Kieran Huggins and Kevin Branigan have been working on an online trip planner for the Toronto Transit system called MyTTC.ca. It’s been a fun side project for them over the past year or so. Kieran just announced the site is now available for public tire-kicking and feedback. Their site is cool… you should go give it a try.
The backstory is interesting. As Kieran writes on the site, he and Kevin are not the TTC. They’re just two software developers who decided this needed to be done. As they detail on the MyTTC About page, the idea was born out of frustration with the official TTC site, which has always been impossibly hard to plan trips with.
I share their pain. Several times after moving to Toronto I tried using the official transit web site to figure out how to get around the city. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, I simply gave up. All the route maps were and still are provided only in PDF format, instead of simpler and smaller GIF or JPEG images. The system maps — which are the only way to figure out which route map you need — are gigantic PDFs that take ages to download and render. (Don’t try to find these maps from the main page of the TTC website, which for some reason links prominently to even stranger and less useful maps on the Toronto.ca site.) Meanwhile, the new beta TTC site has no system map yet, and no trip planner. A forlorn spot on the beta site home page proclaims, "Future home of Trip Planner".
So if you’re an entrepreneur who wants to buld your own trip planner, how do you get the data? Woe betide you, for the TTC won’t give it to you. The information sits in a database somewhere in the bowels of the organization, where it is periodically used to generate the aforementioned PDF route maps and now the new route pages on the beta web site. But the TTC won’t make the raw data available for public use. So Kieran and Kevin had to compile an entirely new dataset of their own by pulling the information out of hundreds of PDF route documents. Then they had to scrub it, by hand, because the data was buggy buggy buggy. The scrubbing continues.
Unlike the TTC, Kieran and Kevin are making their dataset available to anyone who wants to play with it. This means anyone can build their own Toronto transit map or trip planner now. It also means we are a step closer to having Google Transit support, since all that’s needed to enable that is a suitable data feed. (Google has offered in the past to set up Google Transit for Toronto. Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, and even Fredericton have Google Transit support. Toronto? Sorry. No data from the TTC.)
Shame on you, TTC. Shame on government organizations that hoard power by keeping public data under lock and key.
And congratulations, Kieran and Kevin, for rolling up your sleeves and building a great public service that Toronto really needs.
[cross-posted on MyOwnPirateRadio]
Sorauren Park in Roncesvalles, at Sorauren and Wabash Avenue is getting its own farmer’s market on Mondays.
It starts this Monday, July 21st at 3pm, and will run to approximately 7pm.
How nice to have so many farmers markets that we can choose from. There seems to be one every day of the week somewhere in Toronto.
Wild Thing opened last month on the corner of Borden and Harbord. The shop serves up high quality espresso with organic milk, along with homemade gelato and grilled sandwiches. This is a great place to meet a friend or do some work. Soon there will be wi-fi and there are a few sockets to plug in laptops. The space is bright and clean with lots of tables.
Not only is this place great for adults, they have also built a kiddie area with a table to draw on, and equipped the ladies bathrooms with baby changing tables. How thoughtful.
But wait, there’s more.
The delicious gelato is made without the typically-used chemicals (called stabilizer), and contains fresh fruits rather than prepackaged pastes. The milk and sugar are organic. They even serve the gelato in biodegradable cups.
I’ll be back for more gelato… and coffee.
Our friend thehandoftamm.com writes about places in Toronto from time to time.
I hope that you enjoy this cross posted piece:
(The vodka troika pictured below is at home, not Pravda.)
The old man and I made a pilgrimage to the Pravda Vodka Bar last night, as they promise an authentic, dedicated vodka appreciating experience. We met with something interesting, but which fell a little short of irresistible.
Pravda has high ceilings and high-concept soviet-era artwork, which mainly leans toward portraits of Lenin, Marx, Brezhnev, Gorbachev, and Mao, along with images of Red Army soldiers and noble workers. It’s also louder than a May Day parade in there, with a DJ that seems intent on making sure that any voices of dissent are immediately drowned out. There are sofas and high stools, plus a roped-off VIP section. No regular tables so, in spite of the dinner menu available, this is no restaurant.
ORDERING, DRINKING, EATING
We order a couple of rounds of the Premium “Russian Czar” sampler, which means we get three fine vodkas and a plate of blini with sour cream and caviar. We’re not fussy as to the choices, as the selection is vast (promising 70+ vodkas), although only slightly beyond what is regularly available at the LCBO. We also order steak tartar.
