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Toxic Trains – Bay Area Rotten Transport January 13, 2015

Posted by wastedspacer in Political Issues, Rants, Social State.
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As seen from my seat (my bag was sitting on that)!BartMyseatBart1531xTowards Front

I’m writing this journal entry as I sit among the filth and squalor that is Bart carriage 1531x, part of the 10 car 10:14 am from SFO to Pittsburg Bay Point. A cringing couple, holding an infant sitting a few seats away, concerned on the seemingly infectious nature of this squalid carriage. A possibly mentally ill, foully aromatic individual who remained on the train when it arrived at SFO sits mumbling obscenities and threats like “I’ll kill you” or “In your eye” every time the train operator made an announcement. The rest of the time he spent grunting, chewing and expectorating on the floor. I look over the other side of the car and I see a sign proclaiming “This Car Proudly Maintained by the Concord Shop”,


I wonder about what the cadence, is, perhaps an annual maintenance? I wonder how long it takes for a car to get into such a horrendous state and why there seems to be no enforcement of some of the disgusting things that violating passengers do?

Is this an isolated case? Not at all, I am an infrequent user of this relatively costly however mostly convenient service. Sadly my journeys on Bart seem to be beset with such unfortunate scenes. I have traveled on far less costly public transit in many cities around the world and have to note that Bart is possibly the very worst. In the days when it went straight to SFO, around the early morning commute hours at the Dublin/Pleasanton station it is not unusual to see numerous individuals carrying blankets getting off the inbound train and board the outbound one each one quickly snagging a double seat to lie down on, forcing commuters to stand.

Drunk, messy-food consuming, vomiting, urinating and defecating possibly homeless and/or mentally ill passengers are also regular sights in the evening hours. Panhandlers, usually passive but occasionally hostile, make their way through carriages while shaking folks down looking for money. Reporting these infractions to station agents at best get a tepid “we’ll look into it” for the most part, BART police are invariably nowhere to be seen during these unfortunate events.

A few years ago, I had the misfortune one time to sit behind a couple of ironically comedic hand-holding BART employees. They also happened to be “proud” Union badge bedecked workers who’s overheard conversation snippets were disturbing. They thought it hilarious that they were able to procure overtime then just sat around or slept and that the tax paying public could do nothing about it. In my opinion, they could start by cleaning these darned cars but I’ll bet that’s a different Union? I assume their union would not tolerate crossing work boundaries.

Sometimes I wonder why bother connecting to airports such as SFO, there’s no specialized luggage racks (is it for fear that some passengers might sleep on them), many of the early morning flights cannot be connected to due to the relatively late start times (especially at weekends).

Is it just me or are other travelers appalled at the state of our Bay Area Rotten Transport. Do we seriously believe that we should spend vast sums of money on high speed rail while critical connecting infrastructures such as Bart remain such a cesspool of inefficiency and squalid conditions?

Signing off as I stare at what looks like mold growing on the floor I pause to consider I really need a second shower today!


Net Neutrality – A presidential U-Turn? November 11, 2014

Posted by wastedspacer in Global Industry, Political Issues, Rants, Social State.
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NNewt*sigh* Too little too late perhaps? I hear all of the Comcast, Verizon and AT&T execs crying foul over this supposed U-Turn. It seems that now we have a president unfettered by the mountain of promises needed to get elected and able to say what he really thinks! Of course, it will make way for 2016 presidential candidates to “disagree” with a now unpopular leader and enable new cable company supporting politicians to line their campaign pockets with the vast trove of funding to decry the misguided neutrality musings of the former president!

I like the chart with the Netflix shakedown, Comcast (and to some extent Verizon/AT&T for that matter) is all about squeezing maximum profit so they can spend  what appears to be 90% of it on marketing, lobbying, lawsuits, civic “incentives” to help block private and community cable or communications initiatives and of course a large pot of money to buy up any of the smaller competition and supplemental organizations. Comcast doesn’t actually need to block access only neglect to add upgraded connections where customer streaming services like Netflix add burden. It can then shake-down those service providers to pay to accelerate the process. “XFINITY” marketing suggests is all about giving the customer fast access to the services they desire – yet their actions are completely counter to that!!!

Now we have a huge presidential support for Net Neutrality! Throwing all of his old-buddy election campaign backers under the bus now he no longer has a future presidential bid to worry about funding! Plus the chances of any future Democratic candidates seeking Obama endorsement are unlikely – OTOH I’m sure the cable guys will be only too happy to help them if they can oppose this Net Neutrality stance.

We have the appointment of the former pro-cable lobbyist Tom Wheeler as the chairman of the FCC. presidential golfing buddies – Comcast’s CEO Brian Roberts, campaign bundle specialist David Cohen Exec VP at Comcast who was a staunch supporter and massive fund-raiser for the Obama campaign with some really compelling Comcast promises including grand statements around “internet for the poor”. (How extensive was this and where did that actually end up)? No wonder all these folks are now crying foul – but I guess this is politics 101 when you no longer need the money from those former “buddies” toss them under a bus!



