Shared posts

02 Aug 00:32

When driverless cars take over

by alevin

The trouble with Reid Hoffman’s provocative suggestion that human driving ought to be made illegal that once self-driving cars are commercially available is not that it’s a bad idea. The trouble is a technodeterminist vision of the future of electric cars, taking for granted the existing, comprehensive set of policies that currently makes driving essential for most people for most trips in the US.

When automobiles became mainstream in mid-20th century America, they were seen as bringing freedom, speed and mobility. To take best advantage of the new technology, we set up rules for our streets and new places to facilitate free, fast movement of cars. Zoning rules defined peaceful, quiet neighborhoods with curvy, disconnected streets and easy drive and a long walk from the wide roads that allowed speedy car access to shopping, schools and workplaces. The wide roads eliminated obstacles to speedy travel, such as trees and crossing pedestrians; parking requirements ensured enough room for everyone even at crowded periods.

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 7.47.49 PM.png

The hopeful planners did not foresee that funnelling the entire working population into arterials and freeways in the morning and afternoon, would cause intractable traffic jams. Policy makers did not imagine that requiring car trips for all the needs of daily life would contribute to sedentary lifestyles, chronic health problems and environmental pollution. Though policy makers were quite deliberate about the intentions of financing and road-building policies to promote greenfield growth, giving some people unprecedented access to sunny, landscaped estates, and escape from the dark, dangerous, crowded cities. (see: Crabgrass Frontier, Dead End)

Full of optimism, we did not see that this new technology – private cars – had a few disadvantages compared to 2 million year old technology – walking on two feet – that used regularly keeps us physically and mentally healthy (now we have new wearable, networked technology to remind us to use the 2 million year old system). The new automobile technology also had some disadvantages compared to century-old transit technology, which can fit many more people at crowded travel periods.

New technology reminds us to use old technology

New technology reminds us to use old technology

The new technology was valuable, but we overused it, and we shaped our world using a set of policies to require the new technology even where it is not the best tool for the job. Technology creates new options, but societies makes choices about the ways the technology will be used.

A similar technodetermism is influencing conversations about self-driving cars. Eager proponents note that autonomous vehicles will be able to platoon and take up less space on freeways and arterials – but cars still take up more space than buses and trains, as Jarrett Walker reminds us. Instead, autonomous vehicles could provide handy first/last mile access to high-capacity transit.

Vehicle geometry

Vehicle geometry

Proponents note that autonomous vehicles will park themselves, so they won’t require as much real estate devoted to parking. Yes, but if all the autonomous vehicles are used at the same time, they will still be underused at the same time.   And when we cluster places with different functions, it becomes easier for people to use ancient technology for many trips and for socializing, freeing up even more space.

Supporters foresee that driverless cars will popularize living in the furthest exurbs, since commuters will be able to relax, work, and even use an exercycle while the car drives itself. And this may be preferable for some people; it’s not clear why society should prefer and promote commuting 50 miles with a bicycle enclosed in a shell of metal, rather than 5 miles on cycle tracks under a big blue roof.

The last 60 years have contributed plenty of evidence about ways that the overuse of cars has led to unintended consequences. Autonomous vehicles may well become much safer than notoriously lethal human drivers, such that it will be beneficial to ban driving.

It may be a great idea from a public-health perspective. It would surely be huge benefit to providers of self-driving cars, because it would shorten the decade-plus long cycle to turn over the installed base of cars (the average car on the road is 11 years old.)

Hoffman predicts “An asphalt utopia is on the horizon. ”  The proponents of horseless carriages also envisioned an asphalt utopia, and rewrote the rules to promote that utopia.  While we are doing thought experiments about this potentially transformative policy change, it would be helpful to think through the interlocking set of policies that were created when cars were new, and to consider how we want to use the next generation of new technology, rather than assuming that the new technology will be used for everyone and everything, because it is new.

01 Aug 15:43

Braintrust: Desktop for Ubuntu?

A question for the Scripting News braintrust...

First, remember that I am working on the new EC2 for Poets. I am talking about software that will be pre-installed on a Ubuntu-based AMI that's designed for people who use Macs and PCs, so they can run apps in the cloud.

I make several such apps, for example River4, PagePark, Noderunner and the amazingly useful and adaptable nodeStorage.

The best desktop for Ubuntu?

Now that the standard recital is out of the way...

I'm thinking about including a desktop interface, so that people who like Finder-like graphic filesystem browsers (such as myself, for example) in addition to command-line interfaces (for the discerning server connoisseur) will be happy using their cloud-based app server.

Which one?

There seem to be three choices.

  1. Gnome.

  2. Unity.

  3. Lubuntu.

I have no preference, and no basis to make a choice.

Please read before commenting

I know a lot of people will say "Don't do it," so you can skip that. I want to understand what the choices are if I choose to include a desktop in the AMI. I expect a few people won't read this and will write long missives about why this is Not A Good Idea. To them I say zzzz, in advance.

