On the plane

Filed under: Toronto — admin @ 8:52 pm  

We just boarded the flight to Iceland. Now the real trip begins!

Last Day in Canada

Filed under: Toronto — Russell @ 5:47 am  

Today is our last day in Canada.  We leave tonight for Iceland.  It seems strange to be leaving with no firm plan to return.  Still, I’m sure we’ll be back at some point.

On Wed we were in Waterloo.  I dropped off the final load at the storage unit.  Then I sold the car to our neighbour.  It is funny to get rid of this car.  We bought it when we moved to Waterloo over 10 years ago.

We saw a movie with our friends Barry and Debbie and then took the bus back to Toronto.  We’ve been house sitting for some friends on the Danforth.  It has been a lovely slice of luxury before we hit the road.

Last night we watched UP.  It is a cautionary tale about not letting your life slip by; an appropriate message today.

I realized a couple days ago that while all this planning has been worthwhile, the truth is that we can’t really prepare for what comes next for the simple reason that we don’t know what will happen.  There is a tremendous freedom to getting on a plane.  Anything left undone is suddenly beyond your reach and the wisest thing to do is to put it out of your mind.


Thai Shan

Filed under: Toronto — Russell @ 11:26 am  

Last night we went to the new location of the Thai Shan Inn Restaurant. This is my favourite Thai restaurant in Toronto. It had been in the same location on Eglinton for 20 years. The old dining room was small with wood panel walls and a linoleum floor. The food was great and people lined up to get in.

About 10 years ago they had a sign saying, “We will be closed for renovations next week”. I asked the owner, “Are you renovating the dining room?”. She looked at me like I was crazy, “No,” she said, “the kitchen”. Clearly, she knew what was important.

The new place is around the corner on Dufferin. The decor is much more upscale. The food is still excellent and there are still disposable plastic covers on the tables. We ate until we were stuffed. At the end of the meal two things happened that reminded me of why I like this place. The bill came and the four of us had eaten our fill for $52. That’s a good price for fine dining in Toronto. Then the owner came out to visit. We were delighted to see her and she recognized us from all our visits years ago. Then the treats started coming. In the end we begged her to stop tempting us and left promising to return.


The Sleeper Awakes

Filed under: Toronto — Russell @ 7:49 pm  

This post may contain minor Inception SPOILERS!

Last night I met my friend David and we went to see Inception.  Given the complexity of the story it held together quite well.  Leonardo DiCaprio does a good turn as the haunted leader of the group.  I had expected he would be too pretty to play someone with a painful history but he pulled it off.  There has been some criticism of Ellen Page as exposition girl but as always I found her quite watchable.  I’m also warming to Joseph Gordon-Levitt although he still looks a bit boyish to play an action hero.

After the movie David and I went for dinner and talked about big life changes.  He left his job at the bank several years ago to become a clown, an announcement almost designed to bewilder his former colleagues.  In the context of the movie we talked about what people label the real world.  Typically, this is coded shorthand for the unpleasant aspects of earning money.  What is surprising is that when you stop worrying about making enough money, a task designed to be asymptotically unattainable, you find that real life is more about connecting with people.

I think the theme of knowing what is real (what is the Matrix?) is coming to prominence as our ability to create simulated worlds increases.  Video games strive for realism as they contemplate the leap across the uncanny valley.  Perhaps we have started to worry that the electronic wool can be pulled over our eyes so that we live unknowingly in an artificial world.  Inception plays with this fear.  The Matrix made it look cool.  If one suspects that the world as seen is not real, rather looking for some physical contradiction that would reveal the trick, try building deep, complex, meaningful relationships with people.  This is much harder to simulate.  So if you find yourself engaging in shallow interactions with people who seem strangely disassociated, wake up!  You are either dreaming or living a shallow life.  Either way, time to move on.


Lazy Toronto Day

Filed under: Toronto — Russell @ 6:41 pm  

I’m boat/cat sitting for a few days.  Living at the marina is very different than living in a house.  It is like urban camping.  Last night we had dinner on board and watched the sunset.  It was dark enough to see some of the Perseids.

Today to make up for Erin’s generous loan of her boat I’m trying to find some contacts in the South African wireless industry.  She is in South Africa working with the Stephen Leacock Foundation.  If you have any experience wiring up remote African schools please send an email to:

After doing some work I headed down to the Toronto Beaches and watched the water while a nearby man chanted.