Once again the end-consumer is going to be the one ultimately paying for this with increasing charges, no improvement and possible degradation in services!

What parts of ‘traditional’ education are under threat from MOOCs? November 1, 2014

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I have completed a number of “free” online classes, the instructors have all been excellent, the material, assignments and learning experience as good if not better than any I received from a traditional course. The communities and volunteer assistants are enthusiastic with no pressure to stay for the entire course should circumstances or interest change. For those who successfully complete the course with acceptable grades, they receive a certificate and/or statement of accomplishment, for a small fee and some simple consumer grade technology the student can even verify their grades. Unfortunately, even verified grading may be one weak spot in having MOOCs accepted as a qualified element to measure the education level of a student.

If humanity is ever going to revolutionize its education system, improving the quality and reliability of grading is entirely why people should be putting MORE into the grades. Consider a typical statement from one of the students over a poor grade and my response:

“People are putting too much into grades for free/online classes. Unless you are paying thousands for a real course, none of this should matter.”

The whole point around MOOCs is that people should be able to get a valid, qualified and certificated education WITHOUT paying thousands! As supporting students, we still need to play our part and be willing to figure out how to pay competitively for qualified instructors and any operational administration (a $50 verification charge per student is a start). The payroll for the educators themselves is a small percentage of the overall cost of a traditional education.

There are many articles and forum discussions on this topic but some startling facts suggest that the actual cost of the educational component of a traditional degree may be less than 10 percent of the actual cost to receive that education! Articles like this Washington Monthly piece underscore some of the problems.

One reason why each student to fork over “thousands” for a traditional campus education is the need to also  pay for a much more traditional bloated administration structure (security, finance/loans, affiliations and liaison practice, property and equipment costs, administration, HR, campus liability insurance, legal, sports affiliation costs and so on) throw in some college branding/marketing, exclusivity, and any other well funded and highly self-protective institutional structures that surrounds them. While grants and alumni support helps reduce it, the net cost to educate each student soars. Even some alumni, given they have a “sunk-costs” mentality are somewhat unwittingly drawn into the fray to ensure costs are high to perpetuate the ongoing “exclusivity” and the sense of overinflated value of their education.

Traditional education in the US and much of the rest of the world is over-priced, over-hyped and fundamentally broken. If MOOCs start to become recognized as valid education they will be considered a threat to the non-value added and parasitic segments that surround our educational establishments. Unfortunately, the litigious segments of those establishments are well funded, highly motivated and undoubtedly sharpening the knives should MOOCs emerge as valid qualifying components to an overall education.

[SCAM baiting Central] Windows Service Center calling October 15, 2014

Posted by wastedspacer in IT Security, Rants, Spam, SPIM and other annoyances, Technologies.
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The phone rang early this morning, a call reportedly from AIG-Corp (212) 458 7243. A man calling himself Dan with what sounded like a heavy Indian or Pakistani accent allegedly working for the Windows Service Center. Having received a number of these calls before my first thought was to simply hang up. Instead, since I still had my coffee to finish off, I started asking the questions starting with where they were calling from – it sounded like “Dulls Testes” – I said you mean “Dallas Texas”? He was calling to inform me that my Windows computer “was causing virus”. I knew what would be coming next so I ask for another telephone number in case we get “cut off” (214) 272 0277. About this time I hear the phone being snatched away then someone with a lot better English tried to explain about how my Windows system was reportedly attacking the internet and if I would allow them to connect to my PC they could remotely fix the problem (yeah right).

They want me to install a program called AMMYY (which is actually a free remote-control software for WIndows). I ask why Microsoft would want me to load a non-Microsoft program? I then ask for the IP address my machine is supposedly using, he doesn’t have that available and by now the caller is clearly getting irritated. I realize that since I was in fact using a Mac at that time I could follow along and this is not going to work, but feigning some denseness, I haven’t told him that yet. Eventually when I reveal I am using a Mac, the gig is up and he starts hurling numerous expletives, after I suggest he seek another profession or source of income and I hang up. After a little more research baiting the Windows Service Center scam folks is become something of a popular “sport” captured and reported such as this example on Youtube (you will notice dozens of similar recordings).

The Dallas number (214) 272 0277 is surprisingly listed under the Dallas BBB, I suspect it is may be an auto-populated reference. Though it does seem to have an actual postal address of 12800 Abrams Rd, Dallas, TX 75243-2104 (looks like a field on Google Street View)!