Dan MacTough's howto

In January 2014 I was emailing with Dan MacTough on this question, and he wrote a howto for installing VNC on a server and connecting to it from the Mac desktop.

30 Jul 15:48

The Secret Language of Desire

Megan Heyward

A lyrical erotic story for the iPad by the Australian hypertext writer-filmmaker who wrote the haunting dreamscape Of Day, Of Night. This isn't a hypertext, precisely, but a series of vignettes, artfully typeset against (mildly) interactive illustration.

It’s published for the iPad. It costs $4. You should get a copy.

Not every image works here, and not every gesture does everything we might wish. That’s OK. Not every little work needs to be a perfect gem or a revelation. A youngish women rediscovers desire; it's been said before, but it’s not been said this way. And so now our language is a little bigger and a little better.

Em Short has, as usual, a well-wrought review.

31 Jul 16:48

Falsehoods Programmers Believe

Falsehoods programmers believe: a list of lists about false assumptions on names, addresses, geography, time, and more. Great stuff. Via Michael Tsai, via Jeff Atwood.

When you see a list like:

  1. There are always 24 hours in a day.
  2. Months have either 30 or 31 days.
  3. Years have 365 days.
  4. February is always 28 days long.
  5. Any 24-hour period will always begin and end in the same day (or week, or month).

You veer between “oh, that would be stupid” and “oh, that would never really come up.” You’d be amazed how often you really bump into these things. There’s a bug in the Tinderbox tests that panics the day before Daylight Savings Time. We used to have a February 29th bug – and my next-door neighbor has a Feb. 29 birthday, so you’d think I’d know about that. And – fast! if it’s now 12:59:00 PM on December 24, what’s the date exactly sixty seconds from now?

30 Jul 22:43

Twitter Favorites: [danudey] I can see this being really useful for e.g. grepping a file then clearing output without wiping your entire history. https://t.co/nDOGjc9OSO

Wile E. Cyrus @danudey
I can see this being really useful for e.g. grepping a file then clearing output without wiping your entire history. twitter.com/danielboedewad…
01 Aug 15:14

Twitter Favorites: [TheDrewStarr] Just saw a sweet old lady give tourists completely wrong directions to Fenway Park. I caught her eye. "Yankees fans," she said.

Drew Starr @TheDrewStarr
Just saw a sweet old lady give tourists completely wrong directions to Fenway Park. I caught her eye. "Yankees fans," she said.
01 Aug 15:57

Twitter Favorites: [apike] Can’t Stop the Music: the ups and downs of trying to play music on iOS. http://t.co/5b96eWYQ9j

Allen Pike @apike
Can’t Stop the Music: the ups and downs of trying to play music on iOS. allenpike.com/2015/cant-stop…
01 Aug 18:41

Twitter Favorites: [heyrickie] Saw this person on the bus earlier. I just hope it's the last time she wears those suspenders. #transittales http://t.co/DX9V9OELf9

Eric Bucad @heyrickie
Saw this person on the bus earlier. I just hope it's the last time she wears those suspenders. #transittales pic.twitter.com/DX9V9OELf9
01 Aug 21:41

Competitive Outrage

by Rex Hammock

I haven’t commented on the outrage of the week, the killing of Zimbabwe’s “most beloved lion,” Cecil, by a big game hunting dentist from Minnesota named Walter Palmer.

By the time I was aware of the Cecil killing, the internet outrage was far more than anything I could come up with, so I passed even tweeting about it. Besides, the only thing I could think of to say that I hadn’t seen before was how white the dentist’s teeth were — obviously, a Photoshop job.

The competitive nature of internet outrage is fascinating.

My recent post about the Confederate flag could certainly be categorized in the competitive outrage genre. And I’ve been holding off on a review of Go Set a Watchman because, after reading it, I haven’t been able to care enough about the book to conjure up the competitive outrage it deserves.

Rather than attempt to explain what I mean by competitive, I’ve decided I can’t come close to the essay, “My Outrage is Better Than Your Outrage,” by James Hamblin at TheAtlantic.com.

He does it so much better. Quote:

“The Internet launders outrage and returns it to us as validation, in the form of likes and stars and hearts. The greatest return comes from a strong and superior point of view, on high moral ground. And there is, fortunately and unfortunately, always higher moral ground. Even when a dentist kills an adorable lion, and everyone is upset about it, there’s better outrage ground to be won.

“The most widely accepted hierarchy of outrage seems to be (note: I’ve added rearranged Hamblin’s following list into a graphic hierarchy):

*************End of all life due to uninhabitable planet
***********Systematic killing of humans
*********Systematic oppression/torture of people
******Systematic killing of animals
****Multiple animals killed
**Single animal killed
Single animal injured

“To say that there’s a more important issue in the world is always true, except in the case of climate change ending all life, both human and animal. So it’s meaningless, even if it’s fun, to go around one-upping people’s outrage. Try it. Someone will express legitimate concern over something, and all you have to do is say there are more important things to be concerned about.