The vodkas arrive, along with the bread and pickles that accompany the “Red Army” tasting menu, not what we had ordered. They are withdrawn but this is mistake #1. Our waitress brings Pravda, Chopin, and Reyka vodkas. Good call on the Pravda -after all, it is the house-named brand. Our waitress informs us that it’s Russian for truth. Uh-huh, got it. But the hooch is from Poland, so clearly they’re willing to capitulate to capitalist marketing in Warsaw! It’s a five-times distilled grain vodka which goes down super-smooth with no burn and hardly an aftertaste. A little sweet on the lingering palate, perhaps. The water is said to come from a pristine source in the Carpathians.
Somewhere around this time our caviar appears. There are three kinds of caviar (sturgeon, tobiko, and salmon) and half a dozen blini, about the size of loonies. The caviar and blini are delicious. Full marks for the accompaniment.
The Chopin is a potato vodka from Poland. Again, well done for including a potato vodka but marks off for repeating Poland on two out of three. Are we to be served Meatloaf? It is four-times distilled and promises another unspoiled-by-man water source. It’s becoming evident that the waitress is giving us the mini-bios that are printed on the backs of the bottles. She’s not sure why it’s called Chopin but tells us it’s good for those with gluten issues, owing to the absence of grain. The vodka itself is smooth with a little more bite, thanks to the mighty spud. Not as heavy as a Luksosowa, the more brutish Polish potato vodka.
The tartar arrives and it’s very tasty. Not as flavourful as my grandfather’s recipe and I suspect it’s not the topmost grade of meat as I get a bit of tendon in my teeth so the care isn’t entirely there but it’s still enjoyable. A nice peppery finish but the range of flavours aren’t present or haven’t had time to properly mingle.
Our next vodka is Reyka from Iceland, which is again four-times distilled. It’s quite drinkable and smooth and the filtering process is through lava rock instead of charcoal. The bottles feature native wildlife, most often the Arctic Wolf. The vodka is clean with a slightly medicinal finish.
Our vodkas are done, our food is done. We’ve only been at the bar for 30 minutes so let’s have something else; something which might prompt us to linger. Unfortunately, the music is getting only louder and it’s getting harder to shout over the overheated dancefloor anthems. This is not a restaurant and vodka-tasting establishment. It’s a disco meat market. The clientele are a mix of cougar women and American Psychos who look like they just left their brokerages minutes earlier. They’re mostly drinking mixed cocktails and Czechvar beer. The vodka theme is barely in evidence outside our table, apart from the impressive rows behind the bar.
We order a couple of “Russian” beers. What arrives at the table is Zywiec, which is from Poland. I ask the waitress what’s up and she tells me that they’re out of the Russian gear (Baltika). I figure she didn’t really know herself to begin with or hoped we wouldn’t notice. Staff knowledge/disclosure is becoming increasingly suspect, not to mention their clear Polish leanings. Does Lech Walesa have a stake in this joint?
We hadn’t tried a Russian vodka in our set so order a couple of shots of Youri Dolgoruki and ask for a plate of the Russian dark rye and pickles. The vodka is silky smooth and most like the Pravda. The pickles are nice but the bread is pumpernickel, nothing like Russian rye. More deception/lack of authenticity/attention to the details.
By now the bar is packing in with people and the music is so loud we can’t hear one another so we’re reduced to comical hand gestures to summon the bill. Daddy-o produces his gag Russian Express credit card and the waitress kinda doesn’t get it. Oh well, that one played big in the ‘80s. The cold war is only a curiosity for today’s youngfolk.
THE LASTING IMPRESSION
Bottom line is that the Pravda vodka bar has a great theme that they’re not holding themselves to with sufficient diligence. They lack the eye for detail that would make them something more than a regular club with a wide vodka selection and hammer & sickle artwork. They haven’t searched the world for off-the-LCBO-map vodkas (although they did have three from Japan which we didn’t try on this time out). They have good food but make it unfriendly for dining. They’re somewhere between a bar and a nightclub.
For my card, Pravda gets two out of a possible four red stars. Food was good and vodka was cold so a little tweak here and there and it could be transcendent, transporting the customer to Red Square on Wellington. Maybe management needs to be threatened with a trip to the gulag for some reeducation.
Pravda could be building the Hermitage of vodka-appreciation rooms but instead they’re sliding into the excesses of the Politburo, not caring for the proletarian man who wants to reach for the stars through vodka.
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Pravda is located on Wellington Street E, west of Church.