I originally rendered this using edge detection to protect the chanter’s identity.  It makes the video look like a pencil sketch which is kind of cool.



Filed under: Toronto — Russell @ 12:23 am  

I passed a homeless man this morning.  He was sleeping on a bench outside of Zellers.  The contrast between him and the crazy professor in Costa Rica was striking.  He was bundled up against the cold even though it was almost 9am and over 20 degrees.  He looked about 60.  He was alone.

In Montezuma, the crazy professor swaggers down the street, shirtless.  He greets or scolds people in the town, many of whom know him.  Just before I left he approached Cuko and asked for one coin.  Cuko reached into his pocket and with a clinking sound pulled out some change.  “I don’t have one”, he said.  The professor looked at him and asked, “dos?”.  “Si”, said Cuko and handed him the coins.  They both smiled at the joke.


Back in Toronto briefly

Filed under: Toronto — Tags: — Russell @ 9:19 pm  

Arrived back in Toronto today.  It took two days to make it back rather than the three days it took to get down there.

Toronto was experiencing torrential rain when I arrived.  I reassured a fellow traveller that this was unusual for Toronto.  It isn’t actually a rain forest.

This is a short stay.  Tomorrow, I’m off to Calgary for an improv workshop.  I’m really looking forward to it.  I took this workshop 5 years ago and had a blast.


Travel Troubles

Filed under: Toronto — Tags: — Russell @ 4:19 am  

Not sure what is happening in the Gulf. Delta’s website says they are monitoring the situation. What is clear is that my flight is cancelled. I’m booked on another flight that arrives 8 hours later. Still not sure what this does to the ground transportation but most likely I’ll miss the ferry and be stranded for the night.

Just the usual travel blues.


As predicted the land transportation isn’t going to work. So I’m staying in San Jose for the night. I’ll try again tomorrow.


Newark is a mess. If I make it there today I’ll spend the night and fly to San Jose the next morning. It is cheaper to spend the night in San Jose than to arrange transport so late in the day. So the best case is I arrive at my destination on Wed. This is turning out to be a very expensive 2 day journey.

On the plus side I was able to use my advanced Blackberry skills to help a stranded Indian couple get hold of their relatives so they had a place to stay tonight. The Yellow Pages app works pretty well.


Boarded the flight for Newark.



Filed under: Plans,Toronto — Russell @ 10:44 am  
July 12, 2010

GAP the mind

Filed under: Toronto — Russell @ 5:51 pm  

Yesterday, I met my friend Erin for breakfast at Bonjour Brioche, a nice little French café and bakery on Queen Street.  Lately, she has been spending a lot of time improving her boat.  She told me about the Stephen Leacock Foundation, a Canadian organization which helps fund the educational costs of kids in Africa.  They are working with the GAP schools which were started by parents in South Africa who wanted their children to get a good education.

One of the problems is that Internet connectivity is expensive, slow and in many places unavailable.  So Erin is interested in building a solution to give students access to the wealth of free material online even when the school is not connected.  One solution we discussed was a cross between the World Wide Web and an interlibrary loan.  So students would requests material, possibly implicitly by doing a search or clicking on a link.  If the data was in the school’s cache/repository the student would be granted access.  If not, a request would be logged.  Once a week someone would take the list of requests (perhaps by physically transporting a hard drive) to a location that had internet access.  Then the data would be loaded and transported back to the school.

This is a fairly simple idea but there are lots of questions that quickly come up.

– How do you decide what retrieve when the student makes a general request?  A request for information about “Nationalism” could mean many things.  With a fast Internet connection we rely on the interactive nature of Google when doing a search.  It is an interesting problem if returning the wrong result means another week’s wait.

– Should results be shared among students?  Is there an expectation of privacy?

– How much supplemental material should be included?  Links?  Pictures?

An interesting set of problems.

After breakfast I drove up north of Port Perry and visited some friends who bought a farm.  We went boating on the lake and I got to drive a 1962 Mercedes 220.  It looks like the car Hilter would have driven.  It runs beautifully and there is a guilty pleasure driving without seat belts.  We probably would have demolished any modern car in a collision.