Mini Metro: fun game simulates planning and running public transit system

Mini Metro is a video-game from New Zealand's Dinosaur Polo Club in which you create public transit systems in order to improve the lives of virtual citizens of an imaginary town. It does a really clever job of simulating the efficacy of your trains and the way that influences commuter behaviors. The game is in early alpha and is a free download for GNU/Linux, Mac OS and Windows.

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Performance artist frosts and shares cake on NYC subway

Performance artist Bettina Banayan has conducted a number of interventions on the NYC subway, but this one, in which she frosts, decorates, and shares a cake with her fellow commuters, is my favorite. Unlike the other performances, which largely revolve around making people uncomfortable (or at least discomfited), the punchline of "Subway Cake Performance 02/11/14" is a subway car full of happy people whose life in the city has been made sweeter and friendlier.

Performance - Bettina Banayan (via Neatorama)

Spooky Hungarian tram-terminus


This spooky photo appears to depict the 1970s-era Tram 58 terminus in Zugliget, Budapest, Hungary. The original source isn't clear to me (if you know it, please note it in the comments so I can re-attribute the image, which appears all over the net without attribution). There's a plan underway to renovate the tumbledown terminus and turn it into a shopping mall.

Budapest Trolley Station (via Disquieting Metamorphasis)

City buses across America now covertly recording passengers' conversations

City buses across America increasingly have hidden microphones that track and record the conversations that take place on them. It's easy to see the reasoning behind this: once it's acceptable to video-record everything and everyone on a bus because some crime, somewhere was thus thwarted, then why not add audio? If all you need to justify an intrusion into privacy is to show that some bad thing, somewhere, can be so prevented, then why not? After all, "If you've got nothing to hide..."

According to the product pamphlet for the RoadRecorder 7000 system made by SafetyVision (.pdf), “Remote connectivity to the RoadRecorder 7000 NVR can be established via the Gigabit Ethernet port or the built-in 3G modem. A robust software ecosystem including LiveTrax vehicle tracking and video streaming service combined with SafetyNet central management system allows authorized users to check health status, create custom alerts, track vehicles, automate event downloads and much more.”

The systems use cables or WiFi to pair audio conversations with camera images in order to produce synchronous recordings. Audio and video can be monitored in real-time, but are also stored onboard in blackbox-like devices, generally for 30 days, for later retrieval. Four to six cameras with mics are generally installed throughout a bus, including one near the driver and one on the exterior of the bus.

Cities that have installed the systems or have taken steps to procure them include San Francisco, California; Eugene, Oregon; Traverse City, Michigan; Columbus, Ohio; Baltimore Maryland; Hartford, Connecticut; and Athens, Georgia.

There are lots more exciting possibilities opened up here. For example, our phones and laptops could continuously stream all the audio from our immediate surroundings when we're in public, even when we're not actively using them. No one would listen to them in real-time (or, at least, no one would be authorized to do this), unless they were a cop or someone in government. But when a crime was committed, imagine how useful it would be if all the phones in the vicinity could be tapped for a record of the event!

Why not? If you've got nothing to hide?

This is the NSA's argument, by the way. They're recording all of the Internet and voice traffic in the USA, but they only plan on examining it after the fact, to find criminals who do bad, bad things. Once you accept that logic, there's no reason that they shouldn't put prisoner-tracking ankle-cuffs on all of us (mobile phones are only slightly less invasive than these, anyway, in the current legislative regime), start using lawful interception backdoors to watch us through the webcams in our consoles and computers, and so on.

It's also UK Home Secretary Theresa May's argument in favour of her "Snooper's Charter" -- the communications act she's pushing, which will give law enforcement the power to order service providers to retain any data, and give government and law enforcement access to it.

Public Buses Across Country Quietly Adding Microphones to Record Passenger Conversations [Kim Zetter/Wired] (via Wil Wheaton)

Prank signs for the London Underground


An anonymous -- but inspired -- prankster has affixed some helpful addenda to the usual London Underground official signage on various tube-trains, as are documented in this Imgur photoset.

