Review: Bye-bye – story of a good service gone bad

In 2006, I signed up for  – a great service at the time. For a small yearly fee of $30, they offered unlimited storage capacity for photo galleries, and provided an alternative solution to all-too-common Flickr and Picasa. I loved the interface and the amount of control over the galleries I had, so I gladly became a premium member for $30 a year.

Over time I’ve accumulated a considerable amount of photos on the site (about 2.7Gb), some of the pictures being originals uploaded to the site. Nothing spectacular, just a lot of my snapshot-taking.

Fast-forward to 2013 when I started considering moving all of my galleries to a different platform – the look and feel of fotki platform has gone stale over 6 years and hadn’t really been updated, nor did it have integration with mobile and interoperability with other services. At that point, in April, a friend of mine who also was using fotki for a while forwarded me an email he received from them in 2012 declaring that to deal with the rising costs, they are forced to introduce a new level of membership that would have “FTP Access to your originals”. So, in essence, they decided to cut off FTP access to the originals I’ve uploaded to their “unlimited storage” hosting, until I pay them for a new level of membership.

That left me a little annoyed, – I can understand that small businesses have to deal with rising costs, and I honestly would have paid an increased membership, but positioning it as a new level and cutting out my access to my uploaded photos rather than to new galleries – that’s a little too much. At this point, however, I’ve already found a suitable replacement – and was ready to move on. So, I paid the additional $30 for Premium Gold membership – if anything to just get my photos out.

After downloading all of the galleries, something odd attracted my attention – the total size of the downloaded folders was just over 200 Mbs, meanwhile the amount of storage used on the server was 2.7 Gbs. When I contacted their support, they explained that not all of the originals were online because they were affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and had to move to a different datacenter, and that the remaining originals will be back online “in a few weeks”. When, in my opinion, reasonably I asked for a refund for my just paid Premium Gold membership, I was told that they “don’t offer refunds”!

I’m not going to post what I think of them. One simple fact – I contacted their support in April 2013. It’s been 4 months and during this time nothing has changed. Every time they get back to me, it’s “a few weeks” and “few more weeks”. I’m about to close the account, giving up on some of my originals.

Final Thoughts: It’s really sad to see a good business gone bad. I’m not sure what happened – maybe they didn’t scale up to make the numbers work, maybe they changed management (I haven’t really looked through their blog – it now starts to show errors left and right, so something tells me the infrastructure is about to go). I am certainly left with a bad aftertaste and feeling cheated by what originally was a good and promising service. Bye-bye,!

Service Review: NY Airport Service Shuttles

In short, New York Airport Service which I used to get from Manhattan to LGA or JFK has deteriorated in its service quality to the point where I would not recommend anybody to use it.

In the past two years, whenever I had to fly out of LGA or JFK, I used NY Airport Service (NYAS) from Grand Central. For about $20 you can get to JFK in about 40 minutes (depending on when you fly out, of course). The buses were not the cleanest, but they ran on schedule and picked up passengers from Grand Central (corner of 42nd street and Park Avenue). I never had to wait for more than 10 minutes – as soon as particular bus arrives, they would let you load your luggage into the bus and take a seat. Tickets are collected quickly, and off you go.

Recently, I had to fly out to Chicago for an interview, and having to fly out of LGA, I followed the established routine – book the shuttle online, take a train to Grand Central and walk over to the corner of 42nd and Park. For some reason the buses looked newer, which I took as a good sign. Alas, my joy was short-lived – apparently the buses I saw belonged to a different shuttle company and I was told to wait inside (there is a small ticket location on Park Avenue side). There I had to wait for 20 minutes before the buses that “are not here yet”, according to a man who was apparently in charge. It should be noted that in the past people who worked for NY Airport Service wore uniform – this gentleman wore regular suit and tie. 25 minutes later, the buses were still not there, at which point people waiting in line started expressing their concern, to which one of the NYAS staff replied with simple “they are not here yet, do you want your money back?”. Not exactly the communication you’d hope for.

Another 5 minutes passed by and we were told that the bus is here and we can board. Strangely enough, the boarding was not on Park Avenue sidewalk, but “there behind the corner”, on 41st street. When the crowd, which was already wondering if it should have spent extra and just get a cab, made it to the said location, lo and behold, there was no bus and not even a uniformed staff to direct us. Another 5 minutes later waiting while periodically running back to the ticket booth, and we finally here that the “bus” is here. A small side-track here – if you go to NYAS website, in the center of the page you see a picture of Motor Coach Industries Detroit Diesel series 60 bus – and up until recent times, those are exactly the buses they were running. What we saw, unfortunately was a van. Granted, it was newer, but still it had just enough space for us.

Once we loaded up into the van, we were puzzled to hear the driver of the van argue with staff member as to where he is going. According to the driver he WANTED to go to JFK, despite the fact that passengers that were already loaded were going to LGA. Eventually, the driver was convinced that he needs to go to LGA, at which point we started started moving and collecting the tickets. in the process it became clear that out of 7 passengers, 5 were going to LGA and 2 were going to JFK!

One of the passengers told us that apparently NYAS’ contract expired (not certain which contract it is) and now they use vans instead of buses and pick people up in a different location.

I’m sad to see a good service go down the drain, but it is obvious that NYAS dropped the ball. I don’t think I’ll use their service anymore.

Faulty Logic of Argument for Banning Motorcycles

Here is an interesting piece of opinion about motorcycles. In short, there are more fatalities among motorcyclists than among car drivers, therefore, we need to ban motorcycles altogether.

On June 13th, Hugh Curran published a post in a column of Sun Sentinel where he stated his opinion that motorcycles should be banned. The main reasoning is that motorcycling causes deaths which places significant costs on the society. The statistics Mr. Curran employs is number of fatalities per number of drivers, which is significantly higher for motorcycles than for regular cars. Additionally, Mr. Curran cites that motorcycles present environmental problem polluting the environment.

Aside from the fact that Mr. Curran’s close friends and relatives had motorcycle accidents, which I am sure had affected his opinion (and I am very sorry to hear about the accidents and wholeheartedly wish they recover), I cannot help but wonder why Mr. Curran’s proposed solution is to ban motorcycles altogether.

  1. Motorcycles do have higher fatality rates, as statistics shows, but laying the blame on motorcycles and/or motorcyclists is like blaming ALL of the car vs tractor trailer accidents on cars and their drivers. Car has lesser weight, sits lower, placing driver and occupants at higher risk. Following the same logic, we should, well, ban the cars, and leave highways to trucks only.
  2. Next, Mr Curran wonders how is it that car models that cause similar rates of fatalities would be pulled off the market while motorcycles are allowed on the roads. A car model that causes similar rates of accidents has a mechanical/design issue that causes the accidents. There is nothing wrong with motorcycles themselves – these machines are generally in fine mechanical form, aside from an occasional “squid”, who cuts wholes in his frame to lighten his crotch rocket, an action that causes hair to stand up on the backs of the rest of motorcycle community.
  3. Then, Mr. Curran cites costs to the society, assuming, but what is interesting, is there are no comparative costs for accidents caused by cars or any other mode of transportation. How about other causes of fatalities, for example, smoking? Or obesity?
  4. Additionally, Mr. Curran cites that driving is a privilege and not a right, a statement I absolutely agree with, but the author here derives a conclusion that it’s time to revoke that right from the motorcyclists. In doing so, Mr. Curran makes a blank, across-the-board underlying assumption that motorcyclists are irresponsible bunch, and therefore should be revoked the right of driving on the roads. Now, I understand that there are no statistics about “squids” vs responsible motorcyclists (maybe we could keep track of how many people riding in flip-flops and tank tops get into accidents vs. fully equipped motorcyclists that invested in gear and followed ATTGAT principle), but there are also a few “squids” that wear full racing gear, just to make themselves look cool.

In the follow-up post dated June 27th, Mr. Curran goes on to “address some of the more-colorful(sic) e-mails before sealing up my argument”, and at this point diverts onto his living situation, his body type, restates the “privilege vs right” phrase again without any meaningful conclusion being drawn from that and (finally) goes on to addressing the “well, then let’s ban the cars” reaction. In the author’s opinion, motorcycling is a hobby, a form of entertainment, and is not suited for roads, which were meant to be for “transportation, commerce, and national defense”. Here, Mr. Curran ignores people who commute to work on motorcycles (I’m not going to get into discussion that in some countries motorcycles are THE primary mean of transportation), or for business. I am riding my motorcycle for part of my daily commute. I am also a part-time real estate agent, and when I do not have to drive around clients, I find it easier (conditions permitting), to ride a motorcycle, which saves me money on gas, maintenance, and, sometimes parking, affecting my bottom line (clear example of commerce), improving my margins and thereby affecting the amount of taxes I pay which goes toward maintenance of those very roads.

And then, there is “so off to the track they go”. Here the author assumes that all motorcycles are made for racing and sport riding. The fallacy of this assumption is self-evident – just few words to google: “Goldwing” and “R-1200GS”

The post (i keep on typing “article”, and i keep correcting, as this post, in my opinion does not stand up to higher expectations of quality) then goes on to warn us, motorcyclists of groups of “widows or grieving mothers a la Mothers Against Drunk Drivers(sic)” who will “challenge your hobby”, and recommends us that we get fatality rates down and become champions of safety. Mr. Curran also suggests that we form a powerful lobby group similar to NRA. I don’t know where to start here. Firstly, Mr. Curran is clearly unaware of Motorcycle Safety Foundation which provides safety courses that I wish not only every motorcyclist, but also car driver took. I do not remember learning in driving course to pay attention of the wheels of the car in the left lane of the oncoming side as I approach intersection. Nor do I remember learning about the wind buffeting around 18-wheelers which affects cars as well as motorcyclists. I do know that i learned about it when i took MSF course. As far as association, once again, Mr. Curran shows that he has not done any research – all he needed to do is google “motorcycle association” which would lead him to AMA’s site.

The follow up post (darn it, typed “article” again!) ends with “don’t thank me for this epiphany, it’s what I do”. I hope he was joking.

