dannyman.toldme.com

This page features every post I write, and is dedicated to Andrew Ho.

April 2, 2019
Sundry

Notes from March, 2019

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2019/04/02/notes-2019-03/

From 10 Lessons From Uber’s Fatal Self-Driving Car Crash, starting with “Humans Are Bad At Overseeing Imperfect Automation:”

The video of Vasquez looking up from her phone in horror, realizing that Herzberg had just been hit while she looked away from the road, is a glimpse at the terrors that the future may hold. Until full autonomy is completely validated, human-in-the-loop automated driving will encourage us to take ever more liberties with our attention while failing to protect the next Elaine Herzbergs. This is a limited problem in the context of autonomous vehicle “safety drivers,” who are now increasingly well-trained and partnered up while testing, but it shows the problem that seems to be underlying the deaths of drivers using Tesla’s Autopilot. Now that Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” system appears likely to be released to some customers before it’s even validated, another company seems ready to put its own customers in the position of being untrained and unsupervised safety drivers.

Yes, Vasquez had a level of responsibility behind the wheel, but Uber also had a responsibility not to put a single individual in a highly automated car for 10 hours at a time with no supervision. Because full autonomy is taking longer to deliver than promised, the temptation to deliver nearly-full autonomy while telling drivers to maintain awareness will be hard to resist but Vazquez’s look of horror should be a reminder to everyone of the risks of such systems. It certainly makes the prospect of Tesla’s customer testing downright terrifying.

Why do AV testing in Phoenix? Because identifying pedestrians and cyclists, especially at night, is difficult for self-driving vehicles. In Phoenix, “not only is the weather consistently good, but there aren’t many pedestrians or cyclists on the road as there are in other cities.” The article then goes on to endorse the adoption of thermal image sensors.

Of course I enjoyed “The joy of riding an e-bike is contagious!”

A clever but damning innovation in bicycle shipping:

By masking its bikes as TVs, VanMoof, a Dutch manufacturer that exports bikes to customers overseas, has seen the damages reduced by 70-80 per cent. Taco Carlier, the co-founder of VanMoof, told The Independent: “We came up by the idea because we had lots of damage, especially with shipments in the USA.”

Bike Lanes: Dark Humor
Bike Lanes: Darker Reality

Meanwhile, at Boeing:

For Boeing and other aircraft manufacturers, the practice of charging to upgrade a standard plane can be lucrative. Top airlines around the world must pay handsomely to have the jets they order fitted with customized add-ons. Sometimes these optional features involve aesthetics or comfort, like premium seating, fancy lighting or extra bathrooms. But other features involve communication, navigation or safety systems, and are more fundamental to the plane’s operations.

Boeing’s optional safety features, in part, could have helped the pilots detect any erroneous readings. One of the optional upgrades, the angle of attack indicator, displays the can be of the two sensors. The other, called a disagree light, is activated if those sensors are at odds with one another.

“They’re critical, and cost almost nothing for the airlines to install,” said Bjorn Fehrm, an analyst at the aviation consultancy Leeham. “Boeing charges for them because it can. But they’re vital for safety.”

I can understand that new and advanced safety features, which may cost a lot of money to develop and install, might cost extra. But if you’re throwing in a computer that will read a sensor to take over control of the plane, it seems insane to charge extra to indicate when the sensor might be malfunctioning.

Ain’t that America?

The conventional wisdom is that comfortable middle-class middle-aged people who have achieved a degree of financial security–people like me–should become more Republican at this point in their lives. I think this is reasonable, because after all if the system has worked well for you, then it must be a pretty decent system, and you’d like to maintain the status quo.

But I do not see that the system works. I made it through college, and after some trouble, I have found a career that pays well. California’s Real Estate market–the fact that I could never afford my own place–left me feeling disconnected from where I lived. This influenced a certain recklessness in my personal life. We only own a house through due to thrift, good luck, and the near collapse of the American economy a decade ago.

The system is broken and with the bombastic, militant, anti-government Right Wing, it feels like we are drifting ever further from solutions to increasingly urgent problems. Climate Change being the biggest of Big Deals, but we really should provide everyone with healthcare, basic welfare, access to education, and generally spend less effort on military might and more on working collaboratively with the rest of the world to improve the lot of humanity. If anything, in my comfortable years, I am growing more radical in my lefty sentiments.

Even if I wanted to maintain the status quo, the Republicans are no longer the party for that. The platform is to bankrupt the government through tax cuts and excessive military spending, in order to teach Americans the gospel that Government Isn’t The Solution. The only good Republican President I have known in my lifetime was President Clinton. He winnowed down government spending, especially military, to the point of a balanced budget. Then there was Welfare Reform, which is a thing Conservatives like. He didn’t start any (major) wars. (That I can remember.)

The status quo barely works for me just barely. And Climate Change is a growing burden that is going to hurt my kids far more than it already hurts my generation. The stable pattern that I value most is that the Earth will continue to provide for humanity. As a middle aged, middle class, uncomfortable person who supports the status quo, it is the radicals speaking out for good stewardship of Earth, and the radicals speaking out for the idea that people should be free from want and free from fear that most appeal to me.


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March 11, 2019
California, Sunnyvale, Travels

Notes on My Journey to Long Beach to Attend the Planning Commissioner’s Academy

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2019/03/11/planning-commissioners-academy-long-beach/

Wednesday

We have young children, which makes travel expensive and cumbersome. I traveled alone, arranging my flights in order to minimize disruption to the family routine. Thus, instead of flying through Long Beach airport, I went through LAX, on Southwest, because the flights worked out to allow me to participate in morning drop-off and return to San Jose to be picked up just after the baby finished Daycare.

