Third World New York revisited

March 29, 2015

Sitting through my second extended water main break-induced dry spell of the week, I am reminded of my post a few years back bemoaning the poor quality of basic physical infrastructure and government services in this area.  Although millions have been spent locally on replacing curbs, sidewalk and street lighting in downtown Rensselaer, not to mention on the construction of our rail station, we can’t get through a winter or cold spring season without being deprived of water, a basic need.  It’s easy to complain, as do all public officials, about a lack of resources (and some, but not all, of the complaints have validity), but the job of our public officials is to prioritize the spending of the available resources to provide the greatest good for all.

Many forces conspire against good prioritization decisions.  Politicians know, for example, that they will be remembered for grand, visible public works far more than they will be remembered for insuring that services are provided without interruption and that existing infrastructure is maintained.  No one named a filled pot hole after a mayor.  Similarly, more federal and state funds are available for new construction than for maintenance.

In places like Rensselaer, where I live, the availability of sufficient resources also is a problem.  The tax base is low, as is the political clout to extract money from county, state and federal governments.

What’s the answer?  Unfortunately, there is no easy one.  Until things get so bad (which, judging by what people here have been putting up with for years, will have to be pretty bad) and start demanding better basic services by voting for candidates who promise them, or unless the economy improves enough to provide more resources, I don’t see things getting much better in the short run.  If enough people feel that way and start voting with their feet, the downward spiral could get worse before it gets better.

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More consumer frustration

March 22, 2015

I  have come down on the Android side of the Apple/Android dichotomy (or, if you recognize Windows for mobile devices, trichotomy).  I like the greater choice and control in Android, and I generally find Apple services and products no better designed or made than the better Androids, despite Apple’s premium prices (e.g., Apple Maps, Siri).  However, in the realm of user friendly app design, Google has a ways to go.

The latest problem was with calendar events I entered using my phone failing to synch properly and show up on my PC, laptop and tablet.  Although I appreciate the ability to create multiple calendars in Google/Android, I am interested in maintaining only one calendar, and in having events entered from any of my devices show up on all my devices.  That should be the default, which should be easy to change, should the user desire.

After spending about half an hour following the suggestions of the Google “troubleshooter” without success, I resorted to my usual form of tech support — Googling the problem.  There, I found (from several entries in various forums, indicating that my complaint is not isolated) that one must, when entering an event on one’s phone, affirmatively switch from the (apparently unchangeable) default “My Calendar” to the calendar bearing the name of one’s Google account. Why would Google set up its Android calendar app this way?  I cannot imagine that most users want to maintain a separate, non-synching calendar on their phones; for those few that do, the option should be there, but it should not be the default.

Another annoyance appears in Play Newsstand, Google’s magazine reading app, which I have been using to access my New Yorker subscription on my tablet and, occasionally, on my phone.  The default text size I selected never shows up, requiring me to change the text size every time I start or resume reading an article.  The app also lacks a “night” viewing mode (white letters on black background) that every other reading app I’ve used has, which conserves battery life and eases eye strain.  Fortunately, the free availability of the New Yorker on line through the Upper Hudson Library System (thanks again, folks), which uses the far superior Nook reading app, has allowed me to free myself of Play Newsstand.

Google is a company wealthy in talent and other resources.  I wish it would expend some of those resources asking regular people how they use Google apps, and design those apps accordingly.