When H.E.B. says the grocery delivery person is 17 minutes away, thatʼs how I know he's standing outside my door unloading his cart. It's always exactly 17 minutes. I get the text message, look for the cat acting up, and can see the shadow of the delivery person outside my door.
Consistency is a good thing. And “consistently wrong” is a type of consistency, right?
One of the nice things about Houston Methodist Hospital is the fish.
Scattered around the campus are large aquaria, which are much nicer to look at than the television screens hanging from the ceiling blaring The Price is Right while youʼre trying to comfort a nervous loved one.
For some reason, this aquarium in this office has no fish.
What happened to the fish? Did they never arrive? Are they out for a walk? Did they die?
Sarcastically I think, “If the doctors in this section can't keep fish alive, how can I expect them to keep people alive?”
Also, I think maintaining fish tanks for a large, deep-pocketed healthcare company is a dream job. It seems like there's enough of them to have someone in-house.
Iʼve had bad days in my life, but Iʼve never had “nobody to pick me up from the hospital” bad days.
I was feeling sorry for myself at the time, and this helped put things into perspective. Iʼm someone who earns his living doing nothing more interesting than pushing buttons for a living. My problems are minuscule compared with the rest of the world.
It's nice that iOS 16 lets people know the phone is too hot when it does things. It used to do things, but not tell you.
When I lived in the desert, just having an iPhone in your pocket or on a table could sometimes cause the phone to turn itself off. If you were lucky, you'd see something very quickly appear on the screen about “Entering thermal shutdown” or some such. A minute later, you were out in the desert without a working phone.
Apple, and most tech companies, build their products for the environment where Apple, and most tech companies, are located — San Francisco. When I talk to tech people who work at these companies, sometimes they simply cannot wrap their brains around weather conditions that are commonplace elsewhere.
Another example is iPhone wired headphones. Theyʼre made with plastic that gets brittle in the cold. Of course, when youʼre bundled up against the cold is when you need your headphones the most. That was how I learned about Bluetooth headphones, and got a set of Sony headphones for use with my SonyEricsson M600c when commuting on the CTA in the middle of the night during Chicago winters. Apple wouldnʼt make its own wireless headphones until over a decade later.
An object can be both well done, and not good at the same time. To wit: “Holiday Stuffing” favor potato chips from H.E.B.
The San Antonio supermarket chain has leapfrogged pumpkin spice season and landed firmly in the fuzzy, nostalgic quagmire of Thanksmas season.
Opening the bag, I took my usual deep breath of snackmosphere to preview what was ahead, and I nearly gagged. It really does smell very much like Stove-Top stuffing. It also tastes more like stuffing than a lot of brandsʼ actual boxed stuffing does these days.
So H.E.B. gets an A+ for execution, because when someone said “make stuffing-flavored potato chips,” someone else made it happen. But as food goes, itʼs just not good, because when you eat it, you expect one thing and get another.
Iʼll still finish the bag, though. And let the “Holiday” term slide because stuffing is traditional for both Christmas and Thanksgiving.
One of the best features of the Sunday Morning program on CBS is the part at the end where we get to see some part of the natural world. No lasers. No music. No talking heads. Just birds, and plants, and bees, and animals doing what they're meant to do.
While CBS has slashed the time devoted to that segment each week from minutes down to mere seconds, other television stations like KHOU/Houston and Sky News, have started adding these segments.
As a former television producer, I know that in addition to be beautiful and memorable and giving people a reason to stop and stare, these segments with soft ending times are useful for padding out a short show, or sacrificing so that I can cram in some last-minute story.
With the infinite resources of the intarweb, there's no need to cut nautre for time. So here is my gift to you: A turtle being all turtle-y in Hermann Park. Watch as long as you like.
Sold by weight not number of crackers, blah, blah, blah…
Sunday, September 25th, 2022Alive18,779days
The delightful thing about the Fresh Stacks version of Ritz crackers isn't that by putting the crackers in smaller sleeves, they stay fresher longer. It's that you never know how many crackers there are going to be in each sleeve.