Microsoft has clearly stated they do not engage in calling customers with this type of “service” they even have a community notice regarding AMMYY:

As for the phone numbers – if you see these numbers below on your caller ID Beware! Searching them both on Google or Bing reveals numerous scam complaints going back over 4 years. The AIG-Corp CID is clearly (and illegally) spoofed!

(212) 458 7243 – AIG Corp

(214) 272 0277

Now here’s a thought, I get a lot of notifications from places like Nigeria offering me opportunities to make millions of dollars if I provide a name, address and phone number. Perhaps the Windows Service Center would like me to refer them to those opportunities *evil grin*

Scotland: You say you want a devolution? September 17, 2014

Posted by wastedspacer in Political Issues.
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Just say NO to devolution – my two groats:

There don’t seem to be many ex-pat Scots I have talked to who actually wants to see Scotland leave the union. Alas, even though we were born there we don’t get to vote NO. I certainly consider myself as a Scot first which happens to be part of the stronger union with Britain. I have lived in England and later the US for many years so my perspective is more as an outsider trying to make sense of the implications.

Assuming the vote is YES, for me my first question is where do I get my passport renewed? Is there going to be a Scottish embassy or consulate in every location there is currently a British one? Do I get an EU passport or will I need to show it at every border crossing? Will I have to change my money at the border to a new currency? What happens to my NHS identity number? Will I need an SHS version?

I certainly understand the drive for a perceived “freedom” but what are us Scots actually saying YES to? The shackles of today’s Scotland are not about slavery, religion, oppressors and usurpers? For many who vote YES perhaps independence is more a euphoric state of mind, purely symbolic rather than the reality. Whilst that all sounds grand, the reality is the potentially massive cost of disruption to the Scots when living this new reality.

Is it really about the control of the money? Financial services is another major income generator but the Bank of Scotland seems set to move to London if there is a YES vote to leave.

If the YES vote happens, I dread the “what have we done” moment when reality sets in, trust and the sense of unity has been lost with the rest of Britain and changes that cannot be undone hit the pockets of those who are now wondering what has actually changed.

The defence services are gone, armies of Scottish Civil servants appear as new national services are duplicated. All this infrastructure needs to be built and paid for. this in turn requires the Scots pass these onerous burdens on in the way of taxes. Surely we have Oil to pay for all of this? Perhaps not as much as we thought?

One primary driver for devolution seems to be about Scotland’s resources such as OIL which seems to have no long-term future with the decline in the North Sea: as outlined in this recent Washington Post article http://wapo.st/1r1onuc .

I can’t help feeling a bit like the concerned parent who despite their guidance and warning sees their child about to make a tragic mistake. On the one hand, we feel that is is better for our child to learn by the school of hard-knocks. However, if the consequences of their action could be deadly or life-threatening then we have to step in….

…. in the case of Scotland seceding from the union, the outcome is somewhere between these concerned states. On that basis I would strongly urge a NO vote. If I was living in Scotland now, I would be right there frantically waving my NO flag.

Final thoughts – whether you vote YES or NO, why not put down a sizable bet on the opposite of whoever you voted for. Then regardless of the outcome you will have something to smile about 🙂


When does Preserve mean anything but preservation? September 12, 2014

Posted by wastedspacer in Political Issues, Rants.
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San Ramon Housing Insanity

So when does Preserve mean anything but preservation?

When it is used to hide the true intent of a high-density housing project. Check out the latest citizens outraged but council approved nonsense:

Faria Preserve:

After the fiasco of the veritable ocean of million-dollar homes that comprise the Dougherty Valley, the sneakily titled “Faria Preserve” is just another black-eye to the predominantly developer/real-estate enabled San Ramon Council. Not that the current council is squarely to blame, just that the 5 year old agreement/can was kicked down the road by the previous incumbents for the current folks to have to deal with. Reading between the lines, San Ramon is under an “obligation” to provide a certain percentage of affordable housing (or the state will penalize San Ramon). Vastly increased drought induced water consumption issues aside, this begs the question as to why that was not planned during the Dougherty Valley planning – oh yes, let’s not sully the high property values with the less desirable “affordable housing” blight and an even worse Bollinger Canyon Road nightly backup!!! But here we are in 2014 with a council forced to vote AYE to this fiasco.

The “Preserve” is nothing of the sort, normally that label suggests, peace and quiet, tranquility and a riparian setting. Nope, it is HIGH DENSITY HOUSING and all of its accompanying traffic, access and other problems. Expect massive delays at the Bollinger/Crow Canyon intersections. We the people of San Ramon seem unable to stop this obvious train-wreck of a project it seems that contractually and state mandate governed we are locked into a commitment to see this tragedy through to its ugly conclusion.

