funontheupfield: Echidna (Default)
As an experiment in using QGIS the open source Geographic Information System I attempted to map the busiest public transport stops in Melbourne.

I was motivated by a work problem - where should a Government authority put a handful of bus stop shelters (and focus footpath upgrades) when there are thousands of potential locations on the tram and bus network worthy of attention?

Fortunately there's publicly available data for bus and tram boardings, and people movements in and out of train stations based the transport ticketing system. Unfortunately its a dogs' breakfast of data formats and half abandoned spreadsheets.

So what started as mapping practice has quickly become a data cleaning exercise to make these three datasets "travel mode agnostic" (i.e. to map those features that all common to all there datasets).

When I get something worth showing off (even a decent work in progress) I'll provide links.
funontheupfield: Echidna (Default)
Last weekend (the weekend of 5-6 Aug) I spend a "crafternoon" working on the Yuba bike. I prototyped a bike-portable table using Gaffer Tape, Corflute and ag-pipe.


(Google Photos)


I'm reasonably happy with the result - and the corflute creation is solid enough to be a templating material if the final version needs to be constructed from something more robust. (There's compromise I'll need to make here between mass and durablity. Use will tell me how rugged the final product needs to be).

For now it will do, and I need to work on the next problem - how to safely lift the rear wheel off the ground and support it so it can be ridden. If I can achieve that I can use pedalling actions drive something fun. Currently I have been using stand a custom made device that attaches to the rear bike frame. Neither have worked as well as I hoped, and I've damaged the stand during my experiments (better that than bending the frame, but still an expensive mistake). I suspect I'll need to use something like a motorcycle stand. Hopefully I can find a stand that isn't too bulky to carry.
funontheupfield: Echidna (Default)
About four years ago I bought a Yuba Mundo cargo bike with intentions to use it for work. I wanted to use the bike as a showpiece at community events, but I didn't ever get it set up properly. After a few months of it sitting in my shed, I loaded it to a family and Dad and Ms under-5 use it a couple of times a week commuting to the swimming pool and to child care. This weekend I made a start at the project that inspired the bike purchase.

Part of my job involves going to community festivals and getting people excited about riding bikes, to get people thinking about the travel choices they make and to encourage them to use energy efficient options as often as possible. A lot of the time that's about getting people to question using the car as their default travel option and pointing out that a lot of the time there are better options than using a 1 tonne car to transport a 100kg person + bag.

Attending one of these events involves carrying a lot of kit - tables, pamphlets, banners, giveaway trinkets - so I usually come with a station wagon full of stuff. Driving to one of these events in order to convince people not to drive always struck me as a double standard.

The aspiration was to create a cargo bike that could also be a festival stall. Part of the aspiration involved using the bike as part of the attraction - as an alternative to using semi-disposable trinkets to attract people. That would involve putting the bike on chocks and taking advantage of the drive train to do something fun.

This weekend's goal - create a table for the back of the bike.
funontheupfield: Echidna (Default)
Its 4:45am and I'm not sleeping. At 4 in the morning the most constructive thing I think to do is to hop onto the internet and start writing.

There was a time when I wrote blog posts, put up pictures of my travels and generally used social media as a form of socialising. Then I got lazy, spent more time passively consuming social media rather than creating it. I allowed a workplace social media policy to be an excuse not post on stuff that interested me (I once had a bunch of friends whose primary connection was riding bikes and bitching about how 'the government' should 'do something' to make riding better and saver, then I got a government job doing bike stuff - and bitching about bikes with my mates became something I ought not to do in public).

Eventually I deleted my facebook account (for about the third time) in a fit of pique.
Several months on I'm thinking life would be better with social media. Keeping in touch with friends happens via social media - especially when you've moved city and have good friends in multiple cities. Without it I've become quite withdrawn, and apparently unhappy enough for it to disrupt my sleep.

I'm not yet ready to come back crawling to the Facebook behemoth, but It looks like a total opt out comes with a big cost. It seems smart people these days have a presence outside FB, cross post there (because thats where the audience is) and visit the events tab to find out fun stuff happening in their broader circle of acquaintances.

[profile] tcip does the social media thing well - his is 'life lived on line' doesn't really involve FB (other than as a cross post) and is a proof that there is a life outside of the walled garden. Leena has a different, more of a curated business promotion, internet presence but it is a good example of that type. Henchwench has done both - turning her life lived on line into a profession - by being the kind of nerd others aspire to emulate. And for a quarterly blast of journal worthy commentary I remain impressed by Chris Loader's Charting Transport blog.

I don't know what I can create, but I know for sure that I'm going to have to write and write regularly if I'm to produce anything. At first I will suck. At first it will feel like a waste of time. Reading my old posts here, I can see this is not the first time I've been here. Perhaps its like quitting smoking, for it to eventually work you have to give your self permission to try, fail, and try again. To make it work I'll need just keep producing crap in the hope it gets better.

Podcaster Dan Carlin recommends preparing 5 broadcast quality episodes of a new podcast, and never releasing them. They are your opportunity to make the dumb errors everyone makes when starting out in privacy. I'm not going to do that, I'm going to be terrible in public and be OK with that.

