AI and Text Messages

Google is rolling out a lot of updates to its text messaging suite this month; most recent is the appearance of context-sensitive suggested replies.

In this case it did a good job: its suggested replies were very close to what I actually replied, manually.

drop around map paper

I have the benefit of having, in my friend Andrea Ledwell, a design-focused Toronto concierge who never steers me wrong.

On last week’s trip to the city, Andrea again showed her expertise, first by guiding us to the delightful FIKA Café in Kensington Market, where I enjoyed an iced coffee spiced with cardomom bitters and mint, and where Oliver, Andrea and I passed a very pleasant few hours in the early summer afternoon catching up.

From FIKA we walked to Wonder Pens on Clinton Street, a store after my own heart that evokes the best stationery shops in Berlin.

Along with ink cartridges and some glassine envelopes, I purchased a pad of “map paper” from the Japanese studio drop around:

Drop Around Map Paper

Inside detail of Drop Around Map Paper

It’s an inventively-crafted tool that comes with a handy guide to its use on the inside front cover. And exactly the kind of object I strive to create. Be sure to check out drop around’s range of paper goods in its web shop; excellent food for thought.

A New Driveway for 100 Prince Street

Between our house at 100 Prince Street and our neighbours toward the water at 98 Prince Street is our driveway and, on their side of the property line, a strip of sidewalk that leads to their backyard.

When we bought the house in 2000 our asphalt driveway was already in sorry shape, and in the years since it has only gotten worse, due a combination of freeze-thaw action, our car parking on it, and the occasional piece of heavy equipment driving over it.

We’ve been talking to our neighbours Karen and Angus about doing something about the driveway for a couple of years, and Angus, an engineer, perfectionist, and great lover of the neighbourhood, took it upon himself to adopt this as his personal mission this summer.

Over the last 3 days, Angus and his son Henry, and Henry’s friend Jacob, have, through sheer strength of will and back, turned the former asphalt driveway into rubble, leaving us with a fresh canvas for a new poured-concrete creation that Angus has fixed in his imagination.

Before the concrete gets poured, we’re going to have a mason in to look at the also-crumbling brickwork that makes up the top 2 feet of our foundation, but that should be (we hope) quick work, and, assuming Angus maintains his frenetic pace, we should be parking on a new driveway by month’s end.

Following William Lyon Mackenzie

Until last week, I’d conflated William Lyon Mackenzie and William Lyon Mackenzie King, despite them occupying different centuries. I wasn’t entirely off-base, as the former is the latter’s grandfather. And both played an important role in the political life of Canada. But: two people, not one.

This all came into sharp focus a week ago today when, passing through Queenston while from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Niagara Falls, we came to a sign pointing to the Mackenzie Printery. I immediately veered left, recalling that this was the site of an important part of Canada’s printing history, and a collection of historic printing equipment to boot.

Photo of the Mackenzie Printery

I was not disappointed: the Mackenzie Printery is the restored home and office of William Lyon Mackenzie (the elder of my conflation), a young Scot who immigrated to Canada at 25. He went on to found the Colonial Advocate, a important element in the march toward responsible government in Canada.

The Printery celebrates Mackenzie’s early life, and the art of letterpress printing, and a visit includes a couple of hands-on printing exercises that allows one to get a feel for metal type and the process of printing on a common press. Here’s my mother setting her name:

My Mother setting FRANCES in metal type

The story of the Colonial Advocate itself is an interesting one. Issue № 1, which the Printery sells reprints of, lists the members of its initial mailing list, which included the Marquis La Fayette and the President of the United States. The balance of the issue is the report of a coroner’s jury about the accidental death (or was it!?) of one Colonel Nichol. Despite the 194 years since it was published, it’s a gripping read.

Photo of Colonial Advocate, Issue Number One

The Colonial Advocate started life in Queenston but moved, with Mackenzie, to Toronto, where its offices were the scene of the 1826 raid, by forces tied to Ontario’s ruling oligarchs, of the newspaper’s offices and the subsequent dumping of the paper’s type into Lake Ontario. This attack came to be known as the “Types Riot,” and Mackenzie’s blow-by-blow deconstruction of the events is fascinating. It includes a lovely map of the area surrounding the office (which you can better situate if you compare it to this 1827 map of the city)

A Map of the Types Riot

Two days later, Oliver and I found ourselves with a day to ramble around Toronto, and our travels took us to the same “Market Square” pictured in the map (the current site of St. Lawrence Market) and then up George Street to Adelaide Street (then known as Duke Street) to the site of Toronto’s First Post Office, now a post office again, and the site of a small museum of postal and local history. Where, as it happens, we found a sketch of William Lyon Mackenzie and a brief paragraph about how his advocacy included concerns about the corruption of the mails.

