Why I support language changes

There’s a lot of discussion around changing language to be more inclusive. I just spent half of last-week on a hack week project to catch problematic language in our code and documentation at work. I get how it can feel frivolous when people are being shot. I think this work is small, but important.

When I had my first kid Julie and I tried to share childcare. I was in no way the perfect partner, but I still kept bumping up against constant re-enforcement of “traditional” patriarchal parenting. I constantly heard things like, “I never changed a diaper with my kids”. I found myself stumbling with things like calling taking care of my kids “babysitting”, despite them being – you know – my kids. The language and society keep subtly and not-so subtly trying to put me back in place.

That sort of constant subtle undermining is why I support language change. The current language is built to tell LGBTQIA+, women and people of color they’re less than. They’re being watched. Stay in your place.

I support changing these small words because they signal a bigger cultural shift. This shift flips society and says to the abusers and racist that now they’re the ones being watched. That the company culture no longer exists to exclusively protect them.

I think that’s an important change.

Replace Police Chief Manley

My neighborhood has been horrified by the murder of Mike Ramos by police. It has been with dismay that I’ve been reading the coverage of Police Chief Manley’s response on GritsForBreakfast.

With a massive dip in revenue I think it’s time to rethink our police budget and the leadership there. I sent Austin City Council a message to that point this morning and urge others to as well.

I am really dismayed to see how Police Chief Manley has been handling the murder of Mike Ramos by his police officers. I know that many Austinites stereotype East Riverside as a crime filled neighborhood. But I live about 200 yards from the area Mike Ramos was killed on the Country Club Creek trail. My work commute (before Coronavirus) was through this neighborhood. There are always neighbors hanging out in their cars and working on their cars. There are usually toddlers and kids playing. On my way home from work you’ll find families out exercising together. You’ll find groups of teenagers chilling out together. My family regularly takes walks on this part of the trail. The notion that you would need to roll in with guns drawn is absurd.

With the current budget woes and low crime in Austin I think it’s time we seriously start talking about a different sort of police department. We clearly have different needs now. We need peacekeeping officers for festivals and tourism related events. And we need a police department that can deal with property crime and not murder our citizens. Healthy Streets has really highlighted the fact that we could have beat officers without guns who interface with the neighborhood rather than rolling around spewing carbon in giant vehicles. Electric bikes could provide a much more agile response than cars and without the need to send out a costly helicopter because those cars cannot follow suspected criminals through parks, etc.

I urge you to think about a new, less expensive, less murder-y form of policing and replace Manley with someone who can make that a reality.

You can also Send Council an Email.

Watching your Packages

We recently had two packages ripped into. One they actually stole things, and the other they left (presumably because it was a giant bag of dog food that would be a pain to carry).

Pretty sure tape doesn’t just come apart like that on its own. Pretty sure…

We were at home at the time (and are pretty much always at home these days), so it was especially irritating that thieves got to these packages before we did. We talked about getting a Ring camera, but I don’t dig helping out the police state and don’t want to buy one more tech thing if I don’t have to (or it’s not a fun tech thing).

I glanced over and noticed that we had two cameras for our Play Stations. One for the Playstation 3 that is currently doing an impressive job farming dust.

“Surely, I can use an old webcam to watch my front porch”, I thought.

And this is a happy project. Pretty much everything you need is already built and works pretty well. First up:

Home Assistant

I’d heard good things about Home Assistant, but our house was all Google devices, so I didn’t really feel motivated to install software to manage my home devices. The Google software worked ok.
But then we got a pool. And the pool came with a horrid app to control it. The app crashes all the time. But it does have integration with Home Assistant. So a few weeks ago I installed it. I already had a Mac Mini running linux, but they also make it easy to install on a Raspberry Pi which will set you back $35. Here are the installation instructions

Getting Started with Home Assistant

This has led to fun integrations. Like when the Spa is an appropriate temperature the Google Home yells “Get in the Hottub“. But back to the camera.

You’ll probably want to spend some time adding integrations for the devices in your home before continuing on.

Installing Motion

So I started with a Playstation Eye that I had around the house. Although apparently you can buy them for like $10. I propped it up in my front window on two scraps of 2×4 on the window ledge. Remember, my goal is motion detection to grab packages before thieves get them, not providing the police with pictures of people’s faces. So this angle is just fine.

Added bonus, because this webcam was made to go in people’s living rooms it has a red and blue light to let you know when it has power and when it is recording. It looks especially good in a front window at night.

Here’s my camera angle.

You’ll notice there’s reflections from blinds and a lot of foliage. I worried about this, but turned out it wasn’t a big deal since a person walking through this image is very large and easy to track for a computer.

