Cynical Synapse

Wed, 14 Dec 2011

Detroit’s Woodward Light Rail Torpedoed

Detroit light rail sinks
Image by Jerry Paffendorf. HT: Detroit Curbed

Big news in the Motor City today is the “sudden” cancellation of the Woodward Light Rail project slated to begin construction within the next year. The line would run up Woodward Avenue from downtown Detroit to the city limits at 8 Mile Road. The US Department of Transportation had already awarded federal funds toward the program, with more promised. Awards included $2 million for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) to study expanding the line into the northern suburbs. The project, including its extension, seemed to have local, regional, state, and federal backing&ellipses;until now.

Known as M-1 Rail, for Woodward’s designation as Michigan state highway 1 (M-1), several years of planning and discussions, including such hurdles as environmental impact studies, are already done. Perhaps more significantly, the transit line represented a new era of regionalism and cooperation between city and suburbs. Add to that the $100 million in private seed money to jump start M-1 and you can sense the larger importance of Woodward light rail. Even now, the M-1 Rail consortium wants to build the 3.4 mile phase I line in Detroit. Full disclosure: I’m a rail and transit enthusiast. When entrepreneurs and private foundations still want to invest their money, civic leaders should pause and take notice.

bus rapid transit

Initially I had Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood cast as the bad guy. He met with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing (D) and Gov. Rick Snyder (R) last week, so I presume this announcement has been festering since then. Even Detroit City Council had no clue, interviewing project managers just this week. It becomes apparent, however, Mayor Bing made the decision; perhaps under duress from Gov. Snyder who is not a rail proponent. In place of the Woodward light rail line is a proposal for several bus rapid transit lines. According to Bing, this is the right decision for Detroit and the region. Except no one asked the transit folks at SEMCOG, or Detroit City Council, or Detroit’s congressional delegation, any of which seem none too happy with this turn of events.

Mayor Bing contends the same money will buy bus rapid transit from downtown Detroit out Woodward and Gratiot into Oakland and Macomb Townships, a line between those suburban endpoints, and another connecting downtown Detroit with Metro Airport. There’s no question such a plan would serve more than Woodward light rail alone. As M-1 Rail points out, however, there’s been no work on funding, no environmental impact studies, or any other preparatory work. Bus rapid transit is, thus, at least a couple of years down the road—pun intended—before the first shovel-ful of dirt is turned. Never mind Detroit already has two dysfunctional bus systems. The “plan” is to overlay bus rapid transit so it complements the current Detroit Department of Transportation (D-DOT) and Suburban Mobility Authority for Rapid Transt (SMART) bus systems. Just what we need, a third metro Detroit bus system.

Besides my predictable chagrin at yet another nail in the coffin of Detroit rail transit, the region is left as the only major metropolitan area without an integrated transit system and, particularly, no light or commuter rail or subway systems. Taking a more pragmatic view, however, loss of the Woodward light rail line equates to a loss of an estimated $3 billion in development along the light rail route. Bus systems do not bring the same degree of transit-oriented development as rail. Did I point out the entrepreneurs behind M-1 Rail still want to proceed with at least phase I construction?

Previously on metro Detroit transit:


Mon, 17 Oct 2011

A Tale of Two Dysfunctional Systems

Filed under: Budget, Customer service, Detroit, Economy, Governor, Michigan, Politics, Stimulus, Transit — cynicalsynapse @ 8:17 pm

city and suburban buses in downtown Detroit

Detroit and its suburbs enjoy bus service from not one, but two dysfunctional systems. Detroit Department of Transportation (DDOT) buses primarily serve the city while Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) buses serve the suburbs, including forays into downtown Detroit. It’s not at all uncommon to see buses from one, the other, or both, chasing each other—even leap-frogging as one stops while another goes to the next stop. As many as half of DDOT’s buses are in the shop waiting to be fixed. Even former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick knew way back in 2004 that DDOT was a broken system. As for SMART, individual suburbs can opt out, so the system has traverse these unserved areas to connect those that are served. Declining property values left SMART underfunded by its millage, so the system plans to lay off 123 and cut or eliminate service on 36 routes.

Nine years ago, Southeast Michigan was on the cusp of a solution called the Detroit Area Regional Transportation Authority (DARTA). After years of negotiating and political maneuvering, the Michigan House and Senate had passed the necessary legislation. Then, in a moment of extreme self-importance and political spitefulness, the Jaba-the-Hut-esque John Engler (R) vetoed the bill mere nanoseconds before his rotundness rolled out of office as his term as governor expired. Thanks, John. The region has been paying the price ever since.

