Saturday 29 December 2012

Year in Review: Top Ten Quotes of 2012

  1. For The Win: Barack Obama responding to Romney`s claim US Naval Strength was greater in 1916 (?!)
    "Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets."
  2. "You know, I take that as a compliment... Better a MILF than a cougar... so tell him I said thank-you."
    BC Premier Christie Clark on a talk radio show
  3. Charlie Sheen
    "I'm tired of pretending I'm not special. I'm tired of pretending I'm not a total bitchin' rock star from Mars."
  4. "The Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street and the recent presidential elections have shown the power of real-time communications and citizen journalism, but today it’s still difficult for citizen journalists to earn money on even the most amazing content."
    Anton Gelman, chief executive,
  5. John Sculley – Former CEO of Apple and PepsiCo
    "Digital Health feels like the PC industry in the early '80′s."
  6. "Our Nation's 41st president George H W Bush has passed away in Houston. Tune to WBAP 820 AM for the latest."
    News Talk WBAP
  7. "A message erroneously reporting the death of President George H.W. Bush was sent out moments ago by WBAP News," it said. "Mr. Bush has not passed away. We sincerely apologize for this error."
    WBAP News director Rick Hadley
  8. Lady Gaga on her fans.
    "Some artists want your money so they can buy Range Rovers and diamond bracelets, but I don't care about that kind of stuff. I want your soul."
  9. Joel Stein, Can Obama Overcome the Urkel Effect?
    "Obama has done a good job passing, with his nice suits, easy smile and attractive wife. But those are just the over-30 nerd trappings of success... Sure, he played high school basketball, but how many cool kids play indoor sports in Hawaii?"
  10. "As far as trade is concerned, Canadian businessmen don’t know who Pussy Riot are."
    Konstantin Trofimov, Russia’s trade commissioner to Canada

Thursday 27 December 2012

At Dave Charlotte's No Frills I sat down and wept

I took the week off. Meaning today was the first day when I had some “me” time. In fact, my first week of vacation since earlier this year. Which maybe explains what happened when I ran to the store to grab a few things necessary to make Turkey pasta pomodoro.

I'm a guy. I shop like Arnold plays the Terminator. March around in boots, scan for the target, and capture it. So I wasn't in an emotionally delicate state as I whizzed passed the electric doors. And scanned the red shopping baskets and acquired the one with the least garbage in it.

As I swiveled my head across the grocery section my eyes locked on the end-aisle display of boxed chocolates. My left hemisphere was whizzing like an IBM computer as I noted the very good price. But... I already had several superior box of chocolates at home. All received free, as happens at this time of year.

I resumed my swiveling scan and acquired the cherry tomatoes. Hmm, $1.49. Price=favorable. But again I already had tomatoes at home, and they had in fact garnished brunch. Next target – mini-baguettes. Mission- calculate optimum expiry date.

Off I went, dodging shopping carts and teenage stock clerks who treat the packed produce section as it they are playing Grand Theft Auto VII. (And kudos to them - it sounds like fun). And suddenly there was a temporal rift. The muzak switched to that hopefully grand piano sadness that intros "Clocks" that big Coldplay hit. The one with “Home, home, where I wanted to go”.

And I immediately start weeping.

Not tearing in the corner of the eyes. Not a single tear down one cheek. Full waterworks, like Tammy Faye Baker finding Jim in bed with the hookers.

It's not even a song I like. I don't vomit when I hear it on the radio, but neither have I ever sought it out on YouTube.

And now this song was transporting me to another state of existence. And as I stood there in a puddle of my own tears, my sole thought was “My life is perfect”. Yes – I was transported into a state of ecstatic revelation. A state of grace, immersed in the power of whatever it is that others call Jahweh, Buddha or L Ron Hubbard.

When I regained my composure I floated through the store. Of course the mini-baguettes weren't stale. Yes I remembered to buy that thing I'd forgotten to put on the list. Snapped up Perrier 4 for 5 bucks. A freezer case bursting with bacon on a great price. And I love eating bacon with breakfast when I'm on vacation. But I am a cancer survivor now. That means I have to live life differently - like someone who's been cured, and plans to stay alive.

I found the one checkout with no one at it, and sailed through. By now my revelation was so intense that the Matrix was fully revealed to me with the world running in source code as I savored the nuances of how we exist. The crazy bike guy whizzed by with the weird stuff he collects in his huge weird trailer and I cried “Merry Christmas`` though I knew he would not hear it. I just wanted to wish him to have merriment. I turned a corner and impossibly, the same crazy bike guy again passed me, going along different coordinates and with the huge trailer now empty. So this time I cried "Happy New Year”.

They had changed something in the Matrix. I`m hoping it means 2013 is going to be a better year. 

Song - Clocks, by Coldplay.

Danger: Malware Ahead!

So I just went to good ole to find out what hipsters such as myself were going to be doing ironically tonight. And then this popped up in my browser:

Danger: Malware Ahead!
Google Chrome has blocked access to this page on
Content from, a known malware distributor, has been inserted into this web page. Visiting this page now is very likely to infect your computer with malware.

Malware is malicious software that causes things like identity theft, financial loss, and permanent file deletion.

My readers know I use the Chrome Browser build 23.0.1271.97 m

Note that the alert does not indicate the source as the actual site: The source is the ad server

Update from Torontoist's Hamutal Dotan (12.27.2012 3:03 PM)

Thanks for letting us know Alan. It's an issue with an ad that has now been disabled. We've requested review from Google, since as far as we know there wasn't actually any problem with the ad itself, and we're not sure why it was flagged.



Hamutal adds "Please note that it is St. Joseph Media and not Torontoist that's doing the investigating, since we Torontoist and Toronto Life are operated by the same publisher.".

In other words, they are totally on top of it. Way to go!

Thursday 22 November 2012

Africa For Norway - New charity single out now! Official Christmas video

Although I am not a curmudgeon by Alan Zweig standards, I do look askance at our culture's willingness to be manipulated by sentimental twaddle. And now the Norwegians agree with me...

Let me quote from Africa for Norway, a parody fundraising website - "Imagine if every person in Africa saw the "Africa for Norway" video, and this was the only information they ever got about Norway. What would they think about Norway?"

The manifesto of "Africa for Norway":

Fundraising should not be based on exploiting stereotypes.
Most of us just get tired if all we see is sad pictures of what is happening in the world, instead of real changes.

We want better information about what is going on in the world, in schools, in TV and media.
We want to see more nuances. We want to know about positive developments in Africa and developing countries, not only about crises, poverty and AIDS. We need more attention on how western countries have a negative impact on developing countries.

Media: Show respect.
Media should become more ethical in their reporting. Would you print a photo of a starving white baby without permission? The same rules must apply when journalists are covering the rest of the world as it does when they are in their home country.

Aid must be based on real needs, not “good” intentions.
Aid is just one part of a bigger picture; we must have cooperation and investments, and change other structures that hold back development in poorer countries. Aid is not the only answer.

Visit Africa for Norway for the entire deconstruction.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Top Ten Reasons to hate French numeration

Other than the Bablyonian language Βαβυλών no language has worse names for numbers than French

French starts normally (that is, like almost every other planetary language) with words that mean 1 through 10 (une, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, huit, neuf, dix). Notice the dark storm cloud of trouble. The French are so precious with their language so why would they use the English word "Six" to represent 6? Trouble lay ahead.

