Posts tagged “transit”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Chinese Comedian Gets Laughs in U.S., But Puzzles People in China [] – Chinese-American comedian Joe Wong draws from his experiences as an immigrant to get the crowds laughing. China Central Television, the biggest TV network in the country, deemed his success in the U.S. curious enough that it dedicated a special program to him in December. The peg: He's the Chinese scientist who makes Americans laugh. While CCTV declared that Mr. Wong's success proves "humor has no boundaries," it concluded the program without showing any of his jokes. Mr. Wong's first live gig in Beijing, in late 2008, was "not successful," he says. In America, he says, it's funny to poke fun at yourself. But in China, there's no humor in misfortune. Back home, Mr. Wong's dad is among those puzzled by his success. Huang Longji, who lives in an industrial city near China's border with North Korea, says he is proud of his son, but a career in comedy isn't what the retired engineer expected for his son. "It's just like a black hen lays a white egg," he said.
  • Atlanta transit system MARTA changes “yellow” line to “gold” [Gold Dome Live] – Moving to tamp a controversy that has reached the national news, MARTA CEO said in February that the transit agency would change the name of its “yellow” train line, which goes to Doraville, home to a large Asian-American community. She said MARTA had never intended to offend anyone with the re-naming, which went into effect Oct. 1, along with other color names for the rest of the system, and that it was making the change out of “an abundance of caring for this community.” A MARTA employee who dealt with diversity issues warned the agency a month before the change that it could offend some in the Asian-American community.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Electric Bicycles Are Gaining a Toehold in the U.S. [] – But there may be a greater challenge for companies like Sanyo and other e-bike makers. People tend to think of their transportation, like their clothes or cellphones, as an expression of their identity. In China, riding an electric bike conveys professional achievement, even a certain degree of wealth. People in the United States, said Ed Benjamin, an independent consultant in the bike business, don’t quite know whether these bikes are fashionable. The e-bike is “an ambiguous statement,” Mr. Benjamin said.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Hidden UI bonus feature: Commuter Railroads Build a Secret Minute Into Train Departures – Every commuter train that departs from New York City [as well as trains in other major cities] — about 900 a day — leaves a minute later than scheduled. If the timetable says 8:14, the train will actually leave at 8:15. The 12:48 is really the 12:49. The phantom minute, in place for decades and published only in private timetables for employees, is meant as a grace period for stragglers who need the extra time to scramble off the platform and onto the train.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Seen Reading – a "literary voyeruism blog" set mostly (I believe) in Toronto – What is Seen Reading?

    1. I see you reading.
    2. I remember what page you’re on in the book.
    3. I head to the bookstore, and make a note of the text.
    4. I let my imagination rip.
    5. Readers become celebrities.
    6. People get giddy and buy more books.

    Why do you do this?
    Readers are cool. Authors work hard. Publishers take chances. And you all deserve to be seen!

    (Thanks Suzanne Long!)

  • Choose What You Read NY – Choose What You Read NY is a non profit organization that offers free books to New Yorkers, encouraging its residents to read more, giving them an alternative to the free papers that get tossed out and even the digi-trash that crowds our time. In doing so, we help to recycle used books that would have unfortunately been thrown away.

    You will find us near major subway stations on the first Tuesday of each month.The idea is that once someone is finished with a book, they either drop it off in one of our conveniently located drop boxes or back to us at a station. Unlike a library, there will be no due dates, penalties, fees or registrations. We only ask that you return it once you are done so that the same book can be enjoyed by another commuter.

  • What was the last book, magazine and newspaper you read on the subway? – 6000 people respond and the New York Times posts the results
  • How and what people read on the New York City subways – Plenty of detailed examples of people, their books, and their travels: "Reading on the subway is a New York ritual, for the masters of the intricately folded newspaper, as well as for teenage girls thumbing through magazines, aspiring actors memorizing lines, office workers devouring self-help inspiration, immigrants newly minted — or not — taking comfort in paragraphs in a familiar tongue. These days, among the tattered covers may be the occasional Kindle, but since most trains are still devoid of Internet access and cellphone reception, the subway ride remains a rare low-tech interlude in a city of inveterate multitasking workaholics. And so, we read.

    There are those whose commutes are carefully timed to the length of a Talk of the Town section of The New Yorker, those who methodically page their way through the classics, and those who always carry a second trash novel in case they unexpectedly make it to the end of the first on a glacial F train."

    (thanks Avi and Anne)

  • Lego grabs ahold of customers with both hands – From 2006, great Wired piece about Lego's approach to involving ardent fans/customers in developing future products.
  • Noting:books – the simple yet dynamic way to track your reading, from the dates you start and finish a book, to your thoughts along the way.
  • CourseSmart brings textbooks to the iPhone in PDF; major readability challenges ensue – “It’s not the first place to go to read your textbook,” Mr. Lyman said of the iPhone app. But he said that it could be helpful if “you’re standing outside of the classroom, the quiz is in 10 minutes, and you want to go back to that end-of-chapter summary that helped you understand the material.”
  • Nice profile of Lego’s business culture and the tension between growth and losing track of their legacy – But the story of Lego’s renaissance — and its current expansion into new segments like virtual reality and video games — isn’t just a toy story. It’s also a reminder of how even the best brands can lose their luster but bounce back with a change in strategy and occasionally painful adaptation.