“All you have to do is use the phrase “spare me” and then say something about global warming. You can literally write, “My outrage is more legit than your outrage! Ahhh!”

Read the entire essay here.

02 Aug 00:03

Review: Smartphones and the NissanConnect infotainment system

by Ted Kritsonis

It’s not a stretch to suggest that Nissan doesn’t have a reputation for cutting-edge infotainment. Japanese car manufacturers have made leaps and bounds in safety, fuel economy and proximity awareness, but the dashboard continues to be a difficult road.

This is, in many respects, an industry-wide problem that has proven difficult to solve, and Nissan’s NissanConnect is no closer to doing so than any of its competitors. In offering navigation, basic integration and connectivity, the system is in line with much of what’s already available elsewhere, but how does it measure up when put through its paces?

To find out, I took a fully-loaded 2015 Nissan Rogue for a weeklong test drive.

Design and setup

At first glance, NissanConnect seems fairly straightforward. The 7-inch display isn’t particularly vibrant, and the software’s aesthetics come across as uninspiring. The touchscreen display is flanked by all the buttons that help control the system, offering shortcuts to the various features offered.

The system also eschews icons in favour of text-heavy menus and graphics. It’s not as boring as it may sound, given that the layout is done in such a way where most things are easy to find. The hard buttons around the screen do come in handy for getting to a specific feature without even looking at the display.

There is a USB port under the display, along with a 12-volt socket next to it. These are the primary Aux-In inputs in the car, though I also found a 3.5mm jack in the centre console as well.

NissanConnect app_1

Smartphone integration

Not surprisingly, pairing via Bluetooth was a breeze the first time. I was already connected and streaming music in less than three minutes. Basic navigation controls to switch tracks is easy enough, though I noted inconsistencies there. There were times where trying to skip a track, either from the steering wheel controls or the dash, did nothing. Other times, I had to plug in the phone via the USB connection below to make it work.

At one point, my iPhone refused to stream music to the system after three days of testing. I raised the volume, tried unpairing and re-pairing, closing and re-opening apps. Nothing worked. Phone calls would be fine, but not the music for some inexplicable reason. When trying it again on my last day with the car, re-pairing it once more seemed to fix whatever bizarre issue it was.

Voice activation isn’t truly integrated with any third-party, including Siri Eyes Free, thereby underutilizing what could be a much better path to get things done. For example, Nissan smartly includes a feature that notifies drivers of an incoming text message. If I wanted to know what it was, I could press the accept button onscreen and it would appear or read it aloud. This worked flawlessly with Android (Jelly Bean or higher) and BlackBerry, but the latter didn’t for the iPhone.

To be fair, this isn’t Nissan’s fault because Apple regulates voice activation in vehicles through Siri Eyes Free. Nissan in the United States did announce that some 2016 models will support it, and it’s highly likely that Canada would be included in such a rollout, except such a feature is never backward compatible with past vehicles.

Not having texts read out became more of an issue for me after getting accustomed to it on Android and BlackBerry. With some other automakers having already integrated Siri Eyes Free in their 2015 vehicles, Nissan is late to the game. Still, audible texting, including the ability to respond vocally, is also a strength Nissan could play up more. In other systems I’ve tested, I never had the opportunity to respond to someone using my voice unless there was deeper voice integration or canned responses.

Making calls is easy enough, albeit with unnecessary steps. Pressing the voice activation button on the steering wheel, I had to wait for the system to ask me what I wanted before I could issue a command. I could say “call (name)” so long as they were on my contact list. But to call a phone number, I had to say “call”, then “dial” and then recite the number. It was pointless red tape to make a simple call to someone not on my contact list.

App integration

By default, NissanConnect supports Facebook, Twitter, Google and TripAdvisor, but no streaming music or mapping apps (outside of its own navigation map). Facebook and Twitter is fairly limited, letting you have tweets and home feed statuses read out to you, while also allowing you to customize canned tweets or status updates that you can post. You can also retweet something on a whim.

As someone who has never been a fan of social media prominence in a vehicle, I only tested them before shutting them down on the NissanConnect app. It just isn’t for me.

Beyond that, Google and TripAdvisor are too specialized to warrant much consideration. Doing a Google search requires the phone’s data connection, which is a wasteful redundancy. I would rather have a passenger do it, or if alone, do it on the phone when I’ve stopped somewhere. Same with TripAdvisor.

Metadata for music playing from a music app or streaming service will appear onscreen (cover art requires plugging in via USB), but there is no way to use a mapping app of your choice.

Outside of that, the free NissanConnect app doesn’t offer much depth. It’s the only way to integrate the four supported apps, and does include some vehicle-specific features as a car owner, but is otherwise not required to use the system.

NissanConnect 2_1

Wrap Up

For a basic system, NissanConnect does the basics well enough. Bluetooth connectivity is standard. Streaming music is fairly easy, with the odd hiccup. Calling and texting is also fine, especially for Android and BlackBerry. Beyond that, however, the system is disjointed and fraught with features that aren’t executed well.

