Patty Goes Geeky

A techno odyssey

The right touch

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My new class started this week at the University of Washington, to which I commute by bus, for which I now pay with an ORCA card. The trip prompted some technology musings.

(But first, a plug for OLLI, otherwise known as the Osher Lifetime Learning Institute. It’s a national program for students over 50, with a University of Washington base that offers 25 short courses a quarter throughout the area. After an annual membership fee of $125, you can take all the courses you want for 20 bucks a piece. I’m on my second and third courses, and so far the quality has been first-rate.)

Back to tech: ORCA, otherwise known as One Regional Card for all, is a transit debit pass that you can order online (as long as you’re not getting a senior or disabled pass, which is a whole other issue) and can load money on via computer, too. It’s free until March 1, after which getting a card costs $5. So I opted for free, logged on to Metro, and put $30 in my “E-purse” via my credit card. My loaded card arrived a few days later in the mail.

To use, just tap the card on the reader, Metro says. The tap worked fine the first trip, but didn’t register the second time I boarded the bus. I held up the line while I tap-tap-tapped. Finally it took. I hope I didn’t empty my E-purse in the process.

On the ride, I noticed that in addition to the new ORCA reader, there’s also still a slidey card reader for Metro passes. Seems like a lot of readers. And then I wondered why Metro couldn’t eliminate the card redundancy and just have a bus machine that accepts Visa/Mastercard debit cards as the city’s parking meters do.

Fortunately, my versatile I.T. team includes a transit expert. So I asked John first how to work the ORCA card. (You see why becoming geekified is such a trial for me.) But as it turns out, I am not alone. John, from his driver’s seat, has been dealing with people like me for the past four months: “Touch the whale, Hon, touch the whale.” That’s been his mantra, and it’s now mine. He adds, “There’s a little stylized dorsal fin on the reader, and the resulting Nike-ish `Y’ marks the spot that you broadside the card on. You can leave the card in your wallet, or with practice and smart placement even in your purse or backpack, because it can read through layers of crap.”

Now I will never hold up the passenger line again. Because I will touch the whale.

Unfortunately, John has not been made privy to the logic behind ORCA’s design and the decision not just to take a debit/credit card as payment rather than using a debit/credit card to buy an ORCA card to use as payment. His theories center on cost, mobile platform issues, the length of time a debit/credit card takes to process, etc. All of which is quite logical.

John says the ORCA reader has made his life as a bus driver easier. I believe that anything making John’s life easier is good, so now that I know what to do, I am pro this technology. But why Metro didn’t put “touch the whale” on the instructions, I don’t know.

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Written by geekypatty

January 27, 2010 at 5:26 pm

Posted in Misc Tech

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