Like all romance languages we go into the special word name numbers: onze, douze, treize, quatorze, quinze, seize. That's 11 through 16, using word roots based on 1 through six elevated to the decimal of ten. Excellent syntax!

Then it all goes pear shaped. 17, 18, 19 are represented by words that translate as ten-seven, ten-eight, ten-nine. There is a brief moment of quiet and heuristic algorithmic sanity as we reach the verbal plateau "vingt". We are at the word for twenty.

From here on in French number names bear more resemblance to downhill skiing and children's Christmas wishes than they do to the brilliant mathematical logic that one otherwise associates with French intellect. BONUS- it's in "You do the math" format...

21= Vingt et un (translation Twenty plus one)
31= Trent et un (translation Thirty plus one)
41= Quarante et un (translation Fourty plus one)

The concatenation of numeraux Français continues thusly, more nursery rhyme than Principia Mathematica, until we arrive at the whopper of all number word names:
soixante-et-onze – translation: sixty and eleventy!!! If my child came home and stated the total of some mathematic operation was sixty plus eleventy, I would have him or her sent for testing for developmental handicaps.

Now their number name system degenerates into "you do the math” concatenations, viz
"soixante-dix-neuf" sixty-ten-nine (79 in any language normally used to express mathematics)
The penultimate point of derivation is reached at
"quatre-vingt-dix-huit" A name which means four, twenty, ten, eight. But you have to be French to know that means four TIMES twenty PLUS ten PLUS eight.

If the French hadn't given us soixante-neuf it would be impossible to forgive them.

For now, I say 34 and one half. Anytime, anywhere. You have my email address. Smooches

Friday 26 October 2012

An Open Letter to the Art Gallery of Ontario

I am writing to express my extreme displeasure with your repugnant marketing campaign that accompanies the Frida Kahlo exhibit as described in the Toronto Star's Oct 20, 2012 article "Unibrows rule in Toronto in celebration of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo"

Your actions here are repugnant because:
  • It endorses a commercial view of the beauty ideal for women, in particular mocking natural facial hair
  • It was clearly developed by wealthy and privileged women who conform to the ideals of fashion magazine attractiveness
  • It is racist toward all woman of Latin American, Mexican, Spanish and South American descent, who are differently hirsute
  • It trivializes the work of an artist who struggled her entire life to have a successful career from under the shadow of Diego Rivera
  • It rips off the work of a Canadian artist, namely the film “Stupidity” by Albert Nereneberg
  • It is not even clever

You are a tax-funded institution and are only entitled to your suck at the public teat if you conform to the Ontario Human Rights Code.

The Art Gallery of Ontario is racist and anti-women, and steals from artists.

The person responsible for this abhorrent promotion must be fired, an apology issued, and a donation made to a Latin American women's art collective.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Deconstructing Dad -The Music, Machines and Mystery of Raymond Scott

Raymond Scott is a great musical Powerhouse of the 20th century. In our previous posting we literally looked at Scott's Powerhouse - the inventive jazz work, the staple of Bugs Bunny cartoons, and its entree into 21st century musical vernacular.

After a successful career as the house bandleader on Your Hit Parade, Scott moves to the East Coast and begins a career in electronic music composition. And reveals himself a musical genius on a par with Frank Zappa and an electronic instrument genius on the order of Robert Moog. In fact, Robert Moog saw Raymond Scott's Electronium prototype as a boy. This inspired his own work.

Scott's son Stan Warnow and some chums have put together an amateur film which documents his tortured relationship with his father, his father's glamorous musical career, his father's womanizing, and the sadness at the end of his life that this shining invention would never be completed.

What is interesting about Raymond Scott is that other synthesizer inventors built keyboard-based instruments that could be played by a musician. Raymond Scott's devices were sequencers which actually composed the music they played.

Raymond Scott - Portifino

RAYMOND SCOTT - Cindy Electronium (1959) - Art Monad 144- モナド - 人生の花

And today ex-Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh owns the Electronium Raymond Scott's manufactured for Motown's Barry Gordy. They hope to restore it.

Sunday 21 October 2012

Powerhouse - A Catalogue raisonné of the compositions of Raymond Scott

Powerhouse is a jazz suite in three movements by the American composer Raymond Scott. Due to the nature of Scott's musicality Carl Stalling appropriated Scott's work into his cartoon soundtracks for the Merrie Melodies he was doing at Warner Brothers.

The Raymond Scott Quintette is really the Raymond Scott Sextette. But Scott thought Sextet was vulgar.

Of special interest of this performance in Your Hit Parade is the use of a pair of matched "wobulator" video effects to compliment the live performance. The first is clearly a Lissajous figure which is a type of signal generated by an oscilloscope reacting to the sound frequencies of the audio being performed. The fact that there are three displays indicates some form of studio effect.

In addition, there is the second figure that is almost certainly a dancer wearing a black leotard with white striped fabric highlights. This figure is doubled.

I am prepared to offer the opinion that the Lissajous figure and the dancer were performing in a second studio, and that all this was mixed together, displayed on a video monitor, recorded by a second camera pointed on that monitor, and mixed into the studio feed as broadcast.

Powerhouse performed by Lisa Preimesberger, Philip Everall, Jude Traxler, Andy Kozar and Matthias Kronsteiner live at the weekly Power Concert at Manhattan School of Music

This tube is awesome because you can witness the music being played. Especially the hysterically funny percussion section.

Merrie Melodies powerhouse Feat. Mack and Tosh, the original Ambiguously Gay Duo.

Notice that, while Scott uses trombones and other horns to drive his melody, here Carl Stalling uses a string section. A far more deft handling. Also, and I hate to be pedantic, but Merrie Melodies were musically-driven cartoons. Whereas Looney Tunes were cartoons featuring incidental music.

The "Phil- harmonics"

The very kles-matic work of Raymond Scott

Then finally, Carl Stalling gets an entirely different third movement out of Scott's work with
Duck Dodgers in the 24th and a half Century

Top Ten reasons not to have Canadian Mutual Funds in your RRSP

  1. Fox's Paradox:
    • I want my fund manager to make enormous profits trading in the stock markets
    • Any fund manager that actually can make enormous profits trading in the stock markets would spend her days making herself rich
    • Therefore no fund manager who can make enormous profits would work at a mutual fund
  2. There are no Index Funds that can match the Index
  3. The funds do not hold what they say they do. My Global Commodities market is invested 40.7% in Canadian Stocks and 39.1% in US Stocks. That's 79.8% in North American stocks. That's not Global
  4. On Jan 3rd of every year your fund loses 4.5% of its value – the cumulative drag of the MER (Management Expense Ratio) and the previous 12 months of inflation
  5. Holding US funds in your Canadian investment account incurs currency exchange fees:
    • When you buy the funds
    • When the fund pays dividends
    • When you sell the funds
    • You even pay exchange fees when you receive your annual distribution
  6. Holding a mutual fund in an RSP means that you cannot claim a loss on your taxes
  7. The highest performing mutual funds charge "loads". A front-end load is a fee to buy the fund; a back-end load is the fee to sell a fund
  8. The CDIC (Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation) does not cover mutual funds
  9. By definition mutual fund managers churn their holdings – they buy and sell every day, typically turning over 90% of the fund portfolio in a year. If a stock isn't worth buying and holding for 5 years, it's not worth buying and holding for three months'
  10. I'll leave the last words to Rob Carrick of Report on Business "Plenty of mutual funds are run by faceless nobodies who come and go with all the impact of a tree falling in a forest."
    ROB, Mar 17 2009

Disclaimer: This is not investment advice. This is the story of how I pick my stocks. I cannot recommend these stocks for you. My invitation is that you use this story as an inspiration to develop your own portfolio that meets your risk profile, the type of stocks you can understand, and that are recommended by professional writers and market analysts. I am an amateur investor. I enjoy the hobby, and invite you to enjoy it too.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

My baby takes the morning train

After the slump of 2008 I was fed up with my mutual funds. They were supposed to be a tax sheltered way to grow my savings. They were supposed to be indexed to the stock market. They were supposed to provide for my in my old age. But the answers were "No" "No" and "No". Not only were my fund managers squandering my capital every year – they were charging me from 1.75 to 3 percent of my assets to waste my money.