Learned Behavio(u)r

One of the fun yet challenging aspects of spending two weeks in another country was stumbling over all the little things that I know how to do back home but didn’t work. I paid for a snack using pocket change, and eventually had to hold the pile of coins out to the counter dude so he could take the right amount. The coins say their value, in English, but in order to complete a transaction in the normal amount of time, you have to be familiar. It was an interesting feeling, to be such a foreigner.

At another point, I was riding the DLR (train) with my Oyster (smart card). A conductor comes along to swipe the card and there’s a small interaction where the passenger holds out the card and the conductor holds out the wand (yes, it was a wand, not the usual credit-card-swipey-slot thing). I wanted to put my card on top of his wand, but he wanted to put his wand on top of my card. I was just supposed to know the gesture. Sounds like a bit of a dominance issues, actually.

In using the self-check at Tesco (a grocery store), I realized the software was the same as what I’ve seen here at Home Depot, etc. but when it came time to pay, the voice prompt told me to insert my card into the chippenpin device. Turns out this was Chip-and-PIN, where credit cards and/or ATM cards have extra security via an embedded chip, and an associated PIN. These readers use a different swipe gesture, with the card going in the bottom of the keypad. Anyway, I stood there with my non-chipped credit card, putting it in and out of this bottom slot, to no avail. After I surrendered and paid cash, I realized there was the familiar vertical swipe slot along the bezel of the monitor, a different piece of hardware than the chippenpin.

And this one was subtle but confounding:
This is the TV remote from my Paris hotel room but the London hotel had a similar issue. In my experience, the red power button turns the TV on and turns the TV off. But in both these hotel rooms (and maybe this was a hotel issue more than a Euro issue) the way to turn it was to press the channel buttons. Enter a channel and the TV would go on and display that channel. The power button was actually on “off” button. You can imagine me sitting in front of the TV with a remote and trying to turn it on, in vain, until frustrated random button press gave me the result I wanted.

I often look around at local transit and marvel at how much the cues and other information in those systems are designed for people who already know how to use them; but I was able to plan for and learn about transit enough to be come a fairly comfortable user. It was these small interactions without cues, and under time pressure, where I found myself bemusedly incompetent.

How to pay for parking


Our CCA class just finished a “user experience audit” of BART and found dozens of aspects of the whole experience that are sub-optimal. I’ll add this one (although maybe one of them saw this as well).

Step 1 – remember your stall number.

Too bad this sign is posted in the ticket-buying area of the station, far far away from your car off in the parking lot. It should read Go back to your car, dumbass, and write down the four digit number and then come back here and look at step 2. Their guidance is not presented at a useful point in the process, at all.

Last week I dialed my cell phone with my 4-digit parking code so that I could “remember” it. There’s one machine for buying tickets, and then through the turnstiles is the next machine for paying for parking (“the paid area”). So even if you walk from your car muttering 3214 over and over again, you still have to use a number-heavy interface to select the value of your ticket, enter your ATM password and so on, and that’s likely to wipe out your short-term memory.

But I only learned this from failure. All of which makes this sign so unhelpful.


The Seattle Monorail is no longer the dream it once represented

Repairing the monorail is not always easy. Some parts are unique. After the collision last fall, the scene shop of the Seattle Opera was hired to build new monorail doors.

Wow – I guess that’s the get ‘er done attitude I wrote about before, but also the challenges of non-standard designs that seem common in transit infrastructure that I also wrote about earlier.

Industrial-grade Smoothing

Orinda, BART, Late Night Originally uploaded by DCVoyager.

This SF Chron article describes a weird piece of behind-the-scenes infrastructure – the nightly grinding of the rails on the BART system (emphasis here is on reducing the squealing noise but presumably there are other safety and function reasons)

“But we don’t do that. We have to grind the rails.”

And that can be done only in the middle of the night, roughly between the hours of 1 and 4 a.m., when the passenger operation is shut down for the day to allow for track inspections and maintenance. It’s one of the reasons BART doesn’t operate on a 24-hour schedule.

Each night, crews smooth about 1 mile of track, just a sliver of the 104-mile system. It sometimes can take a dozen or more passes along one small section to get the track “just right,” said Dave Alves, who has worked the job for eight years.

On a recent night, Alves was the track man. Like a tailor judging a fine piece of fabric, he relies a lot on touch to determine how the track should be reshaped. He creates a grinding pattern based on the track’s marred surface and keys it into a computer that controls 20 grinding stones attached to the belly of a specially made railcar.

“Sometimes we may do 18 or 20 patterns on one piece of rail.”

They’ve got one car to do this task, and it’s a decade old. A new car takes more than a year to build (at a cost of $3M) since the BART rail size/width is non-standard.

Thought this was an interesting process story; the slow, non-automatic, manual nature of the task, and the analogous challenges in creating the tool for this task.


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