Technology and Transit

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For the last couple of years, Toronto has been trying to implement the Presto card, an electronic payment system that is intended to eliminate the need for cash, tokens, tickets, and passes when taking public transit.  Other benefits include being able to load the card 24/7, cancel the card if it goes missing and transfer the balance, and being able to use it across local regional transit systems.

I initially got my Presto card in 2015 to commute on the GO, a regional public transit system.  I was excited to try it out, but quickly discovered some major, time draining inconveniences with it.  The GO calculates fares based on distance.  This requires the customer to tap the Presto card at the beginning and end of each trip.  I quickly discovered that the machines to tap the card pre- and post- boarding were often not convenient.  One station I used was under construction.  The machine was in a small structure about 350m from where the train stopped resulting in a number of close calls.  In the past, I could’ve purchased my ticket online (or in advance) and headed straight to the train, saving myself several precious minutes and a lot of stress.

I find it can be similar when taking the public transit in Toronto, which charges a single fare for any distance traveled within the city limits.  For the moment, people can still purchase monthly metrocards for unlimited use in a calendar month.  Having a monthly metrocard saves time because people who have one can board transit without doing anything.  If a fare inspector checks, the card is proof of payment.

Now that I’ve switched to the Presto card, I must tap my card every time I ride transit, even for a transfer, which is a clumsy process and slows down the boarding process.  Many of the machines are placed in funny positions, such as in the middle of a staircase to board the streetcar, or at the same level as people’s bums.  Trust me, it’s a real challenge accessing these machines during rush hour!  And sometimes the machines aren’t even working.

In many ways, the Presto card is more convenient than cash and tokens, but not more convenient than an unlimited metrocard, or an unlimited GO transit pass.  It’s still being implemented, but I hope in the end it does end up saving time and reducing frustration for public transit riders.

New Age Learning

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After years of talking about learning Spanish, and two failed attempts at teaching myself with an app, I finally registered for Spanish 101 this semester at a nearby college.  In the first class I was pleasantly surprised to see the teacher writing on a Smartboard, which was used later in the class to play videos and project course content.

The class is taught using a variety of methods in different formats.  We take our quizzes on tablets, provided to us by the college if we don’t have our own.  The audio learning, something critical when learning a foreign language, is vastly improved from my childhood experiences.  In elementary school I distinctly remember straining to hear a gravely, scratchy sounding tape from a cassette player in the front of the room.  During our last quiz we could listen with our headphones to the audio portion at any time.

I’m almost halfway done with the course and I’m still trying to assess if I’m learning better with the new methods, or if I’m only learning how to become more dependent on them.  For example, during the last quiz we had to fill in the right form of the verb “to be” based on the sentence.  I used to have to memorize that kind of stuff, mostly through flashcards and writing it down repeatedly.  However, on the quiz, I was often offered dropdown menus of possible answers.  This meant instead of memorizing it, I only had to remember how to recognize it.

For our homework assignments, we log in to Supersite, a learning centre included with the textbook.  In addition to the textbook, the Supersite offers video tutorials and practice sets for writing, listening, and speaking.  I often do the practice sets from the Supersite, but I’m never sure how much it improves my learning.  On the one hand, as mentioned above, it provides me with options for an answer instead of requiring me to have them completely memorized.  But on the other hand, the answers are graded immediately with the errors highlighted.  I find the instant feedback really helpful.

Overall I’m enjoying the experience of learning Spanish through so many different methods.  Even with all the technological advancements, the best part of the experience for me is having a teacher who is a native speaker.  The kind of thing that is sometimes missing from the software.

Stuff is Paralyzing

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Many people have the impression that digital storage is cheap, abundant, and limitless, especially when it’s readily available.  Coupled with this impression is the idea that it’s not hurting anything to retain so much digital content so why bother to get rid of it.  However, what stands the biggest risk of “being hurt” is the person saving the stuff. Some potential damages include the following:

  1. Contending with unintended destruction – sometimes disasters happen and equipment gets damaged, thereby destroying content.  If this happens, do you want to spend time, money, and energy restoring and/or migrating everything?  Or would you rather invest time saving the things that matter most?
  2. Upgrading or changing devices – see above
  3. Dealing with hacks or viruses – every time I see a headline about Yahoo, I’m reminded of an old Yahoo email account I used for 10+ years.  I did a basic clean out of the Yahoo account when I moved to gmail, or at least I thought I did. After the latest headline, I logged into my Yahoo account and saw many emails containing highly personal and sensitive information in both the body and attachments.
  4. Losing time looking for things – I often help clients come up with strategic ways to manage information more effectively to improve search and retrieval.  The success partially results from routinely purging low-value content to ensure search queries retrieve high quality matches.

We’re bombarded daily with volumes of stuff, making it difficult to assess what has enduring value from all the other useless junk.  Maybe saving everything is so easy that it becomes the new “norm” causing us to develop new attachments to our stuff and how we think about it emotionally.  Read more here:

Do you find it impossible to delete old photos and texts? You may be a digital hoarder

At a certain point, too much saved “stuff” becomes crippling.  For example, sometimes people rent physical storage units because of a life circumstance (e.g. move) and with the intention that it’s a short term solution.  Often the unit is neither visited nor used and becomes a financial and emotional burden on the owner, similar to what happens with an over accumulation of digital content on our devices.  You can’t bear to let any of it go, while at the same time hoping for a disaster to take care of it for you and eliminate the burden.

Be elite and delete.  Save strategically!

