Google bicycle directions awesome, need help

First of all, I am insanely happy that Google has added bicycling directions to Google Maps. As someone whose bike is their primary mode on transportation anywhere, this will instantly become a regular part of my life.

Upon trying it out, I tested my work commute. The results were almost exactly spot on, which is impressive considering they have not had any time to fine tune things (which they say they will do if you write suggestions using the “report a problem” button in the bottom-right corner). There is no key, but anyone who has looked at a bike map before will instantly recognize the markings (dark line means dedicated bike path, lighter solid line means bike lane, dotted line means either sharrows or a common bike route).

Another thing that is amazing is that you can overlay the bike map on the terrain map. So now you can zoom in to get more up-close geographic data for that one spot where you are worried you might hit a hill…

Knowing that Jackson just barely misses the hill would have saved me a lot of hill climbing a few months ago.

I did notice one area where the map should be changed (I’m sure things like these will come up a lot, as there are a LOT of little details a computer giant could not know without being on the ground riding). The directions suggest riding down Westlake on my commute to work. While I am fine riding on Westlake, I feel like it can be scary and dangerous for a new rider who is not prepared for the trolley tracks on the road south of Denny Way. I wonder what their strategy will be when it comes to streets that are slightly dangerous, such as this one. Should all streets with trolleys but no bike lanes be taken out of the street suggestions?

In this image, the Google Maps bicycle directions suggest taking Westlake Ave, but, as you can see in the picture, the trolley tracks make this stretch of the street dangerous or scary to ride if you are not expecting them.

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ORCA eats my OWL

Sick of scrounging around for three quarters every time I want to ride the bus (and always interested in trying some newfangled thing), I went online and got a free ORCA card (as of Feb. 2010, they cost $5). At first, it seems like ORCA is going to make taking the bus just a little bit easier. But after a few uses, I realized that ORCA is chock full of hidden costs.

No OWL Changes

This is by far the worst and most expensive change. ORCA keeps track of your transfers, so when you get on a second bus within two hours of paying your fare, it will not charge you a second time. This is nice because you don’t end up with tons of little, nearly identical pieces of paper in all your pockets (well, maybe this is a just a problem for me).

However, ORCA does not give you an OWL. If you are paying cash after 8:30 p.m. or so, you are issued a full transfer ticket that is good for the rest of the night AND even the first bus in the morning (if I am reading the first bullet on the back correctly. I’ve never actually made it to a first bus). But when you pay with an ORCA card, it gives you the standard two-hour transfer period. So, basically, every night you go out, it is twice as expensive to use ORCA instead of cash because your card gets charged twice.

UPDATE: OK, it appears that somewhere around 9:30, your ORCA scan does operate as an OWL transfer. On my test runs, it must have been right before 9:30, so my friends got OWL paper transfers, but I have to pay again. So I guess the issue is more about how computers are cold and exact. It’s good to know that it does work, though, so long as you don’t get on right before the computer clicks over…

From Seattle Transit Blog

To do some quick math, if you go out four evenings a week, that’s an extra $28/month, or $336/year, versus paying cash. That’s a ridiculous amount of money for the convenience of just swiping your fare. It seems like this would be an incredibly easy software fix on ORCA’s part, but I think they would probably rather have my $336 instead.

Pay as you leave

Because of the free ride area in downtown Seattle, buses leaving downtown are typically pay-as-you-leave. Paper transfers state that they are good so long as you BOARD the bus before the time shown. If you pay with ORCA, however, it doesn’t matter when you got on. If you scan your card on the way out just 2:01 after you paid the first time, you get charged again. When it’s rush hour, that’s another $2 every time this happens. So there you sit, in traffic on Aurora, contemplating getting off early just so you don’t get charged again.

I am going to start asking for paper transfers when I pay with ORCA to see if any drivers are OK with it. I will report back in a bit with my results.

Cards cost $5

Starting in Feb, 2010, ORCA cards costs $5. They also cost $5 to replace if they are lost, as Erica at Publicola points out. Why they would charge $5 for a card that will make them more money the more people use it, I cannot understand.

I have also read that ORCA deactivates your card if you don’t use it for 30 days, though I have not yet gone that long to test it. In these cases, people had trouble getting their E-Purse money back, which sounds like a huge headache. I was planning on just keeping a little money on the card for cases where I can’t find change, but even that sounds like it might be trouble.

