Thursday, January 20, 2011

A reminder

From early fall 2010. Just wanted to add some colour to your winter day!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

en ce lieu fit halte Obwondiag

"In this place, in 1757 Chief Obwondiag, known as Pontiac, Chief Odawa, conqueror of the English, made a stop."

I sure hope he didn't have to suffer that horrible pink brick exterior and cheap white railing.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Our squirrel neighbours

In the warmer seasons, these guys use the small window sills outside our back stairs as one of their many resting stops. It's funny because you can go right up to the window and look at them, even with the light on behind you and they don't seem disturbed. But as soon as you go out the back door, which is almost two stories below them, they totally freak out and scramble out of their nest to escape to the roof via the ivy. In the spring and once or twice in the later summer, they grab leaves and re-pad their nest. That process is enjoyable to watch.

(note these photos were taken last summer.)

Sometimes there are three of them all crammed together. It looks quite cozy.

However, I have to admit that up close they aren't really that cute. Look at those orange teeth!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The new road!

I do apologize to all of you for making you wait for months for the satisfying climax of this epic construction journey. I simply had to enjoy the smoothness on my own for a few months. Now that it is covered in snow and grime, I am ready to share with you the images of the beautiful new road on Clark street.

I don't know very much about this process, but grading is clearly crucial. This image is one of multiple passes that several different machines made up the street as each new layer was put down. There is also a guy on foot who is constantly measuring.

What you don't realize is that a road isn't flat, it actually has a very gentle slope, rising up to the middle. This is so water can run off into the gutters. I really have no idea how they get that slope, but it sure was consistent. Most impressive.

Look at that beautiful smooth road, it's dark-grey matte surface welcoming the late summer sun.

See how tightly it fits up against the new sidewalk. Really satisfying to look at for some reason.

Let me tell you, this thing is really nice to ride your bike on. It's practically a velodome. Same for cars I imagine because sadly, they are back. And what's worse this new road really encourages speed so they come whipping up the street faster than ever. I really should have tried to get a speed bump in place when I had the chance. Oh well, I guess it's back to caltrops. And yelling.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The pour!

Pouring concrete is the best. I have a friend who is a serious pro and when he starts talking about it, you realize what an art and a science it is. I've had the opportunity to lay a couple of house foundations as well as several smaller jobs and I can tell you there is something quite satisfying about watching it settle and seeing the cream rise to the top. The coolest thing about concrete is that no work is needed to make it level. You do need to flatten it and get a nice texture, but it is simply physics and gravity that gets it all level. There is something truly cool about that. You can also do all kinds of stuff with colours, textures and creative shapes with forms. Another friend of mine designed a really beautiful series of kitchen counters entirely in concrete.

Unfortunately, it is perhaps too efficient at large scales and has basically taken over the residential construction industry, filling cities (like ours) with soulless, cold concrete boxes for living spaces (and the design industry follows suit trying to sell us on minimalism; another gang of scumbags that will be sent to work camps when I take over the world). Finally, the production of concrete is really bad for the environment.

But I digess, back to the local:

How sweet is that! They sprayed the surface with some kind of whitening agent that is supposed to slow down the drying process (concrete sets best at a certain temperature, if it sets too hot or too cold, it weakens the final product). The problem later is that we had our little drawbridge and since the sun didn't shine under it, it left a dark rectangle on our sidewalk! We'll see how it turns out after a winter and some wear and tear.

And no, in the end, we decided against making our mark in the fresh concrete. It just looked so pristine. One of the neighbour kids did his though, which he seemed quite psyched about.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Forms in place

They've clearly got the set-up of the forms into a pretty efficient rhythm as this got done in under a day. With this amount of concrete, you really don't need that support, but on bigger jobs, man you better make those forms sturdy! You hear tales of one-inch thick sheets of plywood just splitting apart down the middle like a zipper with concrete pouring out of it as not enough whaler bars were put in place.

Hmm, some of those forms don't look perfectly vertical to me. Tight sphincter, people! I'm still too young, but in about twenty years when I'm truly an annoying old codger, if I'm ever in a similar situation, I'm going to hang around while the guys are working, constantly checking their work and making sure they do a proper job. That's what the old portuguese guys did and I bet they got better quality sidewalks than we did!

See the vapour barrier/insulation to prevent water from getting down there freezing and causing cracking

Bring on the cream!

The sidewalks came!

