Free TTC Mobile iPhone app @ (Support)

P2P University: A totally awesome idea.

December 18th, 2010

Just discovered via Mozilla’s School of WebCraft announcement.

The Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) is an online community of open study groups for short university-level courses. Think of it as online book clubs for open educational resources. The P2PU helps you navigate the wealth of open education materials that are out there, creates small groups of motivated learners, and supports the design and facilitation of courses. Students and tutors get recognition for their work, and we are building pathways to formal credit as well.

P2PU Wants You! We’re looking for courses for our first round of 2011. If you want to propose a course on just about anything, please sign-up and create your course outline here.

York should start to host a community-run Moodle install for workgroups and volunteer content. I think it could also be great for Staff2Staff or Faculty2Faculty as well. The library could get involved through archiving SCORM course content openly, in the same way that we archive research papers and so forth. And it could serve as a valuable reference for future courses, official or not.

As for me personally: I’m thinking I should volunteer to lead a course next semester on something–see the poll below on the right–and perhaps partner with faculty at York to hold it here simultaneously, since I could use the same materials for both at potentially the same time. If anyone wants to join me in this, that’s cool too! ;-)

Just noticed BlogPolls cut off my poll questions. Here are my course topic ideas in full:

  • Breath-taking HTML5 apps with animation, push notifications, local storage, vector graphics and more…
  • One Cloudy Day A Week: App Engine, GWT, AWS, JavaScript server-side, Hadoop/MapReduce, NoSQL and more…
  • Mac Programming 101: Terminal, AppleScript, Automator, Xcode, Quartz Composer, Objective-C, Web Frames, Xgrid, and more…
  • Cross-Platform App Design: Before writing code for one or a dozen platforms, plan your project iteratively from an idea to functional prototypes.

Please vote!

Who knows, this could turn into some kind of book afterward.

Here’s more info about the School of WebCraft initiative:

The School of Webcraft is a joint venture between Mozilla and Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) to create a grassroots learning community focused on web development using open standards. In September, the School of Webcraft ran its pilot round of courses which included topics such as Beginning Python Webservices, Introduction to Drupal, Scripting 101 and UX: Designing for Education. Participants in September’s courses came from Brazil, Japan, the USA, UK, Germany, Spain and India and included content in both English and Portuguese.

From January 2011 we move into our second round of courses with a plan to double our course numbers and to provide more courses in languages other than English. We’re also implementing a pilot round of assessment challenges in conjunction with badges that recognise your awesome web development skills.

Building on the delivery model developed by P2PU, course organizers volunteer to take existing open learning materials or develop their own content and lead a group of peers through 6 to 10 weeks of online classes. Courses focus on project based learning in a peer environment and are proposed, created and led by members of the web development community – so content will always be up to date with the latest technologies and industry needs.

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How to improve the TPL’s new “Express” RFID checkouts

May 15th, 2010

So I was visiting the Toronto Public Library’s North York Central Library (NY CL) branch the other day and was shocked at the lobby redesign. It seemed so modern, there was plenty of light and open space. My first thought was that it looked like an Indigo or Chapters, without the cash registers!

Pretty soon, I began to notice something — a distinct lack of signs in the newly renovated areas, from the elevators to the front entrance:

The newly renovated front entrance of NYCL, no signs

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Why can’t I access this NextBus feed of real-time GPS data, TTC?

May 7th, 2010

So I’ve been working on creating better TTC data for my various apps and I’ve been showcasing the data at, a quick GPS-enabled page (that works in all but BlackBerry) which shows the nearest routes and their stop times from a previous scraping of But I’ve been seeing plenty of tweets about the NextBus webpage formatted for iPhone which is only useful if you need a 500-series street car and remember it’s there.

Remembering how in a previous post’s comments, Mike, the Director of Engineering at NextBus clarified for me how the GTFS data they offer differs necessarily from other versions published, I knew such data should be available somehow. But all they list is their predictions, which they of course have copyright over. The raw data, I remembered, was once visible from a Google Map, which I couldn’t find. But I stumbled on the URL again and decided to manually load the data, with the required referrer header:

$ curl --referer '' ''

Here’s the result:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
<body copyright="All data copyright Toronto Transit Commission 2010.">
<Error shouldRetry="false">
Your IP address is not authorized to access data for agency Toronto Transit Commission. Contact [website at nextbus dot com] if you should have access to this feed.

