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Review of GoFred bus tracker (beta)

Posted by on 09 Jan 2012 | Tagged as: Fredericton, opengovernment, Reviews, transit

Fredericton Transit just released a bus-tracker mobile app for Android. (or did they, as a recently printed Gleaner article implied it was CGI’s idea). It’s still in beta, and completely unfit for general use as they don’t have GPS tracking available for every bus in the fleet. However, it’s a great example of how open data can be used.

All of the screenshots below were copied from the Android Market page as Android phones don’t have the ability to take screenshots (unless they are rooted).

The opening screen implies that this app won’t just be for bus tracking. Hopefully we’ll see some more services on there soon.


Here we have the main menu. The bus tracker is the important part of the app, the route planner just takes you to your phone’s built-in Google Maps Transit navigation service, the schedule just goes to the city’s web site.


Here, we can choose which route to track. For a really good test, you can click “all routes”


And here’s the main screen. The first issue that jumps out is that we see the fleet numbers in the bus icons. This is because they are getting their data from the dispatch system. The fleet numbers are very useful for dispatchers, but not that good for the general public. If you click on one of the icons (like you see above), you’ll see the route numbers listed. Trouble is, as in the example above, you see two route numbers and no direction (N or S). If you’re waiting for a specific bus, you won’t actually know which one is yours until it is close enough for you to see the destination sign.

Great start, but needs some work.

Future plans?

At this time, nothing has been divulged. One hopes that they are able to fix some of the issues above before they go out of beta. For that to happen, they would have to have access to the dispatch schedules to determine which actual run the bus is doing. From there, they could determine how long you have to wait for the next bus at any particular location. That would allow for a phone (text or IVR) interface as well as other innovations such as display signs.

It would also be nice if they indicated the accessibility level of the bus. They could display an icon for a low-floor bus.

Once that is complete, the next step would be to open the data so it could be used by anyone. Don’t want to support an obsolete phone platform? No problem, let someone else do it instead. Want to let a business make their own transit info sign? No problem!

It’s a great start, hopefully the momentum continues and allows the app to get better.

Update: iOS version now on iTunes

Laser fat removal FAQ

Posted by on 01 Dec 2011 | Tagged as: Reviews

In the Fredericton area, there has been an advertising campaign on a local radio station for a laser fat removal procedure. After doing some searching, I’ve created a FAQ.

Does it actually work?

Inconclusive. There was a single study that claimed it did, but it does not appear to have been done in a controlled manner. It was also conducted by people who were also selling the treatment. There has been a lot of anecdotal evidence both for and against this procedure actually working.

Is it safe?

Inconclusive. There have been no studies performed that track short or long-term side-effects.

How does it work?

The laser light breaks down the walls of the fat cells. The fat is then flushed away and either excremented out or redeposited elsewhere in the body. As there have been no scientific studies performed, we don’t really know.

The treatment provider also has the patient follow a strict diet and exercise plan. This plan is similar to many commercially available weight loss programs. It is unclear how much of the weight/fat loss is performed by the laser, or the weight loss plan.

How much does it cost?

It would probably depend on how much you want to lose, but prices of $2,000 have been quoted online.

What are the issues with the radio ads?

The trans-media ads (using the radio and social media) were misleading.

1. One host claimed to have lost 9.5 inches. While most other weight loss plans measure their inches lost around the waist, this measurement is the sum of four separate measurements. A measurement is taken at the waist, hip and each thigh and then they are all added together. This makes a larger number, but was not disclosed anywhere in the advertising.

2. One host claimed the laser system caused him to lose a significant number of inches, but he was also on another commercial weight loss program at the same time (unrelated to the current campaign). While this was disclosed on the radio, it was never disclosed during the advertising segments, nor is it disclosed on the Facebook page. One can piece together their own conclusions while listening to the radio, but not everyone will have heard those segments. The advertising was presented in a manner that suggested that it was only the laser procedure that caused the fat loss.


Maybe this procedure works, maybe it doesn’t. The fact of the matter is that there are no quick fixes to weight loss. You need to make major lifestyle changes. Even if you could actually go “pew, pew, pew” and have the fat blasted away, it isn’t a permanent fix. You’ll just gain it all back again. This system is for people who want a quick fix and don’t mind spending a lot of money to do it.

