Tale of two transits

In Toronto, riding the public transit in 2005 means being hit with yet another 5% fare increase and yet another impending union strike, while enjoying the same miserable service. Keep in mind that this is after the Ontario government gave the TTC several million bucks (I wrote about what the TTC should do with it here).

I can’t help but look up for guidance – or rather, looking toward the north, toward York Region. The York Region Transit services these far-flung affluent suburbs, where it is not uncommon to see Boxsters and Benzos parked outside the local WalMart. Apparently, the YRT has been widely successful with its automated fare machines and clean-smelling buses; the YRT reported its fourth straight year of increased ridership.

And they’re not stopping there. In September, the YRT will unveil VIVA, their express bus rapid transit system. Everything about VIVA will be cutting edge: the VanHool low rider buses will be equipped with bucket seats, GPS systems, and stoplight changing transponders. Bus stops will have lights, automated fare kiosks and LED displays indicating when the next bus will arrive. To increase efficiency further, the buses will run on an honour system.

This dream network, which will cover everything from Aurora to Markham, will cost York Region $11 million this year, but they are confident that it will boost ridership levels by one-third. And that’s not all; YRT plans to replace the bus rapid transit with LRT or subway trains in twenty years.

Maybe I’m comparing apples and oranges here, but it appears one transit authority has its buses in a row, and another doesn’t.

Docking the user experience

I was surprised that my new 20GB 4G iPod didn’t come with a docking cradle. Come to think about it, almost no electronics come with docks anymore. That’s why we have multiple $300+ gizmos tethered to our computers or power outlets with nests of cables, twisting in the breeze. It just ain’t right.

Anyhoo, here’s some neat iPod tips, tricks and hacks I’ve found:

* Winamp5 ml_iPod plugin So you don’t have to use iTunes.
* GoogleGet Downloads news and weather headlines to your iPod’s Notes section with the click of a button.
* iPodAgent Sync your Outlook calendar, email and contacts without having to manually export everything and drag them into the iPod drive (What’s with that, Apple??). You can even use it to run regular backups on your PC’s files.
* MusicBrainz This software, together with the massive online song database, will automatically tag all your MP3s with the proper artists and albums, just by listening to them. Its accuracy is about 50%, but that’s still 50% less songs to manually tag.
* Hackaday’s list of iPod hacks, both of the software kind and hardware kind. Void your warranty today!

But giving birth was in the top 3

Two thirtysomething ladies, one armed with a baby and stroller, are chatting on the subway. Occasionally the baby will growl, and one of the ladies will pop the lid off a small tupperware with some Cheerios in it. The baby grabs a bunch of O’s, throws them away, and then picks up one, and laboriously sticks it in his mouth. The mother closes the container and the two ladies continue their conversation:

“We were interviewing some people for a position, and when we asked what was the greatest change or highlight in their lives, some of them said the iPod!”

UPDATE: I won a 20GB iPod.

Too close to the edge

Well, that was fun. My computer died two weeks ago, and I have been experiencing a gamut of unpleasant emotions and saying several four-letter words with anatomical references. It truly passed with a bang – or more specifically, a blue screen of death. Rebooting it only resulted in bringing my PC into a coma-like fugue, with the HDD light worryingly stuck on. Verdict: toasted motherboard. I suspect it had something to do with last year’s problems with the northbridge chipset.

It was a better excuse to upgrade than I could ever come up on my own, so after a week of staring at computer guts heaped on top of my writing desk, I went to my local Chinese-run computer shop and bought an Athlon64, new motherboard, and RAM. Unfortunately, the adventure didn’t stop there – the new computer proved to be quite unstable. I’ve become a little too intimate with Asus motherboard arcanum and the trinity of troubleshooting tools – Prime95, Memtest86, and 3DMark03. Verdict: A disobedient stick of RAM.

Prime95 actually has an amusing story. It’s actually a distributed client designed to look for prime numbers. However, overclocking enthusiasts discovered it gave their hardware a thorough workout, and now it’s reknown more for its “torture tests” than its Marsennes-finding abilities.

The funny thing is, I wasn’t terribly stressed out about the whole thing. I do regular backups, I was due for an upgrade, and I was financially prepared to buy lots of computer stuff at a moment’s notice. Also, with the advent of web services, less and less of my work and data is tied to one computer. Or maybe I’m just growing up. Nah.