Or in the words of 'Adventure Time' Jake, " Dude, sucking at something is the first step to being sorta good at something".
funontheupfield: Echidna (Default)
I've gotten back into table-top role playing. Its was something I enjoyed at uni, gave up for most of my 30s and got back into last year.

Once a fortnight on a Wednesday after work I've been visiting A* place to catch up, to binge on greasy take away and tell a story with friends using dice. It's been fun, and we've been trying a bunch of new games that didn't exist back in the day.

The table top role playing games I played in the 80s and 90swere epic, complicated and took up many hours a week, every week for months at a time. (Does anyone remember Rolemaster?) I fell out of the hobby when I got busy and meeting every Saturday for a regular campaign felt like a big commitment.

Of the newer games FATE and Fiasco are my current favourites. They have simple rules that are quick to learn, quick to get started and help tell great stories. Both allow for short format (one - three sessions) storytelling) and look like great fun. I've played FATE (in an adventure were we played magic using cats), and I've read the rules to Fiasco and am inspired to give it a go.

Fiasco is a game inspired by Cohen Brothers movies and improvisational theatre. Each gaming session tells a complete story and can be thought of as a two act movie with a closing credits montage. It looks like a lot of fun.

The Fiasco Companion also has tips to running a game via video conferencing. I'm keen to try it out. I'll keep you posted with the results.
funontheupfield: Echidna (Default)
Summer reading time makes me think It worth having a go at #virtualbookclub. This time with a bit more structure.

Here's how I imagine it working...
Once a month on an agreed date (the first Tuesday),
at an agreed time (9:30pm Melbourne/Sydney DST = 6:30pm Perth time = 10.30am UTC) interested people log onto a video conference tool (Google Hangouts / Facetime / Skype) to discuss a book.

If that sounds like your thing, please respond with:
A) Suggested books for January and
B) Preferred video messaging client

First discussion 10:30 UTC on Tue 7 Feb 2017
funontheupfield: Echidna (Default)
It's been a good week.

On the grand final weekend we went to Sydney. It was a bit of an impulse decision. M'Lady is in studying and at that point where all the assignments are getting close to the due dates. She's been spending all of her time in her study nook and going a little stir crazy. She still spent most of the weekend studying, but this time her view was of Sydney Harbour. I spend the weekend 'riding the trolleys', exploring Sydney's public transport network, comparing how their system against Melbourne's. Its a rare city gets public transport 100% right, but I found a lot to like in Sydney's PT network.

Work keeps me busy organising a community breakfast event in to support Ride to Work Day. I really like these events (The event is happens in the morning of Wednesday 12 October). I really like these events. They are a chance to meet the people who use the bike paths and other stuff my colleagues build. We hand out food, people are happy to see us and most of the feedback is positive. Getting a 'well done' from the public means a lot to me and helps recharge the batteries. So thanks everyone who comes along.

Outside of work I'm making slow progress with German DuoLingo. I've completed about a third of the lessons but my comprehension is still pretty bad. I've hit that difficult spot in the middle of a course; too far in to quit, to far away from the end to be excited about completing the program. I also need to revisit the question "What am I learning German for?", at the moment I don't have a good answer.

I commenced learning German because I harboured a fantasy of using my British citizenry and thus EU membership to migrate. Germany is a fascinating federation of places and to paraphrase Hegel always seems to be the embodiment of global historical trends. It has socialised medicine, affordable housing and car-free university towns. Its a place I could see myself living in.

The Brexit referendum has complicated that fantasy. My British passport is no longer a gateway to permanent residency in European nations. Soon it will be no better than my Australian passport, which is to say I'll need a professional sponsor who can offer reliable employment before I can seriously entertain migrating there. Seeking professional sponsorship means answering the question 'what kind of work could I do in Germany (better than a local) and who might be interested in hiring me'. Accepting professional sponsorship would also put me in a rather vulnerable position if the employer turns out to be .... difficult. Brexit didn't kill the idea of migration, but it does make pursuing it more complicated.

All in all I'm too far in and have too far to go (before I can listen to and understand conversational German) for "Let's learn German because its a nice to imagine maybe living there" to be a motivating factor. I need a new source of motivation - possibly a binge of German Language films.

So if I start developing an interest in DDR nostalgia, submarines, the surveillance state, 1970s revolutionaries or running around Berlin you'll know I've been keeping myself inspired watching classic German films with the subtitles off.

A new toy

Sep. 21st, 2016 09:42 pm
funontheupfield: Echidna (Default)
When I buy a new bike I always buy a bike computer. It's not there as a speedo. It's the odometer that's important. If I make the decision to buy a bike I'll get a good one. The odometer is there to make the spend seem worth while. While I'm feeling the bank balance hurt I'm also on the road racking up the kilometres. After a month or so I'll have ridden as many kilometres on my bike as I spent in dollars at the bike shop. At that point I'm happy. Every moment on the bike from then on is a freebie.