Ok, so I plugged the camera into the usb port on my machine. If it works properly you should see a device show up as /dev/video0.

Next I installed the motion package. This is available by default in more recent versions of ubuntu:

sudo apt-get install motion

I tweaked a few settings.

videodevice /dev/video0
# I increased the size of the images to make them nicer to look at
width 640
height 480

# this makes night time monitoring work better with the PS Eye
auto_brightness on

# I upped the number of pixels needed to signal motion because I have a lot plants that move in the wind. And an actual person is a huge proportion of the image. This is what you'll probably need to tweak up and down to get rid of false positives
threshold 2000
noise_tune on

# I save movies of people approaching the porch into the www folder of my home assistant configuration. This allows them to be accessed with /local/[filename] on the home assistant server.
target_dir /usr/share/hassio/homeassistant/www

# Because I'm running homeassistant in a docker container I needed to be able to access the stream from outside the host machine. I have firewall rules to keep people from accessing it externally. This allows you to view a stream of the camera on port 8081
stream_localhost off

# And finally a script that is called when motion is detected
on_event_start /usr/share/hassio/homeassistant/frontDoorStart.sh

Next I created the script to tell Home Assistant that motion has happened.


You’ll need to go into your Home Assistant UI to get an Api Key. Go to your profile:
https://[Your Home Assistant IP]/profile

Scroll down to Long Lived Access Token, and click ‘Create Token’. Then take the token you get and insert it into the script below where it says PUT_TOKEN_HERE.


curl -X POST \
-H "Authorization: Bearer ${BEARER_TOKEN}" \
-H "Content-Type: application/json" \
-d "{\"state\":\"on\"}" \

You’ll probably need to make that executable as well:

chmod +x /usr/share/hassio/homeassistant/frontDoorStart.sh

Once that’s all done go ahead and restart motion.

sudo service motion restart

OPTIONAL: While you’re here you can add your camera to be viewable in the Home Assistant UI. This isn’t necessary, but it’s nice, and easy to add.

View from my front door on my Home Assistant dashboard, this is also viewable on the Home Assistant app on my phone.

In your Home Assistant configuration.yaml add the following:

  platform: mjpeg
  mjpeg_url: http://[IP of your server]:8081
  verify_ssl: false
  name: Front Door cam

You may need to restart Home Assistant to make this show up. You can do that under Configuration->Server Controls->Restart.

Adding the Automation

Finally you just need to decide what to do when motion is detected. I have a couple integrations, but my main one is to have it say “A Package Is On The Porch” on my Google Home. Go to Configuration->Automations. Then click the Plus in the bottom right corner to add a new Automation.

The Automation UI does not always work properly, so I’m going to post the YAML for each section. You can cut and paste by selecting Edit as YAML from the little menu on the right of each card.

My automation is called “Broadcast when there’s a package on the porch”. It has a Trigger based upon the Event that is sent from the frontDoorStart.sh script.

  state: 'on'
event_type: FRONT_DOOR
platform: event

Then I added a Condition. I don’t want this thing waking me up so I decided to tell it to only notify between 10am and 11pm.

after: '10:00'
before: '23:00'
condition: time

Then I have two conditions. I have it broadcast on my main Google Home and on my Google ChromeCast Audio in my Office/Bedroom.

  entity_id: media_player.living_room_home
  message: Package on the porch
service: tts.google_translate_say

I have a separate automation that sends notifications at any time of day to my phone. The number of things you can do is pretty limitless.

If you have any questions or run into problems, please feel free to leave a comment and I’ll try to update this.

Transformative Street Change

So I support the new Land Development Code (LDC) process. This is the thing formerly known as Code NEXT. But I’ve been thinking about two problems with it:

  • Deed Restrictions
  • It’s not enough

Deed Restrictions

The biggest problem with the LDC is that a huge part of our housing exists in areas with HOAs and deed restrictions. These are private covenants that will keep new housing from being built, regardless of how we re-zone the city. The city cannot override them. Also most of the neighborhoods without deed restrictions tend to be poorer and/or full of people-of-color. So without tackling the deed restriction problem we will guarantee further gentrification and displacement.

If your neighborhood was built after the 90s there’s little chance that you could possibly be impacted by the new code. But of course hat housing is exactly the housing that is most in need of transformation to deal with climate change. We cannot provide transit and walkable amenities to these neighborhoods without more people. And we cannot add more people because of deed restrictions.

Not Enough

I also think part of the issue with the new LDC is that it is not transformative enough. It’s pretty clear how it will inconvenience me, but it’s very unclear if it will go far enough to make my life better. Nearly everyone I’ve ever talked to responds positively to pictures of pedestrian centered European villages, but think there’s no way to do that here.

