What if you build it, and they leave?

City Hall is currently tearing itself apart over transit. You’d think that in a city with a downtown that’s pretty much gridlocked for three hours of the day, the answer to the transit question would be “More please everywhere”, but in this precious city, it’s less than that.

We have a mayor who is obsessed with subways because he thinks they’re fast and will keep the automobiles running. Unfortunately, Toronto is a big sprawly city with less than infinite cash, so we’re not going to get subways everywhere. Our last venture into subway building — the Sheppard line — has been a bit rubbish, running a stubby distance to nowhere in particular, and being quiet enough that you can always get a seat.

Though I live in Toronto, I’m originally from Glasgow. Glasgow has a subway; in fact, it’s one of the world’s oldest. It was opened in 1896, when Glasgow was at the height of its “Second City” fame. Glasgow made the ships and trains that maintained the empire, and trained the engineers of the world. We were pretty hot shit at the time, and we had a bunch of workers we needed to get around every day from the shipyards and offices of the city. Lots of people moving in to work. Ergo, subway!

Just one problem: cities change, subways don’t. Even though shipbuilding was never a hugely lucrative industry (according to my grandfather, who worked at John Brown’s, they never cleared more than 7% even at the best times), Glasgow and environs would probably have never thought that its industries would change and contract the way they did.

So what’s the subway that Glasgow’s been left with?

  • The industry has gone, so has most of the ridership. There’s an awkward mix of residential stations and, well, nothing stations. I mean, West St? C’mon!
  • Both of the major rail hubs that the subway serves — Buchanan St and St Enoch — are long gone. I just remember the shell of St Enoch station used as a car park in the very early 1970s, but no trains.
  • Given that Scots were a bit squat in the 19th century, the subway’s not built for 21st century people. I could never stand up in the trains.
  • Ridership is frankly pants; indeed, even Toronto’s Sheppard line carries more people every day than the Glasgow subway. Riders are pretty much now park ‘n ride office drones, students (bored [on the way to uni], drunk [doing the subcrawl; a pint at the pub nearest ever station] or daredevil [the subway challenge]) or huns.

Glasgow used to have quite an extensive tram network. Of course, you wouldn’t know now, ‘cos it’s all been ripped up, but you can do that with street-level transit. Subways you’re stuck with.

Cities and cultures never know when they’re at their height. Glasgow had it going on when it built its subway, yet I’m sure the city planners never thought that the city would change the way it did. At least Glasgow made stuff that everyone needed; Toronto, what do you do that keeps you anchored here?

who loves the sun?

After my solar course, I’ve been messing about with the UO SRML: Sun chart program. It shows sun angles and day lengths throughout the year.

Toronto: where I live
Glasgow: where I'm from. Not much sun there, but looong summer days
Phoenix, AZ is pretty sunny
I think I'd freak out if I lived at the equator: every day is nearly the same length!
Mombasa, Kenya: point your modules north!
Not much sun in far north Alert; sometimes, the sun doesn't set — sometimes it doesn't rise
I don't think I'd mind living in Glasgow — Glasgow, Guyana, that is.

how to confuse a glaswegian

So if he were successful, the person you voted in is oot. And as he didn’t get voted in, he’s still oot. Did his supporters chant “Oot! Oot! Oot! In! In! In!”, or did they make do with “In Oot, In Oot, Shake It All Aboot!”?

take your …

picks, various

Just a few of the guitar picks I’ve tried (though the one at the top is a felt uke pick). I got a bunch of Fender celluloid picks at The 12th Fret today, and they could be good. The huge one at the bottom is indeed homemade, made from two sheets of wood veneer laminated together with the grain offset 90°.

There’s a tale about the Kinky Friedman one.

All the printers I’ve ever owned …

bird you can see: hp print test

  • An ancient (even in 1985) Centronics serial dot-matrix printer that we never got working with the CPC464. The print head was driven along a rack, and when it hit the right margin, an idler gear was wedged in place, forcing the carriage to return. Crude, noisy but effective.
  • Amstrad DMP-2000. Plasticky but remarkably good 9-pin printer. Had an open-loop ribbon that we used to re-ink with thick oily endorsing ink until the ribbons wore through.
  • NEC Pinwriter P20. A potentially lovely 24-pin printer ruined by a design flaw. Print head pins would get caught in the ribbon, and snap off. It didn’t help that the dealer that sold it to me wouldn’t refund my money, and required gentle persuasion from a lawyer to do so.
  • Kodak-Diconix 300 inkjet printer. I got this to review for Amiga Computing, and the dealer never wanted it back. It used HP ThinkJet print gear which used tiny cartridges that sucked ink like no tomorrow; you could hear the droplets hit the page.
  • HP DeskJet 500. I got this for my MSc thesis. Approximately the shape of Torness nuclear power station (and only slightly smaller), last I heard it was still running.
  • Canon BJ 200. A little mono inkjet printer that ran to 360dpi, or 720 if you had all the time in the world and an unlimited ink budget.
  • Epson Stylus Colour. My first colour printer. It definitely couldn’t print photos very well.
  • HP LaserJet II. Big, heavy, slow, and crackling with ozone, this was retired from Glasgow University. Made the lights dim when it started to print. Came with a clone PostScript cartridge that turned it into the world’s second-slowest PS printer. We did all our Canadian visa paperwork on it.
  • Epson Stylus C80. This one could print photos tolerably well, but the cartridges dried out quickly, runing the quality and making it expensive to run.
  • Okidata OL-410e PS. The world’s slowest PostScript printer. Sold by someone on tortech who should’ve known better (and bought by someone who also should’ve known better), this printer jams on every sheet fed into it due to a damaged paper path. Unusually, it uses an LED imaging system instead of laser xerography, and has a weird open-hopper toner system that makes transporting a part-used print cartridge a hazard.
  • HP LaserJet 4M Plus. With its duplexer and extra paper tray it’s huge and heavy, but it still produces crisp pages after nearly 1,000,000 page impressions. I actually have two of these; one was bought for $99 refurbished, and the other (which doesn’t print nearly so well) was got on eBay for $45, including duplexer and 500-sheet tray. Combining the two (and judiciously adding a bunch of RAM) has given me a monster network printer which lets you know it’s running by dimming the lights from here to Etobicoke.
  • IBM Wheelwriter typewriter/ daisywheel printer. I’ve only ever produced a couple of pages on this, but this is the ultimate letter-quality printer. It also sounds like someone slowly machine-gunning the neighbourhood, so mostly lives under wraps.
  • HP PhotoSmart C5180. It’s a network photo printer/scanner that I bought yesterday. Really does print indistinguishably from photos, and prints direct from memory cards. When first installed, makes an amusing array of howls, boinks, squeals, beeps and sproings as it primes the print heads.

