texans really like their longhorns. Up here, we think of them adorning the hoods of Cadillacs, but in Texas, they adorn just about everything, including the Golden Arches.

Jail Release

I saw this poor schmuck on billboards around the city on several occasions, so was a little amused to walk by Dunham Law Firm’s downtown office one day. There’s an annoying TV commercial too, which I was lucky enough to see only twice during the week.

I was staying near the University of Texas, and there were many punnily named businesses catering to students:

House of Tutors

Bite Mi

Austinites are so friendly that even the walls make small talk while you’re passing by:

Hi how are you

Even the Internet—home to anonymous trolls, unfettered outrage, and random aggression—is friendly in Austin:

Helpful Internet

Can’t we all just get along?

Coexist bumper sticker

Score one for the name, and another for the logo:

Arab Cowboy

A small subsidiary of Wayne Enterprises:

Bat City Awards and Apparel

And finally, Canada may not be high on the minds of most Texans on any given day, but parts of Canada do have a certain reputation:

BC Smoke Shop

Rob Oliphant: MP, tech trailblazer?

QR code on Rob Oliphant election sign

This is the first time I’ve spotted a QR code on an election sign, right down there in the bottom right corner. Rob Oliphant, Liberal candidate for Don Valley West, has them on all of his signs, though I haven’t seen them on the signs for other Liberal candidates. Are any other candidates around the city using QR codes? I was hoping that this one would be a direct link to Oliphant’s views on UBB, mobile competition, digital law, or something else that might be of particular interest to the kind of person who would use a QR code, but it just links to the main page of his web site. Still, kudos to him (or someone on his campaign team) for thinking to put the code on his signs.

Austin miscellany part 1

I’d written this post before I took my winter blogging break, but never quite got around to posting it. So, a few months late, here’s a random collection of sights I saw in Austin last year. There’s one more of these, and if I’m feeling energetic, I may eventually get around to that post about Calgary that I promised a year and a half ago.

W. 22-1/2 Street

The big problem with giving streets numbers instead of names is that occasionally, you need to squeeze in an additional street and are left with a dilemma: do you renumber all of the streets above it or come up with a new name? In Austin, there are a few of these half-streets downtown. They’re all just a few blocks long and thus don’t intersect whichever main street necessary to qualify as a full street.

From a Torontonian’s perspective, the transportation infrastructure of Austin outside of downtown seems to be overbuilt. As in any North American city, there’s lots of room for cars, but in Austin, everything seems to be a big four-lane road leading to lots of huge, three-quarters-empty parking lots. The picture below was taken just off a major highway at the T-intersection of two broad four-lane roads. In the ten minutes I was walking around the intersection mid-morning on a Friday, maybe three cars went past. The mall parking lot at the top of the T had about a dozen cars in it with room for a hundred and fifty more. My quiet two-lane residential street in east-end Toronto sees way more traffic than this crossroads.

Empty streets in rush hour

Despite the overbuilt car infrastructure, there are some nice touches for pedestrians. Many crossings receive a different surface treatment (as the bricks above) to alert drivers, and many curb cuts are textured to provide grip and warning to pedestrians that they’re entering a roadway. Still, despite the fine detail on the road crossing here, there isn’t a sidewalk in sight on the other side.

Empty parking lots abound

Here’s just one example of the many empty parking lots I encountered on my trip, this one at a business park on Friday morning. Not all parking lots were this empty, but it was common enough to make me wonder why parking was so abundant.

I also didn’t understand this sign, which I saw at the local Taco Cabana on my first day in Austin:

Parking only in a space

I thought it was strange that the sign carried an admonition to park “only in a space,” but chalked it up to poor writing or a bad translation. However, after spending a couple of days in the city, I understood the reason:

Bad parkers

As far as I can tell, no one in Austin can park. Every parking lot I visited abounded with cars taking up two or more spaces. Straddling a line was the most common infraction, but it wasn’t at all rare to see cars parked diagonally across spaces, in the lot aisles, blocking doors or curb cuts at building entrances, in the middle of crosswalks, and just generally ignoring all of the standard rules of conduct in parking lots. Maybe this is why parking seemed so abundant: city planners order up three times as many spots as necessary at any given building, figuring that each car is going to take up two or three spaces.

Incomplete overpass

Another oddity was the number of flyovers, ramps, overpasses, and underpasses that, like this one, just seemed to end somewhat prematurely with no sign of ongoing construction. It looks like they just build a section and then wait months or years until money is available to build the next section. It seems like a highly inefficient approach to infrastructure.

This being Texas, people take their trophies roadkill very seriously:

Which Berners-Lee?

Tim Berners-Lee, carbon expert?

It’s not every day that you read a story about Tim Berners-Lee that doesn’t mention his primary claim to fame, that he invented the World Wide Web. It’s even less frequent that you see him referred to as a “climate-change expert” without mentioning his long history in computing. That would be because the author of How Bad are Bananas?, the book featured in this story in today’s Star, is not Tim Berners-Lee as identified in the third paragraph, but is in fact Mike Berners-Lee. The Star has already issued a correction and fixed the online version of the story, but I predict ongoing confusion for poor Mike: Amazon.ca currently catalogues the book under Lee M. Berners.

Also listed in the Star‘s correction today is a story about thorium, which originally stated that it has two fewer atoms than uranium. Let’s see, if uranium has one atom and thorium has two fewer, would that make thorium, with its -1 atom, antimatter? No wonder people are so excited about it.

Al Peck's new gig

Almost Perfect Frozen Food Outlet

Almost Perfect‘s website says that they concentrate on producer overstocks and not, as you might think from the name, pre-loved or refurbished food. The food here has not been previously enjoyed or lady-eaten, and you’re not walking into a store filled with seconds and remnants.

This picture is of their Peterborough location (which stands directly across the street from fireplace store Friendly Fires), but fear not big-city dwellers: they do have a Toronto location.

No word on whether the Circus Lupus tickets are still available:

Who's minnding the store?

The problem with hand-written signs is that there’s no spell-check to fall back on. This sign in a local Loblaws, which combined two errors in one word, was the very first thing customers would see upon entering the store a couple of weeks ago. Spelling flames aside, it created the impression that the people there just don’t care: whoever wrote the sign couldn’t be bothered to check the spelling of a common word and either no one else noticed or they didn’t say anything. It certainly makes me even warier than usual when it comes to trusting that the food isn’t mouldy or short-dated.