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Free rides on Muni for everyone!

Grab the Muni Mitter app Apparently the app was taken down, so for now your ability to reset Muni’s limited use paper tickets to their original condition is suspended. You might be able to find it on a torrent, search for the app file “Muni Mitter.apk”

Hold the ticket to the back of an NFC enabled Android phone, and reset the ticket to the state it came out of the ticket vending machine. Beep.

Works for one ticket, sorry, no friends&family feature (yet).

  1. Buy a limited use ticket at one of the ticket vending machines
  2. Do not use the ticket right away: Fire up the Muni Mitter app, hold the unused ticket to the NFC reader of your Android Android, and set the unused ticket
  3. Now you can use the limited use ticket
  4. Do not mitter the ticket while riding – you need to retain your proof of payment
  5. After the trip, hold the used ticket to the NFC reader of your Android Android and mitter the ticket. Muni Mitter will write back the card as recorded in step 2
  6. Go ride again, rinse and repeat

Tested against Muni’s enforcement last night – passed just fine!

Update October 18: Apparently the limited use tickets are valid for only a couple of weeks. So ever so often the purchase of a new ticket seems in order.



Clipper TVMs

Clipper Ticket Vending Machines, Embarcadero Station

The story how Muni’s electronic fare cards can simply be reset using a smartphone with NFC and the “right” app reminded me of the fallacies that happen when technology hits complexity. The case here involves an extra twist to the plastic Clipper cards that everybody else in the Bay Area uses. But this being San Francisco, there seems to be a need for disposable paper cards, sold at the pictured  ticket vending machines. These allow for cash-only, no deposit access to Muni. Never mind the trash and extra cost. And complexity. And so it goes that these paper cards aren’t really checked out and ready for prime time. That’s because they can be reset to the state they came out of the machine, up to 90 days until they expire. As often as you please. So in theory, all you need is to pull a two dollar paper ticket from the machine every three months, and ride for free the rest of the way.

Update: Now, there’s an app for that.

All this futzing with other-than-standard-issue-cards of course is on top of all the wrinkles that other participating agencies throw in as well. Golden Gate Transit and Caltrain are tap-in/tap-out, while Muni is not, BART famously allows the Clipper cards to go negative because avoiding that would require BART-only refill machines at all BART stations. If you ride Caltrain on a monthly pass remember to only tap in and out at the first day of the month. And so on. And once that’s all figured out, you’re not done: Inject additional layers of complexity like employer sponsored plans, auto-load, and you end up with a decade plus project and a boneyard of bankrupted contractors.

So what’s the moral of the story? To me, if you think that technology enables you to harness the complexity of a problem, you will soon find out that it works the other way around. Complexity will sink your technology, because now you’re forced to work out every last detail and edge case that manual systems tend to informally institutionalize over the years. What needs to be done going in is to simplify and unify the system before even the first hour is spent on a technical spec. Easier said than done, because, in the case of a project like Clipper, the political powers-that-be will rip your project to shreds. As for the paper cards – those were introduced to cater to the cash-only crowd in SF and appeace their political standard bearers at the Board of Supervisors and elsewhere. So, good luck with that, as they say.

eBay apparently didn’t get the memo

The world has put the idea of you shall not suck right before the achievement of success and delight. Did eBay get the memo? Apparently not. This here company decides to capitalize on a wrinkle in a new law that recently passed that allows them to lock their users out of class action, and force them into arbitration. Is this directed against its users, the ones that actually bring money to eBay in the form of posting fees? Absolutely, methinks. But to add insult to injury, eBay, a premier example of a company that was built on the idea of paperless Internet commerce, requires its users to exercise the good ole snail mail system if they want to opt out from forced arbitration. Writing them a letter, postage and all. Just in case you wondered, here’s the corresponding provision in their new User Agreement.

To be sure, I am not going to send them a letter. I will stop using eBay instead.

Tech 101: The Internet, an Internet

It always irks me when people who should have a better understanding of technology cannot tell the difference between what the Internet is and what an internet is, like this here writer at The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Crovitz of the WSJ quotes “Robert Taylor, who ran the ARPA program in the 1960s” that “‘The Arpanet was not an Internet. An Internet is a connection between two or more computer networks'”.

Mr. Taylor of course is correct. It’s just that Mr. Crovitz should understand that the ARPANET is referred to as not being an internet in the sense that it was a single network, forming the core of today’s Internet. Even so, ARPANET implemented packet switching and incubated the technologies we rely on in the Internet today. There would be no Internet without ARPANET, as both rely on internetworking technologies developed for ARPANET.

But why care about the little details. What Mr. Crovitz seems to be interested in is writing yet another anti-government propaganda piece. Which of course adds stupidity to ignorance. Just talk the government down long enough and that’s what you’ll finally get. The stupid comes into play that we’re still paying the same ole’ taxes. And these are not going anywhere, try as you might.


We Know Where You Live

And we know when you’re not home. Thanks to the Stakeout app, you can scan the Meetup front page for member sign-ups in your area. Available in the Opera app store.

Stakeout is fairly simple to use. First, Stakeout reads the device location. This may take a few seconds. Once the location is found, you can press the Go button and start the automatic scan of Meetup’s web site.

Unless you live out in the sticks, the list should soon fill up with meetup sign-ups in your area, replete with member names and links to the members’ Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter pages, as provided by the member. Besides the social networking sites, the entries also have a WP button. It opens the White Pages people search for a member’s name.

“Frictionless”, as Mark Zuckerberg would probably  say.

To the left a screenshot of Stakeout. Use the Go / Stop button to control Stakeout. The buttons to the right open the respective social networking sites.

Meetup Has No Privacy

When it comes to privacy, it is the big social networks that receive most of the attention. About a year ago, The Wall Street Journal ran an entire series of articles about Facebook alone. So it is left to Theo to pick up the mop and check out some of the smaller social networks. In this post we look at Meetup allows people to set up gatherings around interests such as fitness or technology. Users of Meetup set up accounts, add in their information, connect to meetup groups, and sign up to individual events. But there’s a catch: Meetup pushes these sign-ups to the wide open web on it’s front page, as sort of  a “waterfall” of users signing up to all sorts of events, with their name in full view. This is how it looks:

Anybody, logged in to Meetup or not, can click through to the meetup group and check out all the good people who have signed up to upcoming events of a meetup group. Everything geo-enabled, of course, replete with zip codes and address of the meetup events. Everything is out in the open.

Needless to say, this is a problem. It is only a short step to write a screen scraper app that continuously listens in to the waterfall of sign-ups and that scrapes off all the relevant member details – relevant as in within close proximity to the device that runs the scraper app. What a convenient way for would-be burglars to capture names, possibly addresses and other information about people likely not being at home at a certain time in the future.

Update: Now, there’s app for that.

As seen in the Valley

So I drive up to San Francisco the other day, and this here ad off of 101 catches my eye.

Well, good luck with that. I wouldn’t want to sit on the receiving end of that deal. Reminds me of that mystic contractor who charged the US Government by Lines of Code. Now in 6dp font!