UPDATE: Oran from the Seattle Transit Blog has clarified the 30 days issue in the comments:

The tap within 30 days rule only applies to people who load their card online or over the phone. Due to the way the system works, which is now explained on the (crappy) ORCA website in the FAQ > ORCA Tips. Once you tap your card, the value is transferred to it and stays there forever. I got and put money (in person) on an ORCA card on the first day it came out. I’ve gone months without using it and my money is still there.

If you load your card in person, either at a ticket machine or service office, you don’t have the 30 day issue. So that’s the best way to get a card for infrequent use.

So, basically, ORCA has been a giant letdown and I am not going to use it regularly anymore. It will be there for when I can’t find change, and that’s it. They need to rewrite these rules and give some kind of financial incentive (or at least equal financial incentive to paying cash) if they want the system to take off.

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Earth 2100 – Believable until the end

Earth 2100 is a depressing and dark vision of the future of human civilization as we know it. Everyone should definitely watch it. I was particularly impressed by the fictional story’s means of addressing capitalist “green” technologies. We see a USA that has engaged in many large-scale sustainable energy concepts. They are magnificent and truly works of wonder.

However, I was pleased that, in the end, they acknowledged that this will really do very little to stop the impending doom of civilization. They (rightly) knew that human kind (in this case, mainly just Americans are addressed) just will not be receptive to changing their current ways of life. Instead, they wait for technology to come along and save them. They address Bush 1′s quote “The American way of life is not negotiable” to explain why we would drive the earth off a cliff.

Then, at the very end, they give like 10 minutes of some bull about buying electric cars and how that is going to save us all. It felt like this was forced onto the end by NBC execs who didn’t want to scare people too much. When Bob Woodruff was on the Daily Show talking about the show, he seemed to steer clear of offering too much hope. I don’t think he believes any of the stuff they said in the last 10 minutes, and the hour and a half before that supports my theory.

There is no capitalist solution to our global problems. Capitalist media might be afraid to show us that, though. I am glad this show aired on network TV. Skip the ending, and it really is the most radical thing I’ve seen on a network, maybe ever.

(full disclosure: I downloaded it and watched it at my leisure without commercials. I will not be sad to see ABC go under…)

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Trying to make sense of the Colorado 2008 ballot initiatives

Maybe I’m jumping the gun on figuring out these November 2008 Colorado ballot initiatives, but I love amendments and initiatives. It almost feels like a taste of what democracy must feel like.

I found the full texts of the ballot initiatives at the state’s site, but some of them are confusing as hell. When an issue boils down to some kind of republican/democrat bickering, it can be hard to tell. Then I found this kind-of-sort-of “progressive” site called coloradoballot.net that helped me out a lot. It’s not that I agreed with them (in fact, I may have ended up about 50/50), but they did a good job, as far as I can tell, of putting the measures into language and state politics contexts that make sense to me. Their conclusions are definitely pro-business and capitalistic, though.

One big advantage of starting this process early is that I have plenty of time to get feedback from people and adjust my decisions (and endorsements) as need be. So please, help me research these ballot measures. I am not completely informed, but I plan on being so by November 4. Leave a comment if you have any additional information or arguments on any of these issues. I am not set in stone about my answers yet.

Anything in the 40s -NO

These are what I am going to call the conservative douche bag core of initiatives. Here you have:

46: End affirmative action by calling for “equality”. You can tell a conservative douche bag wrote this because they use “sex” instead of “gender” or “gender identity”.

47: End union dues. As much as union dues kind of suck, you can’t make union dues optional. Why would anyone pay them if they didn’t have to? Maybe some union workers believe they have a duty to the whole, but the rest are struggling to buy $6 cauliflower. Enforced dues are important if we do not want to be reminded what happens to workers without a union.

48: Outlaw abortion. Or, even better, make anyone who gets an abortion (and the doctor) murderers. Or better yet, outlaw some forms of birth control in which eggs may be fertilized before being expelled from the body. I don’t really need to explain this one.

49: Do something that makes unions mad. I don’t really get this one yet. I could use some help. It sounds kind of bad, but I don’t really know. Something about reinstating something Bill Owens instated in 2001 that Ritter overturned in 2007. If Owens was for it, it probably sucks, right? Anyone else know anything about this one?

50 – NO

Increase the hours of operation for casinos, allow roulette and craps and increase the maximum allowed bet. Yeah, exactly what we need when the people are about to enter hard economic times. How about, we’ll increase all of this when all casino profits go to feeding and housing people in Colorado. I’d vote yes on that. Though to be fair, the line bet in craps is supposed to be one of the most fair bets in the whole casino, so I hear.