If you really want to lose weight, try a cheaper commercial weight loss plan, like WW or SFL. It won’t be easy, or fast, but it will be long-term if you are willing to put the effort into it.



Fredericton to install bike-detecting traffic light sensor

Posted by on 03 Oct 2011 | Tagged as: Fredericton, Reviews

As seen here, on the CBC, Fredericton is purchasing a traffic light sensor that can detect bicycles. $15,000 sounds a little steep for something that only bikes will use, doesn’t it? Fear not, as this device, according to the manufacturer, has advantages for drivers of non-bikes as well:

  • It does a better job of detecting motorcycles
  • It can see cars coming from 100ft away and trigger the light change earlier
  • If the light’s about to change, it can hold the green for you if you’re less than 100ft away
  • It tracks the direction of traffic so someone turning left too tightly won’t trigger the lights for the cross-traffic
  • It works in all kinds of weather
  • It sits on the pole so the road won’t have to be dug up when it breaks

$15,000 sounds like a lot, but compared to digging up the road to install an underground metal-detector loop, it’s a bargain.

Will those daily-deal sites last forever?

Posted by on 21 Mar 2011 | Tagged as: Reviews

Those daily deal sites have been getting a lot of buzz lately. There have been quite a few of them pop up lately. Some are locally oriented sites, others are larger ones who can afford a Superbowl ad. Will this be a shopping trend that stays?

Probably not. It is essentially an expensive way to advertise. A business owner will lose a significant amount of revenue (around 75%) on the deal items when the promotion is run. They will also have to deal with a surge in new customers, which may strain even more resources. As with every promotion, there is a cost, but the retailer will need to decide if the cost to acquire a new customer is worth it.

We will also have a problem with saturation of deals sites. Users will only be willing to pay attention to so many emails per day. The rest will get ignored, or eventually be moved into the spam folder.

How they should work: Instead of being a promotional tool, they should leverage the value of volume discounts. Imagine a retailer normally sells a product for $20. His cost is about $12/unit and he normally sells about 10 per week. His supplier sends him a weekly shipment of 10, but has a price break at 50 which would bring the cost down to $8/unit. By using a group purchasing site, he can sell them for $12 (of which he would get to keep $10 with $2 going to the website). He still makes a profit of $2/unit, and he has the opportunity to bring in new customers as a side benefit.

I’ll admit now that I may be wrong about this, but there have been many business models that stopped working once the novelty wears off.

Is it time to drop the NB Capital Commission?

Posted by on 14 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: fail, Reviews

Now that the New Brunswick provincial budget consultations are in full swing, one thing that keeps getting picked on is the NB Capital Commission. It doesn’t really have much respect in the public eye for a few reasons:

The most obvious is the small mandate that the commission has. New Brunswickers were expecting a scaled down version of the National Capital Commission. They are in charge of museums, parks, festivals and the official buildings and grounds. In New Brunswick, the NBCC is in charge of a groundhog and a few signs. They are technically in charge of the official grounds but haven’t really done anything to improve them.

Their “crowning achievement” was supposed to be “Oromocto Ollie”, New Brunswick’s own groundhog who predicts the weather on February 2nd. They clearly had their hearts, but not their brains in it as they failed miserably:

  • Instead of acquiring a groundhog from captivity, they found a natural groundhog den on CFB Gagetown. The problem is that wild groundhogs hibernate until March. The master of ceremonies tried to thump on the hole to get him to come out, but Ollie just wanted to sleep in. One major component of a Groundhog Day ceremony is to actually have a groundhog that you can show off to the cameras.
  • If you want your groundhog to get any media play, you need to do the prediction early in the morning, so the rest of Canada will see it in the morning news cycle. Our NBCC ran it at 10am, well after all the other North American groundhogs made their predictions. This meant that it was only seen on the evening news, which by then, was old news.

