Sunday, November 18, 2007

iPhone Therefore I Am

Last weekend, while down in Corning, I lost my cellphone. As you could well imagine, I was distraught for well over a nanosecond. Now, I liked the basic idea of the BlackBerry, but the device itself was not well designed and I never really did like it all that much, despite the fact that I relied on it heavily for mobile e-mail access, even if it was a really crappy cellphone (or, in other words, a cellphone).

So Friday morning I went down to Crossgates Mall to the Apple Store and splurged on an iPhone. Leave it to Apple to get me to like a cellphone. It is everything the BlackBerry should have been. It synced up both my e-mail accounts (and uses basically the same Apple Mail application I use on my laptop. It connects to the Internet through an available Wi-Fi network or, if there isn't one, it uses AT&T's network. The Web browser is basically Safari and accesses most Web pages identically to how pages are accessed on a computer. It's a tinier screen, of course, but the zoom feature works pretty well, and if you turn the iPhone horizontally, it automatically flips the display to widescreen. AT&T gets a bad rap, but the people in the AT&T store in Crossgates couldn't have been nicer and more helpful in setting up an account and porting my mobile number over from Sprint. I have had no problems accessing the AT&T network and saratoga appears to be well covered. I was easily able to surf the Web while on the bus, or out at Happy Hour (we were trying to find out what restaurants were participating in Restaurant Week and I was easily able to access the appropriate site.

My only gripe is the onscreen keypad which requires fingers the size of a two-year-old's. But I am getting better at it. In fact, this post was created on the iPhone, and wasn't too onerous at all

In sum, I love my iPhone--losing my cellphone was probably the best thing that ever happened!

Monday, November 05, 2007

EZ Does It

A friend of mine forwarded this e-mail letter to me, which smacks of hoax:
Subject: EZ Pass alert

New York State started a pilot program upstate north of Albany on the Northway to catch speeders using the Easy Pass system. Recording devices were installed at intervals along the highway. Once an Easy Pass equipped vehicle passes, the device registers the account number and the time. Same is again registered at the next "check-point". Based upon the distance between the register points and the posted speed limit, the state is sending speeding tickets in the mail to the guilty persons.

Because every driver does not have Easy Pass , the State is "perplexed" as what to do to impose the system state-wide. The solution has been found. Soon all new vehicle registration stickers will have a metal strip or chip imbedded in same. This will take the place of the Easy Pass system as stated above. When a vehicle passes the registering device, the strip will relay all the information.

This is not fictional. New York State contracted with VERIZON to install the system. The system has already been installed and the entire Bronx River Parkway in Westchester County has been "wired" for when the new system begins. Once the State makes the new program public and advises all motorists of the potential for numerous speeding tickets, it will also reveal that the system has already been installed.

Another reason that will be given for the new system is to enable the authorities to track stolen vehicles, to trace kidnap victims, to monitor and trace suspected criminals and terrorists, etc.


Pass this along to every one you know.
A Google (and Snopes) search turned up no serious debunking, but certain points make me suspicious:

First of all, they spell out "Easy Pass" when the system is called "EZ Pass"--OK, hardly damning evidence, to be sure, but still...

Second of all, "upstate north of Albany on the Northway" is I-87, which runs from Albany to Montreal (though the route number changes at the Canadian Border). However, there are no tolls on the Northway, and while the point of the system cited in the letter is to catch speeders and not collect tolls, you tend not to find very many people north of Albany who have EZ Pass tags (that is, why would they have them--decoration? status?), so why the state would pick this particular place to launch such a pilot program is a mystery.

And third of all--"New York State contracted with VERIZON to install the system"--I have Verizon (and have endured Verizon Wireless) and they have yet to master basic telephone service, so I'm not confident that any Big Brother technology they could come up with would work anyway.

This is not to say that EZ Pass can't be used to catch speeders. In fact, that very thought occurred to me the minute I heard about electronic toll systems. (I remember this discussion coming up when they started introducing electronic toll roads in Southern California in the 1990s.) And it's a bit less egregious than London where omnipresent cameras photograph your license plate, which is scanned optically, and mapped to a database and if you are caught parking illegally (or not paying the Central London Congestion Fee) you receive a ticket in the mail (which has actually happened to my London friends).

But then again, all license plates are photographed when cars go through New York State tollbooths (which is why the signs say "EZ Pass can be used in any toll lane," and even if you don't get the green light you still get charged--this has happened to me, so I called EZ Pass and asked) so if the state wanted to start issuing speeding tickets based on how fast a car has gone from one tollbooth to the other, they don't need EZ Pass to do it. (Fortunately, at my age, I need to make regular pitstops when taking the Thruway anywhere, which renders this process fairly useless in my case, no matter how much I speed, since the rest stop probably takes more time than I would save by driving fast, throwing off their complex mathematical calculations.)

Of course, the truly paranoid can simply just not speed.

As for the whole "Big Brother" thing--it's really not high on my list of worries. All I can say is that anyone who has the inclination to pry into my life had better stock up on No Doz. I would imagine the same applies to 99% of humanity.