20 September 2007

Update to Southwest Airlines Boarding Procedures

Well, it's said and done. When I opened up the Tampa Tribune this morning at my office and read through the business section I noticed that starting in November Southwest Airlines will be implementing a revised boarding policy.

This is how it's going to work:

You check in for your flight starting 24 hours in advance at the Southwest.com web site. As soon as you are checked in you will be assigned two boarding items: First is your boarding group of A, B or C as we Southwest veterans are used to as before; second will be a number right after your boarding group letter and that number will be your place in line. Sound simple?

When you get to the airport you won't have to worry about staking a place in line at the gate for your flight. While at the airport you can enjoy all the amenities offered like getting something to eat or sitting down and using your laptop in the terminal. When your flight is called the new procedure will be for a given boarding group five at a time. For example, if you are assigned into Boarding Group A and you are 4th in line - this will show up on your boarding pass as A-4 - the gate agent will call Group A, 1 through 5 and that's how you will board.

At around the same time this new boarding policy at Southwest takes effect the preboarding policy is going to change as well. Presently in addition to disabled, unaccompanied children ages 5 through 11 and those customers needing a second seat families who had a child younger than 5 got to wait in the preboard line. Not anymore under the new policy. Instead, if the family group is assigned to Boarding Group A they will board according to their position in line; however, if the family group is assigned to Boarding Groups B or C they will be able to board after the Boarding Group A has boarded the aircraft. In my opinion, restricting preboarding to disabled, unaccompanied children ages 5 through 11 or those who have had to purchase a second seat is a better idea.

Southwest has an informative and educational page on their new boarding procedures, which you can read simply by clicking on this link.

As I mentioned in a previous post here at the Edward Ringwald Blog and in replies to posts on the topic of possible assigned seating on Southwest's blog I think the new boarding policy and procedure as well as the revised preboarding policy will be a win-win situation for everyone. I know, not everyone will be pleased but let's give this new boarding procedure at Southwest a try!

I cordially welcome your feedback on Southwest's new boarding policy and procedure anytime.

04 September 2007

Southwest Airlines Boarding Procedures

While I was vacationing in Los Angeles over the Labor Day weekend and after I checked in for my return flight to Tampa via Southwest Airlines I went over to their blog. I found an interesting article where Southwest is testing a boarding procedure in San Antonio where not only you are assigned your boarding group you are also assigned a place in line.

I think this is a very splendid idea. Here is a comment I made on Southwest Airlines' blog on this topic recently:

I think this is a splendid idea of not only assigning the boarding group, also assigning your place in line in that boarding group. However, if Southwest wants to implement this boarding procedure systemwide its computer systems need to be secure from these so-called “automated” web services that claim to promise you the coveted A boarding group. After all, being a loyal Southwest traveler myself I would not - repeat not - spend any of my hard earned money to pay one of these web services claiming to get you an A boarding group boarding pass when you can do this online at Southwest.com for free. Besides, I would save that money towards a rental car and/or a hotel room.

Additionally, if someone wanted a specific seat on the plane (such as a front bulkhead seat, for example) I would not mind paying Southwest for the privilege of doing so. This would be a lot better than purely assigning seats like the other airlines do.

Not too long ago I did a web search for "Boarding Group A" on Google and I found a few services, one which will get you a Boarding Group A boarding pass for free and another which promises to get you a Boarding Group A boarding pass for a fee of $5.00. Sounds good? I don't think so.

It's my understanding that Southwest painstakingly secures its systems to make a fair playing field for all passengers like myself when it comes to checking in and getting your boarding pass for your flight, whether it may be online or at the airport. Moreover, from what I have read elsewhere Southwest has shut down these so-called automated web services that claim to promise you a Boarding Group A boarding pass.