Anyone driving anywhere near Fredericton will have noticed all the “Provincial Capital Region” signs. In fact, the capital region is so large, it consists of 1/6th of the land mass of the province. Not only is it large, but they placed a sign on every single road that crosses into it. This includes the poorly maintained rural roads. Imagine driving down a rutted, potholed road and seeing a gleaming new “Capital Region” sign while still being a 45 minute drive away from Fredericton. That image alone will cause most people to think it is a waste of money.

Maybe they will improve over time, but many people will just look at their failures and conclude that their yearly budget of $400,000 is an unnecessary expense. If they were able to do their job properly and have something tangible to show for it at the end, it might not get picked on so much.

A Few Problem Areas of Fredericton’s Current Municipal Plan

Posted by on 07 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: Fredericton, landuse, Reviews, suggestions, transit

As part of the “Sustainability. By Design.” process, we’ll have a quick look at Fredericton’s current municipal plan. Overall, it isn’t all that bad, however, there are a few particular areas that need a second look.

High density residential needs to be required in certain areas, especially large lots near major arteries. This will be needed to reduce the cost of delivering municipal services to a neighbourhood.

Section 3.4 insists that the look-and-feel of Brunswick St. needs to be preserved for “historic reasons”. If we want to expand our downtown, wouldn’t Brunswick St. be the logical choice for an increase in density?

Section 3.5 residential town plat – the worst example of NIMBY appeasement. Some parts will need to be redesignated for higher density housing, especially along transit corridors such as Regent, York, and Smythe. This will pit the environmentalists against the heritage preservationists, which might be entertaining to watch.

Section 3.7 seems to tow a hard line on the student ghetto. An effective transit system will allow students to move farther away from UNB/STU thereby reducing pressures on this neighbourhood.

The biggest mistake they made is that you can’t download the municipal plan as a single PDF file. That makes it really hard to find things if you are just looking for a few key words.

Review of social media use in NB Provinical election 2010

Posted by on 24 Sep 2010 | Tagged as: fail, Reviews

Was the New Brunswick election of 2010 the first election that made good use of social media?


Social media (mainly Twitter and Facebook) were used, but they didn’t meet the expectations of the average voter who wanted to engage the candidates. The average voter wishes to be educated about the issues and interact with candidates by having them answer specific questions about the policies they are proposing. The technology to do this is here right now, we just aren’t using it properly. Some candidates did a great job at responding to questions on Twitter, however, most just used it as another broadcast medium.

One other problem with Twitter is the sheer amount of noise generated with the #nbvotes hashtag. Mostly partisan hackery, the noise made it difficult for people to follow active debates. Similar to a vuvuzela, each individual tweet wasn’t significant, but with hundreds of people tweeting and re-tweeting insignificant things, it became hard to hear the real conversation.

Some people could dismiss Twitter as a debating platform by claiming that 140 characters just isn’t enough for a proper debate, however, a candidate can provide a long-winded answer on a blog and reply to that user with the URL of the blog in the tweet.

The fact of the matter is that most of the candidates and parties have no interest in using social media properly. They prefer to do politics the old-fashioned way, with negative ads on TV and going door-to-door.

The top 3 Halifax area traffic engineering failures

Posted by on 03 Aug 2010 | Tagged as: Reviews

1. The Coggswell Interchange

View Larger Map

At some point in the 1960s, Halifax decided that it wanted an expressway running through their downtown (like Toronto’s Gardiner). Once the weed wore off, they cancelled the plan, neglecting the fact that they already started building it. Did they tear down the partially completed section? Nope, they just left it there and rearranged some of the lanes so it would kind of work with what’s already there. To this day, it carries little traffic, confuses tourists and costs a lot to maintain.

2. 101/102/7 interchange

View Larger Map

This one fails on several levels. Despite connecting two major highways 101/102, the clover-leaf style ramps have very tight turns that require you to slow down to 30 km/h in order to navigate them. You then have very little ramp space to get up to speed to merge onto the other highway.

If you’re on highway 33, this intersection connects with the 101, but not the 102. This is probably an intentional design to make it inconvenient for people from the north end of Dartmouth to avoid going over one of the bridges and paying the toll.