This is familiar territory, and NissanConnect is more symptomatic of the auto industry’s struggle to stay in touch with the rapid speed of mobile development. Drivers who only need the basics of Bluetooth will be fine, but the tech-savvy ones will grow impatient with the lack of depth beyond those basics.

29 Jul 16:35

Going Beyond Thank You, Changing Member Behaviour

by Richard Millington

Every time a member makes makes a great contribution to any type of social group, you have an incredible opportunity to increase the quantity and quality of future contributions.

Too often, we thank them. Gratitude is nice. It feels good. They might appreciate the gratitude – but it doesn’t change their behaviour or encourage future contributions.

Worse still, if your thank you feels forced, generic, or is similar to a message you’ve used for a member who has made a far poorer contribution, you will reduce the likelihood of that member making more or better contributions in the future. And today, most of our thank you’s feel forced.

We need to stop thanking members.

Members don’t create great content for your gratitude. They create great content to help the community or achieve a level of status within your community. Every time they create content, they need to know that the content rapidly helped them achieve one of those two goals.

Instead of thanking a member, highlight the impact the contribution has made to the community. Ask for a further related contribution. Tell the member about other issues members are wrestling with and how you think they could really help. Highlight how popular the contribution has been compared with others. Be really specific in explaining how the extra effort they made to create the contribution resulted in the extra impact upon the community.

Alternatively, highlight how it’s increased the status of the member. Tell the member how you’ve noticed they’re fast becoming one of the top people in {your} community.

Now they begin to past-align their actions towards becoming one of the top experts in that sector. They participate more and at greater volume. You’ve used psychology to change their mentality. That’s an incredibly powerful and valuable thing to do.

It’s polite to thank members. It feels good to thank members. The recipient might even like being thanked. But we’re in the business of using psychology to change behaviours. There is a huge opportunity to change behaviour after every single contribution a member makes. I really hope we take advantage of it.

31 Jul 18:02

Payments on the Web

by David Baron

Lately I've been involved in discussions in the W3C's Web Payments Interest Group about chartering a new working group to work on payment APIs for the Web. I certainly don't have the resources to implement this work in Firefox by myself, but I'm hoping to at least help the standardization activity get started in an effective way, and, if it does, to help others from Mozilla get involved.

From a high-level perspective, I'd like to see the working group produce a technology that allows payments in the browser, involving some trusted UI in the browser (like for in-app payments on mobile operating systems) that says what payment is going to happen, and involving tokenization in the browser or on a server or application with which the browser communicates, with only the tokens being sent from the browser to the website.

I think this has two big benefits. First, it improves security by avoiding sending the user's credit card details to every site that the user wants to pay. It sends tokens that contain the information needed to make a single payment of a particular amount, instead of information that can be reused to make additional payments in the future. This makes payments on the Web more secure.

Second, if we can design the user interface in a way that users understand these improvements in security, we can hopefully make users more comfortable making small payments on the Web, in some cases to parties that they don't know very well. This could make business models other than advertizing more realistic for some providers of Web content or applications.

There are certainly risks here. One is that the effort might fail, as other efforts to do payments have failed in the past. There are also others, some of which I want to discuss in a future blog post.

01 Aug 10:57

futuristech-info: 200 ft. ought to do it says Amazon - Wants...

01 Aug 11:14

futuramb: How to Think About the Future of Cars Maxwell Wessel,...



futuramb:

How to Think About the Future of Cars
Maxwell Wessel, hbr.org

The average American in prime working age drives more than 15 thousand miles a year. For these commuters, the thought of not owning a car is ludicrous. With hours each day spent in transit, it’s no surprise they often obsess over what type of car …

The cloud computing wars started with a focus on buyers in the small business market who couldn’t afford expensive IT solutions. Cloud transportation started with a focus on urban residents who only owned cars as personal luxuries. Over time, cloud computing added the features and functionality that allowed it to compete in the most complex environments. There is no doubt that innovators in the transportation will follow the same path.
01 Aug 11:23

"4. Not everyone will love your work. Not everyone will like your work. Some people will hate your..."

“4. Not everyone will love your work. Not everyone will like your work. Some people will hate your work. Don’t put energy into pursuing the fantasy of universal adoration. It has nothing to do with writing and everything to do with guaranteeing that you’ll never be satisfied.”

- Robin Black, 21 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Writing
01 Aug 12:17

Samsung Galaxy Note 5 and Galaxy S6 edge Plus press renders and specs leak

by Rajesh Pandey
Old habits die hard. Case in point here being @evleaks who despite having retired from the smartphone leaking business, today leaked the press renders of the Galaxy Note 5 and the Galaxy S6 edge Plus, along with the full specs of the former. Continue reading →
01 Aug 09:56

Changing Default Search on Edge to Google is Anti-User

by Bardi Golriz

There are six (!) steps to this:

  1. You must have visited Google once.
  2. Click on the "..." more actions menu on the Menu Bar.
  3. Choose Settings.
  4. Scroll to the bottom and click on the "View Advanced Settings" button.
  5. Scroll half-way through the list and choose "Add New" from the "Search in the Address Bar with" menu.
  6. Select "Google" from the list and click on "Add as Default".

