Facebook tells me you`re stalking me
Russell Degnan

Having finally succumbed to the realisation that the only way to know what is happening anymore is to read people's facebook pages, it is expected therefore, that, as a blogger, I will immediately talk about facebook here.

No doubt I am not the first to note this, but as a latecomer to the facebook phenomenon, and as someone with an unusual, if not perfectly unique name, I probably notice it more than most, and as someone who takes privacy seriously, I find it objectionable. Facebook is almost certainly recording searches.

Consider: the original list of friends I added was very short, almost exclusively people I see regularly, all of whom were culled from other friends lists. Yet, somehow, while recommending people, even before I'd added a single friend, facebook was able to identify a former housemate, five bloggers I know in real life, three people I know from university, a former workmate, and a former student, without them being friends with (or even knowing) anybody on my friends list. And did so with uncanny accuracy - much more accurately than identifying mutual friendship networks.

In all cases, it would be no great surprise if they'd searched for me, but it is a questionable practice to tell me, effectively, that this is happening.

Not least because: who have I been stalking?

Passing Fancy 14th January, 2010 21:00:38   [#] [3 comments] 

Skiving customers through incompetency
Russell Degnan

I got my latest electricity bill today: -$125,42

Normally finding out you paid for your electricity some months ago would be a good thing, but there is something just a little suss about this one.

You see, this is the third time they've significantly over-charged me. Becuase the bill is monthly, and the reading quarterly, the company does a projection of the previous bills to fill the gaps. Shouldn't be too hard, adjust a little for summer/winter changes - we don't have air-conditioning so we use a lot more in winter - and after three months you tack a dollar or two in either direction.

But for some reason their formula is consistently way off, so I am consistently over-charged for two months, then paying nothing for a third. Which would be fine, cash flow issues aside, except in the process they are fiddling the numbers in their favour.

Because, when I get over-charged, I pay at the bad-person, not-very-energy-efficient rate of $0.1674 per kWh. But when I get refunded, they do it at the good-person, not-using-much-energy base rate of $0.1567 per kWh.

812 kWh x (0.1674-0.1567) = $8.69.

Okay, it's only $9. And it is hardly worth complaining about a measly $9 twice a year (or blogging about for that matter). But if they do that to several hundred thousand customers that starts to add up, notwithstanding the fact that it might represent as much as a third of the yearly profit margin for a retail electricity company.

There is something objectionable about a company producing a model of electricity use so badly wrought that every 6th electricity bill is free into a handy profit. Not that they're the only group of people to turn poor models into a handy profit of late. Seems profiting off bad models is some sort of trend.

Passing Fancy 30th March, 2009 14:45:11   [#] [2 comments] 

Displaying Elevations on Google Maps
Russell Degnan

For the past month or so I only seem to have been doing three things: marking assignments, attending weddings and going for bike rides. Unfortunately there was far too much of the first and not near enough of the latter. Marking is practically finished now, and I won't be teaching for a while to focus on finding that elusive thesis question.

The bike riding will hopefully continue though, with the plan to have more long rides, especially now that I've ridden around most of the paths the city has to offer. Finding places to ride can be extremely annoying though. Google Maps is really good at giving you a route and a distance, and has a pretty cool terrain viewer to give a sense of the hills, but not perfect for other important bike things.

Firstly, the route finder gives the fastest route, which means the main-est road route. Since I'd prefer to avoid main roads, what I'd really like (and can't get) is a sense of road quality. A route finder that confines itself to sealed roads would be handy. Information on the map detailing whether a road has a shoulder, or a bike lane would also be helpful. Doubly so if it could tell me what roads are smooth, instead of long wearing too. I'm not sure what it is like for cars, but I notice a 10-15% difference in effort between the asphalt of highway road surfaces, and that normally used for bike paths.

Route finding for bikes is possible with the proper GIS information, and I'm working on that in a more general way, mfor more research type reasons, already. Writing my own route finder to plug into Google Maps is possible (even likely), but not quite yet. I'd need to look into a dedicated server to handle the processing.

Secondly, although there is a pretty handy terrain viewer, it is not easy to read contour lines to calculate hills Particularly winding roads where the distance is hard to calculate, it needs to be at full zoom to see them properly.

I can do something about this though. Google Maps has a pretty good API for playing with its stuff. Very good actually, and it isn't until you get into it that you realise how cool it is, and how easy it is to do some funky stuff (though a few things I wanted to do meant rewriting slabs of functionality). Unfortunately, Google doesn't tell you the elevation at different coordinates. As with route fnding, with a dedicated server and proper GIS information I could find this easily enough, but not yet.

