What DS9 I watch, when I can watch any episode

I don’t normally have access to Netflix, but I sometimes visit people who have it.

In general I have always liked DS9 better than TNG, because it is darker and has more complex characters and more believable inter-character dynamics.  But I have to say when I tried to watch the first season again, they definitely didn’t hit their stride early.  A few seasons on though the show started working well.

5×02 The Ship – Wikipedia (spoilers)

This is good except it is odd that the destruction of the ship in orbit isn’t part of their discussions.  It doesn’t really make sense as a standalone episode; you have to know the entire Dominion storyline to understand the various Dominion characters.

5×10 Rapture – Wikipedia (spoilers)

I just like something about the idea of having to choose between visions and living your life.

5×06 Trials and Tribble-ations – Wikipedia (spoilers)

Fluff, but they do a really good job visually of fitting into the original series episode.

The obvious episode to watch would be 4×03 The Visitor, which is probably DS9’s best episode, an analogous episode to TNG 5×25 The Inner Light in that it’s not really a DS9 episode at all.

Previously:
August 6, 2016  What TNG I watch, when I can watch any episode

What is Tron about?

The Financial Times Alphachat podcast had a go at reviewing Tron and Tron: Legacy.

I won’t discuss Tron: Legacy because I found it an odd pseudoreligious mishmash.

For the FT discussion of Tron, I think there were some interesting ideas, in particular Tron as a retelling of The Wizard of Oz, but I think that they missed two key elements of 80s culture, in particular 80s young male videogamer / computer user culture.  (Young male because that’s the reality of the culture at the time.)

The first is video arcade and videogame culture.  There is a history of young men, particularly of an intellectual bent, finding ways to escape the reality of their constrained lives.  In the 80s this would manifest in classical ways such as the escape into books, particularly science fiction and fantasy, either at home or by escaping to the library, but also in new ways, such as playing Dungeons & Dragons and in going to the arcade to play videogames (and eventually playing videogames at home, once home computers became more widely available).

Tron, as a 1982 movie, hits on exactly this arcade escape moment in culture.  Imagine the daily routine, where adults rush you to go to school, and then you sit in a desk in a row being lectured at by adults in school for hours, but afterschool, you get to go to the local arcade and for an hour or so you’re flying a spaceship, shooting lasers.  If you go to the arcade enough, you become very familiar with the games, and when playing them you kind of disappear into the game.  So at a certain point it becomes natural to wonder what it is really like inside the game.  These spaceships you fly around, do they have a crew?  What’s their life like?  What do they do when you’re not playing the game?

So on one level, that’s really all that Tron is about, the simple question of what it would be like to be inside a videogame.  This is not a new concept, it’s just Alice down the rabbit hole, but in a new context.

The second element of 80s culture is the very stark distinction between corporate computing and home computing.  In that era, the corporate computing world, the adult world, is full of men (almost entirely men) in identical blue suits, selling big mainframe computers to do stunningly boring things (mostly financial things).  It’s a centralized, corporate, conformist, colourless world.  Which is to say, many teenagers’ nightmare world.  Contrast this with hobbyist computing, a world of individual creativity, individual control, decentralised, colourful, fun.

So on another level, Tron is basically about young computer hobbyists versus a gigantic corporate central computer.

Seen in this light, the most direct modern analogue of Tron is not Tron: Legacy, but The Lego Movie.  It asks whether Lego is about centrally-designed, glued-together Lord Business adult world, or about a creative world for kids.

These two threads of videogame culture and hobby computer culture are the core of Tron, its master code.  You can see this digital DNA evolve in many different ways in the years afterwards.

For example the most direct descendant of Tron is the (excellent) ReBoot TV series, which takes place in a world where the inhabitants are periodically sucked into videogames.  A more recent movie incarnation would be Wreck-It Ralph, which is also about the life of videogame characters between the moments when their games are being played.  But we can also look to less direct inheritors, such as Run Lola Run (Lola rennt) which has the concept of rebooting (restarting) a series of events and playing them out differently, or taken to an extreme, the (in my opinion underrated) Edge of Tomorrow, where the character plays out the same events over and over again, trying to get to a final win, exactly as one does when trying to master a videogame.

I was reminded of the ways that young people escape into videogames by the Guardian article No Man’s Sky is Elite for the 21st century. Pointless? Maybe – but also sublime.