The very first step is totally unnecessary. If you skip it, you won't have Google available to set as your default search engine. On that page, there is a "Learn More" link that takes you here which clarifies the need to go to Google first. But why not save the user this inconvenience and just have a list of search engines to pick from?

It's not unreasonable to assume a user may ignore the "Learn More" link and conclude it's not possible to change to Google. I almost did but then I have immediate access to knowledge that the average user (read non-tech enthusiast) probably doesn't. But maybe that's the point. Also, for this to be considered an advanced setting is a dubious move. And not even one of the most prominent ones at that! Apparently, a user is more likely to be interested in turning on caret browsing than changing their default search engine. I actually had no idea what that setting was and I suspect many others won't either; Microsoft seems to think so too which is why it's one of the few settings which comes with a description. Go figure.

For comparison, on Chrome the default search provider can be changed from its main setting page (and not its "Advanced Settings" list). Furthermore, Bing is actually available to pick from by default too. No needing to visit it first nonsense required.





31 Jul 17:34

What’s up with SUMO – 31st July

by Michał

Hey there, planet SUMO! Are you ready for another round of updates and reminders from the world of SUMO? You’d better be, cause here they come!

Hearken, there are new names in SUMO town

If you joined us recently, don’t hesitate – come over and say “hi” in the forums!

Contributors of the week

 We salute you!

Last Monday’s SUMO Community meeting

Reminder: the next SUMO Community meeting…

  • …is going to take place on Monday, 3rd of August. Join us!
  • If you want to add a discussion topic to upcoming the live meeting agenda:
    • Start a thread in the Community Forums, so that everyone in the community can see what will be discussed and voice their opinion here before Monday (this will make it easier to have an efficient meeting).
    • Please do so as soon as you can before the meeting, so that people have time to read, think, and reply (and also add it to the agenda).

Help needed – thank you!

Developers

Community

Support Forum

  • SUMO Forum Supporters, remember that Madalina is currently away from her keyboard and will be back around the 10th of August. If you need help with something, let Michał know.
  • Reminder: the One and Done SUMO Contributor Support Training is live. Start here!

Knowledge Base

L10n

  • Calling all l10ns! Please localize this Windows 10 article, as it’s quite crucial to users around the world.
  • Sprint planning for six locales is in progress… and so is the video recording for the KB l10n tutorial.

Firefox

Thunderbird

  • One final reminder: as of July 1st, Thunderbird is 100% Community powered and owned! You can still +needinfo Roland in Bugzilla or email him if you need his help as a consultant. He will also hang around in #tb-support-crew.

Are you following us on Twitter? Not yet? Get to it! ;-) See you on Monday… Until then… take it easy!

31 Jul 18:01

Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge camera tips and tricks

by Rajesh Pandey
The Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 edge features one of the best, if not the best, cameras found in smartphones nowadays. The 16MP f/1.9 aperture rear camera on the handset is capable of capturing some great shots even in low-light, and is further complemented by the super fast and easy to use camera app.  Continue reading →
31 Jul 16:32

Lessons learned from “Project: Day in the Life”

by Brian Suh

Picture this. You’re a small business or startup that has planned and planned and planned and finally you have an amazing customer service or sales process. You can’t wait to implement this new process and start getting customer feedback like, “Your support representative was so quick!,” or “Your sales representative was extremely informative!” and especially,... Read more »

The post Lessons learned from “Project: Day in the Life” appeared first on Desk.com.

31 Jul 18:33

What is Peter Fassbender’s real mandate for TransLink – and local government in Metro?

by pricetags

Good news on the whole:

 

Vaughn Palmer: With Fassbender’s arrival, TransLink the ‘whipping boy’ no more?

.

After fielding one of the toughest assignments in the current term of the B.C. Liberal government, cabinet minister Peter Fassbender has been handed another huge challenge in an otherwise modest cabinet shuffle. …

A former mayor of Langley City, he has served as both chairman and vice-chairman of the TransLink mayors’ council, where he proved to be no slouch at speaking his own mind. …

He did say that the immediate job in the wake of the plebiscite is to restore public confidence in TransLink, particularly as regards “fiscal management.” …

In his days on the mayors’ council, Fassbender was an opponent of further increases in property taxes and he briefly supported a vehicle levy, until that notion backfired for a second time.

He’s also on the record as a fan of road pricing and congestion taxes. And as former mayor of one community south of the river and now an MLA for another, he’d presumably side with those demanding “equity” in tolling policies on river crossings, tied to the proposed replacement for TransLink’s Pattullo Bridge.

Talking to reporters Thursday, he acknowledged having expressed strong opinions over the years and will no doubt continue to do so. But he also maintained that he intends to approach the new posting with “an open mind,” seeking consensus if possible.