Then I noticed the fund compositions were so far off base as to be nearly fraudulent. I bought a global precious metals fund. "Global precious metals" meant all Canadian Mining funds. I bought a Global Commodities Fund. "Global Commodities" meant all Canadian Oil, Gas and Mining Companies

By 2011 it was clear that I would have invested more wisely if I'd stuck all my money in the g-string of an exotic dancer named Bambie. Bambie outperformed the stock market. Bambie gave me short-term growth. Over and over again. And Bambie was aging me so quickly that I was never going to outlive my RRSP.

Plus with Bambie I had no problems with timing the market. With Bambie, it was always the right time to get in. And she always told me when it was time to get out!

So in late 2010 I began to formulate a plan. I had accumulated enough in my retirement account that I was going to open a self-directed RRSP. Farewell MERs! Hello per-trade commissions. Farewell Index funds that don't perform the Index. Hello, Bre-X.

In other words this Fox was going to let the herd of Canadian investing sheep follow their advisers over the cliff. This Fox was about to become a wolf. In the coming months I will explain market fundamentals as I understand them. Several principles will come to the fore. I can explain to you how you develop an investing style that lets you pick stocks that you already know how to make money on. It's very probable you can take your own money, and make money with it, than the average mutual fund manager. Let me give you a simple example...

I'm into Canadian Pacific Railways.
First of all – I like trains. I travel by train. I live near the major GO transit line into Toronto. My office looks out onto the Canadian Pacific mainline that travels from Atlantic to Pacific in this great country.

I read about trains every few days. Mostly hobbyist stuff. Old pictures of steam engines, or the electric railway systems of the 1930s. Well guess what? The railway business model hasn't changed since 1840. In other words, my hobbyist interest has given me a fundamental understand of the practical base of the economic model of railroading.

Let's look at those fundamentals:
  • A class of ship called "salties" send coal and iron ore to Asia to be made into consumer goods
  • Container ships send the finished goods back to North America
  • The containers are offloaded onto specialty railcars
  • The containers are taken off the railcars and put onto truck trailers at inter-model yards
  • The trucks drive the trailers to the discount retailers such as Walmart
How can this market be disrupted?
  • Rising fuel costs have increased the cost of sending coal and steel and finished goods by ship so much that ships now practice slow steaming. It now takes a ship twice as long for each leg of the journey
  • What this means is that new pressures will force Chinese companies to re-offshore (also called "onshoring") their factories back to North America.
  • This is bad for shipping but it means good manufacturing jobs coming back. And it means everything still travels by train.

Looking at the matter from a completely different perspective, the barrier to entry is almost impossible to override. Currently there are seven "Class 1" carriers - Canadian Pacific and Canadian National, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Corporation, Union Pacific, BNSF Railway, and Kansas City Southern.
The CP railway enterprise owns 14,000 miles of usable track. If you want to compete with CP you have to buy 14,000 miles of land, and lay 14,000 miles of track.

Then comes the sweetest plum of all. Canadian Pacific has been under-performing for a quarter-century. Activist shareholders have succeeded in forcing the CP Board to appoint ex-CN Chair E. Hunter Harrison as the new chair of Canadian Pacific.

And this concludes our lesson. This makes CP a "story stock". They used to be in the toilet. Now they hired the greatest mind in railroading. That makes for a good story.

I look forward to sharing with you the story of how this stock play unfolds.

Canadian Pacific Railways
Ticker – CP

Wall Street is bullish on Railway Stocks

Disclaimer: This is not investment advice. This is the story of how I pick my stocks. I cannot recommend these stocks for you. My invitation is that you use this story as an inspiration to develop your own portfolio that meets your risk profile, the type of stocks you can understand, and that are recommended by professional writers and market analysts. I am an amateur investor. I enjoy the hobby, and invite you to enjoy it too.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Top 10 impacts of a Presidential Election on mutual funds

I am fine-tuning my RRSP mutual fund portfolio. That means I am moving to a self-directed LIRA at a discount brokerage. Noticing, as I did, that I was doing this on the cusp of a Presidential Election, I thought my readers would appreciate it to know how this impacts market valuation. Behold - Let's look at the Top Ten impacts of a Presidential election on the stock market...

  1. Even if investors see a rosy pattern shaping up, the question nags: Is it likely to hold up this year? After all, 2008 was a presidential election year, yet the S&P lost a heart-sinking 33.5 percent over the last seven months. Investors learned the election-year rule of thumb has exceptions, and painfully sore ones at that.
  2. On average, the third year of a presidency is by far the best year for stocks. That's not to say it's always the best year. "However, as can be remembered vividly, this approach did not work at all in 2008," warns Citi's Tobias Levkovich. (Source: Citigroup)
  3. Volatility spikes in the 2nd year, then levels off . According to Goldman Sachs' Jose Ursua: "Volatility often sees a first post-election blip (as markets digest changes) and then a gradual increase towards the second year of the cycle."(Source: Goldman Sachs)
  4. Equity returns, worldwide, are better explained when considering US election-related variables U.S. election cycles explain more than just U.S. equity returns. From Goldman Sachs' Jose Ursua: "In particular, the election cycle in the US helps to explain a sizable fraction of non-US equity returns, both in other developed markets and in emerging markets." (Source: Goldman Sachs)
  5. Since 1900, only 5 presidents have seen stocks rise more than 50% during their term. The exclusive club includes Calvin Coolidge, FDR, Dwight Eisenhower, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama. (Source: Bespoke Investment Group)
  6. When stocks rise significantly during a presidential term, the incumbent usually wins re-election in a landslide. From Robert Prechter: "We deem an election a landslide victory if the incumbent competed for and won re-election by defeating the nearest competitor with an electoral vote margin of 40% or greater...We define a large positive stock market change as a net gain of 20% or more in the preceding three-year period...We conclude that a large net positive stock market change during the three years prior to the election is highly likely to be associated with a landslide victory for the incumbent as opposed to a landslide loss." (Source: Robert Prechter)
  7. You can figure out who will be president based on the 3-month stock market performance preceding an election. From S&P Capital IQ's Sam Stovall: "An S&P 500 price rise from July 31 through October 31 traditionally has predicted the reelection of the incumbent person or party, while a price decline during this period has pointed to a replacement. Since 1948, this election-prognostication technique did an excellent job, in our view, recording an 88% accuracy rate in predicting the re-election of the party in power (it failed in 1968). What's more, it recorded an 86% accuracy rate of identifying when the party in power would be replaced (it failed in 1956)." (Source: Stovall's Sector Watch)
  8. Lately, President Obama's approval rating has been tightly correlated with stocks
  9. Let's bust one myth: namely, that Republican presidents are better for stocks. It is not true. In election cycles since World War II, the Dow Jones industrials have posted bigger average returns under Democratic presidents. (Source: Stock Trader's Almanac)
  10. How have stocks fared from Election Day to year's end? When a Democrat wins, stocks have lost 1%, while rising 4% if a Republican wins. Source( Bespoke Investment Group)


Business Insider
ABC News
Christian Science Monitor

Monday 15 October 2012

Going "Pro-Rogue"

Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty has prorogued parliament and resigned as Premier. Prorogation is an interesting method of managing the House. It is the end of a parliamentary session that lets the government of the day suspend parliament for a period of time of their own choosing. In this case it will be used to shut down parliament until the Liberal party has elected a new leader several months hence.

