February 17, 2005

TransitCheck Charging 4%+$12 Fee

I have just filled out an order form for TransitChecks. TransitChecks allow emloyees to buy subway fares "with pre-tax earnings". According to the FAQ, that includes savings on Federal+State+City taxes, but I will check this claim once I do the taxes.

TransitCenter, Inc. (a non-profit organization) is administering the program and charging 4% + $12 processing fee twice a year. That is 2 x $12 + 4% x 2 x $600 = $72/year, which is about one month worth of commuting. Why should I pay the fee? If I bought the MetroCards at the vending machine, MTA would have to pay for the credit card processing and for the maintainance of the machine.

Here is how I see it:

  • MTA gets the price of the full fare from TransitCenter, but saves on processing expenses.
  • TransitCenter gets the processing fee, or about $72/year/purchaser
  • The purchaser (that is me) saves on the taxes - hopefully at least $72 being overpaid.
  • New York City gets screwed by the amount I save on taxes.

If the things work the way they usually work, the government and the taxpayer carry the burden, TransitCenter and MTA get the profit, and the mayor gets the kickbacks.

Somebody, please correct me if I am wrong.

Posted by laza at 12:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Real Journalist

Journalist Robert Fisk happened to live in Beirut, very close to the place where Lebanon's Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was ambushed in a car bomb attack. He recounts:

And what happened was that I -- I ran down the road towards the scene. It was obviously a car bomb. I mean, I have been 28 years here, I know a car bomb. And I arrived at the bottom of the road. Many people were running in the other direction, some of them had blood on their clothes and obviously in a state of considerable distress. And I turned the corner towards the -- into carnage. There were cars burning, in all I counted 22 at the end of about a half hour there. Pieces of body parts in the road. I saw two, three people in all burning inside vehicles. There was a very big man lying on the pavement, whom I thought must have been a passer-by. I realized a few hours ago, actually, it was almost certainly Rafiq Hariri, but someone came and put a checkered blanket over him and he was taken away.

This is the kind of reporting that is hard to come by. Mr.Fisk ran into the eye of the danger zone as soon as he could. I remember a report of him on the streets of Belgrade during the unrests while the CNN reporters were watching safely from the balconies of their hotel. Large media houses in the U.S. prefer to show satelite images while their reporters are embedded or at a safe distance.

Kudos go to Robert Fisk for his exceptionally good reporting.

Posted by laza at 08:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 16, 2005

Interesting Links this Week

  • HTML Area is a very cool editor component for rich editing within a browser.
  • Standing Ovation On-Stage Demo for Homestead service for prefabricated web sites.
  • flickr is a free services for posting photos. The thing I like the most, is that viewers do not need to register and log in just to see the photos. How do the finance their web site and bandwith? I have no clue.
  • PhoneScoop has a great Phone Finder tool that searches for cell phones by features (e.g. I want a cell phone with integrated PDA and a QWERTY keyboard)
Posted by laza at 10:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Are Journalists Being Targeted?

There has been a lot of noise in the blogosphere around CNN's chief news executive Eason Jordan's remarks. In short, he noted “off the record” that U.S. soldiers targeted and killed journalists in Iraq; then retracted the statement while being forced to resign from CNN. 12 journalists were killed by U.S. Forces in Iraq.

Rightist bloggers made a lot of ad hominem attacks on Mr.Jordan, as expected. However, I scanned through hundreds of comments to a post at Little Green Football, and could not find a single poster that would even consider the allegations. And a majority of them are advocating killing journalists that do not agree with the U.S. policies.

I have seen recently Control Room – movie about Al Jazeera news agency during the war in Iraq. A large section is dedicated the killing of an Al Jazeera's correspondent. Here is what happened:

On the same day [April 8th of 2003], American troops fired a rocket on the bureau of Arab news service Al Jazeera, killing correspondent Tareq Ayyoub. Then the staff of another Arab station, Abu Dhabi TV, was attacked in their offices by American artillery. And finally a tank fired on the Palestine Hotel, where most of the unembedded reporters were staying.

Three journalists were killed, and U.S. Forces claimed that all the incidents were justified (e.g. shooting coming from the buildings). But four years earlier, almost to the day, an enemy news agency was an open game. On the night of April 22/23, 1999, a NATO missile hit Serbian TV headquarters killing 16.

So now, my question is, why do so many American bloggers and blog readers think that journalists should be killed if they don't report favorably about the U.S. Military? And why do they think the military or government officials and personnel do not think the same? With the history of some people in the U.S. Government assassinating their own president, installing more rogue regimes than overthrowing, why wouldn't we at least have a doubt?

Posted by laza at 10:24 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Opera handling of <mailto:>

I have been an enthusiastic supporter of Opera browser, but small quirks and incompatibilities started bothering me. I am still using it, because the usability and the user interface is still ahead of Mozilla FireFox in many respects, and a decade ahead of IE.