In the photograph above, you can see that one sleeve has 14 crackers, while the other has 11. It's all the fun of a food lottery, but with a bonus side of vaguely feeling like you're being cheated.
Halloween can be educational. In addition to teaching children about math (candy nutrition labels), geography (mapping out a trick-or-treat route), history (Halloween folklore), and extortion ("Trick or treat!"), it's also possible to learn about physics. The way to do that is with a Halloween bubble light.
I don't know why bubble lights went out of fashion, but showing a child that something that is boiling can still safe to touch is an opportunity to learn about the phases of matter, the elements, boiling points, and all kinds of happy physics and chemistry things.
Also, it's never too early to put up Halloween decorations — if they're educational.
Today I decided to make a Sears-accurate label for my Harmony cart.
If you're not a retro video game nerd, some of those words may not make sense. To elucidate:
A Harmony Cartridge is a device that can be plugged into an 1970's-era Atari 2600 video game machine. Data files can then be loaded onto an SD card, and the SD card inserted into the Harmony cartridge so that you can play many different video games without having to swap cartridges all the time.
In the 1970's, Sears licensed the Atari 2600 and put out its own version, calling it the Sears Tele-Games Video Arcade. This is the machine that I own.
Sears also licensed Atari's video games for the machine, and sold them under its own Sears Tele-Games brand
Sears was notorious for changing the names of Atari games. Sometimes because the name that Atari chose for its 2600 game was the same as one that Sears used for an earlier video game machine. Sometimes just because. Sears was this massive company that built America's tallest building and had its own ZIP Code, so renaming a bunch of video games was no big deal.
The Harmony cart comes with a label that doesn't look like an Atari label, or a Sears label, so it kind of ruins the look of the machine. In fact, there's no label on the end at all. That's because that's where you jam the microSD card into the cart so you can play your games.
I found some fonts on the intarwebs and decided to teach myself a bit of Affinity Photo. The result is pretty good. It's far from perfect, mostly because I couldn't find a font that really matches the Sears font. Which makes sense, since Sears was a big enough company to have its own font artists.
Bauhaus appears to be the closest font, and there are hundreds of Bauhaus-inspired fonts available for free download on the internet. Sadly, most of them are corrupt, incomplete, or worse. It seems that the people who run free font web sites just copy files from one another, and don't bother to verify that the font actually works.
For the green text, I found a generic seven-segment-display-inspired font that's almost correct, except for the middle pointy bit of the capital M.
I printed out the label on glossy photo paper, which looks nice, but isn't truly accurate. To be accurate, it would be on matte label stock, sun faded, smeared with peanut butter, and have the corner peeled up a bit.
Since Sears was in the habit of renaming so many games, I decided to change the name of my Harmony cart to "Super Multi-Cart." The name just popped into my head.
Because the microSD card sticks out of the end of the Harmony cart a bit, the label doesn't lay flat. I haven't decided how to address this. My options are:
Use an X-Acto knife to cut a tiny square from the label for the SD card to poke through.
Shave the plastic off of the end of the microSD card so it doesn't stick out so far. I'll have to look into if this can be done without ruining the electronics inside.
If you're into this sort of thing, here are the Affinity Photo label files I made, so you can print your own, or improve upon what I've done:
How does one get both drunk and sober at the same time? Booze coffee!
This isnʼt that, but itʼs what I imagine such a drink would be, if such a drink existed. Other than Irish coffee, which is more like coffee-flavored booze than booze-flavored coffee.
It will surprise no one that this gustatory confusion spews from the ever-reliable roastmasters at Piñon Coffee in Albuquerque. Iʼve tried hundreds of coffees from all over the world, and I keep going back to Piñonʼs larder. It must be something in the water. Free shipping doesn't hurt, either.
