Thursday, March 29, 2012

The zombie Sheppard subway must die: A rant

I ride transit to work. And like every Toronto transit rider, I have an opinion. Here it is.

Council has spoken: the Sheppard subway is a failure. It's costly and underused. It's not worth extending, even if it could be done for free. Now, east of Don Mills Road, Sheppard will be served by LRT; outside of the mayor's fever dreams, the Sheppard Subway will never be extended beyond its 5.5 km, five-stop stubby existence. It's dead.

But not really: council committed the key horror movie mistake of not finishing the job. After all that rhetoric of how terrible the Sheppard subway is, how short and pointless, how worthless it would be to extend (all good points!) ... it's still on the map. People are still going to ride it for the foreseeable future. The Sheppard LRT plan sets its undead, poorly designed, unexpandable failure in concrete for our childrens' children to admire.

This zombie subway will haunt every discussion about transit in the north end from now until kingdom come. Any time rapid transit north of Eglinton gets discussed, some bright-eyed person will ask, "Well, wouldn't it be better just to extend the Sheppard subway?" And then we get to have the very same knife fight about transit over and over, like that time Kelsey Grammer was on Star Trek.

There's only one solution: the zombie Sheppard subway must die.

How does that happen? We cut out its heart: convert the subway so that the LRT can use it. One seamless trip from the current subway tunnels, on to the surface and into the east end.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How do people tweet their Roll Up the Rim wins? They exaggerate (Update)

UPDATE:I had planned to make this a two-part series, with the mathematical details in the second part. Instead I'm going to turn the whole thing into a paper. I'll post more when the paper is written. Original post follows.

Canadians love them some Roll Up the Rim, the annual Tim Hortons coffee contest. They also love to tweet about it. And if ever there was a great experiment to see how people perceive -- and report -- random events, Roll Up the Rim and Twitter are it: known odds, random selection, and mass participation.

Last year around this time, I wrote a quick program that accessed Twitter's API, and extracted all available public tweets with the hashtag "#rolluptherim" (thanks twitter4j). I gathered 876 tweets covering Friday, March 18, to Wednesday, March 23, 2011. They were then promptly stored and forgotten about until a couple of weeks ago, when Roll Up the Rim began again in earnest.

So what do people tweet about, when they tweet #rolluptherim? For one thing, they tweet about their success rates: of the 876, I extracted 387 tweets containing something like "1/8", "3 for 10", and so on.


So here's my question: how do people report their own success?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


This is probably the most brutal semester of my academic career so far, so I'll be posting at reduced frequency until mid-April or so. I've got lots of stuff to talk about (Korea trip, thoughts about the BIRS workshop, my upcoming sabbatical) but no time to write.