Politics and the game of chicken, pinkwashing, the commute on Mars, lost in a maze, and the death of Frank Kameny.
You don't often see a capital city of a state declare bankruptcy. I'm not sure we've ever seen it before.
We've seen it now, a possible indication of the growing dysfunction of state and local governments.
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is filing bankruptcy papers today, owing to a project to renovate a city incinerator.
The move also will be a test of who pays when a city goes belly up: The institutions who lent the money or the people who work for the city?
"The people who lent us money were in the business of lending money; they knew the risk," Harrisburg controller Dan Miller told CNBC, sounding unapologetic about becoming a municipal deadbeat.
"What have you done to the unions?" CNBC's Jim Cramer asked.
"We haven't done anything," Miller said. "In bankruptcy we'll have leverage. Our prior mayor signed five-year extensions just before he left office. They're supposed to get 4 to 5 percent raises a year."
It's been a long-time coming. The city has been trying to sell assets -- parking garages, for example -- to pay the bills, but now the state is threatening to take over the city.
On a wider scale, the move signals worry that municipal bonds, the engine that finances local government projects, may not be much of a safe bet anymore.(1 Comments)
Tired of hearing stories about uneducated, uninterested kids today with no goals and no interest in, say, science? Me, too. Which is why this mini-doc about young people who got jobs for the summer at Exploratorium (a science museum) in San Francisco might be the most inspiring thing you see today. It's also something to remember next year when there'll be more stories about how difficult it is for kids to find summer jobs anymore.
(h/t: Jeanne Souldern)(3 Comments)
I've been thinking a lot these days about the local hardware store that ran Home Depot out of town in Brattleboro, Vermont a few years ago. It couldn't compete in all of the areas where 'big" dominates, so it competed in a way "little" dominates -- friendly, customer service.
It's the sort of lesson that American business should have learned going into a recession and, obviously, some have. But good customer service remains a vanishing experience.
Over the weekend, I received a package I'd ordered from a big chain -- auger belts for the snowblower that bears the company's name. But inside were two engine pulleys, not rubber belts.
If you've ever ordered anything online, you know that you search for a part number, get a listing with pictures and then click "add to cart." It's pretty hard to mess it up, especially if (a) the page doesn't include engine pulleys and (b) you can spot the difference between an engine pulley and a rubber belt.
And yet, when the box was opened, there were the engine pulleys.
"There's no place in our system where that mistake could have been made," the customer service woman on the phone said when I called. "So you are responsible for the cost of sending them back."
It wasn't so much that she was so clearly wrong -- I've coded a web page or two in my day and I can tell you eight different ways an online ordering system could introduce errors -- it was the sweet voice that did little to mask the underlying derision. A sweet voice in customer serviceland acts like the word "alleged" in news stories about crime. It's not meant to indicate that maybe the guy didn't do it, it's meant to keep the lawyers out of the newsroom. But that's a story for another day.
I'm not much of a consumerist. I don't argue with customer service people. But I had a hard time hearing this one because next to her cubicle, a group of her colleagues were laughing and carrying on, perhaps regaling each other with their phony sweet voices while actually saying, "You should die."
"I can hardly hear you, could you please tell your colleagues to keep it down?" I said.
"No, sir," she said sweetly. "I can't do that."
Message received: "Your business doesn't mean anything near as much to me as me letting you know how much I dislike you and your engine pulley story." Allegedly.
After telling me it would cost $7 to send the package back, she offered to send me the items I actually ordered. "It will be $32. $48 after the shipping charges," she said.
I let it go. It would be pointless to ask why sending a package back to the company (a package of engine pulleys weighs more than a package of rubber belts) would be half the cost of sending a package to me. And, besides, by then I didn't want to give this company any more business.
A consumer today has but one option during times like this. Shop elsewhere and tell Twitter. So I did, and yesterday a person in the company's executive offices called and offered me a $40 gift certificate for my trouble.
Three weeks after Mahdi Ali was found guilty of killing three men during a failed robbery attempt at the Seward Market in Minneapolis last year, the Minnesota Supreme Court has explained why it allowed him to be tried as an adult.