51 – YES

Increase taxes to help developmentally disabled. Here is where coloradoballot.net and I part ways. I don’t really care how developmentally disabled people and organizations get money. If it’s a constitutional amendment (SEE EDIT BELOW), then so be it. They need money. I have a very good friend from Colorado who is facing the harsh realities of low funding for developmentally disabled Coloradans, and she is very excited about this issue. I trust her, and I trust the way the amendment is worded. I am open to suggestion if anyone knows something I don’t. But the fear of other special interest groups trying to get their own amendments on the ballot to increase their funding is not something I fear. I would embrace that. The people could decide what we should pay for. Imagine that!

EDIT: It would appear that Amendment 51 is an amendment to the Colorado Revised Statutes, not a constitutional amendment. So not everything that says “amendment” is a constitutional amendment. How interesting/confusing … So basically, I don’t know what the drawback to this amendment is. So, VOTE YES! Thanks for the help, yeson51!.

52 -NO

Increase some mineral and mineral fuel extraction tax to concentrate funds on the I-70 corridor. Well, I don’t really care about I-70, and it seems stupid to tax environment destroyers and then put that money into a project that will make it easier for others to also destroy the environment. Put the money towards public transit and we might have a YES vote. Again, though, I am open to new information and arguments here.

53 -YES

Criminalize actions (or inactions) by executives for law broken by their companies. Hell yes I am voting for this. It is so freaking impossible to get retribution for the wrongdoings of these executives. If you reap the benefits of exploitation, then you will take the punishment when you are found out for it. I don’t care if you were evil and did it on purpose or if you were stupid and had no idea your company was doing it. You are still a criminal. Some are worried this will keep businesses from coming here. Well, if they are coming here to exploit us, then I am very happy to send them somewhere else. This is a statutory amendment, not a constitutional amendment.

54 – YES

Banning contractor companies who receive non-competitive bids from the government from contributing to campaigns, and banning companies who contribute to a ballot issue from receiving contracts related to that issue. I need some help here. While this sounds really good, coloradoballot.net is convinced that this is just a way to keep unions from contributing to Democrats. If so, I don’t really want to help in dumb ass party bickering. So I need some more information on this one, I think.

55 – YES

Requires private employers to have “just cause” to fire a full-time employee. Sounds good to me. What just cause means can be argued out in court later. But too many people get fired for no other reason than employer greed. Want the company to make a little more money? Cut your executives’ salaries, don’t fire the woman with two children at home. coloradoballot.net thinks this will be devastating to businesses because they won’t be able to fire people. But union businesses have these “just cause” clauses and they seem fine. But I am open to new information and arguments, of course.

56 -YES

Requires employers (20 or more employees) to offer health insurance to employees. Honestly, I am a little torn on this one. I think yes because people just need freaking health insurance and I don’t care how they get it. But I am not sure this is a burden the employer needs to take on. After all, will this just keep them from hiring people or giving people raises? I’m not sure it would “decimate entire sectors of the economy here in Colorado“, but it doesn’t seem like a measure that is really going to end up putting more money in employee pockets, either. Does anyone have any ideas on this one?

57 -YES

Companies liable for employee injuries. Awesome. Too many companies get away with way too much. Worker’s Comp. just is not enough many times, especially if the injury is long-lasting or psychological. The courts will define “injury” later. For now, if a company does not want this to affect them, they better not let their employees work in a toxic, dangerous environment. This is a statutory, not constitutional, amendment.

58 -YES

Take money from oil companies and use it to fund higher education. Uh, duh. This is a statutory, not constitutional, amendment.

59 – YES

Remove tax rebate in order to fund pre-K-12 education. This sounds good to me. It’s good, right? Are we OK with leaving future education funding increases up to the state legislature instead of guaranteeing they will grow with inflation?

L – YES

Lower the age requirement to serve in the Colorado General Assembly to 21. Definitely. Hey, maybe I’ll run next campaign …

M and N – YES

Remove obsolete provisions. Sure, why not? These are of little concern.

O – NO

Make it harder for citizens to put a constitutional initiative on the ballot, but easier to put a statutory initiative. I would be for this if I trusted our “elected” officials. But they can’t touch constitutional amendments (in theory), so in a nation where the people have so little power, being able to directly change our state constitution is incredibly important. And, hey, wake up. HAVING THIS MANY BALLOT INITIATIVES IS A GOOD THING!

Like I said earlier, this almost feels like a hint of democracy. Almost.

