"Akit is the man. He knows Clipper." (spenta)
"It’s a fantastic blog for any San Franciscan."
"Your blog is always on point, and well researched!" (Nina Decker)
"Everyone's favorite volunteer public policy consultant..." (Eve Batey, SF Appeal)
"You are doing a great job keeping on top of Translink stuff. Keep up the good work!"
(Greg Dewar, N Judah Chronicles)
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(Empowered Follower)
"If anyone at City Hall wants to make public transit better for all San Franciscans, it would be wise to follow Akit religiously...
or, better yet, give him a job."
(Brock Keeling, SFist)

Monday, December 29, 2008

I'm Convinced - Translink on SF Muni Works Fine

With all the reporting I do on this blog about the Translink program, I finally gave it a shot in the arm aboard San Francisco Muni last Saturday. I hopped aboard BART to stop at 24th St. Mission Station (regular BART ticket) for a tasty burrito, and went to downtown to look around and snack on food at the Westfield (SFSU students, staff, and faculty gets 15% discounts by showing your ID). I hopped aboard the F-Market shuttle bus, (I guess the historic trolleys were not enough to cover the passenger loads that day), and asked the driver if he will accept "the card" (a.k.a. Translink card). He said to take a shot at it, and I tagged the card at the reader, and sure enough, IT WORKED!

Sure, the bus was packed, but this young guy (passenger), a little younger than me, heard the beep sound, and asked me about the card. He was actually shocked that the device installed on the bus actually worked, and was not just an ornament installed to make Muni look fancy. So I told him a quick summary about how it works, and how I got an automatic transfer on my card.

So after venturing around town, I used the card again at the Muni metro platform at one of these gates:

and it worked perfectly. I was still within the 90 minute limit of the electronic transfer I was issued from my ride on the F-Market, so the ride was free. If you watch the YouTube video I posted (also seen here), you notice that when I "tag" my card at the "exit" Muni metro gate at Powell, it lets me through. It's like my own personal express entrance to Muni metro. Even one of the Muni supervisors monitoring the gates at the Embarcadero station (who was letting the folks with tickets for the Cal bowl game at AT&T Park) was familiar with the program.

It's actually nice that I used the card about three times that day, and every operator/agent I asked knew what the card does. Unfortunately, I haven't encountered the feared Muni fare inspectors.

What's really interesting from being a pilot tester for the Translink program is that I made many suggestions on improving the program, and one of my best suggestions has actually made it through the bureaucrats' ears!
  • I suggested that the vehicle card readers should emit a louder beep tone when cards are read and confirmed as paid. During the pilot test, the readers installed on station platforms like on select Caltrain stops and Muni metro stations were LOUD, but on the vehicles, it was more of hushed tone, like a softer than a normal conversation voice. My primary argument is that people with even minor hearing issues may not hear the beep (ADA requirements), so Translink cranked up the sound to be as loud as the station platform readers on the Muni bus readers.
Since the SFMTA/Muni and Translink representatives are now reading my blog entries and responding in my comments sections, maybe they can answer some of my questions:
  • Does Muni's "Culturebus" and the "Special Event" (a.k.a. Candlestick) buses allow Translink use with the proper fee charged? ($7 on Culturebus with an all-day transfer for free rides on Culturebus and other Muni services, and $7 for the Candlestick express with a free transfer for the return trip). Of course, I could just rip-off Muni and pay $1.50 for the Culturebus.
  • If a Translink cardholder on Muni accumulates the value of a one day Muni passport ($11), is the rest of the rides on the system free? It is possible for passengers to accumulate more than $11 in Muni fares, especially the high price for a Cable Car ride ($5 per ride, that is, when Translink offers the service on Cable Cars with portable card readers with the conductors).
  • Do the Muni fare inspectors carry Translink card readers?