As I mentioned in my post on the Southwest Airlines blog I would never pay one of these so-called automated services to promise me a Boarding Group A boarding pass nor give out any of my personal information such as my PNR number to one of these sites. Instead, you can save that money for a rental car and/or a hotel room as well as a lot of aggravation by checking in for your Southwest flight at Southwest.com and receive your boarding pass there. After all, nine times out of ten if you check in beginning 24 hours prior to your flight's departure you should get the coveted Boarding Group A boarding pass. After all, Boarding Group A is your ticket to finding a seat that you like on Southwest.

By the way, the term PNR stands for Passenger Number Record. This identifies you in Southwest's computer system as a passenger on a given flight. You get this when you make your reservation online, by calling Southwest and speaking to a reservations sales agent, or by going to the airport to purchase your tickets.

From what I also understand Southwest wants to switch to assigned seating in the future but I think what is being tested in San Antonio plus the opportunity to get the seat you want for payment of a small charge would be the ticket rather than purely assigning seats. After all, Southwest's open seating policy is what makes Southwest stand out from the other airlines, which means flights are turned around faster. Besides, Southwest's open seating policy plus their legendary customer service made me a loyal Southwest customer since September 2000 when I flew my first Southwest flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Tampa; before then in 1998 my mother and I flew on Delta from Tampa to San Francisco (as my graduation present for getting my associate's degree in legal assisting) but the customer service I have experienced on Delta was very substandard (in fact, when we landed at San Francisco and I was helping my mother get off the plane as she was disabled the flight attendant got very abrupt with me for no reason at all). My experience on Delta in 1998 is what caused me to go to another airline. Sadly, I lost my mother in March 2000 after three weeks in the ICU unit due to a heart attack and I took a trip to Ft. Lauderdale in September 2000 as part of the healing process.

21 July 2007

Two tragedies – two days – one railroad track

Lately our area has been beset by two railroad crossing tragedies over the course of two days involving the same train. On Monday, 16 July 2007 in the afternoon four people lost their lives in Lakeland when an Amtrak train headed to Tampa struck their vehicle. The next day on Tuesday, 17 July 2007 near Plant City another person lost his life when the truck he was driving was struck by an Amtrak train.

Before I go on further please let me express my condolences to the families of the persons affected by these railroad crossing tragedies. It’s sad when you lose a loved one, especially one who was a part of your life for so many years.

From reading the news media reports surrounding the circumstances of what happened it appears that these recent tragedies could have been avoided had precautions have been taken when one approaches a railroad crossing: Stop, look and listen! From what I understand from watching the pictures on TV the Monday incident was caused by what I believe to be someone in a hurry to get somewhere. Being in a hurry a car was driven across a railroad crossing with its signals activated and the gates lowered. The car was driven around the lowered gates with the end result being fatal. Moreover, the Tuesday incident I believe (from the news reports) was the result of someone driving a truck and under estimating the length of time it would take to clear the railroad crossing in relation to an approaching train coming at about 70 mph.

When we are in a hurry to get somewhere such as to work, to a doctor’s appointment or to a movie show we sometimes underestimate safety on the highway when we drive. In fact, not too long ago Russ Handler (Bay News 9’s traffic reporter) recently wrote in a new traffic blog entry about inconsiderate drivers; I made a comment to this blog that sometimes inconsiderate drivers are people in a hurry to get somewhere.

After all, driving safety should not take a back seat especially if you are in a hurry to get somewhere. But we can learn from the railroad crossing tragedies of recently as to what you should do when you approach any railroad crossing, public or private:

Slow down and be prepared to stop.

Always make a head check of the tracks just before you cross. Yes there are signals and gates to protect you but it’s up to you to make sure it’s safe to cross.

Be aware of certain vehicles which must stop at all railroad crossings such as school buses, public transit buses and tanker trucks.

When you see the railroad crossing signals activated and the gates start to lower, stop at the marked stop bar just before the gate and stay put until the train passes.

If the railroad crossing gates are already lowered, do not enter! Driving around lowered crossing gates is against Florida Statutes (Section 316.1575) which can result in a traffic stop by a police officer and the issuance of a Florida Uniform Traffic Citation which carries a hefty fine and points on your record. If the fear of a traffic citation doesn’t scare you, the ultimate penalty is a needless loss of life for trying to save a few minutes, especially to be on time. So don’t do it!

