Recently Filed in Current Affairs

Stockholm recently concluded a wonderful experiment in reducing traffic congestion. From January 1 to July 31, they turned on a variable cost toll system which charged 3 different toll levels, peaking twice a day at rush hour. From 6:30pm to 6:30am the roads remained completely free. All this was done using simple metal arches over the roads—no stopping for a toll booth. If you had a transponder box the funds would be deducted from your bank account; if you didn't, you'd receive a bill based on your license plate that could be taken care of at convenience stores.

Guess what? People changed their work schedules. They used buses and bikes more. Those with environmentally friendly cars could chortle a little more since they got a free ride. Travel times dropped by 1/3 at peak hours. Pollution was reduced. Even accident rates went down.

And why did it end July 31st? Because this was a trial period for a plan which was an unpopular initiative. The public vote to make it a permanent system is September 17, with every traffic planner in the world watching closely. While public support is greatly increased (and traffic right back up at December levels with the tolls off), politics are never certain.

Further reading:

I love it when technology is used to reinforce human behavior instead of to try and force people into a computer's mold. I could live with a toll system like this on 520 or I-90.

And now a counterbalance to my last post...

Today's Mercury News has a great article about Hector Vega, a San Jose valedictorian who has come forward as an illegal alien. He came to the US just 5 years ago speaking no English, and not only got out of remedial language classes within a year, he recently graduated with a 4.0.

Kudos to Santa Clara University who grants scholarships to worthy students regardless of immigration status, and to Coca Cola who did not have a standing policy but stood behind their scholarship as well.

While Vega's visibility is building support for his eventually becoming a citizen, it has raised his profile in a country where an Immigration and Customs official will state "Anyone who's in this country illegally is in violation of our immigration laws and is subject to arrest." Meanwhile, it would be nice to see the DREAM Act passed. After all, the contribution one has already made to an adoptive country should be at least as important as having tidy paperwork.

A few days ago, my Mercury News 60 second business break e-mail listed three companies restating earnings—two in response to formal or informal regulatory investigations.

Half the time when I log into the Wall Street Journal there's yet another mention of options back-dating. These were cases where executives were miraculously granted options on days the price took a dip, such as these to one CEO. The Journal crunched this as 1 in 300 billion odds but the CEO called it "blind luck":

chart of three options grants

One of the columns I read regularly in the Wall Street Journal is McCartney's "Middle Seat" about the airline industry. He writes today "With liquids banned from passenger cabins..."


I'm high maintenance, I admit it. Not only am I picky about my toiletries, I'm also a vegetarian which means I'm schlepping food on flights. This means that I pack a lot of gels, lotions, and liquids when I travel. If it's a short business trip, I'm doing my best to get everything in a (barely) allowed pair of carry-on bags because in most airports checking will add 15+ minutes to check-in and 45+ minutes to exit.

Right now the TSA is listing this as an "enhanced security" measure so I hope they get carry-on screening sorted out soon. I figure I have a better chance of that happening (slim) than airports developing efficient checked baggage handling for 50% more load than they're currently managing (none).

Technorati | |

Recently AOL had a little "oops." They released 3 months' search data for over 650,000 subscribers. While they removed the AOL account names, they replaced those individual IDs with equally unique numeric IDs. Between "ego surfing" for one's own name and other specific local searches over such an extensive period, many of the "anonymous" people in this file could be identified. Theoretically this was supposed to be just for researchers, but they put it up on an unprotected site and naturally a whole bunch of other people found this Web goldmine. While they've apologized, there's no way to stuff the data back in the box.

Why do people care about the file? Several reasons. Search engine optimization consultants are drooling over the opportunity to compare search queries with the pages people clicked on. Since Google drives AOL's searches, their competitors now have a handy volume of data for reverse engineering their algorithms. Law enforcement has enough searches on illegal topics to keep them occupied for ages. The rest of us can simply be seduced by the life dramas captured in a season's worth of surfing.

Why should we all care about the release? If you didn't understand Google's resistance to disclosing this kind of data, maybe you can now see how personal it really is. Compared to regions such as the EU, the US already has very weak and patchwork privacy laws. And yet, it seems each week there's another attempt to erode them a little more. For some reason Minority Report is coming to mind, when Anderton (Cruise) was walking through the shopping center and every billboard tracked him as he walked by. If you think it's just SciFi, you haven't been paying attention to RFID developments.