The conference was held at the Queen Mary, which is a classy 1930s era cruise ship now moored permanently at the Port of Long Beach. Lyft gave me a discount on a direct ride to the Queen Mary, compared to a shared ride, so I took it. The driver was a Kenyan, who told me that the countries of East Africa were making steady progress towards open borders and economic union. He explained that the Chinese were building a network of passenger railroads in the region. He was in town for a while to help his brother with some personal affairs, and in the meantime he was able to make some money driving for Lyft. The car, he explained, was rented through Hertz or somesuch, who had arrangements for Lyft drivers. He said the rate wasn’t great, but it suited his needs better than buying his own car.

Don’t worry: it is bigger on the inside!

I arrived in time to catch the opening afternoon session. Jason Roberts, an IT Guy living in Houston, shared stories of his unorthodox methods of community improvement. He is an inspiring guy and these are some notes I scribbled down:

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”

–Scandinavian Proverb

A typical response to folks who want to promote outdoor activities is that the idea might work better in some other city with a more agreeable climate . . . but “not here.” For example, in Houston, it is really hot. So, he cited the above proverb and then shared pictures where people manage to enjoy the outdoors in all kinds of weather, including New Orleans, which I guess might be hotter than Houston. As a man who recently discovered the miracle of Rain Pants and how they can make a bicycle commute decently comfortable in the rain, I agree.

He arranged to get the kids in the local school punch cards: each day they rode their bike to school, they got another hole punched in their card. He didn’t mention any rewards for filling out a card, but he said this simple program got a lot of kids riding to school.

He detailed several instances where instead of waiting on the city to conduct a traffic study, &c. to put in a crosswalk or a bike lane, folks in the community would build their own such infrastructure. White duct tape is an excellent stand-in for white thermoplastic. They did some illegal street narrowing and then hosted a festival, making sure to invite the mayor.

“Break every law possible; document it; invite the mayor”

“Wear an orange vest.”

I can vouch for this. When I encounter vehicles obstructing the bike lane, I place a flyer under the windshield, hand a flyer to the driver, and if there’s been a lot of violations that day, I tweet a note to the local police. On more than one occasion, folks have come back to their cars in a panic, assuming the man in the bright yellow jacket slipping a paper under the windshield is a cop.

betterblock.org details his efforts and ideas, and wikiblock is a resource for 3D printed furniture, which can be used to provide street furnishings on the quick and inexpensive. His topline advice:

1) Show up at every community/organization meeting. Meet the folks who are out for civic improvement.
2) Give your idea a name, a logo, and a web site.
3) Set a Specific Date in the Near Future: say there’s a meeting in 2-3 weeks and the objective is to build something within 2-3 months. Having a deadline forces action.

I next attended a session on the Nuts and Bolts of Planning. I noted that California Cities are required by the state to have a General Plan for the next 20-30 years and that the General Plan is composed of various Elements, like the Housing Element, which are each revised every several years. Then there are more specific Specific Plans and zoning standards . . .

I did appreciate learning that “Euclidian Zoning,” where zoning is separated by use (Residential vs. Commercial, &c.) was not, in fact, a reference to Geometry, but a reference to a court case where one of the parties was named Euclid. An alternative to Euclidian zoning is to define the allowable form of buildings without prescribing their use.

I sought a late lunch. Dining options are limited on and near the Queen Mary. I finally settled on an overpriced cheeseburger, which was dry, and had an egg that had been thoroughly fried, so the yolk did not run. This was sad. After this I drifted back to the conference, hearing a bit about the basics of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act.

Finally, on my third attempt at check-in, the staff of the Queen Mary agreed that my room was at last available, but first they had to hammer away on the computer for several minutes and take my keys in the back. It wasn’t personal: the place was filled up and everyone’s check-in was an exercise in patience. I suspect the place is run by folks who are more excited at the prospect of managing a historical ship than they are with efficient hotel logistics, or the correct preparation of overpriced cheeseburgers.

The room was spacious, by the standards of a contemporary American hotel built near the freeway, and especially in comparison to my limited cruise ship experience. Not all of the ship is in use as a hotel, and I assume they took the higher-class rooms for this purpose. On a modern cruise ship, a patio seems standard fare, but in the 1930s all you got was a porthole. Because all of the room lights are on a single switch, I used the porthole as a night light. I was charmed by the vintage desk that folded flat against the wall.

I considered skipping dinner, by subsisting on some dry chicken skewers, vegetables, and cheese from the networking event. The wife suggested I find a way to town and I found that there is a free bus that departs every fifteen minutes. I hiked up Pine Street a ways, past the light rail that was closed for reconstruction. I found an inexpensive but tasty Indian kebab place which seemed a good choice because last time I was alone roaming the streets of a foreign city at night after a conference, I was in Dublin, where they were also building light rail, and where I also ended up eating inexpensive Indian food.

The return bus was delayed, so I signed up for the Razor scooter service. The app made sure I was wearing a helmet, as everyone who rides a rental scooter always does. I felt a little shaky at first but got the hang of it, and before long I was back at the Queen Mary for under $5. The app warned me that I shouldn’t park in forbidden zones: apparently, the area around the Queen Mary is forbidden, but if you park next to the ship you’re okay. Other scooter services do not have this restriction.

