Monday, September 29, 2014

Minimalist TTC Subway Map

“Arriving at Bloor, Bloor Station...”

TTC subway map on Toronto Rocket, with cover removed

While travelling on the Yonge line, I happened to notice the LED route map on the Toronto Rocket train I was riding was missing its cover (by the way: this is not cool, guys. If you want a genuine subway map, purchase a ‘classic T1’ map for just $10 via the TTC. Stealing one for your dorm room is lame).

Scrutinizing the map more closely, we can see that it’s already set to handle the upcoming Spadina line extension stations (diagonal line of dots, upper left), whenever they open. No reconfiguration needed, except changing the cover. As for the proposed Scarborough subway...

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Fort York Visitor Centre: An Important Step Forward

The Fort York Visitor Centre is about to open. It is a marvellous accomplishment.

The Fort York Visitor Centre: in harmony with its surroundings

Decades (literally!) of patient, persistent work, wrangling, and planning went into making the Visitor Centre a reality. A generation of stakeholders and all levels of government have been involved.

The Fort has been an oft-forgotten, sometimes neglected gem in the heart of the city, but the Visitor Centre marks an important step forward in the evolution and life of the Fort.

The Visitor Centre is a clean, elegant, low-slung building that somehow manages the trick of bringing solemnity to the underside of the Gardiner Expressway. It was designed by Patkau Architects Inc. / Kearns Mancini Architects Inc. and has already won awards.

On duty at the Visitor Centre entrance

I’m one of those fusty stick-in-the-mud types who are highly resistant to change, and I was anxious that the Visitor Centre might turn out to be an over-expressive architectural carbuncle drawing attention away from the actual historic site.

Not to worry.

The Fort now has a world-class facility with which to welcome visitors and provide context for the history of Toronto, as well as host events and exhibits. It’s part of an overall vision that recognizes that the Fort and the accompanying Garrison Common are an integral part of the community and have a participatory role to play.

Beautiful, functional gallery space 

Inside, the Visitor Centre seems well-laid out, and I look forward to seeing how the space is used by different exhibits. The Immersive Ramp on the upper level is particularly intriguing; I want to see how it develops.

On display at the moment (in addition to materials relating to the First World War) is a donation of 11 paintings inspired by the War of 1812 by noted artist Charles Pachter (if you’ve been to College subway station, you’ve seen his handiwork).

Thirst for Victory, by Charles Pachter
City of Toronto Museums, A14-33

The Fort York Visitor Centre is celebrating its opening this weekend with the On Common Ground Festival. Check it out!

Get Fortified!

p.s. while you’re in the neighbourhood, be sure to drop in to the recently opened 99th branch of the Toronto Public Library, the Fort York branch on Bathurst.

Fort York branch of the TPL

Further reading:

Full disclosure: the Friends of Fort York and I collaborate together on the website, Fort York and Garrison Common Maps.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

5 Years Down, About 20 To Go: My Quest For A Peace Tower Canadian Flag

Did you know that Canadian citizens can submit a written request for flags that have flown atop Parliament Hill?

Photo: Canadian Flag flying on Parliament Hill, Ottawa
Would you like to own a Parliament Hill Canadian flag? Just ask!
Photo courtesy: PWGS

It’s a popular wait-list — the approximate waiting period is currently 42 years for a Peace Tower flag, and 31 years for East and West Block flags. The Peace Tower flag is changed daily, and never serves another official purpose after its flight.

I sent in my request about five years ago, when the Peace Tower list was shorter. A little over seven thousand Canadians are in the queue ahead of me.

The Ministry of Public Works and Government Services administers the program, which started in the mid-1990s.

Only a couple more decades to go!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Celebrating My Candy Crush Dominion

I have a confession to make. It’s a little embarrassing.

But sometimes it’s more entertaining to just blurt things out, even if it gets awkward.

I’ll express it in pictorial form:

Yup. In case you don’t recognize that middle graphic, it’s an in-game relative standing progress chart: I am the top Candy Crush player of all my friends.

It has taken me 9 months of desultory play to achieve this dubious distinction, woven from the interstitial pauses of transit commutes, laundry loads, and grocery lines.

I have survived the horror of level 578. Emerged resilient and unbowed from the frustration of level 461. Endured and somehow vanquished level 350. I am a Candy Crush King!

My sincerest apologies to any Facebook connections I spammed along the way, inadvertently or otherwise. Your forbearance is admirable.

Candy Crush Saga Level 461: Indelibly frustrating

I’m fascinated by the mechanics that make Candy Crush so popular.

And it definitely is popular. Boasting over 46 million average monthly players on Facebook, Candy Crush Saga has also been installed over 500 million times across iOS and Android devices. It’s played by men, women and children of all ages, exhibiting a uniquely broad appeal that most video games lack.

As with anything that becomes so widespread that it seeps into the culture, many people outwardly profess an attitude of scorn and derision towards the game. Certainly it is a time-waster. But vast rewards have accrued for its British maker, Ltd. According to ThinkGaming, the game’s daily revenues are currently just shy of $1 million — for the US section of the iOS App Store alone.

I’ve been tempted many times to join that throng of paying rubes.The gameplay is transparently designed to provoke and beguile players into purchasing extra moves and game boosters. But as King notes in their FAQ, the entire game can also be completed without any purchases. My miserly nature (and yes, my ornery stubbornness) has enabled me to resist—thus far.

Mr. Toffee (left) and the main protagonist, Tiffi (short for Toffette)

How I First Got My Sugar Crush
Kat, this is all your fault.

My friend Kat introduced me to this saccharine diversion. We were riding the subway home after a climbing session, and she started playing with her cellphone.

“What’s that?” I asked her.

“Just a silly game. It’s called Candy Crush.”

That night, I googled the name and came across this Slate article describing the game’s addictive qualities. Like other match-three puzzle games before it (Bejewelled comes to mind), Candy Crush features straightforward play that begins simply, and progressively gets harder as you complete more levels.

The social integration is devilish, and though I am loathe to admit it, the system hooked me almost instantly: In addition to fielding periodic exhortations to share and like the game, users can observe where they stand in relation to their peers.

Colour bomb! Delicious.
This was my first exposure to such cunning psychological manipulation (I don’t normally play video games), and my competitive instinct was led astray far too easily.

While I was initially taken aback by the number of my Facebook connections who indulge — I had expected close to zero — soon I was right there among them, vying feverishly to complete “just one more sweet level.”

It turns out there is a disproportionate thrill to be had from catching up to, and then passing people you know. Nevermind the game’s lack of sophistication or its gaudy, childish presentation — it’s fun.

Final Thoughts
I’m going to savour this absurd moment, however fleeting it may be, where I am demonstrably the... best? at this endeavour.

Yes, it’s a stupid game, a leisure-time opiate of distraction. But I’ve enjoyed playing it. It relaxes me. At time of writing, I’ve only got about 30 levels left; King periodically releases new levels. Then I’ll be done, and I can start reading Shakespeare again in my spare time. [Note: see update below]

Yeah, right.

I cannot recommend that you try it for yourself. It’s far too much of a time-waster. But should you decide after all to challenge me for the Kingship of Candy Crush — I’ll see you in nine months.

It’s official. I’ve completed all of the regular Candy Crush levels that have been created. I can now relax!

I’m done!! Until they make more levels, that is.