London Underground prank stickers

Yarn bomb transit protest in Edinburgh

An unknown yarn-bomber has taken to the streets of Edinburgh with a political message, opposing the tramway expansion underway there. Yarnivore Rose says, "Actual political speech in yarnbomb form, rather than 'mere' decoration! BRING IT!"

More from The Scotsman:

Grant McKeenan, who owns the Copymade Shop on West Maitland Street and who has started his own anti-tram poster campaign, said he thought the protest was “excellent”, adding: “Anything speaking out against the trams is good in my book, and clearly someone’s gone to a lot of 
trouble.”

Councillor Lesley Hinds, the city’s transport leader confirmed that the council had removed the colourful protest.

“When unofficial banners are put up it’s normally the process that they are removed, in case they come loose and flap into the face of a pedestrian or into the path of a cyclist.

“It did look like nice crochet work though, someone had clearly spent a lot of time on it.”

The city council added that the blanket was still in their possession if the owner wished to claim it, no questions asked.

Mystery knitter vents Edinburgh trams fury in ‘yarn-bombing’ blanket protest

(Thanks, Rose!)

(Image: a downsized, cropped thumbnail of "The embroidered tram work protest which was attached to the fence on Princes Street," a photo by Mary Gordon)

Radio circuit board laid out like the London tube map


Yuri Suzuki's "London Underground Circuit Maps" is being shown at the London Design Museum until next January. It was developed through the museum's Artist-in-Residence programme.

responding to 'thrift' as a theme, suzuki's work explores communication systems in consumer electronics. a printed circuit board (PCB) is used as a precedent for developing a electrical circuit influenced by harry beck's iconic london underground map diagrams. by strategically positioning certain speaker, resistor and battery components throughout the map, users can visually understand the complex networks associated with electricity and how power is generated within a radio.

Cue humourless, robotic legal threat from Transport for London in 5, 4, 3...

yuri suzuki: london underground circuit map radio (via Red Ferret)

History of subway accidents in NYC

Kyle Chayka offers a history of deaths and injuries in the NYC subway system, from Victorian tunnel collapses to gang warfare and commuter-pushing psychopaths. [Animal]

Implanting a London Oyster card transponder in a ring

Dhani Sutanto removed the transponder from a Transport for London Oyster card (a RFID-based stored value card used to pay for rides on public transit) and implanted it in a ring, making a lovely bit of snitchy jewelry that gets him on the bus.

Oyster Ring (Thanks, Phoebe!)

Exciting boring video

This video from Herrenknecht AG shows the operation of the enormous tunnel boring machine that will conduct the deep tunnelling for San Francisco's new subway lines. The machine obviates the necessity of tearing up city streets for subway construction, and somehow manages to be gentle enough to avoid shaking the buildings above it. There's a much older version of this monster on display at the fabulous London Transport Museum in Covent Garden that is truly awesome to behold.

A TBM consists of a rotating cutterhead within a cylindrical steel shell that is pushed forward along the axis of the tunnel while excavating the ground through the cutterhead. The steel shield supports the excavated ground as required until the final tunnel lining is built in the rear of the shield. The shield is propelled using hydraulic jacks that thrust against the erected tunnel lining system. The TBM is used in conjunction with a prefabricated ground support system, which consists of pre-cast concrete segments that are bolted and gasketed to form a watertight lining.

Pressure-face TBMs that are capable of exerting a balancing pressure against the tunnel face are used to control excavation rates and groundwater inflow, as well as to maintain stability of the tunnel face.

After completion of TBM excavation and installation of the lining, the temporary rail and conveyor system are removed, the invert is cleaned, and a flat invert for the permanent rail fixation and a raised walkway are constructed as reinforced, cast-in-place concrete. The invert contains embedded pipes and inlets for track drainage.

