June 3, 2012
Doors Open Ottawa: Lights, Ambulances

For our second day of Doors Open Ottawa we visited the Ottawa Citizen, the Chaudière Falls Generating Station No. 2 and the Ottawa Paramedics.


I was disappointed by the Ottawa Citizen tour, probably because it had the potential to be one of my favourite locations ever. You'll notice there are no pictures. That's because they told me "no pictures in the building". Other people took pictures without penalty, but since I specifically asked (and Elizabeth heard the question and answer) I figured I'd better not.


The other disappointment was that they were taking pictures of participants and making a front page mock-up, but we were told that our tour was starting right away and didn't have time to have this done. I figured we could do it afterwards but that's not how it worked. Yukiko and I wished that how things worked was a little more obvious. We can understand why they didn't have the presses operating (although that would be infinitely cooler), but some parts could have been staged - for instance they could have had a few papers hanging from the clips on the ceiling to show how that works.


It was still neat though, and given that the staff were likely all still reeling from layoff announcements earlier in the week I think they did a good job. I was interested to learn that the Ottawa Citizen has been around since 1845 (as the Bytown Packet). They create four aluminum plates of each page (black, red, yellow and cyan). I guess I knew that each colour is printed separately but I was picturing something more like a giant computer printer rather than separate aluminum plates for each somehow. They do recycle the aluminum afterwards!


Our tour guide made a point of telling us that newsprint is environmentally friendly, as it only uses forestry byproducts (wood chips and recycled newsprint). The ink is apparently soy based. That's the primary reason we don't get a newspaper ourselves - I HATE getting newspaper ink on my fingers. That's the main reason I quit delivering pennysavers back in the day...


Newsprint is delivered in huge rolls (1500 pounds each). The roll at the center is disproportionately small - really itty bitty. They have special round fork lifts and the rolls are stored on raised platforms so they don't have to lift them onto the cool little carts. All of this would be easier to show than to describe...


After the Citizen we headed out to see "where our lights come from". Number 2 is the oldest generating station in Canada. Built in 1891 (and refurbished in 2001 carefully to preserve heritage elements), it is part of three Hydro Ottawa generating stations at that location. Together they generate 18 megawatts or 2% of Ottawa's power needs. That's pretty cool! There's a 1910 ring dam up at the top protecting the Hydro Ottawa and Hydro Quebec stations.


There's not too much to the facility, but they did a good job of showing us around and answering questions. We got to see a video showing the trash rack in operation (cleaning out the river!) There was a hydro truck and a few little demos. Elizabeth LOVED the part where she got to answer questions about electricity and win prizes (they were very lenient). She did not enjoy the electrocution hazard house, mainly because the noise of electricity arcing was not appreciated.


We probably should have gone home for a nap after Sunday school followed by two Doors Open Ottawa locations, but Elizabeth was keen to go to another one so we headed to the Paramedics. Mom and Dad found this a lot more interesting than Elizabeth did. I think our tour was particularly in depth because we had a former paramedic from Florida in our group and he asked a lot of questions.


Apparently we have more than 400 paramedics in our city. By weekday afternoons there are about 50-60 ambulances on the roads with two paramedics per ambulance. Most paramedics have twelve hour shifts. They cover a 2800 km area (wow...)  The busiest day of the year by far is Canada Day, when volume triples. So you should be extra careful on Canada Day apparently. New Year's Eve and Hallowe'en are also particularly busy.


I was interested to learn that the dispatching technology is standard across Ontario. If an ambulance from Petawawa crosses into the Ottawa area, Ottawa dispatchers immediately have dispatching control over the vehicle. This is not true for Gatineau. Even though it is much closer Quebec has a different radio structure and they are unable to communicate. Suspect this is partly why emergency response on the river along the provincial boundary is still a bit tricky!


The paramedics do a lot of standardization of equipment. Bags are laid out in the same way and everything is shrinkwrapped on site so that they know whether it needs resterilization / restocking or not. Their maintenance program is also quite extensive. The stretchers apparently know how many times they go up and down and report this back. When they've lifted a certain weight or been folded / unfolded a certain number of times they get tagged for maintenance. Everything has bar codes and tags. When the tags get taken off the bags, the equipment guys know they have to recheck the contents. They also have a massive storehouse for all their supplies and medications. Apparently they order all medical supplies for the city of Ottawa!


They've just opened a new bariatrics unit with special ramps, powered winches and increased surface area on the stretchers. They are also particularly proud of their stair lift stretchers, since they mentioned numerous times.


Aside from special ramps and stretchers, they have a lot of different kinds of vehicles. From portable emergency rooms in a bus (complete with oxygen and all kinds of monitors) to utility vehicles, to rapid response cars, to bicycles - they really have everything. The bike squad has a pretty impressive amount of equipment packed into their saddle bags, including miniature defibrillators! There's even a unit that can bring out equipment and supplies to restock ambulances in the field, complete with its own generator and lights, in case of large disaster like a plane crash. Or for Canada Day...


What they don't have is air ambulances, since that's managed at a provincial level (instead of municipal). Apparently paramedics need special training to handle providing care at an altitude. Did I mention I learned a lot on this tour?


The paramedics have their own car wash and mechanic. They used to centralize maintenance but it took two vehicles and two techs out of service. The things hanging from the ceiling are power cords. Everything has onboard computers that must be charged. The charger apparently only works if needed (trickle power?) The fleet is currently diesel, but they are switching to gas. Apparently Ford was unable to meet Californian ambulance emission standards with diesel. Interesting to know that California laws dictate our choice of fuel!


Overall I was left with the impression that the paramedics have made huge progress in streamlining their operations. They've struggled with response times in the not so distant past but when our paramedic guide insisted that they've turned a corner I believed him.


After our tour Elizabeth got to sit in an actual ambulance and watch another kid get hooked up to a heart monitor. It's safe to say that this was definitely her favourite part.

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June 2, 2012
Doors Open Ottawa: Dogs, Trains, Buses

Doors Open Ottawa fell on our eleventh wedding anniversary, so while we indulged in chocolate waffles (Pinterest made me do it) we spent the bulk of the day touring neat Ottawa buildings.


Our first stop was the Canadian Guide Dogs for the Blind. There were dogs. At first it was terrifying and Elizabeth wanted to be carried. Then it became merely concerning. By the end of the tour, Elizabeth actually patted a dog. Maybe the first time she's ever touched one?


We got to tour the kennels. The dogs are highly trained. They sleep on special raised dog beds because they are never allowed on furniture.  They never receive treats aside from a little extra kibble (their ordinary food). They aren't allowed to play fetch. They are trained not to bark. Elizabeth was particularly interested to know where the dogs went to the bathroom. Turns out that they are trained to go on command. I guess the office wouldn't be too happy if the service dog had an "accident" inside, and since the dogs are working, they can't be the ones in charge of the toilet schedule. Dog owners: this means that your dog doesn't have to pee on my lawn! They can be trained to go on yours!


Anyway, keeping the people firmly in charge of the dogs clearly works - these were the most well behaved dogs I have ever seen. The only barking we heard were from dogs that were in a separate area and apparently just arrived.


After touring the kennels, we watched a demonstration by a "guide dog mobility instructor" with dogs at various levels of training. The dogs train for two years before they get matched to a human, and then they spend another four weeks at the facility training together.  We got a tour of the training facility too! At first the dogs work without the harness. Aside from learning that guide dogs pee on command, the most interesting thing I learned was that because dogs are colour blind, they don't decide when to cross at a traffic light. The human students have to listen for traffic and decide when it is safe. I had been interested in the puppy walking program, but was disappointed to discover that it's not as short as I had thought. I was thinking that having a dog for a few months would be fun, but a year or more is a longer commitment than we could make right now. Of course, it turns out that Elizabeth is apparently allergic to dogs so maybe that wouldn't work out anyway.


