Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mesopotamia, in between two rivers, at ROM, Royal Ontario Museum

Statue of Ashurnasirpal II
Smacked between Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the land currently Iraq and parts of Turkey, was the birthplace of the Mesopotamian culture more than 5000 years ago.

The area housed four empires, Sumarians, Akaadians, Assyrians, and Babylonians.  Telling the social, economical, and political story of this ancient time through the study of artifacts excavated in this area is an intricate task; disrupted many times by change of political power and point of view.

Through showcasing 170 artifacts of Sumerian, Assyrians and Babylonians, on loan from British Museum, "Mesopotamia: Inventing our World" at Royal Ontario Museum attempts to establish a parallel between the past and present.

Escape Across River, Nimrud 875-860 BCE
The exhibit opens with two glass boxes placed next to each other.  In one there is a clay tablet with cuneiform carved into them and in the other there is an electronic tablet.  Although the exhibit is organized by rise and fall of empires, Sumer, Assyria and Babylon (and some references to Akaad), but the subliminal message is to showcase the rich and advanced culture of the past and its influence on the present time.

There are keywords such as Justice, Globalization, Innovation, and etc. projected on the walls through out the exhibit. The script written on the wall describes topics such as irrigation, city building and architecture, law, agriculture, animal domestication, priests, gods, and kings.  In addition there are animation to bring the story written on the clays to life, like the one here showing the escape across the river; as well as the fact that they knew how to swim. There are clasped-hands posed men, and women statues; looking at these made one feel so calm.

We are lucky to have exhibits like this to show us the richness of the civilized world.  Sadly, however, the present day quality of life shows discontinuity between then and now.  There is regression in the quality of life 5000 years ago and today.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Cambridge History of Medicine

I have never been interested in the history of medical sciences. I have indirectly and in ad hoc heard of its advancements and set backs, but I have never had the curousity or interest to pursue a more in depth knowledge of it. My view has been: human being is her best physician and pharmacist. No two people are alike, therefore no two people's health strengths and weaknesses can be put in the same category despite similar symptoms. My quick and superficial readings of medical advancements or lack of it, left me suspicious of its benefit. When a life event put me in an uncomfortable proximity of medicine, one that I had no choice but to surrender to the risk of its flaws, and inaccuracies in the hope, it will help, I became really interested in reading about it.

I didn't read the "Illustrated" version, but that's the only version available in Goodreads. The Cambridge History of Medicine, is a collection of ten articles written by various medical historians or medical physicians. The titles explore the history and rise of medicine and its evolution through years as well as the care system, the hospitals and the pharmacology.

As we settled down in one place and started changing and manipulating our evironment to sustain us, we became "magnets for disease." Farming and domesticizing exposed the human body to pathogens. These pathogens invaded the human body and killed mercilessly. Those who survived the disease became immune to it. This way, human body developed a sophisticated immune system. [Para-phrasing Chapter 1 - The History of Disease, by Kenneth f. Kiple]

So, I guess we can call disease an inadvertent invention of civilization.

The last two chapters, "Looking to the Future (1996)" and "Looking to the Future (2006)" by Geoff Watts is thought provoking. Despite the enthusiasm and ingenious ideas, such as personalized medicine, and gene-therapy, medical system is bound by funding, often providied by the government and/or private sources. There is --no-- effective world body to orchestrate the effort, guide and direct it in the direction per the defined necessity and priority and make it easily available to everyone --from all walks of life, to poor and rich alike.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Zipcar's insurance policy

It has been three years since I first looked into car sharing, and subsequently joining zipcar.  I thought "ziping" would replace "renting" completely, however, over these years my needs of becoming a motorist has been met by a mixture of "renting" and "ziping".  Despite the administrative overhead,  renting makes more economical sense, especially long term.  The cost of a day of ziping comes close to $80, while renting could be $10-$30 cheaper.  The downside to that are: I have to pick up the car before the rental office closes, return after it opens, and fill up the amount of gas the car consumes.

Back in 2010, when I was researching zipcar, I couldn't quite understand how zipcar's insurance  works.  Here is a section from that blog:

***Yes, the price does include insurance, but they charge you $750 damage fee, unless you sign up for a waiver which costs $5 per month.

I don't quite understand the logic behind this rule; if insurance is included in the price then what's the $750 damage fee? Let me know if you have this figured out, will you?

