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Broken Links: Fix Our TTC

It’s not about rail-over-roads.  It’s fun to ride on a streetcar but a bus does the job nearly as well for a lot less expense and social cost.

It’s about getting around in the city so quickly that you’d be an idiot to not leave your car at home.  It’s that simple.

So before we go about considering ripping-up already crowded roadways, how about we first finish our fledgling subway system.

I travel a lot in, out, and through Toronto, by street, by rail, by subway, and yes, by bus.  I know where our population is dense and I know where people are typically going.

I propose this subway plan be implemented with urgency.  Once all the TBMs are in the ground — a dozen could be needed to get this done quickly — then we can ponder additional streetcar lines or more LRT experiments.  If you don’t half-ass on simple home renovation projects, and I hope that’s most of us, why should we allow our city to be destroyed by half-assing our mass transit ?

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Here’s the very obvious, very simple plan:

Eglinton Crosstown returns to Mayor Ford and the Province’s original revision, but adds stops at Eglinton & Commerce Blvd near Renforth in the west where it will connect with the Mississauga Busway being built, and then travels to Pearson Airport.

Bloor-Danforth is extended east to Danforth/Brimley, connects to Eglinton GO at McCowan/Bellamy, and finds a new end at Kingston Road at the east end of Eglinton.

Sheppard is finally made useful by connecting to Downsview in the west, and Scarborough Centre in the east.

To be honest, this still makes for a pretty lame subway system when compared to other world-class cities, but we should start with a basic, functional system and this fits the bill, with plenty of opportunities to expand the system as population densities increase throughout the GTA.

Funding for these massive improvements is also a common sense problem.  We all know the coffers are bare, so we simply need small taxes spread across the consumption items that are affected.  For a start, gasoline should be at least as much per litre as goat’s milk, a much more renewable product, instead of half the price.  Europe is already there, and we’ll have to face the music eventually.  A bit of a fare increase (we have very low fares comparable to other transit systems) allocated directly to the expansion.   A mix of taxes involves multi-layered government involvement, but new transit development is no different.

So, why the big rush ?  Because this needs to do be done within a span of 4 years.  The more you study the politics of transit the more you come to realize that our present version of democracy is simply not accommodating to long-term transit investment.  Transit is embroiled in politics, but it’s not one party versus another, they’ve all messed up at one time or another.

Take it from a Toronto citizen and extensive traveler, the common sense way needs to be done massively and rapidly, and before expensive “temporary” stop-gap measures further ruin instead of improve Toronto.

Rogers Razr Gorilla Glass Cracks

This isn't my Razr.

Not my Razr. Not even a Razr. Not even me.

A couple of cracks and my brand new future phone is dead.

It’s got waterproof microcoating, Kevlar fibres and Corning Gorilla Glass, so I fantasized that it was originally designed for military field operatives (presumably on short missions with such a dismal battery life).

In my more clumsy hands, a few drops on asphalt proved it had the right “bouncing” weight.  I approved and decided not to put it in some ridiculous case.  I don’t buy glass phones.

But what might have possibly been pressure on the magic Gorilla Glass screen seems to have caused a couple of hairline cracks on the inside of the glass that don’t seem to have gone completely through to the front.  But they are clearly noticeable at certain viewing angles.

Ironically, any “normal” phone should still be working fine, perhaps with the glass cracks visible and refracting light in a very annoying way at certain angles, but continuing to function.  And it would just be the sensor glass, not those plus the panel and the light source, that would need replacing.

The Razr’s organic colour LED matrix is “painted” onto the back of the Go’ Glass, it’s not a separate panel plus a light source like the “old fashioned” LCD / LED tech.  To risk this, I relied on that special glass, particularly since the Razr’s screen is pretty big for a pocket phone.

But a crack thru the back appears to mean that many, many digital lines were severed.  It’s the old’ little-christmas-tree-light-problem all over again.  This time it’s nearly as impossible to fix and far more expensive.

I’ve heard that a visit to the Apple Store within the first year will almost nearly assure you an immediate replacement unit, but there’s nowhere for me to go — Rogers sold me the phone outright and I took it to my Fido number (an unlock code was required in between).

Here’s where it gets interesting.  Fido is owned by Rogers, but Fido did not launch the Razr.  You see, Rogers had an exclusive contract with Motorola to distribute the new Razr in Canada.