For example, I set Opera to use a non-default Mail application by specifying these different command lines

C:\Programs\Internet\Thunderbird\thunderbird.exe -compose %1
C:\Programs\Internet\Thunderbird\thunderbird.exe -compose mailto:%1

The first line invoked the e-mail application in 'compose' mode, but did not insert the e-mail address. The second inserted an e-mail address but appended “1” (e.g. Jo@mail.com1) . Finally, this seems to be working:

C:\Programs\Internet\Thunderbird\thunderbird.exe -compose mailto:%

So “%” is being replaced with the e-mail address. That is not documented anywhere. It would be logical to use “%1”, “%2”... as in the DOS command line. And why does Thunderbird require “mailto:” when “-compose” is specified? Not to be outdone, Outlook team decided to have their command line the most cryptic:

"C:\Program Files\OUTLOOK.EXE" -c IPM.Note /m "%1" 

Posted by laza at 01:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 12, 2005

I am not a number!

Economist Alex Tabarok points out that by losing our privacy increases efficiency in economic transactions, while linking to this satirical movie.
I don't have a Nobel Prize in economics, but it is obvious to me that revealing too much information hurts one's position in negotiations. Under "negotiations" I include merchants decreasing or increasing prices and customers buying or not.

  • For instance, in the movie, the customer is charged extra for pepperoni pizza because he has high cholesterol.
  • Another example is hugely overpriced Stop & Shop supermarket chain where customers save by giving away their shopping habits - information that allows Stop & Shop to jack up the prices to maximize the profit.
  • Yet another example is walking to a car dealership and giving away your income and amount of money in savings, so that the dealer can offer you the highest price you can afford.
  • Need-based financial aid: schools evaluating an applicant's income and replying: "Great news. We have evaluated your financial situation and have determined that if we take more than $1,000 out of you, you'll be reduced to the homeless shelter. So we're awarding you $999,000 in financial aid and you only have to give us $1,000 to fly from Boston to San Francisco." (from the same article)

Posted by laza at 01:10 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 11, 2005

News Roundup for Feb 11, 2005

Democracy Now reports:

- Human rights attorney Lynne Stewart convicted

Lynne was charged with conspiring to prepare to assist him to commit the murders in Egypt and the only thing that she did in order to do that was to issue this one public statement which said, “I withdraw my support for the cease-fire. Oh, by the way, don't cancel it. That just happens to be my opinion.”
The only way that we will ever get to the bottom of the American concentration camp abuses at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib is that if the lawyers for these prisoners are permitted to tell their stories to the world. If the government can shut off that communication, which they have attempted to do over and over and over again, these activities will continue in secret, blessed as they are by the highest officials of government in a country which has for the first time in its history given a cabinet job to a fellow who says that the Geneva Convention is obsolete and that the torture memo doesn’t mean anything.

- White House Under Fire Over Right-Wing Blogger

Jeff Gannon, who represented a rightwing site owned by a Texas-based Republican activist, had been a regular at White House briefings since 2003 but aroused reporters" suspicions after posing ideologically loaded questions.
But questions remain about why the White House suspended the normally rigorous vetting process to issue daily passes to an organization rejected by the Senate last year for not being a legitimate media outlet.

Posted by laza at 07:47 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 05, 2005

Microsoft blocks (again) Hotmail/MSN for Opera browser

Microsoft is yet again blocking Opera browser from their Hotmail and MSN web sites.

When accessing Hotmail, Opera browser is redirected to http://lc1.bay0.hotmail.passport.com/cgi-bin/login (, which further redirects to http://ld.cb.msn.com/. This page finally reports "Server Error in '/' Application.", with message coming from Microsoft-IIS/6.0 server.

Accessing Hotmail from Internet Explorer and Mozilla FireFox works fine.

I wonder why Microsoft insists on blocking Opera, when other browsers (FireFox, Safari) are more agressive in taking over the desktop browser share from IE. Maybe because Opera holds a considerable market share of embedded (cell phones, PDA) browsers which are not free, and which could potentially bring to Microsoft real paper green money?

UPDATE: This seems to happen only from my home Verizon DSL connection. Very puzzling.

Posted by laza at 07:50 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 04, 2005

Free Market and Monopoly

Arnold Kling in his post Michael Powell Resigns praises the ex-FCC-chairman's attempts to deregulate communication industry.

Michael Powell also fought for deregulation of media. That would allow one media outlet to eventually control all newspapers, TV and radio information. Free-market proponents don't think (or never say) that absolute monopoly is bad.

In a marvelous paper An Austrian Theory of Business Cycles, Ben Best says:

A more devastating and immediate attack on the American Economy, however, came from the Justice Department, which branded Microsoft Corporation a monopoly ... Microsoft lost $70 billion in market capitalization in a single day, ... Technology is an intricate web of interdependence and this is especially the case with MicroSoft. Very many company's fortunes were tied to products built around MicroSoft. The devastating damage to MicroSoft had a domino effect across the whole technology sector -- including MicroSoft's competitors and eventually the whole economy.

Apparently, Ben Best does not see the huge Microsoft monopoly (probably the largest monopoly in the world, in terms of dollars) as anything bad.

Like thousands of other software developers, I think that Microsoft's monopoly stifles new technologies through attempts to destroy them (Netscape, RealPlayer, Linux, Burst), forces developers to waste time and be inefficient by using botched up Microsoft interfaces (Windows Media Player, COM, OCX), and by keeping high prices in the absence of competition. And these are all factors that unfavorably affect economy.

I am not convinced that this world would be a better place without Microsoft. Still, it is important to be against bullying, in principle.

Posted by laza at 04:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack