Mildly disappointing reading list for Sept so far

I have this big, big bag of books beside my bed that I dip into when I need a new read.  It’s a mixed bag of 20 or so, history, mystery, sci fi and good old fashioned thrillers. We’re lucky, in this apartment building, tenants are loath to throw away books so a little library was setup. Quite often I can find new releases on one of the shelves, which I scoop because they’ll disappear quickly.  There’s always something to read. 

Anyhow, I pulled  a couple of Dan Brown books in the last week or two to give them a try. I read The Da Vinci Code years ago when it came out. Whoa, I just looked that up and that was more than a few years ago – 2003! A lot of books have wandered through my life since then, some amazing, many mediocre and a handful appallingly bad. It’s never a good sign when you start hoping the main character is polished off in a gruesome accident or the apocalypse occurs so the book finally comes to an end. I remember thinking the Code was a pretty good yarn, fun and a quick read. I don’t mind suspending my belief for awhile and just go along for the ride, and I did enjoy the book. That was the last Dan Brown I read until now. I was turned off the rabid, cult like behaviour of many  fans when I encountered them. Man, I couldn’t even offer a critique without being accused of rather stupid things like “you don’t know REAL history”, “it could be true” and “you don’t know how to read”. Yes, it could be true, in an alternate reality.  Define “real history” and I’ll debate you on it. And I couldn’t even be bothered discussing my ability to read a very easy to follow plot line. I found it all too tedious to deal with and opted out. It turned me off his books. That wasn’t Brown’s fault, but I was soured on the later books.  

Down in our little library sat all of Brown’s books so I thought what the hell, give them a try.  I was right. Fairly good fun, nice yarns, easy reads. Beyond that?  What can I say? I found Origin frustrating.   I muttered at the book if  the over-sized tablet descriptor was used one more time, I was going to chuck the book over the balcony.  The entire story was tired and forced. I truly enjoyed Da Vinci Code because it was memorable. The story stuck in my mind.  Angels and Demons was equally fun.  I’m making  my way through Inferno and it’s ok so far. Not exactly a rip roaring tale, but ok.  I can usually tear through a novel in a day or two but I’ve picked up Inferno and plopped it down again for 2 weeks now. It’s becoming a bit of a chore because  I feel we’ve been down this road already. It’s basically the same tale, similar settings, no real character development and lots of pretty scenery.  When I finish Inferno, I doubt I’ll bother with Symbols.  I’ll leave it in the bag and think about it for a few weeks.  But I can’t help feeling the series has worn out it’s welcome in my little abode. 

I want to change up my reading material and am searching for good sci fi or sci fantasy. There used to be a couple of sci fi / sci fantasy fans in the building, who kept me well supplied. They’ve either stopped dropping books off or they’ve moved. Too bad. I think a trip to the local library is in order to shake off the reading list doldrums. Maybe next week, after I plod through Inferno. Wish me luck.  

A bit of fun with This Day in History – Richard III

A bit of fun with This Day in History – Richard III

I was culling through my usual list of sites this morning and found out on this date, King Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Richard has been in the news quite a bit lately, with the discovery of his remains in a church parking lot and reburial. I sat for a few minutes and wondered what the news coverage would be like if our modern 24 hour blood sells extravaganzas provided on the spot coverage.  I nearly short circuited my brain thinking about how Fox would lay on the outrage and decided I couldn’t go down that rabbit hole. Well at least not sober.   From tabloids to the more staid papers – it’s an amusing thought experiment.

Here’s my take on a more conservative approach to his death.

A mock up of a newspaper carrying coverage of Battle of Bosworth Field from a modern perspective

A quick trip to your local library will produce a wealth of excellent books on the subject. I’m pretty sure the librarian would be thrilled to help you select material.  You can also find a treasure trove of online sources that cover the battle and histories of Richard III and Henry VII. Here are a few to get you started:

This Day in History:
Encyclopaedia Britannica  – Battle of Bosworth Field
House of Plantagenet on Wikipedia offers an extensive bibliography for those inclined to dive deep into history
Richard III – BBC History page 
The Richard III Society has an outstanding website
Henry VII – BBC History page
There are a number of Tudor Society sites on the internet –  The Tudor Society  and  The Henry Tudor Society

All the images used are licensed under Creative Commons:

  • York coat of arms By Sodacan [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons
  • Battle of Bosworth Field Philip James de Loutherbourg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Richard III By Unknown artist; uploaded to wikipedia by Silverwhistle (Richard III Society website via English Wikipedia) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
  • Henry VII National Portrait Gallery [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Adult fidget spinners

Adult fidget spinners

I’m incapable of sitting around doing nothing. I’m designed to fidget. I have no science to back my theory of Genetic Figitery but just ride with me on it.

