Questions for Translink #FOI

Translink said in their annual report that they had 77 million passenger journeys.

I’m sending an FOI request into Translink to ask some questions that I think need answering.

Dear Translink,

I would appreciate some information about the operation of your services.

According to your 2010/11 Annual Report, on page 59, it seems to say that you have 1,469 buses and 34 trains.

  • can you clarify if this is correct and whether I have interpreted the figures correctly?
  • can you clarify the breakdown of vehicles between Metro, Ulsterbus, Enterprise and other services?

Can you clarify how many seats you have across all of your services:

  • how many of these buses are single decker and how many are double decker?
  • how many seats are there on each of these bus types?

According to your 2010/11 Annual Report, you claim 77 million passenger journeys. Can you clarify the following:

  • can you provide a breakdown of the time of day for these journeys?
    • What percentage were before 9 am?
    • What percentage were between 9 am and 5 pm?
    • What percentage were between 9 am and 7 pm?
    • What percentage were after 7 pm?
  • can you provide a customer profile for these journeys?
    • What percentage of these journeys were subsidised fares due to the traveller being pensioned, possessing an ELB pass other concessions due to low income, disability or unemployment?
    • What percentage of these journeys used monthly or annual ticket arrangements to reduce costs?
    • What percentage of these journeys paid full price?
  • can you provide a regional profile for these journeys?
    • by county, how many of these journeys originated in each of the counties of Northern Ireland?
    • by county, what percentage of their journeys attracted a concessionary or subsidised fare (see above)?
    • by county, what was the approximate revenue obtained from each county?
  • And with special reference to Derry~Londonderry, can you provide the following information?
    • by timetable, how many individual buses and trains service Derry~Londonderry?
    • by timetable, how many inbound and outbound journeys are there servicing Derry~Londonderry?
    • how many of the 77 million passenger journeys were attributed to the Derry~Londonderry region?
    • by occupancy, can you define the percentage usage of the buses and trains servicing Derry~Londonderry?

Many thanks for your patience.

As I said earlier, my aim is to piece information to create a business case for the following pilot –

  • free buses and train transport in the North West from 1st Jan – 31st December 2013
  • free buses and train transport for anyone outside the North West travelling TO Derry/Londonderry from 1st Jan – 31st December 2013

All of this in support of UK City of Culture 2013.
You have to start somewhere.

Find my Friends isn’t quite there yet. Unlikely to be.

While Apple can do no wrong in software and hardware (other than be TOO POPULAR), they often fail in one area and that’s social. Find my friends is the third social attempt by Apple. They’ve failed to set the industry on fire with Ping (their music sharing social network) and Game Center (their game matching service) and now we have real world location with Find my friends.

Find My Friends is “better” for some values of “better” than the other attempts but it still highlights a lack of vision, a lack of “what could this do, where could this go”.

For instance: I’ve added a couple of people on Find My Friends.

Setting Status
Finding friends is one part of the equation but being found is another. Where is the option to set a status update so that people can see this. Even something as simple as “Busy” or “Available” will let people know if they should message you. This is even more important than selecting the “temporary” setting to be found.

Where is the alert that tells me my friends have entered within a mile of my location? Having a travelling GeoFence is an obvious feature for Find My Friends enabled smartphone users. And yes, it could be great for the untrustworthy or unfaithful but giving people an iota of credit, if there’s a ‘situation’ where location becomes an issue, the stupid will get caught.

Finding Friends Again. And again.
I have connections established by Ping and Game Center but Find My Friends wants to rifle through my address book to find people I can connect to? Really? In 2011, this is a solution? Why not give me a list of my Ping and Game Center connections and just ask me if I want to add them to my FMF list?

Time Alerts
Why can’t I set my non-existent status alert by the time of day or by the entries in my calendar? This stuff is all interconnected. Why doesn’t it just work? For that matter, why does my phone still ring when I’m plainly in a meeting! I don’t think Siri will help with that!