On another more literary thread, there are movies about escaping into or falling into a fantasy world, such as The NeverEnding Story, and movies about what is going on with characters in fiction when we’re not watching them, such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

The theme of creative youth vs. stodgy adults is of course a very extensive one, but the most direct follow-on to Tron in this case would be WarGames, where a young Matthew Broderick uses his personal computer and hacks into the giant nuclear-controlling mainframe WOPR.  It has the additional theme of the real-world consequences of virtual actions, where the digital game world accidentally threatens the planet, and raises the very real question of whether we use technology and games to avoid thinking about real consequences of our decisions and actions.

It’s important as well to realise that this particular cultural moment, where power shifted from centralized mainframe computing to disconnected personal computers, was transitory and perhaps part of an ongoing back-and-forth between centralization and decentralization.  For a few decades the personal computer reigned supreme, and it was possible to understand and control the computer is very deep and personal ways.  But with the rise of Mac OS X, and in particular the iPhone and iPad, the user was pushed away from direct interaction with and control of the underlying machinery of the computer.  You no longer had to learn to code in order to do interesting things.  Steve Jobs famously had a giant hammer smash dull corporate computing in 1984, but ironically it seems he never wanted users to be programmers, he wanted them to interact with a beautiful surface with all of the coding hidden from them.  With mobile devices and the concomitant rise in cloud computing, in particular cloud giant services like Google and Facebook, the power was taken back from individuals and returned to centralized corporations.

It remains to be seen whether Minecraft (and to a lesser extent the Raspberry Pi) represent a return to a user-centric, user-controlled, user-created computer experience, or whether the corporate cloud will continue to dominate.  One of the great things to see is much more equal use of Minecraft between the genders, which hopefully is the start of a reverse of the 1980s When Women Stopped Coding moment.

Overall I would say that Tron is very richly woven into the tapestry of computer culture and youth rebellion and escape, and has informed the creation of many subsequent books, TV shows and movies (with many more examples than I have given here), in a way that Tron: Legacy really has not.

Do you have a favourite example of a story about life inside a book, videogame or other alternative world?

What TNG I watch, when I can watch any episode

I don’t normally have access to Netflix, but I sometimes visit people who have it.

I started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) when it launched, and over the years I have seen every episode many times, despite not being a particular fan of it.

On reflection (and particularly compared to the reboot Star Trek Beyond movie), TNG does have certain strengths that I will cover in a separate blog post.

After several years of being away from TNG, here’s what I watched, in the order I watched, when I could choose any episode:

3×15 Yesterday’s Enterprise – Wikipedia (spoilers)

This is a combination of “what would TNG have been if it was an action show?” and fixing the rather awkward way that Tasha Yar left.  It works well on both fronts.  (Although TNG messed up its Yaredemption by bringing Denise Crosby back later in an improbable role.)

This episode really works best if you’ve watched at least all of season 1.

7×15 Lower Decks – Wikipedia (spoilers)

This is mostly a way to watch TNG without having the focus on the main characters.

There is a similar Voyager episode, 6×20 Good Shepherd.

4×15 First Contact – Wikipedia (spoilers)

This is a pretty light episode, I watched mainly because I remembered the aliens’ dilemma about what to do about contact.  I had forgotten it has one of TNG’s most awkward scenes, with Bebe Neuwirth as a xenophile nurse.

5×02 Darmok – Wikipedia (spoilers)

As pure science fiction, this is the strongest episode of the series.

It also works well because like many of the show’s best episodes, it’s almost entirely Picard alone off the ship.

5×25 The Inner Light – Wikipedia (spoilers)

This is the most touching episode of the series, but it’s not really TNG at all in any meaningful way, it’s a story that stands alone.

It also works well because like many of the show’s best episodes, it’s almost entirely Picard alone off the ship.

Many Government of Canada consultations

The Government of Canada is conducting many consultations.

It’s a bit of a challenge to find the major ones on ConsultingCanadians.gc.ca so I’ve made a list below.

