How many times did I eat lunch at Tai Chi Gardens?

I’ve been doing some work this week on “geopresence archiving,” culminating in the release of some code, called GeoArchive, that will slurp in Foursquare, Plazes, Twitter, Openpaths, Google and Flickr geopresence data and convert it into GeoJSON.

GeoJSON is a funny thing: you’d think that the last thing the world would need is yet another format for GIS data. But it turns out that is exactly what the world needed, for GeoJSON appears to have hit a sweet spot of portability, understandability and flexibility that is causing a whole new set of geographical tools to flower.

Using the aforementioned GeoArchive, I converted every single geopresence I’d logged in the last 10 years (starting in 2004 with Plazes and continuing until the present) and dropped the resulting GeoJSON files into a GitHub repository called geotraces (yes, that’s making public some detailed private information, but it’s information about the past, and I haven’t murdered anyone or had an affair, so I’m comfortable with that).

I then used the (excellent, free, open) GitSpatial tool to sync that repository so that I could use its spatial querying magic to extract interesting insights from it.

I eat lunch at Tai Chi Gardens, a small vegetarian restaurant around the corner from my office, several times a week.

But exactly how often do I go there?

I decided to use my newfound geo-superpowers to find out.

I used the (dreamy) BoundingBox tool to get the coordinates for a bounding box around the restaurant, building in a comfortable buffer to allow for the inexactness of GPS:

A bounding box around Tai Chi Gardens.

This gave me a bounding box (selecting the CSV format) of:


To query my GeoJSON, I opted to start with my Google Latitude traces, which cover the longest recent period in the most detail (because, in part, they were collected passively; I didn’t need to “check in” to record my presence); the GitSpatial URL I ended up with was this one and visiting it gave me – handily and happily – some more GeoJSON, which I could feed to the (very helpful), which allowed me to double-check that everything worked as I wanted (it did):

Tai Chi Gardens geopresences in

With this GeoJSON in-hand, I then used some old-school UNIX command line magic to extract the number of unique dates in that file:

grep when taichigardens.geojson | cut -d" " -f10 | cut -d'"' -f2 | sort | uniq

That gave me a list of dates when I’d been inside that bounding box – and, likely, eating lunch at Tai Chi Gardens:


Piping that result through wc and I find out that over the period from January 16, 2010 to November 26, 2012 I visited Tai Chi Gardens 42 times:

grep when taichigardens.geojson | cut -d" " -f10 | cut -d'"' -f2 | sort | uniq | wc -l

This is just a toe dipped in the water of the experimenting I hope to do with my decades-long stretch of geopresence data. I welcome you to join me.

Ernie Kalwa and his Barber Shop

While I was trawling through the archives of Arthur from 1985 this morning, I noticed that there was an ad in every issue for Ernie’s Barber Shop – “Ernie & Pauline, Operators” – on Simcoe Street:

And then, in the issue of November 11, 1985, a review of Ernie’s that I wrote – my first newspaper story (although it ran, oddly, without a byline), headline “Real haircut”:

For the past 15 years, I’d been making the monthly trek out to the old “Long Acres Barber Shop” near home; Kurt, Louis, Joe and Mike were always there, always friendly and had become like members of the family. Moving away meant saying good bye to all that; facing the world on my own: finding a NEW barber.

I roamed the streets of Peterborough … oh there were places to get your hair cut — “Rice’s House of Unisex Hair Design,” “Fernando’s Hairateria”, “The Hair Cutting Ranch” — but no real barbers. In desperation. I let my fingers do the walking and pulled out the yellow pages. There. between “Dynasty Hair Design” and “Esquire Hair Salon” was what I’d been looking for “Ernie’s Barber Shop”.

Quickly I found my way to 173-1/2 Simcoe Street. At first I thought that Ernie’d been bought out by some crazed lawn ornament salesperson. There were all sorts of things — I think they call them “curios” — in the front window. It turned out that Ernie IS the crazed lawn ornament salesperson: I guess you can’t make a living just cutting hair.