Another nice thing, Translink accepts my Commuter Checks!
One thing I did today (Monday morning) is I brought my $30 Commuter Check to the Transbay Terminal AC Transit ticket office. The lady at the counter was so nice and said that my Commuter Check voucher is accepted to add Translink money to my account. This means that I don't need to buy anymore of those Muni token coupon books, and I can use the funds for other transit services using Translink, like the Golden Gate Ferry.

I haven't tried using my Commuter Check voucher at the SFMTA Customer Service office yet. AC Transit has been using Translink for a good while, but STMTA/Muni is brand new to the full rollout of the program. While Commuter Check can be linked directly to my Translink account, I still want the flexibility of a claim voucher so I can save it up or claim it for a non-Translink fare media like BART tickets.

Cool tip, if your employer offers Commuter Check, WageWorks, or a similar pre-taxed automatic payroll deduction transit ticket/voucher program, I suggest signing-up for it.

Instead of paying $1.50 for a ride on Muni, I only pay $1.15, or a 17% average savings (I claim it on token tickets). You can save even MORE by buying high value BART tickets that gives an additional 6.25% discount, and loading cash on a Translink card and using it on Golden Gate Transit/Ferry services which automatically gives all cardholders the "commuter" discount, regardless of how often you ride. But now that I can claim it on Translink e-cash, no need for physical tickets.

With this slight change in heart, I might just sign-up as a "victim" of Muni's testing of the Translink program (just don't reject my registration).

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Exclusive Translink Entry Gates for Muni Metro

Muni is really taking Translink to the next level. I took a photo of this "exit" gate at the Powell St. station that has been converted into a Translink entrance to Muni metro.

Now how soon until the "pilot" or testing phase is fully over and the entire public can start using it? Please don't say 2010...

If all goes well, this is the future of Translink (a video of Japan's "IC" card in use on the subway):

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Did SF Muni's PR person Maggie Lynch get fired?

I was just watching KPIX today and they were mentioning about their investigation program, showing the big bosses and PR people refusing to talk to reporters. Then it was a just a few second shot of Maggie Lynch, a San Francisco Muni public relations person who walked away from pressure from a reporter about leaking pipes due to Muni's mistakes. (If you can't take the pressure, maybe you should fart a few times to clear it out).

Oh yeah... and covering Muni's ass for the dragging of a passenger on a metro platform, with total disregard of Muni operators usually reading their newspapers and not looking in their mirrors.

I knew that something did change around SF Muni, Judson True is the current head public relations person for San Francisco Muni.

So what happened to Maggie Lynch?

Did her wild PR campaign force Muni/SFMTA to terminate her or push her to some desk job?

Maybe pressure from my blog entry in October 2007 demanding for Maggie Lynch to be fired was the last straw. Who knows? At least she isn't blabbing to the news cameras.

Public relations aint that fun... but that guy who used to do PR for Caltrain was a cool guy, he was old, but he told the blunt truth, without sugar coating it. Someone got hit on the tracks? He'd say something like this: "You have to be stupid to cross the tracks when the lights and gates are down."

California's State Economy is Falling and I'm Worried

I'm an employee of the State of California, in particular the California State University system. I love working at San Francisco State University, and I'm also proud that I am going to earn my second degree (M.A.) at this university as well in the coming weeks.

But I am not just an employee and a double graduate, I'm also an ambassador to San Francisco State, almost like the perfect poster child of SFSU; a young educated professional who works hard, representing the University, and working for the university as a student employee for nearly four years and being hired as a regular employee. I even enjoy meeting random new students and parents on the University campus and providing them help on their way to an enjoyable day and to a successful future.

I worry about how the economy and state budget is doing. In fact, while everyone in the University tries to keep their morale up, we also notice morale going down, especially the faculty who realize that some of their classes they normally teach will practically be double the size, particularly the cutting of sections, thereby forcing students to fight for a seat in one of the few remaining classes. A fear throughout my employee's union is that some of us may be laid-off, and that has to be one of the worst feelings in the world to know that you will be let go, regardless if you were a good employee with high marks on your evaluation.

