Five Wishes for @METROrail in 2013

METRO light rail turns 4 today. Here are five of my wishes for the system in 2013 and beyond.

METRO opening 27 December 2008It’s hard to believe that we’ve had METRO light rail in Phoenix now for four years. It was on this day in 2008 when METRO trains first officially carried passengers across twenty miles in central Phoenix, downtown Tempe, and west Mesa. (The picture, right, is from the Encanto/Heard Museum platform just after the first trains started rolling on METRO’s opening day.)

As we look ahead to the future of public transportation in the Valley of the Sun, and as a very frequent rider, I have some observations and wishes for our beloved transit system in the coming year. They’re after the jump.

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Rainy day quick hit: Google Maps for iOS

Dear Apple (if you’re reading this post): Leave mapping to the experts; your customers have spoken.

iPhone App StoreQuick two-sentence post for a rainy evening in the desert…

You know that it says something about the quality of Apple’s native mapping application when, not quite twenty-four hours after its release, Google Maps for iOS (well, iPhone/iPod touch at the moment) is the number 1 rated free application for download.

Dear Apple (if you’re reading this post): Leave mapping to the experts; your customers have spoken.

Units will set me free.

How to be 95% sure your physics/chemistry/science homework is correct? Check your units.

My friend Jamie Gladhart posted this to Facebook and it’s definitely worth a share here:


You’ll have to click on the image to see it in full resolution. If you get the joke, then you are a good person. If not, then I hate to say that you’re missing out on a very good science joke.

I post this because I’ve been asked by several friends (and even colleagues!) about doing the math of science problems. Here’s what I say to them, and repeat after me: Units and Dimensional Analysis will set me free.

If you want to be about 90-95% sure that the math you have done is right, check your units. If your units in your problem make sense, then you’ve most likely done the math right. If they don’t, then check your work and your logic.

Units will set you free.

Monday Quick Hit: Facebook Photo Sync

Be in control with what info your apps have from your phone. Privacy is possible but it will take a little work.

Facebook_iconFacebook is at it again with a new (unhelpful and unwanted!) feature in their new version of their iOS and Android app. The app automatically uploads photos that you’ve taken on your smartphone or tablet. Given Facebook’s propensity to mine its users data, this feature has serious privacy implications that you should consider before you opt in to the service. (Yes, Facebook is making you opt in to a new feature, not opt out after they’ve rolled it out!)

This tutorial only covers iOS 6, since those are the devices that I have. If anyone could help out with Android instructions, that would be great.

There are two ways to approach this. The first one is to disable the feature from within the Facebook app. There are numerous posts out there that outline how to do this but the best one that I have found is from the Sophos “Naked Security” blog. The post outlines many privacy implications of this new service (which I hope you’ll read in its entirety!) but I’ll share a few highlights here:

2. If you enable the feature, your last 20 photographs and every subsequent photo you take, will be automatically uploaded in the background to a private Facebook album. So you may want to check what photos you have already taken first.

6. Automatic uploading of every photo you take means every photo you take. Yes, including the ones you took for that guy you’re flirting with, or the one you snapped of that part of your body you can’t quite see properly with a mirror. Furthermore, if someone takes a photograph of you without your permission it will be automatically uploaded to Facebook – you may demand that they delete the photo off their phone, but will it also have been removed from their private Facebook album?

7. Every photograph synced from your phone will be able to be mined for information by Facebook. Photos taken on mobile devices can include meta data such as the location where the photo was taken – and this could be used to determine where you are, and help Facebook display localised advertising. Furthermore, Facebook could integrate its facial recognition technology with Photo Sync, analyse your photos to see whose faces it recognises and automatically tag their names. Over time a comprehensive database of where you have been, and who with, is built up.

8. You are no longer in charge of what photos you upload to Facebook. In the past, you could decide what images you uploaded to the social network, and which pictures it could analyse for its own purposes. Now, all photos – good and bad – will be available to Facebook. That doesn’t mean anyone apart from you and Facebook’s servers will be able to see them, but there’s clearly a reduction in your level of control. [source, emphasis mine]

So now, take control. You can certainly not opt in to the feature from the Facebook app. Or, you can do what I did and disable Facebook’s access to my photos entirely. If I need to upload a photo to Facebook, I can use the native iOS 6 uploader and not have to go into the Facebook app. Here’s how to disable Facebook’s access to your iOS pictures completely:

On your iOS 6 device, tap Settings and scroll down (up?) to Privacy. It’s in the third grouping, right below General and Sounds. Once you’re in the Privacy menu, tap Photos. It should be the penultimate item in the first grouping. Finally, move the slider for Facebook from ON to OFF. Facebook will no longer be able to access your photos.