Peter Rogoff, Mayor Dave Bing, Sec. Ray LaHood, Gov. Rick Snyder

Ray LaHood, US Secretary of Transportation, was in metro Detroit today to meet with Detroit Mayor Dave Bing (D) and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) regarding transit in Southeast Michigan. During a press conference with Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff, LaHood announced $928.5 million in grants to over 300 projects nationwide. For once, Michigan faired well, snagging about 5% of the grant money. Ann Arbor will get $3.8 million, DDOT $6.8 million, and SMART almost $5 million of Michigan’s $46.7 million share to fund 16 projects.

The elephant in the room is still getting city and suburbs to put their differences aside and craft a true, workable transit solution for Southeast Michigan. Imagine how much farther along we would be if Engler hadn’t been such a jackass.

Well! The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Previously on Southeast Michigan transit:

Sun, 18 Sep 2011

Constitution Day—Our Way of Life is At Risk

Filed under: Citizen rights, Civil liberties, Congress, Customer service, Government, Legal, Life, People, Politics, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 10:02 am

US Constitution

Yesterday, 17 September, marked the 224th anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution. Of late, it seems our Constitution is under attack and the federal government wants to expand its reach beyond Constitutional authority.

As a case in point, from my perspective, the government has no authority to require me to buy health insurance. Or anything else, for that matter. Requiring the purchase of health insurance does not fall under the interstate commerce clause of the Constitution. The Constitution is as the center of the political debate:

The struggle over the holiday is yet another proxy in the fight over the proper role of government. On one side are those who embrace an “originalist” view of the Constitution, where New Deal judicial activism started the country down the path to ruin. On the other are those who say that its language — allowing Congress to levy taxes to provide “for the general welfare,” to regulate commerce, and to do what is “necessary and proper” to carry out its role—affirms the broad role of the federal government that has developed over the last 100 years.

TSA montage

The fear induced by the attacks of 9/11 led to the USA PATRIOT act and subsequent losses or restrictions of civil liberties and freedoms. The most apparent aggregiousness is with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and their seemingly arbitrary and inefective rules for airport checkpoint screening.

Not satisfied with just cowing ordinary citizens, the today’s government seeks to silence internal dissenters and whistleblowers. The federal hegemonic conspiracy is no longer a Republican or Democratic construct. Rather, it is the result of the government seeking to ensure its own continued survival despite its citizens.

Previously on the Constitution and rights erosion:

Sun, 14 Nov 2010

Fight the Invasion of the Body Scanners

Millimeter wave full body scanner

Ever increasing numbers of airports have full-body scanners, euphemistically called Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) in use by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). While manufacturers tout their safety and eficacy, there is little empirical data regarding either. There are two types of scanners. Millimeter wave technology bounces electromagnetic waves—which TSA terms as harmless—off the body to create the passenger’s image. Backscatter technology bombards passengers with low level X-ray over the body to generate a reflection displayed on the monitor.

Electromagnetic radiation is the same radiation as in the somewhat controversial health concerns with cell phones. X-rays are ionizing radiation and there is no doubt they present a health risk. What’s under scrutiny is how much health risk does body scan radiation present. Increased dosage will represent an increased risk. On that basis, frequent fliers are more likely to suffer health impairment as a result of full body scanning. And, for pilots, it becomes an occupational hazard. But, ironically, those most at risk are the TSA agents who work around them all day.

Image from advanced imaging technology

For most people, the issue with the full body scanners is a privacy issue. TSA says they are secure and no images will be stored. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader and the watchdog group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) disagree. EPIC says the machines are hackable, can have external storage devices attached, and agents could easily take cell phone pictures. Citing privacy concerns, EPIC filed a lawsuit requesting suspension of full body scanning with the US Court of Appeals in Washington DC.

Unions for two airlines advised pilots no opt out of scanning citing privacy reasons for their members. Pilots at US Airways and American Airlines, numbering about 14,000, were told to go the route of the “enhanced pat down” instead. Those who decline the scanners are subject to thorough pat down searches.

TSA patting down child and woman

There is growing pushback to TSA’s intrusive screening measures. Last month, ExpressJet First Officer Michael Richards refused both the scanner and pat down. As a pilot, Richards has already had a through background check and he’s low risk at wanting to blow up his own plane. His fundamental concern, for which he intends to file a lawsuit, is violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure.