Still, one quote from his days on the mayors’ council is worth repeating in the current circumstances: “We have to stop TransLink being the whipping boy in all of these discussions and focus on what the region needs.”

Now more than ever, I’d say.

.

But while the appointment of Fassbender may give reason for optimism, his mandate, received in the accompanying letter from the Premier, doesn’t.Peter 1

.

The whole mandate letter is here – but these are the critical sentences:

Metro Vancouver voters appreciated the opportunity to make their voices heard on those issues, and the issues surrounding Translink itself.  As a result, I have decided to place responsibility for Translink with the Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development – as the issues surrounding Translink following the outcome of the plebiscite are now inextricably linked with taxation issues facing local governments in Metro Vancouver.

Questions surrounding taxation and the significant funds that will be required to pay for the transit improvements outlined in the Mayors Council vision for transit and transportation are best dealt with by looking at the issues facing communities as a whole.

.

One possible interpretation:

The plebiscite worked insofar as we fulfilled our promise to the voters and escaped any critical blowback.  TransLink’s reputation was ruined, of course, but fortunately they’re still carrying the blame for the failure of the vote along with the region’s mayors who received a vote of non-confidence.

Our long-standing position can now be reinforced: money for transit has to come from local government – property taxes in particular.  But there shouldn’t be big tax increases to do so;  that’s what we mean by “by looking at the issues facing communities as a whole.”  Local government will have to repriorize, using existing revenues – and this should help force them to do so.

Thus through this strategy we are both able to limit the growth of local and regional government, while at the same time drawing revenues from the Metro economic engine to fund our chosen transportation projects, including, Minister, light rail in Surrey and to your community in Langley.

If that means little or no progress on transit elsewhere in the region, along with an inability to shape growth according to the regional plan, we can live with that.  My advisors, drawn from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, are confident that we have or will be building enough roads and bridges to handle growth in the parts of the region we care about.

As for the City of Vancouver, maybe they should think more carefully about who they vote for.


31 Jul 23:20

Burrard St Bridge update

by jnyyz

For several years now, the Burrard St. bridge has had dedicated, separated bike lanes, and this has greatly increased bike traffic. In the present configuration, northbound bikes take the sidewalk which is banned to pedestrians.
DSC06188
DSC06189

In the southbound direction, one car traffic lane was given over to bikes. This bike lane is wide enough to make passing easy.
DSC06190

On July 22, Vancouver City Council approved a series of further upgrades, in particular removing one lane available to cars in the northbound direction to create a bike lane, and thus restore access on this side of the bridge to pedestrians. Other upgrades include anti suicide barriers, and improvements to the intersection of Pacific and Burrard to improve safety for both pedestrians and cyclists. Construction is expected to take 18 months.

Two other nice features on the bridge. One is this public piano with a killer view of English Bay.
DSC06191

The other is this bike counter, which is a public display of the number of bike crossings.
DSC06192
Today I was #3140 for the day, but a few more had crossed by the time I got my camera out.
DSC06197
It would be nice to have such counters in a few strategic places in Toronto. I know that the city does tally some statistics, but this is a public affirmation of the popularity of bike transport.

Here are some nice upgraded sharrows on York St.
DSC06203
DSC06204

Now that’s a bike signal.
DSC06206

I always enjoy the experience of biking in Vancouver.


01 Aug 00:16

Copenhagen 8 – Ting jeg kan lide ved København

by pricetags

Or, things I like about Copenhagen:

.

Good design, with restraint:

DSC09064

Practically the first thing you see when looking out the doors of the M2 Metro from the airport to city centre – industrial, simple but as composed as a painting. (Copenhagen is late coming to rapid transit: only two small lines have been open since 2002.  But construction on the circle line is well underway, which will really make a difference to how they get around.  Yes, less cars, but maybe even less bike use.)

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IMG_6129

Free Internet on the rail system.  Not that big a deal these days, but it gives me a chance to mention something odd about Denmark.  I carry an unlocked iPhone with me for travel, and then replace the SIM card for cellular and data use in each country.

But on arriving in Denmark, we couldn’t find a place at the airport that sold SIM cards.  Discovered in town that they’re sold through 7-11 outlets – but none we went to had any left.  And they’re only for cellular service, no data.  Went to computer stores, discovered you have to live in Denmark to get a plan (seemed unlikely, but that’s what they said.)   Full mobile service is expensive and difficult to get.

Having come from Spain, where Vodaphone even has a major Metro stop in Madrid named after it (how much did that cost!), cell and data plans are cheap and easy to get, even in Spanish.  It’s inexplicable that Denmark has made it so difficult, especially when these days a map app is almost essential.   Or a translation app.  So: Det er én ting, jeg ikke kunne lide.

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Bikes, on the other hand, easy to get: small, light, gearless, highly maneuverable, always with a kickstand.  Perfect urban riding: makes you feel Danish.