Here are some screen captures from my iPhone:

Online privacy takes a little creativity and a lot of knowledge. Sometimes, being proactive is the best thing to be.

Happy Monday.

Veterans’ Day 2012

Veterans Day 2012

While tomorrow may be a day off from work, it’s a day filled with observation, commemoration, and gratitude for friends, family, and all who have served, are serving, or are yet to serve in our country’s armed forces. We are eternally grateful for your service and sacrifice every day, even if it’s just more acute on this day.

Her Secret is Patience

A picture of Her Secret is Patience, the public art piece in downtown Phoenix.

I think it goes without saying that my all-time favorite piece of public art hangs right here in downtown Phoenix. It’s Her Secret is Patience, created by the artist Janet Echelman, for the Downtown Phoenix Civic Space Park.

Photo of the Day, 19 Oct 2012

It, like most things in downtown Phoenix, photographs better at night than during the day.

thoughts on Civic Ego

Civic ego (n.): “A city’s (or a city’s inhabitants’) sense of self-esteem or self-importance.”

[editor’s note: It’s great to be writing again.]

The notion of civic ego is something that seems like it hasn’t been explored a lot.  Great cities – and even nascent great cities – have it.  The great cities are very clear when they say that they are the great cities.  Consider this sentence: “Oh, well of course New York City is the cultural capital of the US.”  There are thousands of arts organizations in NYC, including the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, the Julliard School of Music, and far too many others to mention.

So I thought of a phrase that takes this all into account: civic ego.  The definition isn’t any more than the sum of its constituent words: civic meaning of cities and ego meaning a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.  Combined, I posit that the definition of civic ego is this: “A city’s (or a city’s inhabitants’) sense of self-esteem or self-importance.”  (Of course, this implies that cities are living, breathing entities.  I think that we would all agree with that.)

This is something that we don’t have a lot of here in Phoenix.  We’re a nascent city and a city that’s generally on the correct track.  Something that we lack here in Phoenix is civic ego.  We’re definitely deferential to the cultural and physical amenities that we have here.  Instead of saying, “We’re a great city and we deserve these great amenities,” we say, “How lucky we are to have this in Phoenix.”

While it’s sometimes good to adopt the more deferential tone, if Phoenix is to be a great city, then we need to adopt the mindset that we are a great city.  This isn’t blind boosterism: this is changing our thinking from “being lucky” to “of course this should be in Phoenix.”  We can have nice things, too.  So let’s be unabashedly proud of what’s here.

More thoughts on this later. For now, your thoughts are always appreciated! How can we improve Phoenix’s civic ego?

An Appreciation of Sally Ride

The PBS NewsHour and Miles O’Brien offer an appreciation of the life of Sally K. Ride, the astronaut who passed away yesterday aged 61.


“Sally Ride, I think, saw space as a means to an end. Her passion, her goal was to inspire young people to take on careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. When you’re 8 years old, you don’t want to be a waste management engineer. You want to be an astronaut, right? And she understood that intuitively, that to get kids in the tent, inspiring them with space was the way to go. And she committed her — her post-NASA career was all about that, consistently and relentlessly.” –Miles O’Brien

What’s OUR Apollo moment today?

What is our Apollo moment today? What can we accomplish before THIS decade is out?

Forty-three years ago, humanity set its first feet on a foreign celestial body. Or, in other words, 43 years ago, we landed on the Moon.

New York Times, 21 July 1969

Forty-three years ago today, Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., set humanity’s first foot on the moon. It came from an audacious dream in 1961 from the then-President, John F. Kennedy, and it was achieved “before this decade is out.”

What is our Apollo moment today? What one goal can we as Americans — nay, as humanity unified — achieve before this decade is out? Do we choose to eradicate poverty and hunger? Or pledge to ourselves that war will be no more? Do we challenge ourselves to stop our influence on global warming?

If we don’t dream audaciously, then humanity’s future is bleak. Here’s to exploring further, digging deeper, and dreaming like we’ve never dreamed before.