Recently, I was in my first accident while zipping.  I backed up into a concrete and damaged the rear bumper of the driver side.  I don't have a damage fee waiver, so I am responsible to pay the cost of repair up to $750.00.  If the repair costs more than that Zipcar pays the difference.

The short of it is that Zipcar transfers the co-pay of their insurance policy to the driver.

I don't like this at all, simply because zipcar advertises, rental fees include insurance; then orthogonal advertises the damage fee waiver.  A naive mind regards the damage fee waiver as an optional fee.

I asked the zipcar representative working on my case about this.
How is zipcar's insurance different than the rental car's? 
Upon purchase of the rental car's insurance the renter doesn't pay for any damages. The insurance covers it. Is the damage fee the insurance co-pay? If yes, shouldn't zipcar pay because the pay hour fee, per zipcar, includes insurance?

Here is his answer.
"Should a Zipcar member be involved in an accident with their reserved Zipcar, they would be responsible for a damage fee.  The damage fee works much in the same way a personal insurance policy deductible would work. For those members who are interested in reducing their current damage fee, Zipcar does damage fee waivers for an extra cost.  Eligible members can purchase one of four different waiver plans available.  Please find below a breakdown of the different waiver options currently offered:

Complete Waiver:  Reduces damage fee from $750 to $0 per incident
-    Annual: $79 one-time charge
-    Month-to-Month: $9/month

Partial Waiver: Reduces damage fee from $750 to $375 per incident
-    Annual: $50 one-time charge
-    Month-to-Month: $5/month

The Month-to-Month waiver options will auto-renew each month for a 12 month period and can be opted out of at any time.  Both the monthly damage fee waivers and the annual waivers will auto-renew at the end of the 12 month period so long as the Zipcar member remains eligible for the damage fee waiver program."

Saturday, September 07, 2013

What doesn't kill you make you stronger

Dr. Rod Lim at the London Health Sciences Centre suggests the labels may be useful to prevent accidental overdoses in specific instances. For example, people who take two pills every four hours could easily overdose on Extra Strength Tylenol.

"The problem is they're used to taking two pills every four hours but they'll exceed the maximum daily dose within 16 hours," he tells CBC.

Acetaminophen can be found in other products such as Nyquil, Excedrin, and Sudafed.

The following details appears on the box of the Tylenol Extra Strength "Do not take more than the maximum daily does. Overdose may result in severe or possibly fatal liver damage."

The pain doesn't kill, so putting up with it trumps the side effects of the soothing pain medication.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

What was Lost

Kate Meaney I will remember your character forever.  I loved it if the pages in the book was filled with your story.  In fact, when I reached chapter 12, I have already developed what would happen to you and how would you change the lives of Teresa Stanton, and Adrian.  Instead I had to read roughly 150 pages of irrelevancy until I get to your story in the final two chapters.

Reading about Crawford, Dan, Scott, the vignettes, and mindless jibber jabber of Gavin was brutally boring.  Needless to say a little more thought in developing Gavin's story in relation to Lisa and Kurt's would have made this section of the book far more interesting.

I have to admit, I liked how the book ended.  It made total sense!  I also got the author's sense of humor.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Falls, GO Transit's summer service

Niagara Falls is a fun destination and a popular get away destination during the summer for Torontonians.  I have been to the Falls a few times, via QEW, driving past Oakville, Burlington, and St. Catherines.  Each trip took a bit longer than the suggested two hours due to high volume of traffic.

 When GO transit Tweet appeared in my feed telling about a direct service, naturally I became very interested to use it.
We missed the outbound train on Saturday August 24. On weekends there are three outbound direct trains; connecting Toronto's Union St. to Niagara Falls' Via St. The departure times are at 9:00 am, 16:15 pm, and 20:10 pm. We took the train to the Burlington GO station and transferred to the bus to Niagara Falls. The trip took close to three hours! But coming back we took the 7:20 PM direct train to Toronto Union station. The trip took 2:30 hours. The inbound direct trains are at 8:00 am, 11:30 am, 19:20 pm, and 22:30 pm. The train stops at Exhibition, Port Credit, Oakville, Burlington, St. Catherines, and Niagara Falls. There are designated compartments with bike storage.
A few good points: it beats the weekend traffic, and it is direct (eliminates the transfer to the bus at Burlington)
One not so good point:  it is limited to a few times a day on weekends between June 28-Sept. 2.
I understand that the service makes sense when there is demand for it.
In fact the Niagara Falls bus service offered by Niagara Parks also runs full service during June 28-Sept. 2. providing convenient transport to attractions around the Falls, adult $7; child $4 for 24-hour pass.  This makes June-Sept the best time of the year to travel to Niagara Falls.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

