Scott's Slice of Life Musings, Recipes and More

20Mar/141

Light Rail Transit for the Region of Waterloo

Today is a turning point in the history of the Region of Waterloo.  What started out as a few small cities, a collection of small towns and lots of viable farmland, and having been subjected into a forced amalgamation in 1973, the Region has grown, matured and prospered!

Over time, the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo grow and finally became conjoined twins, each with their own personality and opinions.  Cambridge grew and, despite each town's opinion of the others, has turned into a bustling city with lots of history and charm.  The townships have grown in diversity of residents, from farms, to small town, to even smaller towns, they have their own unique place in bringing zen to the Region.

As the cities grow, and space becomes limited, problems start to arise.  The industries that once kept the area booming are morphing into other forms.  The world class universities and colleges have brought/created talent that take the message of the Region to others and keeps the cycle going.  Many come here only for school, but fall in love with the area and want to spend the rest of their lives here.  All of this helps keep the region healthy and diverse.  However, there is a downside.  Where do we put everyone?  The region is simply not a Hotel, that can just switch on the No Vacancy sign when all the rooms are full.  It has an obligation to the stakeholders (You and I, the inhabitants of the Region) to keep growing, attracting new talent, residents, businesses, attractions and more, to the area.  This is where the LRT comes in.

The Light Rail Transit (LRT) is not just a railway line that runs down the middle of the road, designed to swallow your car and make your mechanic happy.  It is a people mover, a beaming icon of our success, a gift to the future.  It is many things.

The Region used to be inhabited by a once well travelled interurban streetcar system.  This system, originating in Galt, Preston and Hespeler (GP&H), expanded all the way to Erb St. and Caroline St. in Waterloo.  It ran in a day when cars were for the rich, and most people had to walk everywhere (some up hills both ways I bet.)  Residents relied on it for a way to get around.  A sister railline was built between Galt and Port Dover, called the Lake Erie & Northern (LE&N) Railway.  This allowed people to get out of the area, to take time and spend it with the family at the beach, or go dancing and partying.  People relied on its presence.  Over time the companies that ran the lines merged to form the Grand River Railway (GRR) and along with the still operating LE&N were bought out my the Canadian Pacific Railway.

The downfall of the GRR and the LE&N Railway came when cars started to free people from the small areas they lived in.  They could go anywhere and everywhere.  Ridership dropped and by 1955 (60+ years later), the last revenue service trip was taken.  The rails were laid when the City of Berlin, the Town of Preston, the Town of Hespeler, the Town of Galt, and the City of Waterloo were still small, so it made sense to run them where the most people wanted to go.  They laid rail in the streets, and there it remained for many years.  As for the GRR, the name was used as inspiration for Grand River Transit (GRT) when the Region took over transit at the turn of the century.

The LRT (or ION) will not be like these streetcars from days gone by.  The rails will be run along the corridors of some streets, but will be segregated from the traffic, having their own Right-of-Way (RoW).  There will be some points at which the tracks and the cars meet, but the intersections will be well signalled an controlled.  The system, like most outdoor electrical rail systems, will be driven by overhead catenary wire.  If done properly, it isn't distasteful and is even inspiring to those youngsters that love technology.  The Light Rail Vehicles the Region has chosen to get are Bombardier Flexity Freedom LRV's, manufactured in Thunder Bay, Ontario.  To help save on costs, an existing contract with Bombardier and Metrolinx is being piggy backed on.

What does all this mean for the Region?  It opens up the ability to move around large amounts of people while taking up a small amount of area.  Once the rails are laid, that is their space.  They don't need to be widened to increase capacity (since they are already doubled tracked, unlike the CN line to Toronto), and increasing capacity is as easy as running two trains back-to-back.  The line isn't being run on some random route through the cities, it is taking over an existing transit line (GRT iXpress 200) which has already reached its 2016 ridership goal.  Just like in the streetcar days, it makes sense to run where the people want to go.  With a fixed route, it means development along a central corridor can occur.   People can make decisions on where to live and work knowing there will be a way to get around.  Increasing the density in these core and having a way for people to move around helps keep our population growth sustainable while lowering smog, environmental destruction, and keeping the diversity we all know and love.