Yesterday, passenger John Tyner opted out of scanning. Tyner says he checked the TSA website before going to the airport to see if San Diego was listed as using the scanners. Even today, San Diego Airport is not listed on TSA’s site as using AIT. Tyner recorded the encounter with his cell phone. Many think TSA is heavy-handed and here’s what the TSA agent said at the metal detector:

Anything else in your pockets, paper, everything needs to come out…paper needs to come out, otherwise I’ll pat you down.

TSA pat down

After the TSA agent explained the “standard pat down”, Tyner inquired if they were going to pat down his groin. The answer was an indirect affirmative, to which Tyner responded, “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.” While waiting for various levels of supervision to sort this out, the TSA agent said, “By buying a ticket you gave up a lot of your rights.” I don’t think there’s anything about buying an airline ticket that suspends provisions of the US Constitution, including it’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.

An interesting side note is the similarities between Mr. Richards’ and Mr. Tyner’s cases, which took part at two different airports. They were both courteous and non-confrontational. Yet, in both cases, resolving their declination to abdicate their rights would be considered an unlawful detention. And, in both cases, as they were about to leave the airport terminal, they were subjected to yet another unlawful detention.

Some commenters have questioned Mr. Tyner’s motiviation for declining both virtual strip search and sexual molestation by TSA. His eloquent reply:

Every attempt to blow up a plane since 9/11 has been stopped by passengers after the government failed to provide protection for them. Every incident, however, has been met by throwing more money and less sensibility at the problem.

Bill of Rights

And each new effort to address the threat results in a further erosion of citizens’ rights. TSA maintains their right to full body scans or “enhanced” pat downs is lawful. The Fourth Amendment was intended to protect us from overreaching government intrusion.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Stand up for your rights. Send a clear message to the US Government and TSA. Join the National Opt-Out Day, 24 November 2010. Either way, you should probably plan to arrive at the airport several hours before your flight that day.

Previously on security theater:


20 Nov 2010

I have to retract my implication the use of full-body scanners and/or “enhanced” pat downs at airports represent a violation of the Fourth Ammendment. While I believe those procedures are invasive and their efficacy and health effects unknown, they are easily avoided by not flying. Travelers can choose any of a wide variety of alternate modes of travel.

That said, I still believe these procedures represent a further totalitarianization of the so-called Land of the Free. And while alternate methods of travel are available, the cost- and time-effectiveness of air travel make it the only practical choice in many circumstances.

A recent CBS News poll found 80% support full-body scanning. They may change their mind when it becomes their turn, but for now, the will of the people is clear.

Mon, 01 Nov 2010

Silverliner Vs Begin Service in Philly

Filed under: Customer service, Economy, Life, Railroads, Transit — cynicalsynapse @ 6:49 am

Silverliner V pair

Philadelphia’s regional rail transit service put new Silverliner V cars into revenue service on Friday, 29 October. The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority—SEPTA—operates the commuter rail, trolley, and bus system in Philadelphia and surrounding counties.

SEPTA ordered 120 of the railcars manufactured by Hyundai Rotem Company in South Korea. There are several Philly area suppliers and the cars are assembled in the US.

Silverliner V interior

Inside, the cars are bright and feature added space for bicycles and wheelchairs. The public address system is clear and LCD panels in the car can display real-time location, next stop, and station information. The Silverliner Vs seat 110 passengers compared to about 122 for the Silverliner IIs and IIIs they will replace.

The Silverliner Vs are the first new regional rail multiple-unit trainsets for SEPTA in 35 years. Attending Villanova University in 1974-75, I can still remember my first ride on a Silverliner IV. At that time, we even thought the Silverliner IIs and IIIs, both 1960s era cars, were great compared to the MP54 cars built between 1915 and 1939.

Previously on SEPTA:

Tue, 09 Feb 2010

Epic Fail: Airport Security Theater

Security screening at Detroit Metro

Airport security screening procedures just don’t make the grade. We take our shoes off because there was one shoe bomber. We have the Transportation Security Administration because airline contract security wasn’t doing a good enough job. We have limits on fluids we can take through security, but that didn’t stop the undie-bomber last December 25th.

These measures are all what I call feel-good security. Others use the term security theater. They’re essentially ineffective, but it looks like the authorities are doing something. Like when I took my kids to see the Liberty Bell in April 2002. The plaza was surrounded by the type of barricades you see around fair rides and the rule followers—us ordinary citizens—had to go into a trailer and pass through metal detectors. What’s the fricking point of that? Any terrorist could just drive his truck bomb right into the Liberty Bell building, but the rest of us had to suffer “security” procedures. I’ll tell you, a phenominal amount of money has been wasted on pointless security procedures and terrorism defense, but that’s for another post.