I have notebooks and bits of paper filled with random doodles and thoughts – most of which collect dust until I toss them in a spasm of tidiness.  I’m one of those people who tears apart a paper cup to create little dioramas when I’m out having coffee with friends. I’ve destroyed hundreds of paper clips in meetings.  Worse still, I’ll carefully tear the label off beer bottles and fold them into little creatures. I’m paying attention to the conversations around me, It’s just my hands start fidgeting. A friend recently threatened to buy me a child’s toybox so I’d have things to play with.

Sometimes I see something, a shape usually, that triggers an idea that plunges me down a rabbit hole of silly ideas. Recently, while having a mediocre coffee in a place that will remain unnamed – forgive me espresso gods – I kept staring at the clip art coffee bean  on the back of the bag. With the right flourishes, it would make a great badge for the magazine and ended up with Killer Bean:

Scan of a hand drawn logo of a coffee bean with fangs.

If that isn’t the name of an espresso bar, then it damn well should be.

Catpaw finds her (photographic) groove

Catpaw finds her (photographic) groove

Arggh! I hate when I lose my writing rhythm.  If I stray from a schedule I start to think “oh I’ll do it tomorrow” and before you know it, tomorrow has turned into a week or more. On the positive side, I’ve been working quite diligently on the Mapping Toronto Project. I have the first route all mapped and I’ve done most of the walk.  This coming week, I’ll trot along the path with a timer and take the photos I’ve decided need adding and I’ll be ready to post. Just a handful more to parse and I think you’ll like the walk. It’s a nice leisure look at the Yonge / St Clair neigbourhood.

So what else have I done, besides throwing my back out and whining like a little child for week? Once I was able to move without whimpering I decided to do an epic walk that cut through a few neighbourhoods. Well, it was an accident actually. I was supposed to meet a friend for a pint, but they had to work so I consoled myself with an espresso at the Boxcar Social. Enjoyed the drink, stretched and thought, beautiful day, why not walk the last  knots out of my back and see test a few areas.  The walk exploded from there. This is the result:

Hand drawn map of July 7th's walk

Obviously it’s not to scale, but I’m pleased that it makes sense. It got a wee bit squeezed in the bottom part but still readable. My maps are usually a bizarre mess that displays my inability to tell left from right / north from west.  I’m perpetually lost.  I have mapping software, but I enjoy sitting with pen and paper sketching out routes I walk and inserting little notes. They jog my memory when I’m parked in front of the keyboard, writing about the day. I have scribbly bits of paper all over the place, some that make no sense even to me, detailing photos I’ve taken, routes, places that need return visits, questions about neighbourhoods  etc. Yesterday I stopped at Midoco on Bloor to grab a new notebook. They have the best selection, but I opted for a plain flexible hard covered lined book, instead of the sleek ‘n lovely offerings that made my heart go pity pat. Function won, alas.

Notebooks are essential to keep track of my meanderings. I often joke I am incapable of walking a straight line and equally incapable of remembering where many photos were taken. When I’m walking, I usually have my camera at the ready and simply follow where the lens leads me. This results in some torturous lines.

For those of you that are peering at the map and going “wtf?” here’s the route:

Boxcar Social café on Yonge near Summerhill TTC. GOOD ESPRESSO. Worth the stop
South on Yonge to Birch St
East on Birch to Lionel Conacher Park
South onto Gange Ave and follow along the loop to Avenue Rd with a stop to listen to the train rumble by
South on Avenue Rd to Robertson Davies Park with stops to admire construction sites
Continue south on Avenue to Davenport
West on Davenport to watch the Toronto Hydro crew work
East on Davenport to watch the big crane install
Back to Avenue Road and south to Bloor St with stops to watch more construction sites
West on Bloor to Bedford Rd, playing “Tourist Dodge’em”
Decide it’s time to eat so hop a subway car at St. George TTC station on Bedford go west to Bathurst
Exit Bathurst TTC go south to Bloor
East on Bloor to Midoco to ogle the art supplies, fawn over the pens and pencils & fondle the notebooks
West on Bloor to the Green Beanery for latte and refried bean tortilla
West to corner of Bloor and Bathurst to look at the big hole that used to be Honest Ed’s
South on Bathurst to Lennox
West on Lennox to Markham to look at the derelict Victorian buildings, reminding self to look up what the developer plans are for them
Backtrack and head east on Lennox to the alleyway beside the Randolph Centre for Arts
South on the alley to look at all the graffiti and artwork
Exit onto Hendrick St and go east to Bathurst
South on Bathurst to Harbord St
East on Harbord St
Stop at James Hale Ln to admire murals
East on Harbord  stopping occasionally to look at graffiti and art scattered along the route while heading towards Spadina St
Stop at Harbord Fish and Chips building and wonder if they are as good as they used to when I lived closer to the area
North on Spadina to Bloor, realising there is no space left on the card for more photos
West on Bloor to Cobbs Bakery to pick up buns
East on Bloor to Spadina
North on Spadina to the TTC station and head home.