As promised by the fonts on the label, the vanilla flavor is smaller than the Bourbon flavor. It sneaks up on you like the guy pretending to be drunk at the end of the bar who picks your pocket while youʼre engrossed in your iPhone. The Bourbon flavor, on the other hand, smacks you on the side of the head like the stench of high-octane pee from the subway-tile-and-fly-poser-lined bathroom at CBGB.
On a scale from Never Again (1) to Sell a Kidney For More (10), this is about a 2. Four if it's on sale.
Itʼs fine for what it is, but even though Iʼm a quick riser, I like my coffee to be friendly in the morning, not to bite me on the leg and knock stuff off the coffee table with its tail.
“Insufficient” means “not enough,” it doesnʼt mean wrong. “Incorrect” is closer to what FortiClient is trying to say. This is why tech companies should hire a proofreader for anything that leaves the building, even if only on a contract basis. It makes you look amateur, and in the case of this security app — insecure.
Also, if you use “credential(s),” rather than just counting the number of credentials and using the correct word, thatʼs just lazy.
My wife received a catalog in the mail from Scully & Scully. And just in time, too!
Iʼve been building a 300-foot-long 17th-century Spanish galleon in the back yard for the last five years, and need a massive desk for the captainʼs quarters. You know — to put my gold doubloon scale on and to shout “Arrrrrrr!” across at scallywags and landlubbers.
And at just $12,275, itʼs a bargain! Might as well get a full set of matching $3,000 chairs from the next page.
I guess someone on the iOS 16 team at Apple didnʼt check for NULL before shoving the date data into the string formatter. The lesson is, of course, that while you never trust external data, sometimes you can't trust internal data, either.
Still, Apple is the single largest company on the planet right now. If it canʼt do software, what chance do I have?
SAM76 was one of many computer languages that came out in the 1970ʼs that promised to be the “next big thing,” but failed to gain traction.
It looks a bit like AP/L, with its tight syntax, but was meant for text manipulation like Lisp.
I haven't found a SAM76 interpreter to play with in 2022, so here's an example of what a SAM76 program would look like, from the May-June, 1978 issue of Creative Computing that would take a number from the terminal input, and uses recursion to print out the factorial of that number.
I'm no SAM76 expert, but I think there's a typo in this listing. I think the !%ii… is actually supposed to be !%is… to retrieve an “input string” from the terminal. But I'm happy to be proven wrong.
As you may have guessed from the ten slashes, this language is all about nesting commands. Amusingly, it doesn't matter how many slashes you close your expressions with, as long as it's enough. So just keep banging that slash key!
SAM76 is a great example of smart people dealing with the scarcity of their time. This is a language that has been optimized for teletypes, punch cards, and paper tape. The % isn't a command prompt, it's a command. (More specifically, a “warning character.”) The “mu” and “pt” and such are shortened, almost tokenized, keywords.
Sadly, there is no SAM76 entry on Wikipedia, and almost no information on the internet about it, so it will soon be erased from the public memory by search engines (*cough*Google*cough*) that choose to only show things currently trending in popular culture. Shakespeare, youʼre next.
Since Iʼm going to spend most of the morning watching Queen Elizabethʼs cortège on Sky News, I guess itʼs time to tuck into my Harrodʼs Knightsbridge Roast #08.
Unlike The Queen, who was a very strong woman, this coffee is rather weak. Itʼs very much diner coffee, similar to that which is served by the Omelete House in Las Vegas. Which was the last restaurant in which Jerry Lewis ate.
Perhaps it's only appropriate. The coffee is as weak as tea. And tea would have been a more appropriate choice this morning.
Iʼm always trying to explain to my coworkers the importance of future-proofing what you publish.
Here we see a happy coffee sleeve touting Houston Methodist Hospitalʼs rank as the number 16 hospital in the nation. Except that it isnʼt.
Methodist is actually number 15. Sixteen was last year. But some middle manager thought it was a good idea to order fifty brazillion coffee sleeves flogging the #16 position, and now itʼs stuck under-bragging until they run out.