All of this is made possible in a parliamentary democracy such as Canada due to the presence of a federal Governor General and provincial Lieutenant Govenors, all of whom serve as the representative of the Queen. Which is to say, the Queen has granted permission for this to occur.

In the 19th Century every sitting of the House would be prorogued for an average of 6 months. This let the MPs return home on the limited transportation systems of the day, and return to the capital to govern during favorable traveling weather. By the 1980s, a typical prorogation would be a conventional 22 days.

In the current century there were several controversial periods of prorogation where it was painfully obvious the House was being adjourned to prevent the government from being turfed out via a "non-confidence motion".

For those living in the United States it's hard to fathom. Imagine the President having a governing body whom he could ask to shut the Congress and Senate down until he was in a mood to deal with them again. But that is what has happened here, in the Canadian Province of Ontario. The House will not meet again until the Liberal Party has elected a new leader, and fought an election. Whoever wins will call the House back to session sometime in mid-2013.

UPDATE: Ontario has a new Premier - Kathleen Wynne. She recalled the Legislature Feb 19 for a Speech from the Throne. Parliament is back in session. The Liberals keep their minority government. NDP opposition leader Andrea Horvath will continue to prop the liberals up. PC Leader Tim Hudak will continue to be irrelevant.

Sunday 14 October 2012

Ship STEFANIA 1 travelling the Welland Canal

Stephania 1 is a "salty". Unlike a potato chip, that means she steams from the Great Lakes down the St Lawrence and out to sea. And from there to far off lands. She's also a bulk carrier, which means she might have wheat in her holds, or coal, and something else that is consumed in industrial quantities but is so low in value it must be shipped by sea.

She sails out of Valetta, Malta.

When I was a boy we would sit along the banks of the Welland Canal, eat fried chicken from a striped cardboard bucket, and wave at the seamen. Sometimes they would toss change at us and you have these incredibly exotic coins with beautiful animals and strange script.

The video is long at 14 minutes.

Saturday 29 September 2012

Ich brauche keine Millionen (Musik, Musik, Musik)

So some random Youtube surfing has led me to this musical number sung and danced by Marika Rökk in "Hallo Janine" (1939), with music by Peter Kreuder. I would swear it's Busby Berkeley (and I am accomplished at swearing) but as the Straussian Waltz swells at the end there is no doubt this is echte Deutsche...

I heart New York

Earlier this year the City of New York released over 800,00 archival images via a municipal website. The website feels like something the department of sanitation would publish to announce what goes in the recycling bin. But the image archive...

Painters on Brooklyn Bridge, 1914
(media handout image)
BTW for those who are musically inclined it's a lovely piece of music. Almost a hymnal. It's especially beautiful in A#.

The perfect site to browse after your post-Nuit Blanche brunch - NYC Municipal Archives Gallery

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Farewell My Huckleberry Friend

The great song stylist Andy Williams has passed at the same time as my late Mother-in-law Aurolyn Kennedy, who lived on, and was part of, the great plains. Although not a sodbuster, she was a force of nature.

When Johnny Mercer (lyrics) and Henry Mancini (music) sat down around that piano they crafted what is possibly the world's most perfect pop song. In this blogpost I celebrate it...

The film Breakfast at Tiffany's gave us a great Audrey Hepburn film, but one with some severe cultural gaps, what with Holly Golightly being a prostitute and all. And Audrey Hepburn can't sing. (It's interesting to observe that only a couple of years later her singing as Eliza Doolittle would be dubbed out of My Fair Lady).

Nonetheless, now is no time to be dragged down. Moon River, how do I love, thee? Let me count the ways:

Moon River - Breakfast at Tiffany's

The eternally fragile Judy Garland

Sir Elton John is so moved to perform the tune he actually speaks in complet Anglais French

Saving the best for last, Diana Panton breaths wonderful life into this chesnut featuring her superb phrasing

Lastly, let us admire Johnny Mercer's near-haiku purity of lyric:

Moon River, wider than a mile,
I'm crossing you in style some day.
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker,
wherever you're going I'm going your way.
Two drifters off to see the world.
There's such a lot of world to see.
We're after the same rainbow's end--
waiting 'round the bend,
my huckleberry friend,
Moon River and me.

© 1961 Paramount Music Corporation, ASCAP

Wednesday 19 September 2012

The Rocket Belt Murder

HOUSTON — In 1995, a test pilot with a rocket contraption strapped to his back shot into the air and flew over the Houston Ship Channel like Buck Rogers for 28 seconds. The crowd went wild.

The demonstration was the first and last public flight of the RB-2000 rocket belt, one of only three such devices operational in the world.

After the demonstration, one of the developers of the rocket belt put it in his trailer and drove off. It hasn't been seen since.

As for the developers- one is dead, while another is a suspect in his slaying and under judicial order to pay a third partner $10 million for absconding with their invention to keep the profits to himself.

In the midst of it all, the question remains: What happened to the rocket belt? *

Handout image via Atlas Obscura

Read the entire story at Atlas Obscura

*Source - The L.A. Times

Thursday 6 September 2012

Tear up your Netflix Card!

Troma Films has announced they are publishing a library of 150 feature films on Youtube available for free viewing! That's right, it's all there – From Alien Blood to Zombiegeddon, brought to you courtesy of the studio that produced The Toxic Avenger Parts 1 through IV.

Troma Films on Youtube

The library features early classics of horror cinema such as 1940s The Ape, directed by William Nigh and starring Boris Karloff, and slightly more camp fare, such as Rockabilly Vampire, The Rowdy Girls and Yeti: A Love Story. And then startling and watchable trash such as Martin Walz's 1996 meisterwerke Killer Condom.

The absolute end-of-career star-slumming of The Seduction Of Dr Fugazzi starring "Help get me out of this picture" Faye Dunaway is contrasted with the screen debuts of today's stars, as in The Wedding Party, an early Brian DePalma work featuring the first appearance of Robert DeNiro and Jill Clayburgh

And there are truly hidden gems, such as John Michael McCarthy's Superstarlet A.D. starring Kerine Elkins, Gina Velour and Michèle Carr. Not really the exploitation picture it pretends to be, it is really a shining example of feminist art cinema. Highly recommended!

Don't forget to hook up your VCR while enjoying the finest in trash cinema!

Monday 3 September 2012

Kubrick // One-Point Perspective

Vimeo member kogonada has produced this video mashup showing Stanley Kubrick's powerful use of one-point perspective in his films.