Let’s just pretend we don’t know that Fido is owned by Rogers.  And that they “let” Fido launch the Razr weeks later, where I could have presumably used my “Fido Dollars” to subsidize the price, though I have a very clear (and very bitter) impression from their website that they’ve disallowed the use of these credits for off-contract phones, for no reason other than to steer everyone toward a contract.

I expected to be treated like shit from both Rogers and Motorola, and lately Fido has been no better.

It seems we expect very little these days.  How can we make products and services better if we just give up ?

Dear Motorola,

Your call centre did an excellent job, if that’s what you’re looking for.  Unfortunately, they did a perfectly fine job giving a completely frustrating answer.

I purchased your phone from your exclusive Canadian retailer, Rogers.  It broke in the first year.  Your retailer doesn’t want to speak to me and your Service Centres welcome my paying business.

Very disappointed.

If it seems an oddly worded message, it’s because it was sent to them inside of a survey response triggered by a call to Motorola’s call centre.  My message was, essentially,  that the waitress was wonderful, but there was a fire in the kitchen.

To repeat, this is exactly what I expected.  I refused and will always refuse to agree to a long-term (1+ year) contract for any sort of personal communications or information service, let alone combined with leading-edge handsets that fall out of tech — and now fashion too — within 9 months.

I’m not dumb.  And I’m frugal.  You’d figure this is a common combination, but I only wish I wasn’t so alone in my refusal to accept bullshit contracts.

Secret Rogers motto ?

This is exactly the outrage I expected to experience should something go wrong with the bleeding-edge Razr.  It’s just a pity that companies are allowed to get away with this kind of twisted control over our most vital resources for mankind’s growth: technology and communication.

It’s especially worse when you consider that both of these resources are nearly unlimited.

Yet somehow we’ve managed to allow a handful of companies to throw a choke-hold on both.

Leader in Personal Computing Dies

No, this is not a late eulogy for Steve Jobs.  It’s news that Commodore founder Jack Tramiel died last week at 83 years old.

Jack was a demanding perfectionist who knew exactly what electronic products people wanted to buy.  From electronic calculators before they were fashionable, to affordable all-in-one computers to the dawn of the home computer age with the Vic-20 and the Commodore 64, Jack knew exactly what the people wanted, and exactly how much most of them could afford.

Jack knew he had to be competitive, but he was also a ruthless businessman.  He wanted to keep supplies and technologies away from his competitors so he took over as many suppliers as he could (often by bankrupting them first by becoming their biggest customer and then not paying bills from them).

Being ousting from his own company very much mirrored what happened to Steve Jobs during those tumultuous times at Apple.  Just like Jobs with NeXT, Jack tried to kick-start his return with Atari Corp. but while things started strong, Atari Corp lost momentum to rival Commodore and even more to the ubiquitous IBM PC and the vast array of affordable PC clones that became available in the late 80s and early 90s.

Atari Corp. ended up selling its assets to a small hard drive manufacturer.  The Commodore name is all but lost (with the exception of an innovative Atom-based PC) and the Atari name today only means one thing: classic video games.

It’s a real pity that Jack is not better known around the world for bringing affordability and power to personal computing.  If the original Commodore Computer was able to continue under Jack Tramiel, there’s a good chance we’d all be logged into our adorable Commodore PCs.

Digg.com Blows a Gasket

One of the most popular sites on the internet, Digg.com has made a business mistake the level of which has not been experienced since New Coke — the core functionality of allowing users to “digg up” the site’s stories was removed.

They’ve since announced a reversal to this decision but for a few days, at least, Digg.com wasn’t about digging around for stories at all.

Here’s my open letter to Digg.com:

Dear Kevin and crew,

The name “Digg” was all about “digging for new stories”, remember?

It would not surprise me to learn that fewer people went “Digging” after the name changed to “Upcoming Stories.” [I wrote them a letter then, too. Didn't hear back ;]

Regardless of how many people actually visit the “Digg for New Stories” section (or whatever it will be called when it returns) maybe you forgot that the whole idea of your site is that the users quite easily “Digg up” the front page.

Mess with that core functionality and you may lose a big chunk of your core audience.

I can imagine it’s been tough integrating advertising revenue into the business model but you have to stick to your core ideals.

Perhaps you should think about starting new sites with your new ideas. I’ve always said Digg should franchise its core system to niche interests. I believe the biggest problem with Digging for new stories was that there were far too many stories submitted, and not enough categories to separate them.

Does the iPad Represent America?

