Massport Doesn’t Want Me Taking Pictures of the Snow [UPDATED]

The offending picture.

Today, I was asked to leave a public park by a Massport policeman for taking pictures of the snow.

I was walking in the Bremen Street Park for about a half an hour this morning, taking some pictures of last night’s snowfall. As I was about to take a simple picture of the shadow of a railing on the snow, I heard someone yell something at me. Turning around, I saw a Massport policeman calling to me from the window of a small official building in the park, but I couldn’t hear him at first (I was standing next to an unoccupied — but running — Massport police vehicle). As I walked toward him, I could hear him say “The park is closed.”

Now, this particular park is right down the street from my apartment, so I happen to know that they do a very good job of letting you know when the park is closed. There are big metal gates that get locked and bright yellow chains that are hung across any walkways they don’t want you using. Today, the gates were open and the chains were down, so I said to the officer “It’s closed? Even though the gates are open and the chains aren’t up?”

He said something like “Yes, the maintenance people must not have closed things back up after clearing the snow — I’ll go close them now,” then told me I had to leave the park.

I didn’t know the exact legal status of this park (is it public land? does it belong to the port authority, or do they just patrol it?), so I left. But as I did, I couldn’t help but notice all of the other people walking in the park, or the children playing in the snow, or the sign that gave the park’s winter hours, and said nothing about it being closed in bad weather.

The building the policeman was in, to the left of Mr. McKay.

In fact, even if the park was closed, the section where I was standing when I was asked to leave is almost always open — it’s right in the middle of the path people use to walk to the MBTA station that’s only accessible via the park.

And, hours later, the gates to the park are still open, the yellow chains are nowhere to be seen, and people are still walking in the park, undisturbed.

The only reason I can think of that I would be asked to leave is that I had a camera, and police often single out people with cameras. The MBTA police have done it to me, military police have done it to me, federal police have done it to me, and none of them have ever been in the right.

So, Massport: was the park closed, or was your employee inappropriately harassing a photographer? Maybe I’ll go take a walk in the park to think about it.

UPDATE: I just got off the phone with Massport’s Director of Media Relations. He called to apologize about theĀ incident, said he’d look into it, and told me he would give the police officer a “good long talk” if the park wasn’t actually closed. He also promised to follow up once he does some investigating, so I’ll report back when he does.

Robo-Call Reminding Me to Vote TOMORROW

IMG_0319I received a voicemail at 2:23 PM today (November 3, 2009 — election day) encouraging me to vote for Tom Menino for mayor of Boston. Not unusual on election day, right?

Right, except that it asked me to vote tomorrow, not today.

I don’t know if this is a case of computer/operator error or a legitimate case of electoral fraud through misinformation, but I was asked to record and share it by a number of people on Twitter, so here it is.

Because it was left today, I could not figure out how to get the voicemail system to say the actual date it was left. If I wait, I can get a properly timestamped version, but that will take a few days. In the meantime, I’ve included a screenshot of my iPhone voicemail screen taken at 2:41 today. I don’t think iPhone screenshots have EXIF data, but it’s the best I can do.

Did anyone else receive one of these calls?

For the record, I didn’t campaign for or support either mayoral candidate this year, so this isn’t an attack on anyone. I just found it curious and thought it was worth sharing.

Click the play button below to play the message.

Apple: Let Us Answer Our iPhones With Gloves On!

iPhone in Gloved HandApple,

Please allow us to use the iPhone’s Home button to answer calls.

I know it doesn’t get that cold in Cupertino, but it sure gets cold in many other parts of the world. In colder climates, the iPhone becomes almost completely unusable for its primary function — a phone — as soon as you put a pair of gloves on. If you don’t have iPhone-compatible headphones on when a call comes in, you have to fish the phone out of your pocket, take off one of your gloves, then “swipe to answer.”

I’ve missed calls doing this. I’ve seen people drop their iPhones doing this. I’ve even seen someone use their (probably runny) nose to swipe on a particularly cold day.

The most frustrating thing about this problem is that there’s an easy fix: the Home button.

The Home button is already multi-talented, but it does nothing when a call is coming in. If you enabled the option to push the home button to answer (or push and hold for one second if you were worried about accidental presses), there would be no need for me to take off my gloves. Sure, I’d still need to use my uncovered fingers for dialing, but I can plan when to dial — and plan to be in a warm place. I don’t have that luxury when it comes to incoming calls.