There's a big push in large healthcare companies to make things easier for patients. It sounds dumb to have to state that, but there has not always been the institutional will to care for patients on their level. But a lot of studies and computer models have shown that something as simple as repeating instructions to a patient can improve the outcomes of treatment in a percentage of people. With so many people in the world now, even a small change can mean enormous savings in money for hospitals, insurance companies, and the patients, themselves.
Unfortunately, we're still at the beginning of the process of bringing the healthcare institutions down to the level of the people they are supposed to serve. The use of regular language and easy methods is spreading, but remains uneven.
To wit: The image above, which is the first question asked when trying to book an imaging appointment with Houston Methodist Hospital.
This is an online form for patients, not doctors. When a regular person phones Methodist to make an imaging appointment, it suggests you use this form to make the appointment online.
I am not a doctor. How am I supposed to know if I need an “MRI 1.5T Wide Bore with Contrast,” or an “MRI 3T without Contrast,”, or a “Fluoroscopy,” or something else? It turns out the type of appointment I need isn't even listed in the options.
As someone who builds healthcare web sites for a living, I understand the technical reasons why this is the way it is. But I also understand that it doesn't have to be this way.
There are people in healthcare who care quite a lot about making things easier, and therefore better, for patients. That caring and understanding rarely pervades and entire organization. But it has to.
What we see here is, in my semi-expert opinion, a breakdown in the chain of caring. Something got outsourced to an external company that doesn't have to care. Someone didn't get trained in the importance of making things easier for the patients, and let this awful thing see the light of day. Some web developer somewhere doesn't have the authority, confidence, or will to question what's been handed to him to produce. He's just there to push buttons and cash a check.
Every person at every level of a healthcare organization not only had to be told to care, but trained to care. Even, and especially, the directors and C-levels. The upper levels are told about how much money can be saved by making healthcare more accessible to ordinary people. But they aren't trained in what that actually looks like, so they are not able to spot mistakes as they're happening, so they can have the people under them correct the problems before they persist and spread. Allowing people to say “That's the way we've always done it” is evidence of a sclerotic organization.
Similarly, and as alluded to above, with the continual outsourcing of functions, you also end up outsourcing caring. Someone pasting together AJAX snippets from StackOverflow in an SalesForce application on the other side of the planet doesn't care that the web site is useless to 90% of users. They've done their job, and that's all their staffing company cares about. It's important to understand that lack of detail and care makes your healthcare company look bad, and it hurts your bottom line by making your treatments less effective, and making your doctors work more.
Everyone in a healthcare organization has to not only care about the patients, but be trained in this. Not just the hands-on people like doctors and nurses and patient liaisons. Everyone. The people who process forms. The people in accounting. And, yes, the I.T. people. Every single person in a healthcare organization affects patients in some way.
To its credit, of the dozens healthcare organizations I've interacted with in dozens of states, Methodist is among the better and more advanced with regard to how it treats its patients. But the process is incomplete.
Healthcare companies talk a lot about caring. But unless there is an ethos of responsibility to the patient that includes every single person in that organization, it's all just marketing.
I was digging the Halloween decorations out of the basement today, when I came across my old PSP gear. Joy!
Sonyʼs PlayStation Portable wasn't the first portable video game system I ever owned. I had the original Atari Lynx back in the 80ʼs. But the PSP brings back warm memories of a time in my life when I was more full of hope, and the world seemed to be filled with endless possibilities
I was in Japan in February of 2005, a couple of months after the PSPʼs launch, but two months before it became available in the rest of the world. My wife and I were riding on a subway in Tokyo when an OL (“office lady” — the female version of “salaryman”) sat down next to where I was standing. She pulled out a PSP and started playing ルミネス (“Lumines” in English). I was absolutely enthralled. I immediately said to Darcie, “Thatʼs what I'm bringing home from Japan.”
Yodobashi Camera is like the old Crazy Eddie electronics department store, except taking up a dozen floors of a skyscraper. If it runs on electricity, it's probably at Yodobashi. Anything from a Hello Kitty waffle maker to a household earthquake detector. From a refrigerator to a radiation monitor that you hang around your neck. From a transistor radio to the latest computer gear. If there was a PSP in Tokyo, I was sure I'd find it here.