My bike

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Cobblestone sidewalks, but with smooth tracks for wheels:

Tracks

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Also useful when training the toddlers on their first bikes:

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Public toilets: free and staffed – almost a definition of civilization.

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Blankets provided for sitting outside in the evening:

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The smoking: not so much.

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Art in public places, statues in public squares, particularly men on horses:

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They’ve really got a thing about that:

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Literally: High horse as King Christian

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And of course, I don’t have to mention the amenities they provide for cycling.  But, of course, I will.

Best example: the covered parking at a major mall – more visible than the entrance.

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Problem: hundreds of spaces provided, still not enough:Fisk parking.

We should all have Copenhagen’s problems.


31 Jul 18:02

Payments on the Web

by David Baron

Lately I've been involved in discussions in the W3C's Web Payments Interest Group about chartering a new working group to work on payment APIs for the Web. I certainly don't have the resources to implement this work in Firefox by myself, but I'm hoping to at least help the standardization activity get started in an effective way, and, if it does, to help others from Mozilla get involved.

From a high-level perspective, I'd like to see the working group produce a technology that allows payments in the browser, involving some trusted UI in the browser (like for in-app payments on mobile operating systems) that says what payment is going to happen, and involving tokenization in the browser or on a server or application with which the browser communicates, with only the tokens being sent from the browser to the website.

I think this has two big benefits. First, it improves security by avoiding sending the user's credit card details to every site that the user wants to pay. It sends tokens that contain the information needed to make a single payment of a particular amount, instead of information that can be reused to make additional payments in the future. This makes payments on the Web more secure.

Second, if we can design the user interface in a way that users understand these improvements in security, we can hopefully make users more comfortable making small payments on the Web, in some cases to parties that they don't know very well. This could make business models other than advertizing more realistic for some providers of Web content or applications.

There are certainly risks here. One is that the effort might fail, as other efforts to do payments have failed in the past. There are also others, some of which I want to discuss in a future blog post.

01 Aug 01:15

Over-Communicating and Under-Communicating

by Richard Millington

Going back to yesterday.

Once the relevant health authority issued a health advisory not to drink the water, people began to wonder over the next two days if it’s still in place.

Was it only for one area? Was it for 24 hours or 48 hours? Was it indefinite? Will people be told when the advisory is rescinded?

This is a problem when communicating with any social group during a difficult moment. The less you communicate the more you leave open to interpretation.

It would have been better to update every hour that nothing has changed. There’s no room for ambiguity there. Everyone knows when to expect the next update and where to go to find out if the warning is still in place. Everyone knows if the warning is still in place.

It’s really easy to under-communicate with your group. It’s very hard to over-communicate with your social group.

Have a very open communication policy. Offer a direct line to you. Create a place where people can get near-instant responses on topical issues. Issue constant updates on important issues even if nothing has changed. Your social group hates uncertainty. Don’t create any.

31 Jul 20:59

On Second Thought

by Bardi Golriz

A Windows Update later, things feel noticeably better. And I'm actually on the verge of changing my position on whether it's a smart idea to upgrade for one reason. Edge. I love it. No really. It may not be feature complete, but that doesn't matter because of how consistently fast and accurately it renders the web (at least from my limited experience so far). I've been so impressed that I actually don't feel any need to install Chrome. This is the same Chrome which has without fail been the first thing I grab on any fresh install of Windows. Didn't see this one coming.

01 Aug 02:21

Firechat Enables Private Off-The-Internet (P2P) Messaging Using Mobile Phones

by Dan York
Firechat mesh network

There was a fascinating article posted on Medium this week by the CTO of messaging app Firechat:

In the text he outlines how they do decentralized "off-the-grid" private messaging using an ad hoc mesh network established between users of the Firechat app. It sounds like the app instances join together into some kind of peer-to-peer (P2P) network and then do normal "store-and-forward" messaging.

Of note, the apps do NOT need an Internet connection, or even a cellular network connection - instead they can use the Bluetooth and WiFi radios in the mobile phones to create a private mesh network and connect to other users of the Firechat app.

Naturally, having spent some time exploring P2P networks back when I was playing around with P2P SIP and distributed hash tables (DHTs) and other technologies, I immediately jump into the techie questions:

  • How are they routing messages from one user to another?
  • How is the "directory" of users in P2P mesh maintained?
  • What addresses are they using for the communication? Is this still happening over IP addresses? Or are they using some other kind of addressing?
  • How do users join and leave the mesh network?
  • How do user get authorized to join the private mesh? (Or is it just open to all?)
  • How secure is the communication between the parties?
  • Is the message encrypted or private in any way? Or is it just plain text?
  • How well do smartphone batteries hold up if multiple radios are being used? What is the power impact of joining into a mesh network like this?

None of that is covered in this article, of course... this piece is more about the theory of how this can work given a particular density of users. It introduces the phrase "percolation threshold" and provides some background and research into how these kind of networks can be created.

