The signature makes the man

The signature Dodge Wave

We paid our first visit to a Lowe’s today, stopping in at the store on Castlefield on our way home. It’s just your typical big box store with not much remarkable about it. On this particular afternoon, the employees outnumbered the shoppers, yet true to big box form, the employees managed to be anywhere but where they could answer questions.

When checking out with a credit card, they have you sign one of those digital pads like UPS or Purolator. Maybe I don’t get out enough, but it seemed a little odd to me. I don’t exactly wear a tinfoil hat, but as an IT guy who’s spent far too much time reading the PCI security standards lately, I’m not a big fan of digitizing my signature into the same system that just swiped my credit card.

Partly because no one actually checks signatures any more anyway, and partly because I still remember Zug‘s inspiring credit card prank from I don’t know how many years ago, I decided to sign with a simple undulating wave. What I didn’t realize was that they would print it out on the receipt and hand it back to me. Risa can never keep a straight face when I step outside the socially-acceptable box, and neither could I when I discovered that I got to keep a record of my protest against digital silliness, no matter how trivial it may seem. It’s not like I was signing with stick men or hieroglyphics. Maybe next time.

Do not taunt happy fun bin

Informative instructions on the new blue bin

We got our new supersized blue bin today. I’ve always been amused by the instructions and warnings on everyday objects, but this one takes the cake. Apparently, someone thought it necessary to explain to the unwashed masses the physics of moving the bin from place to place.

To move bin

  1. Grasp handle
  2. Tilt
  3. Push or pull

Gee, thanks Mr. Science. I never would have figured that out on my own. Now if only they had room enough on the lid to explain the difference between pulling, which is encouraged, and dragging, which is explicitly forbidden. Oh, City of Toronto, I’m so confused. Do I put my recycling in the bin, or on the bin? Your instructions are woefully incomplete.

Time to revise that forecast

Stump of an old telephone pole in the oxbow marsh

As we sit through yet another storm, it’s worth remembering what this winter was supposed to be like:

Environment Canada, which issued its winter outlook Friday, says Toronto will be about normal in terms of temperature and precipitation, while The Weather Network, which issued its forecast on Thursday, is calling for above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation for the Toronto area. “We don’t think that,” Environment Canada’s David Phillips said. “They use a different model than we use.”

So reported the Star way back on November 30 (under the hopeful headline “City spared hard winter?”) just a week after we’d dealt with our first snowfall of the season. How did the prognosticators do? Thanks to Environment Canada’s tattletale forecast verification tool, we can tell just how far off they were.

The precipitation forecast was wildly inaccurate for virtually the entire country, with most areas marked in blue for “below average” on the forecast (bottom map on the link) ending up as red for “above average” after actual observations (top map). The temperature forecast was just as inaccurate, with almost everything except for a sliver of the extreme north and a patch of sea between Newfoundland and Nova Scotia ending up colder than normal. The less said about the Weather Network’s forecast the better.

So what’s ahead for the spring? The Weather Network (PDF) and Environment Canada are both telling us to expect normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation. If this past winter is any indication of their ability to predict the seasons, you may want to start planning for that spring drought.

I give up

Have a nice day

I like winter.

No really, I do. I like the crisp air. I like the bright sunshine reflecting off fields of snow. I like seeing my breath.

I like exploring the city in the winter. I like stomping around the Don Valley with boots, gaiters, and snowshoes. I like taking off my toque after a hike and watching the steam rising from my shadow. I like skating. I like watching the wildlife in the backyard and park. I like looking out the front door on a Saturday morning and seeing a fresh snowfall. I like dodging all the piles of snow on side streets that make drivers slow down and be courteous to pedestrians and cyclists. I like stepping in little piles of slush and feeling it squirt out between my boot treads. I like walking through big puddles at intersections with my waterproof boots. I like being the first person to walk on the sidewalk after a storm.

I like shovelling at 2 a.m. after the snow has stopped but before anyone has packed down the sidewalk. I like hearing people say “Thanks,” when they reach the snow-free sidewalk in front of the house. I like watching drivers with summer tires trying to pull out of snowbound parking spots. I like cycling. I like talking to my neighbours about the weather. I like making fun of reporters who raise a huge fuss every time it snows.

I like wrapping my scarf around my face and pulling my toque down to my eyes. I like dressing in layers. I like wearing my lobster gloves. I like putting on long underwear. I like shaking snow off my jacket before I come inside. I like wearing Merino wool socks.

I like curling up on the couch with Risa and a hot chai. I like crawling under the duvet at night. I like rubbing Fletch’s belly while telling him how lucky he is to be an indoor cat.