The Razor scooter was the nicest I tried during my trip: the deck is wider, and the tires are fatter than the competition. My only grouse is that the handles are lower than is comfortable for a tall guy like me.

Upon returning to my room, I opened the door and heard a young boy sigh or mumble. This was most likely one of the ghosts who reside upon the Queen Mary. I concede that an alternate possibility is that when I opened the door, it created negative pressure in the room, and the air made a funny noise squeezing through the porthole.

Thursday

Although the walls on the ship are thin, and engines no longer muffle the neighbors who inhabit the ship’s various astral planes, I slept well. Throughout the morning, my brain adjusted to the idea of inhabiting a cruise ship while not feeling the movement of the sea.

Breakfast was rich in protein, and I chatted with a Planning Commissioner from Solvang. He explained that they were working to fix up the business district, which I have heard is a Swedish-themed tourist town. He hoped they could get an Apple Store since the nearest is a 40-minute drive. An Apple Store strikes me as an odd thing to wish for. I tried to adapt my impression of a glass cube to Old-Timey Sweden Town. He explained that the building codes would continue to specify a particular architectural style, but some of the run-down hotels could be replaced with nicer amenities.

Later the notion of autonomous personal passenger aircraft came up. The same Planning Commissioner was excited at the idea that people would prefer to own a private plane, maybe a sporty cherry red Jetsons car that could take off from the back-yard heliport, take them directly to work, then return home to park. Someone suggested the FAA might be slow to embrace this vision. Another suggested that folks might be happy to trade off the safety implications for the incredible convenience. I shared a criticism I have seen of the Boring Company, which so far hasn’t seemed to account for safety. In the hyper tunnel, a wheel may come flying off someone’s private car. The vehicles behind would have to break at eight times the force of gravity. The result could well be a Lithium Fire in a tunnel which has no emergency access, that kills a few hundred people, and burns for a week or two. People might accept that as the price for convenience, even if a government regulator might find the idea to be insane.

The morning session covered the legal powers and obligations of Planning Commissioners. The big idea to understand is that there are contexts where Planning Commissioners help to set policy, but that much of the time, Planning Commissioners are tasked with reviewing projects and applications within the context of the policies. You may not like what you see, but the job isn’t to approve of things based on personal opinion, but because the plans comply with policies.

There was also a fair amount of the Brown Act, which is always a concern for any public official in California. We touched again on avoiding closed meetings, where a quorum of a public body ends up discussing an issue outside of a public meeting. The bottom line is to make the decision-making process open to the public at large, to disclose any meetings, typically with an applicant, that have taken place, to provide a fair process, and not to demonstrate bias in decision-making.

The next session was the relationship between the Planning Commission, City Council, and city staff. The City Council decides what policy should be, and the staff determines how to achieve that policy. The Planning Commission serves in between, giving advice on policy to the City Council, and deciding whether applications which the city staff have worked on comply with the policy.

Next, I attended a panel discussion on Building Density.

If you have a single family neighborhood, of one and two-story homes, an apartment complex at 4x the density doesn’t mean four to eight-story buildings. An apartment building fits units closer together than single-story homes, and the units are usually smaller than comparable single-family homes. Scott Lee, from Livermore, showed a housing complex developed there at a higher density, that ran two and a half stories, with the height stepping down further towards the neighborhood. The development was an example that we see in Sunnyvale sometimes, where the middle of the building is a parking garage, and then the housing units are built around the garage so that, from the street, all you see is housing. He called that style a “Texas wrap.”

Peter Noonan, of West Hollywood, then dove deep into the economics of providing higher density housing to accommodate mixed incomes. My notes may not be accurate here, but West Hollywood has been pretty successful at rent stabilization, and they require new development to provide 20% of units to be affordable to families at 80% of the Area Median Income. (Many jurisdictions have had some success at providing housing at the market rate, and for the poorest residents, while missing targets for middle income.) He explained that their inclusive housing requirement triggers State Density Bonuses that permit developers to build additional units, which means that West Hollywood’s Inclusionary Housing Requirement ends up forcing developers to build more market-rate units than they would otherwise.

He then went on to illustrate how building denser developments brings down the per-unit cost of building new housing, which is critical to our ability to meet the housing needs of California’s residents.

Lunch was good. The salads came wrapped in a shaved cucumber. The chicken was somewhat dry but came with a sauce. The dessert was a form of Black Forest Cake, of which, thanks to a couple of Folsom Planning Commissioners, I had three servings. I chatted with a Yuba City Planning Commissioner. They are housing refugees from Paradise, and she shared word of another town that is housing refugees, that has sought a share of Paradise’s Property Tax revenue, in order to pay for the increased city services from housing Paradise residents. Our mutual feeling was sympathy towards the plight of a town that needs to cover unavoidable new expenses, but less sympathy for the strategy of trying to shake down a town that is in crisis.

There was a Survival Guide for using Twitter and Social Media. As my city’s resident Tech Savvy, Scooter-Renting, Millenial-by-Proxy Planning Commissioner, I went ahead and tweeted my notes. Here is the thread:

So, what has two thumbs and likes to geek out on the methodology of studying the Environmental Impact assessment on traffic flow? This guy!