Our state legislators keep bickering over how to resolve this crisis, but doesn't seem to find a good solution. Even if the legislature passes something from the democrats, we just know that the "Governator" will just turn it down (veto), and we the regular employees take the brunt of the government leaders' failures. I am neither a Democrat or Republican, I consider myself to be an "independent thinker" because I feel that I should never be influenced by any political party and I make decisions based on what I feel is right and good for everyone. This is why I am an outspoken person who is a blogger.

We can never forget that we are a cash strapped state, and everyone is tightening their belts a little bit more just so that the state can provide the essential services needed to keep the state running.

Us state employees always get stereotyped as lazy people who sit on our butts all day to get a paycheck every month. That is a terrible stereotype. I work very hard because I have pride in my line of work, I might just be an Administrative Assistant, but I know that when I get my paycheck, I truly earned it. My supervisor expects me to work hard, and I clearly show it when I work on projects, speak with concerned students and parents, and my other daily tasks I am committed to doing. I even put a little bit of my own money into getting my uniform professionally cleaned and pressed so I can give a lasting impression to our students and parents that hard working professionals, as myself, are serving the University community with honesty, pride, and professionalism.

I am very grateful that I have a job that I can serve with pride. I am honored to be a member of CSUEU (California State University Employees Union) and a double alumnus. There must be a fair solution to assure that we don't have to lay-off people, and minimize the suffering of every citizen of the State of California.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Xbox 360 Broke Down - Best Buy Replaced it for Free, but also wanted $150

It's the thing I most dread about video game systems... it breaks down and doesn't work anymore. That's what happened to me Thursday with my Xbox 360, but it wasn't the "red ring of death" (three red lights), I had an overheat signal (two red lights in left quadrant) when the system was completely cold.

So after several attempts, I totally confirmed that it does not work, unhooked everything, and packed it in the original box to send to Best Buy. Fortunately, I purchased a two year replacement plan for $59, knowing that the odds were high that my system would break down. That replacement plan sure came in handy.

So I head down to the Best Buy store in San Francisco (Geary Blvd.) with my receipt and the box packed neatly with everything. I was served very quickly by a lady, but then the long nightmare started. She asked a Geek Squad member to test out the system, and it supported my theory that the overheat mechanism was not working properly and kept shutting down the console. Then she called over a co-worker because there was some sort of problem with the registry about my purchase and I had to wait over 20 minutes to get it resolved. I eventually got my new Xbox 360 system, and it was actually an upgrade from my previous console (old console: 20 GB, new console: 60 GB with two free games).

The really bad news is that initially they told me that I could keep my old hard drive because it had all my saves, map downloads, and my Xbox Live registration. But when the new console was near ready to leave the store, I asked them about my old hard drive. The employee stated a "new" policy that forced me to leave my old hard drive and I was forced to accept the new hard drive. I was a little confused, so I asked them if it is possible to transfer the data from the old hard drive to the new one.

So the employee talks to the Geek Squad guy and comes back and says "sure" they can transfer the information to the new hard drive, for $150. I yelled out, ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS?!?! ARE YOU CRAZY? Even the folks waiting to return items were in shock. I told the employee, hell no, and walked out with the console, but I also expressed grief with the store manager when leaving.

I told the manager, "it seems a little unfair that Geek Squad wants to charge me $150 to transfer the information to the new hard drive." The manager said to me that the price seemed odd to him even though he knew that I had to get the console REPLACED, and after said "bye" to me. I was half-way pissed, but happy that I got a new system. Then I suffered 3 hours of updating the Xbox 360, including the 400 MB map pack for Call of Duty 4. I also lost all my saves, except for Call of Duty 4, which remembered my high scores and my full completion of the game.

