Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Moving to Posterous

Blogger is old and busted. Posterous is the new hotness. You can find me here from now on:

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

DC Transit Fail

Public transit is pretty nice in DC. You have trains and busses all over town, and they run pretty frequently. By all accounts, it's a world-class city with a word-class transit system. Except that the people in charge of it are really, really stupid when it comes to technology.

That's a bold claim, but I'm prepared to back it up:

1. Google Maps knows nothing about Metro trains, and is generally confused about bus routes too. WMATA publishes the data that Google needs--in the format Google needs it in--to make Google Maps Metro-aware (you can find it here under "GTFS Download"). But they've published it under a draconian license that reserves the right to charge for it or remove it in the future. So, as you might imagine, that's not cool w/ Google. Way to do all the work and then drown at the shore, guys. More background on this here.

2. For a long time, WMATA didn't even provide this bullet-pre-installed-in-foot non-solution. Originally they refused to play along at all, saying:

Metro staff did explore some possibilities with Google, but ultimately we decided that forming a partnership with Google was not in our best interest from a business perspective. We do believe that Metro's newly redesigned Web site, at, improves customers' access to information about the Metro system. In addition, customers may get real-time information and bus and rail schedules directly on their cell phones or PDAs.

Oh right, you mean the website whose trip planner determined that a co-worker of mine should use the following Metro rail route between Union Station and Shady Grove (two stops on the red line--the same freaking line):

Notice that round trip in the middle where they have you take the blue line from Metro Center to McPherson Square, then take the orange line back to Metro Center once you get there? Not all red line trains go to Shady Grove, but they should know that and their tool should be able to handle that extremely common situation. And apparently this sort of thing happens pretty often with the WMATA Trip Roulette Machine.

3. Notice how it also doesn't show you a map of your trip (like this other tool called GOOGLE MAPS does). They just want you to trust them that it's all correct. Inspiring a lot of confidence there, guys.

4. Google will always be better at this than you are, Metro tech team. I'm sorry, but it's true. You can't and shouldn't try to compete with their resources, experience, and technology. Feel free to continue banging out your trip planner tool, but please, for the love of Jeebus, let Google use your freaking transit data so those of us who prefer useful tools can get on with our lives. Please?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Thomas Merton is Wrong

Ran across this quote today:

"Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself."

Apparently it comes from Thomas Merton in "Letter to a Young Activist."

Sigh... Fail.

I understand that things have not been easy for those of us on the
left lately. And this quote offers a tempting salve for those feelings
of frustration. But...

Not focusing on results is a bit of a pet peeve of mine in the
progressive world. It is, in my humble opinion, how we can have
multiple, well-funded non-profits for every single issue we care
about, and yet not make much progress on them. It is how we can
control two branches of national government, and yet be unable to pass
healthcare legislation, close Guantanamo, and reign in the abuses of
large corporate-persons.

Focusing on results is exactly what activists, young and old, should
constantly be doing. The real trick is understanding how to "fail
forward" (to borrow Clay Shirky's term).

Yes, you will fail. A lot. Over and over. But if you build your power
/ movement / organization during each campaign, then you will begin
again in a better position to win than you were in the last time. And
begin again you must. This is politics, and it can be used for good
or evil. We need more progressives focused on using it to achieve good
results. Otherwise, the "work itself" has no "rightness" or "truth." It's

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Idea: CopyCarrot

I've had an idea stewing in my mind gravy for a while now that I think could be a pretty cool solution to the whole music industry fail whale thing.

I call it CopyCarrot. As in, the industry has tried the stick, now they should try the carrot. The basic idea is that you embed info in every bit of digital music (MP3 files, CDs, etc.) that contains a standardized link to the artist's PayPal account, or whatever they prefer--it shouldn't be tied to any specific payment gateway, and allows you the music fan to pay them whatever you wish for that song or album or whatever. There's no obligation, there's no digital rights management (read: restriction), just a link that allows peoples' music players to tell them, "Hey, [artist] made this. Care to throw a little money their way? (Yes / No / Stop Asking)."

It would then be tied into your iTunes / Amazon / PayPal / whatever account so that kicking the artist a buck or two would be extremely fast and easy. Obviously consumers would be able to choose if they wanted that tied together or not, it would be up to them and the software / music player they were using.

Of course many people wouldn't pay, and some people would even strip that info out of the songs they passed around the 'Net just like they do with any sort of DRM that the industry tries to add now. But I bet 2 really important things would happen:

1. Enough people would pay enough money for the music they loved that it would make life noticeably easier for artists, and it would do it with no middle man. And really, making it just a little easier for the artists would go a long way.
2. Most people would leave the info in there because it wouldn't restrict their ability to listen to the songs, and it wouldn't even nag them if they told their music player to stop pestering them about paying for their music. In general, people think artists should be compensated, and they respect systems that leave them in control of that decision. It's only when the recording industry middlemen try to impose a bunch of restrictions on how, when, and where they listen to music they have paid for that consumers try to circumvent those restrictions. CopyCarrot imposes no restrictions; it only adds information.

Software that reads this info could be configured to ask people to pay every time they start playing something new, or every X months, or every time they play a song Y+ times, or never. It could also show them what they've paid for, and what they haven't, and nifty graphs showing how much they've paid which artists, per track, per album, etc. Or how much their entire collection is worth vs. how much they've paid. But the point is, it doesn't treat fans as criminals. It recognizes that sharing music is not only a social good (it's not stealing when no one has lost anything, and great art should be shared), but also that spreading the art around helps the artist when it contains a handy link to pay them for their amazing work.