The Supreme Court ruled that Ali should have been allowed to immediately appeal a Court of Appeals decision that rejected his attorney's call for the indictment against him to be thrown out based on the dispute over his age. It was a fairly unusual move last April when the Supreme Court agreed to hear Ali's appeal immediately.
The state claims that Ali was born on January 1, 1993, which would have made him 17 at the time of the killings, and eligible to be tried as an adult. Ali, however, claimed he was only 15 and should have been tried in the state's juvenile justice system instead.
Ali argued that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman should have been required to prove Ali's age beyond a reasonsable doubt rather than merely through the preponderance of the evidence, as a district court ruled.
The Supreme Court today officially rejected the argument, noting it's fairly impossible to prove beyond all doubt, the age of people from countries that don't keep birth records. Ali was born in Kenya:
.. because the criminal defendant and the State have an equal interest in trying the defendant in the proper court, preponderance of the evidence is the proper standard of proof in determining the defendant's age for jurisdictional purposes. It is also significant that, although a defendant's age may be rarely open to debate, when it is, it is the defendant who has direct knowledge and control over the information necessary to resolve the dispute. Requiring additional procedural safeguards puts an even greater burden on the State in a situation in which it is already at a disadvantage. Indeed, it is questionable in situations in which the defendant's country of origin does not maintain birth records whether, in a case in which a defendant's age is open to question, the State could ever meet a standard higher than preponderance of the evidence.
Ali's attorney had filed papers in Hennepin County, asking for a new trial. Ali will be sentenced for his role in the killings later this month.4 Comments)
Today has been brought to you by the word, "wait."
First, an outage of BlackBerries is spreading quickly. The outage, blamed on a network failure, was originally limited to overseas, but it jumped to Canada and the United States overnight.
"The resolution of this service issue is our number one priority right now and we are working night and day to restore all BlackBerry services to normal levels," RIM said on its website.
The situation has left the door open for a hoax, the company also says:
RIM is aware of a hoax message that has been circulated recently amongst certain BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) users. This is a hoax chain message. The message did not originate from RIM and does not impact the security of BlackBerry smartphones. Hoax messages are unfortunately an industry-wide issue. Any social messaging application on any platform, mobile or PC can be used to attempt to convince users to forward such hoax messages to one or more of their contacts. RIM recommends that users simply ignore the message and do not forward it, since this would only serve to expand the reach of the hoax message.
This is the hoax message:
"This is the real broadcast from Blackberry All rights reserved. Broadcast this message to every single contact on your BBM to reset your display picture, sorry for any inconvenience. This message is to inform all of our users, that our servers have recently been really full, so we are asking for your help to fix this problem. We need our active users to re-send this message to everyone on your contact list in order to confirm our active users that use BlackBerry Messenger, if you do not send this message to all your BlackBerry Messenger contacts then your account will remain inactive with the consequence of losing all your contacts Symbol will automatic update in your BBM ,when you broadcast this message. Your blackberry will be updated within 24 hours it will have a new lay out and a new color for chat."
Don't do any of that.
But most of the online screams of anguish today have involved people trying to upgrade the iPhone, iPad or iPod touch to iOs 5 that Apple made available today. Apparently, if you attempted to update your iPhone, and it went well, it might be a good day to buy a lottery ticket.
Most users with problems are getting a 3200 error, with the message that an "internal error" occurred, and that the upgrade process has been cancelled. Other users, CNET reports, have had problems after the update, with iTunes reporting error messages.
Apple is not yet responding to the reports of problems, but the site, Razorianfly, has diagnosed some of them.
The 3200 error: This error is usually associated with the use of the "Update" option, instead of the "Restore" option. To those people, we suggest grabbing yourself a copy of iOS 5 from Apple's servers directly.
Once downloaded, while holding the Option (Shift) key, click the "Restore" button under iTunes' Summary tab. Navigate to the copy of iOS 5 you managed to download from Apple's servers and iTunes should do the rest.
Several users on Facebook who have reported problems have indicated that by trying again and again, the update eventually will hold.
Cult of Mac says the problem stems from the demand for the update. "If you haven't already started to update your iPhone you might want to wait until either tomorrow or later this week," it suggests.
Maybe you could pass the time by reviewing the new features you'd have if you could get the update:(2 Comments)