Brake, accelerator pedals

So, Monday, February 8th, Kaylan Policherla walked right past security into the concourse. Was the Metro Airport cop who sits by the security checkpoint asleep or something? What about the dozens—dozens—of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officers at the checkpoint? The process is to queue up, get your boarding pass and identification checked, then go through the metal detectors. He had no boarding pass, so how could this 27-year-old Indian native (who became a US citizen in 2005) get past all this, including the airport cop? At what point should security, including airport police, react? This buffoon should have never made it past the security checkpoint.

Instead, TSA hit the breach alarm, which closed gates to secure the concourse from the terminal area beyond the checkpoint. Previously screened people in this area were evacuated and had to be re-screened. Some travelers missed their flights. Adding insult to injury, the airline will charge them change fees.

Kaylan Policherla

Not much is known about the man arrested for the breach. His car, bearing Ohio plates, was illegally parked in front of the terminal and he had no boarding pass or luggage.

FBI Special Agent filed a criminal complaint against Policherla in the U.S. District Court in Detroit.</p

“I am aware that Policherla was not responsive to verbal commands given him to him by airport police and that an airport officer discharged his Taser at subject, which had no effect on subject,” Thomas wrote.

So, officials found and searched Policherla’s 2001 Volkswagen Passat, with Ohio plates. They didn’t disclose finding anything.

Policherla was arraigned today in Federal District Court on misdemeanor charges of violating airport security. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy also charged him with resisting arrest, a 2-year misdemeanor. Some seriously doubt Policherla’s innocence, or at least the value of his attempt to breach security.

Detroit’s McNamara terminal was shut down for about 50 minutes. Screening began again after dogs searched the cordoned off area of the terminal. Metro’s incident follows security failures at JFK and Newark airport security breaches. These all beg the question of whether or not aviation security is properly focused. I think not.

Sat, 26 Dec 2009

Air Travel Security Hoops and Loopholes

Anyone who flies these days realizes air travel isn’t any fun anymore. Maybe it’s because I’m older, but I think it’s more because of so-called security and airline policies. The seats are wedged in on the planes, they recycle the air the bare minimum, and you can buy a snack for $5. Did I mention they charge you for taking your luggage along? What’s up with that? So, the airlines are part of the problem, but I guess the convenience—time-saving, mostly—outweighs my complaints as I continue to fly.

My real annoyance is with airport security. Anybody remember when they were doing the random second checks at the gates? Did you notice most of the time they were selecting little old ladies? What about the big guy wearing jeans and a tank top? There are dozens of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) guys at every screening point, most of them standing around. On a recent trip to Orlando, I noticed the trams from the gates to the terminal were manned by TSA guys. What’s that got to do with air travel security? Everyone on the trams just got off a flight or has been through screening. So manpower utlization is not exactly the most efficient.

What really bugs me is having to take my shoes off. Now they’ve added belts and coats. I’d be real interested to know exactly how many would-be terrorists they’ve caught this way. Wouldn’t random secondary screening to check shoes, belts, etc., be more effective and less disruptive? And, while the liquid thing affect me personally, I think it’s idiotic. I’m not a chemist, but I’ll bet there can be a liquid explosive that’s powerful enough in 3 ounces. All this stuff amounts to what I call feel-good security. The rule followers—the 99% of us who just want to go somewhere—have to do dumb things for an impression of security. What about strollers and wheelchairs and such? Who’s checking them? How do the TSA guys know my 3 ounces aren’t some kind of acid?

Don’t misunderstand. I’m all for effective security measures, ones that make sense and have a definite benefit for the burden they entail. Hence, my concern for the latest incident. On a Christmas Day flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab tried to detonate some explosives during the plane’s decent, succeeding only in burning his pants off. The 23-year-old Nigerian, who was subdued by another passenger and subsequently taken into custody, allegedly acted on orders from al-Qaida. Another passenger apparently was burned but the aircraft was not damaged. So, caught unawares, Homeland Security promises additional security measures.

The media jumped right on the similarity with the Shoebomber case. That December 2001 incident involved al-Qaida operative Richard Reid attempting to blow up a flight from Paris. In August 2006, UK officials foiled a liquid explosives plot on flights from Heathrow. And now we have “Shoe Bomber II” on a flight from Amsterdam, which originated in Nigeria. See any similarities here? Yep! Every one of these cases originated outside the US. They’re all foreign flights. That tells me security needs enhancing in Europe and Africa. Is anybody looking there?

