Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Warning: Contactless Credit Cards Not Completely Secure

My wife and I use a credit card with the PayPass feature. Tap the card on the reader, the green lights glow momentarily, there's a beep and the purchase is paid for. Fast, easy and possibly not secure.

My wife was paying for a purchase today and the the card reader flashed and beeped while my wife's card was still inches distant. The clerk said that the store card reader was more powerful than most and was causing some customers a little grief. Occasionally, the reader would complete a transaction while the customer's card was still in the customer's purse. If the customer has two cards and both have RFID, radio frequency identification, sometimes the wrong card is activated.

The clerk told us she knew a lady who, after pumping gas, got her card out to pay for her purchase. When she walked by the next pump, her card connected with that pump's card reader. She almost paid for a stranger's gas.

If I hadn't seen my wife's card talk almost remotely to a store card reader, I'd have found the gas pump story more urban legend than truth. But after what I witnessed, I'm not so sure how secure these RFID cards really are.

Check out the story posted by CBC News: New credit cards pose security problem.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Balderdash weakens Brian Meehan claims

Was discarding river-blue colour and act of cultural heritage vandalism?

Last weekend (Saturday, May 9th) The London Free Press carried an opinion piece by Larry Cornies examining the Back to the River project. This is a move to reconnect the river to the city, to celebrate The Forks of the Thames. Supposedly, this is something that has not been done in the recent past.

Have they forgotten the thinking behind the Raymond Moriyama-designed art gallery erected at The Forks in the late '70s and opened in 1980. Based on comments by Museum London executive director Brian Meehan, the short answer is "yes"; they have forgotten.

View of The Forks from the Moriyama art gallery in London.
Cornies reports, at the launch of the Back to the River design competition, Meehan claimed the present museum and gallery was built with its back to the river. It was designed to face the city, he said. He went on to reveal the museum’s board is contemplating how to best accomplish an institutional about-face in terms of the building’s symbolic and physical orientation.

In truth, the present design was the result of public consultation. "Hundreds of questionnaires were distributed," according to an article in The Free Press published at the time of the opening. "In many ways, the gallery is a physical manifestation of the people and the process," said famous Canadian architect Raymond Moriyama.

For inspiration, Moriyama did a lot of walking about The Forks. One result of those walks was the original water-blue colour of the structure, inspired by the oh-so-near river. The design of the building and its site placement was driven by the need to recognize and enhance the beautiful location, The Forks itself.

Wolf Garden above Forks at gallery.
According to Randy Richmond, an award-winning reporter for The Free Press, the art gallery/museum was "designed to bridge The Forks of the Thames to the edge of downtown. It was a gateway from downtown to the river . . . " Moriyama himself said he made a conscious "attempt to erase any sense of front" from the design.

Is any of this important? Yes, if London's built heritage is important. The wonderful Moriyama building didn't turn its back on The Forks and on London; London turned its back on the building.

Randy Richmond said it very well when he wrote:

Raymond Moriyama's original design evoked the river, the historical significance of the forks and the buildings around. The large arches were painted blue to evoke the river and inside was an airy fan design.
A reflecting pool in the lower gallery extended outside to a fountain and the water was to flow from the fountain to a stream that led to the river.

Citing finances, the city rejected the fountain and stream. The reflecting pool was built, but eventually filled in. After the blue panels atop the aches rusted, they were replaced with grey aluminum ones. (The dynamic fan shapes in the arches disappeared, as well.)

With the release of The London Plan, the city planning department is promising to "protect our built and cultural heritage." Despite being but 35 years old, the Moriyama art gallery/museum at The Forks is part of London's built and cultural heritage.

Heritage properties don’t have to be old. There are newer buildings and structures all across the province that have cultural heritage value because of their design, cultural associations or contribution to a broader context. 
Strengthening Ontario's Heritage: Identify, Protect, Promote (page 7)

I don't understand how those operating the art gallery, running a safe house for culture, can change the colour of a work of art, and make no mistake about it, the Moriyama building is a work of art. Possibly, Meehan and the board should be contemplating making their own about-face when it comes to their thinking concerning the now pavement grey art gallery.
The gallery/museum was previously featured by this blogger in a post titled simply: The Gallery.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

First floor commercial adds walkabilty

Commercial on first floor of Arlington apartment buildings adds walkability.
Although it must be admitted that not all apartment buildings in Arlington, Virginia, have commercial on their first floors, it is not unknown. Mixing commercial and residential in one building was common in the past.

I recall one building in Detroit had a massive theatre on the ground floor mixed with some retail businesses. Above there were offices. There was even a dental office. Finally, the top floors contained some apartments.

A similar mix can still be found in Arlington, Virginia, and it works as well today as did decades ago. The area pictured above garnered a Walk Score of 95. This is a walker's paradise.

Yet in London pure apartment buildings are still being erected with retail businesses located nearby but not within.

There are two new luxury apartment towers on Southdale Road east of Colonel Talbot. In a place like Vancouver where land is valuable, the first floor would be commercial.  In London, where land should be valuable but isn't, the building sits in the middle of a commercial area but is not truly integrated into it.

The result is more sprawl than necessary and a lower Walk Score. When last I checked the Walk Score was only 50 for these new buildings despite being located near banks, drugstores, restaurants and more

I expect this number to climb as more businesses are opened in the strip malls surrounding the apartment towers but with a few changes these towers could have been world class places to live. As it is they are simply very, very nice for London, Ontario.

Sidewalks not always found on the most walkable streets

Many equate sidewalks with walkability. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Sidewalks are nice, no argument, but putting new sidewalks where there are no destinations -- like stores, schools or parks -- does not transform the street into a wallker's paradise thanks to the addition of the pedestrian pavement.