It links three cities together, each with their own uniqueness.  Every project, be it large or small will have there supporters and there opponents.  Where would we be if we were all sheep?  Some issues come up over and over.  One big one is area rating of services.

I grew up in Wilmot Township. I have since moved to Kitchener because my parents sold their home and my new location is closer to my place of employment so I have a much shorter commute.

As one who lived in a town on the edge of a city, and not one as distant as New Hamburg or Wellesley, I've watched the cities grow and swallow up valuable farm land. We used to have a bus through town, my parents tell me, but that had vanished before my memory starts. I am a supporter of the area rating for the townships, as they are not subject to any service from any transit system, with the exception of Woolwich (which has a separate agreement with GRT and the Region for a bus to Elmira.) The residents of the townships do not drive into town to use public transit (unless they want to have a fun ride). They have no alternate choice except to use vehicles.

This is quite the contrast for Cambridge. Unlike the townships, the City is integrated into the Region's transit network. It sees many riders enter, move around, and leave the city each and every day. The bus network (and hopefully future LRT network) gives residents an alternative to having to drive. Yes, it isn't as convenient as hopping in your car, but it is there for them to use. This is not so for the Townships.

There is argument that the townships get to keep their green space as the LRT draws development inward to the cities, so they should pay for the LRT. However, the cities aren't dropping development on the townships. As municipalities, expansion and new developments are up to the individual governments within each Township. What green space is being saved is what is left in the cites, what they haven't paved over and/or turned into cookie cutter homes.

An example of this is the boundary between Kitchener, Wilmot Township and North Dumfries Township. One boundary road is Trussler Rd. for Wilmot/Kitchener, this runs from New Dundee Rd all the way up to Ira Needles Blvd. The other road is New Dundee Rd., which makes up the boundary of North Dumfries/Kitchener, which runs from New Dundee to Homer-Watson Blvd. The intersection of Trustler Rd. and New Dundee Rd. is the southern city limit of Kitchener. Between that intersection and Fisher-Hallman Rd. are farms, keep going along New Dundee Rd. to New Dundee Rd. and Dodge Dr. and it is still farms from there up to Brigadoon. The area south is in the city limits. The development the LRT will help slow down is this land, the "rural" land within the cities. Some of this land already has been developed and some of it has zoning change signs up. The townships aren't having to curb their development, this is all a matter for the cities.

Looking at what development is being curbed and who has access, it makes sense that the townships are area rated, they get little to no economic benefit from transit, to which they have no access, and their sparse population would only affect the bottom line a small amount. Cambridge on the other hand, is directly effected by the LRT, if it is initially seen or not. Phase 2 is going to hike the taxes of KW when it comes around, and Cambridge is getting an [almost] instantaneous aBRT. So it is a win/win in the long run.

Time will tell how this plays out, so lets all make the best of what cards we are given and help make the Region of Waterloo the #1 Region to live and work in Ontario.

Grand River Railway Interurban Car Crosses over Freeport Bridge in Kitchener, Ontario in 1951

Grand River Railway Interurban Car 864 Crosses over Freeport Bridge in Kitchener, Ontario in 1951 Photo Credit: W.C. Bailey Fonds

8Apr/120

Lemon Chiffon Pie

Here is a new favourite of mine.  I made one for Christmas dinner and another for Easter dinner and they were both a hit.  The recipe comes from my cousin's grandmother.

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp. Butter
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 2 Egg Yolks
  • 2 tbsp Flour
  • Juice & Rind of 1 Lemon (or lemon substitute)
  • 1 cup Milk

Method

  1. Cream together the butter and sugar
  2. Add other ingredients
  3. Beat together 2 egg whites till fluffy and blend with above
  4. Pour into unbaked pie shell - SMALL
  5. Bake at 350°F for 40 – 45 min until light brown

 

Lemon Chiffon Pie

31Mar/120

Spinach Lasagna

Here is an awesome recipe for Spinach Lasagna!

