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.

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.

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:


Overly specific.

Among the various disclaimers and warnings in the manual that accompanied a new Bluetooth headset was this oddity:

Do not place this unit in a place exposed to humidity, dust, soot or steam, subject to direct sunlight, or in a car waiting at a traffic signal. It may cause a malfunction.

Huh? I’ve seen my share of odd warnings, but warning against using something “in a car waiting at a traffic signal”? This is new to me. So assuming I have this thing in my car while I go from A to B, what am I supposed to do when I reach a red light? “Yes, I saw the red light officer, but do you know how dangerous it would have been for me to stop? I have a bluetooth headset in my bag!”

For the record, Sony informed me that this is an error in the manual and it’s meant to caution against using the headset while driving. I’m not at all sure how that would “cause a malfunction,” though. Either way, I’d say that this warning is a good argument against writing owner’s manuals while in a car, whether driving or stopped at a red light.

The warning clause

The introduction to the otherwise standard warning on this plastic bag would seem to illustrate the perils of sending an email to a translation service and blindly accepting the result. It reminds me of this prime example of a translation request gone awry, though on a much smaller scale, of course.

R.E. Dietz, famous American manufacturer of hurricane lanterns, is run out of China these days.

Licence play


It’s funny, the things you keep around in your photo albums. See the last picture in the gallery below for the story about the photo above.

A couple of years ago, I spent the better part of four months examining every truck, tractor, piece of heavy equipment, and work site I passed, looking for warning labels. The end result was the Travails of Mr. Stickman. It was fun, but boy howdy, was I ever ready to stop looking for warning signs after I was done. Soon after I finished that project, I embarked on another: taking pictures of vanity licence plates. Two years and a few fits and starts later, here’s the result.

Compulsively looking at, taking pictures of, and remembering licence plates has an interesting side effect: it can somewhat de-anonymize people in cars. Other than the familiar ones I see on my street or parked along my regular commuting route, I don’t really think that I encounter any individual car more than once in my life. For the most part, people in cars are anonymous to everyone else, and you don’t really attach any significance to one Honda Civic versus another. Is it the same car and driver that I passed last week? Different? Does it matter?

Several times, I’ve seen the same plate twice in two completely different places. In North Toronto and on the Danforth; Deer Park and the Home Depot on Laird.  Somewhat more startling, I’ve occasionally seen the same plate on two different cars, with the sightings separated by weeks or years. I may not know anything about the owner of the car, but I do know that the complete stranger whose licence plate made me laugh on Merton Street in the spring traded in her Land Rover for a convertible that she was driving up Pape Avenue last week. Last week, I completed my first triple sighting of a single plate: first on Summerhill Avenue, then on the 401, and finally in Liberty Village.  I wasn’t able to get a picture of the car in any of those encounters. Fourth time lucky, maybe.

And then there was the driver who blasted his horn at me as he passed me way too aggressively on a wide-open street two weeks ago. As he cut inches in front of me on a quiet residential street (and signed bike route, no less), he almost certainly didn’t realize that I not only recognized his peronalized plate, but that I knew exactly which driveway it was parked in three minutes earlier, where I see it virtually every morning. The wronged cyclist’s dilemma: let him know, or let it go. I’m still undecided.

IM URSThrough all of this, there was only one complaint about a guy on a bike (usually) with a camera stopping to take a picture. The vast majority of drivers that I spoke with were not only amused to be part of my project, but also told me the story behind their personalized plate. The owner of IM URS, for example, told me that he’d inherited it from his mother and it was one of the things he remembered her by. Most of the time though, the cars were empty and no one was around to tell me the personal significance of a plate.

Of course there were almost too many to count that got away, passing too fast for a picture, in weather I refused to subject my camera to, or just at the wrong time of day while I was too busy scurrying along my way. Many them were better than the ones that I did catch. Oh well. For the next post.

Check out the full gallery below the fold. Those of you reading through the RSS feed should visit the original page for the full gallery effect with commentary.

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