Here's my summary of why I'm a little disturbed at Best Buy:
  • They took much longer than expected to replace my console.
  • They initally promised to swap my old hard drive with the new one.
  • They backed away from the swap, attempting to scam me out of $150 to transfer the data, when the system broke down and should have been done as a courtesy, since I had the replacement plan.
  • After explaining my concerns to the manager, he should have taken action immediately to find out why the price is so high, especially after giving his comment that the price that high was so odd.
Now I just noticed, 360 sells a hard drive transfer cable. They should have told me about this and let me keep the old hard drive so I can do it myself (since the old console is dead). You rip-off bastards.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Small Holiday Budget? Time to White Elephant!

With the economy going really bad, we all can agree that we've had to tighten our belts and put a padlock on our wallet. One way to make the holidays more affordable and share it with friends is to do a "White Elephant" event at your annual family and/or work party.

What is a "White Elephant?" Well, it's basically a gift exchange, but instead of buying something new, you give away something that you own and don't need anymore. This is especially good for folks who have a lot of old (but useful) junk.

Here's the rules I play:
  • Each person brings one wrapped gift to the party.
  • Depending on the number of participants, a person will write digits on slips of paper.
  • Every person draws a number out of the jar.
  • The lowest number (number one) goes first to pick a gift and opens it.
  • The second lowest number can "steal" number one's gift or open a new one. If person one's gift is stolen, the person can open a new gift.
  • Continue following the pattern until everyone goes around once. The limit for steals PER GIFT is two. Once the gift is stolen the second time, that's theirs to keep.
One tip to give: Bring a backup gift, sometimes people forget to bring one.

It's a fun laugh riot full of mysterious surprises. Bring your camera to take photos of shocked reactions. Some people can also put a mysterious theme on their gift box, such as the "Mayor Gavin Newsom mystery box."

Happy holidays everyone!
My big holiday gift is coming soon... my Master's degree! I submitted my thesis on Monday.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

What happened to Adam's Block (Webcam)?

This is really weird, Adam's Block was really starting to get popular on the web. Adam set-up two cameras covering the Tenderloin District of San Francisco (and let me tell you, it aint tender).

It was really addicting to watch the cams and talk about it in the chat room because you got to see some really cool things like people crossing the street, the chat room yelling out taxicab and cop car numbers, drug deals in front of the camera, and Leroy the crazy bum.

But I just checked the site this afternoon, and it was showing reruns of popular clips, and now it's showing a different cam operated by someone else (sfchemist cam).

Nobody knows what the heck is going on between Adam and Justin.tv. There's no official updates anywhere about what's going on, and checking Google blogsearch shows that this is going to be the first blog entry asking "Where's Adam?" Some have put some really crude rumors on the Adam's Block chat (which I won't describe here), and whenever anyone asks about Adam, the moderator just says "e-mail Adam" and nobody else has an answer (maybe because they fear getting kicked out of the room).

So help me and the entire world folks... Where did Adam's Block go?

UPDATE: Adamsblock.com has been updated with an "apology" letter, which the context says some harsh stuff. I won't give an opinion on the letter.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Muni is Committed to Translink Card Program

San Francisco Muni... where the buses are sometimes late, and the NextBus system is broken (like today).

Some new news came out from Muni officials (first found out by SFist, then the SF Chronicle) is that the Translink program is going to the public with a select group of regular average citizens testing the system in exchange for taking surveys and reporting back any problems.

Well... finally! Sheesh, about time Muni to get the bugs out of the system. Translink will work well, but needs to shake out those buggers, especially the select bus drivers and other employees who are complete morons and doesn't know what Translink or what the program does.

The Translink readers used to state: "Testing in progress." Now it states: "Tag Card Below" with yellow stickers giving very simple instructions on how to tag the card.