Never, ever race a train to the railroad crossing, period! It’s always the train wins and you lose! Besides, no one wants to see that car, truck or SUV you are making payments on turned into a useless heap of scrap metal made possible by a heavy locomotive coming down the tracks at 70 mph.

In short, when you see a railroad crossing ahead of you slow down and be prepared to stop. When the railroad crossing signals start and the gates start down, stop and wait until the train passes and the crossing gates go back up. After all, as the saying goes an ounce of prevention is a pound of cure.

11 June 2007

Florida Property Tax Special Session Update

We're just less than a day away from the special session of the Florida Legislature starting on Tuesday, 12 June 2007 dealing with Florida's property tax crisis.

According to yet another Bay News 9 article posted today (Monday, 11 June 2007), Florida House and Florida Senate leaders have agreed to super-size the Homestead Exemption according to this formula:

1. 75% of a property's value up to $200,000 would be exempted.

2. 15% of a property's value from $200,000 to $300,000.

3. Minimum Homestead Exemption would be $50,000. We're talking minimum Homestead Exemption, folks.

4. Do away with Save Our Homes.

I think this sounds like a good idea. However, I see a little issue with Save Our Homes as it will grandfather any property tax assessment based on the Save Our Homes value. Those property owners that may want to think of moving elsewhere still may end up being trapped in their current home for fear of loss of the Save Our Homes cap as it is current practice. We could fix that by making the Save Our Homes cap portable for those property owners who already have such a cap when the Save Our Homes issue gets repealed. In other words, if you the property owner already have a Save Our Homes cap you can transfer it elsewhere in Florida.

So, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, if you think this is a great idea for solving Florida's property tax crisis plus the suggested Save Our Homes grandfathering I mentioned above please tell your Florida legislators. After all, the special session begins on 12 June 2007 but you can contact your legislators via email. Additionally, please feel free to post a reply right here at the Edward Ringwald Blog as to what you think about the current proposal to address Florida's property tax crisis.

24 May 2007

Florida's Property Taxes

As we Floridians know our property taxes are high. Even with the little $25,000 homestead exemption. And even with Save Our Homes. Our property taxes are so high that a lot of Floridians are considering leaving the state. Even if you wanted to move and downsize so that you can afford that place closer to work, you can't due to the non-portability of Save Our Homes.

But first, here is an overview of Florida's property tax system, especially for our out of state friends reading this blog.

Persons who own property within Florida are subject to payment of an annual tax based on the assessed value of the property as of 1 January. Commercial property and residential property that is rented out or being used as a second home is taxed at the full rate.

However, for those persons that call Florida home there are not only one but two tax breaks. The first tax break is the Homestead Exemption which exempts a portion of a property's assessed value, which is right now at $25,000. The other tax break is called Save Our Homes, which is a voter initiative passed in 1995 and (according to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's site) limits annual increases in assessed value of property with Homestead Exemption to three percent or the amount of the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower.

Even with these tax breaks for you, the Florida resident and home owner, property taxes continue to be high. Basically this happens when the tax rate goes up but there are two principal reasons you should know about:

Homestead Exemption: The current $25,000 homestead exemption is not enough anymore given today's housing prices which are practically in the six-figure range nowadays. $25,000 may have been a lot of money back then but not now anymore, insofar as property taxes are concerned.

Save Our Homes Cap: Let's say you wanted to move closer to work and you had to downsize a little so that you can afford the home or condo you want. Great! But can you take your Save Our Homes Cap with you? No! The Save Our Homes Cap is not portable and you can't take it with you when you move. Once you buy the house or condo you want the assessed value has to be reset to equal market value, which results in higher property taxes. No matter why people cannot move for fear of increased property taxes which can make life unaffordable!

So, what is being done to address Florida's property tax crisis?

