blarg?

November 10, 2018

Tunnels

Filed under: a/b,analog,documentation,interfaces,life,travel — mhoye @ 2:13 am

Toronto’s oldest subway line, and the newest. This the view east from the Bloor Station platform:

Subway Tunnel, Bloor Station

… and this is the view north from York University:

PA250713

June 4, 2017

What I’m Talking About When I’m Talking About Biking

Filed under: analog,interfaces,travel,vendetta — mhoye @ 4:08 pm

It’s a funny little quirk of Ontario traffic laws that the fine for killing a cyclist is often less expensive than the bike they were riding when they were killed.

I’m a cyclist. I own bikes for different jobs, I commute to work every day I can on a bike, and ride for fun when I have a chance. There’s no better way to get around this city; you have almost perfect freedom and nothing is faster. If I’m pushing hard my commute at the height of rush hour is 25 minutes. 22 is a personal best, pretty good for a 10 kilometer ride.

I only drive it two or three times a year but in a car I’ve never been able make it door to door in rush hour in less than 45. As a cyclist I’m faster and more agile than anything else on the road, but all that speed and freedom comes at one cost: total vulnerability. I am, I think I’ve mentioned, one of those proverbial “scofflaw cyclists”. I can guess what you think about that; I don’t particularly care.

Riding in Toronto means you’re quote-sharing-unquote the road; there are very few genuinely separated bike lanes, mostly disconnected from each other. All of them are about five feet wide, maybe enough for two cyclists to pass each other if one hugs the curb. About one and a third car doors, to use a metric that matters. If you’re lucky something more robust than a painted line separates you from passing cars, but usually not.

Navigating infrastructure built with your existence as less as than an afterthought is never boring; the casual transgressions drivers barely notice themselves committing every day can injure or kill an inattentive cyclist, so space and direction are never things you can just have, or trust. You fight for every inch of it, carve it out and press forward. What you’re given is the worst parts of the pavement if anything, where people will pull up to park, unload, and cut you off without so much as a glance. So you take as much of the lane as you can. It might be rough, the route might end up circuitous, but if you don’t assert your right to the lane you’re stuck. You might get in somebody’s way and they might get angry but you do it anyway because the alternative to being loud and visible is being a statistic.

And if you’ve ever been in an accident bad enough to warrant the police showing up, you know the drill already: it’s always an exercise in figuring out what the cyclist did wrong. Did they have lights on their bike? A bell? Did they signal? Maybe their clothes weren’t visible enough. It must have been something like that, but if not it was probably the cyclist being “too aggressive”. Just to give you a taste of how little the Toronto police think of cyclists, here’s an accident prevention campaign they ran on May 16th of this year by parking an old-timey novelty police car in the Adelaide bike lane. That’s right, a traffic safety awareness campaign forcing cyclists into traffic at rush hour.

For the most part, that’s just how it is. Cops don’t actually think cyclists are people, and the laws don’t actually treat cyclists like people. Cars, yes, definitely! Cyclists, not so much; this is why so many cyclists have bike- or helmet-cams now; without the recording, the police will always – always – find a reason it was the cyclists’ fault. If somebody threatens to kill you with a knife or a gun, police are on the way, sirens blazing. With a car, though? If they show up at all, it’s to tell the cyclist it was their fault.

So as a cyclist, you have to navigate this world full of people who are wearing three thousand pounds of indestructible, gasoline-powered armour and do not care enough if you live or die to glance in their mirrors – motorists who’ve lived in the armour of their privilege for so long they can’t distinguish it from a capital-R Right – but who will get incredibly upset if you do anything that so much as hurts their feelings.

And, Oh My God, they have so many feelings. They’re full to bursting with Driver Feelings. If you so much as startle somebody in a car, those feelings all come out at once. They’ll chase you down, cut you off, roll down their windows and start into the insults, the death threats, it’s amazing.