nach Deutschland

The Best of Berlin

No matter how much a city undergoes change, there is no way it can escape its history.  Berlin is a city that has embraced its past, shows no remorse of it and flaunts it extensively.
The events prior to the first World War that lead to the Nazism, followed by defeat of Germany in the War by the allies; and the country's 50 years separation to East and West, are no happy memories.  Yet, in every tourist area there is a building, a poster, a sight that hints to these events.  It is hard to expect to see reminiscence of Prussian kingdom in Berlin, since this city was nearly flattened in the consecutive world wars. 

How to get here:
The train ride Frankfurt - Berlin takes only four hours, and the city main train station, Hauptbahnhof is central and connected to almost anywhere.  The DB Bahn web site, has an option of translation to English.  It offers discount of advance purchase, and offers deeper discounts on non-refundable tickets.  The first class section of the train offers more leg room, individual tables, and 1-hour free Wifi.

Holiday Inn chain has two locations in Berlin, City Center, and East City Center.  The rates are very reasonable, 50-100 euro, and some rates include breakfast.  The rooms are clean, with coffee, tea station and small fridge.  The breakfast is generous and there is lots of different options to choose from.  You can get breakfast for 5euro per person anywhere in Berlin and by noon you actually have appetite to eat lunch! :)

The first day in Paris, and one goes to visit Eiffel Tower.  The first day in Berlin and one goes to visit the Wall, Berliner Mauer.  There is still such curiosity surrounding where the wall was once --even 24 years after 9 November 1989 that all GDR citizens were told they can visit West Germany without paperwork.  On Friedrichstadt close to Postdamer Platz there are pictures of "then", you turn your head and right where the wall used to be, you see nothing, open space.  Once you look down you see the cobble stones dividing the city right in the middle.  I got goose bumps from happiness.  If you have to see the wall, a part of it has been preserved; it is available for viewing at no charge. [U6 - Kochstrasse]

Imagine 6-acre land.  It is a huge area.  Now imagine it, packed with rectangular, shaped gray concrete at different height and width.  This is the site of the holocaust memorial, dedicated to an estimated six million Jews who were killed.  Keep your eyes peeled to these structures as you walk toward it, and as you approach, change your view and look through them.  It's a maze.

For something more pleasing on the eye and heart-warming head to the area around the "Unter den Linden", Under the Lime Trees.  There is metro construction until 2013, nevertheless the buildings in this area tell the story of the Germany of a different era, pre 1800.

The Staatsoper was commissioned by King Frederick II of Prussia in 1741, designed and built by Georg von Knobelsdorff as the first and the oldiest structure on Babelplatz. At that time it was called Hofoper (Court Opera) and was inaugurated with the performance Cesare e Cleopatra in 1742. After the collapse of the German Empire in 1919 the opera was renamed Staatsoper.

Gendarmenmarkt is a beautiful example of an architectural ensemble full of harmony and it includes both the French and the German cathedral as well as the Concert House.

Built in 1688 according to plans by Johann Arnold Nering, the square was originally called Linden-Markt and later on Friedrichstädtischer Markt and then Neuer Markt. However, after being used from 1736 to 1782 by the military for sentry duty and housing their horses, it came to be known as the Gendarmenmarkt. After 1777, the square was developed uniformly according to plans by Georg Christian Unger.
Severely damaged in the war, the square was rebaptised “Platz der Akademie” in 1950 on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the Academy of Science. In 1991, it got its original name back. Numerous restaurants, businesses and hotels are located around the Gendarmenmarkt.

French cathedral

The French Friedrichstadtkirche was built between 1701 and 1705 based on designs by Jean Louis Cayart as a church meant for French Protestants (Huguenots) who had fled to Berlin. In 1786, while the Gendarmenmarkt was being transformed, the impressive tower of the French cathedral designed by Carl von Gontard and Georg Christian Unger was opened. The cathedral was severely damaged in World War II and was rebuilt starting in 1977.

