Sunday, May 20, 2007

Community Garden in NYC

The East Village is nestled in lower Manhattan, around 12th and Avenue A. Tightly clustered brownstones have folding doors covering up secret stairways leading to the basement. Tiny shops and cafes with metal trash cans outside. Fenced off little parks have play areas for kids. It looks a little like Sesame Street.

That's where I found this public garden; a gated but unlocked community garden where people grow a few vegetables and flowers.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Spring is Here

Spring finally arrived here in Toronto.

We celebrated by installing a new fence in our yard in April. Hum. I'm ambivalent about the new fence. The old fence had character; it sagged crazily from side to side. It was intertwined with trees growing in the fence, and it was unabashedly rusty. The new fence has the charm of an East German passport control zone. Perhaps we will install a guard tower and patrol the bare earth strip with guard dogs and AK 47s.

Removing the old fence was extremely challenging since a number of small to medium Manitoba maples had grown along the fence line. The old timers recommend the following method of stump removal:
1. Drill holes in stump
2. Pour gasoline into stump and let liquid seep into the stump
3. Light stump on fire

Or not. I don't want my lettuce to taste like an Esso station. So I dug around the roots and hacked away with a hatchet and a pruning saw. It took about a day per 6-inch tree trunk. Hard work, indeed.
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Saturday, April 21, 2007

American Airlines

American Airlines has a new website for the ladies.

No need to tax your poor lady brain with those complicated search options, girls.

Friday, April 20, 2007


Well the tap water was tasty but I saw a total of 2 fountains and one was in my hotel. City of Fountains, my ass. I did see an art gallery and a couple of downtown eateries. Spring is here in the Midwest and I was pleased to sit on the patio and sample a local brew or two after work.

The urban renaissance in KC is occurring at a rapid pace. The Federal Reserve Bank and H&R Block are both building large headquarters buildings.

But the most interesting redevelopment is the recycling of old factories and warehouses into downtown residential and commercial real estate spaces. No need for fake loft buildings here.

A new Roy Thomsonesque arenacalled the Sprint Center is also under construction.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


I'm travelling to Kansas for work. I'm looking forward to drinking the cleanest tap water in the US, seeing historical archictecture (KC is known as the City of Fountains). KC straddles the Missouri-Kansas border, and as such it was the location of Civil War battles. The state of Kansas was part of the Union (the good guys) and repelled incursions from Missouri from the Confederates (the bad guys).

Kansas was a participant in the City Beautiful movement of North American architecture from the 1890s-1900s; an attempt to use city beautification to fight moral decay allegedly caused by urban environments.

Post World War II, KC was the site of considerable urban sprawl enabled by tax policies and free roads built by local governments. According to Wikepedia the formerly blighted downtown has undergone a revival in urban planning.

Strange that the only local highlights mentioned by my downtown hotel are proximity to malls and casinos:

Located downtown, the Kansas City - City Center Hotel is close to a variety
of major attractions and adjacent to Bartle Hall KC Convention Center.
Shoppers can catch the MAX (Metro Area Express) transient [sic] system across the street from the hotel for transportation to Country Club Plaza and Crown Center
Shopping. Worlds of Fun & Oceans of Fun located 10 miles from the hotel.
Gamblers will appreciate the quick 10 minute drive to 4 world class casinos.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Vegan Porn

Vegan Porn is a site with resources for vegans and vegetarians. They have good recipies and lively discussions.

Horse Chestnuts

I dug up a horse chestnut tree from our front yard because
(a) my wife doesn't like horse chestnuts and;
(b) it was growing out from under the porch and would eventually damage our house

The horse chestnut is actually native to Europe and was a popular tree in the 19th century in Toronto. The horsechestnut was for sale at Dundas and York as early as 1827. Due to a supply glut, George Leslie a local nursery owner, sold many horse chestnuts to the city at a reduced rate, and this accounts for the high number of horse chestnuts on downtown streets. I wonder if the friendly tree on my lawn was a descendant of those early trees...

Sunday, April 01, 2007


Artichokes are in season and arrived in our food box. My wife consulted her colleague on how to cook them since we've never cooked this particular veggie before. Eating them is fun; a little extra work, sort of like eating a crab or lobster.

The leaves are quite tasty and once boiled the artichoke, the leaves can be peeled off. Dip the leaf in a dipping sauce (mayo or vinegar and oil). Squeeze each leaf with your teeth - the meat of the leaf will slide out. Once all of the leaves are gone, the artichoke heart is edible too.

Winter's Last Gasp

Lake Ontario, by Ontario Place in March.

