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.
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.
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).
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:
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
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.
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.
# I increased the size of the images to make them nicer to look at
# this makes night time monitoring work better with the PS Eye
# 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
# 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.
# 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
# And finally a script that is called when motion is detected
Next I created the script to tell Home Assistant that motion has happened.
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.
In your Home Assistant configuration.yaml add the following:
mjpeg_url: http://[IP of your server]:8081
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.
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:
It’s not enough
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.
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?
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”.
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.
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?
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 –
Recently there have been several Austin posts suggesting taking back the word NIMBY as a point of pride. That’s a horrible idea. Please don’t be a NIMBY.
It’s Intellectually Lazy
Sure, being a NIMBY can seem great. You are assured that no matter what happens, you didn’t suggest the wrong answer. And you can always blame other people if something goes wrong. What a great moral position to take.
It supports decay
With the recent kerfuffle over the off-leash area at Auditorium Shores. The NIMBYs took great pride in standing tall and insisting the park was fine and nothing needed to be done. But only the most disingenuous person could say nothing needed to be done. Clearly there were erosion control problems that needed to be dealt with.
anti-NIMBY != pro-developer
There are many middle ground positions you could take. Come into meetings with ideas. Steer the conversation towards solutions you find palatable. Accept compromise to get what you want.
Don’t accept all input
It is important to identify suggestions that are meant to kill a project. We waste a lot of time in Austin trying to accommodate points of view that are meant to be poison pills, and are not offered seriously.
Ask point blank what is required for support of a project. If a person in your conversation suggests that they will not support a project you can safely exclude them from further discussions.
Together I think those of us who are not NIMBYs can make Austin a better place. We can get the kind of development we want rather than taking an all or nothing approach. We can maintain our parks without bulldozing the way people currently use them.
Let’s say no to NIMBY-ism and come together as a community!
I did a new spreadsheet with what happens to your City of Austin tax rate with the two homestead exemptions currently on the table if your home continues to increase in value at 10%/year (as mine is currently doing). Note that your City of Austin taxes are only about 1/5 of your tax rate, so that’s why the numbers below may look low to you.
Currently Steve Adler is proposing a full 20% exemption at a cost of over $36,000,000 to taxpayers. That’s the entire City of Austin library budget to put things in perspective.
Kathy Tovo is proposing a flat rate $5,000 (it can only be $5,000 due to the trick being used to get the flat rate which are technically not allowed in Texas).
I have to say I don’t see much value in punching a hole in the budget for either of these cuts. What do you think?