You’d think being functionally invulnerable would give you some sort of minimal sense of confidence, but my goodness no. That’s not the case at all; I’ve swerved around a car that decided to park in the Bloor bike lane, only to have the person in the SUV who had to brake behind me honk, pull up and start yelling. I’ve had a car on the Danforth start swerving into me like he’s playing chicken. Screaming, swearing, all of it, from people who’ve got three other lanes to choose from and an entire city of infrastructure purpose-built for their vehicles ahead of them. I’ve had a car run a stop sign just so they could catch up with me and yell at me not to run stop signs. I’ve been told, by somebody parked in the bike lane, that I should think of the reputation of cyclists and stay in my lane.

This is a routine experience in this city. You’re riding through a city where four- and eight- lane highways crisscrossing the downtown core are completely normal but safe bike lanes are somehow “controversial”. Nobody really cares about following the rules, to the point where people get upset if you’re following the wrong ones, and if you’re on a bike those rules aren’t, by design, going to protect you anyway. They’re just what drivers point back to when you’ve made them angry, and they’ll get angry if you break the rules, or if you follow the rules, or if you’re nearby, or if cyclists exist at all. It’s the veil of authority people hide behind, when they have power and want to vent their anger at people without.

You’ve heard this story before, I suspect. With different labels, in a different context maybe, but I bet the broad strokes of it are familiar. My routine bike commute is at the core of my politics, of my understanding of the nature of power.

For me, though, that ride is a choice. Ultimately I can put the bike down. And because I’m an upper-middle-class white man who works in tech, when I put the bike down I get to step into my own, different suit of nearly-invulnerable power armour.

It says a lot about you, I think, if you can look at any imbalance of power and vulnerability and your first reflexive reaction is to talk about how important rules are. I don’t know about you, but that’s not who I want to be. I live and work in a world full of people who can’t put their vulnerabilities aside so casually, who are full time, 24/7 navigating social and economic structures that are far more pervasive and hostile to them than cars are to me and my adorable little hour per day of commute. People who understand how those “rules” really work where the rubber (and sometimes the skin, and sometimes the skull) meets the road. So the least, the very least I can do is listen carefully to people who can’t put down their gender, their disability or the color of their skin, who suffer the whims of those oppressive, marginalizing systems, and to try to understand more than the problem or grievance they’re facing right now, but the architectures that give those problems their durability, their power. And to do the day-in, day-out work of understanding my own blind spots and taking responsibility for the spaces and systems around me.

It’s not super-convenient for me personally, to be honest. It takes me a bit longer to get places or find a place to park. But this is the job.

September 14, 2016

Historical Precedent

Filed under: arcade,beauty,books,digital,documentation,interfaces,travel — mhoye @ 10:21 am

Framed

A while back in Architecture For Loners I wrote a bit about a how in-game architecture can fail a video game’s narrative if you’ve got the right eyes, the right incentives and maybe the right jetpack:

The environments, though… if you have the right eyes you can’t help but notice that built-for-a-shooter feeling that pervades the designed landscapes of that franchise. […] whether it’s a forcefield deployed pointlessly in a cave, an otherwise-empty room with one door and twenty or so alien warriors milling around inside waiting to no discernable purpose or an massive structure of dubious architectural merit built by an advanced alien species whose accomplishments include intergalactic teleporters but not doors, you never have a moment to shake off the sense that the world is built entirely around sight lines.

I’ve just come across two great posts about other games I wanted to share with you. The first is about Hidetaka Miyazaki’s “Bloodborne”, called “Understanding the sublime architecture of Bloodborne”:

Like director Hidetaka Miyazaki and company’s previous titles, Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, Bloodborne involves the player in a sublime romance with pre-industrial European architecture. As broadly as mannerism can be described, then, it makes the most sense to place Bloodborne within this particular European lineage.

To get a grasp on what this means, we need to return to Michelangelo, who was as imaginative an architect as he was anything else, and there’s no better example of mannerist elements at play in his work than the Laurentian Library’s vestibule. At first glance, it may seem like an attractive but unremarkable room: essentially a cube with sparsely decorated walls and a staircase. A closer look reveals a number of oddities.