Please submit comments and I will make sure to keep this article updated as new information arrives. I have  a feeling some YESes may turn to NOs…

To sum up:

46 – NO

47 – NO

48 – NO

49 – NO

50 – NO

51 – YES

52 – NO

53 – YES

54 – YES

55 – YES

56 – YES

57 – YES

58 – YES

59 – YES

L – YES

M – YES

N – YES

O – NO

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#Open the Twitter elections page to alternative parties!

Before the first debate, Twitter launched a new page on their site dedicated to a constant stream of twitter posts related to the 2008 election.

Honestly, I am kind of excited about it. It’s interesting to watch (even though it goes faster than I can read, usually). I guess I should say, actually, that I am excited about it’s potential.

Twitter is a very big change in the way media is experienced, yet their site only includes tweets about McCain, Palin, Obama or Biden. This seems like a lost opportunity to make a gesture towards making our American democracy a tiny bit closer to the supposed democracy it claims to be.

Twitter should add filters for all candidates for president who have gained ballot access on enough states to theoretically win the election. This means a filter for Cynthia McKinney of the Green Party, Chuck Baldwin of the Constitution Party, Bob Barr of the Libertarian Party, and Ralph Nader as an independent.

In order to voice this opinion on the election page, I had to make a tweet with the word “palin” in it.

The capitalist press does not give any coverage to these candidates because, well, they’re capitalists. At worst, they are in cahoots with the major parties, and at best, they don’t want to dedicate the time and money to these candidates who can’t win and who don’t poll well (of course, that’s because they don’t get press…chicken and egg). They do not even cover the hardships candidates have to go through to get onto ballots (my candidate is not even on the ballot in my home state of Missouri) or their calls to be included in the debates. Of course they don’t question these things. These news corporations make a freaking killing on the two party system pageant as it is. Why do anything that would make it less of a pageant and grand illusion of choice?

But Twitter can make a small gesture to change this. They can continue to lead a change in media by questioning the idiotic standards set by these old-fashioned conglomerates. Twitter should not simply aim to be a new way to look at the same old political and news landscape set by corporate media. It should be a breath of fresh air for voices who can’t get a word in on those other mediums.

Don’t worry, Obama will still dominate the elections page, even after these other filters are added. Most conversation will still be about the two major parties. But every once in a while, you’ll get news or commentary on Cynthia McKinney riling up a bunch of angry, disillusioned people at a rally with her logic and desire for actual justice. And some people will stop and think, “Why am I not voting for her again?”

A quick note about Cynthia McKinney. I was at the rally above in Denver before the DNC, and it was really great to see a presidential candidate who I really felt compelled by. Also, Rosa Clemente, her VP choice, was even better to listen to. During a quick set by Dead Prez, McKinney was in the crowd dancing with the rest of us. I decided right then that I cannot vote for anyone who does not dance to hip hop. Later, after a long day of protests and a very successful reclaim the streets march, McKinney was hanging out with us at Food Not Bombs in Civic Center Park just talking and chilling. She was just about everything I wish our democracy could be.

So tweet your support of the inclusion of alternative parties on the twitter elections page. Maybe use the hashtag #open in the post. And work in either biden, palin, obama or mccain so that it ends up on the actual elections page feed.

Our democracy should not, after all, look like this:

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Denver cops sell t-shirt bragging about their police brutality during DNC

I wish I were making this up. But see for yourself.

Photos courtesy of the Colorado Independent.

This t-shirt comes as the district attorney declined Tuesday to prosecute this brutal cop who slammed a Code Pink protester with his over-sized riot stick while yelling, “Back it up, bitch!” during the DNC.

This of course raises the question: What exactly is grounds for prosecution then? I guess he could have shot her. Is that what it would take?

Will these cops be punished for killing a man with a taser just today in New York?

I bet they won’t. That man died. I know I am not the only one who thinks using a paralyzing “non-lethal” weapon while someone is on a 10-foot high ledge will obviously result in that person falling the 10 feet to the concrete. But he’s a naked crazy man, so who cares, right?

There is no accountability in any of this. Law suit will not help. The government gave them $50 million! Obviously the lost funds will not hurt them. Our only other recourse is to punish the individual officers (though, of course, the cops are just players in a violent, brutal system. Zimbardo’s prison experiment and such).

“That line between good and evil, which privileged people like to think is fixed and impermeable, with them on the good side and others on the bad side, I knew that line was movable and was permeable.” – Phillip Zimbardo,

But we are denied even that inadequate form of recourse now.

All you “peaceful” liberals need to wake up. What are we supposed to do when faced with such violence and control? What are we to do when the soldiers hired by the American government (both halves of the capitalist party) to suppress the American people are so proud of their violent repression that they make a t-shirt about it to rub it in our faces.

