Thursday, May 21, 2009

Great Film Shot Entirely Using a Cell Phone

The current Star Trek film (which I want to see) reportedly cost $150 million to make. But what can you do with a mobile phone camera and $57 dollars? Make a beautiful 3.5 minute film about homelessness. "Mankind Is No Island" is a short film by Jason van Genderen that uses street signs and images of homeless people in Sydney and New York City to tell the story. In 2008, the film won two awards at Tropfest New York, the USA version of the world's largest short film festival. Definitely worth watching. And another way mobile phones can be powerful tools to combat homelessness.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Map Showing Homeless Count Data

Each year, cities all over the U.S. conduct a one-day count of homeless people, part of a federal requirement for cities receiving Continuum of Care funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The last count was in January of this year.

The National Alliance to End Homelessness has created a nice Google map showing reports of homeless counts in a large number of cities, based mostly on reports in newspapers and other media sources in these local areas. On the map, red markers indicate media reports of increases in the number of homeless people, with green indicating decreases and yellow a mix of the two (increases in some sub populations and decreases in others).

Visually, red is "winning" on the national map, which may indicate that more cities are reporting increases in the homeless count vs. last year. There is undoubtedly other data consolidations elsewhere, but this is a nice visual representation.

Friday, May 8, 2009

How to File Complaints about Phone Companies

Update: A reader let me know that the two USAC links below had changed. I've updated the links below.

A few people have posted comments complaining about the service they're getting from SafeLink Wireless, the first mobile phone carrier to offer a free phone and monthly minutes to low-income people who qualify for the Federal LifeLine program. Community Voice Mail is in no way connected to SafeLink Wireless or TracFone (its parent company), but we did find out how you can submit complaints about SafeLink or any other telecommunications company if you're not happy with their service.

I sent an email to the nonprofit that administers the various telecommunications programs that receive Universal Service Funds (LifeLine is one of these programs). The nonprofit is called the Universal Service Administrative Company, or USAC (see I emailed USAC to find out where consumers could submit complaints about SafeLink or any other phone company, and on May 6, 2009, I received an email from the director of the Low-Income program at USAC, which said:

"The best advice for consumers who have complaints about their telephone company is to contact their state public utilities commission. USAC maintains a list of contact information for each PUC at"

"Consumers can also file a complaint with the FCC at 1-888-CALL-FCC or electronically at"

If you're having a problem that a phone company is not resolving to your satisfaction, these look like two good avenues to try to get help. And it does matter if you call; the more complaints they get, the greater the likelihood that the company will address these concerns. And, if you're having problems, it's possible that other people are as well.

I'm interested to learn what your experiences are if you decide to contact your state public utilities commission or the FCC (Federal Communications Commission). If you call or submit a complaint online, please consider posting a comment about your experience. Good luck!