(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

FCC seeks comment on who should be allowed to shut down cellular service and when

Concerned by the San Francisco BART system's decision to suspend cellular service to frustrate coordination among protesters angered by the fatal transit police shooting of an unarmed passenger, the FCC is holding a public inquiry seeking comment on who should be allowed to order cellular service shutoffs, and when. Here's the notice, with instructions for replying. Ars Technica's Megan Geuss writes:

But the FCC's public notice also states that law enforcement personnel have raised concerns that, "wireless service could be used to trigger the detonation of an explosive device or to organize the activities of a violent flash mob," suggesting local government authorities like BART should be allowed to retain some autonomy over service in its stations.

The FCC's decision will most likely set a clear precedent for other local government agencies. So far, two electronic public comments have been posted (the FCC lets you post comments online or send them in by mail), both in favor of more severe restrictions on who can turn off cell phone service and when. "The only time it should be legal to shut down a wireless network is when it is necessary to do so to repair a defect, or when it is necessary to prevent an attack that is compromising the ability of the network to function." said one commenter, "the government and government agencies are not wise enough to judge any other scenario in which one might think about shutting down a network."

Who can shut down cell phone service? FCC seeks public comment

Sack Boris campaign's Oyster card sleeves help Londoners express their support for public transit with each ride

The Sack Boris campaign, which seeks the ouster of London Mayor Boris Johnson, has a nice line of brightly coloured Oyster-card sleeves that can be yours for a mere £3 donation. The mayor has increased bus-fares by 44% since he took office in 2008, and he is up for re-election in 2012.

Sack Boris

Wedway PeopleMover: Disney's retrofuturistic transit system


The Disney Parks blog is featuring some fine opening-year 1975 photos of the Wedway PeopleMover, a "mass transit system"-cum-ride in Tomorrowland that is affectionately called the "PeopleCrusher" after its propensity for squishing ill-advised riders who try to hop into oncoming cars. I've always loved the PeopleCrusher, and these photos do a great job of capturing its curvy, groovy, 1970s futuristic glory.

Vintage Walt Disney World: Head Back to 1975 Aboard the PeopleMover

NYC subway rider with rat and spaghetti

This video highlights the colorful experiences to be had as a NYC subway commuter: in this case, it's an eccentric gentleman who rambles incoherently while eating spaghetti and petting a tame rat on his lap.

Rat on New York City Subway. 2 (via Digg)

FareBot: an Android transit-card sniffer

Eric Butler's Android app FareBot uses the RFID reader built into the Nexus S Android phone to sniff RFID-enabled transit cards, some of which carry unencrypted ride histories, making them vulnerable to reading by anyone who brushes past you (Butler dryly notes, "Transit agencies across the board should do a better job explaining to riders how the cards work and what the privacy implications are."). Butler's app is just the first step in building software-based transit-card cloners/replacements that allow you to download transit credit to your mobile phone and swipe your phone to pay for fares. Presumably, putting the RFID emitter into a programmable PC will allow for a higher degree of privacy and security for card-users.
Because many of these systems are new, there is often a limited number of places to buy a card and/or add value, especially outside the city center. This presents a great opportunity for NFC-equipped smart phones which, in addition to being able to read cards, also have the capability to emulate a card. No matter how far to the edge of an agency's service area you are, it should be possible to download the ORCA or Clipper app and hop the next bus, streetcar, train, or boat. Apps could link with existing payment infrastructure such as Google Checkout for quick payments without additional setup, and for international travelers looking to get around, apps could support multiple languages and automatic currency conversion.

Typically there is a tradeoff between a transit fare system's level of security and the cost of a card, as the cards with better security are more expensive. Smart phones on the other hand already have the capability to do real cryptography, so there's potential to build a much more secure system while not requiring substantial changes to existing reader infrastructure.

FareBot itself may not appear very useful, but I hope it will seen as a demonstration of what's possible for the future as NFC becomes pervasive. It can be downloaded now from the Android Market, just keep in mind that the current version is not at all complete. If you're a developer and interested in exploring what's stored on cards around the world, I hope you'll check out the source code and contribute. For everyone else - never worry about if you have enough bus fare again!

FareBot: Read data from public transit cards with your NFC-equipped Android phone (via O'Reilly Radar)