[Posted to AskTheMayor@mauicounty.gov]

Dear Mr. Arakawa,

The Haleakalā highway winds past Pukalani High School and, before starting up the mountain, passes through a one-lane bridge. There are yield signs for approaching traffic in both directions, but I’ve seen several near-head-on-collisions as someone sails onto the bridge without paying any attention to the yield sign, frequently without slowing down at all. This highway sees a lot of traffic between tourists and those of us who live up the mountain; sooner or later there’s going to be a major wreck on that bridge, which may lead to injuries and will most likely close that road for some amount of time.

Are there any plans to make this part of the road more safe? Perhaps add flashing yellow lights to the yield signs, or better yet widen the bridge to provide for two-way traffic?

Respectfully,

David Phillips
Kula

Posted
AuthorDavid Phillips

[posted to AskTheMayor@mauicounty.gov]

Dear Mr. Arakawa,

I’ve managed to find very little documentation of any policy addressing the vendors that run bike tours down Haleakala. There was some mention of requiring a 10-minute spacing between groups, and I found one article that indicated Maui Police had declined to enforce any policies concerning these tours.

The vendors running the bike tours have taken advantage of the lack of regulation, and in doing so they are becoming somewhat of a nuisance on the highway:

  • I’ve encountered, more than a few times, up to five groups forming a near-continuous hazard all the way down the mountain. People become frustrated and pass the bikes, and the vans, at dangerous points in the road. I’ve witnessed this many times.
  • I’ve followed company vans driving down the center line, nearly causing head-on accidents with oncoming traffic.
  • I’ve followed company vans pulling trailers without working tails lights or brake lights.
  • I’ve had to avoid bicyclists riding against traffic in the wrong lane, or weaving all over the road while the company staff ignores them.
  • I’ve come around a corner to find a dozen people, off their bikes, standing in the middle of the highway watching a rainbow as the vendor sits in his van and looks on.

It seems to me some common-sense regulation, and enforcement, would be appropriate here. We’re going to see more tourists rather than fewer. More people will be living upcountry. It’s only a matter of time before we have a major incident with injuries. This shouldn’t be too complicated:

  • Vans and trailers must have current vehicle inspections and be in proper working order.
  • Vans and trailers must be clearly marked with company information on the sides and on the rear, including telephone numbers for reporting complaints.
  • Lead riders must wear clothing and helmets that clearly identify them as the company’s guide.
  • All riders must ride between the leading guide and the following van. No stragglers or racers.
  • A maximum of 5 riders per guide. If the group is larger, more guides must be riding spaced throughout the middle of the group.
  • Tours must allow 15 minutes between departures from the top of the route. 10 minutes is not sufficient, as the groups stack up lower on the mountain. Maui Police should occasionally audit this behavior.
  • There should be a central hotline for reporting incidents, or perhaps a website where people can provide photos of the vendor being reported. Maui Police should review both of these.
  • There should be real penalties for violating regulations - fines, suspension or revocation of tour operator’s license.

I don’t think any of these suggestions would be unreasonable to responsible tour vendors, and it would certainly make things safer for the people on bikes, and less frustrating for those of us who drive that highway every day.

Of course, an alternative solution would be to restrict all such tours to a single company to control the usage, similar to what they did on the Big Island in Kealakekua Bay. This would put other tour companies out of business, but would also provide a more consistent, safer experience for those who take those tours. If the current abuse continues, and traffic increases, I could see us getting to that point.

Respectfully,

David Phillips
Kula

Posted
AuthorDavid Phillips

Credit cards get stolen, in one form or another, every day, as do debit cards. For me, one of the fundamental differences between the two, as I’ve unfortunately experienced personally, is this: bogus credit card charges can be disputed, and in the end, you won’t have to pay them if the issue is resolved. Fraudulent debit card charges can also be resolved - but until they are, your bank account is probably empty. It’s one reason we use credit cards far more than debit cards.

Apple Pay makes that even more secure, dramatically reducing the possibility of fraud. And it’s stupidly easy to use. And the way it's implemented, with near-field connections and secure tokens, a merchant never sees your name, never sees your credit card, has no idea who you are or what your spending habits are: it's like using cash at Radio Shack and declining to fill out any personal information.

Think about that.