This is also how I manage the "just one more bike" temptation. As much as I might get excited over a new cargo bike or the latest bit of kit if I can't see myself riding thousand kilometres on the bike in first six months of purchase (on top of the regular riding I'm doing on my current bike) its probably not worth buying. However, if it passes the 'one dollar per kilometre' test I'll buy it with no regrets.

I haven't bought a new bike. I bought a new laptop. After decades of computing using second hand laptops running linux I shelled out for a brand new MacBook Air. It was an emotional decision. I was in the middle of an eight week cold / flu thing, was going a little stir crazy and thought buying myself something pretty would cheer me up. I am physically well, but now my bank balance is feeling a lot lighter. Its time for some retrospective justification. I need a computer version of my 'dollar per kilometre' bike test.

My previous notion of a justifiable computing expense was around $500 a year. So I'm going to need a significant project (something three times more important than my usual computer noodling) to pass my 'dollar per kilometre' big purchase test.

These are some ideas that might qualify:

* Learning mapping tools (QGIS, or ArcGIS online or ArcGIS desktop a windows virtual machine) and multi-variate statistics to test some assumptions of town planning / transit oriented development Specifically how important are built form factors** in the mix of things needed to deliver the 'sustainable development good stuff'.

* Reading and reviewing the key works of my discipline - in some kind of blog or podcast. I've flirted with this idea before, without committing to the routine of reading to a production schedule.

* Learn the skills to develop a web page (or app) to 'gamify' sustainable travel to work. This tool would allow people to earn points every time they left the car at home and walked, rode or used public transport instead. Regular sustainable travellers could then cash those points in for fabulous cash and prizes.

What would you like to see?

Belonging

Apr. 3rd, 2016 08:17 am
funontheupfield: Echidna (Default)
I'm having difficulty rejoining city life after my big bike ride. It's a problem I was aware of - and had hoped to address by keeping myself busy with some professional development activities. I've made a start, but it's too early to have a satisfying emotional pay off. Meanwhile my travelling partner has really thrown herself into her project and it's occupying most of her time. It's a little embarrassing to admit, but I'm feeling a bit left out.

Borrowing from Abraham Maslow I find myself worried about my sense of belonging, longing for community, and asking 'who is my tribe?' These concerns are distracting me from my personal improvement projects. Developing confidence from proficiency in new skills is a great long term goal but in the meantime I need to work on strengthening my circle of friends.

I was recently listening to a Future Tense podcast that discussed some of the shortcomings of using on-line socialising as a proxy for face to face contact. It resonated with me. Internet contact with friends was great on my travels - and really the only option available - but now I'm back I'm finding the medium doesn't have what it takes to be my main source of social contact.

One creative solution I really liked was the 1000+ coffees project . Matt Kulesza is guy who has set himself the goal of arranging a one on one, face to face meet up over a cup of coffee with each of his 1000+ Facebook friends. I think it is a cool idea. I'm going to shamelessly copy it.

Anyone for coffee?
funontheupfield: Echidna (Default)
Its six weeks after our return to Melbourne. I have a place to live. Its starting to look homely. I'm back at work and for the large part I've picked up my life where I put it on hold just before the bike tour. This is a danger time. The big goal is achieved, even the little goals of getting settled are achieved. I'm at a loose end and prone to speculate, "And now what?"

For months after the 2002-3 ride I was unhappy and frustrated. I had achieved this epic thing. I had circumnavigated Australia by bike. Yet within weeks of returning to Melbourne I had returned to my pre-ride routine. In my mind the ride had changed everything. In my daily life it changed nothing.

Sharing the experiences of the ride proved harder than I imagined. People were interested, but didn't empathise. They loved the tales of mechanical problems in remote places and slightly crazy country people, but no-one really understood what I meant when I praised the daily rhythms of life on the road. My highlights, waking to the animal noises of first light, the comfort that comes from packing up, the routine of hour upon hour in the saddle, these things meant nothing to my city friends. Talking about my highlights typically got a "I think what you've done is a amazing achievement but I could never do it" type response. Talking about the stuff that was important for me only highlighted how much of an outsider I had become. I had lost the common ground with many of my friends, and gradually we drifted away. In many ways returning to the 'real world' proved much harder than the ride itself.

I resolved the 2002-3 post ride blues by shaking my life up. A year after the ride I returned to uni, and was training for a brand new profession. Six months after that I had changed career, was in a new relationship and was happy again. However, I'd lost the best part of a year to introspection, and with it the chance to create anything valuable with my writings from the road. I'm not going to make that mistake twice.

This time I'm going roll over that sense of achievement from the completing a big ride into the next big project. I want a create a professional blog about city making and sustainable transport. Through that blog I will engage with important issues affecting my profession and participate in a global discussion about what makes a good city. I take the following blogs as my inspiration:


  • Chris Loader's Charting Transport- an Australian transport and city planning blog that knows better than to bring an opinion to a data fight.

  • Daniel Bowen's Daniel Bowen dot com - A Melbourne discussion of all things public transport related.

  • Brent Toderian's Planetizen, - An Vancouver based urban designer reflects on the big question 'What makes a great city?




That's it. I've announced it to the world. Nailed my colours to the mast. Time to get writing.
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