Thursday, October 16, 2008

Caltrain's bogus photography ban

While I was getting bumped from Caltrain three times last night, I talked to Shirley Johnson, who has been leading the "Bikes on Board" movement to get Caltrain to increase capacity. If Caltrain were regularly running trains filled with walk-on passengers, I could understand their resistance. In reality, however, Caltrain runs trains with half-empty cars for walk on passengers and full bike cars.

Shirley told me that when she tries to document this discrepancy, conductors have been telling her that she cannot take photos on Caltrain. This is a transparent effort on the part of the conductors (directed, I assume, by Caltrain middle management) to suppress free speech by activist cyclists. I mean, it's not like they're preventing tourists from taking photos of stations and rolling stock. Caltrain should clarify its policy on photography. If, as I suspect, there is no such ban, they should not invent one on the fly to suppress free speech. Nevertheless, if there is a ban, the conductors should enforce it consistently. They should not invoke the policy selectively when cycling activists take photos that illustrate a reality they don't like to admit.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bumped from Caltrain three times tonight

Dear Caltrain Customer Service,

I am a regular cycle commuter who has been riding Caltrain regularly since 1998. As a daily commuter, I spend over $1000 in Caltrain fares. [EDIT: that should be $1000/year.] Tonight I was "bumped" (denied boarding) from Caltrain bike cars three times, on trains 267, 271, and 275. I was finally allowed to board 277, along with four other cyclists, although several cyclists were bumped from that train as well.

Because of the one hour delay, I was unavailable to care for my children this evening while my spouse ran necessary errands. In compensation for this delay, please provide me with a free Caltrain ticket.

Caltrain regularly runs trains with full bike cars but many empty seats for walk-on passengers. Specifically, trains 267 and 271, among others, are regularly filled with bikes but have plenty of space for walk-on customers. Please provide more space for cyclists during commute hours by running trains with 64, rather than 32 or 16, spaces on high bike traffic runs.

John Markos O'Neill

Monday, February 25, 2008

New phone, new ISP

I've been a bad blogger, not posting for several months. Of course, I rationalize this by thinking that if readers are subscribing to me with RSS readers, they'll just get another post when I post and not notice when I don't. But if someone is returning day after day to Mental Compost, hoping for a new post, I'm sorry. It has been a long wait.

Anyway, I've had two recent tech developments that seem appropriate to post here, since this is sort of my personal tech blog (actually, it's my anything goes blog, but it has a personal tech slant). First, I got a new old phone. Second, we switched ISPs to Comcast.

As for the phone, the headset/headphone jack broke on my Treo 650, and I replaced it via insurance. Sara and I were dismayed to find out that we owed a $50 deductible, and after replacing the phone, we canceled the insurance on both our phones. My new phone is just like my old phone, except that it is running the current version of Palm OS, and it lacks branding on its faceplate. I like the lack of branding (my old phone said "Treo" and "Verizon" on the faceplace). It looks slick.

As for switching to Comcast, I have mixed feelings about this. When we switched to Speakeasy, I was very enthusiastic about moving to an independent ISP. Also, Comcast does not have a great record on net neutrality. Recently, however, Speakeasy was purchased by Best Buy, so they're part of a big company now. Also, we didn't get great speed -- 1.5 Mbps down/384k up. In addition to these issues, Sara was often noticing problems with our VOIP. The phone would cut out suddenly under certain circumstances.

So we switched to Comcast Triple Play (TV/Internet/phone) last week. The speed is quite fast, as advertised. If I'm hooked to ethernet, I'm really getting 16 Mpbs down and more than 2 Mbps up, which is as much as I need right now. Internet video seems reasonable now. It's too early to tell if there are any problems -- right now, everything works quite well.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

DRM for printers

A San Francisco company is developing DRM for printers, which restricts consumer choice by only allowing approved ink. Absurdly, the story refers to owners exercising choice over their own property as "printer-ink piracy." It's not piracy! Pirates steal. In this case, the owners of a piece of property (a printer) are using something they own in a manner that the manufacturer just doesn't like.

Looking at the comments on the story, I notice that the response is overwhelmingly negative: who did C|Net News think would read it? Consumers don't like being called pirates for exercising choice over their own property.

This restriction is like a car that only runs on gasoline approved by the manufacturer or a glass from which you can only drink soft drinks from one company. Or how about a phone that only calls subscribers to the owner's network? It's Defective by Design.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

I don't want an iPhone

My wife and I agree: we don't want iPhones, at least not yet. I'm not entirely immune to the Apple bug: "Oh, it has an Apple logo on it? Cool. I want one." Nevertheless, I wanted an iPhone for about two hours.

Then I found out it won't run 3rd party apps, like our Treo 650s do.

Then I found out it has slow Internet over AT&T Wireless, like my Treo 270 did. I gave up on Internet over smartphone -- more trouble than it's worth.

Apple has a way of coming out with amazingly cool products that look amazingly primitive a few years later. On the other hand, if you wait a few years, you can get an Apple product that really fits your needs. We own a 5th generation iPod, for example, that shows no signs of becoming obsolete any time soon.

Anyway, maybe I'll get an iPhone in 2011. But I'm really happy with my two year old Treo. Perhaps I'll still still be carrying it then.

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Friday, May 25, 2007

Please unDRM iTunes

Record companies and Apple: if you remove DRM from all iTunes tracks, I'll buy music again.

Like many people my age, I have several boxes of cassette tapes stored under my bed. I haven't listened to any of them for over a year and I no longer possess a high quality cassette player (I think my parents may have one that belongs to me at their house, or maybe they sold it). I'm interested in getting digital copies of maybe 10% of what's in that collection -- that's still a few hundred tracks. I could rip the tapes but I don't have the time or patience to do that. Anyway, I'd be willing to go through what's in there and make a list of what I actually want, but I'm boycotting RIAA releases until digital (mp3, Ogg, whatever) releases are available without DRM.

EMI has already said they'll release their collection without DRM. When the other RIAA labels do the same, I'll end my boycott. Don't they want the sales?

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Friday, April 13, 2007

My message to the Democrats

Here's a letter I wrote to the DNC in response to their appointment of an RIAA executive as Deputy CEO for Public Affairs for the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver.

As a registered Democrat, I am writing to protest the appointment of Jenni Engebretsen as Deputy CEO for Public Affairs for the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Engebretsen is currently the Director of Communications for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), an organization that was recently voted the "worst company in America" by a reader poll on The Consumerist.

The RIAA sues college students, fights network neutrality, and lobbies against technological innovation. Currently they're fighting anti-pretexting legislation in California. You don't have to be a downloader to realize that this organization represents a force against technology, against free culture, against free speech, and against progress.

This appointment is a poor choice for the Democratic party. As a response, I plan to withhold any financial support I would have otherwise given to Democratic candidates for the 2008 election. I could change my mind, if the party takes positive steps towards endorsing a pro-innovation and pro-free speech platform.

John Markos O'Neill

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