100 Mile Diet and No Garbage

James MacKinnon and Alison Smith have published their account of a 100-mile diet. For one year they only ate food produced within 100 miles of their home, a staggering feat of will power and innovation. Their first meal was spring salmon with sage, organic egg fritters, and grated potatoes and turnips. The cost of that food was a whopping $128.87. MacKinnon describes a visit to the grocery store, where he came to a realization that it was all unavailable:

There was nothing there for us. Nothing. All of that plenty vanished in an
instant of cockneyed imaginatino. it would be a year without ice cream. A year
without salad dressing. A year without all-purpose flour, olives, olive oill.
Without Cheerios, Peek Freans, Fruit Cremes, Rip-L-Chips, High Liner Multigrain
Tilapia Fillets.

In Toronto, Sarah McGaughey and Kyle Glover are trying to generate zero trash. In 2005 they generated one garbage bag of trash over the entire year(!) and have vowed to beat that target. Their blog documents their struggles.

The other day, I took my family, including my Mom, who is visiting from Edmonton, to a dance performance at the Textile museum. Afterward, we looked for somewhere to have dinner (with two babies) and decided upon Tim Hortons. They are the worst for anything other than the status quo. They don’t know what is in anything so if you have allergies or are vegetarian, you are SOL. Also, they can’t seem to grasp the idea of not giving any packaging. Once, at the Tim Hortons in Lawrence Square I managed to get a bagel straight on a plate, and it was a victory! I also got a smile. There were no smiles for us this time though and the bagels came wrapped,on the plate and Kyle’s coffee came in a disposable cup,even after we asked for a mug. I hate roll up the rim to win.

So true. I am struggling just to get coffee in a travel mug, mainly because of my own forgetfulness and propensity to lose the refillable mugs. Also the local coffee shop in my neighborhood has stupid coffee machines that can't accomodate tall coffee mugs. So if I visit with my travel mug, they get out a paper cup, fill up the paper cup, POUR the paper cup into my travel mug, and then THROW AWAY THE PAPER CUP. Aaah! Also I remember visiting a Wal Mart where I was informed that I HAD to have my purchased socks in a shopping bag, it was "store policy". So I took the bag, and stuck it on the nearest mannequin and walked out with just the socks.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

One Nation Under God

Camp counselors rally the children around a cardboard cutout of George W Bush. Scary

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Environment still top of mind

Europe continues to lead the fight against climate change while North American, Indian, and Chinese government and business leaders are asleep at the switch.
Already on track to reduce the emission of global-warming gases by an average of 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012, the EU has now committed to a 20-percent and possibly as much as 30% reduction below 1990 levels by 2020.
One area that would certainly help is by increasing taxes on jet fuel. Taxing airplane fuel for international flights is prohibited by an archaic international agreement. I personally am required to travel at my office a fair bit. The current cheap price of these flights acts as an incentive for businesses to demand face to face meetings wherever possible. Many of these trips are unnecessary and would be avoided if the true costs of this harmful travel were reflected in the price of the ticket

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Queen St. Shopping

Cute robots

Hmm. corporate greenwashing or ecobunk? Triton Logging is trumpeting its patented Sawfish™ technology. According to a news release, Triton wood has been selected for a list of top 10 green building products.
"With an estimated 300 million trees submerged worldwide, flooded forests represent a significant resource."
I don't know. There's something about hydro electric dams, flooded forests, and sustainability that just doesn't sit right with me. Maybe I'm too old-fashioned... But the little robot is so cute! But dams are bad! But the robot is cute! Oh the cognitive dissonance.
Environmentalism is very trendy right now. Maybe it's the dying planet. Even the US Army is getting into the game.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Bukowski + Memphis

“Some people never go crazy, What truly horrible lives they must live”

I'm reading Charles Bukowski in Memphis. His prose about living on the edge seems appropriate here, even though there's no indication that Bukowski ever lived in Tennessee.

Bukowski wrote gritty fiction about Henry Chinaski, a largely autobiographical character. Chinaski smokes, drinks, and screws his way through the 50s, 60s and 70s. And Memphis is a gritty, gritty town on the banks of the Misssissipi river.

The building across the street is burned out, and a large number of for sale and for lease signs dot the storefronts of the central business district. The park across the street commemorates a forgotton hero: Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederate States of America. Around here, the Civil War is "The War", and the Confederates are the "good guys". And Martin Luther King was assasinated at 450 Mulberry St on April 4, 1968 .