This is a typical route when I wander off. I enjoy just walking and seeing the city as a tourist, which is what I think the Mapping Toronto Project will showcase – being a tourist in my own city.  Each neigbourhood is different, with something fun to offer. Yesterday, with that thought firmly in mind, I filled the camera card for the first time. If I keep this up, I’ll have to purchase a second as backup. There was so much art work, architecture and more to enjoy, I couldn’t stop taking photos.  Most aren’t worth keeping, but I have them marked for a return visit (or two or three) to try a different angle, maybe a rainy day shot to improve the scene or wait until it’s busier/quieter.  I’ve archived a handful as a reminder to come back when I have a better lens.  But I think I found my groove at last and I’m eager to get the Mapping Toronto Project officially underway. Look for it in about a week.

Tweaking the horizontal hold again

I’m still mulling over design changes.  I think I just heard a couple people throw their hands up in despair.  The primary design is all fine but a number elements still elude me, like  banners for the tech midsection. I’ve run out of “WOW” ideas, hence the reason nothing has been altered.  That’s not really important, more a minor irritant.

The bigger itch is the single post pages.  The unutterable horror of the bland page is haunting me.  I can’t seem to break out of the design block I’ve hit.  As it is now, the single posts are tame and bloggy without a lot of personality.   I think it’s time to go cruising for fresh ideas and see if I can adopt something a bit more vibrant.  I’ve been experimenting with tailoring each sections single post page, but I’m not really sure that’s the path to take.

You may notice the odd little change here and there as I shift things around, test plugins etc. One of the issues I’m trying to improve is the flow to encourage readers to read more articles.  I have the traditional “here are some other articles I’ve written” on the right. I found a plugin that shows thumbnails, which breaks up the sidebar monotony (I’ll write about it later this week).  Another plugin, I’m testing Cresta Posts Box. If you look over -> there and down a bit, you’ll see a small slide out bar that suggests a page to read. I like the way it looks and will likely purchase the upgraded version so I can tweak the features to suit the site.

Beyond that, my brain is on idle.  There comes a time to step away from the design because it’s no longer possible to see the overall vision. Until I can come up with a solid idea, you’ll have to endure the bloggy style page and I’ll focus on throwing up content.



A sea of errors – or is it “I see errors”?

I’m about 3/4 way through checking the site for missing links, typos, miscategorised posts and, well, you know. All of this reminds me why I started casting around for a different platform and thinking of a web redesign. Joomla’s spell check was erratic at best.  I often type too quickly and try to get things posted a bit too fast and sometimes rely on spell check to catch the obvious typos. I’m embarrassed to admit, I don’t always get back to a close proofing. WP is far more efficient when it comes to spell check.

A number of clearly outdated articles on defunct software have been permanently binned.  I’ve archived a bunch of early articles and put them on hold  because I haven’t figured out what I want to do with them. They don’t actually fit into any category. Alas, I think I’ll end up deleting them. 

Another issue was Joomla’s failure to auto save drafts. I’d be working on something and hit the back space, which periodically caused the article to delete, and the entire article would be gone.  I got to the point I would write everything in Word and cut and paste it into the website later. Maddening!

I’m still chugging through all the page redirects, but those are going to be an ongoing project. Each time I think I have them all tackled, a new crop springs up. At least I’ll never be idle.

What else is there to do? Oof! I have to work on the next |previous links on single posts, adjust thumbnail sizes, need a banner on the Tech page, and maybe a new index page. Mind you, I kind of like the page, but it might get a bit out of control in a few months so, we’ll see.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about SEO. I’ve used it in the past but never really wrapped myself around doing it efficiently. I think that’s the next big project. Ensuring everything ticks all the boxes as far as SEO is concerned. We’ll see if it makes a big difference. I feel like I’ve zeroed out the site and purged all outdated ideas. It’s now a big experiment to trace how the changes will affect readership. I’ll keep you posted.