Archive for July, 2011

the disappearing retail

Borders the “bricks-and-mortar” bookstore went bankrupt last week. After more than a decade since the first online shopping sites opened up, the physical retail store is finally taking mortal blows. Well, not all physical retail stores — some survived by successfully running their own online sites. But let’s not overly distinguish between such apparent survival and those that fail, since this mere issue of ownership doesn’t change the facts.

On the one hand, this development is a milestone triumph of digital efficiency and convenience, something I greatly appreciate. On the other hand, I — and it seems many others — can’t seem to muster the schadenfreude over the demise of a bookstore. Doesn’t seem right, but why?
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Google+ and its circles, a user-graph evolution

Eduardo … I’m talking about taking the entire social experience of college and putting it online.

When the movie “The Social Network” came out, this line caught my attention. I’m not sure this thesis — let’s call it the “replication thesis” — was what Monsieur Zuckerberg had in mind rather than something the screenwriter came up with, but it makes sense as to what actually undergirds online social platforms of today.

In all likelihood, Zuckerberg did not at first intend Facebook to be more than its namesake — a dorm facebook. Just as, in all likelihood, Twitter was meant as no more than a status message broadcast system, at first. The fact that Facebook became something of a gathering place and Twitter became a “microblogging” service — in essence, taking over functions that used to be conducted in other ways — I think owed something to their use of a “correct” user graph for certain contexts. It was the user graph that allowed, then limited, the range of social functions that people were willing to port over to the online platform. With the undirected graph, Facebook (and clones) modeled something like a big gathering, maybe a party. With the directed graph, Twitter (and clones) modeled something a bit more nuanced, like a groupie-celebrity relationship. (Is it any surprise, then, that celebrities drove the latter’s popularity?)

But I get the sense that neither Facebook nor Twitter truly believes in the replication thesis. They’ve construed their challenge narrowly as one of periodically pushing out new “things you could do,” most of which are nowadays ignored by users, or adding more places at which you could interact, but in the same way. They don’t see that users voluntarily do on a platform only those things that are compatible with their perception of the modeled social space. You can’t push anything on them any more than you can force people to play some game at a party. Yet I see no movement to revisit the user graph and better model real social relationships with all of their complexities. If left unchanged, the inevitable result will be that the range of social functions these platforms support stagnates, and therein should lie their eventual downfall. In fact, that probably solves the supposed “mystery” of Myspace’s decline, too. It is in this context that Google+ arrives.
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circulating denominations (part 4)

… and wallet distributions.

This is part of the Toronto visit series.

“Do you have change for $5?”
“I can only give you one loonie and two lizes”
Dumps coins on counter.

(Canada has no bills under $5 and circulates the $1 and $2 coins.)

Before playing with Canadian money, I had thought that a $2 denomination, whether coin or bill, would be a great idea. But the problem I encountered here was that I was just unable to get very many $1 coins when the $2 coin was also widely circulating. This makes sense, because each transaction at most ends up giving you one additional $1 coin if done optimally. But if you had to always pay odd dollar-amount fees like the $3 streetcar fares, then you need many $1 coins which you don’t have. Compare this to the US system, where you get lots of $1 bills from daily transactions — up to four $1 bills in a transaction ($0-$4 in change). It surprised me that the latter situation is more flexible, because I did not take into account the dynamic effects that repeated transactions have.
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transit fare rules (part 3)

… on the Toronto transit system.

This is part of the Toronto visit series.

A TTC transfer with the date and route printed, and marked for 12:30 going uptown. July 1st is the 182nd day of this year.

TTC streetcar fares are CAD$3. They give you this transfer, with the intention that you can catch another route to complete your one-way trip “within reasonable time allowance.”

The rule for TTC transfers is that you can only make transfers at a “transfer point,” basically where two routes meet. You’re not supposed to get off at one stop and do anything else before resuming a trip, and that includes walking around the block to another stop, or doing a stopover to pick up something quick, or backtracking (i.e. return trip), or some other complication. This intention is justifiable but utterly unenforceable except in the most obvious case of same-route continuation or retracement. In almost all cases, the only information on the transfer of value to the conductor is the day of the year — and that’s all they have time to check for anyway.

In the Seattle Metro system, it doesn’t matter what you do with the transfer, as long as you do it in the allotted time. This time-based system is quite a bit more sensible than the Toronto system and is actually fair. However, the Toronto system in practice degenerates to a time-based system, too, except that you are forced to embark at transfer points. Beyond that, what you did in between (getting off transit and getting back on later) nobody knows for sure — could have been multiple transfers, could have been something else. So it just reduces where you can get on with a transfer to a subset of the stops, which is silly and causes confusion.
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the propellers go around (part 2)

… but not on camera.

This is part of the Toronto visit series.

So I inadvertently took a picture of the running propeller on my side of the plane, and it came out weird. And I mean, really weird (1):

The propeller does not look like this. It has like six blades spaced out evenly and all of them straight. So of course this is due to aliasing of the damned camera. But wait now, I just said not too long ago that this is photography, so indeed, I only took this and
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sometimes small is better (part 1)

… in air travel.

This is part of the Toronto visit series.

I sit in this small airport in the middle of Downtown Toronto, wondering why airports can’t all be like this. YTZ (Billy Bishop) is small, with a single terminal (if it can be called that). There is just one commercial airline, also a small company. And its planes are small, four-seat-across propeller aircrafts that I’ve sworn not to take again after one particularly unpleasant ride years ago, but am taking anyway. More on that later.
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