Group Messaging
Where’s the option to message all of my friends? Where’s the option to ping them with a “Anyone free for lunch” or to set a status change “Free for lunch”. Where does this actually work for friends? In the video, they say it’s good for when the family (obviously all toting iPhones) are at Disneyworld but seriously do we have to message each one individually?

The daft thing is that group messaging is excellently supported in Messages (via iMessage) but not in Find My Friends. Dumb.

So, in my opinion, Find My Friends, just like Ping and Game Center, is a pretty half-assed solution. Apple can still tie this all together and make it just work and maybe they will – maybe this is all part of the plan. Maybe the NEXT MAJOR RELEASE will tie all of these loose ends together? But I doubt it.

Cultural Tourism – new apps competition!

A new Cultural Tourism app competition for Northern Irish mobile companies.

The DCAL initiative aims to harness the innovation and entrepreneurial potential of culture, arts and leisure by encouraging local digital companies to use these sectors as a source of inspiration and content for mobile Apps. Digital technologies are transforming how people access information and how business sectors, such as tourism, communicate with consumers. Billions of Apps are downloaded globally each year and this competition offers opportunities to grow the creative industries and tourism sector in the north of Ireland.

The competition is being managed by Momentum / Digital Circle, which promotes the ICT and digital content sector in the north of Ireland. Local digital companies are invited to put forward creative and innovative ideas for two apps showcasing Irish and Ulster-Scots culture respectively. The winning applications will be funded to develop the apps in time for the 2012 tourism season.

The tender documents are located:

There’s Digital Hubs and digital hubs.

There is an inevitability of a concentration on the digital knowledge economy for Northern Ireland. We have a thriving group of developers and designers in Belfast, a huge amount of ambition in the North West and a heap of activity building in the Southern and Western counties of the province.

Last week I went to the Digital Hub along with Momentum, Belfast City Council, InvestNI and representatives from DCAL and OFMDFM.

We heard the spiel about how it brought some regeneration to the area, that they still have a considerable subvention from the government after 10 years (less than €2m a year, but overall investment has been around €30m since inception and may not include transferred assets).

I also spoke to some of the guys in some of the businesses. They said they wish the Hub was one mile closer to the city centre, that the reason they use bikes and public transport is because they don’t want to bring their cars to that area of town and even the big lads feel a little concerned leaving the Hub with a laptop.

It re-iterates my belief that a city centre location for a Belfast Hub is essential. Not least because Davy Sims put together a map of Digital Media companies in Northern Ireland back in February of 2010 and discovered most were within a square mile in the city centre.

View Belfast Media Square Mile in a larger map

I don’t think we want a straight property play like the Hub in Dublin. We’re a small region with a big ambition so we have to think much more strategically about what goes where. We also need to be 100% joined up. I think I have the support of the Digital Circle steering group in my opinions and in my vision for a digital hub-type infrastructure in Northern Ireland. It’s a big plan, an ambitious plan, even an audacious plan and if it delivers, it will bring the concept to the province as a whole rather than just to a small region.

GeoFencing vs Check-In

I was pitched yesterday by a local location-based-services start-up. I’ll not mention the company unless I get the nod from the founder. At one point I asked a question about location processing and while it was a slightly technical question, it caused a pause.

Most location services use either geofencing or check-ins.

Check-ins are where you hope that the user is so addicted to your services that they will remember to check in by launching your app. Tapping the “Check In” button then sends a message to the company server and your check-in is saved in the cloud. In my opinion, if your service relies on check-ins, then you’re an idiot.

Geo-fencing is a “virtual perimeter” service. The software maps real-world locations onto a virtual map and the software takes action when you move around in the real world because you may cross a virtual fence on the virtual map. This is the sort of technology used in criminal tags, for security of physically located services or for the protection of children or vulnerable adults. For this to work, location-based services have to be running constantly on the device. And when a match is found, EITHER a message is displayed on device or a message is sent to the GeoFence server.

The question is: is location processed on phone or in the cloud?

When the device moves and crosses a fence, does the software on the phone calculate this on its own from a locally stored database or is the location of the device sent constantly to a server in the cloud and compared to a database on the server.