Kubrick // One-Point Perspective from kogonada on Vimeo.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Brutalist Bunker in Board-and-Batten

Ask any local and they'll tell you that the colonial townsite of Niagara-on-the-Lake "has charm coming out of its arse". The most historic part of what was once Upper Canada, there have been buildings on this site for two hundred years. So naturally as soon as I arrived in town I had to do a survey of the town's architecture. Ignoring the colonial, I went straight for the late modern, of course.

First up, the acknowledged masterpiece of Ron Thom's 1973 Festival Theater. According to the website Ron Thom House for Sale - "Thom liked to set his buildings so that people could come across a house in the trees – from above or below – but not be able to see all of it. A low-hipped cedar shake roof floats over the cedar and cement block base. Glass meets glass and corner windows vanish into thin air. The house reflects Ron Thom’s admiration for the designs of both Frank Lloyd Wright, and Richard Neutra."

Although Thom's idiom is nominally west coast (think Arthur Erickson) his execution at Shaw has more in common with Soviet Block Eastmodern.
Hiding in shame

Look ma, no windows
Well guess what. Thom didn't design some west coast cedar gem nestled into a hillside. Thom plunked down a late modern brick pile, all planes and geometry and completely absent glass meets glass. With absolutely nothing of human scale to the place, Thom's Festival Theater shows an insular cultural insensitivity that's remarkable for a town that has only one business- staging early modern plays!
Welcome humans - sorry there's no windows. Or door.

The only inviting vista - entering via the rear

At almost the other end of Queen Street is another inexplicable intersecting planes piece of Trudeau-era optimism - the Canada Post outlet. It's not merely insensitive to the 200 year old buildings that surround it. It reminds us that the Feds do what they want, where they want. No municipal ordinance holds sway for them. This charming institution even has a name - Property Number:61768. And its own website.

No shame

Speaking of own website, here's the Campbell Scott house. Campbell was an early cultural influence on me – he taught me woodworking (along with a generation of students at St Catharines Collegiate Institute and Vocational School). It's sad to know he has recently passed away (February, 2016).

I've saved the best for last. Some clever Johnny or Joan managed to sit at a drafting table and foist a Brutal School Bandshell on the governors of Simcoe Park. This foreboding silhouette "illustrates typical Brutalist characteristics such as top-heavy massing and the appearance of a bunker-like structure."

To me it's too funny. Usually a brutalist building is concrete gravured with the texture of the wood forms in which it was cast. Here, they just nailed together the wood form. Way to cut out the middleman.

A flying apron?!

Up next - Post Modernism in Colonial Williamsburg.

Sunday 26 August 2012

Bernard Gray Hall

"Are you going to Raw Stock?" is not the first thing you would expect a hotelier to enquire as you dropped your bags in the lobby. But Bernard Gray Hall is a B&B that delivers the pleasantly unexpected.

Perfectly located at King & Prideaux in the heart of Niagara on the Lake, Bernard Gray Hall is ten minutes on foot from all four of the Shaw Festival performance spaces.

Bernard Gray Hall proprietors Gloria & Henry are attentive hosts, social animators, victualers of distinction, felix-philes of the premiere rank and holders of the key to their quaint community of Niagara on the Lake. They will discretely fulfill arcane requests but largely what is on offer is the comforts of home for those on the road.

Highly recommended. Bernard Gray Hall

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Populuxe Niagara Falls ON (A Populuxe Now Redub Redux)

Populuxe is the great American Jet Age architectural vernacular that emerged during the auto-centric postwar boom. Here I document a handful of remaining examples in the Canadian city named for the geologic wonder, Niagara Falls. Featured attractions are the Skylon Tower, Flying Saucer Restaurant, the Cadillac Motel, and more...

Music Credits
Chilli & the Baracudas - Flying Saucer Rock'n'Roll
Berlin, DE
Philter Fox - Colorful Licks n Clicks
Regina SK CA

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Gerrard Streetcar Power Repair

On Monday August 13th the power line failed for the Gerrard streetcar line eastbound. This video shows the arrival of some maintenance-of-way equipment, and their repair work.

Friday 3 August 2012


Minimalist exploration of mid-century urban architecture. My feet, walking down a stairwell. Companion piece "Hallway".

2nd logical iteration is women's high heels. Convo me if you want to collaborate.


Minimalist exploration of mid-century urban architecture. My feet, walking in a hallway. Companion piece "Stairwell".

2nd logical iteration is women's high heels. Convo me if you want to collaborate.

Monday 30 July 2012

The Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals

The recent passing of British actor Victor Spinetti, who played the overwrought TV director in The Beatles film A Hard Days Night, provides me with an excuse to once again present my views on director Richard Lester's contribution to the music video as an art form.

That view is that by accident, happenstance and serendipity, perennial bachelor and British film director Richard (Dick) Lester invented the MTV-style music video. This was, of course, a side effect of Lester's being engaged to direct The Beatles first film A Hard Day’s Night. This is perhaps a tall claim I stake, so let's begin with cases...

The 20th Century precursors of music cine-concrete-commercial include:
  • George Antheil's 1924 Ballet Mécanique
  • The music montage is preasaged by the Cine Symphony of the mid 1920s into the 1930s, as represented by Dziga Vertov's 1929 masterpiece Человек с киноаппаратом (Man with Movie Camera)
  • The film musical proper begins in 1927 with a musical sequence in The Jazz Singer and continues for decades
  • By the 1940s there were the “Soundies” which involved film jukeboxes
  • And then in the late 1950s / early 1960s the Scopitones
  • But none of these are MTV-style music videos. And no single director of cinema comes closer to inventing the entire genre than Dick Lester. Even at the time of the 1964 release critics were agreeing with The Village Voice that A Hard Day’s Night is "the Citizen Kane of jukebox musicals”
  • Queen's 1975 Bohemian Rhapsody is the first music video, in that it was an advertising commercial for the band's song, imaged using video technology, featuring the bad in a conceptual environment, lip-syncing to their own song, delivered by videotape to popular music programs with the express purpose of promoting the song
  • The music video as a form cannot exist before the inaugural broadcast of The Buggles Video Killed the Radio Star on MTV August 1, 1981

While MTV is the MTV of jukebox TV, Scopitones do not a music video make... A music video
  • Is absolutely not a hermetic performance on a soundstage
  • Is absolutely not a performance recording
  • Is an advertising message for the band's newest song
  • Is absolutely not a City Symphony

Herein I present my argument for Dick Lesters invention of at least 6 primary modes of MTV-style music video montage:

The inline narrative ("we're just playing our song right here")
A Hard Day’s Night Scene: Baggage car. Song "I Should Have Known Better" 
This is the one scene that was presaged by the 1940s "Soundies". Here Lester merely revivifies, rather than invents. "More than Words" by Extreme definitely is inspired by Lester's work.

The performance in the TV studio
Possibly Lesters' best single invention. In several modes:
A Hard Day’s Night Scene: The rehearsal. Song And I Love Her
At first blush, just a "Soundie" rehash set in a TV studio. But the images of the Beatles on TV cameras, the shots of the Vision Mixer Desk and the images of the Beatles on the monitors creates a metacritical context of celebrity fetishism several decades before
  1. The invention of postmodern deconstruction and
  2. People magazine (the retail version of same)
  3. Jean-Luc Godard's appropriation of Roland Barthes' development of semiotics

Lesters 2nd chef-d'oevre - The screaming live concert in the TV studio

Tell Me Why / If I Fell /I Should Have Known Better
A form Lester invents out of whole cloth.

