Proof of Fall 2007

I’ve been playing around with Gallery and wpg2. I’m still a bit puzzled attempting to integrate Gallery and WordPress. I’ve resolved most issues; the main remaining issue is to display images in the Ajaxian theme without running over the borders in the Ajax/slideshow views. Also, the embedded image apparently doesn’t render in the RSS feed. Update: I’ve given up on the G2 tinymce plugin and the WPG2 tag for now and just hardcoded the image and album URL. Update 2: now the embedded image is working again for no good reason. Suggestions on the entire configuration are welcome.

In any case, I took some pretty photos today in our back yard (use left and right arrow keys to scroll through images after clicking on the one below — I still can’t get the navigation icons to appear):


Before: Proof of Spring 2007.

[Tags]Autumn, Foliage, Trees, WordPress, WPG2, Gallery[/Tags]

Is the MBTA Killing Itself?

As I stand in a near cattle-car packed South Station, waiting while no trains arrive and no trains depart (“signal difficulties”), I wonder if forces are conspiring to make MBTA service so poor that it enters a death spiral of poor reputation for reliability, increasing fares, lower ridership, less revenue, etc.. One or two long delays or canceled trains in a short time span can be ignored, but after a while it may become impossible for the T to recover the lost goodwill. There’s a saying in trademark law, “once you’ve lost a customer, they’re often gone forever.”

Are signal difficulties for real, by the way?

More on this topic: this excellent op-ed in the Globe about the importance of mass transit to the local economy and life sciences in particular; contrast with this news about what the T plans as its next big project (hint: “T TV”).

Not much good news here, either.

Is anyone listening?

[Tags]MBTA, Boston, Mass Transit[/Tags]

Please Leave Me Alone John Connolly

Up until recently, I’ve been supporting John Connolly as candidate for city council. In addition to the recent concerns about anonymous mailings, I’m now getting hammered by his auto-dialer. I’ve received four prerecorded phone calls today and yesterday reminding me to vote for Connolly. (By contrast, I got one real human phone call from a Michael Flaherty supporter.) Now with a few hours left to vote, I’m on the fence. I wish this guy would leave me alone.

In the meantime, a WBUR interview claims that Felix Arroyo is the most vulnerable candidate (something I’ve never heard elsewhere). If that’s the case, I’m tempted to just bullet-vote for Felix.

I hope this last-minute vacillation doesn’t make me an idgit voter.

5pm update: three more automated phone calls! One for Murphy from Consalvo; and two for Connolly (one from Tobin, the other I forget). They’re pulling out all the stops, only at the last minute. I wonder who the dismal weather (and poor turnout) favors.

7pm update: three or four more calls, now including real humans! My wife figured out part of the reason we’re getting so many — separate calls each for her and me, even though it’s all on the same phone number.

In any case, we’ve all voted now. I did end up including Connolly in my votes despite these over-the-top tactics. I guess it shows, at least, that he’s well organized.

[Tags]Boston, City Council, Felix Arroyo, John Connolly[/Tags]

Catch-22 <> Poor Organization, and City Council Endorsements

I was quoted in a recent Needham Times article regarding my complaints with the T:

But Adam Rosi-Kessel, a Roslindale resident who takes the Needham Line to his job in the financial district, said 15- to 20-minute delays have kept him from getting to work before 9 a.m. since May.

Now Rosi-Kessel, a lawyer who biked to work when he lived in Jamaica Plain, is thinking about trading in his Charlie Card again.

“It used to be, living here in Roslindale, the train was always the fastest way to get in,” he said. “Now, it’s slowed down to the point where it’s starting to get competitive with biking again.”

I’m glad they got my biking quote. Here’s the part I don’t understand (emphasis added):

Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority spokeswoman Lydia Rivera said Needham Line delays have been caused by construction work and speed restrictions on tracks that don’t go anywhere near Needham.

In order to maximize train use, the T often transfers trains between tracks, rather than leaving underused trains empty in the MBTA yard. The method helps the T get trains where they’re needed most, but it also means a delay on one track can slow service on a seemingly unrelated track.

“It’s a Catch-22,” Rivera said.

I don’t think the T spokesperson knows what a “Catch-22” is. I refer those interested to the Wikipedia article on the subject, but it is nicely summarized there as “heads I win, tails you lose.” The T’s problem is not a logical paradox, but some combination of inadequate resources and poor organization. Can someone please help them out?