But Memphis has a rich musical past too. In the 1950's Johnny Cash lived here and sold appliances while playing in a band called the Tennessee Two with Luther Perkins. Indeed, Johnny Cash and a number of other artists got their first big break at Sun Records, including Elvis and Roy Orbison. Elvis made his home here until August 16, 1977 where he met his untimely death.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Nature Challenge

If I had to list my most respected role model it would be David Suzuki. He's an environmentalist, but not a screaming roadblock-chaining type. The 'Suze is direct about what he expects people to do, but not nasty or vindictive. Overall a pretty friendly guy, but up-front and direct about what he thinks people should do.

So I try to make a substantial contribution every year to The David Suzuki Foundation because I think they do very good work. This enviro group has a few interesting initiatives. One of them is the Nature Challenge, which over 250,000 people have signed up for. The Nature Challenge is a set of ten steps that individuals can take.

These are my new year's resolutions so to speak. Ok, let's review see how I currently stack up. I am going to comment on each goal, and whether it is SMART (Specific Measurable Attainable R-something and Time Bounded)

1. Reduce home energy by 10%

This is an expensive and time consuming goal. We've been working on this since 2003 and have

invested substantially in houshold energy efficiency. But the truth is I don't know what the results are. Need to check the actual change in energy consumption

2. Eat meat-free meals once a week

Already doing it. This is dead simple Get some frozen wild salmon and throw it in the oven once a week. It's also inherently in one's self interest to not eat too much red meat.

3. Buy a fuel efficient, low-polluting car

This is pretty straightforward. If you are buying a new car, SUV's generally suck. The hard data for fuel efficiency is at After reviewing the data, our car, a 1993 Saturn, supposedly gets 28 mpg city/ 36 mpg highway driving.

4. Choose an energy efficient home and appliances.

When we buy an appliance, we generally fork over a little extra cash to buy more efficient appliances. We have a BigWash Samsung washing machine and two efficient new Energuide appliances.

5. Stop using pesticides

Dead simple. I am inherently lazy, so not doing something is pretty easy. "Honey did you spray the weeds". "No, I am taking the Nature Challenge"

6. Walk, bike or take transit to regular destinations
Transit yes. Bike, mm not so much currently. We still end up using our car too much. I would like to get rid of it and switch to Zipcar.

7. Prepare your meals with locally produced food

This is quite difficult. I would rewrite the goal to say "Select Ontario or Canadian fruit wherever available. Avoid food from faraway places: kiwis from New Zealand, grapes from Chile, etc."

In Toronto and Vancouver there are agencies like Green Earth Organics that deliver organic, produce items. We are a GEO customer, and I am curious about where GEO gets its food and have put in an enquiry.

8. Choose a home close to regular destinations

Done. Though I burn a lot of fossil fuels getting to my Ultimate games in the summer.

9. Support alternatives to the car

Hmm, difficult to measure. This goal should be chartered to be more specific and measurable . E.g write one letter to an elected representative pushing for better transit funding.

10. Get involved, stay informed

This goal should be more specific and measurable.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Top NASA scientist speaks out

Dr. James Hansen from the Goddard Institute of Space Studies spoke in a webcast today that was watched by 500,000 plus viewers. The webcast is part of an emergency teach-in, designed to alert teachers, scientists, and other professionals of the necessity to act on global climate change by 2010.

My partner's architecture office sent two people to watch the webcast at a local engineering office. The entire engineering office was watching the webcast. The great news is that obviously climate change is taken seriously by teachers, scientists, engineers, and architects. Now it needs to be taken seriously by federal governments and business.

Hansen outlined some basic truths that are clear to most informed observers not on the payroll of the fossil fuel industry

1. Nuclear power is useful but not the only answer.

2. Technologies for fossil fuel reduction are already available. Political will is needed.

3. Regulation and taxation of fossil fuels is necessary to effect change.

In an ABC news story, Dr. Hansen says the U.S. federal government is attempting to silence him and other scientists that speak out on global warming issues.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Meanest Book Club

I've been searching for a book club. Here's one that I won't be joining, or trying to join any time soon. The Book You Crew on; quite possibly the meanest book club in existence. Think Jack Black in High Fidelity. Think English Lit majors with a God complex and constipation. Anyone applying to the Book You Crew must submit their top 20 favorite books, and then face a merciless barrage of questions. Over 80% of applicants are banned.

"...If your list reads like the most recent NY Times Bestseller list, reads like
your high school summer reading list, reads like the front table at
Borders/B&N, or includes anything by John Grisham, you're deluding yourself
that you're qualified to be here. Make like a tree and branch out."