Sat, 07 Nov 2009

Why Do They Call Them “Service” Departments?

Filed under: Behavior, Business, Cars, Customer service, Life, Paradoxes, Rants — cynicalsynapse @ 10:02 pm

An automotive service department

My 2005 sport utility turned over 170,000 miles today. Yesterday, it was at the dealer for the third time in a year. Last December, the driver side airbag sensor module needed replacement. In January, the passenger side airbag module went bad. The current problem is no heater fan.

This is my second vehicle from the same manufacturer, both bought new. I truly had no issues with the first vehicle, but have been less satisfied with the second. I attribute that largely to the dealership. For the current vehicle, I received a letter from the sales manager thanking me for choosing them, with a rubber stamp signature! What? When I called him on it, his response was “Do you know how many of these I have to sign every day?” Excuse me? If you can’t sign them personally, don’t send them. After that, I received a personally signed letter. Now you’re just patronizing me.

When the airbag light went on, I took the vehicle to the dealer. The “service advisor” bludgeoned me about preventive maintenance and whether or not I’d done what was in the book. She recommended services on a basis not consistent with the owner’s manual. Then, come to find out, they didn’t have the replacement part for the driver side airbag. So, they ordered the part, which I had to pay for then and there, and then they installed it when I came back the following week. They washed the vehicle after the first service, but not after the second. Do you only get one wash per problem?

No service

A month or so later, the airbag light was on again. As you might suspect, I was not a happy camper. When I scheduled the appointment, I told them to make sure they had the necessary parts on hand. Would you be surprised to learn they didn’t have the part? Well, they didn’t, but they were able to get it in and install it that day. Of course, it was almost closing time when I got my vehicle back.

Yesterday, I went to the dealer because I’ve got no heater fan blowing. That’s a problem in Michigan with winter approaching. Surprise! No heater control head on the shelf, but we can get one by Tuesday. Don’t they have anything on the shelf? Oh, and there’s a recall for driver side airbag module covers, which they’ll fix for free. Do you think maybe that might have been the issue with my first trip to the dealership? The heater control head will be in on Tuesday, so I’ve got to go back to the dealership to get the problem fixed. In fairness, the technician installed a jumper to bypass the short-circuit in the control head, but there’s no guarantee how long that will work.

Once the work was done today, the dealership sent the shuttle to pick me up from my house. That took a good 45 minutes even though it’s only about a 20 minute trip. Once at the dealership, I paid for the service performed and the part that’s on order, and was told the vehicle would be brought up shortly. Ten or 15 minutes later, I went in to ask the service advisor about my vehicle. She was on the phone and ignored me until my car was brought up and I started toward it. Then her response was there must have been a back up at the car wash. When I questioned this, she said policy is to not wash vehicles until the customer is present. Hello! Your shuttle is picking me up. Why not wash the car while I’m on the way so it’s ready when I get there? How come I have to wait an extra 15 minutes? “It’s policy to not wash the car until the customer is here.”

While they apparently had the driver side airbag cover recall part on hand, they’ve not had the part on hand for any of my last 3 visits to the dealership. So I have to buy the part for them to install it later and make another trip to the dealership to get the work finished. And they wonder why I’m not pleased with their “service”?


15 Nov 2009

I had intended to be at the dealership about 10 minutes before the service department opened on Friday. Unfortunately I didn’t set my alarm correctly, so I was about 20 minutes later than expected. They hadn’t been that busy the previous week, so I figured I’d be ok. On arrival, I was 4 cars back from the service advisers. Not a good sign. I steeled myself for a long wait.

Shortly, I got up to the service advisers. My adviser from last week bee-lined to my car, told me she’d take care of things, and offered coffee in the waiting room. She popped into the waiting room at least 3 times to give me an update. And I was out of there, including car wash, in under 45 minutes. Thanks for taking care of me this time!

Sat, 24 Oct 2009

Northwest Pilots Can’t Find Minneapolis Hub

Filed under: Customer service, Flying, Safety, Technology, Travel — Tags: , — cynicalsynapse @ 4:27 pm

They must not have remembered to turn on their GPS. The October 21st Northwest Airlines flight 188 flew right past Minneapolis, one of three Northwest hubs. The pilots didn’t realize their mistake for 45 minutes, traveling 150 miles further, near Eau Claire, Wisconsin. They also failed to answer radio calls for an hour and twenty minutes. The Airbus A320 reached Minneapolis (MSP) without further incident and was met by the FBI and airport police.