But seriously, enough is enough. I’ve been ready for a few weeks now to start liking spring again.

A lifetime of saving

A lifetime of saving

The Star published this graphic (available online with the original article or as the second picture in this slideshow) about the proposed Tax-Free Savings Account as part of yesterday’s report on the federal budget. The $30,000 renovation and $15,000 wedding seem like wishful thinking, but no more so than the $10,000 car that doesn’t need replacing for 40 years.

What struck me about the graphic was how neatly it illustrates the effects of life’s big expenses. Of course, for the sake of simplicity, it leaves out major money-drainers like supporting your university-educated children until they’re 35, buying your new hip in the States because you don’t want to wait 12 months in Ontario, and digging your poker-addicted son out of debt.

But what I’d really like to know is who are these people who are still saving $150/month after they retire and hit the road in their new RV? It’s an awfully optimistic view of the average person’s retirement income potential.

DineSafe roulette

After seeing this particularly disgusting picture over at BlogTO a while ago, I did some digging in Toronto Public Health’s DineSafe database. You’d be surprised at what turns up beyond the usual rodent infestations, improper hand washing, and temperature control issues. In particular, these two recent infractions stood out:

  1. Operator fail to maintain premises free of sewage back-up (Eikona Chinese Restaurant, January 2, 2008). This issue is surprisingly popular, with at least two other restaurants being closed for the same problem since 2006. How can you possibly not keep your restaurant sewage-free? And when you do notice the sewage, how can you not close down immediately? More to the point, how long does it take customers to notice? “Hmm, the chicken smells a little off today.”
  2. Operator fail to provide approved meat (Huy Ky Pork Skin, December 21, 2007). Ah, the old myth of mystery meat isn’t such a myth after all. The report doesn’t say whether the meat (or maybe “meat”) in question was true mystery meat, or simply uninspected meat. Either way, it wouldn’t be a welcome surprise.

Rodent infestation? Bah, that’s for amateurs.

What snow?

Workhorse bike on a snowy day

Yes, I went for a quick ride on Friday afternoon. It was after the worst of the storm had passed, but before it had stopped snowing and before most of the roads were cleared. Now that I’m working from home again, I haven’t had nearly as much opportunity to ride as I did earlier in the winter.

Despite the media spin, which always leans towards panic and gross exaggeration (with the occasional level-headed commentary masquerading as satire) when it comes to the weather, it was just not that bad a day. I went downtown for some shopping in the morning, ran a quick errand by bike in the afternoon, and then went up to North York for dinner. All in all, it was a pretty normal Friday for me. Oh, and I had to shovel a couple of times. Whoop-de-do.

Although the blowing snow wasn’t all that pleasant, it was certainly not the worst I’ve ever seen, nor was it anything that a warm coat and scarf or balaclava couldn’t deal with. It definitely wasn’t anything to get anxious and paranoid about. The sidewalks seemed well-used, the parks I passed through had obviously seen a day full of playful dogs, and I even encountered a couple of other cyclists while I was out. People generally seemed to be in good humour, taking it all in stride. Yet to read the paper or watch the news, you’d think that the sky had just fallen, that Toronto lay in ruin after the worst natural disaster in all of recorded history struck down the entire city.

Why the overreaction? It was hardly an isolated incident, either; the media regularly predicts mayhem and destruction any time a weather event is on the way, ready to menace the city. Yet from my hours tootling around the city by foot, bike, and subway on Friday, it seemed to me that the people most affected by the weather were those in cars. And most of those were people who simply didn’t use common sense. You know, like if the snow on the street is a foot deep and your car only has six inches of clearance, you’re probably not going to make it all the way down the block. If the roads are covered in snow, you’re probably going to need to give more room when you pass and slow down a bit when you turn. If you’re driving on summer tires and Pottery Road hasn’t been ploughed yet, find another, flatter, route. If you’re trying to zip through that left turn as the light is turning red, you’re probably going to slide into the curb.

Personally, I think that our winter traffic woes would be lessened considerably if winter tires were mandatory on all cars in Ontario being driven within two (three? five?) days of a snowfall. If you don’t want the expense, bother, or safety of winter tires, that’s fine; just leave your car at home a few days a year. If common sense doesn’t tell you to do it, maybe the law should.

Mildly uncomfortable weather = day off school

According to, at least some school buses in Wellington County, Dufferin & Peel, Simcoe County, and elsewhere were cancelled today on account of the weather. Wait a minute, buses were cancelled because of wind? Seriously? It’s bad enough that kids get snow days at the sight of a single flake, but now they get wind days too? Is this really necessary, or is it simply a knee-jerk reaction to bus operators’ perception of increased liability?