I can't even remember what happened, but I dropped the ball on my continuing report of the new road and sidewalk being put in on our street. Happily, I did take pictures and I will be putting up 3 sets over this weekend to complete the historical record. The last construction post was my excitement about signs that they were soon going to put in the new sidewalks. Well they did and here is the story in pictures:

First they came by and topped up the holes between sidewalk squares (which had been dug out to access our drains, I remind you) with fresh gravel.

And each house whose entrance was blocked by the hole got their own personal plywood drawbridge.

I don't know why, but I love seeing what's underneath the sidewalk. It's just so cool to think that the original concrete at the base of the stairs was poured directly onto some dirt and gravel that has since shifted, leaving little pockets that have not seen the light of day since their birth. Now, thanks to the construction, it is exposed to us. It's like history or something, man!

Then a truck came up the street, with workers dropping off the materials necessary to set up the forms. That is in fact the only work these guys did and I noticed that they were all Mexican or Central American. I guess maybe that's how you start your way up the ladder in the construction industry, though I would not be surprised at all if these guys were fully capable of setting up the forms and pouring the concrete themselves.

All ready for some form building!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Nabbed at the illegal pedestrian railway crossing on Van Horne

For those of you who aren't aware, there has been a longstanding issue between the CPR, the municipality and the citizens of the Plateau around the railroad track that separates the Plateau borough from the Petite-Patrie and Rosemont. This railroad track blocks all pedestrian traffic from the west to the east. Until about a year ago, it was no problem, because there were many holes in the fence at convenient crossing points and no enforcement of any kind. Really, the way it should be. I even remarked on how surprisingly mellow it was in a past blog post.

Well that has all changed. The CPR all of a sudden started cracking down. First they started repairing the holes in the fence and then reinforcing the repairs with heavier-duty metal. This became a bit of an arms race where a fence would be repaired and reinforced and soon after another hole cut a bit further down. The next escalation was the CPR installing their security guards at the crossing points and handing out infractions.

Well I got nabbed yesterday afternoon. I had to pick up some keys on St. Zotique, a street on the far side of the tracks from me. At my wife's sensible suggestion (and she is starting to learn how to motivate me), I took the neighbour's dog for a long walk as well. I just assumed the holes in the fence are blocked off, so I took the underpass along St. Laurent on the way up.

Let me tell you, this thing is a motherfucker for pedestrians. It's hairy enough on a bike, but at least you have the flowing road to follow if you dare. On foot, it is nerve-wracking. You have to cross at least two points if you are coming from the west where there is nothing to aid the pedestrian. There are no painted lines, no stop signs, let alone and actual crossing light. Hell, there isn't even a sidewalk on a big part of it. This thing was designed for cars with no thought to pedestrians at all. Bikers are encouraged to walk their bikes, but even then it is so narrow that it makes for very awkward passing. I would seriously think twice before making this trip with a child in a stroller.

On the way back, I figured I'd see if any of the points were open. If they weren't, I could just walk along the pathway for a while with the dog. I approached from behind the Home Depot, to come out where Van Horne meets St-Urbain (and there is a cool statue garden):

View Larger Map

And it was here that just as I reached the opening on the south side, that I saw the CPR truck parked in the driveway next to the park. I could have probably just turned around and walked back, but something compelled me forward: the force of the law, my Canadian side, fear, curiousity, momentum, who can say.

I'll keep the interaction short, because I actually hung out next to the agent's truck for a good 15 minutes and there was a lot of back and forth. In the end, he turned out to be an interesting guy and relatively cool, given his position. They are well-equipped, these CPR security agents. He had a sweet 4WD compact, all kitted out, a nice new uniform. I was wary and defensive at first, but when he made it clear that he had the option to not actually give the infraction and that he was willing to talk and listen, I relaxed. I was forced to give him my ID, which does not make me comfortable at all, but I do believe that legally he was telling me the truth that when observed in an infraction by an officer of the law, a citizen has to share his or her ID. It's clear the guy has heard all the arguments, because he had well thought out explanations for all of my positions, though ultimately we agreed that the situation overall was messed up. So here's the deal according to him:

There is a new boss at the CPR who has installed the mandate of protecting the CPR's territory. Trespassing is to be cut to zero and all resources now go towards that. The security teams used to patrol the yards, but now they don't do that anymore, but rather are on constant patrols of places where the public can access the railroads.

The CPR does not have the jurisdiction to put pedestrian overpasses because their entrances fall on municipal land.

So we are stuck at this impasse. The one answer I really didn't get was what is in it for the CPR to protect their property against trespassing. The guard's answer to that was "New boss; those are the rules". It isn't a money grab, as all the infractions actually go to Quebec. The CPR can give out infractions to enforce the law, but it's the government who gets that money, not the CPR. My guess is that it is because of insurance, that they did some new big insurance deal. But it could also be some kind of political fight between the CPR and the city.

Either way, it's fucked. The CPR needs to back off this policy of enforcement or explain why they have suddenly decided to implement it after years of doing nothing. If there is a valid reason, then the CPR and the city must get together and build pedestrian overpasses at all the sections where people would naturally cross.

Because the reality is that people are not breaking the law to be vandals or cause difficulty. They are doing it because it is the most obvious route to take and the few existing alternatives are inconvenient and downright dangerous.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Some bullet points on Takers

I just had a very exhausting holiday season. I showed up at work more tired than I was before I left! Tons of familial obligations sandwiched by generally pretty uncomfortable and inefficient travel options are to blame, though my self-pity is assuaged by hearing the same complaint from a majority of my co-workers and a quote from the guy next to me on the last leg of my journey who said "sometimes change is as good as a rest" which I think is a valid point.

So instead of ranting about Air Canada's terrible customer service, I am going to focus on the positive, their top-notch audio-visual system. Every seat on Air Canada's fleet has a little TV in it with a choice of movies, tv shows and other goodies. The thing that makes it so great is that the TV shows are quite up to date (and it often has a good and interesting selection, from hits like The Big Bang and Modern Family to more obscure fare and good British stuff, like the In-Betweeners) and the movies even more so. A nice selection of first-run movies that you kind of thought might be worth renting are available. Between my wife and me, we watched The Town, The Social Network, Going the Distance, Never Let Me Go and Takers (more on this later). There is also an excellent CanCon channel and I re-watched the delirious beginning of Fubar II as well as several quite good Canadian shorts.

Once, when flying from San Francisco to Montreal (a direct flight that is inexplicably unavailable over the holiday season; anger beginning to rise again, must. calm. down.) a young American who had just got a job for Ubisoft in Quebec leaned over to me and asked if the movies were free. He was scared to press the Watch button for fear that some charge would be accrued to his credit card. For once in the last decade, I was quite proud of Canada. It was almost like the Chretien or Trudeau years again, when we were the cool, generous country. A fleeting moment, but I savour it.

But let's get on to Takers. What, you haven't seen Takers? Only the best movie of 2010. Well let's say the best old-style guy-focused action movie of 2010. It's basically the story of a mixed-race gang of high-rolling heisters with Matt Dillon in high pursuit. It's not great, but it doesn't annoy or enrage and other than a lame misstep with Dillon's daughter, treats its audience with respect. Instead of a review, I will simply share some bullet points with you.

  • Paul Walker began his career as an almost laughably generic movie star, but in the absence of any other cool white guys in action movies, I have to admit that he has grown on me. He makes an effort and even threw in a bit of black humour this time around. I'm going to treat his career with tentative respect going forward.
  • These kinds of movies can be seen as career gauges. For actors like Idris Elba and rappers like T.I. or Chris Brown (who seems to know Parcour?!) a movie like this is a fine paycheque. But Hayden Christensen has got to be a little concerned to be consigned to playing the goofy tech guy of the team (though he does have a pretty good fight scene and is quite a gamer despite his small frame). Even more remarkable is the plummet of Zoe Saldana. She was the star of two of the biggest hits of 2009 and here she is playing in an utterly thankless role as the only woman where she doesn't get to do anything but look loving or worried or dead. What happened? She has always been thin, but now seems to be slipping over to the eating disorder or drug abuse side of thin. Worrying.
  • You gotta love Matt Dillon. I don't know if he does these movies for the money, or just to be working or because he just enjoys partying it up on the set with a bunch of dudes. But he delivers. I loved him in Armored playing the driven, possibly psychotic heister and he is just as great here as the tired, driven cop. Just him walking down the hospital hallway after learning that his partner died (who was recently revealed to be corrupt, but got himself shot in the line of duty so he'll receive full honours and his wife and kids full benefits), turning back to his chief and saying wearily "yes, sir" after the chief says "Hey Welles, take care of yourself" is one of those moments that remind you of what it means to be a man.
  • I love the racial harmony movies like this posit. This isn't the full multi-cultural band, just black and white, but they get along so well! I almost wish I could be part of a club-owning, high-rolling multi-racial team of heisters. But then I learn that most of them end up getting tragically shot and I change my mind back to wanting to be a Hong Kong cop or defensive lineman in the NFL.
  • Takers, the Armored of 2010.
Hope you all have a good work week!