From Eldoret to Sighthill (to Toronto)

Daniel Aliangana is a medical technologist from Eldoret, Kenya. In 1994–95 he was studying at the Royal Infirmary in Glasgow, and living in the apartment blocks in nearby Sighthill. He recorded these tracks in his spare time, and gave me a tape before he left for Kenya.

Daniel recorded these on a double cassette deck, carefully overlaying each track by recording live over the top. He used a classical guitar, an electronic keyboard, and some kitchen objects for percussion.

There are occasional harmonies which might have been provided by Catherine‘s former flatmate Grace Achiya. Grace is also from Kenya, and it was through her that we got to know Daniel.

I don’t know where Daniel is these days, but there’s a Mr D. Aliangana listed as Chief Technician in the Department of Medical Physiology at Moi University in Eldoret. Wherever you are, Daniel, I hope you are well, and thanks for the music!

  1. Huyu Odote
  2. Dada Margaret
  3. Usikoti
  4. Mama
  5. Binadamu
  6. Mama Watoto

(originally linked from my music page.)

tunes I must learn (eventually)

Not all of these could be classed as banjo tunes, but I’d want to try, anyway:

  • The Coo-Coo Bird (it’s not optional)
  • The Old Plank Road (Uncle Dave’s delivery, which was more demented than the Rounders)
  • Hot Corn, Cold Corn (like HMR; just how does one spell moo’m moo’m moo’m de boo’m boo’m de boo’m?)
  • I’m Going In A Field (Nic Jones style)
  • Bridges & Balloons (Joanna’s song’s just crying out to be covered with a broad Glasgow accent)
  • Needle of Death (too many banjo tunes are too happy)
  • Ghost (the Neutral Milk Hotel one)
  • something by Sufjan (even if Peter Stampfel says he plays banjo kind of boringly)
  • I Love How You Love Me (like Mangum, not Spector)

in a bit of a dwam

Well, we arrived in Glasgow. Jet-lag’s bad, but at least I’ve had some real Irn Bru to counter it. Forgotten how different a UK keyboard layout is to the Canadian one, so this entry has taken much correcting.

nice bike

I found a picture of the bike I probably enjoyed most of all I’ve ever owned:

1996 Fisher Nirvana, with many mods
It was originally a 19967 Gary Fisher Nirvana, but by the time this picture was taken, the only original things were the frame. the stem, and the beautiful curved bars. Everything else was swapped out, mostly due to wearing it out from my daily commute.

It wasn’t that it was a very expensive bike. It was just right; a nimble climber, nippy through traffic, yet stable enough to be ridden home when tired.

I still have the saddle; it’s on my Brompton. I gave the bike to Eddie Moore before we left. I wonder if he still has it? He still has it.


Steve Mann‘s done it again: the FUNtain.

Though totally different in scope, it reminds me of a device I saw at a street fair in Glasgow. This was a bank of drainpipes, arranged in a circle. One end of each pipe had a pressure washer head with a flat nozzle played across it, and the other end was stopped at just the right length to play a note. The pressure washer triggers were arranged as a keyboard, and there was a (laminated against water damage) music book on the console. You could play simple (if very loud) tunes.

I’ve never seen such a device since then.

big windfarm, big deal

So there was a stramash that the RSPB published a map showing where the Lewis wind farm would reach if it started in Edinburgh. Oh noes! Looks like it’d go all the way to Methil.

I’ve been working on a couple of medium-sized wind farms in Ontario. For top laughs, I tried overlaying them on Scotland, using streetmap.co.uk for the measurements.

Since I’m a weegie, I started at George Square. One of the farms would stretch all the way west by Wishaw, near Murdostoun Castle (and the comically-named town of Bonkle). The other would run north to somewhere between Fintry and Kippen, in Stirlingshire.

For those of you unlucky enough to be based east of Falkirk, I tried the same starting at Edinburgh Castle. The first wind farm would run west to the hamlet of Gilchriston, which is just north-west of Dun Law Wind Farm, which I worked on in the distant past. (If you run the farm west from Edinburgh, you end up in Bo’ness, which no-one would want to do.) The other design would end up somewhere between Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes, near Thornton — and not that far from Methil, a distance that the RSPB would have us believe is just too far for a wind farm.

So, where’s the news, RSPB? How did your land get somehow more precious than ours?

The Bert Richard Connection

We were over at Cinders and Jules’s place last night. Jules said he used to hang out with Bert, a scary sculptor, while at Aberdeen art school.

Turns out that this Bert is the very same Bert Richard, Dalmallyfest impresario and sweary words enthusiast, who was a frequent visitor to 165 Nithsdale Rd back when we lived there with Neil Martin.

From Toronto to Dalmally; it’s a wee world.