Except that I didnʼt. Yodobashi was too much for me. Too many levels. Too much stuff. Precisely zero signs printed in English. I was over my head. Finally, I had to ask for help. A young man in an ill-fitting suit and an eager grin decided to take a chance with me.
My Japanese is bad. Real bad. When weʼre in Japan, my wife is in her element. She handles the shopgirls, and drags me around like a wide-eyed toddler. But I was on my own this time.
I tried to communicate very clearly and plainly, “Video games?” Blank stare. I broke out my best non-regional radio voice and enunciated as clearly as I could: “Play-stay-shun Port-a-bull.” Nervous smile.
Finally, I resorted to pantomime. I held my hands out in front of me in loose vertical fists, and pumped my thumbs up and down like I was pressing buttons.
With an expression of exuberant relief and a flourish of forearms and pointing palms, he guided me to a half-height white cabinet, bent over, slid back the glass door and popped up with a glossy white box.
With a hasty bow, he took off like jackrabbit down the warren of Panasonic boom boxes, Sony Cliés, and Sanyo voice recorders. His job was done, and he was happy to be done with me, and out of there.
That's why to this day, my wife and I call our video game machines “Peesps.”
Today I learned the local nursery sells Arabica plants. The sign says they grow to be eight feet tall, but have to be protected from the cold. Of course, the ceiling in my library is ten feet tall, so maybe...
Netflix says today marks one year since I've had Netflix. Which is not true. I've had Netflix for 24 years. But Netflix doesn't have a way to put an account on hold when you go on vacation, or move. Instead, you have to cancel your account, then sign up again when you come back home or arrive in your new place.
Amazingly, and much to its credit, when you sign up again, your Netflix queue is restored, and you're right where you left off. So I guess it's only ½ a fail.
If youʼve ever wondered what San Antonio tastes like, H.E.B. has you covered.
Taste of San Antonio sounds like a Summer food festival, but it's actually a flavor of coffee, available in regular, decaf, K-cups, and decaf K-cups, for those of you care more about the look of your coffee maker than the quality of the coffee it spits out.
Apparently, San Antonio is “Medium-bodied with cinnamon, chocolate and vanilla flavors.” I only know one person in San Antonio, and Iʼd say that describes her correctly.
It's both naturally, and artificially flavored. For your safety.
To me, it tastes a bit like Biscochito coffee from Piñon Coffee in Albuquerque. But weaker. But that last part might just be because itʼs from a supermarket, and not a place that draws milk foam cowboys on top of your drink.
Every time I use Microsoft Windows, I manage to find another way it simply doesn't make sense to me.
In this example, I have instructed Microsoft Outlook to “Save All Attachments” from a particular e-mail message. Instead of saving all of the attachments, it pops up a modal window asking which attachments Iʼd like to save. Well, Iʼd like to save them all. Which is why I clicked on “Save All Attachments” and not “Save some, but I'm not sure which ones I might want, so why don't you stop me in the middle of my work instead of doing what I've instructed you to do.”
There would be no shame in Microsoft adding a “Save Some Attachments…” item to its already ample menu structure.
After months of research involving 1,0000 Splenda packets, 400 H.E.B. “Sweetener” packets, and 1,640 cups of coffee, I can personally confirm that it takes three H.E.B. packets to do the same job as two Splenda packets. You're welcome.
I tried Greenway Coffee for the first time today. Itʼs a solid cup of joe. Better than some, but not as good as others. But in its favor, it's on Main Street in downtown Houston; and the price is a little bit less than the Starbucks 40 feet away.
I recommend the Texas honey and somethingorother. That's what I got. Too bad I donʼt remember what itʼs called.
Bean bags are on the pricey side — running ~$20. But that includes a free cup of coffee, which brings the price down closer to $15. Which isnʼt awful in 2022.