There’s a lot of buzz generated about the feud developing between Apple Pay and the Merchant Customer Exchange (CTX), a consortium strongly supported by Walmart. Most of the press seems to think this is all about avoiding those fees that MasterCard, Visa and American Express charge for processing purchases through their networks. MCX, with their product, CurrentC, plans to avoid those charges by having customers tie their CurrentC purchases directly to their checking accounts. CurrentC also avoids the necessity of having an iPhone 6 in your pocket by flogging that old mostly-dead horse, QR codes. MCX-loyal merchants like CVS and Rite-Aid have gone so far as disabling their touch-to-pay POS terminals (also disabling Google Wallet), preferring to wait for their own MCX solution, to be launched sometime next year. That's right, these merchants are now preventing you from using certain payment methods in their stores with the idea that this will somehow incline you to be loyal to their own "real soon now" homegrown methods.

While there are a lot of details left to be made public, as someone who’s been in the security business for a long time, the Apple Pay model looks to me like a lot of problems solved elegantly using newer, better tech, while the MCX model looks like someone trying to warm over processes invented almost 20 years go. And personally, I’m not inclined to use a system that requires me to tie my checking account directly into their system; I effectively quit using PayPal years ago for that very reason.

I agree that this is about the money - but not, in fact, about the interchange fees. MCX wants to build a payment network that centers more on a “loyalty program” model, one that allows merchants to “provide valuable messaging” to their customers, based on their intimate understanding of a "customers purchasing history and habits”. In other words, they want to track their customers' every move.

Merchants are used to paying the interchange fees, and long ago built those fees into their pricing structures. I’m sure they’d love to find a way to strip that 2% to 4% off and save that money (although I’m highly skeptical we, the customers, would see those savings should they do that). But in the end, what terrifies the merchants is the specter of their customers becoming truly opaque to them: They are terrified of losing their ability to use us as a marketing channel.

Posted
AuthorDavid Phillips

It's now the end of May. I arrived here in Kula two months ago, to address some repairs and additions to the house, get an electrician in, get a plumber in. My car arrived a day early, and our shipping pod arrived a week early - so that both arrived on the same day, which was a circus. Getting my car registered was an all-day exercise, but I learned a lot that helped Sarah get the same done for her car in half the time (although DMV at first refused to believe that a VW Golf could be a diesel). Our dog Beast didn't make the trip, as we had to put him down a few weeks before his quarantine period was up. We miss him.

The major and minor construction projects are pretty much finished, and it's time to get down to living the island dream. I plan to keep posting as I learn things about this beautiful place. I must say that both Sarah and I feel blessed in that pretty much everyone we've interacted with here on the island has positively exuded aloha.

Now it's time for us to find some ocean to jump into...

Posted
AuthorDavid Phillips
CategoriesMaui
TagsMaui

A year and a half ago, we added Xfinity Home Security to our Comcast subscription. Comcast sent in a guy who installed all the wireless (read: peel and stick) components throughout our house in Issaquah, Washington, installed the control unit and extra router (which killed Back to My Mac until I reconfigured their network components), and of course added a monthly charge to our bill. The system mostly worked, with some odd behaviors from the control unit, an essentially bad systems architecture, and the “security router” that was basically a joke.

A few months ago, we sold our house and moved. Because we were terminating service before our 3-year Xfinity Home Security contract was completed, we found ourselves facing an early termination fee of nearly $500. But since the new owner wanted the same security system, we were told we could transfer our contract to them and avoid the early termination fee. But to do that, I had to reach out to the new owner, and we both had to meet, in person, at the Comcast service center, to present IDs, sign a bunch of forms and officially transfer service. A total pain in the ass, reminiscent of something out of the 1990s.

We canceled our Comcast service on 27 March, 2014,

Two months later, living on Maui, I was surprised to see that we appeared to be continuing to make monthly payments to Comcast. WTF? That’s where the surreal fun began. I called Comcast and chatted with Jose (Note: I am honestly not making this up.) :

“You have to talk to the account owner to stop this.”

“I was the account owner. I don’t live in that house any more.”

“I’m sorry, but the current account owner for that address is the only one who can change this."

“What? You can’t just stop this there?”

“I’m sorry, but only the account owner can change their automatic payment arrangements.”

I was the account owner. I sold the house. Why are you still using my checking account to pay for someone else’s cable service?”

“I’m sorry, but perhaps you can have the account owner add you to the account so that you can log in and change that.”

