Monday, March 11, 2013

LA public transportation

I had my first-ever experience with Los Angeles public transportation. I'd been thinking of taking my bike to school and then taking the train home -- or vice versa.  It was too cold (for me) even to take the bike to the station this morning, but I still wanted to see if I could navigate the public transportation system. I'd been putting it off for weeks and decided that today's the day.  I had a meeting at school at 10 and used that as a target.

I left my house at 8:45 and drove to the MetroRail stop. (This is a test to see if I can put a link into a post in Blogger and have it come out as a link on Google+.) LA has two main public transportation systems: MetroRail, the light rail system, and MetroLink, which is heavier.

When I got to the station if found that they were paving the parking area. Half of it was closed off; the other half as full. No alternatives were provided. It took me 20 minutes to find a parking place and get back to the station.

I have a senior pass. (Getting it is another story!) For $1.80 I can ride all day on any train.

The train itself was amazingly slow. It never seemed to go faster than 35 miles/hour. It also seemed to stop at traffic lights as well as the dozen and a half stops between my stop and downtown. We did finally get to the other end of the line. Google had told me to switch to the Silver Line (a bus line) for the rest of the trip. Unfortunately it didn't tell me exactly where to find the bus stop. That took another 15 minutes. Eventually I got the bus and arrived at school only 45  minutes late. I could have made the entire trip by bike in less time.

The trip home was better. I caught every connection with no waiting. Even so, it took about an hour from the school station to my station.  I would have taken about 1 1/2 hours by bike and 35 minutes by car.

I was particuarly disappointed in the technology. Most train systems now have ways for the train to know where it is and to display its location somewhere in the car.  This one doesn't. All it shows is an old-fashioned map. There is also an audio announcement (if you can make it out) telling you which stop is next. Same thing at the stations. There is a crawl sign, but all it tells you is what the time is and not to walk on the track. Unlike most train systems these days it doesn't tell you how long it will be until the next train.

This was very disappointing. The Metrorail system is new. Yet the cars looked like the came from the 1980s and the technology matched.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

I was struck today at the extent to which computers are joining us in the physical world.

We were coming home from a friend's gathering. I used Google Maps to find a route and then turned Navigator on.

Debora was driving and didn't want to drive on the freeway as Google maps suggested. So got off the freeway we rode a main boulevard parallel to the freeway.

Google maps and GPS noticed we had gotten off the freeway and immediately rerouted us, telling us how to get back on the freeway. Of course we ignored its advice. It was very patient. At each new opportunity it told us to turn toward the freeway. At each opportunity we ignored its advice.  I was quite impressed with how well it followed our position and continually updated what it decided was our best route.  It was as if it was in the car with us and could see where we were.

Of course with GPS it did know where we were, but the sense of presence was much stronger than that.  It was difficult to believe that it wasn't there in the back seat watching us drive. I was pleased that it was so patient with us even though we repeatedly ignored its advice. (If it had been a bit smarter it would have noticed that we were not getting back on the freeway and would have rerouted us back home on surface streets. It's not quite that smart yet.)

I recently saw an interview with Marc Andressen in which he talked about his vision of where technology is taking us. He talked about Mirror Worlds, David Gelernter's book of two decades ago, in which he say we will soon simulate the world in enough detail to be able to know what's going on by looking at the simulation. In addition the simulation will be well enough attached to the physical world that it will be able to keep the simulation up to date.  That means we can both see pretty much all the real world as well as run experiments about possible futures with very little effort.

This seems to me to be one of the most important technological advances. It is super-augmented reality. The computer will be there in the world with us while at the same time having far greater reach of its sensors and computing capability.

A test to see if a Blogger post appears on Google+.