Crowdsourcing used to be all the rage in the tech industry. It was a way to get content for your project for free. Use your automation system to ask enough people for content, and some small percentage will happy oblige. The problem with crowdsourcing is quality control.
If you let anyone contribute anything, anyone will contribute anything. I once built a crowdsourced system for people to share photographs of landmarks. A significant percentage of the photos contributed were people standing in front of a camera holding up their resumes, presumably hoping that someone searching for a photo of the Berlin Wall might magically hire them to write code in India.
In the example above, we see the result of two levels of folly. Getty Images allows anyone to upload photographs to its system in order to sell those pictures to other people. That's the crowdsourcing. Then Apple outsourced photography for Apple Maps to a bunch of entities, including Wikipedia, TripAdvisor, and also Getty Images.
The result is a photo of a city in China among the photographs that are supposed to depict the West Texas city of Midland.
The tech nerd part of me that should think, ”Oh, cool! Hobby Airport has industrial-grade floor cleaning robots!” is outweighed by the human being in me who thinks, “Well, there's one more job that some person with low skills got kicked out of.”
Not everyone in the world has the mental or physical capability to do a mid-level or high-level job. But they still need a job, and deserve the dignity that comes with employment. In the 80ʼs the justification for turning jobs over to robots was that the newly unemployed could be re-trained to fix or run the robots. But in my experience, that's only rarely true.
The more I interact with people of all social strata, the more I realize that mopping floors in an airport is a really good job for some people. One they can be good at, and proud of. That will allow them to provide for themselves, and maybe even another person or two. Iʼm not currently convinced that we should automate the humanity out of society.
I know Southwest is trying to be folksy and humorous by having the status sign at the airport gate tell me I have plenty of time to read magazines. But I canʼt help but think, “No kidding. My flight has already been delayed six times tonight.”
And by “peace and quiet” Southwest Airlines means “listening to the simultaneous FaceTime calls of half-a-dozen people who think pajamas and flip-flips are appropriate attire for a flight across the country.”
Southwest Airlines encourages people to download its app for a “contactless day of travel.” You know what else is contactless? The way it was done up to now.
There's nothing about using an app that is more contactless than using a home-printed ticket, or even the old-style paper tickets. Both are read by a contactless scanner. It's not like the gate agent is going to lick your face because youʼre not using an app.
There are more disadvantages to using an app for your boarding pass than using a piece of paper:
Ask any janitor — people drop their phones in toilets all the time.
Restrooms, bars, restaurants, payment kiosks — there are a thousand ways to lose your phone in an airport.
Phones run out of battery.
Phone apps crash.
Phone apps malfunction.
Internet connectivity is required, but not guaranteed.
Internet connectivity in airports is notoriously slow and unreliable.
People run out of data on their mobile plans while waiting for their planes.
Screens time out and turn off just when someone gets to the gate agent. It happens constantly.
My observation waiting in line behind people using app-based boarding passes is that the paper passes scan more quickly, and more reliably than the phone-based equivalents.
The only reason to use an app-based boarding pass is if you enjoy forking over even more of your personal information to an airline so that it can sell that information to other people.
I am a paying passenger. I am not your recurring revenue stream.
This sign at Midway Airport helpfully lists 18 coffee options in the gate area. I had a couple of hours to kill, so I went looking for a cup of joe. No luck.
More than half of the locations were closed, either temporarily or permanently. Most of the rest had lines 30 people deep. Probably because so many of the other restaurants were closed.
When I did finally find a place with a reasonably-sized line, they had no coffee. Didn't know they were supposed to have coffee. And were surprised to see their location listed on an official airport sign as having coffee.
This LED pylon was a big deal when it debuted 20 years ago. Even though it only showed promos for WLS-TV news, it was considered a major work of public art, which is why it was allowed to take up space on a public sidewalk.
The last time I checked on it was in 2017. It was broken then. It was also broken today, when I checked on it again in 2022. I can only hope that I just have bad timing, and it hasn't been broken for five years. State Street is already a lot shabbier than when I lived a few blocks away.