Fortunately, Topocoding has a clean and hard working API of their own, providing data to 90m world wide. Combine that with Google's route finder, some Walter Zorn's drawing tools and some (possibly also server intensive) PHP back-end coding, and the result is (I think) worth a few days of effort:

I am not sure what the image processing is doing to my hosting service (it is very slow, but that might be a coding error). Topocoding limits the number of requests it allows anyway, so the full working model might get reserved for my personal purposes in the event of unexpected popularity. Please note: working out the route, and setting the scale before getting the elevation makes a big difference to your wait times.

It is a funky plaything though. That's the Tour de France's brutal tour decider over L'Alpe d'Huez above. For the benefit of significantly more of my readers, here is the link to the significantly easier, but more familiar, climb up Northcote Hill

Passing Fancy 12th August, 2008 17:44:32   [#] [0 comments] 

Not Even Lost
Russell Degnan

Where have all the people without any prevailing sense of direction come from? I'm used to helping people find their way, particularly near the youth hostel, which doesn't exactly jump out at you. But in the past week, twice, I've had people who haven't even been near where they are going. Still they weren't the most lost people I've ever met...

Wrong suburb, strangely disinterested

Waiting to go into Camy's [1] the person behind me in line interrupts to ask where Elgin Street is. "In Carlton?". "Yes". "Um, it is nowhere near here, you need to get on the tram and go up past the university" "oh. yeah, that's right".

They stayed in line as it moved slowly towards cheap dumpling goodness.

Wrong suburb, strangely disorientated

Near the Haymarket roundabout of death, back when I walked home, I get stopped by a disheveled and disorientated guy on Peel St. "Excuse me, but do you know where Newmarket is?" "That way", I point, losing him to that direction before I could add that it was a bit far to walk.

Maybe it wasn't.

Right line, wrong direction, wrong suburb

On the 55 tram, almost to Domain junction, something twigs in a young family: "Excuse me. We are trying to get to the zoo?". Sympathetically, I point out that they need to be going in the direction we are not. "It's a fair way from here, but you'll see it, eventually".

It was raining when they got off, but I guess they got there.

Right road, wrong direction, wrong state

Royal Parade, just near the sign that says "Welcome to Melbourne", a thickly accented driver, between puffs of his cigarette, stops me to ask for directions. "Excuse me, but which way to Alb-ny?" "Albany", I ask, thinking St. Albans or some suburb I hadn't heard of. "Yes", he says, grabbing a map to show me.

A map of Australia.

"Albury". "You need to go that way", I say, pointing into the maw of Sydney Road.

"It's about four hours though."

[1] And someone needs to point me in the direction of another outrageously cheap dumpling restaurant. Lining up for the type of service you get in Camy's is vaguely wrong.

Passing Fancy 17th September, 2007 14:47:42   [#] [4 comments] 

Russell Degnan

In case you didn't notice. The last few weeks I have unfortunately had to drop blogging off my list of daily activities. Which is not to say I didn't want to.

The reason was the final completion of my honours thesis, the title of which was:
Subsuming Spaces: Path Dependent Cities and the Construction of Inner Melbourne Cycling Policy.

Naturally, just as I was about finished I picked up a fever and a terrible ulcer (and an extension), meaning the last few weeks were both longer and more painful than I'd have preferred. But it is not so bad. I will paste the thrilling conclusion into the comments. If anyone wants to read the not entirely thrilling substance feel free to email.

Cricket has also started. It was the primary reason I got sick, standing out in the cold umpiring the inevitable collapse of my team-mates. Nevertheless, I already have more wickets than last season, despite a rash of opposition forfeits, and no pre-season.

More importantly, this weekend has a couple of contests worth watching, on which I would have blogged, had previous commitments not imposed themselves. Corrective posts will follow shortly. In the meantime, I can't resist commenting over at TonyT's and PollBludger. Go read them if you don't already.

Passing Fancy 22nd November, 2006 23:33:15   [#] [3 comments] 

Culling that which refuses to shrink
Russell Degnan

I have come to the conclusion that my blog-roll being somewhat outdated, and not at all reciprocal needed, at the least, some sort of cleaning, if not a complete re-organisation. I achieved none of the above, but I did remove a few blogs that have either become completely terminal, or that I have stopped reading, while leaving a few that I still have hopes for. The assorted links below are worth a read (if they exist), for their archives if nothing else, and I like to record them in case I need to retrieve them.

Banyule Bloggers
It's So Obvious / It's Here It's There
Major Anya
Tug Boat Potemkin
A Fifth of Therapy
The Wildman of Wivenhoe
Vital Stats
Intersecting Lines
Michael Jennings
The Becker-Posner Blog
Chocolate and Gold Coins
Unoriginal Prankster
William Burroughs' Baboon

Also, I have added a few others. There are a few more to add later. Feel free to comment with righteous indignation if you think one of them is you.