Let’s talk internal combustion. When a vehicle is moving along at a steady rate, the engine helps to keep the wheels turning, and a relatively modest amount of energy to maintain speed. When a vehicle stops, the engine has to burn more energy than when it is cruising, because the wheels aren’t helping the engine move. Thus, if you want to maintain air quality, you need to design streets to keep cars moving. Therefore, the traditional approach to measuring the Environmental Impact of traffic is a metric called “Level of Service” (LOS) which measures the delay imposed on traffic by different types of development. As development increases, you can mitigate negative impacts on Level of Service by adding more lanes of traffic. Once you run out of room for building roads, any further development incurs a negative impact on LOS that cannot be mitigated.

What could possibly go wrong with this approach?

LOS is a recipe for sprawl. Adding a new greenfield development on an underutilized country road has no negative environmental impact as measured by LOS. Building denser in town where there is no room to add more lanes means the project’s Environmental Impact is Significant and Unavoidable.

Over time, the LOS approach becomes self-defeating. To keep traffic moving, we need to limit the density of development, which means people have to drive further and further to avoid getting stuck in traffic, so they spend more time stuck in traffic.

Because the right-of-way of the roads is built out to support only motorized vehicles, the population density is too low to support mass transit, and the commutes are long, the population loses opportunities for Active Transportation, and the death rates from sedentary lifestyles increase. (Note: in my experience, an e-bike can help make longer-distance commute through The Sprawl more possible, if you can find a sufficiently safe route.)

California has mandated a switch to evaluate Environmental Impact by measuring Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) which is cheaper to figure out. First off, if a project is near public transit, the VMT impact is “less than significant” because folks can take the bus. Overall, if a project is going to shorten or reduce trips, it has a favorable Environmental Impact. A greenfield development outside of town where folks are going to have to drive everywhere for jobs and services is going to have a negative evaluation in terms of VMT.

As our development shifts to VMT evaluation, we should be able to save money on road infrastructure, shorten commutes, and improve health by reducing automobile collisions and making Active Transportation a more practical option.

Next, we learned to Make Findings that Stand Legal Challenge. This can be summed up as “show your work” and when making findings, cite policies and explain how a project complies or does not comply.

That was too easy. How about a session on City Finances? I think this session might have gone down better with a beer, but Michael Coleman dove right in.

Thanks to Prop 13, Property Taxes are fixed at 1% of assessed value, and can not increase faster than the Consumer Price Index. The assessed value is reset to market value only when the property is sold. This is why one neighbor’s property tax might be $300, while the young family next door owes $20,000. Also, California has to offset its inability to fund government through Property Tax with high Sales Tax and Income Tax.

Prop 13 also provides an incentive to cities to approve new development, since new development pays property taxes at a contemporary rate, and also contributes substantial fees to cover infrastructure and services.

He also explained that the long-term decline in Sales Tax revenue has less to do with e-commerce and more to do with a broader cultural trend of spending money on services instead of goods. Sales Tax applies only to tangible goods, and not to services. So, there you go.

Then, he dropped a truth bomb on those of us who favor higher-density residential development. On the one hand, higher-density developments bring in more revenue than lower-density properties. But, the costs of providing residential services to the larger population can incur an overall budget deficit. The tax revenue from a family in an apartment comes out to less than a family living in a single-family house, but both families need the same city services.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t build higher-density housing, but we need to be mindful of the impact on City Finances and balance development with other, more profitable development. (I love “Mixed Use” residential-over-retail, myself.) In the longer term, I like to think that California’s approach to funding government will evolve to the needs of higher density living.

Then there was an explanation of how the lack of a Vehicle License Fee replacement means that annexation and incorporation of cities in California are no longer fiscally viable. Without risking anyone’s sanity trying to explain it, I think it is enough to understand that that problem exists, and that you should support AB 2268.

After trying to understand the implications of the VLF backfill on incorporation and annexation, I decided to take the free bus and a rented scooter over to the Yard House and have a beer, and a cheeseburger with several fellow Planning Commissioners. We had a chance to talk about each other as people instead of the vagaries of government policy. The cheeseburger was juicy and delicious, and I took that as representative of how much better Thursday had gone than Wednesday.

Friday

The conference breakfast was a slight improvement on the day before, featuring home fries instead of hash browns, and granola-yogurt cups in addition to the eggs-sausage-bacon-pastries spread. I ate two servings at breakfast, the second one to serve as lunch. They tried to do a Q&A during the breakfast, which didn’t go so well because breakfast is also an excellent time to chat with people at the table. Much of the discussion at the table centered around how the Q&A wasn’t working well, and that this year’s conference had more challenge to it than previous years, because they had fewer rooms available for sessions, because they had had to move hotels at the last minute because the original hotel had construction going on.

Then it was time to go downstairs for the legislative update. We braced ourselves, as the California legislature has 2,700 bills to consider this year. That sounds like a lot, and Jason Rhine, of the League of California Cities, reassured us that this is indeed a lot for a non-election year. 200 bills focus on Housing and Land Use, and another 500 bills are placeholder “spot bills” which will be filled in by their sponsors as the process rolls along.

There was mention of the CASA Compact, which is a policy collaboration in the Bay Area, but most of its suggestions apply to the state in general. (CASA is a whole topic unto itself.) Here are various incomplete notes that I took:

AB 275 is looking to limit new developments to not more than 20% single-family homes.

AB 1279 seeks to identify “high resource” communities, with good schools, plentiful jobs, and mostly single-family homes, and in those communities grant developers “by right” approval for affordable housing projects of up to 100 housing units up to 55 feet in height. This would help bring lower-income folks into more upscale and exclusive towns.

