Archive for June, 2010

The Apple iBrik

June 23rd, 2010

Copy and paste? Multitasking? Folders?

These are old concepts; even on phones. But don’t tell Apple fans that the “new” features on their precious JesusPhone were on your Treo half a decade ago.

Likewise, Turkish coffee is over one thousand years old. But slap an Apple log on it and it’s exciting and new!

Behold the new Apple iBrik. It’s shiny and has an Apple logo, that’s all that matters.

Art wall at Valencia and 17th

June 17th, 2010

Ever since a certain building at Valencia and 17th was boarded up recently, it’s been home to movie ads, concert fliers, and various forms of independent street art.

Here’s a few pics from today.

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How to fix Muni Metro

June 14th, 2010

A few years ago, I moved closer to a Bart station simply so I could get to work on time. While Muni Metro has the potential to be a great system, it simply didn’t work for me for any other situation where I needed to get somewhere on time.

The problems I experienced with the Metro are systemic but not intractable. Here’s a few “no duh” solutions to fix Muni Metro.

Communication
At the very least, riders need to know when they’re going to be late. When there’s problems on the Metro, the control center needs a way to notify everyone that there’s a delay.

Riders should be notified of what type of delay occurred and be given an estimate for how long the delay will take. This means direct communication with people in trains and people waiting at station platforms. Ideally, bus stops would have this information as well.

Muni has no excuse for failing at this; Bart does this VERY well! During a delay, the Bart control center announces the delay to all stations and on all train loudspeakers. Why can’t Muni Metro do the same?

Traffic
Being a combined streetcar/subway system, there’s many places where traffic interacts with Metro trains. These areas slow trains unpredictably.

The intersection at West Portal and Ulloa and the intersection at Duboce and Church both see multiple Metro lines exit the tunnel and enter the street. These two places are also notorious for 10 minute+ delays.

Why? Because both intersections have stop signs. Drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists compete with trains in getting through these intersections, often darting in front of trains. Adding a traffic light at both intersections would at least make the delays minor and predictable.

Secondly, other intersections could be improved. A traffic light at Cole and Carl would speed up the N-Judah line slightly. The area where the M-Oceanview crosses 19th Ave has a light, but drivers often block the tracks. A light timing adjustment here would help immensely to get drivers off the blocked section. Failing that, cops should be dispatched to give tickets to motorists who (illegally!) stop on the tracks.

Door malfunctions
When I lived in the Sunset, malfunctioning doors on the train were a source of delays for me on a weekly basis. On some trains, the doors simply won’t close when the train is on an incline. This is unacceptable in a city as hilly as San Francisco.

The doors NEED to somehow be fixed so they can close. This seems like a maintenance no-brainer.

Train spacing
Train spacing solves two problems: being trapped in a tunnel and waiting too long for a train.

When there’s problems with trains ahead of you, riders shouldn’t be trapped on a stationary train in a tunnel. They should be brought to the next station and given the choice to get out and take a bus. A major reason this happens is because there’s too many trains in the tunnel for everyone to arrive at a station platform and get off. In other words, the tunnel is over capacity. The control center could have prevented this, but rarely does.

Likewise, at surface stops you occasionally see several trains go by in a row. This indicates the trains weren’t spaced correctly.

Unlike buses, spacing can and should be resolved in the tunnel. When trains turn around, if there’s three L-Taravals in a row, at least one of them should be changed to a different line. If there hasn’t been a J-Church in the past 20 minutes, why not make it a J-Church? The train control operators can simply change the destination of any train at the Embarcadero switchback. But more often that not, they don’t.

Conclusion
Unfortunately, these problems are obvious to the riders of Muni Metro. Why hasn’t Muni taken action? Are the directors of the MTA unaware of these issues? Do they not care? I can’t tell.

What’s going on, Muni?

Follow up: Live poetry event details

June 12th, 2010

It’s come to my attention that the live poetry I witnessed the other night is actually an ongoing event. Who knew? Everyone but me, apparently.

From 16thMission.com:

Join us on the streetcorner at 16th & Mission every Thursday night at 9:00pm, and lend your voice to this ecclectic [sic] group of street performers. From musicians and emcees to poets and comics, there’s something for everyone here under just the stars and streetlights…

There’s even some Yelp reviews and a short documentary film (warning: long load time and out of sync audio).

How did I not know about this?

Live poetry at 16th Mission Bart

June 11th, 2010

On the way back from a semi-productive evening at Noisebridge, I happened across a live poetry show at the 16th and Mission Bart plaza. There were at least two performers taking turns with lively oration from a chalk circle, surrounded by hip types, hobos, and the union of crack consumers.

Seemingly this was what one might call “beat” poetry. Honestly I don’t know anything about poetry and didn’t stay long as I was in the wrong mood (read: sober) to enjoy it.

Here’s a few crappy iPhone pics for your enjoyment.

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Anyone have details on this show? It was at about 11 PM on June 10th.

Pedal power * 7

June 7th, 2010

A bicycle built for… seven? Spotted on 18th and Dolores.

Crazy bike

A bit of Googling reveals there’s at least one place in the city where you can rent one. According to their website, “it’s not just a bike: it’s a PARTY ON WHEELS!”

So, who’s down for a party on wheels?

5 things Windows does right

June 6th, 2010

We’ve all heard a lot of bad news about Microsoft over the past decade, especially the past few years. Security problems, broken hardware drivers, annoying interface changes, confusing security features, etc.

It’s gotten to the point where it’s tough to think of anything good about Windows, aside from the fact that “it’s there” and there’s a lot of games for it.