Passing Fancy 29th August, 2006 21:35:01   [#] [0 comments] 

The Train Carriage as Public Space
Russell Degnan

"He seemed to remember, or he retrospectively imagined, or he reconstructed, from films and books with the aid of a nostalgia as runny as old Camembert, a time when travellers crossing Europe by train would become acquaintances for the length of the journey. [...] Nowadays... yes, nowadays, the journey was too swift across this new European zollverein, the food was brought to you at your seats and no one smoked. The Death of the Compartment Train and its Effect Upon the Social Interaction of Travel."
Cross Channel - Julian Barnes

I had occasion to take a v-line service during the week, and was perhaps especially fortunate in that I got to travel on three different types of trains while doing so. Anybody who thinks I care exactly what type of train it was is sadly mistaken -- as are those of you who want to know how I got three trains on a return trip, who shall have to speculate. For what I want to talk about is the seating arrangements, which were, unfortunately, mostly the same.

The decline in compartment trains is pretty much a universal phenomenon, in that while a few rickety Italian trains still have them, I've not been on one in this state since the late 1990s. The decline in social interaction the quote alludes to is equally universal. I've not come close to experience the sort of shenanigans that accompanied a trip to Warnambool in a compartment train in any of the years since. Nowadays you are lucky to speak. Lucky even to look at another passenger.

And it has everything to do with the tendency of modern trains to face the vast majority of seats to the front.

It is not for this post to find out why, though I may return. I suspect it is related to a general wish many people have to travel facing forward, perhaps safety or economic reasons, and possibly, a designer fetish with air travel, where seats seemingly must face forward for landings and take-off.

However, I also think it is because designers are obsessed with individual comfort in a way that is naming them neglect a fundamental aspect of travel: a train is a public space.

It gets neglected because it is not obvious. A train, tram, or bus is primarily a device for moving people. And like our neglected streetscapes, which are perceived primarily as places for movement, and not interaction, the train suffers from a lack of public interaction to the extent that many people consider them unpleasant and unfriendly. And there is absolutely no reason why any piece of public space, be it a public park, a street, or a train carriage should be unpleasant, if some of the lessons of urban space use are absorbed.

Given quite a few urban designers don't seem to know anything about how people use public space, it should be no surprise that carriage designers don't either. However, there are two relative basic principles that tend to run through the work of both William H. Whyte and Jan Gehl, both encapsulated in the edge effect.

1. People want protection from their sides, so they feel comfortable. The first seats to fill up on a train will be at the window, and the more seats available at the edge of a space the better. Although they were principally done to increase standing room, and they never seem to be quite the right height, I like the rail seat-rests on trams because they let you stand/sit on the edge.

2. People want to be able to see other people. Seats that face each other, so you can talk to a friend are vastly superior to seats facing the same direction, and not just for tall freaks like me whose legs cramp up pressed against the back of another seat. People also sit at the ends of carriages, or in the door area so they can look out. Noone either sits, or stands in the aisle, exposed to others, and unable to look around.

I don't expect people to start conversations on trams and trains, any more than I expect people to start conversations with strangers in a public square. These principles run deeper, as they affect your general sense of enjoyment while retaining your personal space. Nor is this a call for a return to compartment carriages, which are, perhaps a little too intimate, but the train is a public space and should be designed with how people use (and should use) a public space in mind, by arranging the seats appropriately, and for preference, flexibly.

Many years ago I was asked to sit on several train seats to assess their comfort levels. It seemed pointless then, and it seems more pointless now, under travel conditions of great comfort but tedious boredom. Comfort on a train has no more relative importance than the comfort of your lounge room is to the enjoyment of that. I have yet to see a lounge room with a bunch of very comfortable couches facing a blank wall.

Passing Fancy 22nd July, 2006 21:17:37   [#] [1 comment] 

Animation Reality
Russell Degnan

Behind a white framed window, the sky is blue, clear, fresh.
The latch on the window clicks as it releases the creaking window.
The shadow of a bird, fleeing the noise drifts across the room as it flutters away.
Air, carried on light floods the room.

Silence, a few birds in the garden.
In the background a shower runs.
Stairs, a tiled front room.
The shutting of a bright red door and its rattling mail slot.

The morning is bright white.
The towers of the city loom at the end of a straight street.
Measured footsteps.
The speckled shadows of deciduous trees pass by, then fade.

Glass doors open. Escalators go up.
Tickets stubbed.
The dark.