It was just a decade ago that newspapers were fighting for space in Chicagoʼs downtown newspaper racks. Now, nobody cares.
The racks were installed by the second Mayor Daley as part of his efforts to clean up downtown, where busy street corners would sometimes have ten, 15, or even 20 newspaper boxes all chained together, spilling out into the street and blocking both pedestrians and traffic.
The new street furniture brought order, but also controversy. Small and marginal publication accused the city of playing favorites. There was always room for a Tribune drawer, or a Sun-Times drawer, or a Crainʼs Chicago Business drawer; but neighborhood, non-English, classified advertising, and pornography publications couldn't always get in.
Lawsuits were threatened, but I donʼt know if they ever went anywhere. Perhaps simply because right around the same time, people en masse decided to get their news from the internet for free, instead of paying for dead trees. It didn't help that both of the big newspapers doubled their prices (or more) as the internet ate their revenue.
Today, about the only place to get a newspaper in downtown Chicago is in a drug store. And even then, you might have to go to two or three different stores to find one, since so few are printed. There's no need, since work-from-home has made a 2022 weekday lunchtime on LaSalle Street feel like the same location at 6am on a Sunday in 2012.
I was surprised to learn recently that a good number of people in Chicago donʼt know what this is. And many people donʼt even notice that theyʼre there.
Iʼm old enough to remember when these underground kiosks thrived at CTA stations all over Chicago. Some were newsstands. Some were Dunkinʼ Donuts shops. Some sold other kinds of food to passengers. I always thought that was funny, because at the time, you werenʼt allowed to eat or drink on a CTA train. But the CTA was happy to sell you both inside its own stations.
I remember lines at the Dunkinʼ Donuts kiosks would sometimes be long enough to block the turnstiles.
Today, theyʼre all boarded up with stainless steel plates. Some, like this one, are decorated. As if to pretend that they never existed at all.
If your radio station is actually an analog signal at 87.75 Mhz, muxed with a low-power ATSC 3.0 digital TV channel at the ass-end of the FM dial, and you still manage to come in #13 in the ratings, youʼre doing something right.
Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), as seen from a plane that just left Hobby Airport (HOU).
They're only about 17 miles apart, but Iʼve flown between them a few times.
In the 1990's there was a bit of a kerfuffle when Bush Airport raised its parking rates. People were mad. Like Texas mad. Because in Texas, parking is virtually a human right.
To capitalize on this, hometown flyer Continental Airlines offered a promo: Fly with Continental from Bush, and you can park at the much cheaper (my memory says it might have even been free) Hobby Airport. Continental would fly you from the smaller airport to the larger one to catch your real flight.
The magic of this was that, at the time, airlines would give you 500 frequent flyer miles just for getting off the ground. I was able to bank several thousand frequent flyer miles just hopping back-and-forth between IAH and HOU on my way to other cities. This was back when frequent flyer miles meant something, and werenʼt just Monopoly money.
One day as my flight from HOU to IAH was getting ready to take off, the plane taking off ahead of us crashed. We were still on the taxiway, so you could see the wreckage right there.
It was a small non-commercial plane, but that didnʼt make any of us passengers feel better because the Continental flight was a puddle-jumper so small that it only had seats on one side.
After a delay, we ended up taking off from another runway. Since then, my flights have been mostly uneventful. As they should be.
When you leave the airside of Midway Airport, this is what greets you. On the surface, itʼs a nice welcome message from the Mayor of Chicago. Sweet.
The cynic in me immediately starts thinking itʼs a shameless promotion, and another way for her to get her face out there, like all those craptastic little towns scattered across America with signs reading “Welcome to Gripplebunk; Population 3,122; Cleetus McFasterberry, Mayor.”
But the more I think about it, thereʼs more to this sign. Itʼs Mayor Lightfoot taking pride in her city. More importantly, itʼs hizzonor putting her neck out there and telling people “If your visit sucks, thatʼs my fault. If the train brakes down, thatʼs my fault. If you get mugged on Wabash, thatʼs my fault.”