Don’t judge the kid with the black bandanna for smashing some windows. Maybe that didn’t fix the problem, but what else are you going to do when the powerful remove all means of recourse for their abuse? It should not be surprising when people want to smash your windows (notice the protesters targeted Macy’s, not Mom & Pop’s Neighborhood Shop).

If you still don’t believe me, listen to my boy Elliot Hughes just last night. It takes all of his strength to tell about the torture he received at the hands of the Ramsey County cops while in prison during the RNC.

Really fucking funny, huh?

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Redefining citizen press at the RNC

I wrote previously about The Uptake and their amazing live video Qik coverage of the RNC. But the citizen and independent press at the RNC was even more impressive the more I got into it.

I am a regular user of Twitter (@tfooq), and I’m intrigued by the medium’s potential. But following users like @notq, @theuptake, @coldsnaplegal, @webster and @mnindylive completely opened the RNC to me in a way no live media experience ever has.

Many users around the protests, mostly interested in keeping track of police brutality and helping the protesters keep track of police movements, would send out Twitter posts with bits of information or commentary on experiences. Nathan Oyler (@notq) was one of the best people to follow because, sitting in his Arizona home, kept track of the massive amount of RNC protest-related posts (while also watching the live video from The Uptake) and re-posted each interesting bit. When the action on the group heated up, this was not a small task. Here is an example of just a couple minutes:

The following are posts by Twitter user @notq:

Shot after shot protestors being pounded with gas. Cannot see close enough to give details.

“Firebombs! They grabbed me and said move!”

hitting us over and over. Split us up firing flashbangs into other group.

Chants are back..”who’s streets..our streets!”

people are starting to not be able to see to tweet.

A friend emails: “isn’t using snowplows to block peaceful protesters the mn nice version of tiananmen square?”

tear gas all around the capitol. stay safe.

crowd mostly scattered. They are firing grenades at individuals.

Reporters form the Daily Planet and the Uptake in custody at Ramsey County detention center

cpatton this is fucked no reason for this

Are we no longer Americans? Are we no longer people?

“It’s all happening in the Sears parking lot right now”

i’m just putting in reports, none of this is me, this is all people on the ground.

is natl media covering this?? THIS IS A BIG FUCKING DEAL

police calling for more masks! They are gassing he small peacful crowd. More flashbangs.

Uptakers minus Corrine and friend in car and safe in sears parking lot. Attempting to get to the office.

Ppl are told to go on bridge..everyone is afraid if they do they will be arrested

Several people have been writing about @notq (including this one by Nancy Scola at techpresident.com). What fascinates me is not just the insight it gave me as a follower of the events from my home in the then-recovering Denver, but also the ability of the medium to help those on the ground.

As a protester of the DNC in Denver, I remember turning around to suddenly find a large group of riot cops trapping us into a city block around 15th and Colfax. The first thought I had was, “Man, we should have radios.” After all, they not only have the weapons, but they have the radios. We can have radios and still be peaceful protesters.

But what about iPhones or BlackBerries? I guess it’s kind of unlikely for an anarchist to have a $100/mo data plan and an iPhone, but they proably should. If we had the kind of information delivered at the RNC, maybe we would not have been taken down so quickly.

But who all is following the tweets? Besides medics, protesters and journalists on the ground and people like me following from home, surely the cops, FBI, Secret Service, Halliburton, whoever cares are following also. Like ideal journalism, very good, specific, live citizen journalism like this puts information into the open. It makes the events transparent to all with access to it (so, people with fancy phones or computers). I felt that between The Uptake and the people I followed on Twitter (and my personal experience in Denver) I really had a good grasp on what was happening at the most intense events of the week as they happened.

This brings me to corporate “journalism”. I did like some of the coverage coming out of the Pioneer Press (but the Star Tribune had no concept of what was happening). The PP really seemed to want to get the word out to their readers (which would have included the Republicans at the convention) what was happening in the streets while they were schmoozing at some expensive party or doing whatever it is they did in the Xcel Center. Sure, they trusted the police more than I would have liked them to (they lie constantly, after all), but I guess that’s standard “balanced” journalism or whatever.

But other corporate press had nothing. More coverage inside the staged, phony convention, and no or next-to-no coverage of the real people in streets getting their asses blown up by a $50 million army of violent, heavily armed police. But Cindy McCain’s outfit totalled $313,100! (OK, that is pretty ridiculous. Didn’t they just get ripped on about some houses they lost count of?) Oh, and Sarah Palin. Do you think she has enough experience?

What a joke.

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