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08/27/11

Permalink 09:44:42 am, by Paul ROBINSON, 1167 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A]

Recommendation to the Transit Authority on when Cell Phones might need to be diabled

Office of the Board of Directors                                       August 26, 2011
Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority
600 5th Street NW
Washington DC 20001

Recommendation No. 2011-028

Pursuant to the provisions of Article 62(b) of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Compact I hereby file a request with the Board of Directors for a hearing with respect to the service rendered with the facilities of the Authority. The remainder of this letter explains the matters and things on which the request relies, and deals with the Authority's potential actions to intentionally disable cell phone service in Metrorail stations and the need for an explicit, published policy indicating when such an action would be permitted, and a recommendation to add preparations in the event cell service is not available in an emergency and to prepare for it in emergency drills.

I only found out this morning that on Thursday, August 11, San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system decided to disable cell phone service in certain stations for several hours, not because of an emergency condition or something that was happening at the time, but because some people had posted an announcement on a web page stating that they were intending to conduct a protest in rail stations over the alleged killing of a passenger by BART Transit Police. I suspect one of the issues being that they might have stated they intended to use cell phones while in the BART system to coordinate protests.

BART claimed the action was necessary to protect the public from some unspecified danger and to prevent what it claimed was an "illegal" protest. While protecting the public from the possibility of injury is an important goal, an even more important point needs to be made: no actual protest took place; BART essentially chose to cut off service because there might have been a problem.

Not only that, but apparently BART decided that it was merely for courtesy reasons that it chose to inform the cell carriers that their service was being intentionally disrupted, and it was under no obligation to tell them anything; apparently the carriers were left in the dark over this matter.

A number of questions have been raised over these issues. While there is no constitutional right to have cell phone service in a subway system, once a government agency decides to allow service to operate, there are First Amendment issues regarding the use of the service. The comparison here is that if someone in my home decides to use his cell phone to say unflattering remarks about me, I have the right to choose to require he stop doing so or leave, because the 1st Amendment does not apply to private individuals or non-government entities. However, as a government agency, a transit authority is subject to the First Amendment and does not have this luxury, e.g. if a Transit Police officer hears someone on their phone in a normal voice talking about how bad the service is and urging people get together to have the Authority disbanded and replaced by something else, they cannot stop this person from doing so or order them to leave.

Now, given that this is the Nation's capital and there are even more serious threats that might occur here than would occur just about anywhere else in the country, there are a number of conditions which might require in some cases that WMATA might, at some point, need to intentionally disable cell phone service in one or more stations or areas such as tunnels because of an emergency or unusual circumstance, there should be a standard policy clearly stating under what conditions it would undertake such actions and for the Authority to make this policy a matter of record.

I have made a cursory search of WMATA's web site and have found many documents regarding its attempts to increase reach of cell service in the stations and trains, and in this, the Authority is to be commended. But there is not one document discussing under what circumstances the Authority might intentionally disable cell service. Perhaps the subject never came up or it wasn't thought it ever would be necessary.

With the incident on BART's system occurring it is clear that the subject has now come up and this issue may very well become necessary.

A decision that it is necessary to do so might occur at some point, and the making of a decision whether it is appropriate to do so is an extremely important matter, and not something that should be made on an ad-hoc basis.

Therefore, the matter and things upon which this request relies is the recommendation that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority establish a policy under what circumstances the authority would intentionally disable cell phone service (under what emergency conditions, for non-emergency scheduled maintenance and upgrades, etc.), what areas would be subject to disruption, which person(s) would be authorized to make a decision to do so, the persons and entities to be notified when and if such an action were to take place, how much advance notice - including posting notice in stations - is to be made for non-emergency conditions (like equipment replacement), how soon after an emergency occurs are the appropriate parties to be notified, such other conditions and specifications as the authority decides are necessary to be included in this policy, and that this policy be made public as well as published on the Authority's website.

I would also like to recommend the reverse issue should also be considered and the potential be included as far as when the Authority conducts emergency training, or emergency drills, that it make efforts from the opposite site, by doing disabling of cell phone service as if an attacker had decided to operate cell phone jamming equipment and how this would affect the Authority and other emergency personnel to be able to coordinate if they were unable to use cell phones, and whether standby equipment such as temporary cell phone boosters ("microcells") should be available in emergencies and what other emergency preparations be made in the event either cell phone service must be intentionally disabled or where for some reason cell phone service becomes unavailable by accident (as happened immediately after this week's earthquake) or because of attacks by third parties.

Thank you for your time in reading this letter and I hope you will consider my recommendations.

Sincerely Yours,
Paul Robinson
"A computer programmer and Notary Public in and for
the Commonwealth of Virginia, at large, and the
State of Maryland in and for Prince George's County."

CC: WMATA General Manager
Metro Transit Police
Channel 4
Channel 5
News Channel 8
Channel 9
The Washington Post
The Washington Times
The Washington Examiner
My Blog

[Update 7/15/2012] I got a letter back a few weeks later from the Chief of the Transit Police. The transit authority does not plan to disable cell phone service, and does not have the capacity to do so. [End Update]

08/23/11

Permalink 03:33:54 pm, by Paul ROBINSON, 301 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A]

We just had an earthquake

I sometimes feel the ground vibrate on occasion and at about 5 minutes to 2pm Eastern time I felt a small shake. I sometimes feel these when something shakes the ground like a rail train arrival vibrating the station platform. In my wheelchair I can feel this sort of vibration but I'm generally so stable I don't move. So I didn't think much of it.

Then a really big one hit as the whole house moved from side to side.

Being a 15-year resident of California I recognized it immediately as an earthquake, which basically almost never happens here in Maryland, this is the first one I've noticed and only the second quake that was strong enough to feel in the entire 23 years I've been here (I was asleep during the previous one that happened here, about a year or so ago). Reportedly the last quake this strong to hit the area was back in 1897.

My cell phone won't work, I can't get a call through; it's conceivable cell towers were damaged.

Since it was strong enough for me to feel it I estimated it was probably 5-6 on the Richter scale. I saw a report on the news saying an earthquake of 5.8 occurred about 100 miles away in Virginia. News reports it was 5.9 and located 3 miles underground below Mineral, Virginia, and was felt as far south as Chapel Hill, NC. Cell networks are jammed.

I believe there was no damage here. Nothing I noticed fell down or broke.

Now, the incident reminds me of the worst earthquake in the United States because nobody expected it as it wasn't in a typical earthquake area. No, it wasn't in California or anywhere out west. It was about 150 years ago, in New Madrid, Missouri. It was so strong it caused the Missouri river to run backward.

08/01/11

Permalink 12:01:46 pm, by Paul ROBINSON, 538 words   English (US)
Categories: News, Background

Today is the cut off or "Debt Load Shedding" begins

Well, apparently if Congress doesn't get the debt ceiling raised by today we have a serious problem because the government borrows 40c on the dollar to pay for everything, and if it can't borrow more money then it has to do load shedding.

"Load shedding" is a term I borrowed from the electrical industry. When too many customers want power and they can't keep up with the demand, your typical public utility will first reduce voltage, then it will shut down customers who have agreed to have their electricity curtailed such as residential customers who will allow their air conditioning shut off for 15-30 minute stretches, then industrial customers who have interruptable service. Once you run out of the low hanging fruit, then you have no choice but to cut neighborhoods and areas for a while. This is "load shedding" and its not pretty.

If you are working and then become unemployed, if you're stupid you keep paying everything the same until you run out of money and then you really have painful choices to make about what you can pay. If you're smart, you decide as soon as your financial status changes what bills you have to pay, and what bills that you do not want to lose the product or service of that vendor. And you'd call your creditors - especially the ones you're not going to pay - and let them know. Either case, where you are forced to cut drastically because you stupidly pretended you weren't out of money, or you cut carefully because you start when you're aware you have reduced funds, is a form of load shedding. The "load" in this case is your debt load or the amount of expenditures you make.

Well, in the case of the United States Government, if the debt ceiling isn't raised by midnight tonight, load shedding has to start immediately because we waited too long. The debt ceiling was recognized as needing to be raised as far back as January but it was pushed off. This means the Department of the Treasury decides which 2/3 of the bills it can pay; the rest get delayed payment.

Treasury has been using various accounting tricks to avoid failing to pay things; this worked for a couple of months but if the debt ceiling fails to get raised, the real choices have to be made, and they won't be pretty.

I used to think Congress wasn't stupid enough to let the government run out of debt it could raise. I might be wrong. Some say that the Republicans won't let it happen because it gives Obama total authority to decide what bills get paid and which ones don't, and they don't want to give him that much power.

What has been most amusing in this whole debacle is that the Republicans - specifically Tea Party members - who've been going around saying we didn't need to raise the debt ceiling, and it wasn't going to be that bad if the government defaulted on paying its obligations, while the Democrats were the ones pointing out this was irresponsible. It's usually the Republicans who talk about fiscal responsibility and the Democrats who don't. This whole incident has turned everything around and changed how things normally are.

07/07/11

Permalink 11:46:43 am, by Paul ROBINSON, 841 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A], News

Why the Craigslist killer? Why not The Chicago Tribune Killer? The Washington Post Killer? The Las Vegas Sun Killer?

There have been a few cases where someone either meeting someone else or being met by someone else for a commercial transaction or personal reasons as a result of a posting on the on-line advertising site Craigslist.org has been robbed and/or murdered.

