Bay Area public transportation, missed John Mayer connections, and MacWorld 2005

It’s been a long day and I’ve still got more to do, but some reflections:

First off, Bay Area public transportation: If environmentalists around the country want to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, the first place to start is encouraging the improvement of public transportation systems. Case in point: you know why there’s so much traffic in Northern California? Because using public transportation is such a freakin’ hassle. Granted, my lifelong model of public transportation has been one of the best in the country– New York City– but still. First off, there’s multiple transit systems– BART, CalTrain, Muni, VTA, etc.– and there’s no unified way to use these systems. Because they each cover whatever weird area of the Bay Area that they do (BART covers the East Bay and between the East Bay and San Francisco, CalTrain covers between San Francisco and all along the West Bay down to San Jose, etc.), you have to switch between systems often to get around and a) switching between systems is not always easy and b) there’s no unified pass/ticket system (you have to buy different tickets/passes for each one). And on top of all that, the trains and buses don’t run that often (or that late) and it almost always takes significantly longer to take public transportation, so it’s not that convenient either. Basically, the likelihood of you getting screwed over because you missed the last train, couldn’t find parking, didn’t buy the right ticket, etc. is so high that most people, even with high gas prices and lots of traffic, will opt to just drive themselves wherever they need to go.

For example: this morning’s attempt to get to MacWorld– my big plan was to get into San Francisco around noon, walk to the Moscone Center, pick up my badge, and then tool around until we (Stanford ResComp folks) were to meet our Apple rep at a nearby restaurant. I live right near a major CalTrain station, but when I got there this morning, the entire parking lot was packed full. So, I drove up to the next station– this parking lot had space, but the parking ticket machine only took quarters and I didn’t have enough. So, at this point, I’ve given up on trying to get on a 10:30 train up to the city. I go back out, run some errands, get some more quarters, and return to the station. So now, I can buy a parking ticket, park my car, and get onto the train. Of course, while walking through the passenger tunnel to the other side of the tracks, I almost wiped out on the stairs (it has been raining constantly these past few weeks) and seriously pulled something in my leg.

Now, this part is genuinely my fault: Stanford has a cool deal where staff get this free “EcoPass” deal to take public transportation for free. It’s this little sticker they put on your ID card. However, I forgot that it goes by calendar year (versus academic) and hey, it’s 2005. Of course, a lot of people forget things like this, so there was a grace period, but that ended, conveniently, yesterday. So, I got kicked off the train by the time I got to the next stop, had to buy a ticket, wait 30 minutes for the next train, and then get back on. So, basically, it took me like an hour and a half to travel about 10 miles and then something like two and a half hours total to get into San Francisco. If I had driven, I could have gotten there in about thirty to forty-five minutes and paid about the same amount in parking as I ended up paying in parking at the train station, train tickets, and cab fare (since I wasn’t up to walking with my bum leg and was now running late). The only reason I stuck it through was because I needed to get some reading done on the train. This is the only real value of using public transportation in the Bay Area– it may take longer, but at least you can be more productive while you’re commuting.

Second, missed John Mayer connections: so, I finally did make it to San Francisco and found out that John Mayer had appeared at the keynote this morning. Unbe-freakin’-lievable! I have been obsessing over John Mayer and his music lately and then he turns up at MacWorld to help Steve Jobs demo GarageBand. Of course, the rest of the day was spent intermittently looking around and wondering if he might just be hanging out somewhere and would turn up around the corner. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t want to meet him in that situation anyway– I mean, there’s nothing really spectacular you can say (“Er, I really like your music…”) and I’m not really into getting autographs (aside from the fact that I didn’t really have anything for him to sign), so, I would probably just feel like an asshole if I met him. But alas, it would have been cool to see him during the keynote. I am going to have to figure out how to get a stinkin’ video of it.

And finally, MacWorld 2005: as for the conference itself, we only went around the Exhibit Hall and as expected, it was more like iPodWorld than MacWorld. There were some interesting things– the new iMac, the new Mac Mini– but in the end, it showed that what Apple does well is software and consumer electronics products. OS X. The iLife series. The iPod, in all its forms (including the iPod Shuffle). And of course, they’re great at design– the Apple hardware does just look really cool and slick (although, I fear it will also look dated really soon). But Apple continues to hold on to the Motorola chip and their architecture and despite what Macheads might say, I’m still not convinced that Apple hardware is intrinsically, in the very guts, any better than Intel hardware. I mean, plenty of technical folks have made the clear argument as to the advantages of AMD over Intel, but the Motorola argument isn’t that compelling and in the end, Apple could deliver the same value and innovation to the market with different hardware inside. Nobody buys a Mac because they want the Apple insides necessarily. They buy a Mac because they want the operating system, the iLife software, and the integration with all of the Apple peripherals, and they go along with the Apple insides because all of that will only run on those insides. Will they ever abandon it? No, probably never. It’s what makes them who they are and switching to Intel or AMD hardware, no matter how sensible, would symbolize giving in, giving up in some way (although taking Microsoft’s money to bail them out didn’t seem to bother them that much). And nobody really cares either way because as the underdog, we let them do it their way and cheer them on. But let’s imagine a world where 95% of the world’s computers were Macs– would we still hold them to the same anti-trust standards that we hold Microsoft to? I mean, if their software only runs on their hardware and they were to suddenly have an overwhelmingly large share of such an important market, would we still just look the other way? The iTunes user who has already filed a suit against Apple may be on to something that will grow to haunt the company as they gain more success and even though we always like to think of Apple as the “nice” computer company, their actions against ThinkSecret shows that when challenged, they’ll play just as dirty as the Evil Empire.