German cathedral

Located across from the French cathedral, the German cathedral was built by Giovanni Si-monetti between 1701 and 1708 according to plans by Martin Gruenberg. From 1780 to 1785, Carl von Gontard completed the building by adding on the domed tower. The cathedral was destroyed in World War II and, after extensive restoration work, it reopened again on 2 October in 1996.

Concert House (formerly Theatre house)

The Concert House was built as a theatre in 1821 by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, who was replacing the National Theatre, which had been constructed between 1800 and 1802 by Karl Gotthard Langhans and which had burned down in 1817. The design of the Concert House, or the Konzerthaus as it is known to Berliners, integrated what remained of the Langhans's rectangular shaped building and added a larger and wider building which was crowned by a pediment. After being destroyed during the war, the building was initially preserved and then the systematic, faithful restoration work began in 1979. After the reopening in 1984 concerts instead of plys were given in the Konzerthaus.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Elegance of HedgeHog (L'Élégance du hérisson)

It is hard for me to come to terms with the way this book ends. Nevertheless, this doesn't change the way I think about it. It's an excellent read.
A 54 year old, ugly, short concierge of a posh residence in Paris, and a 12 year old highly intelligent daughter of a rich family living in the same residence, each struggle to conform to what society expects of her. Each is unhappy with what it seems her fate.
Through out the book, independently, each ponders the social convention imposed upon them and philosophize on the possibility of change. There is hope for change. Jean Arthen the junkie, son of the prominent Paris food critic, turned his life around.
Their encounter happens half way through the book, and something so tender and sweet blossoms. It is two chapters back to back, "Sisters" and "Profound thought number 15", when the story peaks emotionally and leaves the reader thoroughly satisfied.
But the ending. Ugh the ending is harsh!  I want to believe in the power of "Camellias".

Sunday, May 12, 2013

nach Deutschland

The Best of Munich

How to get here

Die Deutsche Bahn offers a great price for first class travel from Berlin(hbf) to Munich(hbf), both these are the main train stations of the corresponding cities.  It cost me 74€ per ticket for one way ticket.  For peace of mind, and an extra 8€ per reservation, I chose seats at the time of the booking.  Booking was easy using the the DB on-line reservation system.  For added convenience the site is available in English as well.  The more advanced of the trip the tickets are purchased the greater the savings.  Also, the DB offers a special price, sparepreis, that is non-refundable and cannot be changed.  I took advantage of this offer which significantly reduced the price.

Cash or credit

Cash is the preferred means of business in Munich, and in general Europe.  Credit or debit card machines are rarely seen at the museums, cafes, mini-markets, public transit, and shops.  I always buy euro at home.  Unlucky me, this time round, I lost 200€ to a hustler in Berlin.  As a result I had to change Canadian dollar.  The der Reise Bank AG at Munichs main bahnhof, charged me a hefty 4.90€ commission on $100 Canadian and gave me a lousy rate of $1.50.  Really sucked!

Place to stay

Munich Park Hilton, Am Tucherpark 7
Rooms are spacious, furnished tastefully and include free coffee-tea service, cash mini-bar, bio toiletries, hair dryer, and a very spacious bathroom with shower massage.  The hotel offers a gym, which I have to check out before departure, a restaurant with excellent food, we had the pasta of the day, ceasar salad, and pumpkin soup all deliciously made with the finest ingredient and cooked to perfection with hand squeezed, fresh orange juice, a fully equipped business center, public computer with access to Internet, and Microsoft office in the lobby and unlimited free access to wifi in the lobby.  All this for starting price of 159 €, I was able to get a room for 2 adults for 110 € three weeks in advance of my travel dates --excellent deal!


Munich is a small city, very classy, and it provides a lot of opportunity to  enjoy beautifully restored pre-war architecture for free and by just walking the streets surrounding the city center.  Today we traveled to the city center, Marienplatz U and S, and from there walked about twenty minutes to one of the collection of museums, Alte Pinakothek.  Sundays are reduced admission fee days, 1€.  The two floors museum, is not only Munichs most important art museum but also one of the most significant collections in Europe.  Among the 900 paintings on display are historical and exquisite paintings by renowned painters of renaissance era, 1400 - 1800, from all over Europe.  Such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Sandro Boticelli, Fra Filippo Lippi, Rambrandt, Paul Rubens, Anthoins Van Dyck.  I make sure to include pictures of some of the paintings that caught my un-trained eye here when I get to download them.  The museum is one of the must-see sights of Munich.  The museum is on Barer Straße.  The 27 tram to Petuelring has a stop close to it on Barer.  Theresienstraße, U2, is a few blocks north west of the museum.