But I see some good things about Windows where Microsoft has done the right thing, and done it consistently. Let’s look at those.

1. Backwards compatibility

Let’s say you’re running a business. You have a very important application that’s 20 years old, no longer supported, and there’s no budget to upgrade. What to do?

Well if it was written for Windows (or even Microsoft’s previous operating system, DOS) there’s a good chance it still works perfectly fine today. In fact, if it doesn’t require any special hardware, it’s basically guaranteed to work. This saves you a lot of money on hiring people to write a new application.

Backwards compatibility is a key feature of Windows. Even on a 64 bit Windows 7 machine, you can run applications designed for 32-bit Windows 2000 by design.

I’m not sure if it’s more strange that Microsoft considers this a mandatory feature, or that Linux and Apple don’t bother. There’s certainly no technical reason NOT to support old applications, so this is definitely something Windows gets right.

2. Forwards compatibility

With the latest Visual Studio you can still write applications for Windows 2000 out of the box. Although the underlying architecture of Windows has changed quite a bit over the years, the core APIs are binary compatible.

Sure, it takes some effort to avoid the convenient new APIs introduced in XP and Vista, but it’s by no means impossible.

3. Free Service Packs

Whereas Apple charges for small upgrades to the OS, Microsoft gives them away for free in the form of service packs. These upgrades are designed to change as little as possible under the hood, but bring in new features, new applications, and security updates.

And while some service packs have presented problems, Microsoft has usually been quick to fix these issues with incremental patches through Windows Update (aka Microsoft Update.)

4. Hardware drivers

Something most Windows users don’t even notice — when they work — is hardware drivers. Windows consistently ships with an amazing array of hardware drivers for just about everything. The major complaints tend to be printers and WiFi, where the manufacturer may need to supply something specific.

But this is one area where Windows really shines compared to the competition. On Linux, hardware drivers can be impossible to find or tricky to install. Linux users often encounter issues with graphics *cough* ATI *cough*. Apple avoids the problem entirely by shipping only custom hardware; an easy solution that bypasses the issue.

5. Multimedia and server in one OS

Linux is optimized for use as a server. Mac OS is optimized for multimedia.

But Windows? It does a pretty good job at both, out of the box, without (much) configuration. Somehow they’ve optimized the timing in the kernel to allow for both. This is not as trivial as it sounds.

Multimedia requires processing a rapid fire of tiny pieces of information. Servers require processing large chunks of information at unpredictable intervals. It’s not easy to adjust your timing to do both, but Windows pulls this off without a hitch.

Conclusion:

Windows isn’t all bad! Microsoft goes out of their way to make Windows a stable, consistent OS that runs a wide variety of applications. Keep this in mind next time a UAC prompt makes you want to put your fist through your monitor.

Tales from the WinCrypt

June 5th, 2010

Every time I see a reference to Microsoft’s WinCrypt library, I can’t help but to think of the CRYPTKEEPER!!!!!11

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Yup.

Cafe crisis!

June 3rd, 2010

The former MotoJava space on 9th and Bryant seems to be having an identity crisis as of late. At one time, this storefront sold motorcycles and coffee, a concept that I’m sure was hip and edgy in the 90′s but now just sounds stupid. Alas, times change, and the coffee shop portion of the business seems to have moved on from its macho roots.

The other day I walked by and MotoJava was newly-christened as “La Colombe”.

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But it was not to be! Today I walked by and found something a little different…

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Currently the only record of a previous name is in their ABC permit, which is still posted on the window:

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On purchasing a Muni FastPass

June 2nd, 2010

Muni (by MrEricSir)

It used to be that buying a FastPass was a simple affair. There was only one type of adult pass available, and many places to buy one.

But Muni screwed that all up.

Let’s look at how my FastPass purchasing experiences have changed over the years.

Here’s how I bought a Muni pass while I was at SF State:

  1. Check sign at info desk to see if passes were in

  2. Withdraw cash from ATM
  3. Use cash to pay $45 to info desk
  4. Receive pass

Fast forward a few years to when I got my current job in SOMA. Up until a few months ago, the process for buying a pass was very similar:

  1. Receive Commuter Check from work

  2. Hand Commuter Check to cashier at Montgomery St. station Muni booth
  3. Receive pass

But no, it couldn’t be that simple! First, the ticket booth at Montgomery St. was closed permanently. This place was always a mob around the first of the month, but I could usually time it right so I didn’t have to wait much.

Second, I no longer get Commuter Checks for some reason. Instead I have a commuter debit card thing that they don’t take at Powell St, and most/all stores, meaning I have to buy my tickets at Embarcadero Station.

Here’s my new routine for 2010:

  1. Head all the way to Embarcadero Station

  2. Walk to Muni ticket booth
  3. Stand in line for 10+ minutes
  4. At front of line, am told the “A” passes are now sold out, come back tomorrow
  5. Wait one day, repeat

Eventually I do get my pass, but it’s always a crapshoot. For some reason this ticket booth isn’t open late enough most of the time; I was once told they close at 6:45 PM. And they seem to close even if there’s still people in line.

And yes, I could probably use TrannyLink or NailClipper or whatever the hell it’s called this month. But you actually have to buy the card (WTF?!) unless you manage to score one at the coveted “free” days that are heavily advertised, yet the people never show up to distribute the cards. (Yes, I’ve tried.)

Anyway, Muni you guys need to get your heads out of your asses. I’m trying to PAY YOU. Don’t you want my money?