I've always been fascinated by P2P networks like this sounds to be. The beauty of the Internet... the "Internet Way", so to speak... has been to support distributed and decentralized architectures.

If you think about mail or web servers, they are (or at least were) massively distributed. Anyone could set up a mail or web server - and millions upon millions of them bloomed. While we've certainly seen a great amount of centralization due to market dominance (ex. Gmail), the architecture still is distributed / decentralized.

Except... of course, the directory is still centralized. Mail and web servers rely on the central directory of DNS to resolve domain names into IP addresses so that connections can occur. Most other applications rely on DNS for this as well.

Hence my curiousity about how Firechat is handling the directory and routing issues.

I'm also intrigued by how the article hints at integrating Internet-connected users into the P2P mesh. So you really have a hybrid network that is part P2P and part connected out to cloud-based servers.

(And all of this brings me back to those early days of Skype 8-10 years ago when so many of us were captivated by the P2P mechanisms they created... most all of which is now gone in the post-Microsoft-acquisition as Skype has moved from P2P to server/cloud-based - with one big reason being given that mobile devices apparently had speed and battery life issues participating in true P2P networks.)

A key challenge Firechat faces, of course, is the "directory dilemma" of building up the quantity of users where P2P mesh networks like this can happen. This is the same dilemma facing basically all over-the-top (OTT) messaging apps. "Percolation theory" requires a certain user density for a mesh like this to work.

That will be their struggle.

And in some urban areas I can see this working quite well. Perhaps not so much out in the woods of New Hampshire where I live!

But I wish them well with this. I love to see new explorations of potential new architectures for communication. And I can certainly see instances when ad hoc, distributed/decentralized P2P meshes like these could be quite useful.

And I'm definitely looking forward to some more technical articles that dive down into some of these questions.... I do hope they'll write more soon!


Photo credit: Stanislav Shalunov's article about Firechat

31 Jul 21:56

The Economist and London

by Stephen Rees

Piccadilly Line Barons Court  20051201

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with The Economist newspaper. I have at times been a subscriber and regular reader, but in recent years its rightward shift has grated on my sensibilities. And I do not feel like subscribing to it any more. Of course I follow them on Twitter and try to limit my clicks to stay within the limit of free articles. And as it is the start of the month I did manage to read all of an article on one of my favourite topics: the London Underground. And no that is not a political movement.

But as as so often the case these days there were a couple of things that I noticed. Now since these are things that I know about, I feel entitled to post about it. But is does make me wonder how much one can rely on this source for things I know very little about, and need enlightenment. Am I being misled?

So the article in question. Now the questionable statements

Money for improvements is limited. Fares are already eye-wateringly high (a monthly pass costs £225.10

Hold on a minute there: the fare table for the Underground takes up a full page (A4 size) in tiny type and that is just the adult fares – 12 columns and I lost counts of the rows – for there are 9 fare zones. You can see it as a pdf  and the cited £225.10 covers zones 1 – 6 – or the whole of the Greater London Area without the lines that run into darkest Essex, Hertfordshire or Buckinghamshire. So it is an understandable choice – but by no means the only one. Incidentally, that covers about the same area as Metro Vancouver’s 3 zones and is CAN$460.40 compared to Translink’s at $170 so the eye watering is indeed understandable. Still feel we get ripped off?

There is also this comment

Moreover, if London’s puny mayoralty had the tax-raising powers of its New York equivalent,

which also seems at odds with what I am reading about how annoyed New Yorkers are with the Governor of New York State Andrew Cuomo and his lack of willingness to recognize that the MTA is in fact a state agency, and he is not willing to open up the state’s coffers to pay for much needed modernisations and extensions to the Subway but is happy to fund upgrades for La Guardia airport. Which sounds familiar to us, I think. For a neat summary of how Metro Vancouver gets stiffed go see what Price Tags has based on the longer series of articles by Nathan Pachal. Gord also has good stuff – as usual – on New York too.

But to go back to The Economist, while it may well be true that New York’s Mayor has more tax raising ability than London’s, that does not mean that it is enough to deal with the extreme decrepitude of much of its Subway. Anymore than Metro’s Mayors feel happy about dipping into property taxes again to pay for Translink. That is driven by a political doctrine – and I am not so sure that much of “Bagehot’s” isn’t equally so driven.

 


Filed under: transit Tagged: London Underground, New York Subway, The Economist
31 Jul 17:31

Twitter Favorites: [cheeflo] Longing for days when the first thing one did when trying a game was actually PLAYING THE GAME instead of starting an ACCOUNT #data

Florence Chee @cheeflo
Longing for days when the first thing one did when trying a game was actually PLAYING THE GAME instead of starting an ACCOUNT #data
31 Jul 18:20

Twitter Favorites: [hondanhon] A humble proposal: Works Progress Administration 2.0 - a program to employ millions of Americans to bring paper gov data into 21st century.

Dan Hon is typing @hondanhon
A humble proposal: Works Progress Administration 2.0 - a program to employ millions of Americans to bring paper gov data into 21st century.