Amtrak 1, United 0

I’m currently on a train heading towards Philadelphia. An Acela business class car, no less, and all I’d purchased was a coach class ticket on a regular train. See, there was a problem at Union Station in DC, preventing my train from Richmond from getting there. So, in Alexandria, they recommended we get off at the station, take the metro to Union Station, and board a different train there that was heading in the direction of our destinations. Our tickets would be honored, and all we had to do was pay for the metro ticket.

Here’s where Amtrak did it right. As soon as the folks on my train found out about the delay, they let us know. As soon as they knew it would be longer than the original 45 min estimate, they came through the cars again with the transfer information. Communication was excellent and timely. Then, when we all arrived at Union Station, the information desk was able to quickly route us to the right train.

That was when we were pleasantly surprised to discover that we’d be on an Acela train. Well, at least, I was pleased, because that meant free wifi for the rest of my trip. w00t!

The train is packed to the gills, but the Amtrak employees are unfazed and courteous as ever. Looking at this in contrast to the frazzled and disorganized management of my SFO-MRY canceled United flight last week, I am once again finding myself wishing for an extensive network of high-speed rail for regional transportation in the US. If a company like Amtrak, which everyone seems to expect to fail any day, can provide such excellent customer service compared to most airlines, then imagine how well they would do if they expanded into every major market.

I know I’d be taking the train more often!

wi-fi on the radio

Wi-Fi gets radio coverage this weekend.

On Saturday, I heard a Weekend America program that discussed the NEA report on the decline of reading. In reality, we do not know if there is a decline in reading as a whole, since the NEA study focuses on reading of literature, and with strict definition of literature no less. From what they discussed on the program, very little of my reading would count in the NEA study. Most of the classic literature I have read was while I was in school, and reading done as a part of formal education does not count in the study. (I have little interest in the genre, unless my course grade is at stake.) The program sent a reporter out to interview readers in a city bookstore and used some of those interviews to illustrate the failings of the NEA study. The reporter also spoke with the founder of an internet media company that runs several prominent blogs. This blogger reads 250 blogs a day, which floored the interviewer and host. The interviewer explained the concept of RSS and how it allows the blogger to manage the information flow.

The blogger said that by reading the writings of other bloggers, he is able to keep up with information on topics about which he is not an expert. That’s how I feel about reading the tech savvy librarian blogs. I would like to know more about coding and the nuts and bolts of library oriented software, but I don’t have time or the proper resources to learn. One of the nice things about my current place of work is that we have that kind of expertise in the systems department. However, most of those guys aren’t librarians. By keeping up with what my tech savvy colleagues are doing and writing about, I can pass on ideas to our systems folks who have the skill to implement them. Knowing that something is possible is half-way to making it happen.

Today, I heard a story on Sound Money about Philadelphia’s plan to set up a Wi-Fi network to cover the entire city. The reporter commented at the end that Wi-Fi is something that you don’t know you need until you have it, and then you can’t go without it. This rings true for me. I’ve enjoyed being able to go to my favorite local coffee place, sit with a cup of cafe au lait and do whatever it is I do online (like post this entry). My only frustration is that I can’t get to a Wi-Fi network everywhere I’d want to. I’d be willing to pay $30-50 a month to have secure wireless access everywhere in town (home and wherever else), provided there was as strong signal and the network didn’t get overloaded with the volume of use.

Just think of how a city-wide Wi-Fi network could help libraries and branches provide more internet access without having to maintain the equipment! The library could provide free access by paying the access fees, or at a discounted rate, for anyone accessing from that location. If the city-wide Wi-Fi network funneled users through a portal site when they log on, then the library could have a bit of retail space on the page for an Ask-a-Librarian service. I’m sure there are other ways that a city-wide Wi-Fi network could be used by the library to its advantage, but that’s all I can come up with for now. Anyone else?