Also on Boston local topics: I’ve received several unattributed mailings lately related to the city council election that do not facially promote any particular candidate. Today’s mailing attacked Stephen Murphy for repeatedly trying (and failing) to win some other office or get some other job than City Councilor. The return address was 31 Milk Street, which is the address of many different businesses.

A few days ago, I received another unattributed mailing bemoaning how long it has been since an at-large city councilor came from the Parkway Area (my neighborhood), but not mentioning any candidate in particular.

My guess is these mailings are all meant to support John Connolly, a West Roxbury resident, attorney, and ostensibly good guy. I was feeling pretty happy about the possibility of Connolly replacing Murphy on the Council (I have to admit some unfair prejudice in that the only house in our neighborhood I’ve ever seen prominently posting a sign in support of Bush also features a Murphy billboard). But these questionable campaign tactics are giving me pause. Does anyone know anything more about this?

In any case, here are my endorsements for next week’s election, notwithstanding the concern outlined above: (1) Felix Arroyo, (2) John Connolly, and (3) Sam Yoon. I have no pick for a fourth candidate. I’ll also throw in a vote for Matt Geary. I really wouldn’t want the socialists running the City, but a broader spectrum of political opinion within the council wouldn’t hurt. Incidentally, it is remarkably hard to find any information summarizing all of the candidates’ positions and records. It’s almost as if the election isn’t even happening. (A commenter properly points me to Brighton Centered as a good resource.)

11/3/07 Update: More discussion here.

[Tags]Boston, City Council, Elections, Felix Arroyo, John Connolly, Sam Yoon, Stephen Murphy, Politics, MBTA, Transportation, Roslindale, Needham, Matt Geary[/Tags]

MBTA Responds

To follow up on yesterday’s MBTA philippic, I received a response from the T’s customer service regarding my complaints. Although it doesn’t give me hope that things will improve, it’s nice that they have at least hired someone to write personalized, polished replies. At least they can do that right:

Dear Mr. Kessel,

Thank you for your email concerning service on the Needham Line.

The past couple of months have been difficult for our passengers, and I want you to know we are very sorry for the inconveniences this has been causing. The causes of these delays have ranged from signal and mechanical issues to long stops boarding passengers at stations, and even track work on other lines.

I know that it may seem odd that trains on other lines can impact your trains, but I assure you that is true. The Franklin, Needham, Providence, and Stoughton lines, as well as Amtrak all share the rail between Hyde Park and Boston. All it takes is one delayed train in this area to cause a cascading effect that delays other lines. There’s also the fact that trains may come in from one line to go out as another. For example, a train on the Worcester Line comes to Boston, and either the train set, or the crew (sometimes both) head out as an outbound Needham train. If the inbound is late from Worcester, then the outbound Needham will be late, which also means that its “turn,” the next inbound, will be delayed.

In response to your comment about the doors not all being opened, even with a full compliment of conductors, crews are not able to staff every door, and especially at ground level stations we want to ensure that all customers are able to board and detrain safely. This is why conductors do not open all doors to the train.

I contacted our Mechanical Department, asking that the PA system on train 625 be checked out to make sure everything is working properly.

Please know that delays in service are not something that we take lightly, and all departments are committed to working together to ensure that our customers receive timely, safe, and reliable service.

Once again, I am sorry for the inconvenience this has caused you. Thank you for writing.


Linda Dillon
MBCR Customer Service Manager

MBTA Out of Order

Steve points out that the T has been falling apart lately. My own experience gives it a solid D minus as well.

Over the three years I’ve lived in Roslindale, I’ve been quite satisfied with the commuter rail. Unlike other lines (e.g., Worcester), the Needham Heights line does not share tracks with other carriers, and thus does not regularly get tens of minutes off schedule waiting for freight or other traffic to pass. (Why freight gets priority over passengers is a question for another day.) I live about 90 seconds walk from the commuter rail station, and I could calibrate my departure to be within one minute of the train every time.

Over the past few months, however, it has been a steady downhill slide. None of these complaints are novel, but I’ll enumerate them anyway: Trains have been canceled without notice (you didn’t really need to be at work by 9am, did you?). Nearly every train is late — I’ve started thinking of the 8:23am as the “8:30” because it hasn’t arrived before that time since early in the summer. Many trains are missing cars, so the remaining cars end up being standing-room only. Almost every day the train needs to wait for a free track at South Station, no matter which train I’m on. (I’ve never understood why this happens with 12 tracks, many of them empty.) Trains are often short conductors, which means not all the doors open at stops, which further exacerbates delay. And my personal favorite complaint: the PA system is often so loud that passengers have to cover their ears. Except when it’s broken and you can’t hear any announcements.