Recipe

Cook 8 lasagna noodles or use 8 oven ready rice lasagna noodles (they can be used raw)

Mix together

  • 1,300 grams Frozen Spinach, thawed and drained
  • 4 Eggs, beaten
  • 1 tub Cottage Cheese
  • 1 cup Cooked Carrots (optional)
  • ¼ cup Onions, diced
  • Some Garlic, Salt, Pepper

 Slice or Grate 1,500 gram pkg. Mozzarella Cheese

Layer Together

  • 1st layer: 4 Noodles
  • 2nd layer: ½ Spinach Mixture
  • 3rd layer: ½ Cheese
  • Repeat layers

Top with White Sauce

  • In a saucepan, melt ½ cup Butter
  • Add ½ cup flour
  • Cook for 1 minute
  • Add 4 cups Milk
  • Cook until Bubbly and Thick

Cover with Parmesan Cheese and Garlic

Bake

350°F for 45 minutes

1Mar/122

Windows 8 Consumer Preview Review

Windows 8 Logo

It has been slightly more than three years since the Beta version of Windows 7 was released for testing.  Since then Windows 7 has been sweeping up the Windows landscape, riding it of Vista.  It is now 2012 and Microsoft has decided to step up to the plate again with an new release.  Creatively named "Windows 8", Microsoft is trying something new and adventurous.  They have overhauled the desktop environment and introduced a new one to the desktop computing world, they call it Metro.

Metro UI

Metro UI

Metro UI brings Microsoft's new design language and principles to Windows 8.  Part of the design of Windows 8 is it being cross platform, having x86 (32-bit and 64-bit) versions and an ARM version, for tablet and mobile computing.  The Metro design isn't new.  In fact it has been used as the interface for Windows 7 Phone.  It has won usability awards for its clean, easy to use design[Link].  Since Windows 8 is targeted at Tablet computing, putting Microsoft in competition with Apple's iOS and Google et al's Android OS, they are touting this as a flagship feature of Windows 8.  Another useful environment, besides tablets, for Metro is on touchscreen desktops computers.

However, Metro has been forced to be the main UI in Windows 8.  When you start the OS it is the first thing you see.  When you want to launch a program, you have to switch to it.  It is always in your face.  The UI is great for Tablets, but is rather wasteful on full fledged Desktop and Notebook PCs.  It is a jarring switch for something that used to be simple in all prior versions of Windows.  Also, trying to find programs is not very intuitive, the user now has to right click in the open space to bring up a menu that has the option to show all the install programs.  This causes the user to have to make a mental context switch and adjust to the new environment that is in front of them, then adjust to what they were doing previous.  The experience gives you two different desktop paradigms, both of which are not used to their full potential.

The Desktop/Metro interfaces include hot corners that allow the user to access different features.  The Bottom Left corner allows the user to access the "Start" screen, see the picture above.  It is the screen that is presented to the user when they log in.  The Upper Left corner allows for the user to quickly cycle through applications.  It can also be accessed vis Win+Tab.  The Upper and Lower Right corners allow for settings, search and the Start screen to be accessed.

Metro Left-Hand Pop-up Bar

 

Metro Right-Hand Pop-up Bar

Metro has it's own application style, they are designed to be clean and simple to use.  This is really a matter of opinion, and environment.  On my 1920 x 1080 screen, clean seems to mean lots of wasted space.  On a 1024 x 600 screen clean means large, easy to read typography with a simple layout.  This is one reason Metro shouldn't be forced upon the Desktop user, it breaks the idea of multi-tasking.

Metro Music App

Windows, like all other current platforms, now has it's own store.  This way a user can spend their hard earned money on Metro applications.  I guess seeing the success of the Android Market and the Mac Store, Microsoft has decided to capitalize on that market.  The store brings Metro apps of all genres to the end user.