The illuminated crests of other heads poke above the seats.
Food and water is placed beneath the seat.
The horizontal lights dim, the heads disappear, the screen appears.

Blurry images, ten, twenty, a hundred.
Blurry sounds, music, yelling.
Blurry thoughts, a glass breaks, a fish, a line.
The dark.

A single clap. Aborted.
A rustle of paper.
2006 appears. I clap. Applause follows.

Glass doors open.
Outside, it is dark. Silent.
The towers of the city loom high.

Measured footsteps. Louder than before.
A row of red fence posts, identical, but for one; broken.
A small puddle shimmers and reflects a single star.
Water runs down the gutter, then a drain.

Car headlights appoach from a side-street.
An image appears. A head bouncing off a wind-screen, glass cracking.
The light and sound of the car changes as it goes past.

A dull red door. A key in a lock.
It opens.
Fade out.

Passing Fancy 26th June, 2006 20:17:45   [#] [4 comments] 

The Great Grog Blog Mix Tape
Russell Degnan

Thanks to everyone who came. There were twenty four people, five without blogs and the rest below (I hope). My apologies to the people I didn't get a chance to talk to; I hope you had fun. The following will make no sense if you weren't there, not much if you were, and in any case, probably doesn't mean what you think it does. Enjoy

Last Nite - The Strokes
Bohemian Like You - The Dandy Warhols

Beautiful People - Marilyn Manson
I Send a Message - INXS
People Are Strange - The Doors
Just Passing Through - Augie March
Sign Your Name - Terence Trent D'Arby
I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind Of Thing - Pet Shop Boys

Knowing When to Run - The Delgados
I Will Follow - U2
Into the Dark - Ben Lee
You Could Have it So Much Better - Franz Ferdinand

Turning Japanese - The Vapors
Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong - Radiohead
She Drives Me Crazy - Fine Young Cannibals
Why Don't We Just Call It A Night? - Lazy Susan
Morning Train (9 to 5) - Sheena Easton
World in Motion - New Order

Passing Fancy 17th June, 2006 23:59:22   [#] [19 comments] 

Rhyming History
Russell Degnan

Why June 2005 is just like June 2006, but better?

For not entirely unreasonable reasoms, what I did in June 2005 is remarkably similar to what I have done, and will do in June 2006. Almost like the powers that be have tried to jib me in the new month department, by just providing an old one with a couple of new features. Consider...

June 2005 - There was much talk of transport infrastructure. I complained that creating shopping lists was no way to plan.
June 2006 - There is much talk of transport infrastructure. I complained that creating shopping lists was no way to plan. This time more people commented.

June 2005 - I was very tired, because I kept staying up late to watch a major sporting event on SBS, where Australia hopelessly under-performed.
June 2006 - I am very tired, because I keep staying up late to watch a major sporting event on SBS, where Australia is going better than expected (or perhaps not, we won the Lords' test too).

June 2005 - I posted pictures of Melbourne with strong lines and silhoutted skies; plus a lot of crap.
June 2006 - I posted pictures of Melbourne with strong lines and silhoutted skies; the crap is still to come.

June 2005 - I spent a week in the cinema at the Melbourne International Animation Festival, watching an esoteric international collection of different animation styles. Including abstract ones that put me to sleep.
June 2006 - I will spend a week in the cinema at the Melbourne International Animation Festival, watching an esoteric international collection of different animation styles. I'll probably be able to avoid the abstract animation.

June 2005 - Australia scored three times in a largely meaningless tournament, and lost! Having had several defensive lapses, been lazy in midfield and one paced.
June 2006 - Australia scored three times in a very meaningful tournament, and won! Having had not so many defensive lapses, been not so lazy in midfield and not always entirely one paced.

June 2005 - I went for a long walk along the beach to Brighton one fine Sunday.
June 2006 - I will go for a long walk along the Merri Creek to somewhere (probably Merlynston) if next Sunday is fine.

June 2005 - I had to start writing a thesis length report by the end of the year on how the urban form affects the way transport is used. But had to fit it in amongst other subjects and work.
June 2006 - I have to start writing a thesis by the end of the year on how the urban form affects the way transport is used. This year I have no other subjects to do next semester.

June 2005 - I procrastinated over a lot of assignments, including entirely too much blog writing and reading.
June 2006 - I procrastinated over a lot of assignments, including entirely too much blog writing and reading. (Some things are not better, some things just are).

June 2005 - A Grog Blog was organised, in which many fine people were in attendance.
June 2006 - A Grog Blog has been organised, in which many fine people will be in attendance. This time I am partially responsible...

Clearly some sort of conspiracy.

Passing Fancy 15th June, 2006 08:16:36   [#] [3 comments] 

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