According to a National Safety Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) statement, MSP Center air traffic controllers “reportedly stated that the crew had become distracted”. Delta, which owns Northwest, has put the pilots on administrative leave pending their own investigation as well as the NTSB’s. The NTSB statement added:

According to the Federal Administration (FAA) the crew was interviewed by the FBI and airport police. The crew stated they were in a heated discussion over airline policy and they lost situational awareness. The Safety Board is scheduling an interview with the crew.

The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and flight data recorder (FDR) have been secured and are being sent to the NTSB laboratory in Washington, DC.

Northworst 'logo'

Flight 188 was carrying 147 paying passengers and undisclosed crew, but I’d guess 4, maybe 5. Well, the highest paid guys sit in the front seats. With average salaries of $182,000 and $121,000 respectively, the Captain and First Officer have the ultimate responsibility and duty to get their passengers to their destination safely. They are aided in this by a cockpit-ful of technology, which includes auto-pilot, programmed routes, all kinds of gages and screens, radar, weather instruments, and, of course, radios. How is it, then, that even a flight attendant was trying to get them back on course?

“Losing situational awareness” causes accidents. People on their cell phones while driving lose situational awareness. I’ve worked for a half-dozen organizations over 45-plus years. My present organization, the Michigan Army National Guard falls under the domain of hundreds of Army regulations, a whole bunch of National Guard regulations, and dozens of it’s own. I’ve never been involved or seen such a heated discussion as these pilots must have been in to miss radio calls and other indicators from their avionics as to the reality of their situation. If they’re that passionate, they should replace some politicians in Washington.

It’s probably not a good day for either passengers or crew to look out the window and see a couple of armed fighter escorts. That’s what almost happened when these guys failed to answer the radio. As they left Denver Center’s airspace, if they failed to switch to MPS Center’s frequency, that could be part of the problem. But, MPS requested other aircraft to try and reach Flight 188 on the Denver frequency, to no avail. There is fairly widespread suspicion the flightdeck crew were sleeping. Maybe they were just playing video games on their Nintendo DSi or iPhone. Or, how about distracted by books on tape?

Sadly, unless the crew fesses up, we may never know what really happened. It seems Flight 188’s outdated voice recorder only has 30 minutes of memory. I gotta take a ride on NWA next week. And they wonder why flying ain’t fun anymore.


28 Oct 2009

Yesterday the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revoked the pilot licenses for first officer Richard Cole and captain Timothy Cheney. NW 188’s flight deck crew told NTSB investigators they were so engrossed in a new crew scheduling program on their laptops they lost awareness of time and place. I’m glad they won’t be driving my plane.

Wed, 26 Aug 2009

Internet Inventor Behind the Power Curve

Filed under: Business, Congress, Customer service, Economy, Government, Life, Michigan, Technology — cynicalsynapse @ 8:55 pm

According to Yahoo News, the US is 28th in Internet speeds. Excuse me? The US developed the Internet! How can we have fallen so far behind? And that’s not the only bad news. The US rates a mere 16th in access to broadband. The data comes from a Communications Workers of America report.

Countries like South Korea, Japan, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Switzerland have faster Internet connectivity and more broadband access per capita than the US. According to the CWA, South Korea has the fastest connection with download speeds of 20.4 megabits per second (mbps). The US? Only 5.1 mbps, which is up from last year’s paltry 4.2 mbps.

The CWA also has a report on Internet connection speeds by state which has some good news for Michigan, sort of. Michigan connects at 5.3 mbps, above the national average of 5.1 mbps, but it ranks 24th out of 53 states and territories (DC, Puerto Rico, and US Virgin Islands being the territories). Delaware is in first place. Test results show the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions have the fastest Internet connections and even DC, at 10th, outperforms Michigan.

Curious, I used the speakeasy site to test my Internet connections. At work, I got results of 4.97 mbps download and .535 mbps upload. At home, which seems like a faster connection to me, I recorded results of 2.935 mbps download and .956 upload. I can’t complain; that’s consistent with the 3 mbps speed U-Verse advertises. Guess I need to upgrade to 6 mbps for an extra five bucks.

I still have to wonder, though. How could the country that invented the Internet fall so far behind in broadband and connectivity? With so many web-based applications these days, imagine how productivity would jump if the US doubled it’s connectivity? A move to just 14th would surely represent substantial economic benefit, wouldn’t it? Another example of failed government policy and lack of direction in the private sector.

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