Several proposals were floated before the regular session of the Florida Legislature got underway this year. One popular proposal floated by Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio was to eliminate property taxes altogether and replace it with an increase in the Florida sales tax, which is currently 6% statewide plus a local option sales tax depending on the county (in Pinellas County, this local option sales tax is 1% and is dubbed by residents as the "Penny for Pinellas").

Other proposals were to raise the homestead exemption to at least $50,000 or higher and make the Save Our Homes Cap portable. Unfortunately during the regular session of the Florida Legislature the House and Senate were unable to come to some kind of agreement.

So, a special session has been called from 12 June 2007 to 22 June 2007 to deal with Florida's property tax crisis. However, another proposal floated by Rep. Rubio would eliminate the Homestead Exemption and Save Our Homes; instead it would exempt 80% of the first $300,000 of a home's value, 70% of a home's value for each dollar between $300,000 and $1,000,000 and 30% of every dollar above $1,000,000, according to a St. Petersburg Times article on 18 May 2007.

In my opinion, the latest proposal by Rep. Rubio will not benefit most Florida property owners; it will benefit only the wealthy and not the working class.

Here is my workable solution for Florida property tax relief which would benefit all:

1. Increase the Homestead Exemption to $100,000. For a lot of Floridians this would be that your home is tax free depending on the value of your home.

2. Make the Save Our Homes cap portable so that Floridians who want to move can do so without the fear of your housing budget being consumed due to high property taxes. And that way, those who want to move (let's say closer to work and have to downsize to afford what you want) can do so.

3. Commercial properties and those residential properties used as rentals or as second homes do not qualify for the Homestead Exemption/Save Our Homes benefits as mentioned above. I believe owning a second home is a luxury and, as such, should not qualify for any exemptions whatsoever.

So, I urge you Floridians to please email your state senators and representatives before the special session gets underway on 12 June 2007. To find the addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses of your elected Florida officials simply click on this link to access the Florida Legislature's web site. Additionally, I want to hear from you by posting a comment about how you feel the current system of Florida's property taxes are impacting you.

22 April 2007

Image Hotlinking at EdwardRingwald.com and Interstate275Florida.com

Today I would like to discuss a topic here on the Edward Ringwald Blog about hotlinking of images from both the EdwardRingwald.com and Interstate275Florida.com websites. If you are one of those out there in the land of the World Wide Web that has a profile of yourself on the popular social networking site MySpace this blog topic is for you.

What is hotlinking?

According to altlab.com hotlinking is direct linking to a web site's files such as photos and making it so that it appears as if it were your own image. The key to this is an HTML tag called img. In a web site when you make a reference to a photo that you have on your own web site it is done in two separate formats:

A relative tag: img src = image.jpg
An absolute tag: img src = http://www.someonessite.com/image.jpg

In web design we use these tags to link to images. However, when you use a web design program such as Microsoft FrontPage these tags are taken care of for you.

However, when you are designing your own web page such as a personal profile page in MySpace depending on who you use it is a straightforward process. I believe in MySpace there is a way to link to an image - and you don't have to know HTML to do it!

Why should I be concerned about hotlinking?

Hotlinking when it is to an image or any other object that is not your own is unethical. It's stealing. Why?

First, consider the issue of bandwidth. Take a small water pipe and try to push a very large amount of water through it. No matter how much you try the flow through the small pipe will be slow. You can increase the flow of the water through the pipe by increasing the diameter of the pipe. That's the same principle with bandwidth, only the stuff that flows through the pipe is data rather than water.

Let's say one hotlinks to an image on someone else's web site from a MySpace page. Every time someone accesses your MySpace page it also sends a request to fetch the image from the web site you got it from. Multiply that by so many MySpace visitors and users and the potential for web site overload exists.