I opened the door, walked in, and immediately knew I was in my element. I was greeted by Pauline (Ernie’s protege) and escorted to a real barber chair. Pauline was extremely friendly and my fears disappeared within minutes. The conversation was pleasant, my fellow customers interesting (there’s one lady who comes in nearly every day and has been for the past couple of decades) and the hair cut superb (I was assured that if I wasn’t pleased I could come in anytime and they’d touch it up “on the house”).

That article in Arthur caught the eye of James Ramsay, also an Arthur writer and a Trent student a few years my senior. James also grew up in near Aldershot, and also got his hair cut at the Long Acres Barber Shop. We remain friends to this day.

I had my cut for years thereafter at Ernie’s, sometimes by Ernie, and sometimes by Pauline (although after a while Pauline left and Ernie was on his own). Eventually the original location closed and Ernie opened up in a more modern space around the corner, and I followed him there. Who knows how many times Ernie cut my hair.

Toward the end of my time in Peterborough I went into Ernie’s for what turned out to be my last haircut in the the city and my last hair cut from Ernie. As I was sitting there in the chair with Ernie at work I noticed a newspaper clipped taped to the corner of the mirror: it was my article from Arthur.

I thought about telling Ernie that I was the writer – and for all know he’d figured it out — but I decided to remain anonymous. My haircut done, I paid Ernie, left him a tip, and headed out, a satisfied customer.

I learned this afternoon that Ernie died, of lung cancer, a couple of years ago; here’s his obituary

KALWA, Ernst “Ernie” Erwin, born 26 October 1929 in Osterode, Germany, succumbed to lung cancer in Peterborough on 01 December 2012. Ernie immigrated to Canada in 1953, and came to Peterborough on the recommendation of a man he met on the ship. He found work as an orderly at St Joseph’s Hospital where he met Registered Nurse Muriel Doris Calberry of Hastings. They were married 26th October 1955. He began barbering in 1954, operating Ernie’s Barber Shop on Hunter Street, and later on Simcoe Street, until retiring “a legend in barbering” in September 2012. Ernie was an avid angler and horse-racing enthusiast. He is survived by his loving wife Doris, son Paul Elliott Allen Kalwa of Peterborough, son Ernest Larry Kalwa (Elysia DeLaurentis) of Elora, sister Elli and brother Walter, both of Germany. He is predeceased by his parents Johann and Augusta Kalwa (née Opalka), brothers Adolf and Paul, and sisters Ida and Hedwig, all of Germany.

It amazes me to learn that Ernie was still barbering until two years ago, 27 years after I first walked in his door.

Thank you, Ernie, for filling an important void in my life at an important time. And for getting me started in the writing game.

I Grew up at Trent Radio

Perhaps no institution was as important to my education in my twenties as Trent Radio, the campus-community radio station in Peterborough, Ontario.

My entrée to the station came via an ad in the October 7, 1985 issue of Arthur, the Trent University student newspaper:

Clipping from Arthur, Volume 20, Issue 5

The meeting was well attended: among others there was Betsy Trumpener, Stephen Badhwar, Thomas Haig, and Jake Berkowitz. The product of that first meeting was a radio series we called “Nouspeak” and we were quick off the mark: in the very next issue of Arthur I had this update in the Letters section:

Clipping from Arthur, volume 20 issue 6.

And by the November 11 issue of Arthur we were already running “best of” episodes:

Clipping from Arthur, Volume 20 Issue 9

My first piece aired on Thursday, November 21, 1985; titled “Phoning the Kremlin: Getting the Feel of a Global Village,” it consisted entirely of my attempt to phone somebody at the Kremlin in Moscow, a montage of various conversations with international telephone operators playing over Supertramp’s Fool’s Overture:

Clipping from Arthur, Volume 20 issue 10

While I can’t make any claims to it having been great radio, it was an interesting experience, and I regret that there is no copy extant (my personal copy was stolen in a house break-in some years later).