But what if we could?

Develop the Roads

The City of Austin owns most of the roads in neighborhoods. And those roads are *not* covered by deed restrictions. It’s part of the way we build neighborhoods. Developers build the roads and then hand them over to the city to maintain. What if we turned neighborhood roads into housing?

I know this is a huge change. But as we watch Australia burn it’s also the kind of huge change that I think people could get behind. Because we can demonstrate that things really will become more pedestrian and transit friendly. It won’t be a “wait and see eventually positive change will trickle down to you”. It will say “you can have this change now!”

Right now pretty much all neighborhoods in Austin look like this:

But what if we transformed the road into a bike track, house, and sidewalk. The city can take the easement on narrow streets, but trust me when I say that most roads in Austin could easily accommodate a full-sized house (or even better row houses) in the middle of them.

The bike track and sidewalk would eventually meet a corner with a major arterial where there would be a bike shed for storing your bike and a bus stop. Retractable barriers would keep cars out, but allow in police, ems, and maintenance vehicles.

Places where multiple streets meet in a neighborhood currently have even more space!

These streets (and some cul-de-sacs) would become small neighborhood parks. Think playscapes, basketball half-courts, and fenced-in dog parks.

Rather than all homes at corners we could also allow space for cafes, pubs, daycares, doctor’s offices, and small groceries. They would be only reachable by active transporation so we wouldn’t have to worry about negative issues like traffic, drunk drivers, etc.

Obviously there are a lot of specific issues related to specific places that will need to be addressed, and we’ll need a LOT more buses. But it will be very easy to justify those buses when everyone is using them.

What do you think? Would you be interested in this sort of transformative change in your life? What would hold you back?

Why your house is not an investment

Your house is not an investment. It is an asset.

I was talking to one of my neighbors. We’re both overwhelmed by our large suburban yards. She had talked about selling but decided not to. Her problem? Despite it being worth at least double what she paid for it, she can’t find anywhere to buy that would let her take out that money and not live somewhere completely impractical. Sure you can get a $100k home in temple, but that commute isn’t worth it.

I decided to quit. Give up on trying to maintain my yard. Something had to change. When we moved into this house I wanted to move into a garden home. I was already done doing yard work. A decade of substantially increased yard work has not made things better. And moving from working from home, to working in the office meant I no longer could keep up.

So I started looking around at homes. Selling our house we could afford a half million dollar house with only a small increase in house payment. Which sounds great. The only problem? It would increase our tax payment by 225%. Which would be like adding another half a house to our house payment. And unlike a house payment if our house keep going up in value that amount would keep going up. 10% a year increase in taxes on a half million dollar house is a substantially larger number than 10% a year increases in taxes on a quarter million dollar house.

So do we have an asset that has increased in value? Nope. We have an asset that has inflated in value along with all the other homes around us.

So we’re taking out a home equity loan and paying someone to make the yard lower maintenance. Also we’re going to do a ton of work ourselves and invest tons of money in those projects.

Because we’re trapped here in our “largest investment”.

Configuring a Wireless HP Printer without WPS

So newer routers don’t have WPS. This can be a problem if you have an older printer that connects to your network via Wireless. Here’s how I got my P1102w working.

  • First I reset the internet settings. This involves turrning off the printer. Holding down the wireless and cancel button and then powering on the printer. Once it’s done making noise you can release the buttons.
  • Next I printed a wireless information page. I held down the cancel button until 2 pages printed.
  • Then I connected to the printer’s device network on my Mac. The self-test page has a field Network Name (SSID). A network with that name was listed on my wireless menu under Device Networks. Note that while connected you won’t have normal internet access.
  • I then looked at the Host Name on that self-test page. Mine was NPI79343D. So I opened a web browser and visited:
  • I clicked on the Networking tab. Clicked on Wireless to the left.
  • I changed the network type to Infrastructure
  • Changed the Network Name to my home network
  • Changed the Security Mode to WPA/WPA2 and then entered my password.
  • I then hit Apply and got a blank white page. That’s good. It meant it had stopped using the device network and moved to the main one.

And that’s it. My printer is now discoverable and working again.

The Arts Should Be Your Anchor Tenant

In Austin recently a strip mall was converted into a mixed use project with housing, restaurants and a parking garage. It’s something we see in lots of cities across the US, but this one was different. The new restaurants immediately had patrons (and lines). There’s a fine-dining restaurant completely hidden from the street full of people. People know the names of the stores in the new development. What did this business do right? They anchored it with the Alamo Drafthouse Movie Theater. Their parking garage is always full and the complex teems with people.

