Wednesday, August 22, 2007


"n. Want of feeling; privation of passion, emotion, or excitement; dispassion;"
--The Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

"A certain apathy or sluggishness in his nature which led him... to leave events to take their own course."

There will be no more posts to this blog.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Oops! Didn't Mean to Get Caught [UPDATED] 

A Mercury News article exposing a small bit of waste at VTA had me chuckling. Seems the nice folks at River Oaks put out a 33-page call for bakeries to bid on a contract to supply them with cake and wanted to form a five-member tasting committee to ensure high-quality. When the Mercury asked them about it Michael Burns canceled the requisition. It was cited as not being a critical "project".

I'm surprised anyone outside VTA got wind of it. How many non-critical projects does VTA have that no one on the outside knows about? How much waste could be prevented if the public were more aware of VTA's spendthrift ways?

Barry Witt wrote the article for the Mercury News. If you know of more instances of VTA waste, you can call him directly at (408) 920-5703 or email him at bwitt@mercurynews.com.

News of this is being reported as far away as Detroit in The Detroit News.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Freedom Zero 

"The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0)"
From the Free Software Definition

Here you can see a very practical way that freedom zero is implemented in SUSE Linux 10.1. The dialog above is used to add applications to your computer. Every type of application is listed. The selected program is OpenOffice.org, a free office suite.

This dialog may be used to find, download, and install software from the Internet as well as from CD or DVD. All applications are freely available and may be used on as many computers as you like without charge. The license agreement (the GNU General Public License, or GPL) guarantees your right to do so.

Contrast this with the way proprietary software is marketed and distributed for Windows.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Saving Money and Building Goodwill 

From LinuxInsider.com

Portland, Oregon's Tri-Met is doing something few transit agencies have been able to do—wrench themselves free from proprietary software in at least one area of operations—providing timely and convenient scheduling information to their customers.

They are partnering with Google to provide arrival times to about 300,000 commuters per month via cell phone. Lack of timely information for customers is one source of frustration for them that can be eliminated by this kind of technology. And it can help build goodwill in the community by positioning a transit agency as taking active steps to help improve customer service.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Let the County Supervise VTA?—Think Again! 

The Dispatch
JEERS: For the Valley Transportation Authority,

oft-criticized for inefficiency, deservedly, and off track. The latest cause for head shaking: a $511,830 audit. That's right, $511,830 to find out why the organization is inefficient. It's the height of Shakespearean irony. Why is it that the high-priced administrators hired to run VTA can't figure out ways to operate more efficiently? If they can't, fire them, and put together a team that can. This is a taxpayer nightmare. Dissolve the VTA. Put transportation in the hands of county supervisors.

That was what we had when VTA was known as Santa Clara County Transit District, complete with a logo reminiscent of a snail. The supervisors running it discovered that the transit district had a surplus of money and figured they could bilk the district of its underutilized funds by inspecting the maintenance facilities and "fining" them millions of dollars for environmental "violations".

That way they could put all that money in the general county fund and spend it any way they wanted.

Massive cleanup operations followed, involving digging up fuel tanks on all of the fuel islands. It was great. We all had to drive our buses off site for fueling. It was nice overtime, but it was a nightmare that ultimately resulted in a law suit which ended in the formation of the current VTA Board, which consisted largely of the same people, just with new titles and a new name. Oh, and a fancy, custom-designed logo with trademark registration and all. Go figure.

Friday, August 18, 2006


I have to admit to being bored lately with this blog. Rather than disappear entirely, I thought I would fill in some space and pass the time with a short series of posts about some of the software featured in my sidebar.

The first one I'd like to talk about is the GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program), available free from the GIMP.org web site. Installation of this program on Windows is, unfortunately, not as straightforward as most other programs. It is a three-step process. Each step involves clicking a setup.exe file that extracts and installs files on the computer. The first step is to install the GTK+ 2 Runtime Environment. This is the software that provides the GIMP's graphical interface. The second step is to install the GIMP itself. The third step is to install the help files for the gimp. All of these files are zip archives. After unzipping them you will have a setup.exe file you can run to install the component.

After all components are installed you should have a Start menu entry for the GIMP and maybe a desktop icon. When you start the GIMP you should see something like this, except that it will look more like a Windows program than the screenshot above does.

There is a free book about photo editing you can download and read as a set of web pages on your computer called Grokking the GIMP. 7-Zip can handle unpacking this file. A more recent book available from Amazon is "Beginning GIMP: From Novice to Professional" for $32.99 with free shipping.

The GIMP features a wide array of plugins that automate many image adjustments and even help with image construction. There is a full set of painting tools, and standard graphics tools such as layers, masks, paths, selections, gradients, patterns, and palletes. There is a powerful add-on package for animation called the GAP.

There are several Web sites devoted to the GIMP besides the main GIMP Web site.
If you want a powerful application for graphics without paying Photoshop prices (or "stealing" software from your friends), the GIMP is perfect. It will never cost you a cent and offers most of Photoshop's or Paint Shop Pro's feature sets.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Not Getting it, And How 

MercuryNews.com | 06/15/2006 | VTA approves spending plan
Silicon Valley's transportation leaders on Thursday approved a 30-year spending plan that promises to deliver a 16.3-mile BART extension, everything else included in the 2000 Measure A sales tax package, and several additional programs.