The second is a translated interview with Maria Elisa Navarro Morales, who was the architectural history consultant for the Ezio Auditore games in the Assassin’s Creed series, set between 1476 and 1503 in the Rome, Florence and Venice of Renaissance Italy:

I would have never imagined that the clothing could be so different between Florence and Venice. To document that I had to base a lot off of the paintings of that time period, studying them in great detail to detect the particular differences. For example, the cities had different laws about the kind of neckline women were allowed to wear. In Venice the laws were more lax, and that’s where the courtesan character shows up. None the less, the noblewomen weren’t allowed to go into the streets uncovered in Venice or in Florence. In Florence the men wore a unique hat, while in Venice they didn’t, etc.

Another thing was the hairstyles, that we studied through artists like Botticelli. For example, the ideal beauty in Venice was the blonde woman, so many women dyed their hair. Apart from those more general types of jobs, there was a questionnaire that the artists could fill out to ask me more specific things. All of that appeared in the game.

Both articles are wonderful and you should read them; if you enjoyed them, you’d probably also enjoy Darran Anderson’s “Imaginary Cities”, about which more later.

Let me take a moment to renew my call for a “tourist mode” in video games; I would pay good DLC money for an assisted-walkthrough mode in games like these, that took the time to talk in depth about the why, how, and historical background of their construction and design.

March 4, 2016

In Transit

Filed under: documentation,flickr,interfaces,travel,vendetta — mhoye @ 10:42 am

The Tunnels

X22

Southbound On Spadina

Yonge Station @ 08:30

Selfie

September 26, 2014

A Beautiful, Momentary Friendship

Filed under: awesome,beauty,life,lunacy,travel — mhoye @ 12:57 pm

For about ten minutes this morning I was in a beautiful relationship.

I bike to work in the morning, and I’m pretty aggressive about it. I’m one of the scofflaw cyclists people like to complain about while they’re spending a few hours every day slowly dying in gridlock. I move so much faster than traffic, though, that their opinions hardly matter. Off peak hours (whenever those are) you can make a case for driving, I suppose? But in rush hour, in this city, nothing is faster than me. TTC, Porsche, Ducati, doesn’t matter.

Today, though.

This morning I’m cranking down the road, not full out but sure not dawdling, when a woman about my age riding with fenders and a pannier – a pannier! Wicker! – blows past me like it’s not even a thing. Whoosh.

This cannot stand, of course; the machismo bullshit is strong with me at moments like this. It’s a rare day and a rare treat for me that I get a rabbit to chase on my ride in, so I can’t miss this; I gear down take off after her.

After a while I catch up, start drafting – the two of us are flying down the road – and then pass her, but I’m not shaking her, oh no. She was not having that. I beat her to a light by about two lengths but she timed it better, got out in front of me again, took a better line around the traffic and started stretching her lead. She was raising her game here, and I did not have an easy time catching up. By the time I do I’m feeling it, and looking over it doesn’t look like I’m pushing her anywhere near as hard as she’s pushing me.

We went back and forth like that for about ten minutes, past everyone, trading leads and drafting around traffic and go go go until finally her commute took her north near where I turned south. I was grinning like a lunatic at the end of it, and she seemed happy as well; we shared a nod and went our separate ways, and that was that.

Whoever you are, that was one of the best rides in I can remember. I hope it was as much of a blast for you as it was for me.

Well done, and thank you.

September 8, 2014

The Knife Shop

Filed under: beauty,future,interfaces,life,travel — mhoye @ 2:24 pm

Leaves

In Tsukiji there’s a small, open-fronted shop called “Tsukiji Masamoto”, and it’s packed. The walls are lined floor to ceiling with knives in various wooden cases, row after row of every tool you’d need to separate one part of some animal from another.

Their shapes were unfamiliar to my western eyes, specialized tools for jobs I know nothing about. Even the local equivalent of the west’s workaday one-size-fits-all chef’s knife, the santoku, seems to come in more shapes and sizes than makes sense. The cleaver-like usuba bocho doesn’t have an obvious western counterpart, the hard angles of the usagisaki hocho, the “eel knife”, likewise. And the savage economy of the soba kiri or udon kiri – literally “noodle knife”, because that’s all they’re for – looks more like the business end of something stylized and cruel than a common household utensil in its own right.

Most striking is the maguro bocho, made for filleting four hundred pounds of tuna in a single motion; some seven feet long, five of it blade, they seem more like a Daimyo’s tool than a fishmonger’s. It’s hard to believe they’re useful until you see how big a full-sized tuna can be; the nature of the tool becomes clear once you understand the nature of the job, as usual.