This should be a model for every new development, although obviously there are not nearly enough movie theaters to anchor every new complex. Where to go from there? How about a performance space? Performance spaces bring in technicians and actors for rehearsal every night of the week. Technicians and actors who must be fed. It brings in wealthier clientele to performances. Clientele who generally have an intermission where they get up and stretch their legs (and discover all the great businesses your complex has to offer). A small subsidy to a performance group can provides a steady stream of traffic to keep your other renters thriving and rents high.

If any developers are reading this and would like to work with the arts community, I’d also love to push for a density bonus for providing affordable commercial space in vertical-mixed use projects. Just like we have density bonuses for affordable housing today. There’s no reason we couldn’t have a compliment on the commercial side.

Who’s the lobbyist?

According to the Austin Monitor Council Member Pool has joined forces with the Austin Neighborhood Council to make lobbying rules more strict. Which sounds great. Should people who make more than $1,000 in a field related to their volunteer efforts at the city be required to register? I mean if we forget that this favors kicking out the qualified in favor of the retired and wealthy, it sounds rational.

I’m 100% in favor of this as long as we include people who’ve seen more than $1,000 increase in the taxable value of their house in the past year. Council Member Pool has seen her home value go up almost $200,000 over the past 5 years. Since being elected Council Member Tovo has seen her taxable value go up over $100,000 on her homestead.

And we’re worried about the impact of people making $1,000 or more corruption our government? What about those whose policies are pricing out renters and first-time home buyers and are enriching their pockets to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars? Aren’t they lobbyists as well?


Single-Family Homes and Social Justice

Have you ever thought about how people know where “good schools” are? Like really thought about it. With the exception of people like me and my wife who can not only tell you which programs each school has, but also how their test scores rack up relative to other schools. Most people aren’t like that, though. At best they might which of the 4 rankings the TEA hands out their school has obtained. And then there are plenty of schools that have the best rankings from the TEA that “people have heard have challenges”.

So how do we find “good schools”.  Take a minute and think about areas around you. How do you know they have good schools? What are the features of the communities?

I’ll bet you came up with something very suburban. Single-family homes with large green lawns. Homes on cul-de-sacs. New homes being built all the time. Ultimately these places do frequently have better schools by keeping out everyone without a college education, or parents rich enough to help with the down payment.


But this is ultimately the zoning of discrimination. It allows racism and segregation to persist in the guise of an obtainable dream. But the down payments and housing prices can always be set just a bit higher to ensure the right sort of neighbors.

We see this in Austin. Super-high end suburbia in the city ringed by apartment complexes. But what if we knocked out the suburbia entirely?

Seattle’s doing something very interesting about this. A Seattle committee recommends replacing “single-family zones” with “low-density residential zones”.  Every neighborhood right now that has single-family homes could add row houses, duplexes, and triplexes. This is something I’d really like to see happen in Austin. What do you think? Would you be willing to give up a suburban single family neighborhood to help out people who rent? If you rent would you be willing to fight for this change?

Think Creation Centers not Basic Wage

There’s a lot of talk about the need for a basic wage in the US. Self-driving vehicles have the potential to wipe out huge swaths of our economy. The obvious ones – truck and taxi cab drivers. And the less obvious – gas station attendants, fast food workers, grocery store cashiers and anyone else who works in a business that makes money off of luring you in while you drive by in a car.

It’s also pretty clear that a certain subset of the population is too influenced by 20th century propaganda to ever accept a basic wage.

A basic wage is socialism, communism, or welfare – and they don’t want it.

But when you look at the future of companies like Apple, the future is terrifying. Apple requires not only a wealthy consumer base, but a growing wealthy consumer base. Apple cannot survive in a world where the US has 40% unemployment.

I would suggest to see the future we look at Silicon Valley.

We already see the results of people with too much capital and not enough return on investment pouring money into startups praying for some sort of payoff. Take that concept wider.

I participated in Manuel Zarate’s first ArtSpark festival that gave participants space to work and a chance at a cash prize to work on new pieces of art. It kept a lot of people very busy and producing new things for several months. It didn’t have the capital we see in Silicon Valley, but it certainly could. Create foundations to sustain these incubators all over the US.

Inside the incubator participants would receive an “iPhone wage” along with bonuses and cash prizes for creating marketable ideas. Have them on every subject matter –

Create gardening incubators. Transportation incubators. Culinary incubators.

Ultimately they don’t have to be profitable, but if they are companies like Apple get new products, and at the very least they create jobs so people can afford new iPhones.

What do you think of this? Is it more feasible than a basic wage?