There are also two provincial electoral reform (including online voting) consultations running:

  • New Brunswick (information on one of my other blogs, Paper Vote Canada)
  • PEI – including a plebiscite October 29 to November 7, 2016 with option to participate using online voting

And there are additional provincial-level consultations, too many to list them all, but here are a few:

rebuilding Elgin Street

Thanks to Catherine McKenney for posting the Elgin Street consultation deck (PDF, 11MB) in advance of the public meeting that took place on June 28, 2016.  UPDATE 2016-07-07: Deck is now also available from the City of Ottawa.  ENDUPDATE

Particular kudos for including multi-modal Level of Service (LOS) which shows that cars get top level of service (A) while every other mode has a terrible experience.

Elgin Multi-modal Level of Service LOS slide 79

From the many many options presented, here are my top three designs in order of preference, with my priority being on slowing cars, shortening crossing distances and other safety considerations:

1. One Lane Per Direction, No Left-Turn Lane, No On-Street Parking (slide 81 in the deck)

Elgin street design slide 81

Pros:

  • Having two narrow lanes in opposite directions provides the design signals that will cause cars to slow down dramatically.
  • Expected slower speeds means cyclists can mix with traffic.
  • Using space for pedestrians rather than parking means smoother traffic flow (no waiting for cars to enter, exit, or find parking spaces).
  • Using space for pedestrians rather than parking means cyclists can’t be doored by parked cars or otherwise cut off by cars entering or exiting parking spaces.
  • Maximizes sidewalk space, with equally-sized sidewalks on both sides.  Good for a highly-pedestrian, mostly-restaurant-with-patio street.
  • Wide sidewalks mean ample room for street trees (which will struggle nevertheless) and street furniture (being mindful that unless full width is plowed it still may be narrow in winter).
  • Dramatically shorter crossing distance will mean safer, quicker crossings.

Cons:

2. One Lane Per Direction, No Left-Turn Lane, Flex Bay Parking One Side (slide 82 in deck)

Elgin street design slide 82

Pros:

  • Having two narrow lanes in opposite directions provides the design signals that will cause cars to slow down dramatically.
  • Expected slower speeds means cyclists can mix with traffic.
  • Will make people who complain about needing on-street parking somewhat happy

Cons:

  • There is no such thing as “flex bay” parking (i.e. parking that is at sidewalk level so in theory available for pedestrian space).  The Lansdowne experience shows that anything in Ottawa that looks like car space will be used as car space.
  • Cyclists can be doored by parked cars or otherwise cut off by cars entering or exiting parking spaces.
  • Disrupted traffic flow (waiting for cars to enter, exit, or find parking spaces).
  • Doesn’t have separated bike lanes (cycle tracks) but I think these would interfere with the bus stops.
  • Much less sidewalk space (1.2 metres less per side) for pedestrians, trees and street furniture than first option

3. One Lane Per Direction, No Left-Turn Lane, Raised Cycle Track, No Parking (slide 89 in deck)

Elgin street design slide 89

Pros:

  • Having two narrow lanes in opposite directions provides the design signals that will cause cars to slow down dramatically.
  • Using space for pedestrians and cyclists rather than parking means smoother traffic flow (no waiting for cars to enter, exit, or find parking spaces).
  • Using space for pedestrians and cycling rather than parking means cyclists can’t be doored by parked cars or otherwise cut off by cars entering or exiting parking spaces (except see cycle-track-as-parking issue below)

Cons:

  • Narrowest sidewalk option (0.6 metres less per side than option two; 1.8 metres less than option one)
  • Cycle track may interfere with bus stops
  • Even with an elevated cycle track, vehicles will still manage to park on the cycle track, which will both disrupt traffic flow and interfere with cycling

It may surprise people that I don’t automatically recommend cycle tracks.  I do strongly support them.  But I’m not convinced we can make them work well on a street with buses where people will also be tempted to use them for car parking.  I think cycle tracks with barriers or cycle tracks protected by buffered car parking work better.  It doesn’t appear that there is space to do either.  Nevertheless, any of these three options would be much better than the status quo.

It’s hard to get the visitor traffic that centres around the Convention Centre and Parliament Hill to circulate down Elgin Street; having a dramatically better pedestrian experience will be key to drawing this traffic so that visitors can experience more of Ottawa than just the Byward Market.

I would also like the street to be signed for 30km/h, being mindful that only design controls speed.

The city contact on this file is Vanessa Black.  If you have thoughts on the Elgin Street redesign, make sure that you share them with her.