After the dogs, Elizabeth was so keen to visit more places that she initially refused lunch. Then we reminded her we were eating at a restaurant and she quickly capitulated. Apparently restaurants equal chocolate milk and are therefore popular. In a vain attempt to convince her that we don't just eat at Swiss Chalet, we ate at Kelsey's instead, but turns out the kid's menus are remarkably similar! The gluten free menu told me I could eat potato skins, but they use the same oil for breaded products. Luckily the manager was on the ball and they managed to avoid poisoning me.


After the restaurant we headed to the OC Transpo train yards to check out the O-Train. Elizabeth got to drive! The O-train is our local 7.8km line. It makes four stops and runs the entire route in about twelve minutes. When the train is going 64km/hour, it takes 130 m to stop. The maximum speed they've ever recorded was 85km/hour, but strangely they have no idea what their average speed is. I was a little surprised to discover that driving the train was as simple as pushing a lever forward or backwards, with one twist. Apparently there is a computerized system that requires the driver to make certain random motions (tapping a particular pedal, or pushing a button) in order to prove that they haven't died. We can't quite remember how often this was, but it was at least every couple of minutes and possibly as often as every thirty seconds. Also, I hope our LRT trains come from somewhere closer than Germany, because as the engineer giving the presentation pointed out, getting parts takes a long time when you have to send them by ship. They apparently frequently cannibalize the spare train for parts and then hope nothing else breaks!


After the O-Train, Elizabeth wanted to see the buses again. I was easily convinced. I think car washes are pretty exciting - I'm not sure if it's the swishy soap on the windows or the possibility of disaster (get my dad to tell you about that time he unrolled his windows) but in any case sitting through a bus wash is definitely my idea of entertainment! I also heard that there was going to be a Presto demo. Presto is the new bus pass / ticket system. Basically you can fill your card online or at a kiosk and then tap it on the bus. You can share a bus pass among multiple people. I'm excited about Presto because I find getting tickets super painful, so the idea of being able to refill is good. Having to wait 24 hours before your money is available is annoying though at least you can make one negative trip.


Quite a number of people I know are annoyed about having to trade privacy (tickets) for lower rates (Presto card). This is actually not necessarily the case. OC Transpo won't have access to the Presto accounts - so they won't know names, credit cards or addresses. And if you don't want to give that information to Presto either, you do not need to register your card. In that case you cannot refill the card online, nor can you transfer your balance to a new card in the case of theft or loss, but your card would be totally anonymous. 


A few days after Doors Open Ottawa, the program start date was delayed due to problems tapping the card. I actually witnessed those problems first hand. The Presto "ambassadors" had a stack of about fifty cards that they were tapping to show me various things. They kept switching cards because it wasn't doing the right thing, but at the time explained it as being a symptom of having been "used" for previous demo. Yeah, right!

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May 29, 2012
Good Helper
The blue box might be bigger than she is, but such a thing isn't about to stop a determined preschooler from being "a good helper".
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May 28, 2012

We've had two Ray's living with us, briefly at the same time.


Raymond lived with us a few years ago and has just finished his Master's (Architecture). He dropped by to say hi and show us his fabulous plans for modular, high density housing. Did you know that Hong Kong has "apartments" that are essentially big enough for a (filthy) bed and nothing else? He rented a place where over a dozen (17?) adults shared one bathroom as part of his studies. I had pictured Hong Kong as a pretty prosperous place, so I was rather shocked by the photos and floor plans. We are extremely blessed! I hope that Ray's plans can make a practical difference.


I believe Elizabeth took the opportunity to demonstrate her abilities as a sheepdog mimic. As she does.

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May 27, 2012
Elizabeth begged to wear this to church today for Pentecost. I had told her that she should wear something the colour of fire...
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