When I visited there was a man squared up over a whetstone out front, a man who looks like he’s made out of old leather and dock rope. He was holding a hon deba to the wheel in hands you could mistake for a bag of walnuts. He seemed to have been there forever; as far as I’m concerned he’s probably still there, a small man who stands like an old mountain. Tsukiji seemed to have been built around him; I had the impression some shogun’s son had found him standing in front of that wheel when it was still called Edo and returned home to say, father, we do need a fish market, and there is a man already there sharpening knives. Respectfully, father, I don’t think he’s going anywhere for anyone.

As I was watching him work he lifted the hon deba off the wheel and peered closely at its edge for a long time before he lowered the knife and stared at the sky for just as long. For a moment I could almost see a hint of dissatisfaction and then nothing; he put the edge back to the wheel, I moved on.

I think about this a lot; I wish I’d been able to ask him what he’d seen.

April 23, 2012

Breakfix Wayfinding

Filed under: documentation,fail,interfaces,losers,travel,want — mhoye @ 10:25 pm

At the November 24th, 2011 TTC Town Hall meeting, it was noted that:

The TTC has attempted to make incremental improvements as we provide new entrances / exits or elevators for step-free access. One of the recommendations made by the Customer Service Advisory Panel in 2010 focuses on improving signs and other customer information. We are working on a plan to do this but re-signing a station is an expensive proposition both in terms of the planning required, the material cost and implementation. We need better understanding of what priority customers give to improved way finding when balanced against things like an increase in service levels.

Having said that, we must get much better at not degrading the look and feel of our stations and trains with visual clutter such as handwritten signs. Such improvements should have little cost impact but can be difficult to ensure consistency. We are experimenting with a new “wrap” on the Davisville collector booth that we hope will balance our operational and customer needs and control some of the clutter on and in our booths.

Line Up

I took this a few weeks ago at Spadina Station during rush hour. It’s classic TTC signage: hastily assembled by TTC employees using all the resources they have at their disposal, which is usually the side of a cardboard box and a sharpie.

Noted accessibility author Joe Clark has written extensively on the subject, though as of early 2008 he has understandably abandoned that project. When an organization doesn’t even want to admit there’s a problem, what do you do?

A sign

I’ve said this a lot recently. When something is a priority for an organization, it has three things: a budget, a calendar and exactly one person responsible for it. Missing any one of those is a guarantee that whatever that organization says, its real priorities are elsewhere. So whatever the TTC’s management says about wayfinding and signage the budget they’ve actually allocated for all that is a pizza box, a broom handle and a sharpie. The person responsible for it is whoever happens to be there that day.

All the evidence suggests that there’s nobody at the TTC that anyone, inside or out, can call to say that signs are broken or missing or need to be printed. There’s no budget, no standards and nobody to ask about any of that and if there is, then boy howdy they’re not answering the phone.

That town hall comment above, as misguided as it is in many respects does get one thing exactly right: it can be inexpensive, but has to be consistent.

It’s impossible for me to blame the boots-on-the-ground TTC employees for this. Hand-scribbled signs like that are adorable; they make it look like the third-busiest transit system in North America is managed by some kids the TTC headhunted away from a lemonade stand, an image I love. And I’m not sure what else to expect, given that we’re looking at the best effort from well-meaning people without expertise, management support, goals, oversight or any guidelines at all, and a time and money budget of zero.

August 23, 2011

Utterly Routine

Filed under: fail,life,losers,travel,vendetta — mhoye @ 3:54 pm

Classic Toronto Traffic

This is absolutely, 100% typical. The police don’t even bother ticketing them most of the time.

August 4, 2011

Global Portaling System

Filed under: arcade,digital,interfaces,lunacy,toys,travel — mhoye @ 12:25 pm

Everyday I'm Bustlin'

This came to me the other day when a friend of mine was talking about some acquaintances of theirs who’d driven across Africa, including through the Sudan: some people in some places really, really need a GPS that talks to them like the Fact Sphere from Portal 2.

“The situation you are in is very dangerous. Turn left in 200 meters.”