Please note the copyright above, in red. This shows that as should be expected, the raw data (not the predictions) are indeed copyright the TTC rather than NextBus. But of course, I get the error listed above, that I’m not authorized. I expected that, after all it was hard enough to find this feed URL.

The question I really have is, TTC, why haven’t you made any plans for an API for this data? Perhaps I should contact that projects director, whose phone number I received after a two week struggle last December. Given how I’ve scraped the TTC data already, found some problems, and would like better solutions for standardized data sharing, there should be room for mutual improvement of all our services, with all the benefits therein for TTC riders.

Next I think I’ll start writing up posts detailing my adventures scraping and geolocating all 1,886 timed stops. Oh and if anyone wants the database (it’s a work in progress), let me know. I’ve also got an API based on Google Protocol Buffers from when I was experimenting in BlackBerry app development (a nightmare of its own).

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My email to #ttcpanel

March 14th, 2010

The TTC should do more to listen to city creative-types and actively encourage their participation in building “the better way”. Whether accessibility gurus like Joe Clark on What’s wrong with signage at the TTC?, designers like those who made the buttons from Spacing Magazine, to developer contributions like’s trip planner or my own little free TTC iPhone app (which without any publicity beyond being free on the App Store and offering simply a mobile version of formatted for iPhone, has already gotten 11,427 downloads in 90 days, or 1 download every 11 minutes) — what we’re all looking for is some sense that the TTC is listening, that there’s a community here, and that the TTC can acknowledge our contributions as valid, even if all it means is a mention in some minutes at a meeting, or a link off to third-party “unsupported” sites.

Now ideally, there would be changes made based on our contributions: Signage could be reviewed/improved, buttons could be sold at stations, could be compared with the official trip planner, my iPhone app could inspire a mobile version of or an official app (I’d freely share my code if anyone asked, or work on a new better app). As I wrote in my blog, the San Francisco system actually supported a community effort at and two years later bought the website for its own use and encouraged its further development. In fact, SF Muni even has a Labs website with experimental features like an API for live next-bus information. Other transit systems and cities are providing contests (with cash prizes or passes) to encourage indie developers to make apps, like New York City, Edmonton, etc. Supporting developers and designers, indie creative thinkers, is important, and something the TTC doesn’t do– beyond the occasional public art installation bid. Why does everything have to cost money at the TTC to be valued?

In addition, the TTC doesn’t have enough customer support people. From my attempts to gain information on the lack of updates to the TTC’s official release of open developer data (at, hasn’t been updated in 6 months despite many service changes and inaccuracies), I used the feedback form at, then after 7 days, emailed and still waited further for a response. Phoning the TTC Info line revealed that there are only two people to answer 300 emails/day. That’s why there’s a followup system, and why such a system is dysfunctional. Then add to this my frustration at not getting an email response directly from anyone working within TTC marketing or IT (though I did manage to get a phone number when I explicitly requested one), and I just feel as if a disconnect is maintained between customers who want to help improve the system, and the people in charge of doing so.

By comparison, at YRT, they’ve 3-5 people to manage a much smaller volume of emails and calls, and yet can promise a 3 day turnaround. And unlike at the TTC, at YRT my request was responded to by actual systems employees, such that when I discovered a security flaw in their trip planner, I was able to email and notify the right people by the next business day, something I was unable to do when the TTC had the same flaw.

YRT also has their routing data (though not live GPS data) available for programmers in GTFS format. The TTC doesn’t, unless you count the efforts of the folks (which hasn’t been updated since last Summer, unfortunately). I’m not even sure the TTC itself has GPS data for every stop, or numbered every stop, though I do know is close — and currently working on adding station-accessible entrance routing to their database. Myself, I’m getting requests everyday for offline data, GPS-enabled routing, and more– but the reason I made my app in the first place was to show accurate data and how can data be accurate if it doesn’t come directly from the TTC? I’m in a catch-22 though, as the data from the TTC is inaccurate, sometimes even on, and so who actually has accurate data then, if not the TTC? And why can’t us customers help the TTC with its data and services for our fellow travelers?

All we’re looking for is a little respect. Why is openness, open data, such a foreign concept at the TTC?