SB 4 would allow up to four-plexes on empty lots near transit, and an additional story of height.

SB 50 is Scott Weiner’s bill. Last year he introduced the controversial SB 827 which did not make it out of committee. This is the sequel to that bill, which would up-zone around transit, put limits on Single Family zoning, increase density based on form, which I understand as “you can build the building to the size allowed in the zoning code, and house as many families as you please, so a 6-bedroom McMansion could just as well be a three-plex.” SB 50 would limit or eliminate parking requirements, and introduce additional Density Bonuses.

Jason Rhine noted that this year, Scott Weiner chairs the committee, so SB 50 would likely make it to a floor vote, and Democrats are generally reluctant to shoot down their colleagues in the same house. Upon arrival in the Assembly, some negotiation could take place. Most of the bills in process are consistent with Governor Newsom’s ambitious goals for housing production, so he’s likely to sign them.

SB 330 would declare the state to be in a Housing Crisis until 2030. During this period, there could be no downzoning, no (new?) parking requirements, no increases to impact fees, no (new?) fees for affordable housing, no housing moratoria, no new design standards that increase construction expense, and no limit on the number of conditional use permits. The gist of this being that for the coming decade, we will make it somewhat easier to build.

AB 11 would bring back the Redevelopment Agencies that were axed during the Financial Crisis.

SB 5 would allocate up to $2 billion for redevelopment.

ACA 1 would be a ballot measure to reduce the threshold for bonds for affordable housing and infrastructure to 55%.

SB 128 would reduce the threshold for EIFD bonds to 55%. (Enhanced Infrastructure Financing Districts . . . wonky enough for ya?)

AB 68 and 69 would repeal the minimum lot size requirements for folks who want to build an ADU. (Sunnyvale has a minimum lot size of 6,000 square feet, so my lot is 300 square feet shy of being allowed an ADU.)

AB 36 is a “spot bill” for “tenant protections” and may be the vehicle for enacting some form of statewide Rent Control this year. This would probably be more permissive than traditional local rent control ordinances and focus mainly on limiting the year-over-year increases that can so easily force long-time tenants from their homes on short notice.

AB 1110 would increase the notice period for rent increases. (You get more time to prepare to pay more rent or move.)

AB 1483 would require cities to post all of their fees on their web site.

AB 1484 would not allow a city to charge a fee not posted on their web site.

AB 891 would require cities over 330,000 population to provide Safe Parking areas for people sleeping in vehicles by 2022.

The last session of the conference was on Land Use and Emergency Preparedness in our new age of increasing disasters. I made a note that 30% of California housing stock is at the Urban Interface Area and that this area is seeing 40% of the growth of housing stock. I then noted “emergency preparedness is YIMBY” as I think it was Eric Nickel, Santa Barbara’s new Fire Chief, who was explaining that folks concerned with fire safety would prefer transit-oriented development in town over sprawl.

As my town is not in the Urban Interface Area and I am already a fan of transit-oriented development, my thoughts drifted to trying out LA’s transit infrastructure to get to the airport. Google was saying 2+ hours by transit compared with a 40-minute Lyft, so I left the Emergency Preparedness session to enact my own study of alternative transportation services in the LA area.

Long Beach Transit provides a free shuttle bus to and from the Queen Mary, called The Passport.

I could have taken the free bus, but I thought I should try a non-Razor scooter. There was a Lime nearby, but some hipster snatched it up before I could get to it. Then I saw a Bird. I signed up, deposited $10, and took off. I made it a couple blocks and just started up the overpass over the water to the main part of Long Beach when the scooter slowed to a crawl and stopped entirely. I laughed at the thought that it lacked the power to bring me up the hill, but the app reported that in the space of two blocks the battery had gone from 20% to empty. I had killed the Bird.

A protected bicycle route. I wish we had any of these in Sunnyvale.

I walked up over the bridge, probably faster than any scooter could get me uphill, and picked up a Lime scooter on the other side. I really appreciated the height of the handlebars! I took it a block or two, and the ride seemed to get bumpier and bumpier. The wheels were either too small or damaged. The ride was awful, so I ditched my tall boy at a rack of Razor scooters, and rode a wide, thick-tired Razor the rest of the way to the bus stop. There was one block with a steep uphill, and the Razor managed to drag me up that hill. Near the end, it had slowed to such a crawl that a tortoise passed me up, with a comment on the side about my lazy character. I couldn’t help but grin at my own absurdity.

The Lime scooter has higher handlebars, which I like, but not enough to offset the bumpy ride this one gave.

Ordinarily, a transit ride from the Queen Mary to LAX is a reasonably straightforward shuttle bus to train to train to shuttle bus. Unfortunately, the Blue Line that runs to Long Beach is shut down for repairs. In its place, I took a free bus, which very slowly made it to the stops served by the Blue Line. The trip counted as scenic if you’re the sort who appreciates a look at lower-income residential and industrial neighborhoods adjacent to freeways. After Martin Luther King hospital we passed a Denny’s, and I got off at the Rosa Parks Metro stop. I didn’t see any ticket machines, so I followed everyone else through the open fare gate and past the sign that said we needed Proof of Payment.

I caught a Green Line train toward the airport. It was the most overtly drab utilitarian train I can remember riding. It felt like Ronald Reagan had tried to describe Socialism and the designers built to his specification. I appreciated the huge windows, which afforded an excellent view of the highway, as we zipped efficiently along to the Airport stop, where we all went down to wait for the bus.