I continued to be involved with Trent Radio for several years after that initial foray, producing music programs, an experimental unhosted call-in show called “Dead Air” (a tape loop ran over and over inviting callers to phone and “fill up the dead air”; as soon as they called, they went live to air with no intermediation), and a variety of other shows, both musical and spoken word. I worked as an “operator” (Trent Radio parlance for “the person who unlocks the doors and makes sure the producers show up), as the paid programme director. And I took on Trent Radio’s “producer oriented radio” mantra – wherein the emphasis is on radio production, not radio consumption – as a personal one, something that stays with me to this day.

Over the 5 years I spent in and around Trent Radio in various capacities I made good friends, fell in and out of love several times, and learned much, much more than I ever learned in the single year I spent as a student actually enrolled at Trent. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Trent Radio is where I grew up, and I owe the institution a great debt for that.

I was moved to write all this because today is the day that Trent Radio is celebrating Trent University’s 50th birthday; starting at 17:00 Eastern Daylight Time, you can listen in to the Trent Radio web stream and hear programming from producers-past. Here’s the broadcast schedule, liberated from Facebook:

  • Friday August 8th: 17:00 Barb Woolner; 18:00 Glen Caradus; 19:00 Paul Cleveland; 20:00 Atticus Bakowsky; 21:00 Bill Kimball; 22:00 Laurel Paluck; 23:00 Jack Smye; 23:30 Alex Karas.
  • Saturday August 9th: 00:00 Andrew Foogarasi; 01:00 James Kerr; 02:00 Sable Guttman; 03:00 Anthony Gulston; 04:00 Jess Grover; 05:00 Matt Jarvis; 06:00 Blair Sanderson; 07:00 Stephen Couchman; 08:00 Good & Country; 09:00 Jim Doran; 10:00 Steven May; 11:00 Rob Thompson; 12:00 Me Show; 13:00 Trent Radio Hangout LIVE w/Anthony Gulston & Philip Benmore; 18:00 “Arthur” Live; 21:00 Live from the Sadleir House Dining Hall.
  • Sunday August 10th: 02:00 “A” is for Aftermath w/Joe Lewis.

I recognize many of those names, and I’ll be listening.

But I didn't like when others did so...

I’ve been reading House: A Memoir, by Michael Ruhlman, and really enjoying it. Who would have thought you could make a chapter on pre-purchase home inspection a gripping read?

The book, in addition to being a blow-by-blow account of the purchase and renovation of an old Cleveland home, is also a paean to Cleveland itself.

Ruhlman writes, while walking over the Lorain-Carnegie Bridge, for example:

I loved traversing this bridge for this view of the city and its terrain, a city beside a river basic. And I loved Cleveland unabashedly, but like most here I have a bipolar relationship with it. I could adore it and denigrate it in the same breath, often for the same reasons. But I didn’t like when others did so.

Could the same thing not be said about Prince Edward Islanders?

Indeed, not understanding this very fact is likely a primary reason why new Islanders are so often chewed up and spat out: unless you can find the right tone at the right time – and “the right time” involves a 10 to 15 year long quiet period – it’s usually best to say nothing critical about the Island lest your opinions be taken not as the loving self-criticism of one who belongs but rather as a holier-than-thou pronouncement from one who doesn’t.

Bertha Called

The Old Farmer’s Almanac long-range weather forecast for the Atlantic Canada region for today called for “tropical storm threat”:

Screen shot from showing long-range forecast.

Environment Canada’s tropical cyclone information statement for today:

Bertha is now being declared a post-tropical storm. The forecast for offshore waters remains unchanged. Minimal effects for land areas except for some ocean swells.

Like they say:

However, although neither we nor any other forecasters have as yet gained sufficient insight into the mysteries of the universe to predict the weather with total accuracy, our results are almost always very close to our traditional claim of 80 percent.