Windows App Store

Currently the applications there are free, but once the final release of Windows 8 comes out they will start monetizing this environment.  There are some games available and they are essentially the same as the ones available for Android and iOS.  They are primarily designed for touchscreen interfaces, but some work ok with a mouse.

Cut the Rope Metro game on Windows 8

Cut the Rope

 The Desktop

Windows 8 Desktop

Windows 8 Consumer Preview Desktop

Windows 8 also includes a desktop environment.  It is very similar to that of Windows 7, except with many prominant features missing.  The desktop contains the standard Windows 7 Taskbar, but it is missing the show desktop button in the bottom right corner and the Start Button in the Bottom left corner.  Microsoft decided that users no longer use the Start Menu[Link 1, Link 2].  They deam the objects in the Start Menu are too small, thus harder to find and click.  Metro solves this Fitts' Law problem, the icons are nice and big and easy to click.  A primary issue, however, is that it breaks the users work flow.  It switches their environment.  The desktop becomes an empty place to run non-Metro applications, making them almost seem second rate.

There are improvements to some of the core Windows Applications.  The Task Manager has been overhauled to provide the user with prettier graphs and more information.  Also the file copy dialog provides a graph of the speed of the transfer over its lifetime.

Windows Explorer with Ribbon Bar

File Copy Dialog

New Task Manager

This is only preliminary, more to come as I play with the Consumer Preview release.

To Be Continued...

31Dec/112

Happy New Year Everyone!

So here we are again, the end of another year. What has changed? What hasn't? If I was to try and make a list I would be here a while. It has been another roller coaster year, from a Stephen Harper Majority, to the USA almost defaulting on their debt, to Hard Drive prices doubling from flooding in Thailand. Whatever has been your trip through the year 2011 I hope it was an eventful one.

It was an eventful year for me, our latest family member was born, Isla Tuch (my niece).  My nephew is now 3 and is a riot. I also started playing video games again, after a long hiatus since High School. Mostly PS3 games. I built myself a new desktop computer after my Asus Lamborghini notebook of 2.5 years decided it wasn't worth its time to display a picture to me. Met some great new people, finished University and more.  It was also a good year for 3D movies.

Sadly, in early January we had to put down Gracie, our last of the cats we had over the last 20 years (since we got Smokey and Mischief in 1992). She had developed a cis like tumour in her chest which finally beat the medication. She, and all the others will be greatly missed. (Smokey, Mischief, Beatrice, Gracie and Shizu).

What has been your 2011 ride been like? Feel free to drop a line below.

I'm ready to take on 2012, find a job, pay back loans and have another eventful year.  I will also be adding more recipes for you to try out and enjoy.

All the best in the coming year!

-Scott

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14Nov/111

Meatballs

Here is a simple, yet tasty recipe for Meatballs.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb Lean Ground Beef
  • 1 Egg
  • 10 Soda Crackers (Crushed) [Could also use breadcrumbs]
  • Garlic Power
  • Chopped Onions

Method

  1. Crush up crackers (or Breadcrumbs)
  2. Work crushed crackers, garlic power, onions, and egg into ground beef
  3. Roll into balls and cook in a fry pan on low-medium to medium heat until brown

Tip: You can replace the Garlic Power and Onions with your favourite spices and other ingredients. 

5Nov/111

Uncharted 3 Review

Uncharted 3, one of the most anticipated games of the year, has finally been released.  I was quite eager to play it, but had an annoying thorn in my side, I hadn't beaten Uncharted 2 yet.  This was my first priority.  Within a few hours I had polished off Uncharted 2, and played the first chapter of Uncharted 3.

Graphics

I was impressed.  If time had lapsed between playing them things wouldn't be as noticeable, but with only a few minutes between the ending of one and the beginning of the next things were clear.  Uncharted 2 was a huge improvement graphics wise from the original Uncharted.  The Naughty Dog team increased the efficiency of their rendering engine which lead to an overall more realistic feel for the game.  All the Uncharted games to date have been rendered in 720p.  Some people feel this is detrimental to the quality of the picture, but, in fact, it increases the amount of items that can be displayed, better modelling of objects and characters, as well as better lighting, fog and other effects.  Indeed, Naughty Dog has done it again.  Not the huge leaps and bounds like from the original to two, but overall the graphics are stunning.

Not only has the rendering engine improved, but so has the character models.  From the texturing on the models, to the lighting from the scene, to the motion capture accuracy.  Uncharted 2 brought new live to the characters by employing motion capture by the voice actors.  This not only allows more more accurate human movements, but helps bring together the characters in the story by making their interactions look more believable.  The accuracy of this appears to be much higher in the latest instalment. The characters move much more eloquently, with subtle details making them more life like.  From the movement of their eyes, to the positioning of their lips as they speak, everything is more refined and believable.

On the downside, there still exists heavy aliasing on many of the object models, which is slightly distracting from the stunning visuals.  Also, in times of high fog, and other particle effects, the frame rate will lag a bit from its normal, smooth, rendering.

9/10

Story

Graphics aren't the only thing that makes a game.  Just like movies and TV shows, a game needs a good story.  The Uncharted Series has never disappointed in this category.  All have had strong story lines, that play for comedy, drama, love interests, and more.  Uncharted 3 is no different.  As you play through the game it takes you on a thrill ride, that once you're on, you are hooked.  The transition from game play to cut scene and vice versa is exceptionally well done.  You jump from a building and now you are in a mini movie, then you are back again to playing without hardly realizing that you went from in game rendered scenes to a cut scene.  The character development is top notch, helping you sympathize with the good guys, and really dislike the bad guys.  As with Uncharted 2, 3 brings back the previous main characters and adds some new ones, as well as a new villain.

10/10

Conclusion

Uncharted 3 is an awesome game.  The guys, and gals, at Naughty Dog poured their heart and souls into making a well polished, technically advanced masterpiece.  The characters and their voice actors, along with some pretty fancy graphics, a strong story, and some great game play all add up to one magnificent game!

21Oct/110

Double Chocolate Chip Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1¾ cups Flour
  • ¾ cup Sugar
  • 1 cup Chocolate Chips
  • 4 tsp. Baking Powder
  • ½ cup Cocoa
  • 2 – 3 tsp. Vanilla
  • 1 Egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup Milk
  • ½ cup Butter, melted

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).  Prepare 12 standard muffin tins with butter or oil.
  2. Sift(optional) the flower, baking powder and cocoa into a bowl and stir in the sugar and chocolate chips
  3. Mix the egg, vanilla, butter and milk in another bowl.
  4. Pour the egg mixture into the flour mix and fold with fork.  Do not over mix!
  5. Spoon the mixture into the tins, filling them around ½ full.
  6. Bake for approximately 15 – 20 minutes.  They are ready when a skewer comes out clean.
  7. Place muffins on a wire rack to cool.
20Oct/114

Welcome to ScottIBMorris.ca

Welcome one and all to the new home of scottibmorris.ca. Its been a while since I’ve done any blog postings, mainly because I’ve been so busy finishing up school and all.  I have some big plans for this site now that it is up. Let's hope they follow though.

To give you a small preview of things to come:

Do you like food? If so, do you like home cooked food? What would you say to a Recipe Corner? That’s right folks, you’ve seen the pictures, you’ve drooled at the goodness, now you too can bake the Delicious goodies that you’ve come to see.

Are you a movie buff? Do you have 10,000 movies and can’t remember what you have? Well look no further. I have had the same problem for years and there is currently no good solution out there to satify the craving of know what films you have, what quality they are, etc. If you have friends (lets hope you do) then you can share your titles with them. Movies should be a social experience.

Over the next little while I will be customizing this space to fit my needs, come back soon to see if I have.

All this and more to come on the new scottibmorris.ca!

Scott