Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Hotspot" doesn't mean "Popular Hangout" anymore

The waiting room is too far from the dentist chair to hear the drills digging out my sisters’ wisdom teeth. The 45-minute procedure in entering its last 15 minutes and I have already skimmed the week-old Newsweek and fashion photography magazine. I’ve got nothing to chit-chat to my dad about and even if I did, he already has his nose in his book.

My eyes wander the office. Nice orange color on the walls, the d├ęcor is pretty warm for a dentist office. The air conditioning might be off because it feels a little stuffy. The mother of patient switches seats to sit closer to whom I've assumed is her husband. She gives off a nervous vibe; he, an apathetic, laid back demeanor. The receptionist window is empty. I think there is only one secretary and she’s busy elsewhere.

To the right of the open, sliding glass window is a sign that surprises me – “WiFi Hotspot: ssid: mdpublic”. Free wireless in the dentist office?

Municipal wireless is emerging all across the United States, providing entire towns and areas wireless internet. Access is granted through mesh networks, which span both indoors and outdoors.

The service is funded by local government. Public-private partnerships allow private establishments, like coffee shops and in this case dentist offices, to offer the service to their customers.

Rockville, Maryland recently outfitted a downtown shopping complex with the service with no cost to its patrons. Residential buildings located within its range can subscribe to the service at a monthly rate.

This summer California public transportation buses in the Bay Area began offering broadband connections to passengers. Laptops, smart phones and MP3 players can all access the internet on commutes to send email or share media.

City broadband offers benefits other than being able to listen to internet radio while lying in a park. Maintenance work and follow-ups can be monitored from a computer home base through widespread wireless. Water meters could be connected to the internet and their levels could be posted on a site, saving companies money sending people out to physically check them.

First step, linking up the state.

Second step, the world. (How cool would it be to still be chatting online while across the Atlantic to Europe?)

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Robocop -- for real.

60, 50, 40, 35: the gradual speed limit decrease suggested on Georgia Avenue’s 2-mile streamline entering Olney.

65, 65, 65, 45: what I and hundreds of other drivers maintain on the stretch of road, traveled like a highway but surrounded by suburban life.

It’s hard to follow the decline. My car windows are fully down. My ipod is amped to an intensity that would usually cause temporary deafness, but the warm breeze softens it to just the right level. I not only hear the music, but feel it too.

The bass line, the melody, the chorus all feel much more powerful at sixty miles per hour. The strip is straight as an arrow, and I'm dancing as much as my seatbelt allows me too. A traffic light is approaching. It’s usually green and if it isn’t, I still have time to decelerate.

I leapfrog up the right-hand lane, avoiding the laggers but not putting metal to the medal. I do not rush to the lead the pack. I'm flowing with traffic. I don't have a hot date to get to.

The scenario does not change much before I realize I am in Olney, not much of a town as it is an intersection of two major roads, Georgia Avenue and Route 108.

My maintained sixty miles per hour probably became illegal about a mile and a half back.

Before this summer I would not have sweated it. No cops, no problem. But now I shouldn’t feel so safe.

Two words "Photo Enforced" anchored at the bottom of the white speed limit sign worry me that I will be giving Montgomery County a mandatory $40 cash donation for public safety programs.

Speed cameras were adopted in Washington D.C. in 1999 aside red-light cameras in an effort to curb speed-related accidents. Since their installation, the average speed traveled on neighborhood streets has dropped nearly 30 percent and 21.7 percent on highways.

In 2006, Maryland passed a law allowing the same cameras to be installed in the state. Since, Montogomery County, the City of Gaithersburg and Chevy Chase Village have done just that.

The Georgia Avenue cameras were installed within the past six months, as well as the ones I've spotted on Randolph Road.

A Montgomery County Council report will investigate the effectiveness of the new cameras and will be due to the Maryland General Assembly by 2009.

Many countries across the globe already use traffic cameras, including France and the UK. The UK uses SPECS (Speed Enforcement Camera System) which identifies the time a car takes to past between two points to calculate its speed opposed to photography.

Redflex Traffic Systems Inc. manufactures technology for both American and abroad local and state governments for traffic solutions. They offer Fixed Speed & Red-Light Combination, Fixed Mid-Block Speed, Speed Sensor Options (Light distance and ranging, radar or pressure sensoring), Mobile Speed Delivery (photo-radar vans) and LaserCam.

The LaserCam is outfitted with a digital camera as well as laser detector. It is able to take a close-up image of the car, its surroundings and license plate.

I have to admit: the campaign is highly effective. I immediately slow whenever I see a “photo enforced” sign. I have never seen drivers be so aware of their speed, let alone cautious.

I’m sure I still speed through bugged areas without even knowing. I only found out that Georgia had speed cameras because of my mom. Luckily, Photoenforced.com can produce a map of your metro area highlighting all the cameras.

I still catch myself sometimes driving fast and as much as I’m angry I might have to pay a fine and doubt the accuracy of a camera, it is forcing people to adopt safer driving habits.

A little birdie told me that the camera only issues tickets for those going 10 or more miles over the speed limit. I guess I’ll be able to test that theory soon enough.