And then obviously you could start doing the same thing with movies, books, images, software, and any other kind of digital media. Artists could also offer promos to encourage people. Like, "Pay me $25 or more for my album today, and I'll get you into my next show in your town for free!" They could also embed other info like their Twitter account or their page and then music players could link you straight to those things. It would be a direct artist-to-fan-to-artist circle of love that made everyone happy and gave fans great music and artists money in their pocket to eat food so they can make more great music. Awesome.

And then lastly, and this would be the coolest part of all, it would setup a dynamic where it was in the artists' best interests to encourage their fans to send their music far and wide, to as many people as possible, via whatever systems they prefer. The more people get those MP3's, the bigger the pie from which X% of them will pay the artist an average of $Y per track.

I think this would be pretty great. One of those things I'd like to leave my day job for awhile to go work on. But what say you, dear readers of my bloggity blog?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I <3 TDO ZOMG, how much do I love this blog? Can we hang out sometime? There will be booze...

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Constitution doesn't say we get healthcare

"Citizens of the U.S. do not have a constitutionally guaranteed right to healthcare," I've heard many a conservative bleat. It is as though the Constitution is meant to be a document that outlines the few rights we are to be grudgingly guaranteed forever. That way we won't think we're entitled to all sorts of rights from the government. "These but no others!" they imagine it saying.

I do not believe this is intent of our founding document. The fact that it was made to be amended when necessary and that the first 10 amendments to the document are guarantees of rights pokes a big hole in that interpretation. It is also a very old precedent in our country that the Constitution does not create rights. It only enshrines those we are already endowed with into the rule of law. They are "inalienable rights." That then begs the question, where do these rights come from and what is the government's role in protecting them?

Government's role is to ensure that certain things exist in a society that are deemed too important and universally needed, and the pros of having options to choose from are far outweighed by the cons of not guaranteeing the existence of the thing in question. Certain rights fall into this category, obviously. So do, arguably, education, defense, and certain types of infrastructure. Religion has also made the list in many cultures, and you can understand why from one (archaic, crazy) perspective. But in ours, it did not because it did not pass the final test in the framers' minds (among other tests in some of their minds).

All but the most anarchic libertarians would argue that defense, roads, street signs, street lights, police, firemen, etc. are good to have provided by a government. Imagine if we each had to buy into a separate military, police force, or road company and they all competed with each other. It would be a mess.

So where does healthcare fall into this equation in 21st century America? It's certainly very important, perhaps 3rd in a list right after food and shelter. It's absolutely universally needed. In fact, we already pay for universal healthcare for illegal immigrants, poor people, and everyone else. We just pay extra for them to land in the emergency room because that's the first type of healthcare available to them.

The last point is where you could make a case against some types of universal healthcare. The British system, for example, being fully socialized (i.e. the public owns all the buildings and pays the doctors and nurses), does limit UK citizens choices a bit. I would still take it any day over the American excuse for a system. It's like forcing people to eat at a free buffet that's always there rather than "letting them choose" from several different restaurants they could never afford to eat at. Not a difficult choice when you're left high and dry by the latter option.

However, the two systems being debated as reform options here in the US (and the system in Germany and many other countries) do not do this. Single-payer and the "public option" still leave private healthcare providers intact. The latter option even leaves the existing insurance system intact, it just allows the government to compete with it (I think this is a far inferior option to single-payer, though). Choice is increased, but more people are brought into a more cost-effective and more socially just healthcare system. Win-win-win.

I think you could make a very strong case that the framers of the Constitution, were they writing the document in 2009, may very well have included a right to healthcare. And if we the people actually ran our representative government like we're supposed to (rather than letting corporate special interests do the dirty work against our own best interests), then such an amendment to the Constitution would quite likely be on the table or already long-ratified.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Wow, long time no blog. Not. OK.

I'm hanging out at Kilgore Books and Comics today. It's a great place if you like to read things and happen to find yourself in downtown Denver. Also the banter between owners Luke J. and Dan S. is priceless. You'll be humming the odd couple theme all the way home.

I found a new Denver blog that so far I totally <3. It's called The Denver Omelette (you see what they did there?) and you can find it here: I mean, the top post right now is titled, "DO NOT Jack in my Box." Yes.

Something I've been thinking about a lot lately: What's the best way to be an informed citizen of our great democracy? Is it to absorb news from any and all sources coming from any and all points on the political spectrum? Or is it to focus on the objective sources (do these even exist)? Most people would say you shouldn't just pay attention to things that you agree with. It's immature, prevents you from accurately weighing all sides of a debate, yadda yadda yadda.

I call bullshit. If some right-wing pundit tells me that the sky is orange because the Flying Spaghetti Monster he worships says it is in the Scroll of Pasta, I don't feel super compelled to listen to that argument or give it any weight in my consideration of the contentious and profound issue of what color the sky is. Add to that the fact that the mainstream media will then spend hours debating whether or not the sky is orange in an attempt to appear balanced on the issue, and I don't really feel like I need to pay attention to them either. Then someone like Rachel Maddow will have a scientist on her show to explain why the sky is blue. Is it just me, or is real news only on the left these days? It's like Stephen Colbert said, "Reality has a well-known liberal bias." Don't get me wrong, there are annoying shouty people on the left too (Olberman and O'Reilly are twin demon man-babies sent here by Papa Satan to make sure we have enough assholes to go around). But if you want intelligent discussion by experts on issues that actually matter, nothing comes closer right now than the Rachel Maddows, Amy Goodmans, and Jon Stewarts of the world. Oh shit that last one hosts a fake news program. That says more about how shitty most of the "real media" is than anything else.

Anyway, your thoughts, dear readers?