Leonardo Da Vinci - Madonna of the Carnation


Ludwigstr and Universitat
Although Marienplatz and surrounding streets have a lot to keep you busy for two days, there are some other places that worth the visit if time is not an issue.  The university neighborhood of Munich, easily accessible by the Ubahn, is one example.  Check out the small cafes on Amalientstrasse.  Enjoy delicious potato chips at Pommes Boutique.  Indulge in a creamy dessert at one of the Eiskafe-s on this street.  Or just enjoy a walk along Ludwigstrasse --but be aware of the bike lanes or you will get honked at. :)
Pommes Boutique on Amalientstr.

For fashion the Maximilianstrasse and the surrounding streets is the place to go.  The quality and design of the dresses please the eyes, but not enough to spend hundreds of euro on them.
Don't miss the Englishcher Garten.  To get there, travel on U6 to Giselastr station and catch the Bus 54.  Bus 54 travels through the garden.

Where to eat

If you are staying at Munich Park Hilton, indulge at the Tivoli restaurant for dinner.  The cafe at Marienplatz, serves a variety of breakfasts, Pariser, butter croissant, or Kleins Fruhstück, bread, butter and marmalade, average price for breakfast for two is 8€.  There are a large selection of different variety food at Munichs main Bahnhof.  All U and S trains have a stop at this station.  There is also a mini-market inside that sells fresh fruit.  REWE, city of Munichs super market is located on Bahnhofplatz 1.  Knowing a few words Duetsch definitely improves the quality of your trip. 

General Tips

When booking train tickets for travel within Europe or if you intend to use public transportation to and from the international airport, avoid the rush hour.  Traveling with suitcases during the rush hour, maneuvering the crowd who ruthlessly pass or run you over, is a rather stressful, unpleasant experience.

There are many web sites that offer travel tickets on behalf of the air-lines.  These on-line agents gather, and compare ticket prices and sort them for you.  In the event you need to change or cancel you have to
a. call these companies which is most likely a toll call
b. adjust the time difference because they are most likely in a different time zone
c. they charge you their cancellation fee in addition to the airline fee

So, it's best to buy the tickets direct from the airline as opposed to these third party companies.

More expensive non-stop tickets really add to the quality of the trip, unless you are planning an overnight stay or the length of the flight is ridiculously long.  Stop over means going through transit and this translates to standing in line for immigration and custom as well as gate security check. It also means spending valuable hours in a closed, noisy airport with little motivation to do anything other than snoozing.  Unless it is Schiphol Airport, the stop-over leaves you tired and sore.


In Marienplatz free Wifi is available for one hour interval.  During the peak hours the service is slow and spotty. 

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

Joe Montag lives in a strange time. But according to Ray Bradbury this is the future, 2022. Seashell Radios, a device that resembles iPod, are best past time and accompanist. Atomic wars are declared and won in a day. Relatives are characters in episodes of T.V. programs. Children are snatched from parents at an early age because people are not born to be free and equal but they are "made equal. Each man the image of every other; then all are happy, for there are no mountains to make them cower, to judge themselves against." Books are burnt and those who possess a book are arrested. Alarms are there to notify the police of the crime of reading, owning a book. Firefighters, they are "the Happiness Boys…." They "stand against the small tide of those who want to make everyone unhappy with conflicting theory and thought." They "have our fingers in the dike. Hold steady. Don’t let the torrent of melancholy and drear philosophy drown our world.”

Joe Montag is a married firefighter. His life is the very definition of status quo. Up until he meets Clarisse McClellan, who claims to be seventeen and insane. "Are you happy?", she asks. She is unlike anyone Joe Montag has met before. She thinks about everything and anything. She is interested in others.

Montag a complacent resident, all of a sudden feels uneasy in his environment. He questions his own action. Why does he burn books? What is in them?

