Amtrak to use iPhones for ticket scanning

A couple of stories about this popped up in me RSS reader over the last couple of days.  I think this is great.  Actually I want to say its about time.  There are many many great apps developed for the iPhone but there are not a lot of apps that try and re-work the existing status quo.  One great example that I can think is is the Mobile Starbucks payment application.  The app allows you to add money to your card and to show a bar code at check out and have the card debited.  When I go to Starbucks I would estimate that at least half of the people in line use it if not more.  Starbucks also created versions for Android. It does not slow the line down and its super easy.  

Its hard to throw a rock today without hitting a person using an smartphone let alone an iPhone.  I would like to see more real world ways that people can use their phones to make the user experience better.  

Finally: Amtrak to use iPhones for ticket scanning:

Our nation’s rail system is about to take a big step forward by placing less emphasis on paper tickets and introducing the iPhone as an important tool for conductors.

The New York Times has a story on Monday about the ongoing trials in which Amtrak is using the iPhone as a ticket scanner and a more efficient way of boarding passengers and filling in empty seats. The report says Amtrak has been training conductors since November 2011 to scan tickets with the iPhone. It’s only been active on a few routes — between Boston and Portland, Me., and from Sacramento to San Jose, Calif. — but they’re planning to expand.

This might sound simple and not totally novel; there are local metro systems like Boston’s MBTA that are about to start using smartphones as tickets. But as I’ve recently learned, this is a welcome improvement for the tens of thousands of people that commute daily or often travel by rail.

Amtrak isn’t a factor in people’s daily lives in places I’ve lived like San Francisco or Los Angeles to the same degree it seems to be in the Northeastern Corridor. Since moving east I’ve become acquainted with Amtrak commuting between Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, D.C. What has most surprised me about rail travel has been how truly old-school it still is. Yes, it’s a transportation technology first invented almost 200 years ago, but it seems little progress has been made in terms of administration and passenger logistics.

Retraining conductors and passengers

I can buy an Amtrak ticket online, sure. But when I get a ticket confirmation email with a bar code, I can’t just walk up to a kiosk at the train station and scan the code from my iPhone’s screen — I either have to print the bar code or swipe a credit card. But the thing that needs the most improvement is what happens once on board: conductors still physically punch your ticket once you’re seated. He or she then pockets your ticket stub before you get off the train and sends them to a central location.

As you might imagine, passenger information and seating charts might be something useful to have in real time, especially when people change what stop they get off at or take an alternate train at the last minute. The NYT report includes how iPhone-scanning and real-time info will be a change from the current process:

With the new iPhone-powered system, conductors can monitor passenger check-ins in real time. That will help them manage seating: if there are passengers who don’t show up, for example, it will be easier to fill empty seats with other passengers.

“When it was all a manual system there was a lot of guesswork involved,” said Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which contracts with Amtrak to operate the train service from Boston to Portland.

This is great news for Amtrak — though it will cost the agency $7.5 million for the hardware and software to institute the new process. But it should also make life easier for passengers, which is why I’m so eager for late summer: that’s when Amtrak says the devices will be rolled out across the country, to more than 1,700 conductors.

(Via The Apple Blog)

Drafts updated to version 1.01

Drafts by Agile Tortoise has only been out a few weeks and is already incredibly popular. It’s fast its clean its simple and supports Markdown. It is the perfect place to write a quick note or list. It’s so simple so easy it is amazing.

Tonight the developer released an update, to version 1.01, with a few great new features.

The first I am thrilled about is support to send a quick note into OmniFocus. Drafts is the perfect tool to add something to your inbox when you quickly think about it and now with OF integration it is even easier. Support for Things for Mac has also been added in this release.

Drafts actions to OmniFocus 

The second thing was better support for “Open with”. Now if you start a draft you can select which application you want to open it in to finish a longer piece.

Drafts Open With Function

The update is fantastic. I am not sure what is on the roadmap for Drafts but here are a few things I would love to see:

  1. The ability able to re-order actions in the send to list
  2. Even though I use Tweetbot I still have the Apple/Twitter integration turned on. I know I can deactivate those and just use Tweetbot but there has been a few times when I have used the native integration. It would be great if you could “hide” an action you do not want to use.
  3. The same example would also hold true for the “open with” action. I would love to be able to hide an app that I do not use frequent without having to delete it from the phone.

The full change log is below and listed on the site blog. Drafts, v1.01

[ADD] “Open in…” action to export to other apps with support text files.
[ADD] Omnifocus action.
[ADD] Things action.
[ADD] Echofon and Echofon Pro actions.
[CHANGE] Reduced time before app assumes you want a new draft after it’s been in the background to 2 minutes. Still tweaking this number and am interested in your input. [CHANGE] Search keyboard can now be hidden with “Done” key to browse results. [CHANGE] Improved display of draft text in lists, allows for longer preview now. [FIX] Better handling of incoming URL create method.


I am huge fan of Instapaper.  I think I have written about it before.  I love how this application looks and works and I rely on it for a better reading experience everyday.  I also have come to use it as a holding ground for research.

In one of the last updates, I believe it is 41 or 4.1.1 there has been a small tweak to the dark mode.

At night, switch to Dark Mode for more comfortable reading. Instapaper can even switch automatically after sunset.

I use dark mode at night when I am reading in bed.  One of the things that bothered me slightly was even though the background was dark and the text was white on it.  Images though were glaringly bright.  So if you were reading and there was a large image in the layout at night it could feel like there was a small hotspot in the middle of the display.

Marco has added a feature that I believe is being overlooked on just how good it is. Now when you are in night mode the If you need to see in more detail and tap the image it will illuminate to normal brightness.  It is a brilliant UI implementation.

Dark Mode with image dimmed

Tapping on the image in dark mode will raise it to normal brightness.

Dark Mode image illuminated

Alfred Theme Competition

I saw this post on the Alfred blog about a competition for a theme. From the site:

The two winners will get the following:

  • An upgrade from single user license to mega supporter (for a lifetime of Alfred updates) or a single license for a friend
  • Their theme and name published as part of Alfred’s core themes for all users to see
  • Some Alfred goodies (stickers and keyboard brushes) in the mail.  

When Aaron Mahnke created my logo I had already created a theme to make it similar so it made sense to add it to the competition.  Regardless if you are interested there is a screenshot and the actual Alfred Theme Files on the site for downloading.  The short links to them are located here:


Theme Files: