Monthly Archives: June 2007

Go escarp yourself

Andy Riga has an article in Friday’s Gazette about the St. Jacques escarpment, that tree-lined cliff between St. Jacques in NDG and Turcot Yards along Highway 20. It includes a link to his new blog about that piece of land.

Concrete blocks stop cars from driving down the now-closed Pullman; a Transport Quebec sign warns passers-by not to proceed. Police warn those who wander around the Turcot yards they risk $142 fines.


OK, it’s not as outrageous as advocating MURDER, but the slippery slope has to start from somewhere, DOESN’T IT, RIGA?

You heard it here first folks. Riga’s descent into a life of crime won’t be pretty.

UPDATE: Karma strikes!

Plagiarism from those who should know better

Shouldn’t TVA know by now that grabbing whatever comes up under Google Image Search isn’t free for you to use as you wish?

TVA plagiarism

Apparently not. On the left here is a screenshot from a TVA news report. On the right is the photo they used, taken by a Montreal blogger who isn’t happy about it being used without his permission. (For those who think it’s a coincidence, check out the train in the lower right corner of the photo.)

Meanwhile, Canoe, the Quebecor-owned web portal, also used the same photo to illustrate a Journal de Montréal story (not sure if it was in the paper itself), though they credited the author, as if that somehow gives them free reign to use other people’s copyrighted work without permission or compensation.

As a freelancer, you can imagine how much this annoys me.

About those two stations

A curious bystander who looks at a map of Montreal’s subway and train networks together would quickly ask themselves a question: Why are there no transfer points where some of these lines cross?

Recently, the Agence métropolitaine de transport decided to ask itself this question in terms of two crossings of the Montreal-Deux-Montagnes train line:




and McGill.

Both of these stations are close enough to the Mount Royal Tunnel that such a concept theoretically would make sense.

But it’s not that easy…

Continue reading

Today kids, we’ll be learning about beavers and how much money they’ll make me

It’s official: The Ontario Teachers Pension Plan is buying Bell Canada for $51.7 billion.

(I wish my pension plan had that kind of cash to throw around. Sadly, my union is still in negotiations with Fagstein WorldMedia Ltd. and it doesn’t look good.)

It has the advantage of being a Canadian offer (though with minority American interests), and yet not being a takeover by a rival telecommunications firm. So we’ll still have all this competition with a whopping three providers.

I’m sure with this new owner, Bell will concentrate on providing quality customer service, even if that extra mile might interfere with their bottom line in the short term.


Fire make light, go boom

Flickr has some photos from Wednesday’s fireworks display, which was truly magnificent.

If you’ll permit the descent into immaturity, OMG they were SO COOLLLL!!!!1111oneone

They had the big ones, the small ones, the plain and coloured ones, the multicoloured ones, the ones that change colour, the twirlers, the screamers, the ones whose embers randomly change direction, the ones that light up after a delay, and the ones that make a big bang.

The last ones are particularly fun because of where I was standing, in an empty lot near the port of Montreal just at the foot of the Jacques-Cartier Bridge. The sound was so powerful there was an echo off the bridge itself, and a second off an office building behind me. Other fireworks were so bright they lit up the bridge.

It was a powerful display that, just when you thought it was over with a big finish that puts 4th of July celebrations to shame, starts up with another act.

Can you believe there’s an entire season of this?

Your call is annoying to us

The Gazette’s Roberto Rocha has an interview with call centre unions (these exist?) as part of his Your Call Is Important To Us series. It’s not really earthshattering what they’re saying (the workers are overworked, underpaid, underappreciated and abused), but it gives us a glimpse into what the real problem is with tech support: compartmentalization.

These big companies like it if every problem you call about can fit into one of their little boxes. Change of address, termination of service, adding or removing features. Each one can have its little three-step guide and a trained monkey to go through it. Training is fast and you can outsource the job to any country with English speakers and a low minimum wage.

A lot of the time it works out. Most calls are about common problems, and it saves everyone time if they’re dealt with quickly and efficiently. Many can even be dealt with using a computer, which saves money for the company and saves headaches for the customer who doesn’t have to spend so much time on hold and can perform the tasks on off-hours.

The problem comes in unusual situations. The company has billed you twice for the same service. You’re getting billed for someone else’s account. You cancelled the service three years ago or were never a customer but now you’re getting threats from someone to pay up. When these things come up, the automated menus are useless, as are the outsourced Indian call centre workers who don’t understand your euphemisms.

In a perfect world, these calls would be “escalated” to a manager or supervisor with more training and more latitude and decision-making power to deal with your problem. But customer service is afraid – deathly afraid – to escalate calls no matter how complicated they may seem. Supervisors are either “on holiday” or otherwise unavailable (usually a lie), and there’s no one you can bring the matter to. You’re screwed. And though the person on the other end has sympathy (assuming they even understand your problem), their job is to make it as hard as possible for you to take your matter up with important people, to keep their bottom line in check.

Unusual situations are annoying pests that these companies want swatted. The system (which includes things like constantly repeating your problem to different agents every time you call) is designed to get you to give up and stop wasting their money.

City bus drivers are not nannies

An interesting story out of the West Island: After an elementary student spat on a bus driver and others refused to pay their fares, the driver took the bus to the police station to complain, leading to the arrests of three children on assault charges.

It all started at (the former) Allancroft Elementary, when a student spat on the driver and others in a group of 20 rowdy students refused to pay their fare getting on the 217 bus, which goes from the school to the Beaconsfield train station and then Fairview Pointe-Claire.

It’s a little-known secret that paying fares is entirely optional on city buses. Drivers are trained never to leave their seats or start confrontations with passengers. Instead, if someone refuses to pay their fare and goes to the back of the bus, the drivers tend to do nothing and continue on the route rather than start an incident.

Probably because of the spitting, this driver decided to do something about it. He pulled the bus into Station 1 on St. Charles Blvd. and complained. Rather than profess their innocence and blame it all on the driver, one of the kids kicked a police officer in the back. For their troubles three of them got charged (including the one who spat on the driver) and issued fines for everyone who didn’t pay their fare.

Considering there hasn’t been mass protests in the streets against the bus driver, the police, the school and everyone else parents could possibly blame besides their children, I’m guessing they had some long talks with their little troublemakers.

Newspapers still need to learn how to use blogs

The Gazette today launched a Jazz Festival blog called “Offbeat” (better than “beatoff” I guess) written by saxophonist Adam Kinner and freelance writer Natasha Aimée Hall.

The blog reads like a diary, which got me thinking about mainstream media outlets and their use of these curious creatures they still don’t quite understand. Some blogs make sense, like The Gazette’s wildly successful and very high-quality Habs Inside/Out blog, which gives the paper’s experienced hockey writers a place where they can share late-breaking behind-the-scenes rumours and other news directly with a niche audience.

Others, however, read more like personal blogs which catalog the hourly events of its authors but doesn’t provide anything interesting to anyone outside the immediate family of the blogger.

It’s not the fault of the bloggers, most of whom (including Hall) are very talented writers. The problem is a lack of direction from the media outlets that create them. They give them this platform, tell them to “go and blog” and don’t give them much else to work with. The bloggers are left with nothing else to write about than their own personal stories, as mundane as they may be.

Blogs by beat writers is one thing. It’s pretty clear what the blog is going to be about. But for anything beyond that, the media have to answer the question “what information would I go to this blog to learn?”

If the answer is “what someone did for a couple of weeks”, then I think it needs some rethinking.

Take your bikes outside – the metro doesn’t want them

A letter in today’s Gazette complains about bikes being rejected in the metro. Normally, bikes are allowed outside of rush hours on the first car of every train.


Unfortunately, there are plenty of exceptions. Days when there is, to use an STMism, an “achalandage important” which prevents bikes from being used safely. And looking at the list on their website, it looks like it’s just about every day this summer.

The STM is maybe being a bit over-cautious about safety, but not as much as people may think. On Wednesday, as I took the train to see the fireworks, the human traffic was insane. Tens of thousands boarded trains (some had to be added to handle the extra load), crammed in tighter than during the peak of rush-hour, all headed to Papineau to either get on the Jacques-Cartier Bridge or the parking lot underneath it. All the escalators were set in the up direction (those going down had to use the stairs), and police were called in to handle the crowds.

Imagine having to take a bike on that.

The other concern is that allowing one person to take a bike on the train means you have to allow everyone to take their bike on the train. So events that involve bikes, like the Tour de l’Ile mean they have to ban bikes on those days too, even though other traffic is pretty close to normal. (The STM has since relented slightly on the Tour de l’Ile, allowing some stations to accept bikes but not others).

Consult the list for exact times, but as a rule of thumb don’t count on using the metro during the evening or pretty well at all on weekends until the summer festival season is over.

Bernard Patry is still alive?

Pierrefonds-Dollard’s long-serving MP Bernard Patry, who apparently has spent his 14 years in the House of Commons trying desperately not to be noticed, is speaking out about a post office being moved out of his riding.

It’s kind of a strange issue for Bernie to come out of his coma to tackle. I liked that office, and it was close to where I used to live, but it’s now too small to handle the growing population in the northern West Island.

Would he be as outraged if it was moved to another location but still in an area he represents?