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Design for Community

March 3rd, 2010

Title Page Page 23 Page 51 Page 52

Before I outline the various forum/community software I’ve used and how each differs, I wanted to mention an old yet excellent book by Derek Powazek called Design for Community: The art of connecting real people in virtual places (WorldCat). I bought it almost nine years ago for $45 at the World’s Biggest Bookstore, and while all its examples are dated now, given Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or even CSS, web standards and blogs (I love the quaint use of “homepagers” rather than “bloggers” to describe people like Jeffrey Zeldman) it was solid gold then and still is now with great interviews and predictions.

In fact, a careful reading of just the Table of Contents can tell you a lot about community:

And the Preface is fun, honest introduction to community basics:

And now, on to some examples of community software:


PunBB News Threads


PunBB was founded by Rickard Andersson who conceived it for a personal project as an alternative to over-featured or too graphic discussion boards. Now available at under the GPL, it’s come a long way since I first used it in 2003 for a 500-member gaming community, though it’s still very simple: If it does what you want it to now or is close enough, then great! Its code is easily hackable and it has a plain CSS-based style best suited for a smaller, personal feel or when all you really need is a forum. Not recommended for much beyond a forum, however. Below is the new Copper theme displaying my profile:

PunBB Profile (Copper Theme)


Simple Machines Forum (SMF)

SMF – A full-featured yet open source competitor to more commercial offerings, SMF has had a bit of trouble (like PunBB) in evolving quickly, though there is still promise and what currently exists works well at what it does. SMF is quite stable, though some might call it bloated, and it has a metric ton of themes, mods and translations. I swapped to this from PunBB back in 2004, wrote a few mods and even made a theme for this that closely matched what PunBB used to look like, though by that point the community on the site wasn’t the same and by 2005 I’d stopped using SMF and that community website, entirely.

“Modern” forum software

I’m running out of time, so I’ll just link to them right now, and write more later: Vanilla Forums (GPL, licensed, or hosted), Invision Power Board ($150 or $10/mth hosted), vBulletin ($195 for forum, $285 with blog & CMS)

Please note these are just the forums I’ve actually used or modified in the past. And I’ve still more I can write about them or alternatives, so expect a Part II post soon.

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UK open (transit) data model worth copying

January 28th, 2010

Here in Toronto, we’ve only 1 transit agency, the YRT, sharing data, but sadly unlike Toronto, York Region has no plans (despite a data sharing symposium) to open its mapping data–crucial to build a home-grown competitor to Google Maps’ transit info, including offline map support on iPod Touch or iPad. And while the UK is a bit slow with its map data, at least it will ALSO open its postal code data on April 2010, unlike Canada Post, where postal codes were even removed from Toronto’s datasets. UK data is much more complete and comprehensive than even the US. To quote Tim Berners-Lee on the UK site’s launch: “Making public data available for re-use is about increasing accountability and transparency and letting people create new, innovative ways of using it.”

To that end, the UK is even thinking of buying or sponsoring projects made from its data– why can’t other organizations and governments adopt this kind of forward-looking way of thinking. I’m not suggesting that the government can’t make these connections itself–it should–but that rather it should allow for others to contribute also. Think of it as having volunteers working on something that you also pay select people to do, because volunteers still have to make a living. At the same time, you don’t want to lose people because you’re ignoring them, and opening the data is the easiest way to remain inclusive to all possibilities.

I was inspired to write this post as I read the following emails from Roger Slevin to the gtfs-changes group and felt I had to share this info here, to show how differently things can work elsewhere. (Emphasis mine)

Let me give you more context of the situation in Great Britain. There are three regional information systems currently contributing schedule data to Google Transit – and between us we cover about 500 different operators within the four data feeds that we supply each week – these comprise coordinated and de-duplicated sets of data. As already mentioned, Google also receives a weekly update of the details of every one of c350,000 public transport stops and stations across Britain – each with a unique reference.

GTFS is not used in the UK for anything other than supplying Google Transit because we have more robust and detailed protocols for transferring data between local information systems – so our concerns are about how the data, which meets the specifications of being coordinates, with unique references, etc across multiple agencies, still cannot be processed robustly into Google Transit … and, unless things have changed very recently, still show multiple stop icons at some locations for what is a single physical stop point.

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Why doesn’t this happen in Toronto? #TTC

January 24th, 2010

While looking up info on alternatives to Trapeze 6.0″, used on the TTC‘s new trip planner, I discovered the following page. But first, the better way of displaying and organizing transit data is EFA by mdv — used to great effect in LondonGermany, etc. I have to wonder why it wasn’t chosen by the TTC. They’ve a US distributor, mdv Transit & Traffic Solutions Inc., and if they get business elsewhere, they’ve been perfectly willing to open a branch office there (E.g. Australia, etc.). But now on to why you clicked — why hasn’t the TTC adopted or other similar projects, like the following:

511 Transit is a Part of the Bay Area 511 Traveler Information (

MTC’s 511 Traveler Information suite of websites provides comprehensive information about how to get around in the San Francisco Bay Area. Whether you need transit, traffic, rideshare or bicycling information, you can find it in a single place, at this one-stop resource. For more information, visit the 511 home page at

But there’s more to 511. 511 is also a toll-free telephone information number. This easy to remember three-digit number provides up-to-the-minute information on traffic conditions and incidents, details on public transportation routes and fares, instant carpool and vanpool referrals, bicycling information and more. All available by dialing 511 from anywhere within the Bay Area.

Evolution of the Transit Website

The original transit website began in 1994, as a comprehensive Bay Area transit information resource started by two U.C. Berkeley students. In cooperation with individual transit agencies, that website provided customized methods and tools for posting and updating schedule, route, fare and map data on the internet.

In 1996, MTC worked with the original transit website developers to continue their efforts and begin expanding the information base to include all public transit services in the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area. Since June 1998, the project has been funded by MTC. Read the rest of this entry »

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TTC customer service by email is broken.

January 24th, 2010

An update on my earlier data request of the TTC: Still no reply from the TTC even after emailing the followup address.

Inspired by recent articles on the Toronto Ombudsman, I’m going to write a formal complaint and address it to Roman Muetz, the TTC’s Customer Information Director, if the Customer Service line can’t help me tomorrow. Alternatively, I’ll phone him at the number listed on the Ombudsman’s website and point him at my blog. If he can’t help encourage the TTC to release good, open datasets, or encourage community contributions like, then all I can think to do is mount a campaign for quality GTA data and support of us transit hackers, by harnessing both the 6,000 downloads of my TTC Mobile app (100/day) and anybody else I can snare though Facebook/Twitter/other app platforms.

It’s disgraceful that when a developer really wants to make a difference, for free, that there’s zero support from a public-supported entity. Do I need to request an RFP and $$$ from the TTC to build something for them? Really? And what’s with the zero-response customer service, where @bradTTC on Twitter tells me to phone, and phoning tells me to email, and email goes nowhere with not even an auto-reply? They make YRT look like a five-star hotel by comparison.

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Dodecadandy #TTC art (Summer 2010)

January 24th, 2010

Something new will arrive north of Downsview Station this summer (according to an interview with the artists in Canadian Art). “Dodecadandy,” a November 2008 TTC report notes, “refers to corridors of transit, the outward push of the city and the routes that commuters and pedestrians follow.” Approved last February, the work has strangely received little attention so far, with only seven results on Google. More photos/quotes after the break.

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What TTC Mobile 2.0 could be. Comments?

January 22nd, 2010

So I’m trying to figure out how to structure the app to incorporate other regions, like YRT, without disrupting the smooth flow people are already used to. Right now my prototype is a tab bar at the bottom (as shown on the right, click for full view) with the following tabs:

Map, TTC, Subway, YRT, Updates

A perfect app would start in Map, always, and immediately show a GPS-enabled offline map zoomed in near where you are, showing a live view of where buses are.

Then if you click a stop and view its full schedule, the app swaps to TTC or YRT tabs, remembering that you viewed that stop (to save it as a favourite like it does now for routes) and shows you the stop info. Seeing a bus you want, you click it, and it loads that bus’ route, which you then see ends at a Subway stop.

You click the Subway stop and it switches to the Subway tab, showing that subway station, its buses, and perhaps a brief map of what the station looks like inside and out, including accessibility features, bus loading areas and nearby amenities.

Then an alert appears at the top of the screen, saying that the line the subway station serves is now running shuttle buses at this station, so you tap the button to follow this alert. After a minute of browsing what’s nearby, you decide to grab lunch at a place just outside one subway exit. Maybe the app could tell you who else is thinking the same thing, foursquare-enabled perhaps? ;-) Halfway through your meal, your iPhone buzzes with a ping from the app that the problem has cleared. So you take the rest to go, and head back on the subway. Read the rest of this entry »

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