Vanessa Black, P. Eng.
Transportation Engineer – Network Modification
Planning and Growth Management
City of Ottawa
110 Laurier Avenue West
Ottawa, ON K1P 1J1
Email: vanessa.black@ottawa.ca
Email: planning@ottawa.ca

Here’s the city site for this particular consultation http://ottawa.ca/en/city-hall/public-consultations/elgin-street-and-hawthorne-avenue-functional-design-study where (hopefully) new information will be added as necessary.

UPDATE 2016-07-07: There is also a quick survey about Elgin Street that you can fill out, in order to indicate your priorities for the redesign.  ENDUPDATE

congestion and the misallocation of space

An Example of Congestion in the National Capital Region

Let’s look at the 4-lane stretch of Rue Laurier running from Alexandra to Sacre-Coeur in Gatineau.  Running beside Parc Jacques-Cartier.  Running between people’s houses on the east and the park along the river on the west.

In the morning during rush hour it is jammed bumper-to-bumper southbound only.  In the evening during rush hour it is jammed bumper-to-bumper northbound only.

The rest of the time it is basically empty, with the few cars speeding as fast as they can.

So how have we allocated this space?  Basically we’ve spent millions of dollars on construction and maintenance of 4 lanes, of which two are jammed for an hour in the morning and two are jammed for an hour in the evening.  10 hours of (half) capacity use per week.  Millions of dollars, for two lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic.  And be mindful that this is not thousands of people.  Cars are ridiculously big.  There is usually only one person in the car.  This means a giant line of bumper-to-bumper traffic has only dozens, maybe on the order of a hundred actual people being moved.  A kilometre of traffic jam has fewer people than in a first year undergrad seminar room.

(As a side note, people say “the road is jammed but the bike lane is empty” because the road fillled with single passenger cars is incredibly space inefficient.  The bike lane isn’t underused, it’s just massively more efficient than the car lanes.)

Allocating space to cars in this way would be great if it had huge benefits for all.

But actually you’ve spent millions of dollars for ten hours a week, and

  • the few hundred people who get to sit in the traffic jam are mostly non-local
  • you’ve put four lanes between people’s houses and a park, with zero crossings directly between people’s houses and the park
  • you’ve reduced the value of those houses because they front on four lanes of road
  • you’ve made a dangerous road with no separated bike lanes
  • during the non-rush hours, the cars speed as fast as they can
  • you’ve made an unpleasant pedestrian experience with cars, splashing, slush, snow and ice (as a bonus, the sidewalks are particularly poorly maintained in winter because hey, who would walk there)

So for ten hours a week for a few hundred non-residents (who are in a traffic jam), you’ve got four lanes of empty space that make things worse, in terms of experience and in terms of money for residents and the city, in terms of reduced cycling and walking, and in reducing the use of a park, for the other 8240 hours a year.  10 hours of mediocre travel for a few, resulting in 8240 hours of mediocre experience for everyone else.

It’s lose lose lose.

When you look at that rush hour congestion, you should see an opportunity to save money and make money.  For a triumph of capitalism.  Narrow the road to two lanes, put in wider sidewalks and two protected bike lanes, and put in a mid-way crossing.  Way more efficient use of road space.  Way lower maintenance costs.  Way lower risk of injuries.  Way higher values for the houses.  Increased use of the park.

But no.  We’d rather make ourselves poorer for 10 hours a week of bumper-to-bumper traffic.

It’s insane.

My Conclusion About Congestion

UPDATE: I would distinguish between the kind of rush hour congestion I describe above, and congestion that represents a busy city with complete streets functioning normally.  Congestion that’s a result of popular spaces is very different from congestion resulting from bad system design.  ENDUPDATE

What congestion pricing is actually about is

  • spacing the cars out in time so that the road space can be more efficiently used
  • encouraging people to share a car so that the road space can be more efficiently used
  • shifting people to other modes so that the road space can be more efficiently used

Congestion solutions are about saving everyone money and time, while increasing the value of the urban landscape, benefiting both the city through taxes and the residents through housing value and quality of life.

Opposing addressing this kind of congestion is basically declaring yourself in favour of a mediocre experience for a tiny number of people for a tiny number of hours a year, rather than benefiting everyone all year.  But that’s what passes for “common sense” after decades of car-centric planning.  Roads must be free and wide and all must suffer because that’s the way it’s always been.

Ottawa Council’s Conclusion About Congestion

Council vote on a congestion study, April 13, 2016

congestion vote