The last number She Loves You is astounding. Lester combines cinema vérité footage of orgasmically screaming tweens with a rather stolid live TV performance by the band. 

I would argue that when the Beatles came to America, the reason the tweens screamed as they did was BECAUSE of the Lester film. i.e. he presages the reaction and actually indoctrinates the behavior. That is, Lester socially conditions America

The contemporary exemplar: Andre 3000's Hey Ya. BTW have you ever spotted the coffin on the set in Hey Ya?

The masterpiece- The wacky montage
A Hard Day’s Night - the opener, and Lester in his strong suit.
Can't Buy Me Love
Lesters' strength, evident in all his films. In HELP! Lester would do his best work in this vein.
The contemporary exemplar: Madness - Our House

The mood mystique
Wherein the hero walks moodily though the landscape whilst the song doth play in the background. Possibly not entirely original to Lester. But certainly the first to use Beatles music for same. And certainly the first to continue the screen into dialogue with the underscore still running.

I wanna be your man

Another Lester invention that was never translated into a commercial form - a cinema vérité look at the stars daily existence set to one of their songs.

Actor Victor Spinetti, star of Beatles films, dies aged 82 after cancer battle

Saturday 28 July 2012


I got a kicky new 'Do today. Well, actually my standard summer buzz. “Hair too hot – must remove to cool brain.”

To get to my barber I must walk for 20+ minutes past block after block of other barber shops. That causes me to reflect on why I am so picky?

I have of course gone to all the great Toronto stylists of the 1980s and 1990s, such as the late John Steinberg's Rainbow Room. John was awesome. I do miss him. There was a window in the 1980s where he would fly in the best stylists in the world and I would produce takeaway videos of their live styling performances. Those were good times my friend.

John Steinberg. Handout photo found all over the web. © someone, no doubt. We respect that.

For a time I visited what law enforcement calls "A Basement Betty" which is a licensed hair stylist working out of her own home. Although my Basement Betty was Ian. I never ratted him out to law enforcement, even though he never got my color correct.

Now all I want is a proper haircut. I have gone all the way down to Steve's, on Queen East at the east side of the corner where The Opera House is. Steve's is famous for his happy endings. Which are not what you think. He has one of those electric shoulder massages and he gives you a free electric shoulder massage. Which is awesome. But Steve has this habit of returning to Greece for July and August. And hey, July and August are two months when I demand biweekly buzzes. "Hair too hot – must remove to cool brain."

I'm too cheap to take transit to go to Micheal’s at Church & Wellesley. Michael no doubt does the best job on my hair. But why spend the extra 6 bucks on tokens just to look good? I mean, I'm the guy who had a Basement Betty named Ian dye his silver hair chesnut?!

But today is all about "John's Classic" at Broadview and Danny. A real haircut, 17 bucks (plus three dollar tip, of course). My guy can deal with my double crowns and my nose hair problems. I do my own eyebrows. And he's just finished my birthday buzzcut so I am one happy dude - "Hair too hot – must remove to cool brain."

Me, sporting a John's Classic. Viewed from my best side.

Sunday 22 July 2012

The sadness of sadness

I'm sad. I'm not going to say why I am sad right now because this blog is not a place for revelatory confession. Also the events involve others and I have no permission to expose their pain.

I had the great misfortune to have a happy childhood. To have been born during the postwar boom was entrée into the most privileged life any generation of what we now call "the 99%" has ever known. Houses cost a few thousand dollars. Cars a couple of thousand. There were more jobs than men to take them. Unions were making a difference. The doors of the Nation were wide open – please, come on in, this is Canada. Welcome!

And for a child life was an endless series of amusement park entrances in candy-coated red with the promise of all fun within! And sugary treats. And naps – many have written about falling asleep in one place (perhaps the car) to awake in another (probably your own bed). Anyhoo, a tapestry of squealing delight to the point of complete exhaustion.

The legendary Canadian supergoup Rush has a song titled "Lakeside Park". That was a real place. An amusement park in my home town. When I was 13 my friends and I rode our bikes out there (4.8 kms). We arrived and saw that the park was demolished. There was an atmosphere of disbelief. I walked to where the park should have been. I found the cement footings of what had been a ride called the Caterpillar. I sat in the sand and wept.

Like Holden Caulfield, I was weeping at the loss of my own childhood.

Me, in happier times

The Caterpillar Ride, today, at Idlewild:

Standing is outstanding

In Saturday's National Post Andrew Coyne devotes his column to decrying sitting. Citing an article in the British Medical Journal The Lancet, he says sitting now kills more people than cigarettes. And I agree with him. When you sit in an office at a computer all day long
  • You are not exercising any muscles
  • Your blood distribution is disturbed
  • Your lymphatic fluids pool instead of flushing away
It's why I always get up every hour and walk once around our floor when I'm at work.

Read the whole story here. Stand up for saving your own life!

Me, standing at work

Sunday 15 July 2012

The Trillium Building

A generic mid-century high rise residential apartment building located in East York near Woodbine and O'Connor. Displaying some very classic Googie-like adornments including a Porte-Cochere full of wholes.

Videography by Alan Fox. Soundtrack "Blip Bounce feat. Philter Fox"

Saturday 14 July 2012

Alternative Transportation: AutoShare vs car2go vs Zipcar

BlogTO provides a surprisingly helpful look at Toronto's three competing hourly car rental outfits. Surprisingly helpful because a typical BlogTO article sends its abstemious vegan food critic to review restaurants like WVRST, which serves ONLY beer and sausages. Neither of which the food critic will consume before writing their review.

BlogTO: Car sharing in Toronto: AutoShare vs. car2go vs. Zipcar

BTW the comments are even better than the article. Especially the comparison of insurance plans, which the vegan reporter never thought about because they've never driven a car and were too busy with their soy smoothie.

And here's the AutoCar AND Zipcar location right at the end of my laneway. It's so darn handy I'm actually going to get a driver's license again.

Alternate Housing - Shipping Container Conversion

There are many ways to build a home. It's an issue I track because, like many Canadians, when I retire I'd like it to be a snug home in a beautiful, natural area.

"Shipping Container" may not be your idea of a snug home, but there are many firms working to change that. Here's one...

Converting shipping containers into dwellings, offices, labs and other habitable structures may just be the beginning of the trend.

Update: The National Post has an article about a shipping container housing project in Vancouver

Photos: Innovative homes made from shipping containers are viable – not to mention very cool

Thursday 12 July 2012

Personal Rapid Transit - In Pod We Trust

Everybody loves elevated railways.* Except anyone on the second floor. Never knowing when a few thousand of your fellow citizens will zoom past your cube is the number three reason why no one takes monorail seriously.

However in our world of dreamers and schemers monorail just makes sense. No less an imagineer than Walt Disney made it the theme transit system of tomorrow. Even one of Toronto's Mayor Fords proposed it as a scheme to shuttle people from nowhere to some deserted plateau. And Jane Jacob's urban visionary successor, The Simpsons, lampooned the monorail as the ultimate gimmick for desperate cities in desperate times.

