May 2007 Archives

From the BBC: German drives down subway stairs

"A German woman in Dusseldorf blocked the entrance to an underground station when she mistook it for a subterranean car park, police said on Wednesday."

A) It looks to be a pretty large entrance
B) Perhaps it was signed as a car park. According to the article, this is the second time it happened at this location.
C) Perhaps we should let small cars onto underground trains, I mean, we already let bikes on. (Off-peak of course)
D) What would be the fare for a VW Beetle on the Underground?
E) Car free streets ... Car-friendly stations?

From BBC: 'Living plugs' smooth ant journey

Ants seeing holes along a major ant highway will use themselves to form plugs to fill the hole, and enable their comrades a smoother journey.

Knock-on effects

Why I couldn't get off the train at Victoria station tonight: London fire causes commuter chaos

"A fire in southeast London has resulted in the closure of a mainline and underground stations, causing chaos for commuters.

London Bridge station was closed following fears that gas cylinders could explode in railway arches in Bermondsey.

Firefighters threw a 200 metre exclusion zone around the workshop where a blaze broke out in the morning.

Even though the fire had been put out, a London Fire Brigade spokesman said the tracks could remain closed overnight if acetylene gas cylinders were found at the workshop.

The closure of London Bridge station - used by thousands of workers in the City - had a knock-on effect elsewhere, with Victoria underground station temporarily shutting because of overcrowding.

Rail services are also affected at Cannon Street, Charing Cross and Waterloo East."

So the train I am on tonight (Victoria line), while returning from a seminar at UCL, does not stop at Victoria (where I want it to stop, to transfer to the District Line), and where given the name of the line, it is implied it will stop, and proceeds past. I got off at Pimlico, and found a bus #360 to Sloane Square, and transferred to my favorite #22, though it took 15 minutes before it arrived and the bus was packed to the gills with people sitting on the steps.

Had I known it was not going to stop, I would have gotten off earlier (Green Park) and transferred. That would have required at most 5 minutes advance warning given to the driver to inform the passengers. Perhaps I was just unfortunate and the decision to close Victoria station was made while I was on the train between Green Park and Victoria.

At any rate there were lots of peeved and confused passengers exiting at Pimlico.

And all of this occurred because gas canister "might" explode. Somehow I would feel more comfortable with my inconvenience if they actually exploded. (I understand logically that is probably a risk authorities should not take).

FasTracks are Expensive Tracks

According to this article : Transportation project more than a billion dollars over budget The FasTracks project in Denver will cost $6.1 Billion instead of $4.7 Billion, or 30% over the budget promised to voters as recently as November 2004.

Are officials constitutionally incapable of making accurate cost estimates, or was the misestimate intentional?

The Illusion of Security 2

Via BoingBoing again: KCTV story about using fake ID to get through TSA security. I suppose we are lucky the enemy can't make fake IDs or never thought of it, otherwise they would have used that to attack us.

[A message to Nexus group members and my students on April 10, 2007]

Hi all,

I have made a decree. I will henceforth no longer accept electronic
versions of papers, reports, theses, or dissertations in Microsoft
Word format. I have been using the software for far too long, it is a
cancer upon our productivity. There a number of reasons for this. The
format is closed, stylesheets and headings never work right, every
document looks different even when it shouldn't, references are never
formatted correctly, track changes leads to crashing, the files
produced are bloated, templates don't work, embedded graphics are not
reproduced correctly, it is prone to viruses, the output is ugly, etc.

You may continue with MS Word for your personal use, and of course in
anything unrelated to my supervision of your academic or research
work. You probably need to continue to have the software available as
others will send you documents in that format.

However, when transmitting a document to me, if you want me to read
it, but not edit it in detail, you may use pdf. If you want me to
edit it (and this applies to all of my TAs, RAs, Post-docs, and
research fellows), I would suggest plain text or LaTeX. For academic
papers, I will be using LaTeX. LaTeX automatically produces PDF output.


There are a variety of open source LaTeX tools. I use TeXShop on Mac
OS X.

The new version of (the non-open source) MathType exports equations
to LaTeX format.

I now use the cross-platform (and free) Jabref as a reference
manager, and would suggest using that as well. I believe EndNote
references can be exported to BibTex, the format underlying
references as used in Jabref. Google Scholar can be set to produce
BibTeX formatted references, which is very convenient, as those can
be dragged and dropped into jabref.

There are tools to export tables from excel to LaTeX (e.g.
Excel2Latex V2.0 ... though be careful with this, it can be
destructive of the original data, so always work with a copy).

I would suggest installing Natbib as well. This allows you to
reformat all of your references with a single command so that it
comports with a different journal standard.

This decree applies to all papers currently under review or under
revision as well, subsequent versions should be reformatted in LaTeX
when it is time for revision, for a paper-length document that should
take about 2 hours.

The only exceptions to this are when sponsors or publishers require
MS Word format.

I understand there may be a learning curve associated with conversion
to LaTeX, but I believe the long term reduction in variable costs
outweighs the initial fixed costs.

I am not especially happy with Powerpoint either, but that will wait
another day.

-- dml

An illusion of certainty

| 1 Comment

From the Guardian: UN scientists warn time is running out to tackle global warming

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) apparently says, according to the article ". But there could be as little as eight years left to avoid a dangerous global average rise of 2C or more."