I plan to consume, read, and eventually dispose of this collection of essays from MIT press. The book explores the meaning and psychology of garbage. From a typology of dust bunnies to an essay on brownfields redevelopment. In a consumptive society, our trash defines us to a large extent. So a study of the ethics and significance of trash is appropriate.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Frigid Times in the Annex

The mercury finally dipped to normal February temperatures in Toronto. What a relief. I was worried Vancouverites would start moving here.


At my sister-in-law's behest we went to Live, the new raw vegan restaurant on Dupont Ave. And when I say raw vegan, I don't just mean 'animal products bad'. I don't mean just the 'milk is evil' vegan type. I mean mouth foaming, Fire-is-a-misguided technology-baking-is-bad-we-don't-serve-bread here (infidel) raw vegan.

Now I was a little skeptical, because while I sympathize with vegetarians and other mildly subversive types, I am of the conviction that that you know, 'fire' and 'cooking' technology were basically good inventions.

It turns out they have one or two cooked items. I had an excellent hot (cooked) soup and a (not cooked) salad. The cafe is beautiful and cheerful. Food was a little pricey, and there was an awkward moment when I tried to order a steak, medium rare. Steak is not funny. Not. funny.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Frigid February

Politicians looked up this week and saw the storm over climate change brewing. Conservatives and conservative pundits, who until recently spent much of their efforts denying the problem existed, now shifted their efforts to painting the issue as hopeless. As in: there's nothing we can do about this, so might as well get really, really rich.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Capitalism - As it was meant to be

I spent an enjoyable hour browsing the antique shops of West-west-Queen West near Roncesvalles. We're looking for a piano bench to replace the crappy factory piece that came with our Yamaha and is now disintegrating.

The antique stores in this area are basically capitalism in its purest form. The marketplace matching goods and services with demand. I need something; I go out to a number of shops, compare prices and service, and then find what I need. It's too bad we can't distill more of our economic activity down to the antique store model. Cut out all that corporate bullshit - overmarketed, overfranchised, centrally controlled, coercive, monopolistic rapaciousness.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Income Trust Anger II

Income trust investors are taking their case for special tax breaks to Parliament Hill this week. Expect to hear about lots of sob stories about the poor little energy trusts that could no longer meet ends meet when their favored tax status was eliminated. All those impoverished international investors who are pulling their money out of Canadian income trusts and putting them into Australia and the United S- oops those countries eliminated their income trusts a long time ago. Never mind.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Saturday night cookery

On the menu, quick black bean soup from epicurious. Black beans, tomatoes, red peppers, and celery(my addition).

Gates of TBP

The gates of Trinity Bellwoods Park, have finally been restored. Construction had been halted temporarily last year when the fire marshal realized that the restoration impacted a fire route to an institutional building backing on the park. The gates were previously the gates of Trinity College, until 1925 when the college moved to its current location at the University of Toronto.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Urban Adventuring

This is fascinating. Teams of urban adventurers illegally and dangerously exploring Southern Ontario's deepest urban caves. Read dsank's account of a spelunking expedition in the gigantic century old tunnel deep below an abandoned power station in Niagara Falls.

Vanishing point has more accounts and descriptions of urban adventures in Toronto and upstate New York.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Christmas Skating

Families at Nathan Phillips Square enjoy a post-Christmas outing.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

New Sheriff in Town

Nancy Pelosi, the 52nd Speaker of the House of Representatives takes her seat earlier this week. Early indications are that the Democratic majority plans to hold the Bush administration accountable for its disgrace and failure in Iraq, and to provide oversight going forward.
From Face the Nation on Sunday morning:

If the president chooses to escalate the war, in his budget request we want to
see a distinction between what is there to support the troops who are there now.
The American people and the Congress support those troops. We will not abandon

But if the president wants to add to this mission, he is going to have
to justify it. And this is new for him because up until now the Republican
Congress has given him a blank check with no oversight, no standards, no
conditions. And we’ve gone into this situation, which is a war without end,
which the American people have rejected.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


I've managed our family's compost heap for a few years now. It's one of my favorite jobs; part science project, part animal care, part good deed I suppose. The idea that you can take garbage and turn it into clean earth in a few months has a powerful appeal. A couple of years ago we seeded our compost bin with some red worms and the bin has taken off since. As a Christmas present to myself I purchased the Rodale Book of Composting from Lee Valley. Rodale publishes Organic Gardening magazine and this 1992 book is the bible of composting. It covers the basics, and then delves into all sorts of obscure and highly technical details about composting: ideal temperatures, green-brown mixes, alternative techniques such as 'compost in a bag', and even how to set up a farm-scale compost operation. I have no doubt that my efforts are low on the skill scale, but I'm having fun nonetheless.