I hate to kvetch, but there must be something wrong here beyond technical glitches. Perhaps the most frustrating part is having no clue about the inner machinations that provide this result.

Other complaints from today (about different parts of the system).

JP Lantern Festival

From tonight’s Lantern Festival in Forest Hills Cemetery:

Lantern Festival

[Tags]Boston, Jamaica Plain, Lantern Festival[/Tags]

Best Simple Local Screenscraping Service Ever

As I sit here waiting for my 8:23am train, which actually will never come, I just discovered (“Where’s The T,” if you need it spelled out). This third-party site serves a no-frills, no tables, no graphics, no flash, sensibly organized list of MBTA interruptions. This is one of the best implementations I’ve seen of this sort of thing — absolute simplicity. I immediately added it to my cell phone bookmarks and Google Reader subscriptions.

More information from the creator.

Hospital Thoughts

Hospital CEO Paul Levy is seeking responses to some remarkably frank comments on competition in the hospital industry:

…Please remember that health care is not like other industries, in which companies are rewarded in the marketplace for being the high-quality, low-cost provider. That situation does not yet exist in the health care system. So, am I better off being a industry leader with regard to that approach, or am I better off biding my time and continuing to follow the traditional path until there is a real sign of change in the marketplace?

As I’ve written before, this kind of openness is refreshing and potentially a brilliant business strategy. (It may continue to be so even once every one is doing it.)

Paul’s comments and receptivity to feedback remind me of my numerous concerns about Children’s Hospital Boston, which, as far as I know, has no analogous public forum. I’ve sent in comment cards, but they may just drop into a black hole.

Two principal complaints about Children’s Hospital: television and food. There are TVs everywhere, including in the waiting rooms. They are always on, even if no one is watching them. On one occasion, we were the only ones in the waiting room. When we attempted to turn the TV off, the staff told us we couldn’t. When we went in examination rooms and our daughter was unhappy, the first response by the medical staff was often to turn on a TV.

Our daughter (just over two years old) has never watched TV, and doesn’t find it comforting. Research indicates that TV is not good for young kids, and especially not infants:

Babies are glued to television sets these days, with 40 percent of 3-month- olds and 90 percent of 2-year-olds regularly watching TV, according to a University of Washington study released Monday.

…”While appropriate television viewing at the right age can be helpful for both children and parents, excessive viewing before age 3 has been shown to be associated with problems of attention control, aggressive behavior and poor cognitive development,” Frederick Zimmerman, the UW study’s lead author, said in a news release….

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for children younger than 2, and only one to two hours a day of quality programming for older children.

Recently, we had to stay over in the hospital for a night. There were no private rooms available, so we requested at least not to be stuck in a room where the TV would always be on. They looked at us like we were from Mars. (In the end, our roommate’s TV was always on. The three month old patient didn’t care, but his private nurse wanted to watch TV.)

Why is a pediatric healthcare facility encouraging TV for infants?

The food complaint is similar: so much of the hospital food provided for children is high in fat, refined sugar, white flour, and artificial ingredients. I was looking for a fruit-juice popsicle for our daughter (what she eats at home), and the only options the hospital could offer had high glucose corn syrup as the first ingredient after water. Again, this is not rocket science — these are not appropriate foods for one- and two-year old children.

I realize in both cases (TV and food), the hospital is just mirroring popular culture in an attempt to provide familiarity for most kids, but I wish they would at least provide an option for those families whose kids don’t watch TV and eat a high-sugar diet.

Introducing the Taft Hill Neighborhood Association

This is the first link to the Taft Hill Neighborhood Association.

Probably only of interest if you live on or near Taft Hill Park/Terrace in Roslindale, Massachusetts, but I’ve got to get it out there somehow.

This was also my first experience with the Google Maps API. It took about two minutes to figure out, except that the syntax to display a “hybrid mode” map was not trivial to find. For the record, it turns out the answer was:

map.setCenter(new GLatLng(latitude, longitude), zoom, G_HYBRID_MAP);

Let’s see how long it takes for my new email address to start receiving spam.