There was nowhere to buy a bus ticket, and no fare posted, just that you needed to have proof of payment for the Green Line. Of course, since it is an airport shuttle bus, everyone got on and off at both doors, and nobody bothered about proof of payment. The end result is that had I not bothered with the scooters, my trip from the Queen Mary would have cost me nothing, aside from the risk of a fine. (For what it is worth, I also experimented with an alternate bus along the way, and so paid $2 of the $1.75 standard Metro fare, so my conscience is clean on that account.)

Friday Night and my boy is Six!

The flight home was delayed a bit, but my family picked me up at the airport, and we had Birthday Cupcakes when we got home.

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February 26, 2019
Testimonials

Train Show Philosophy

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2019/02/26/train-show-philosophy/

This Sunday, Tommy and his Mom went to see the new Lego movie. I took the baby to a train show. He alternated between wanting to be carried and wanting to push the stroller around the crowd. We had fun.

A lot of the layouts on display are modular, and each at a different height. Some are up high, where an adult can comfortably manipulate the trains while standing, and others are down low, where kids can more easily see. The lower ones often have plastic barriers around the edge, or are roped of, to reduce the fingerpoking. I steered Max toward the lower trains, where there was also more room for him to push the stroller around.

I got to chatting with one of the guys running a large-scale railroad that was about two feet off the ground.

“Back when we started, back in the 80s, we had it at a height that was comfortable for old men. (I was young back then.) We went to a show and a bus full of kids in wheelchairs got out and they couldn’t see the trains. We felt awful about that. So, we got out the saws and have had shorter legs ever since.”

“You don’t have plastic barriers along the edge?”

“Well, the biggest thrill for the kids is to put their face on the track and pretend the train is going to run them over. We’ve also found that the manufacturers really understand that train shows are the best marketing they have, so when a train hits the concrete, they’ll often replace the damaged equipment, no questions asked.”

“Oh that’s nice! Still, maybe you run the more expensive trains on the inside track? I mean that one looks like it cost a few bucks.”

“That’s the theory. Though, at the end of the day . . . its only a toy.”

I love that guy.

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December 3, 2018
Free Style

Computer Translation

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2018/12/03/computer-translation/

Back in the 60s, they built a computer to translate between Russian and English. They had a big party to celebrate the first time they booted up the computer, but they had a problem of testing it since nobody was around who spoke Russian. One of the Computer Scientists proposed that they simply feed in an English phrase, translate to Russian, then translate back to English.

They fed in the English phrase: THE SPIRIT IS STRONG BUT THE FLESH IS WEAK
The computer whirred and clicked and spat out the translation.
They keyed the Russian translation back into the computer, which whirred and clicked.
The computer finished its translation: THE VODKA IS GOOD BUT THE MEAT IS ROTTEN

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November 27, 2018
About Me

Brain Reconfiguration

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2018/11/27/brain-reconfiguration/

In my experience, the brain reconfigures its capabilities to adapt to the work you need it to do.

One thing that I notice when working hard in technology is that my short-term memory is shot. I can barely remember the morning, or what was on Forum in the commute in. I think the brain reconfigures itself so that short-term memory is sacrificed for the working stack. I can “load in” a whole bunch of things I’m trying to think about and mesh together and keep track of “in the moment” … good for analysis, but then I lose track of time and can not remember, like I said, the details of the day, so well.

There was a time when I was released from tech, depressed, and found work as a waiter. The initial transition was difficult. I crafted cheat sheets to remind myself of menu items, &c. and spent time trying to translate the algorithms as they had been trained to me into the art of doing the job. I recall a specific hierarchy of five priorities. Let me see if I can recall them all. Greet customers as they come in, bring out hot food, take orders, settle the bill. The rule was that each priority superseded the next … but you can not apply this 100% of the time. One day the restaurant was full, and I was the only waiter, and it was lunchtime on a weekday: people want to get back to the office. I did a good job of getting people settled and getting their food out, but it sucked for that guy who had to wait forever to get his bill. Over time I learned to optimize operations … basically, carpool trips: collect multiple orders on the floor, bring them to the computer, grab a bill, pick up food, deliver food, deliver bill, collect orders, &c.

After some months working in the Pizza Place, my short-term memory got really good. Never quite “don’t write down the orders” good but I think I could have pulled that off if it were an option. (The paper orders went to the kitchen and were later cross-referenced with the computer billing system.) But, when I went backpacking, I was very good at recalling what I spent from day to day, keeping track of those little details over the short to medium term.

In contrast, when I tried to do computer programming, I felt dumb. I remember trying to build an isometric grid system for game programming, and I felt like I just kept running out of brain. Translating grid coordinates to drawing them on a two-dimensional screen whose coordinate system runs from a different direction … I didn’t have it in me.

Then again, neither is that the sort of stuff I end up doing in tech work. Systems Administration is less about deeply abstract thought (well, sometimes it is..) and honestly somewhat like being a waiter, or a restaurant manager. Maybe more of an independent car mechanic. Lots of things going on, lots of ideas to keep track of, and a fair amount of short-term, deep problem solving: WTF is going on with this server, or this software, &c.

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August 30, 2018
News and Reaction, Politics, Sunnyvale

Restrictive Zoning Induces Partisan Shift

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2018/08/30/restrictive-zoning-induces-partisan-shift/

Here is a provocative article from CityLab: How Land-Use Restrictions Make Places Tilt Left

The gist of this is: restrictive zoning makes housing more expensive. The folks who can afford expensive housing tend to be college educated. College educated people tend to be more liberal, and vote Democratic.