3. Yield signs for everything

Rather than having a separate sign to yield, merge, or continue in your own lane, they use yield signs for all three. If you’re unfamiliar with the area, you have to guess what you’re actually supposed to do.  If you’re wrong, you’ll either get rear-ended or drive into the side of another car.

The Top 8 Saint John traffic engineering failures

Posted by on 12 Jul 2010 | Tagged as: Reviews

1. Rothesay Ave / Retail Dr.

To help with traffic for Saint John’s expanding east side retail area, a new road was constructed to connect the malls to Rothesay Ave. This new road almost meets up with the Ashburn Lake Rd highway intersection. Almost. Instead of a single intersection, they got two sets of traffic lights 50m (175 feet) apart. What was in the way of the new road? A mini-home sales lot. The kind of thing that you can very easily put on a truck and move. For some reason, they didn’t think of doing that.

2. Timed traffic lights

Most of Saint John’s traffic lights are based on a timer. They have very few traffic actuated lights. Timed lights are great for synchronization, but not so good when you have a single set of lights in an area with low traffic. Some people believe that there is a conspiracy where Irving Oil wants you to sit there idling at red lights wasting gas.

3. Sensor lights that only have sensors for one street

Some intersections have traffic actuated lights, but only have sensors on the side street. The light controller has no idea how much, if any, traffic is on the main street. This means that if you pull up to a light that’s turning yellow, you’ll have to wait a full minute before it turns green.

4. Lights you can’t see from the stop line

In most places, the traffic lights are at the other end of the intersection and clearly visible. At some intersections in Saint John, if you stop at the stop line, you really have to crane your neck to see it. If you pull too far ahead, you’ll have to wait until the person behind you honks for you to know that it turned green.

5. Orange arrows for right turns

Imagine coming up to an intersection with a red light, but an amber arrow pointing to the right. One would assume that you have a right turn on red that’s about to run out. You would then hurry up and make your right turn assuming that you only had another 5 seconds of right of way. Not in Saint John. Well, not in some parts of Saint John. Sometimes it means that you can make a right turn on a red light, but only after making a full stop and making sure that it is safe to proceed. So why bother with the arrow at all? Isn’t that just like a normal red light?

6. Simms Corner

World famous. The city keeps promising to fix it, but never gets around to it.  To people who aren’t familiar with it, good luck. Too bad it’s so close to a major tourist attraction and that many tourists are forced to use it to visit the falls.

7. Rothesay Ave / Hwy 1

At some point in the 1970s, traffic engineers decided that a maze of rams and one-way streets would be better than building a proper intersection.

8. Airport Road

Instead of building ramps on all points of two intersections that are 1.5 km apart, they chose to build a connector road that runs parallel to the highway. This might work in the city, but out in the country, the locals just do u-turns in the middle of the highway.

Ten percenter round-up

Posted by on 29 Mar 2010 | Tagged as: Reviews

Since September 2009, I’ve been saving all of those ten-percenters that have arrived at my mailbox. Over 6 months, I’ve received 16 of them, that’s about 1 every two weeks.

Who has been sending them?

10 Keith Ashfield, Cons, Fredericton

1 Brian Storseth, Cons, Westlock – St. Paul (Alberta)

1 Alexandra Mendes, Lib, Brossard—La Prairie (Quebec)

1 Joseph Volpe, Lib, Eglinton-Lawrence (Ontario)

1 Keith Martin, Lib, Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca (BC)

1 Gurbax Malhi, Lib, Bramalea—Gore—Malton (Ontario)

1 Andrew Kania, Lib, Brampton West (Ontario)

That gives us 11 Conservative flyers and 5 from the Liberals. Many of the Liberal sheets also had a picture of Lester Pearson on it.

As for the content the Conservatives have:

6 Promoting the “Economic Action Plan”

3 Attacks against Michael Ignatieff

2 Reminding us how tough Harper is on crime

The Liberals gave us:

3 Attacks against Harper’s right-wing politics

1 Attack on the ”Economic Action Plan”

1 Promotion of Michael Ignatieff

The best part is that your tax dollars paid for them.  Tax dollars for partisan advertising that often ends up offending people. Money well spent.

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