Yet the dream of monorail will not die. First of all, it excites urban planners because it's a method to use the only available downtown real estate - the space above the roadway. With a monorail, erection is a breeze! Everyone who wants to drive on the road can do so, plus you can whisk those second-class losers who can't afford cars on their choo choo in the sky.

And times must be very tough indeed, because there are now three elevated railway companies pushing the same urban transit concept – Personal Rapid Transit. Yes, a streetcar meant to carry one person?! On demand!

This is one idea that looks sensational on a drawing board. It makes for a great set of powerpoint slides. It carries a price tag that is surprisingly cheap. You can build a system that blankets all of downtown for the cost of a few miles of four lane highway. Including the cars!

Then some poor unfortunate has to climb those long stairs up to the elevated train, and stand on the edge of a platform with no railings suspended some 20 feet in the air.

Let's watch that video:

So that was some time ago. What's happening with PRT today?
Well better 3-D computer graphic animations. Without further ado, let's submit to Sweden's Vectus PRT sales presentation

Well that was professional. Now, let's look at the video shot at the test track and see what it really looks like.

Nothing screams "unproven technology" like the flashing amber lights attached to each outbuilding along the course. "Danger! Our technology is being used."

During the "Winter Test" part of the video, we saw the #2 reason people hate monorails- because they dump huge amounts of snow at random intervals on the pedestrians foolish enough to walk on the streets.

And I hoped you noticed all the ladders around the test track. A reminder of the #1 reason everyone hates monorails. Because if they break down or malfunction in any way... you're stuck way up in the air. Enjoy climbing down that ladder!

PRT systems are being not built all around the globe. Masdar City in Abu Dhabi is not building a PRT system. In North America, Microsoft is not building a Vectus System at their Redmond Campus. In fact, more PRT systems are not being built now that at any time in the previous century!

The Economist reports that if Ben Cayetano becomes mayor of Honolulu he is going to do a Mayor Ford and cancel the elevated rail project that would have serviced all of Oahu..

And The Monorail Society reports that Moscow is going to decommission its 8 year old monorail. Looks like we can call that one a monoFAIL.

The Reality: Heathrow's Ultra PRT
The Ultra Personal Rapid Transit system at Heathrow is in a glorified busway, and they lumber along with the grace of racoons, slamming into the sides of the track on curves and bouncing up and down. That would be a great ride action for a haunted house ride on the fair, but probably not quite what the international air traveler is looking forward to after taking the red eye over from North America.

Here's the video. You may as well skip the first two minutes of them training the passengers.

And finally, because you've been so patient, here's a treat. The King's monorail!

Fahrt im Kaiserwagen der Wuppertaler Schwebebahn

*Disclosure: Elevated railways are not monorails, although most monorails are elevated railways. All of the systems in this article are railways and none are monorails, except the Schwebebahn. Explaining why is boring and geeky. But calling all of them monorails is more fun!

Wednesday 11 July 2012


Nothing provides more torment for the strolling urbanite than correctly classifying architecture dans le mode Arts Decoratifs. Because, quite frankly that Art Deco building you pass every day almost certainly is not Art Deco.

First, and most obviously, because Art Deco dates from les Exposition internationale des arts décoratifs, April to October 1925. Yet the term Art Deco is not coined until 1960. Art Deco was an exhibition, not a school. Thus it has become conflated with the contemporary and formal architectural schools of, say, The Bauhaus in Germany and De Stijl in the Netherlands.

Also since we are talking about the city of Toronto, we could not be farther away from the European capitals where Art Deco was practiced.

Finally, Art Deco was never about architecture. Art Deco is about household decoration. The primary Art Deco object is a cocktail shaker. In an Art Deco cocktail cabinet.

Then there is the practical business that in the period 1914 to 1939 the world was:
  • Twice at war
  • In a recession
  • Traveling by steamer

The totality of these conflated realities is that there were almost no chances for wealthy American property developers to:
  • Become exposed to the ideas of Art Deco
  • Find expert architects to design Art Deco skyscrapers
  • Have sufficient funds in the bank to build Art Deco skyscrapers
  • Have a sufficient labor force to mobilize to build their chic and modern tributes to their own inner Croesus

Thus it is with confidence I state that your favorite Art Deco building might be Art Moderne. It might even be Streamline Moderne. But it is NOT Art Deco.

Let us use this humble borough war memorial to function as our Rosetta Stone and provide the codex of Art-Streamline-Deco-Moderne.
What do we see?
  • Clean lines
  • A trapezoid shape
  • Limestone
  • Corners without fillet or radius curve
  • Period font
  • Only one obscure glyph - the memorial wreath
  • Korean War -1950s

And directly across the street is this superb Streamline Moderne masterpiece - Toronto East General Hospital, circa 1949...
"Fox, you ask - Why Streamline Moderne and not Art Moderne?". Good question. Those horizontal speedlines are among the most characteristic design element of Streamline Moderne. To qualify in this category, something on the building must look like it's going fast

Sadly, here is a cute little Art Moderne cottage right next door to the hospital. With a callous application of siding and brick veneer her perfect lines have been completely destroyed...

Finally, here is a real Art Deco building, Hamilton's 1930 Toronto, Hamilton & Buffalo passenger train station...
copyleft Wikimedia Commons

And finally, another look at that beautiful Art Deco building that has been destroyed in the 21st century

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Not a run-of-the-mill mill

Late last century I lived in east Toronto Danforth. I developed a special appreciation for this area. Unlike the overdeveloped downtown Toronto, where the past has been descecrated, east Danforth contains many historic structures that may have been adapted but are still evidently time travellers.

Perhaps none captures this more than 10 Dawes Road. According to Melanie Milanich, in "Dawes Road: a Shortcut to the Market and a Natural Resource Base" 10 Dawes Road was "A steam powered grist mill, built in the 1890s and originally called
Chalmer's Flour Mill..."

In 2009-2010 local business directories cited 10 Dawes Road as the property of Elizabeth Feed Co.

Click to enlarge

Normally I provide a detailed and erudite commentary that interprets the artefact for you. In this case I am not going to. Look at this building and trust your instincts. That cast cement base is clearly mid-late 19th century (that is, 1850-1880). All that corrugated sheet metal superstructure is clearly cladding covering a wooden mill that needed a new layer of protection. That headhouse on the top story is clearly where the works of an elevator are housed.

And there is NO WAY this is a steam mill. Where is the powerhouse? Where is the hundred foot smokestack?

Not entirely good news. Those lovely new french doors mark the commencement of the next renovation. One I predict will end with the structure transformed, re-clad, and unrecognizable.

We carry complete lines for
racing pigeons, budgies
and other birds
Best mixtures available
Race horses, dogs,
all other animals
Grits, Gravels, Flax

I have met with the owner and hope to have interior shots before the year-end.

Monday 9 July 2012

Update: Art Deco Gem - 103 Church Street

Update: The main floor tenant Golden Thai Restaurant has closed after 20 years 

There has sat at the corner of Church and Richmond a tiny perfect Art Deco masterpiece for four score and two years! The 1930 J. Frank Raw Building is one of the platonic ideal of Arts Decoratif movement. It's all here- the limestone finish, the font-astic typography of her numberboard, the Egyptian ziggurat setbacks (absolutely essential for period), the octagonal windows, the mullioned windows... even the curve of streetcar track is perfect and to period.