America, Fuck Ya

Americans have recently been questioning themselves deeply on subjects like imperialism, religion, taxation, and prohibition.

All the while, oil is gushing, but in all the wrong places.  Perhaps it’s addictive, or something (don’t look at me, smarts the likes of a world leader are needed to figure these things out).

At the same time of the iPad’s “revolutionary” and “magic” release, the country is “holding fort” in a couple of large overseas military operations which seemingly have goals of global historical consequence.

The dirty secret of international relations is that people will learn to deal with other people as long as they can prevent themselves from wanting to kill and control them.  Violence begets violence, there’s no arguing that.  Even our supremely intelligent “war presidents” must realize it.

The whole organism of Earth is now dealing with tragic earthquakes, an impressive, protracted volcano event, unusual solar patterns, and, well I don’t have to say –

– the iPad launch.

Putting aside the impact (no pun intended) of the dramatic suicides at the factory-town churning-out the product in state-controlled China, the iPad launch probably won’t be recorded in history as a globe-changing event.

Some important questions still must be asked:  Will this new gadget come to represent America?  Will the phrase “we don’t need it, but we want it” become a nation’s mantra?

Today in the developed world most of us don’t need for much of anything, really.  Food, a job, and good health are almost a guarantee to Canadian residents.  All we ask is you try to contribute in some helpful way, and get neck-deep in debt.

Don’t worry, our leaders do it all the time on our behalf, so it must be fine.

Although based on the iPhone OS, the iPad really is a new computing platform.

Home computers weren’t “needed” in 1981 to 1985 either, though as years pass these dates this becomes increasingly difficult to argue.

Many people are employed today because they “played” with the home computer(s) back in the 80s.  If the iPad can provide a new “a-ha” computing moment for some, as well as an innovative tech experience for the jaded computer veterans, then it seems it shouldn’t be called a bad thing for society, after all.

Image: Dolphin being taught to respond using an iPad

Image: Dolphin being taught to respond using an iPad

So the iPad is good, but it is far from perfect.  The closed system design and reliance on iTunes basically says “fuck off” to computing in the purest sense.  The fact that every computing device doesn’t have its own software development system — a built-in BASIC language for instance — well, perhaps this expresses our missed potential as a thinking, learning society.

The iPad really is for consuming.  Not creating.  There’s no escaping that.

Open systems are coming soon.  The WebOS system under HP will likely flourish (at least for a while) and Android-based tablets of the future completely open the door for casual development.

No matter how you look at it, the tablet PC truly presents a (nearly) complete computing platform as a “consuming appliance” and there’s really nothing wrong with that.

There’s already plenty of shit out there.

Introducing technology that removes technology from the internet, rendering it into what it is — the instantly searchable global human knowledge library — can’t be bad for anyone.

Or anything.

Elderly and dolphins rejoice, your input device is now under 500 bucks, and can be waterproofed.

Science Fiction Cinema: Filmmaking, 3D vs. Story

Sure, folks expected a nod for Avatar, but District 9 has also been nominated for Best Picture in this year’s Academy Awards.

Science fiction is rarely honoured, so that alone is worth noting, but this last year we were granted access to lots of sci-fi cinema for a change.

What about this year’s top 3 sci fi movies’ strengths and weaknesses:

Avatar
The Good: Fantastic cinema. Amazing effects with decent science components.
The Bad: Story is a re-tell, but it’s one worth re-telling, and it’s re-told well.

District 9
The Good: Gritty and close-to-home feel in an entirely compelling story.
The Bad: Some sketchy science and, for some sci-fi fans, an entirely boring setting… Earth.

Star Trek
The Good: Thoroughly enjoyable from beginning to end.
The Bad: Bad science inside — most importantly — a sorely lacking story.

It appears that their strengths and weaknesses are interrelated.

My vote for best sci-fi picture of 2009 ?  They’re in the correct order, above, in case you couldn’t guess.

Build a solid story, and then add some cinema and sci-fi and your movie will be on the right track.  Even better, start with great science and build it into the story.

Great sci-fi movies need to start with a decent story.  If “normal people” can relate to it too, there’s nothing wrong with that.

The original Star Wars film was a re-tell, too.

2009 to 2010: Shedding Tears For Our Fallen

I’ve been on this world for 40 years, yet no one has been able to convince me that this needs to happen.

Shedding tears in a movie theater is always acceptable, but in the last decade we were told by world leaders not to dwell on dead soldiers.