I demanded to speak with a supervisor, and was connected with Anthony, who informed me that, because we’d transferred the Xfinity Home Security account to a new owner, Comcast apparently transferred all service to the new homeowner, kept my autopay configuration in place, and effectively ignored my service termination request. Anthony also told me there was nothing I could do about it short of begging the current homeowner to stop using my checking account to pay for their service.

I demanded to speak with a manager and Anthony’s response was:

“I can request that you be connected with a manager, and someone should contact you in three to five business days.”

Thats when I went from perplexed to angry, told Anthony he’d better damn well connect me with someone who could fix this now or I’d talk to my bank about rejecting the payments. Anthony put me on hold for 15 minutes and came back, telling me he’d spoken with a manager:

“We have stopped the autopay from your account, but we will not refund money for services rendered.”

“But those services were rendered to someone else. And it was your team that screwed this up when the account changed hands."

“I’m sorry, but we will not refund money for services rendered.”

I then contacted my bank. The representative there informed me that, once you sign up for automatic withdrawal with a company, there is no way you can prevent a company from continuing to extract funds from your account short of closing that account. He said I could report the withdrawals as fraudulent, which is in a sense completely factual, and the bank would take the matter up with Comcast, and possibly the authorities.

Reporting the withdrawals as fraud would put the new owner in an uncomfortable position with Comcast, so I reached out to him, let him know his cable service was no longer being paid for by me, and asked him to send me a check for the payments I’d made for him. He was agreeable to that, and as far as I know, the situation has been resolved.  

We’ll see in another month if Comcast has really truly dissolved our relationship. Their team screwed this up in a spectacular way, and their customer support proved either powerless or apathetic when trying to resolve the situation.

Posted
AuthorDavid Phillips
Categoriesactivism
20081231_NYE_0019.jpg

If you've been reading my blog, you've been following our preparations for relocation to Maui. Part of that adventure included getting Beast, our Alaskan Malamute, to the island as well. Sadly, those plans have now changed.

Beast had been having some throat issues for a while, and we thought we had it pretty much taken care of. Last week, the coughing became suddenly worse, and he started refusing food. Sarah took him in to the vet, and the X-ray revealed a huge tumor in his throat, distorting his trachea, and putting him at risk of asphyxiation, a horrible way to go. Sarah was with him in Newport with family while I was in Kula setting up the house. I turned off the saw, realized I had a text from Sarah, and called her. Her first words were "he's gone, baby, I'm so sorry." Sarah had been trying to reach me, and I either couldn't hear the phone or wasn't getting reception, so she had to make the hard call by herself, a hellish task. We can only be thankful that the choice was clear.

20140223_Beast_0376.jpg

Change is hard for dogs, and the last month or so had been especially challenging for our boy, with strange people viewing the house, packing, things disappearing into boxes. We set his travel crate up in the living room with us and he really took to it, preferring to stay in there quite a bit, denning. Then out of the house and into a hotel for a week. Sarah was working, so Beast and I were on our own, together constantly, going for walks, exploring the pet store, finding the hotel room, learning about elevators. He was game, curious, playful and, a bit unusual for him, snuggly.

On the 30th, I gave him a hug and a belly rub, and departed for the airport for Maui. I didn't know it was the last time I'd see the dog I'd adopted seven years ago.

Since my departure, Sarah had him roaming the beaches in Oregon, playing with his new dog friend Odie on the ranch in Newport, and seemingly rediscovering some of the puppyhood he'd never had. His last weeks were filled with adventure and he embraced it.

When I first brought Beast home with Belle, he was the troubled one, lacking any sort of confidence, glued to Belle's side. Touching him anywhere back of his shoulder blades caused him to cower and cry in fear. Three years later, I could grab his tail and he'd understand it was play - but that was a long, gentle process to get him to realize he had a place in our home that was his. We watched him blossom, learning it was all right to play, to ask for attention, to demand dinner. When we lost Belle, he became our only child, the sole center of our dog-world. He moved out of her shadow and started expressing himself more than ever before. He watched more television than any dog I've ever known.

Beast was a gentle giant, curious but insecure, loving but only just beginning, really, to understand how to ask for love, fascinated by little children. I like to think he's running with Belle now, free and happy. Our pack is smaller, and we miss him terribly.

Posted
AuthorDavid Phillips