The shrewd, hateful supervisor, Captain Beatty, does all in his power to dissuade Montag questioning things. But he can't stop Montag. But in the end he fails and it is with these words he condemns him.
“Now, Montag, you’re a burden. And fire will lift you off my shoulders, clean, quick, sure; nothing to rot later. Antibiotic, aesthetic, practical.”— Beatty

But could there be hope? One man's moment of weakness is the other's opportunity to gain strength.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Unbundled: I intend to slash my internet, phone, cable bill by half by end of the month!

As far back as five years ago, for better service and convenience of having to pay for everything in one-bill, I consolidated all my services, phone, cell-phone, TV, and internet  with Rogers.  Recently, I have noticed that I can save a whole lot, minimum $200/year, if I abandon Rogers.

My goal is to pay half of what I am paying now, $155-$157/month, for all the above services;  hence the title of this and follow on blogs.

So far I have spoken to three people I know who are using Teksavvy for Internet.  If there is any truth to "word of mouth marketing", I should feel confident of giving TekSavvy a try.  TeckSavvy Cable 6 is exact same Internet service I have for $10.00 cheaper

Rogers vs Teksavvy
DL Speed UL Speed Bandwidth Rogers' Price TekSavvy's Price
6 Mbs 256 Kbs 25GB $34.71 $24.95

The savings will only show in the second year. The cost of service for the first year is on-par with what I am paying Rogers, because no doubt there will be one-time upfront fees to switch to TekSavvy. The two I found on their web site are:
  • Activation Fee: $45 after $20 fee discount
  • Modem: $75-$99

The following modems are compatible with their Cable service:
Product Price Specification
Thomson DCM 425 $75.00 from TekSavvy DOCSIS 2.0, good for DL speeds up to 18MBps
Thomson DCM 476 $99.00 from TekSavvy DOCSIS 3.0 latest standard, faster DL speed than DOCSIS 2.0
Motorola SB5101N - firmware version: $69.99 from Canada Computers DOCSIS 2.0, DL speeds of 30MBps
Motorola SB6120 - firmware version: $99.99 from Motorla web site DOCSIS 3.0, DL speeds of 180MBps
Joohong SL-2810 - firmware version: 10.2.7 $52.00 from DOCSIS 2.0
SMC D3GN-RES-DOCSIS 3.0 $130.00 from Audio 2001 DOCSIS 3.0, Draft-N Wireless Residential Cable Modem Gateway

All the above modems can be found for cheaper prices on web sites such as There was a post in one of the forums that buying off of kijiji runs the risk of being stuck with a returned modem that cannot be activated by the provider. The other advantage of paying for a brand new modem is that it comes with peace of mind that it can be returned/replaced if not functional. A few retailers that may have new modems for competitive prices are:

I don't have a router now; it is an unnecessary cost to pay for the convenience, and with smart phones enabled with data plans it seems even less likely that I'd be interested in paying an additional $50-$90 for a router. Nevertheless I looked into it. Half the population out there prefers a router+modem combo to separate devices. The router+modem combo saves on space, creates a cleaner visual effect, think about all those wires tangled if you have two separate boxes--yikes, and it consumes less electricity. The other half of the population thinks having two separate boxes is more prudent, because trouble shooting is easier, and in the event of trouble with router one can still enjoy connectivity with a working modem. Someone was raving about how his Motorola SB 6120 modem and a Netgear WNR 3500L work in harmony together.
After spending a good part of the day searching for all this wonderful information, I am still not clear if the reward of the switch will beat the:
    a: uncertainty of service of a new, relatively small provider -despite the good word-of-mouth advertisement 
    b: time spent to research and find good deals on modem, set up, and trouble-shoot 
    c: money spent on activation fee and modem 
    d: an additional bill to remember and pay each month 
     Next up is the phone service.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Innovation in the transportation

This is my last of a three part blog series on the topic of transportation.  Motivated by the Global Engineering Innovation Challenge, my friend and I brainstormed on what can be done to improve the road share in a limited right of way.

The goal is to pack a collection of objects, cars, buses, and bikes, into the minimum number of fixed-size bins, the road lanes. The resemblance between this and the classic bin packing problem is eminent.  In a bin packing problem one may pack based on first fit, or first best fit, based on ascending or descending ordered list of object based on its size.  Here we will be packing based on time of use.