In 2010 I pledge to remember who we really are and what we ultimately want from our lives here on Earth.

Canadians: Send a Message to Ottawa on Broadband

Canadians used to brag about our leading-edge prowess in digital communications technology.

My, how things sure have changed.

We now live in an era where Nortel is an investor’s punchline, and the Cable and Telco companies provide limited services with high prices and pushy contracts.

Canada has, in fact, become the laughing stock of the developed world.  Of all places, Harvard University has even released a detailed report criticizing Canadian broadband.

Just 50 days from now, the Federal Cabinet will decide on the appeal of the recent CRTC decision which basically granted still more monopoly powers to the cable companies and telcos.

Imagine my luck — I had just discovered that alternatives exist, like the enterprising and customer-focused Teksavvy Solutions, while I sadly also learned about this recent CRTC decision.

If you want Canada to once again become a healthy incubator for communications technology, visit this group’s site now and send a message to your representatives in Ottawa:

http://www.competitivebroadband.com/consumer/

If you don’t think it’s worth your time, well then just wait and see what Bell, Rogers and their ilk will do with rejuvenated monopoly powers.

If You Love This Planet, Abandon CO2 Fight

The most popular story on BBC News right now asks, “What Happened to Global Warming ?”

It’s a great question.  The story explains that the last decade has been pretty chilly:

For the last 11 years we have not observed any increase in global temperatures… And our climate models did not forecast it, even though man-made carbon dioxide, the gas thought to be responsible for warming our planet, has continued to rise.

People sure seem to have become wrapped-up in the idea that humans have dramatically changed the climate on the Earth (even though 98% of the Earth’s warmth comes from the Sun) and that the end of the world is nigh.

Even scientists who await more information (quite scientific of them, I might add) before fingering human-caused carbon dioxide release for any climate changes have faced castigation.  The common Man in common discussion hasn’t been allowed to even consider that the Earth and Sun have their own climate changes in mind, Humans be damned.

This stand against us being the cause for any climate changes, it turns out, might turn out to be George W. Bush’s greatest insight.

But there is a serious underlying problem.  Bush used this stance to maintain or even increase old fashioned industry.  Polluting industry.

Remember that word ?  Pollution is a very real problem that affects people and the planet.  There is no more scientific study needed: Pollution causes breathing problems in our kids, severely damages the planet, and kills wildlife.

It kills civilized life, too.

Should we be reducing CO2 ?  Of course, when it also involves particulate or other forms of pollution.  We should also remember the Apollo 13 mission, where excessive CO2 in itself became dangerous pollution.

Instead of a focused fight with this invisible gas molecule, we need to be fighting all pollution of our air, land, and water.  We need to fight old technologies that have more efficient, less polluting alternatives.

And we should be moving to non-polluting energy sources that already exist today like solar, geothermal, and wind  All we need is political will and the money that comes with it. 

And if you don’t think nuclear power pollutes, you have a lot of catching-up to do.  We don’t even know what to do with the poisonous waste products (other than make bombs with it), never mind the potential for wide-scale disasters like Three Mile Island, Japan’s let’s-mix-this-in-a-bucket incident, and Chernobyl.

With the real non-polluting technology solutions come a massive reduction in CO2 that will please the Sky is Falling climate crowd.

Talking about the weather is a captivating exercise that seems to have gone terribly awry.  Me, I just want to breathe fresh air, drink clean water, eat fish without mercury and trust the carrots grown in our soil.

Google Creates “Unexplained Mystery Day”

It might have just started as a fun idea at Google HQ for a lazy Saturday, but the decision to run a masthead showing a UFO “abducting” one of the letters in Google has set-off heaps of speculation.  Will September 5th now be unversally proclaimed Unexplained Mystery day thanks to Google’s masthead?

Internet folk are quite puzzled as Google usually creates unique mastheads to signify special events, or celebrate anniversaries.

While there are a few interesting ideas floating around — ranging from a Google O/S tie-in to a mass experiment — the truth may not just be “out there” but could be much closer to home.

Google has become the front door to the internet, and the ‘net is a celebration of human knowledge.  Unexplained mysteries and the sharing of knowledge not considered “safe for mainstream consumption” are at the very core of the ‘net, perhaps as close to the heart of the internet as the internet’s back door:

Porn.

Can’t wait for that Google masthead.  There’s so much that can be done with those two o’s.  Let’s hope the visitors bring it back when they’re done probing it.