From the post office, we walked along Adelaide to Church, up Church to Dundas, and along Dundas to Bond, where we visited Mackenzie House, the townhouse where William Lyon Mackenzie lived at the end of his life. Between his early days in Queenston, beyond his publishing activities, Mackenzie declared an independent Republic of Canada on Navy Island in the Niagara River, served in the Legislature, was the first mayor of Toronto, staged the failed Upper Canada Rebellion, lived in exile in the USA, and served in the Legislative Assembly again.

Photo of Mackenzie House on Bond Street in Toronto

Mackenzie House, beyond its interpretation of Mackenzie and the life of his family, presents a tableau of mid-19th century middle class life in Toronto. We had an excellent tour guide to show us the house and to explain Mackenzie and his times, especially how his family fit into the social framework of the city. In the modern addition at the back of the property is a very complete print shop–another homage to Mackenzie’s life as a printer–where we saw a school group busy at work learning the basics of setting type and printing.

The master bedroom of the house is on the top floor of the house and it’s where Mackenzie died in 1861. While his actual bed is no more the nightstand beside it was his own, and room had a palpable feel of historical importance to it.

The room where William Lyon Mackenzie died.

We didn’t go to Ontario to seek out William Lyon Mackenzie, but I’m so glad that he found his way into the fabric of our travels; he deserves more veneration than he’s received as a Canadian pioneer of printing, publishing and politics.

Mobile Phone Carrier Locking 2.0

My first couple of mobile phones were ones that I bought directly from Island Tel Mobility, the only local wireless carrier at the time on Prince Edward Island. I had to buy a phone from them because their CDMA network didn’t support phones with SIM cards; only their phones worked on their network.

When Rogers moved into the PEI market, with its GSM network, an entirely new world of phone choice opened up because Rogers allowed you to purchase a SIM card from them and stick it in whatever device you wanted and, as long as the device supported Rogers’ GSM frequencies, you were good to go.

Since that time, I’ve only ever used unlocked phones I’ve purchased outright from places other than carriers, and I’ve never had any problems both using these locally (first with Rogers, then with Virgin and, most recently, with Eastlink) and while traveling (by obtaining a local SIM in whatever country I’m in for temporary use; like this time in Berlin, for example).

I’ve always believed strongly that I should have the freedom to bring whatever hardware I want to a wireless carrier, and I’ve always avoided the “free” locked phones, with their long-term contracts, that carriers have long used as a way of locking in customers.

A year ago, here in Canada, the CRTC, which regulates the wireless industry, supported this philosophy by requiring phones to only be sold unlocked, and by banning unlocking fees.

This week I’ve learned that my current carrier, Eastlink Wireless, has taken a step backwards, and will now only support phones that it sells itself (a limited list that includes iPhones, and several Samsung and LG models of Android phone). They no longer support general-purpose “bring you own phone,” something I’ve had confirmed by email, chat and a telephone conversation (I simply couldn’t believe it was true).

It remains unclear to me whether I’m required to use one of the phones from this list, or whether they simply won’t support other phones; here’s what a salesperson emailed me when I asked:

We have launched our new Voice over LTE network across PEI and the phones that can connect to our new network must be compatible. We have a full suite of Volte phones available but do not bring over non Volte devices at this time. They will not connect to our 4g LTE Volte network and therefore will not give you optimum coverage.

The conceit here appears to be that, to optimize its spectrum, Eastlink is emphasizing its Voice Over LTE service (Volte), and has decided only to support Volte-capable phones, and, additionally, they’ve only decided to support the subset of Volte-capable phones that they sell themselves.

I can bring one of these phones to Eastlink, unlocked, and they’ll support it, so it’s not a complete prohibition against “bring your own phone,” but it remains a significant departure from past-practice, and a blow to customer hardware freedom.

I’m looking for someplace else to take my business.

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