The existing infrastructure of surface transport is sliced in at least three bins
            The side walks at least one on each side
            The roads at least one for each direction, North-South or East-West
Surface -> {Sidewalk, Road1, Road2}

The objects are bikes, cars, buses, and trucks
Items -> {Bikes, Cars, Buses, Trucks}

In solving this problem it is important to consider the time of the week day as the constraint to optimize.
Time -> {   06 < T < 10                   // demand is high because it is morning rush hour
               10 < T < 14                     // demand is low
               14 < T < 20                     // demand is high because it evening rush hour
               20 < T < 24                     // demand is low

The solution is:

Time -> {   06 < T < 10                        Surface -> {Sidewalk        No constraint
                                                                             , Road1       Car-pool, Buses only
                                                                             , Road2  Car-pool, Buses only

                10 < T < 14                        Surface -> {Sidewalk        No constraint
                                                                             , Road1     Bikes, Cars, Buses, Trucks
                                                                             , Road2  Cars, Buses, Trucks
               14 < T < 20                         Surface -> {Sidewalk        No constraint
                                                                             , Road1       Car-pool, Buses only
                                                                            , Road2  Car-pool, Buses only
               20 < T < 24             Surface -> {Sidewalk        No constraint
                                                                , Road1     Bikes, Cars, Buses, Trucks
                                                                , Road2  Cars, Buses, Trucks

This proposal promotes better, safer sharing of the road by distributing the load of its usage through out the day.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Challenges of the modern transit planners

Studies show Torontonians commute an average of 80 minutes a day - or when you crunch the numbers, a month in a car.  Thanks to the suburban sprawl or work places out in the boonies :) we now have to spend more time getting to work than before.  We are more involved in extracurricular activities.  We volunteer.  We want to stay employed longer so we take continuing education courses.  We want to live a healthy life so we go to the gym.  We want our kids to learn how to swim, do karate, dance, play hockey, play music, etc., and so we chauffeur them from school to class to home, etc.

In short: we move around a lot.

It is important for us to have access to a good transit system that guarantees safe, efficient, and fast transportation.  Also, it is important for us to have an integrated transit system that enables us to drive, walk, cycle, or take the train or the bus to our destination.  When we are in rush, we want to have access to a rapid transit.  When we are not in a rush we can afford to sit back and enjoy the ride.  We want to be in control of what to choose and when to choose it.  If there is a traffic jam we want to know about it and to know an alternate route to avoid it.

The transit architect has to take all the above into consideration in the planning.

Resources: is an online resource for sustainable transport news, research and “best practice” solutions from around the world 

With the York Region Rapidways project new express lane is being built in the middle of the street for the buses

Efficient sustainable mobility

Other resources provided by the "Global Engineering Innovation" web site.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

High demand on the transportation system

Everyday I join 1,000,000 residents of this city and its suburbs to travel to my destination. Whether it is work, school, day care, store, we all have a route and a way to get to our destination. I take the subway. Then I switch to the bus. I spend close to 40 minutes door to door. Recently I spend more time on the bus, because there is construction. You see they are building a bus rapid transit system in the middle of Highway 7. Although, the road is open and operating, but due to separating the construction site: the workers, the tools, and the machinery, from the rest of the road, there is traffic and cars move very slowly. The 40 minutes travel time takes 50% more. I spend roughly 20 more minutes in the bus each way. If I produced 7 units of work each day, my productivity level dips to 6.6 units of work. That's if I don't adjust my arrival to and departure from work times to make up for the lost time. This is just one of the impacts of changing the surface transit operation to address the increase in usage. One can only imagine that the impact is much larger to local community that need shop, play and live there.

What I am living day in and day out, happens as a result of population growth in an urban area.  The existing transportation system is not able to meet the demand.  Therefore expansion of the roads become necessary but this comes at the cost of severely disrupting the life of the local community.

If money was abundant we would finish such projects in a week or two.  In reality, however, the timeline is around two to four years.  The thought of  having the construction workers in the backyard for that long of a time, even makes the most easy-going people cringe. 

What are some of the strategies to reduce the negative impacts of road expansion projects?

This is one of the three questions in the "Global Engineering Innovation Challenge".

 "     How can we balance the needs of surface transit operations, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians that use streets with limited right-of-way, safer, faster and more reliable, in a way that is acceptable to the local community?"