Terminal VeloCity: An Innovative Approach to Mobile & Media Incubation at University of Waterloo

I’m blogging for wirelessnorth.ca this week at the ICE08 conference here in Toronto. The original version of this post can be found here.

Sitting in the “The Network Effect: Models for Canadian Collaboration” this morning at the ICE conference, panelist Sean Van Koughnett spoke about a new initiative he’s driving at the University of Waterloo – Called Velocity, and officially launching with the new term in September of 2008, the initiative combines a mobile and new media incubator with a student residence.

It’s a place where some of UW’s most talented, entrepreneurial, creative and technologically savvy students will be united under one roof to work on the future of mobile communications, web and new media.
It’s a place where students, faculty and corporate partners will be active collaborators and beneficiaries of the talent, ideas and innovations that evolve.

Source: Velocity Home Page

This is an idea I love – take a diverse group of students, give them space & support to conceive, nurture and grow their ideas and basically see what happens.

What’s great to hear is the university and supporters of the project have taken a laid back approach to deliverables with respect to this initiative, giving it the room to grow and evolve rather than artificially constraining it to demonstrate success in a narrow time frame.

Their inclusion of mobile as a key area of focus obviously interests those of us here at Wirelessnorth.ca – it will be interesting to see what emerges as it grows and develops over the coming years.

Financially Penalizing GO isn’t a Solution

GOTrain-0560As someone who takes the GO train on most days, I’ve been watching the story of the GO Petition with some interest. It’s an idea that’s drives me nuts and at the end of the day I think it’s really just the petty action of some disgruntled people looking to take a chunk out of GO because they were late for work/getting home.

I can understand the anger, GO has driven me nuts on many occasions (as postings on my Twitter account will no doubt attest) but taking money out of the GO economy is not the answer.

For those not familiar with the issue, a petition was created by an Oakville woman named Patricia Eales. The petition had several demands:

  • 50% rebate on fare paid when GO transit is late more than 20 minutes to final destination
  • Better notification of transit cancellations, modifications and delays
  • More cars added to trains to ease the overcrowding, which causes safety concerns

Here’s the problem I have with this petition. It’s clearly written by someone who hasn’t spent any more time considering the issue then “What can I get out of this?”.

Issue #1: Better Notification etc.
I’m at a loss to think how much more GO could do to notify passengers (aside from a mobile freindly site). The already have a frequently updated page listing cancellations & delays across their whole system, and a live snapshot of what’s happening on the numerous information boards throughout Union Station. For the notification of trackwork delays etc. they also have yet another information page.

The reality is there generally isn’t a whole lot of time GO has to inform you of a delay – most people are only on the platform a few minutes before the train is scheduled to arrive. If it’s a super cold, snowy or rainy day check their site before you leave home or the office. Taking 30 seconds to load a bookmark up has saved me numerous frustrating commutes.

They’ve also been quite good about informing people about the various improvement projects they’re undertaking to address the switch, signal & capacity issues.

Issue #2: More cars/capacity
This point alone is a clear indicator that Ms. Eales did nothing more than get pissed off and create a petition without a lick of research. For over a year now GO has been promoting and discussing the new engines that they’ve ordered and are bringing into service. One of the main benefits of these new engines? They can pull at least 2 more cars than the old engines and they’re far faster.

If Ms. Eales had bothered to stop and consider the implications of two more cars for a moment should would have realized why it’s not as easy as just hooking up two more cars:

  1. The current engines can’t pull them – it takes time to assemble, test & deliver 27 new engines that can pull longer trains.
  2. Even if they could, most riders couldn’t get on!
    Many of GO’s exiting platforms were only built for the current length of 10 cars – GO has been working for the past couple of years to expand the platforms to handle the longer trains again, this takes time.

For the record as well, I took the GO into the city yesterday and the train I boarded was pulled by one of the brand new engines (pictured above) and I’ve seen at least two others in the Mimico yard – so they’re gradually coming into service. It’s also not as if GO has been running tiny little trains, at 10 cars they are one of the longest commuter trains in North America, and I believe at 12 they will be.

#3 $$$$
This part just drives me nuts. Demand better service, more equipment and essentially millions of dollars of expenses then say “Oh, and while you try to catchup we want to penalize you by getting a rebate on our fares”. This one issue would single handedly destroy GO Transit.

Yes delays suck. Yes they inconvenience you. The 5 straight days late likely came as a result of one of the worst winters we’ve had in recent history. It’s been a really rough year for any traveler, regardless of their method of transportation. The reality is, you need to have a plan B. Even if you drive, one big accident can close the highway and leave you running late. I’d be willing to argue GO Transit is still far more reliable than driving yourself into the city.

Here’s the head exploding, WTF?, &%$@$%!!!, I’ve got to Blog This Moment Though:

From the Toronto Star:

Eales, however, did walk away with assurances that an advisory board will be established to handle service and reliability issues.

Smith later invited Eales to join that committee. She hasn’t yet decided if she will.

Ms. Eales.

Can I call you Pat?

There’s no deciding.

  • You started this.
  • You got 10,000+ people riled up along with you.
  • You don’t get to walk away just because you didn’t get your rebate.

If you want to maintain any credibility for your cause you need to step up and become part of the solution. GO has listened to you, considered your position and even invited you to the table – to walk away now is just plain rude and disingenuous.

I also hope we’ll see you out at the next iteration of TransitCamp. But you’ll need to check your complaints at the door. TransitCamp is a place for solutions and I hope you’d come help find them with the rest of us.

Taming the Information Beast: A vision for the future.

The folks at the ICE (Interactive Content Exchange) Conference recently laid out the challenge to bloggers to define their vision of the future in Canada. I’ve got a few spare minutes so I thought I’d take them up on it.

Where my vision starts is today. Today’s youngest citizens will be the first generation to grow up in an age of ubiquitous information and, to be horribly cliché, they are the future.

Information as a utility.

You want water?
Turn on the tap.

Turn on the switch.

Turn on the computer.

In just a few generations we’ve moved from a world where information trickled like a small stream to a place where there is a constant, unending & surging river of information. The notion of needing to have general information in your head is quickly becoming obsolete.

This change has many, many effects in many areas of our lives, but perhaps none more important than around our approach to education.

The information is now there, at our finger tips, anytime.

Students no longer need someone to stand at the front of the room and tell them the answer. What they need is someone to ask us the question, then help them learn how to find the answer.

In my future…

… the teacher has to become the Guide, not the Oracle.

What students need are people who will help them learn to learn, digest, think critically, and ultimately synthesize the information they will consume every day of their lives. The “what” of education is still very important but it should be presented to students in the form of discovery. How they discover and then learn the answer will shape their ability to succeed in the future.

… Innovation will be found in synthesis

In my future the best ideas will come from those people who can float on top of the river of information. These leaders will be able to take in all of the data around them, rapidly digest, synthesize, and finally remodel and deploy it to innovate.

… “We’ve always done it that way” will be the starting point, not the end.

Enterprises will become more agile as iteration and experimentation become the default behaviour. The future generation will treat the past as a place to begin not a place to stop. They won’t be afraid to ask “Why?” and won’t accept “Because…” for an answer.

Learning how to tame and manage information is the biggest challenge we’re facing. If we can ensure our future generations are properly equipped then the future looks good for all of us.

Tap – Malla Mi | Light – Vnoel | Rapids – bcostin | Iteration – jremsikjr
| Map – Webber0075