I love my iPhone, but this one thing is incredibly frustrating for a good chunk of the year here in the Northeast.

Winter is coming. Please don’t force me to use my nose to answer the phone.

Adam Weiss

I submitted this idea to Apple’s iPhone Feedback Page. If you agree with me, please do the same. Feel free to copy and paste from my post if you’d like. I just want this to get fixed.

Google Voice and Gizmo5 Combine to Provide Free Home Phone Service

I’ve been using Google Voice (and GrandCentral before it) for years, and have always thought that it is an amazing service. It’s been my “work number” for my consulting business and has actually gotten me business in a number of ways (including the attention I got for my demo of the GV Mobile iPhone app). It was a great tool from the beginning, and Google has improved it quite a bit. However, the biggest upgrade to the service since it was released was just rolled out, and it doesn’t come from Google at all. It comes from a third-party unofficial partner: Gizmo5.

This weekend, Gizmo5 added the ability to make outgoing calls from their SIP service using Google Voice as your connection to the regular telephone network. You have been able to use Gizmo5’s computer-based “soft phone” (or a landline phone with the right adapter hardware) as one of your phone numbers in Google Voice for a long time, but — until now — that only worked for incoming calls. You couldn’t make a call without paying Gizmo5 a per-minute fee.

Adding this feature makes it possible to set up a VOIP-based home phone line that works exactly like the service we’ve been charged a lot of money for by the telephone companies for more than a century, but with absolutely no fees for inbound or outbound calls within the continental United States.

This will take about 10 minutes if you have everything you need. The total cost (including the ATA device you’ll need to hook up a regular phone to Google Voice and a cheap phone if you don’t already have one) should be less than $60.

Here’s how to set it up:

  1. Get a Google Voice number if you don’t already have one. They are being much freer with invitations lately, and existing members should be able to invite you soon.
  2. Verify at least one “real” number (cell phone, work phone, or home phone) to activate your Google Voice account. This must be a US number.
  3. Sign up for a free Gizmo5 account and write down the “phone number” they assign you. (That’s in quotes because nobody can actually call it unless they are also using a SIP phone too.)
  4. In your Google Voice “settings” area, add your new Gizmo5 number as one of your forwarding phones. Be sure to choose “Gizmo” as the Phone Type in this step.gizmogv
  5. Buy an ATA (Analog Telephone Adapter) to hook up your regular corded or cordless phone to the internet (I use a Grandstream HandyTone 486). You will plug this into your router or modem and configure it with Gizmo5’s SIP settings:sipsettings
  6. Log in to your Gizmo5 account’s admin page and find the new “Google Voice” section. Enter your Google Voice account’s login info (probably your regular Google Account’s login, unless you set up a separate account for Google Voice), and choose either “Use for U.S. calls only” or “Use for all calls.” Click Save.gizmo5gv
  7. Wait a few minutes for the changes to take effect (I was getting busy signals on all calls for about 5 minutes when I first tried it this afternoon), then pick up your phone and dial a number. Gizmo should access Google Voice and connect your call. On the other end, your Google Voice number will show up as the Caller ID.

That’s it! When someone calls your Google Voice number, the phone connected the ATA will ring along with the other numbers you’ve forwarded your calls to. Making a call on that phone is as simple as picking up the receiver and dialing (don’t forget the area code), just like any other phone. Unlike those other phones, though, calls to and from your new internet-connected phone won’t use any cell phone minutes or cost you any pennies.

This means that you no longer have to pay for any calls, but you get to use a regular corded or cordless phone to make your calls, saving your cell phone battery and — if cell phones do have negative health effects — your brain cells. This is a huge improvement over using software on your computer or initiating every call through the Google Voice website, and lets you just hand the phone to a guest or technophobic family member without explaining why you need to dial the number in the other room and they should answer the phone when the connecting call comes in.

Gizmo5 and Google/GrandCentral have had a special relationship for a long time (you can’t use any other SIP provider with Google Voice), but this step takes their cooperation to a new level. Google is giving Gizmo the keys to Google Voice, and we get to benefit by taking this new feature for a spin.