Friday, February 18, 2011

modern architecture

This apartment is advertised on the street, but it is actually hidden behind a fairly unattractive white brick communist bloc style apartment building. These neat spiral staircases look out onto the interior courtyard.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Working dog

I'm pretty sure I passed this dog a week earlier, jogging with his master. What was remarkable was that he was towing about 6' of heavy chain and a 3' long 4x4 beam. I saw him again helping the family bring the groceries home. Can I get my cats to do this?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Toronto Cardinal

Spent Super Bowl weekend in TO (who have pretty decent alleys of their own) and caught this winter cardinal hanging out in the trees.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Alley Rink

In one of the alleys in upper Mile End, an enterprising father has built a sweet ice rink. I've stumbled across it a few times but only this weekend did I actually see the man responsible. I stopped and had a chat with him. He said that they used to go to the park to play hockey, but that his kids have so much homework this year he thought he would try to build a rink nearby to cut out the travel time. It turned out to be a big hit. "You come here at night and it's black with kids!".

He also said it was actually not that easy to build or maintain. He bought these special rectangular plastic bags from Canadian Tire that you fill with water and then lay on the ground. Once they have frozen, you tear the plastic off the top and sides. This builds a consistent base that you then fill in and on with slow additions of water. The thing always seems really well maintained when I've been by it.

We are supposed to get up to 8 degrees on Thursday and then back to normal temperatures. I hope that doesn't ruin the rink
too much!

Plus, some bonus winter alley walk images:

Thursday, February 03, 2011

ViaRail : terrible pricing policy saved by excellent customer service

I know that Canada's passenger train system is a sad shadow of what it once was, but I have never had particularly negative feelings towards ViaRail. They seem to do a decent job. However, they do have a pretty bad reputation here in Canada.

I am happy to say, I just had a positive customer service experience with them that definitely has improved their reputation in my mind.

My wife and I are going to Toronto and we bought our tickets separately. I mistakenly thought we were leaving on Friday, when it was actually Thursday. We didn't discover this mistake until 4 days after we bought the tickets.

Of course, I bought the cheapest tickets possible and was under the assumption that I would have to pay a penalty. No such luck! If you buy a non-exchangeable ticket, it means you can't do anything with it. You are just screwed.

How utterly retarded is that? So I just swallow it and buy the Thursday ticket and they now have an empty seat on their Friday train, which they could have sold and got me for a penalty.

Well I had a long discussion about this with the woman on the phone, who was quite pleasant and articulate (though she could not explain the reasoning behind the no exchange rule beyond the circular logic that "it can't be exchanged"). She did suggest that I call customer service, after having bought the Thursday ticket, to make sure I had a seat on the train. You do have a 24-hour grace period where you can change your tickets, but I had bought the tickets 4 days ago.

I called customer service and they quite promptly just refunded my newly purchased ticket and changed my originally purchased Thursday to Friday.

When I went to pick up the tickets, I saw the woman at the counter do some fiddling with the computer. When I remarked on how complicated it seems, she said she had to do that to ensure I didn't pay a penalty.

I find it such a breath of fresh air that ViaRail gives their front line workers the leeway to change things in the system. So often these days, the customer service representative is simply a voice telling you what the system already tells you: you're screwed. There are so many things wrong with this system, I don't have time right now to go into it. Suffice to say that it is fucked. So I really appreciate ViaRail having some flexibility built into their system and having a policy that lets customer service reps actually serve the customers.

Well done, ViaRail and thank you.