It's also saying, “If you have an awesome time at Oak Street Beach, thatʼs my fault, too!” But few people seem to associate good things with the people responsible for them. Itʼs much easier to assign blame when thing go wrong.
Lightfoot is far from my favorite Chicago mayor, especially among this new generation. I disagree with a bunch of the things sheʼs done. But at least sheʼs trying to do things. And in ways big and small, she doesnʼt run from controversy or responsibility. Which makes her an old-style Chicago mayor.
I know that Mayor Lightfoot put a lot of work into the retail experience at Chicagoʼs airports. One of her big successes was populating them almost exclusively with local restaurants. Great idea. But you can't highlight local businesses, if those businesses aren't open.
This photo was taken at on a Tuesday at 5:37pm. It does a pretty good job of illustrating the retail situation at Midway Airport. Even though this was prime time for travelers, very few of the shops were open.
First impressions count. And millions of people will have this as their first impression of Chicago when arriving at Midway.
I have a bad habit of holding on to transportation cards; especially if they have leftover money still loaded on them.
The grey Ventra card was the first one. It also functioned as a MasterCard debit card with the idea that it could be of benefit to poor people and the many thousands of Chicagoans who canʼt or donʼt have a bank account. That didn't really work out, and eventually it was migrated into the more common blue transit card.
Amazingly, I was able to use the blue Ventra card on my most recent trip to Chicago. It had about eight dollars on it when I last used it, and 11 years later, that money was still available, and it worked fine. It turns out that it doesnʼt expire for 25 years.
More durable than a card, and you can hang it on a keychain, I got an akbil to get around Istanbul. The akbil system has since transitioned to a boring plastic card like most of the rest of the world, and the money that I had left on this has now expired.
Amtrak (United States)
This was just a rewards card, like a frequent flyer card. I earned quite a few points going back-and-forth between Chicago and Saint Louis; Seattle and Vancouver; Saint Paul and Chicago. But since Amtrak discontinued service to Las Vegas, I stopped using it and the points expired.
I think this is the oldest of the bunch. I have no idea if thereʼs any money left on it.
Orca bills itself as a single payment solution for getting around the entire Puget Sound area. But I seem to recall that it wasn't actually accepted everywhere. That may have been fixed by now, but I seem to recall that when I was using it, it was only valid on ferries, and Sound Transit buses and trains. I remember using paper transfer tickets on Seattle city buses.
I have no idea if thereʼs any money on this one, either.
Do It All (Singapore)
This card is supposed to do it all. I don't know if it did. I only used it on trains, and perhaps a cable car to Sentosa Island.
Thereʼs probably money left on it, if it hasnʼt expired.
Octopus (Hong Kong)
I've noticed that a lot of transit cards are named after sea creatures.
I had money on it, but that was probably forcibly expired as Hong Kong was crushed under the mainlandʼs thumb. At least I still have my Hong Kong money with the image of Queen Elizabeth Ⅱ on it.
A good number of transit cards are also positioned as general-purpose payment cards. My observation was that T-Money achieved this most thoroughly, and early.
It seemed like you could use T-Money anywhere in Seoul. Its acceptance was probably wider than even Visa or MasterCard.
Since T-Money is more like a bank account than a transit card, there's probably money left on it.
Suica is one of two major transportation cards in use in Tokyo, and adjacent areas of Japan. The other one is Pasmo.
How to choose between the two? Easy — Pick the one with the cute penguin on it.
Suica has a unique set-up process, where you can create your account and login at the ticket vending machine, and it prints your name on the back of the card. Pretty nifty.
Thereʼs very likely money on this one, since itʼs not that old.
Zipcard (United States)
When I lived in cities where I didnʼt need a car all the time, I used ZipCar to bring home major purchases that wouldnʼt fit on transit, or to take longer trips.
The interesting thing about the ZipCar process is that you tap the card on the car to unlock it and get the keys.