“Proceed straight for 500 meters. The likelihood of you dying within the next two kilometers is 87.61%. You are about to get me killed. If you proceed along this route, we will both die because of your negligence. The Fact Sphere is not defective. Its facts are wholly accurate, and very interesting.”

“The route you have chosen spans three kilometers of elevation and two war zones. This is a bad plan. You will fail. Violently. Turn right in 100 meters. If you continue on this road at this speed, you will be dead soon.”

“The situation is hopeless. Take the next right turn. You could stand to lose a few pounds.”

September 2, 2010

Toronto Downtown Cycling FAQ

Filed under: interfaces,life,lunacy,travel — mhoye @ 10:51 am

To Trains, Still

My bike has been my primary method of transportation lately and gets me where I’m going often faster and invariably with less hassle than a car or even the subway. This summer has been mostly good days for that and, even though somebody periodically somebody tries to kill me, it’s just so much better an experience that it seems like a fair trade. And as a bonus my bike isn’t a cold-war relic that breaks down all the damn time. But when I tell people that I bike in the city they seem astonished that any sane human would do that. Biking downtown, they say? Madness! And then the complaints about cab drivers start.

And that’s how I can tell those people don’t bike and, in all likelihood, aren’t very good drivers. It’s possible that I’m holding a minority opinion on this but I love taxi drivers. I love them to bits.

Cabbies are just about my favorite people on the road for one reason only: they are completely, utterly predictable. Look five meters ahead of a cab and you know what they’re going to do every time. That space they can turn into to win them an extra car length? They’re going there. That pedestrian with their hand up? Here comes a cab, right up snug to the curb. Braking with nobody in front of them? They’re going to stop and then that door’s going to open.

By and large they even signal. And they’re going to make that move every time; just assume it’s coming and roll with it. Compared to cabbies the alternative is so much worse.

Q: As a cyclist in Toronto, what is my threat model?

A:

  • Custom rims
  • Subwoofer
  • Baseball cap (any)
  • Spoiler
  • Custom paint job
  • Support ribbons (any)
  • Tiny woman, land-yacht SUV
  • Fat, moustachioed man, minivan
  • Aviator-style or larger sunglasses
  • One hand holding coffee
  • One hand holding cellphone

Perform a quick visual assessment of the cars around you; vehicles that meet any two of these criteria should be treated with due caution. Three or more and you should assume they’re actively trying to kill you.

Q: So, bike lanes?

A: There are none. Many wildly disjoint roads in Toronto have lines painted three feet from the curb and what appears to be a bicycle painted on the asphalt, but by convention these are reserved parking for service and delivery vehicles, police and parking enforcement officers. The city will also issue private contractors a permit to park in them at their convenience and you should expect any courier or cube-van you see to swerve directly into them and immediately stop. This is less inconvenient that you might think as these “paths” don’t actually go from anywhere to anywhere else.

Q: But bike paths, right?

A: Yeah, whatever. If you work somewhere on Lakeshore and maybe live under a bridge in the Don Valley then sure. Nobody who is not already a bicycle commuter gives even a fraction of a damn about cycling downtown.

Q: So can I get around on a bike, for real?

A: Ultimately the answer is yes, if you’re willing to act like a car. Take up a whole lane; you notice how police on bikes always ride side by side? Establish that you own the space around you. Don’t hug the curb or when you get cut off you’ll have nowhere to go. Signal when you need to change lanes, but don’t otherwise act predictably; a set precedent of scary randomness will earn you the wide berth you want. But be aware of your environment, 360 degrees of it, at all times. Travel light and agile and be able to make decisions fast. If you’ve got panniers or baskets or whatever behind your seat, then forget it; hug the curb, festoon yourself with lights and reflectors and pray that you live through the ride. If you’ve got any weight at all over your front wheel, panniers or grocery bags hanging off your handlebars then I hope your soul is prepared because you’re already a dead man.

You might get honked at now and then, but that doesn’t matter – in Toronto, car horns don’t mean “look out, I’m coming” or “pay attention, there is a car here”, they mean “Fuck you, I hate you and want you to die” – but my thinking in this is simple: let them hate, so long as they fear.

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