In the case of EdwardRingwald.com and Interstate275Florida.com my web sites are hosted on shared web servers at GoDaddy.com, which is a web hosting and domain name provider. I am given a bandwidth allocation per month and if GoDaddy sees that I am exceeding my monthly bandwidth allocation I can be charged extra per month. That can run potentially into the thousands of dollars. Now if you host your own web site on your own it gets very complex, which is why the majority of web sites use a web hosting provider in order to try to hold down costs while concentrating on other things.

Second, consider the issue of copyright and passing off one's image found on the Internet as your own. You can't go around the World Wide Web, grab an image or two, and put it on your web site - images you find on someone else's web site are copyrighted and if you do so you could find yourself on the receiving end of a stern cease and desist letter from an attorney or, at the worst, the losing side of a lawsuit.

In 2005 the principal of Springstead High School in Spring Hill (a community about a hours' drive north of Tampa on the Suncoast Parkway (FL Toll 589)) learned her lesson the hard way about passing someone's words as your own. As part of a graduation ceremony address the principal used words which belonged to someone else and passed them off as if it were her own. That incident prompted me to register my web sites for copyright with the United States Copyright Office in September 2005 during a trip to the Baltimore/Washington area. You can read more about this by following this link to my website for a web topic discussion on copyright; there you will find links to two articles in the St. Petersburg Times on stories related to Springstead High and the 2005 graduation snafu.

So, hotlinking is not just taking something and passing it off as your own - it's theft. It's theft of computing resources. It's also theft of intellectual property rights.

What is being done about the hotlinking issue?

It depends on the web site owner and how it is addressed.

A web site owner often knows of someone hotlinking to his or her files as part of a web site by way of the site server logs - logs that detail where a visitor has come from among other things.

Here at EdwardRingwald.com and at Interstate275Florida.com I have site server logs that I examine periodically to check for hotlinkers. In September 2006 and just recently in April 2007 I have had two incidents of MySpace members hotlinking to images at EdwardRingwald.com and Interstate275Florida.com. Letters were sent to MySpace requesting removal and to date MySpace has complied, which I appreciate.

Most other websites out there usually send warning emails telling someone not to hotlink to an image on their website. The vast majority of hotlinkers usually do it without any ill intent of violating intellectual property rights or not knowing the fact that the hotlinking adds a lot of bandwidth to the website the image is hotlinked to. It is the small minority of hotlinkers who keep on hotlinking to someone else's image after being warned not to that more action is needed.

In a nutshell, what can be said about hotlinking?
  • Hotlinking to someone else's image is stealing that website owner's bandwidth
  • Hotlinking to someone else's image is violating that website owner's IP rights
  • Hotlinking is stealing, period!

If you have a web page out there, whether it be your own personal profile page at MySpace or somewhere else - be creative with your own stuff, but don't use stuff that you find on the World Wide Web that does not belong to you!

12 April 2007

Welcome to the Edward Ringwald Blog!

Hello and welcome to the Edward Ringwald blog!

Since 2000 I started out on the web initially as a few pages on a student server at Hillsborough Community College while I was taking a Introduction to the Internet class. A few months after the class I moved the pages from the student server to its own hosting home. Over the years I featured Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg (which was moved to its own hosting home as well in 2003) as well as various roadtrips from time to time. I have also livened up the look of EdwardRingwald.com with the acquisition of Microsoft FrontPage software as well as updated content from time to time.

Now I have entered the new stage of the web - the blogosphere. Hey, if Southwest Airlines has their own corporate blog why can't I? After reading their blog plus other blogs from elsewhere I decided to start on a blog not only for EdwardRingwald.com but for Interstate275Florida.com as well. So, here we are!

Before I go on further, let me go over some quick ground rules for the Edward Ringwald Blog: Please keep your replies clean as EdwardRingwald.com is a family friendly site and I intend to keep it that way. Additionally, replies are subject to moderation prior to their being posted.

In the meantime, keep checking back here at the Edward Ringwald Blog frequently and often; you'll never know what I may have from time to time. And don't forget to visit the website where I strive to have the best site anywhere on the Internet for everyone, EdwardRingwald.com!