GET Upcoming Service Changes

Golden Empire Transit is going to hold a public hearing on some proposed service changes.

A few thoughts:

  • 21/22/44 are due to see more buses (which means slight frequency increases, I guess). Always a good thing! The 21/22 especially deserve 20-minute or better frequencies on the weekends.
  • 61 finally gets evening service! (As this is my go-to bus route this is advantageous for me personally 🙂 .) It sucked not having a ride after 6 PM. Still needs a frequency increase (which is actually on GET’s long-term plans). One can dream.
  • 62 will get evening service too.
  • 82 will now provide evening service to the Northwest Promenade, meaning better access to the businesses there and connections (albeit poorly-timed) to the 61.
  • Holiday service has been eliminated, but with those abysmal boarding numbers, I suppose it’s not hard to see why.

Since GET is just now proposing these changes, perhaps their ridership is finally starting to see an increase since the route reorganization and the summer 2014 strike.

BIOS Mods and Integrated GPU’s: a Tale of Hybrid Graphics

Well, today I called it quits with my designated “home gaming” laptop. It was a HP dv7t-6000 laptop with the following equipped:

  • CPU: Intel Core i7-2630QM
  • Integrated GPU: Intel HD Graphics 3000
  • Discrete GPU: AMD Radeon HD 7400M

Despite being augmented with a discrete GPU, its gaming performance was never anything to write home about. However, I had been keeping it serviceable for the last couple years by using modified AMD graphics drivers from Leshcat. The performance was slightly improved with the newer drivers, especially with games like Wargame: Red Dragon that were released long after HP had ceased supporting the machine’s software.

This month, however, during a routine upgrade to the latest Leshcat release, it appeared that my discrete graphics stopped working. Programs were suddenly reporting that they were being run on the HD Graphics 3000 iGPU.

I’m still not sure what happened but I think that the latest Leshcat release dropped support for older “fixed” switchable graphics. Thus, I was now using “dynamic” switchable graphics, which means that work done by the iGPU is offloaded to the dGPU. Programs still see the active graphics processor as the HD Graphics 3000 even though the 7400M is doing all the work.

In the process of figuring all this out I discovered that the InsydeH2O BIOS that comes with many HP laptops actually has a few hidden screens that grant access to a plethora of settings.

The advertised easy method (F10 + A) didn’t work for me, so naturally the next step was to flash a modded BIOS – which not only granted access to the secret settings but also removed the infamous HP wireless card whitelist.

With switchable graphics working again (after forcing the now-modded BIOS to use “dynamic” mode to work with Leshcat), my graphics performance was back but seemed… lackluster.

The benchmarks confirmed this. Here are the PassMark scores for every laptop GPU I’ve ever owned:

  • Nvidia GeForce 310M: 221
  • AMD Radeon HD 7400M: 634 (?)
  • Intel HD Graphics 4600: 726

That’s right, the entry-level integrated graphics from 2013 smoked the 2010 and 2011-era discrete GPUs. It’s surprising what difference a couple of years can make.

I’ve now retired the Sandy Bridge HP. My Haswell laptop, of all things, now holds the crown for the most powerful GPU in the household.

Capital Metro: What’s Wrong, and How to Fix It

Having lived in Austin for some months now I’ve been surprised by the lack of quality public transportation in a so-called “liberal” and “weird” city.

Austinites like Mike Dahmus criticize Capital Metro constantly for being inefficient, opaque, and making all the wrong decisions.

After many sleepless nights thinking about Capital Metro’s shortcomings, I thought I’d add my viewpoint to the Austin transit scene.

  • Poorly laid out routes. Just look at the Capital Metro system map (warning: ridiculously large PDF) and see how Austin’s transit lines are structured. It’s clear that they are designed to do one thing: provide single-seat rides from the suburbs to the downtown core. But this is the 21st century, and as modern transit planners have noted, downtown just isn’t that important anymore. What happens if you want to go somewhere else besides downtown? On Capital Metro, be prepared for numerous transfers, long waits, and very, very long travel times.
  • Too focused on coverage. So many of Capital Metro’s routes zigzag through neighborhoods and detour into strip malls to provide “service” to those special-interest areas. Also, particularly in the downtown/UT core, there are far too many stops. This is the safe way to run transit if you’re looking to appease your political base, but the fact is that streamlining routes and consolidating stops would go a long way in speeding up service. This would result in a more efficient system, increased frequencies, and lower operating costs.
  • Not enough frequency or weekend service. Routes have 30-minute headways if you’re lucky. On weekends, particularly Sundays, be prepared to wait 45 to 60 minutes for the next bus. Also, there are no express buses running on the weekend.
  • Too confusing. Bus stops signs are nearly impossible to decipher, and in a lot of cases the information is incomplete (e.g. no indication that certain stops are drop-off only). The headways are not only long, they’re also inconsistent (varying between 25-35 minutes), forcing you to check the schedule to really know when the bus will arrive. I have also seen riders get on the wrong route or attempt to pay for an express bus with a local day pass. Maybe Capital Metro should stop flashing random messages like “ATX IS HANDS FREE” on the destination blinds.
  • Commuter-oriented. Far too many of Capital Metro’s services are only useful to commuters. I’m talking about buses that only run one direction in the morning and the other direction in the evening. Or coach-style buses to nowhere with no obvious connections to local service. Good transit isn’t about getting you to work and back – it’s about being there for all your transportation needs, anytime, anywhere.
  • Trains to nowhere. Austin’s over-hyped MetroRail service connects North Austin’s far-flung suburbs with downtown. Well, in theory. The downtown station is half-mile walk from the local bus routes, so walking that distance to make a transfer is a pain. (Furthermore, forget about making a transfer to Amtrak or Lone Star Rail if it ever gets built.) And MetroRail completely misses the UT campus, making it useless for students. Capital Metro’s latest rail expansion plan (November 2014) called for light rail tracks in a very low-ridership corridor. It reeked of developer speculation and special-interest lobbying; Austinites were smart to turn it down.
  • Poor downtown coverage. So you ride the bus downtown. Great, the mediocre bus system is working to your advantage. But where do you go from here? Capital Metro recently realigned all services onto the same pair of streets, so many downtown attractions are a half-mile walk or more from the nearest bus stop. Oh, and the downtown circulator named the “Dillo” was cut a few years ago.

“Crap Metro” should follow the lead of other cities like Houston, which is transforming its bus system into an efficient grid network and built a cost-effective, high-ridership light rail system. (Oh, the irony! A conservative Texas city with progressive transit policies!)

Instead, it’s poured all its resources into more commuter-centric services and a “Bus Rapid Transit” project that isn’t actually BRT and has a premium fare.

I am shocked that Austinites aren’t demanding better.