Nearly every GeoFencing solution I’ve seen so far processes location in the cloud. This has some personal data security implications obviously (for those people who don’t like being tracked) but I’m more concerned about the data traffic and the drain on the battery.

A better solution, in my opinion, is to download the database of geofences to the device. A geofence, in its simplest form, is a point location and a radius. In theory, the entire database for a business could be downloaded quickly over a 3G connection. The location service checks location against the internal database and if it finds a match, posts a notification to the device screen or sends a message to the GeoFence server.

There’s a hundred uses of GeoFencing though I’ve seldom seen it used for anything really interesting. That’s a real shame because once you remove the security implications, it’s amazing technology. These implications are mostly in the minds of paranoid net-geeks and journalists desperate for a headline.

Submitted now…

So last night I wrote up the innovation voucher and submitted it this morning. I’ve suggested that the voucher work would be carried out by the Intelligent Systems Research Centre in Magee College, one of the campuses of the University of Ulster.

The question is whether the product can be made with COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) components or whether it requires a bespoke chipset.

I’m considering applying for an Innovation Voucher.

An Innovation Voucher is £4000 of university or college research and development time which can be used for new product scoping, new process development or similar practises.

The recent location tracking scandal which affected iPhone and Android (and probably affects Nokia – if anyone cared) highlighted that I’d really like a tiny chip device which had GPS+COMPASS+LCD+GPRS that was small enough to fit on a wrist band. The unit has a unique code which is used to identify it. The LCD has two views – one being an information/hold screen and the second being an arrow.

When paired with the web service, the wrist unit displays an arrow pointing towards a pre-determined position. If nothing is pre-programmed, then it always points north.

The wrist unit therefore tells the user which direction the preprogrammed position lies.

The web service (and attendant Android and iPhone apps) allow you to plot the location of your wrist units, communicated over GPRS. The apps on smartphones can also act as wrist units too – reporting location.

The Innovation Voucher would be to scope out the development of the hardware components and software system. Could it be built cheap enough? What would the service costs be? If the wrist unit could display more information or store more data, what would you put on it?

Would you aim this product at worried parents? Tour guides (giving a wristband to each tour participant)? Schoolteachers?

Could you make a game out of it? Yes, yes I think you could.

iOS4.3.3 to break neat location recording feature


Apple’s promised short-term iOS security update is known as iOS 4.3.3, and should arrive in two weeks or less, a source with the company says. The person notes that as expected, it should reduce the size of the location cache, and prevent the file from being backed up to iTunes. The cache should be deleted entirely when Location Services are off.

So we only have a few weeks for someone to make an app to start recording and making time-sensitive maps of our locations.

Location: it’s a feature, not a bug

Apple came under fire this week as it was revealed (by a research paper dating back to 2010) that a file is created and maintained on the iOS system which contains location data for every time you have queried location services. For me, as you can see from previous posts), it presented a way to map my movements. No big deal as you can also see, I publish my movements live on Latitude.

At no point is it true (at the moment) that this location data is sent anywhere. It is stored on your phone so if you lose your phone to a wily thief who cares where you drink coffee more than he or she cares about your contacts database, browser history, cookies and access to your email, then you may be in trouble. But it’s not stopped quite a few journalists from making the accusation that Apple knows where you’ve been and is obviously using this to beef up iAds or something even more sinister!

It turns out that Android does the same – the difference being that they only store the last 50 entries. This is entirely sensible and highlights an error in the way Apple was handling this data. It’s not clear whether this data is transmitted to Google (and with their recent history, it would not surprise me) but we should probably wait until it’s confirmed. A sceptic might suggest that Google only stores the last 50 entries on device because it uploads them to their secret Texan datacentre constantly anyway but I’ll not accuse here.

The bottom line is that Google is handling the caching of the data correctly and Apple is not. But it makes me really want desktop and mobile apps for visualising my location data over time and having this as an opt-in service or better still ‘an app’ is obviously what I want. Latitude does a half-assed job of recording and a worse job of reporting and it’s the reports that I’m interested in. I want to see where I go. At what speeds.

So where are the apps that really do Location well?