1. Where is this actual report that was supposedly published, maybe I am missing something, but all I can find on the IPCC website is the summary for policy makers.

On the attrociously designed IPCC page
Working Group III Report "Mitigation of Climate Change"
Release on 4 May 07 in Bangkok
* Download the webcast of the press conference
* SUMMARY FOR POLICYMAKERS

Nowhere obvious is the full report of Working Group III. Perhaps because it is not actually done. Yet the conclusions have been drawn and the press conferences given and articles written as if this report is available for public and peer review. This is not science.

Working Group 1 report (from February) is now online. (with pending supplementary materials). Working Group II Report is not yet online either. Maybe the press conferences can wait until the reports are ready?

2. Why is this false level of precision being given as truth. Scientists are discrediting themselves by sinking to the level of diplomatic politics. Of course the newspapers are complicit here suggesting certainty where there is none. In this politically-driven story of how we must change, there is always time to redeem ourselves. (In this case, a full 8 years before the temperature rise changes from 1.9999 degrees to 2.00001 degrees apparently if the Guardian's implications were to be believed). Just once I would like to hear someone say that "This is actually irreversible. Too bad, we can't fix it, no point in changing our ways, it won't matter anyway. We broke the planet for good." That however is politically unacceptable because it won't inspire change. There must be enough time for the diplomats to get their next treaty in place.

3. What if this "consensus" of scientists is wrong, will they be believed next time?

Let's hope for science this is not a case of crying wolf. Let's hope for the planet it is a case of crying wolf.

4. There are strange assumptions underlying the policy analysis, e.g. there is in the analysis a pre-industrial "temperature equilibrium". Maybe I missed something in school (or Al Gore's video), but I don't know what this mechanism for equilibrium is, it seems like the climate is something that is continuously changing, sometimes up on some parameter, sometimes down.

5. Science is not about consensus, politics is. Science is about developing and testing falsifiable hypotheses. Models are useful for generating and hypotheses and clarifying theories, but data is required to test them, and the future is a grand experiment we need to measure carefully. A consensus of scientists, even if one exists, proves (and disproves) nothing.

The Illusion of Security

| 1 Comment

Great blurb from Boing Boing: TSA donates potentially explosive liquids to homeless

Apparently the confiscated fluids in inappropriate containers are too dangerous to allow on planes, but fine to donate to poor people.

Are we really more secure because of the "war on terror", "Patriot Act", and TSA, or did our enemy just shoot their wad on 9.11 ?

Briefly noted: Mystery cat takes regular bus to the shops | the Daily Mail (via Memepool).

Apparently he doesn't pay full fare, but perhaps because he is under 14, he is free and doesn't require an Oyster card.

New Towns are back

From today's BBC, the next UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is proposing to build 100,000 houses in five new towns (20,000 each) to help address the rise in housing costs in southeast England: Brown outlines 'eco towns' plan.

These towns would be "carbon neutral", showing how each generating infuses its ideals into its plans. Hopefully these will be more like Ebenezer Howard's Garden Cities (Letchworth, Welwyn), or the first generation of post-war new towns (e.g. Stevanage) than that monstrosity of mega-scale suburban automobility, Milton Keynes. Given their scale, they sound more similar to the early Garden Cities.

McCain's strategic error

John McCain, recently announced US presidential candidate, has long supported a stronger US force in Iraq, and recently endorsed George Bush's surge.

If the surge fails, McCain gets tagged with its failure. If it succeeds he can claim credit.

With enough troops and military resources, certainly Iraq (or even Baghdad) could be calmed - there are only 27 million people in Iraq, surely an equivalent force (less than 10 percent of the US population) would bring about peace pretty quickly, however, that number is more than the US and its allies are likely to commit for this cause.

That said, it is unlikely that an extra 21,000 troops are sufficient. McCain had supported more troops before Bush endorse a mere 21,000 troops for the surge.

McCain would have been able to claim the high ground either way had he said we need a surge, and Bush's plan was insufficient. If Bush is wrong, and the surge is generally regarded as a failure, McCain would have been able to say he wanted more and that would have worked. If on the odd chance Bush were right, he can still claim credit for encouraging a surge.

Endorsing Bush, instead of moving to his right, is either a strategic error, or part of a larger game where McCain hopes to gain something from the endorsement of policy (but what could that be ... a Bush endorsement of his campaign does not seem like something of sufficient value to warrant selling out for).

Note: I neither endorse the surge, the war, nor McCain. McCain seems like a nice guy, and he was held prisoner for a number of years, but he is wrong on every issue.

Email bankruptcy?

From Stuff:
Under siege, users declare 'email bankruptcy' -
Users overwhelmed by their incoming email (underwhelming in their ability to manage time?) are just dumping their inbox.

It would be nice if we could do that in transportation ... a queue forming at an intersection, we will just delete all the cars and start again.

The Truth Behind 4/29

Was the MacArthur Maze Meltdown a conspiracy? This site: 4/29truth.com aims to discover the truth. Some great links from the site, as well as a brilliant send-up of 9/11.

David Levinson

Network Reliability in Practice

Evolving Transportation Networks

Place and Plexus

The Transportation Experience

Access to Destinations

Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Intelligent Transportation Systems

Financing Transportation Networks

View David Levinson's profile on LinkedIn

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