Some advice for you people who are going to test the program for Muni:
  • Always assume that every Muni driver, station agent, fare inspector, etc. is a complete idiot. With that in mind, always make sure that you conduct your Translink business very out in the open so they know what you are doing. (Similar to casino employees who always clap before leaving the table to show they have nothing hiding in their sleeves and exposes their hands to the camera)
  • Register for the test program, it might save your butt if you get a citation for fare evasion. Muni and the MTC can provide you support to appeal the citation.
  • Always carry enough pocket change just in case it does not work.
  • If at a Metro station, make sure you grab the agent's attention before using the card. I witnessed a lady who tagged her card, but the agent was not paying attention and denied her entry to the system even though her fare was deducted. But the new thing is Translink installed the readers on all "exit" gates, so you can easily skip the agent.
  • If you get tired of Muni, hop on Golden Gate Transit and Ferry and you save a lot of money on your ride. Golden Gate charges Translink users the "frequent commuter" rate, which is cheaper. It also works on AC Transit too.
Let's hope this works. How soon until Muni is up and ready for full public use?

Lastly, if you use "commuter checks," you can ask to have the funds electronically transferred to your Translink account. But unfortunately, there's a long delay between the fund transfer from the Commuter Check program and it being updated on your Translink account. I am using Commuter Check, but won't risk it until they get it streamlined or I can find a place where Commuter Check vouchers can be loaded in-person at a retail location (like the SFMTA customer service location).

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Terrible Take Out Boxes in San Francisco - Thanks Styrofoam Ban

As many of you Bay Area folks know, San Francisco passed a law that forbids restaurants to serve take-out food in styrofoam containers. This was a great idea by our city leaders since styrofoam causes harm to the environment. Our wacky tree protesting neighbors in Berkeley also have a similar law.

But now... when you order items, most of the time they serve it in this lid box made out of paper. Yeah... it's great for composting, but it's terrible to hold your food in it. Got something fresh from the kitchen, and it's so hot that the damn box starts getting all moist and soggy (like a couple of minutes after receiving the box)? Got something a little bit moist, say the juices of the chicken? In just a couple of hours, it'll LEAK THROUGH the bottom of the take-out box!

Last week, I ordered a Japanese style curry dish over a lot of rice, and although they handed me bag to haul it in, the box was so unstable due to the heat and moisture, that the box nearly snapped in half. I had to pull out a grocery paper bag to haul it in, because the bottom of the bag is flat.

No offense city officials, but the paper take-out box is a terrible idea and is a big pet peeve on my list.

Here are the boxes I like take-out food to be served in:
  • The classic Chinese take-out box, never leaks, well protected, and easy to transport. There's also a wider one that's more like a tray that can be a perfect substitute for that paper thingy.
  • The tray style with lid take-out box made of CORN. That stuff won't destroy your meal (but you might eat it!).
  • Plastic tubs and lids. These are used for soups and even better than styrofoam because they don't crack that easily, and you can wash it and reuse.
Just a thought about the plastic tubs and lids: It's a great idea, but I think there are some people who question if it is allowable to recycle. The answer is, yes, please throw them in the bin. You can literally recycle anything with a "recycle number" that's usually on the bottom of products. It's not just soda cans, bottles, and newspapers folks.

But here's the thing folks, if you still love your styrofoam (and plastic bags), go buy your takeout food in Daly City (San Francisco loses tax money, but these days, who really gives a damn about Mayor Newsom and his supervisor nutjobs passing insane laws?). Just head across the border into Westlake.

If you want to be EVIL, go head down to your local Costco or Smart and Final and get yourself a set of styrofoam boxes and plastic bags (and YES, YOU CAN GET STYROFOAM BOXES AT COSTCO AND SMART AND FINAL LOCATIONS IN SAN FRANCISCO). So the next time you visit your favorite restaurant, just bring your own styrofoam product and give the middle finger to city politics.

Lastly, Akit's Complaint Department is going on a little hiatus. I have just over a week to finish my graduate school project before I earn my M.A. degree. Please cheer me on, I really want to get this over with and share my research with the Japantown community.

But don't worry, I'm haven't gone on temporary insanity... that's when I do my blogging. Thanks to all of you for reading my blog and subscribing on your RSS or similar feed program. I noticed that 15 people subscribed on the Goodle feeds program!