If you restrict the amount of housing that can be built in a city, you squeeze out poor folks, and the folks who can afford to buy in are the “Liberal Elites.”

More restrictive counties tend to shed Republicans and become more Democratic over time—a pattern that seems to have accelerated since 2012. And, more restrictive counties tend to gain more college-educated people and shed fewer educated ones, which contributes to their partisan shift. As Sorens notes, college education may causally mediate a substantial part of the relationship between zoning and partisanship at the county level. In other words, a county’s becoming more educated as a result of building restrictions makes it more Democratic.

I think our policies, especially in the privileged suburb where I live, need to allow and facilitate more housing. As a Liberal Democrat, I do not want to live in a bubble community. While I take some pride in the idea that education leads to progressive politics, I am disappointed that a party that prides itself as a champion of the working class and the poor, gains a partisan advantage when the working class and poor get squeezed out of our communities.

As a Democrat in a Blue City, I think we owe a debt to our communities to correct restrictive zoning in order to redress the damage done to our own working class, who can not afford to live here.

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August 29, 2018
Biography, Letters to The Man, News and Reaction, Technical, Technology, Testimonials

FCC Should Expand Competition for Internet Service Providers

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2018/08/29/fcc-should-expand-competition-for-internet-service-providers/

At the behest of my ISP, Sonic, I wrote a letter to the FCC, via https://savecompetition.com/:

Dear FCC,

I am a successful IT professional. I got my start in the 90s, answering phones at an independent ISP and getting folks online with their new modems. This was a great age when folks had a choice of any number of Internet SERVICE Providers who could help them get up and running on AT&T’s local telephone infrastructure.

To this very day, I use the DSL option available from the local Internet Service Provider (Sonic) over AT&T’s wires. I use this despite the fiber optic cable AT&T has hung on the pole in front of my house. Fiber would be so, so much faster, but I’m not going to pay for it until I have a CHOICE of providers, like Sonic, who has always been great about answering the phone and taking care of my Internet SERVICE needs.

Competitive services were the foundation of my career in IT. I believe they were a strong foundation to get Americans online in the first place. Competitive services are, in my opinion, REQUIRED, if you want to get Americans on to modern network technology today.

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August 15, 2018
About Me, News and Reaction, Sunnyvale

(Family) Bicycling is a Privilege, Which is Why You Should Do It

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2018/08/15/family-bicycling-is-a-privilege-which-is-why-you-should-do-it/

I have spent some time of late working on the “family cycling” problem. I would like to get my kids around town without a car. I would also like to bike to work, which is 10+ miles one way, which is a bit far for me to ride twice every day. Last year, I took a leap of faith and purchased a Radwagon. Around $2,200 all-in, including having a mobile bike shop assemble and deliver it. That is cheap for a bike that can haul kids on the back. It is great for my work commute, but the high back was too scary for my older son.

The Radwagon is pretty rad, but the rear cargo deck was too high for the older son to feel comfortable.

After the younger son turned 1, I got a baby seat (another $250, as I recall) and now I have a bike fanatic who loves the high ride adventures. This is great, because I have more encouragement for me to get riding. (Really, these are demands: “Dada, go go go go go! Byyyeee mama! Byyyeee bruhbruh! Dada, shoess!”) This is great, until the older kid starts feeling left out of quality time with Dad.

Before he could even walk, he could climb up on the running board of Daddy’s bike.

Thus began my quest for a family bicycle that could accomodate both boys: something lower …

There are a lot of options. There are bikes like the Radwagon but with a smaller wheel in the back, so kids can ride low. Non-motorized bikes from Yuba and Xtracycle start around $2,200. Motorized versions start around $4,500. There are bikes with a box up front: the classic Dutch Bakfiets can be imported from Europe for some insane amount of money. There are box-in-the-front tricycles from Bunch (around $2,600 delivered) and Wike in Canada. The Bunch has an electric option. Finally, I stumbled across Madsen, which sells “bucket bikes” which have a big, sturdy, plastic bucket on the rear that seats four. They start around $2,000, and can deliver at $2,200 (mostly) assembled, but I decided that really, I want to be able to drop kids off and head to work, so all in with e-assist and a few accessories is $3,500.

The next challenge is: a test ride. The Radwagon was a Leap of Faith with mixed results. There are “local” dealers for the more expensive bikes. This would mostly involve calling ahead to set up an appointment to ensure that the appropriate bike(s) are in stock and set up for a test ride, then schlepping the kids up to San Francisco. Fortunately, Madsen has a customer one town over that was willing to share a test ride. I was able to confirm that both boys enjoyed it, and the wife could fit in the bucket, too. The electric option is new for Madsen, so the bike I ordered won’t arrive until later this month.

Soon!

Last Month, the Bike Snob published an article that declared that “No, Cycling Isn’t Elitist” which argues that family cycling can be more cost effective than driving. I wish that were true. I wouldn’t say that cycling is elitist, but where I live, where a car is a basic requirement to partipate in economic life, spending additional time and money to research, purchase, store, and maintain a family bicycle remains an act of privilege.

