Alex (yakshaver) wrote,
Alex
yakshaver

First week car-free

I sold my car last week (for asking price, to the second preson to respond to my craigslist ad), so I've been carless for a few days now. There were roughly a hundred web sites on the planet last time I was car-free, so not only had my T-navigation skills atrophied, they've become antiquated. Fortunately, I'm good at this extracting information from the Internet business. Unfortunately, the MBTA's web site sucks just as badly as anyone who's ever ridden a bus in Boston would expect.

Suppose, for instance, you have a palm-based mobile phone using their Blazer web browser. Going to mbta.com and attempting to navigate your way to a bus timetable will result in your downloading over 700 k before you get to one. (I stopped at that point, since my data plan is 1 mb/month, which which has always been sufficient.) This in spite of the T's claim that the site is customized for mobile phone browsers.

But, like I said, I'm good at extracting information from the Internet. A friend told me it works on his mobile phone. I had him hit one of my web servers from his phone so I could collect his user-agent string, stuck it into the user agent switcher Firefox extension, et violà, I'm looking at mbta.com through the eyes of Opera mini. Which is to say, the actual data without all the crap.

And it turns out that the T's way of providing its site's content for mobile phones is to redirect them through what appears to be essentially a screen-scraping service, http://mobile.usablenet.com/mt/. So all you have to do to see the actual content of any of the T's web pages, without all the extraneous crap they throw at you, in any browser, is prepend "http://mobile.usablenet.com/mt/" to the www.mbta.com URL. So I now have a page linking to the routes I care about, so I can now pull my phone out of my pocket and get at any bus schedule I care about more quickly than if I were carrying around a half-inch thick sheaf them, like I used to back in the day. Which is, after all, how this technology stuff is supposed to work. Except for the having to work around the hurdles put in the way of the data by the people who are supposed to be providing it part.)

Ok, so the timetables away from home problem is solved. The other useful thing that sheaf of them I used to carry around provided was route maps. The T's "solution" to this is to provide pdfs — not especially high resolution pdfs, but still, not the most convenient format when you just want a reminder of which streets a route you haven't taken in a while goes down. And if they have a systemwide bus map online, they hide it well. But a little Googling finds a pretty good solution to this problem, courtesy of an old friend at MIT: boojum's Google maps T map. Not by any means perfect, but more useful for my purposes than anything on the T's site.

So I was pretty interested to see this story: New Google Maps Feature: Public Transit Directions. Followed immediately by disappointment that it's not yet available for Boston. So once again the self-proclaimed hub of the universe trails such world-class cities as Deluth. Still, it will no doubt happen in the not too distant future (if only because Google has offices here now).
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