The council made these plans and agreements during the time when the San Ramon growth situation was vastly different than it is today (See this Bloomberg study:http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/… . The Bloomberg article identifies the “demand” for housing fueled by AT&T (moved to Texas), Chevron (moving many organizations to Texas), Zynga (rapidly declining revenues and massive layoffs), Robert Half (declining fortunes and recently voted the 7th worst company to work for by Fox Business). Thus there are strong arguments that the rationale behind pushing forward with the Faria Preserve no longer exists.

So why is the Council being so boneheaded on pulling the plug? Is there something else they are not telling us?

Riding along the thin blue line June 10, 2014

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I had a great opportunity and privilege to accompany a police officer on a 3 hr ride-along with the local patrol last Friday afternoon which gave me a great perspective on the work our local law-enforcement folks do day to day.

This picture is not the Crown Victoria we were riding in but one of the new zippier police cruisers.


In just the space of 3 hours, we packed a lot of activity in. The most surprising was when on the way to an event from a dispatcher call. We narrowly avoided being hit by another car entering a roundabout without giving way to those already on the roundabout (yes we have those in California, but the officer gave the driver who already recently had been issued another ticket a break). Another exciting moment was en route to check on a reported flash-mob pool invasion at the local high school which coincided with a medical emergency. We ended up chasing a fire-truck and paramedic at fairly high-speed with the siren blaring  🙂  As it turned out the medical emergency was well managed by the fire department and the only damage in the flash-mob incident were a couple of hundred soggy teenagers and a broken padlock.

We performed numerous license-plate look-ups based on observations such as odd driving or parts hanging off the car. ticketing a totally negligent “I didn’t see it” stop-sign driver in a school-zone complete with a bright yellow bus collecting kids.  We cruised around a local neighborhood park partially as a deterrent to the local youths who tend to lurk in the undergrowth and smoke pot (potentially setting fire to the brush).

We investigated a burglary report, responded to BOLOs and got to use the siren many times to help expedite safe transit to each scene. I was thoroughly impressed with the degree of vigilance, professionalism and all-round caring nature of the officer who was  kind enough to have me tag along.

If you have an opportunity to do this in your own community it is a great experience and one that I highly recommend to give you a perspective of the challenges and great work that our folks in uniform do for us.

Adult neurogenesis – Article on developing individuality and more neurons via exploration August 7, 2013

Posted by wastedspacer in Technologies.
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Fascinating study on the “value” of exploration when it comes to growing new brain cells!

Increased risk acceptance => more exploration => more neurons => more innovation => $Value$ ?


Animals that explored the environment to a greater degree also grew more new neurons than animals that were more passive.

….. gotta keep the environment rich with plenty of opportunities out there and encouragement for our folks to go exploring 🙂

When viewed from educational and psychological perspectives, the results of our experiment suggest that an enriched environment fosters the development of individuality

 this actually flies in the face of a typical enterprise drive towards extreme compliance, common working platforms, enterprise acceptable templates and a limited set of identical tools while trying to move everyone into a “standard” working environment …. hmm are we actually killing brain cells with this strategy?

Just some thoughts to mull over as we plunge ever onward towards our enterprise perfectionist vision of location unity,  corporate sameness and homogeneity!


Parents and online game Intervention January 7, 2013

Posted by wastedspacer in Games I'm Playing, The Fun Stuff.
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The perceived addictive potential for online games has prompted at least one parent to take extreme steps in an attempt to deter their son from playing excessively. Given their son is unemployed I wonder if a move to destroy enjoyment of  the one remaining “occupation” is the right approach? One can only assume that the father is otherwise supporting the son so I can certainly understand the parent’s distress. Maybe rather than hiring in-game assassin’s there’s a opportunity for online counselors who can use some local interaction to get overly afflicted players to exit the game and back to reality? I suspect that would depend on whether the online game supports sophisticated peer discussion. Other tools such as total playing time monitors and ergonomic monitoring utilities may be of use but it all boils down to the player themselves desiring a change away from excessive time in game.

Sans-Helmet? The healthier bicycle option! November 9, 2012

Posted by wastedspacer in Everything Else, Global Industry, The Fun Stuff.
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Look ma -no helmets!

I’m certainly an advocate for bicycle safety and I almost never ride without a helmet but I can see how tourists and business travelers who might consider renting one simply don’t want to pack a bulky “skid lid”.

Here’s an interesting article in the NY Times claiming significant overall public health advantages associated with public bicycle schemes supporting “helmetlessness“!


There are a number of public bike schemes (Australia, New Zealand, Mexico) that have had notably poor bike-rental ridership or even completely failed mostly due to each country’s bicycle helmet mandates. This trend is however seeing some reversals such as where Mexico City repealed it’s helmet law following sizable public opposition.


If you are in London and it’s not raining, try the “Boris Bikes” they cost two pounds a day or 10 pounds a week.

…. next time I get to Paris – will be sure to give Vélib’ a go it’s quite a bit cheaper – 7 days of occasional bike use for 8 Euros 🙂