Now, back from the self-aggrandizing conclusion of “schmuck with a column” post into the reality:

  1. Motorcyclist community is a large group of people of all walks of life and such group is bound to have its outliers – people who within the community are called “squids” – riders who do not understand the risks involved or take it seriously. Judging the entire community and take steps based on that judgment would be equivalent to saying that all car drivers are under-insured drivers who drive their cars that are about to fall apart in ways that put others at risk
  2. Motorcycle community always advocates safety, and I can speak from my personal experience that I became a better CAR driver since I learned how to ride a motorcycle – one of the things in particular – I am much more aware of my surroundings, as on the motorcycle the cost of not doing so is greater
  3. If one wants to improve the situation with motorcycle accidents, the approach should include (and perhaps, most importantly so) CAR driver education – there are way too many fallen riders whose only fault was bad luck of riding near a car operated by a driver who was not paying attention. Would requirement of taking a safety course prior to getting a license be helpful? Yes, granted that the courses would be taught properly and quality of education maintained. Would requiring helmets help? Here you get into the gray area – I myself not sure what I think about it. I know I’ve made a decision to always wear a helmet when riding, but I also believe risk assessment and decision is up to individuals. Requiring government to ban something or requiring  something will only increase spending and take away freedoms from citizens. One thing to remember is – you can’t safe a fool from himself.

There are many things around us that present danger (I am fairly certain a human being can do a lot of damage with a pen, both figuratively, and literally), and banning all of them is simply illogical. The best thing to do is educate people about them. Otherwise, and I’d like to underline that this is a humorous statement, lest some eager mis-directed soul tries to advocate it, we should just ban… life – it always ends the same and overall, seems to be a terminal disease that is transmitted sexually. 😉

WSJ and The Economist on Licensing

There is a good article in WSJ and another one in The Economist on how the number of professions that require the practitioner to be licensed is on the rise. Another example of bureaucracy. No, I believe that there are many fields where the government should deploy the framework of licensing to ensure minimal level of competence among the practitioners (I myself am a licensed Real Estate Professional) , however, I am opposed to this device becoming a tool for monopolistic behavior by interest groups and “professional organizations”.

CT DMV – proof of residency

Had to deal with CT DMV recently and getting a new license (for new residents) caused a major pain in the rear axle.

Location: Bridgeport DMV
Time: May 2011
Mission: To obtain a new drivers license for a driver with existing drivers license.

Just like any busy intelligent person would, you decide to find out the requirements for obtaining a CT drivers license before going to DMV. Given that you live in a 21st century, and do not not have enough time to be entertained by waiting line music for 20 minutes, you looked up information online. According to CT DMV’s website there are multiple requirements for obtaining the license, one of which is proof of residency.

According to the list provided, one of the allowed forms of proof is a utility bill or bank statement with CT address. The site specifically emphasizes(quite literally, in bold letters) that these forms of proof need not be postmarked. The one form of proof that does require a postmarked envelope is an ordinary letter or postcard. So far, makes sense, doesn’t it? Clearly, if you are required to obtain a license within 30 days of moving into the state (and you are), it makes sense that waiting for a postmarked bill may aide you to run out of time. On the other hand, a postcard (i hope you still remember what that is) that you can mail to your new address would be a good proof that you do indeed live at the new address.

This, however, is not the logic that is applied by the staff of Bridgeport DMV, who require bills be postmarked. And should you yield and surrender your turn at the altar of sacrifice, you may try to call the DMV customer service and fully enjoy their waiting line music for at least 20 minutes, at which point the operator will confirm that the bills are indeed accepted without postmarks. At this point, of course, you again need to stand in line in for an honor of reaching the demi-god in the window. At this point the demi-god in the window will repeat the earlier statement about applicability of postmark. To your attempt to argue, the reaction will be appropriate to… well, questioning the orders of a demi-god. After the manager is called, he too will continue to argue the point and when told about your inquiry via customer service will proceed to ask who you talked to.

Eventually, the gods may be convinced though, that the rules the pantheon had produced and published do apply, and you will be allowed to make the necessary financial and documentary sacrifice to obtain the desired piece of plastic with your (generally not very happy) likeness on it.

Thoughts Of The Day: CT DMV needs to address the education of their staff and efficiency of their operation. In my experience, CT DMV is always crowded with long lines of people who sometimes have to take a day off just to go to the DMV (only one “extended hours” (until 6:30) day – Thursday is on schedule, no Sunday and no Monday). If DMV were not a monopoly, it would go out of business in months! I am glad i have a AAA membership – I can go to their center and renew my license when the time comes. Unfortunately, I cannot do the same with various registrations etc and every time I get to deal with them, it’s like good old times in Russia, where it appears that the sole purpose of the government agencies is to make the life of citizens difficult.


MTA Logic


Morning. Everything is covered with ice about a quarter inch thick. Platforms essentially became skating rinks. Metro-North workers heroically clean platform…  on New Haven-bound side, which will not be used for the next few hours while passengers on New York side are risking falls.