Note the residential street above in Leeuarden, Netherlands. This street rates a Walk Score of 92 despite lacking sidewalks and dedicating a huge amount of roadway to parked cars. Space for walking is tight.

Why does a street, clearly unfit for walking, rate such a lofty score? Location, location, location. Almost everything a person needs is within a 20 minute walk -- even sidewalks.

Maybe the urban planners in London, Ontario, could learn from the Leeuarden experience.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Almere New City, Netherlands: ReThink in action

This street in The Hague, Netherlands, lacks sidewalks.

It was called ReThink London. It was a bust. All that was new was the moniker. So far it seems the new London, Ontario, will simply be more of the old London, Ontario. The changes to the city, and there will be some, will be the ones to be expected. ReThink contained no surprises.

If one wants to view a city with a true ReThink approach, check out Almere New City in the Netherlands. It has been reported that Dutch planners and architects consider the Almere New City plan and its urban form to be unique. There is little unique in London now or on the drawing board for the future.

If interested in knowing a little more about Almere New City, please click the link. The author of the piece, Mirela Newman, contends that Almere could be used as an example to follow by both new town planners throughout the world, and for the development and redevelopment of old and new subdivisions and districts already in existence.

Be warned, a tour of Almere New City using Google Street Views did not convince me that the designers of Almere had it totally right. Oddly enough, I personally still see the South Walkerville neighbourhoods developed in Windsor, Ontario, in the early part of the last century as just about perfect for the time. The area was very walkable with some streets bordered by sidewalks and others left totally without. Some streets originally lacked curbs but over the years curbs have appeared almost everywhere in the area.

If the neighbourhood in which I now live, Byron in London, had sidewalks through the wooded areas to link commercial shopping areas with residential areas, Byron would be a very fine example of good urban design. Sadly, Byron is being developed more in the style of a '50s suburban neighbourhood but with the addition of some box stores and some highrises on a major thoroughfare.

Woonerf fine downtown but not outside the core

Art showing imaginary curbless street in downtown London.
Three years ago The London Free Press interviewed Bob Usher, president of the Downtown London Business Association and Joel Adams, a Downtown London board member. Both were in favour of making Dundas Street a "woonerf" or a shared street.

A shared street integrates pedestrian activities and vehicular traffic. No segregating sidewalks and no curbs are allowed. The shared street approach has proven to be very adaptable and examples can now be found around the globe.

Fast forward to today and the paper is reporting that a quiet street, where kids play road hockey, where car traffic in an hour can be counted on one hand, a street that has existed for decades without sidewalks and without complaints, must now lose some trees, some front yard space and some driveway length to make room for a sidewalk. This is happening over the protests of the residents.

A suburban street with neither curbs nor sidewalks in action.
The neighbourhood ward councillor, Stephen Turner, is pushing for sidewalks. According to the paper, he believes the city’s newest urban planning approach, ReThink London, demands walkable streets, and to Turner walkable mean sidewalks.

If ReThink London was about anything, it was about thinking outside the Southwest Ontario urban planning box. True ReThinking leads to thinking about woonerfs, home zones, naked streets. Mr. Turner is missing the core ReThink message.

Studies show a drop in the number of traffic accidents when a naked street replaces a street with curbs and sidewalks. Installed in suitable locations, naked streets are both walkable and safe.

What will the sidewalk on Auburn Ave. cost? What would a naked street tailored to the needs of Auburn Avenue residents cost? Let's put on those ReThink London thinking caps and come up with an original solution.

One final caveat: a successful naked street demands consultation. Naked streets are not created over the objections of residents.

Roads without sidewalks can encourage a rich mix of uses.

Comment left on Shift London Website: Moving London Forward – Time to ReThink Mobility

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Twilight Zone: PD Day style

This illustration is wrong. Can you see why?
It seems Barbie should not have been ridiculed for admitting she found math class tough. The Barbie doll making the confession was yanked from the shelves and the offending words banished from her vocabulary. Now, it is clear that the Ontario Ministry of Education along with quite a number of teachers in London, Ontario, are also befuddled by math.

Professional development days, or PD Days as they are commonly called, are held by the Ministry of Education to teach teachers. A recent PD Day in London focused on improving the teaching of math in city schools. The lesson contained a glaring error. This is bad enough in itself, but how this obvious blooper slipped by numerous teachers is concerning.

The teachers were told two growing puppies both gained three kg. The first dog went from a weight of five kg to eight kg while the second went from three kg to six kg. The teachers were asked: Which puppy grew the most? For added clarity, an illustration was provided comparing the growth of the two dogs.

Unfortunately, the illustration is wrong. Rather than correcting errors in proportional thinking, the illustration promotes one of the very myths the PD Day should have been addressing. The doubling of the external dimensions of something, say a figurine, does not double its weight nor double it area. Some 26 years ago, The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics noted the surprising acceptance of this myth among math teachers.

Doubled weight? Wrong!
The second dog doubled its weight. It did NOT necessarily double in height, width and depth as well. As a former art student I know this problem well. Sculptors make small scale models, maquettes, before starting the full-sized piece.

If a small sculpture of a dog takes 1 kg of clay, the same sculpture doubled in size requires 8 kg of clay. Doubling the length, width and depth does NOT double the amount of clay required but increases it by a factor of eight.

How the little dog in the illustration only doubled its weight while expanding eight times in volume is not a riddle; It is an impossibility.

In a ministry of education publication, Paying Attention to Spatial Reasoning, the ministry reports that the National Research Council calls errors in the teaching of spacial reasoning a “major blind spot . . . locked in a curious educational twilight zone . . . "

Well, welcome to the Twilight Zone, London PD Day style.