Now they need to figure out how to find another $3 billion to pay for it.
And this is exactly how they have always conducted business... as usual. They voted 11 to 1 in favor of their plan to spend money they don't, and probably won't ever, have.
Mountain View Councilman Greg Perry was the lone dissenter, saying after the meeting that the agency's "first step should be to get our financial house in order..."
Guess what, Perry. They have absolutely no intention of ever doing that. In the year leading up to the June vote, VTA's board and San Jose's mayor tried to convince the public that their new tax initiative was a slam dunk, and that there would be money enough to pay for the BART extension, but only if voters approved a new tax. They tried to fool everyone into believing that their new tax was reasonable, that their failure to deliver with Measure A was not their fault (Who's fault was it?) and that they needed more money because there just wasn't enough to pay for all the things a well-run transit agency must do.

But VTA is consistently rated among the worst agencies for cost per passenger and cost per mile. Instead of streamlining operations, making do with existing facilities and equipment (as any driver can tell you, VTA replaces old busses, rather than overhauling them, as other agencies, such as SamTrans, do), they replace buildings (North Yard), and they shuffle adminstrative personnel around while they boast about eliminating "positions" to create the appearance of cutting costs.

They do this by maintaining ghost positions that only get filled when times are tough. They move existing employees into these ghost positions and "eliminate" those same employee's prior positions, and point to those eliminated postions as proof of their efforts to cut costs and as proof of their unbiased across-the-board cost cutting. They have to do this, because the only real positions they ever actually eliminate are their front-line workers—bus drivers and maintenance workers. Any driver who has survived a round of layoffs can tell you that whenever layoffs come, so do River Oaks administrators who's positions were eliminated on board the mother ship. They are almost always disgruntled at having to work in a grungy bus division among—GASP!—BUS  DRIVERS!

Frankly, my feeling is that they should be grateful that their employer thinks so much more highly of them than of drivers, or they would be out on the street.

It's all a shell game to VTA's adminstrators. And until they are held to account for all of this, they will continue to pretend they are responsible custodians of public funds who just happen to have had a run of hard luck.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

They Just Won't Get It 

MercuryNews.com | 06/08/2006 | Vote has agency pondering faith in BART's future
VTA's Burns said Tuesday's results should not lead the agency to change course. He said the board should continue forward with all its projects, hoping that either the state government will rescue the BART line through the infrastructure bond on the November ballot, or local voters will change their minds in 2008 and provide another sales tax increase.

How much more clearly do the voters need to be before these assholes get it? And I'm sorry, but at this point being polite about it would just be stupid. It takes a real asshole to insist on going forward with projects when there is no funding because the voters rejected his efforts to deceive them at the polls.

It takes a real asshole to continue running the transit agency into the ground while ignoring obvious signs that it is headed for disaster.

It takes a real asshole to, in essence, flip off the public and say, "Shut up! We're going to do this MY way, and if you don't like it, bend over!"

But that is exactly what Burns and Gonzales and the SVLG are telling us. They see this as a battle to be won. And public sentiment is their opponent.

Burns said he would urge the VTA to adopt a long-range spending plan next week based on the assumption of another quarter-cent sales tax to cover funding shortfalls.

They're going to try it again in '08. It's like they're saying, "To hell with what the public thinks. What does the public know about running a transit agency? We're the professionals." Uh huh... you're professionals, alright. This is the biggest trick these "professionals" have tried to turn yet. Guess there just weren't enough johns around to make it work out.

But the fix they thought a new tax would buy them didn't come their way and they're hoping against hope that a bigger and better john in the form of state and federal funding will finance their next fix before the DT's hit.

Personally, I'm betting they won't get it... ever. It will take outside intervention to stop them from sucking the public dry. They won't stop until someone forces them to, which will mean disbanding VTA, privatizing the transit lines and stopping all future work on BART. But by that time it will be too late to save anyone's jobs. The drivers in that system will be able, if they are lucky, to tell stories of the good old days when there was a union and wages and benefits and the union contract gave them a sense of security. And if they are lucky, an hour of overtime will give them an extra $15 to spend... if they can get it.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Former VTA Board Member Against Measure A 

In a Mercury News editorial, David Casas lays out why Measure A is bad for the county and for VTA. What he doesn't tell us—VTA's employees—is that if it passes, many of us will likely lose our jobs as even more money is funneled away from bus, and even light rail, operations to fund a project that will benefit only local businesses intent on securing building contracts.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Comments Not Showing on Blog 

Bobby commented to my previous post, and I responded, but the response does not show unless you click to add another comment, so here is the comment I posted as a response:

For me it's not about who should be mayor, but who should be
running VTA. If you remember, the Santa Clara County Grand Jury blasted
VTA's board as incompetent and recommended disbanding it entirely and
replacing it with an elected board of five to seven members.

current structure of the board insulates its members from
accountability and favors the local agenda of San Jose over any other
municipality covered by the agency. In my view this makes VTA little
more than a political arm of San Jose's mayor, who appoints five of its

My post was a reference to that Grand Jury
recommendation to disband the VTA board. It was not about ousting Ron
Gonzalez from his office as mayor. As for who should be running San
Jose, that should be up to its voters. I only ask that VTA's board be
chosen in the same fashion.

6:57 PM