So, as a result of the minor connection these incidents are sometimes being referred to as 'Craigslist Killings' or the alleged perpetrator as the 'Craigslist Killer'. Now, the question to be asked, is this just the usual and customary news media hyping of bad incidents because, of course, bad news sells more newspapers and gets higher ratings on television, which, of course, translates into higher advertising prices, or is it because of an attempt to 'smear' Craigslist which is, of course, a serious 'dangerous competitor' to all media, not just newspaper classified ads?

Craigslist provides free classified ads for people to buy and sell things and to look for friends and romantic partners. They have low overhead and basically make their money from accepting commercial help wanted ads in some markets. This, of course, is extremely dangerous to any other place that depends on commercial advertising.

Craigslist gets no public funding and operates on the same terms as any other business, and so this sort of 'shooting the messenger' sounds a lot like an attempt to tar them for the actions of third parties.

If we went back, say, ten years ago when the only way in general to find other people such as buyers or sellers was through paid advertisements, and someone robbed or killed someone who responded to an ad, or robbed or killed the advertiser, would the media be blaming the newspaper? Do we hear of cases of the Chicago Tribune Killer? The Washington Post Killer? The Las Vegas Sun Killer?

Some newspapers - the Washington Times being one - are even going in the direction of allowing tiny advertisers to run free ads. Selling items under $200 in small ads are free; it's probably a loss-leader to get people to subscribe or to get people to buy the paper. The Washington Times has had real problems getting people to take it seriously for a number of reasons including that it's owned by the Unification Church ("The Moonies") and is a weak competitor to the much larger Washington Post. It's also losing about $50 million a year.

But at least they're trying to think of new ideas. Newspapers have a flawed system of delivering content because they're not realizing the way they need to deliver content has changed, and they themselves need to change. Most newspapers belong to the Associated Press and they are doing the stupidest thing. They give AP their content (that they spent money to create) for free but pay for an AP wire. Ayn Rand points the stupidity out - over 50 years ago - in her book "Atlas Shrugged" when Dagny Taggart notes how Taggart Transcontinental got the Railroad Unification Plan set up so that each railroad is responsible for its own costs but gives competitors use of its track for free. (The only thing different that - at least for now - that newspapers are not doing is pooling their income and splitting it somehow. Or at least, except in the case of some multi-newspaper cities where they've done something like this where they get government permission to run a 'joint operating agreement' to try and eliminate 'duplicate' functions by running two newspapers with some shared services.)

Do we doubt that there have been cases where someone was robbed or killed as a result of running a newspaper ad or responding to one? It's part of the problem of inviting someone you don't know into your home, (or going to the home of someone you don't know) they are usually a nice person or honorable, but in rare instances they're a sociopath. But I don't remember anyone connecting the newspaper to the perpetrator of these crimes. But they do in the case of Craigslist.

The big difference and the reason Craigslist is going to be very popular is that you can run an ad on Craigslist for free. A newspaper ad is going to cost anywhere from $10 to $100 or more for a day to a week depending on how it's priced and how big your ad is. A Craigslist ad can basically be a long as you want, include pictures and if you can figure a way to rephrase the content so as not to be duplicate, you can rerun it as often as you want and run it in as many cities or regions as you want.

So I question whether this is basically an attack on what is essentially a function of capitalism, in which a low-cost competitor (Craigslist) comes along with a new idea that destroys an entrenched market (newspapers and to some extent other paid advertising-based media) or just the result of typical hype which also is inherent in news media in a capitalist market that has, to some extent, be noisy in order to get attention in order to be able to sell advertising.

06/10/11

Permalink 03:58:47 pm, by Paul ROBINSON, 117 words   English (US)
Categories: Announcements [A]

If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try, try again

Francisco Solomon Sanchez was pronounced dead shortly after 4:15 p.m. Friday [June 3] after leaping from a 210 Freeway overpass between Mountain Avenue and Buena Vista Street, Los Angeles County Department of Coroner Lt. Joe Bale said.

Why is this item so important? Because this was the tenth time that Sanchez had tried to kill himself. I think it took Thomas Edison thousands of tries to find out that he needed to use tungsten as the fillament in incandescent light bulbs. He said that he hadn't failed, he simply knew of 6,000 ways not to build a light bulb.

Sanchez had jumped to his death using prosthetic legs, which he got from injuries from previous unsuccessful suicide attempts.

Read more: http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/news/ci_18214429#ixzz1OturF6bd

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Welcome to My blog! This is where I store my thoughts so that I can come back to them at some point in the future. This allows me a place like a journal to keep what I'm thinking about. But anyone else is welcome to visit; I make this place public so that other people can hear what I'm thinking.

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