Reality News

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I remember how people really seemed to grieve in 2009 when Walter Cronkite died.  He was often referred to as “the most trusted man in America.”  From 1962-1981 he was the anchor for CBS Evening News.  During those years, his news report became the first 30-minute program on TV and was one of the most popularly viewed.  In addition to grieving for Cronkite himself, perhaps what people were really grieving was a simpler time when a news source was trustworthy and reliable.  It was a popular segment, so it also meant many people were also receiving the same reliable news, at the same time.  Even if someone didn’t agree with what was happening, at least everybody could agree on the facts as presented in the news.

Having so many news sources available anytime of the day has now made it difficult to evaluate and assess the authenticity and reliability of the sources.  On the flip side, sometimes it’s beneficial to have access to so many different news sources, as stories are covered differently in other parts of the world or by opposing viewpoints.  However, over the last few months I’ve seen several articles in the news about fake stories circulating on Facebook and chatbots automatically generating and proliferating tweets of dubious quality on Twitter.  We hear about “alternative facts” from the Counselor to POTUS and contend with stories racing around the internet, newspapers, TV, and radio shows from all over the world.  With all of these difference sources bombarding us constantly from every direction, how are we supposed to know which ones are reliable and trustworthy?

In today’s environment, it would be difficult to answer this question about any available news source consistently.  And this is not a reflection on the profession of journalism, but rather to point out how could any news stories be validated amongst all the competing headlines and various news channels, including those generated automatically.  By using social media and other available online tools, it’s very easy to spread around fake stories.  This means journalists must spend their time investigating and evaluating false leads with conflicting information.  And because facts are very difficult to correct once they’ve been disseminated, even when a story is reported accurately after a false start, many people are still willing to believe the first version.

Where is our “most trusted news source” on the internet?

Speaking in Emoji

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I can’t help but notice how common it is to use emoji (maybe even instead of punctuation, gasp) to express emotions, along with a whole host of other things.  The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines emoji as:

“any of various small images, symbols, or icons used in text fields in electronic communication (as in text messages, e-mail, and social media) to express the emotional attitude of the writer, convey information succinctly, communicate a message playfully without using words, etc.”

I remember first using emoji in the early 2000’s at a temp job.  My co-worker and I had downloaded something called a “hotbar” which allowed us to put fun little faces into our emails.  The IT department shut it down when they discovered it interfered with a key reporting program.  However, I was hooked on the funny little faces expressing angst, humor, or my favorite, the one repeatedly spewing a green glob of vomit.  Perfect for the office.

Over the years, options have grown becoming more nuanced and detailed.  I often find it’s not so easy to tell the difference between similar, but yet totally different expressions. It’s a new language.  Apparently, I’m not the only one who is sometimes confused, check out this article “16 Emojis You’ve Been Using All Wrong.”

It never fails to impress me how accurately some people are able to convey emotions and expressions through one tiny emoji.  I’m fairly useless at this.  When I try to reply with emoji, I find myself scrolling through pages of options totally baffled at what emotion each face is trying to convey. Eventually I give up and put in something random thinking surely the person at the receiving end will know exactly what I meant by each non sequitir emoji.Here is the first page of many from my phone’s messaging app:

 

Emoji options

 

Some are obvious, but others elude me.  I underlined the 11 different faces smiling and laughing.  They can’t all be expressing humor.

Recently I took a Body Language Quiz that aimed to assess how well I read other people.  Based on my inadequacies with interpreting emoji, I figured my score would be in the lower range.  Much to my surprise I scored a 15/20.  Take the quiz here.

Body Language Quiz Results

 

I’ve now added an emojidictionary and emojipedia to my collection of links to help me with translations.

Rejuvenate

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Last year about this time I was moving into my new place.  [Read about it here.]  By the end of the weekend, my arm throbbing with pain, I was ready for a break.  My mother and I headed down to Allan Gardens, an amazing plant conservatory about 5 minutes away.

We entered and were quickly nestled into the warmth and humidity of the domed room at the entrance.  It was the last day of the poinsettia display and the red of the flowers flamed out at us from under the greenery.  The air smelled fresh and alive.  While the world outside was gray and dreary, we strolled through lush, green patches.

Poinsettia display at Allan Gardens (2017).

Poinsettia display at Allan Gardens (2017).

I felt my arm start to relax.  By the time we reached the turtle pond at one end of the garden, I started smiling. My pace slowed and then stopped to watch the turtles swimming around.  Or piling up on the stones to sun themselves.

Turtles, piled up and sunning.

Turtles, piled up and sunning.

My breathing slowed, influenced by the quiet tranquility of the plants surrounding me on all sides.  A glance all the way to the right or left revealed the outside world, beautiful in its own way, but colored with a monochrome palette of whites and grays.  Next to me I heard my mother’s breathing deepen.  Then she remarked how rejuvenating it felt to walk through a garden, at any time of the year, but especially in the winter.

At that moment, I felt lucky.  It was winter in a cold northern climate, but I had the good fortune to be surrounded by living, green plants and flowers with one of my favorite people.  We left sometime later, feeling refreshed, the stress and chaos of the move already forgotten.  They had been replaced by the clean, fresh air provided by the plants in the conservatory.

This year, during a visit, I took my family to Allan Gardens.  We were greeted by a plant-based Penguin trio in the domed entrance and again, the poinsettia display (see above).  Once again, the plants worked their magic on me.  I was instantly rejuvenated.

Penguin jazz band in the domed entrance room. The pianist was across the walkway.

Penguin jazz band in the domed entrance room. The pianist was across the walkway.