And, most significantly, it has been well maintained. Many of its peers have been "improved", typically by adding a 50 story modernist tower on three sides of them. Or carving them out into a cheapjack theatre, like the conversion of the TSE into "The Design Exchange".

The Art Deco Society officially records the building as the 1932 Charles Dolphin Building. Given that Dolphin's masterpiece was the 1941 Postal Delivery Building now called "The Air Canada Centre" it is an impressive pedigree for this building.

And here is what happens to Art Deco buildings when they are not maintained properly.

Sunday 8 July 2012

Watching our waste lines

Walking with a child is an amazing experience. You, the adult, are not really taking anything in, just gauging distance to destination, obstacles such as the person on a scooter, and avoiding being smushed by that dump truck. Inevitably the child will suddenly stop and fall the sidewalk squealing "ANT"! And you look to the area of attention and see... nothing. And then you lean over and squint, and see something about the size of a subatomic particle. Why yes, there is an ant. Our children are really engaged with the world seeing the magic of every tiny thing.

Thus it was with a frisson of childish delight that I first noticed that in the older precincts of this great metropolis the sidewalks were peppered with sewer catch basins topped with manhole covers declaring "City of Toronto 1889". Such as the one below, which I captured at the NW corner of Church & Richmond. Yes, that is my foot, added for human interest.

Somehow I find it delightful. The boulevards of this provincial capital are paved with cast metal antiques. As if Louis Comfort Tiffany streetlights lined the boulevards of Manhattan. Although functional devices linked directly to the disposal of human waste, the scrollwork in the centre of the rondelle shows the care of master craftsmen of two centuries ago. And they have survived the growth of the city, the re-alignment of sidewalks and streets and the hammering of trucks, construction equipment and vandalism, and millions of passers-by.

And what lies beneath is even more remarkable...
Workers in the Garrison Creek storm sewer tunneling operation, Toronto, 1912,

Toronto Archives

The sewers in these photos are still in use! A dedicated group of urban spelunkers has been exploring Toronto's buried infrastructure, documenting and mapping it on the website Vanishing point does a great job of documenting all of these junctures where sewers of one era still being used as adjuncts to huge concrete monstrosities that are clearly 1960s and 70s upgrades when Toronto had her explosive growth.

And if you want to follow the story without having to click your mouse, Netflix subscribers can view a detailed history of Sir Joseph William Bazalgette's London sewers construction in episode 4 of the BBC docudrama series Seven Wonders of the Industrial World. Select "The Sewer King".

Wednesday 20 June 2012


Of each thing in itself thou shalt ask "at its essence, does it cause cancer?" If thine answer be "No", enjoy it. If thine answer be "Yes", thou shalt shun it

Saturday 9 June 2012

... And thanks for all the health care...

Last night I was at a fundraiser for a friend of mine who has a undiagnosed disease and has had to stop work. On June 9th there is the F**K CANCER benefit for Laurie Walsh. I don't know Laurie Walsh, but I love the attitude of the F**K CANCER movement. Even if I can't wear their T-Shirt in public or unscramble their name in my blogpost.

Although now that I am writing this, I realize the real obscenity is the disease, and how it ravages people's lives, and how a cure is always just another 100 million dollars in fundraising away. So really is should be F**K C*NC*R.

No doubt every day there are many such private passings-of-the-hat as people have to take a year out of their lives to fight disease. We've all had "friends with benefits", but these are our friends without health benefits. Yes these women all live in Ontario, and their OHIP card will provide them, gratis, what would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in the United States. But there are still drugs that have to be paid for, and medical supplies that aren't covered. And the rent and bills don't go away just because you can't go to work for a year.

Which brings me to my point - how blessed I was to have come through my journey with cancer and have some an awesome short-term and long-term care plan via my employer. Thanks for that.

And thanks for going to that fundraiser for that person. And thanks for donating to that hospital fund. Or if you have no dough, thanks for making cookies for the bake sale. When you make a contribution it isn't the cash value that lifts the spirits. The fact that so many people care becomes an island of hope and love. And when the person with the disease is going through the darker moments of illness and treatment, that island will make all the difference.

The F**K CANCER Fundraiser for Laurie Walsh

Friday 25 May 2012

I told you “No wire coat hangers” at this memorial!

On Apr 23 of this year Parachute Club drummer Billy Bryans lost his fight with cancer. 11 days after I won mine. Needless to say the news hit me hard. Billy and I were fixtures on the Queen St West music scene of the early 1980s and had collaborated on many music projects. Most notably the art-rock band "The Government" and "V", Billy and Lorraine Segato's project band that you, today, know as "Parachute Club" ("Rise up, Rise up")

As part of our collaboration I documented a lot of band performances along Queen St West during the early 1980s. With Billy's death I wanted to draw from that material and do a tribute. But going through my archives I didn't really find anything that suited. My recording of V's "Alien-Nation" is clearly a precursor to the Parachute Club version, but I cannot bring anything new to it.

I finally chose "Joan Crawford", a The Government recording from Nov 1981. It's a great band line-up, with Andrew James Paterson and the late Robert Stewart fronting the band they co-founded, Billy Bryans doing his awesome percussion thing that later artists such as Manu Katché would take to new heights, and, of all people, Jeremiah Chechik, director of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, on scratch guitar. Those were interesting times my friend.

Here is my mashup, with The Government song "Joan Crawford" illustrated with public domain and fair use images of the ultimate Hollywood glamour queen, Joan Crawford.

Bye' Billy. We hardly knew ye.

Joan Crawford Live at the Cabana Room Nov 14, 1981

Thursday 10 May 2012

When I was a Pink Chiquita

Filmmaking in Canada in the 1980s was insane. Very crafty producers were using very generous tax credits to fleece every doctor, dentist and lawyer in town. Whilst we were doing lines of coke off strippers' V-tanned derrieres, has-been actors were flying into town daily to star in the worst films ever made.

I was never that fortunate. My film debut did not feature the has-been Sylvester Stallone, but his never-was brother, Frank Stallone. Pink Chiquitas was reviewed as “a film where familiar faces from TV do 33 rpm schtick at 78 in a desperate attempt to get laughs.” The film is unique in the history of cinema as the only time anyone promoted a sound editor to direct a picture. Lousy direction. But the soundscape is brilliant.

Click the pic to watch the vid

Herein I present a bootleg clip that features a 30-year younger me, 2 minutes in. Shout-out to my scene-mate the still-hot Jan Anderson.

Thursday 3 May 2012

Queen's Park's Whitney Block Tower

The Whitney Block Tower is a Modern Gothic structure added in 1932 to architect F. R. Heakes 1928 Whitney Block. It is faced with Queenston limestone. Due to the building being situated on the street racing part of Queen's Park Crescent most people take no heed of it.

As first built it was an eclectric complex for a Provincial Government headquarters, featuring
  • a bowling alley in the basement
  • An early form of conditioning that used blocks of ice
  • The sixth floor contained animal pens used by the provincial veterinary services that were housed there. Cows were brought up to the lab in an adjacent service elevator.
  • The elevator is not automated but has to be hand cranked
As imposing as the Whitney Block tower is, it is an abandoned building.

The building hasn't been inhabited since 1968, when it was deemed a fire hazard. There is only one staircase, which makes it unsafe in the event of an emergency evacuation. As well, there is no central mechanical ventilation system. The only way to get fresh air into the building is by opening the windows.