So, what to do: wring your hands and feel like a bougy jackass? On the contrary. I think that if you are in a position to enjoy family biking, and have the means to make it happen, then this is all the more reason to do it. If your family is out on the bike, it helps encourage drivers to be more careful, it opens eyes, and maybe nudges more people of privilege to try it out. Nudges politicians to prioritize safe bicycling infrastructure, which makes it easier for more folks to choose to ride more bikes …

The kids will outgrow the family cycle, and when it comes time to sell, the used bicycles get around the community at prices that are more affordable to folks with less privilege.

See Also: The Edgerunner Philosophy — “It has to do with mushrooms, opportunities, taking risks, and embracing change:”

Luminary mycologist Paul Stamets uses the term “edgerunner” to refer to the profound role that mycelium—an extremely beneficial fungus—plays in Earth’s ecosystems, working at the edges of biological possibility in order to advance life.

As I see it: cycling may not be elitist, but it is definitely more accessible to privileged folks, so if you have the privilege to “work at the edge of possibility” you should consider taking it, in hopes of helping to normalize a beneficial activity and make it more accessible over time.

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June 6, 2018
FreeBSD, Linux, Technical

Why Hard Drives Get Slower As You Fill Them Up

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2018/06/06/why-hard-drives-get-slower-as-you-fill-them-up/

I built a new system (from old parts) yesterday. It is a RAID10 with 4x 8TB disks. While the system is up and running, it takes forever for mdadm to complete “building” the RAID. All the same, I got a little smile from this graph:

As the RAID assembles, the R/W operations take longer to complete.

The process should be about 20 hours total. As we get move through the job, the read-write operations take longer. Why? I have noticed this before. What happens here is that the disk rotates at a constant speed, but towards the rim you can fit a lot more data than towards the center. The speed with which you access data depends on whether you are talking to the core or to the rim of the magnetic platter.

What the computer does is it uses the fastest part of the disk first, and as the disk gets filled up, it uses the slower parts. With an operation like this that covers the entire disk, you start fast and get slower.

This is part of the reason that your hard drive slows down as it gets filled up: when your disk was new, the computer was using the fast-spinning outer rim. As that fills up, it has to read and write closer to the core. That takes longer. Another factor is that the data might be more segmented, packed into nooks and crannies where space is free, and your Operating System needs to seek those pieces out and assemble them. On a PC, the bigger culprit is probably that you have accumulated a bunch of extra running software that demands system resources.

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April 11, 2018
Letters to The Man, News and Reaction, Sunnyvale, Technology, Testimonials

On Dockless Electric Scooters, I had the last word

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2018/04/11/on-dockless-electric-scooters-i-had-the-last-word/

On the drive in this morning, I caught Forum’s program on the new dockless electric scooters that have been showing up in San Francisco. This service is a new take on dockless bike share. There is concern that users are riding on sidewalks, menacing pedestrians, and that despite state laws, they aren’t wearing helmets. Also, the scooters are often left blocking up the sidewalks.

The scooter proponent answered that since the scooters are a handy way to save car trips, San Francisco can continue its efforts to convert car lanes to bike lanes, where the scooters could safely scoot apart from pedestrians. That sounds great to me. The helmets, though … as I pulled up to the office, I emailed in a brief opinion. I then hung back from going into the office for a couple of minutes to catch the very end of the show. I’m glad I did. Michael Krazny closed with this:

We’ll leave it there! Well, except for one more comment about helmets that I want to read here, from Daniel, who says: “We should revisit the helmet requirement. Helmet use is a cultural convention. For example, they don’t wear helmets in Amsterdam or Copenhagen, which makes bicycling even easier in those places. It is safer to wear a helmet when riding in a car, yet we wouldn’t expect anyone to wear a helmet as a requirement to ride in a car.”

I think it would be nice to see these scooters in Peninsula suburbs, where we tend to lack good “last mile” transit options, and where there are fewer pedestrians to upset. Rental electric scooters sound like a better option than rental bikes in a lot of cases because they’re cheap to deploy, require less knowledge to ride, and require less storage space. And I suspect that the helmet requirement is probably unworkable.

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March 6, 2018
About Me, Politics, Religion, Sunnyvale

In A Nutshell: Bay Area Housing Shortage

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2018/03/06/in-a-nutshell-bay-area-housing-shortage/

A question was posed as to whether folks should fight for or flee from the Silicon Valley.

i wonder if defining question for Silicon Valley this next decade will be "fight or flight"

Do you stay here to help fix/solve the problems of the Bay Area (and US) or do you remove/isolate yourself (Midwest! New Zealand! Mars!) in some nirvana fantasy#YouBreakItYouBoughtIt

— 👨🏻‍💻☕️ (@hunterwalk) March 5, 2018

I answered that those who have bought homes here ought to fight for opportunities for the next group. The greater challenge is that a lot of folks who got theirs don’t want to make allowances for the next generations.

Too many people who bought in the past seem set on protecting theirs with little regard for the next or future generations. It’s sad that people put their views, their perception of neighborhood character, or their biases before building more housing and supporting more dreams.

— Zac Townsend (@ztownsend) March 5, 2018

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December 8, 2017
News and Reaction, Politics

Democrats Should Hold The High Ground

Link: https://dannyman.toldme.com/2017/12/08/democrats-should-hold-the-high-ground/

I noted that:

On social media, my liberal bubble is split into two sub-bubbles of folks who aren't talking to each other. Some are upset that Franken resigned already and some are upset that he didn't resign sooner.

— Danny Howard (@dannyman) December 7, 2017

I was asked on Facebook how I felt. A summary:

I don’t know yet. I think I agree with both sides. I haven’t looked too closely, but it sounds like his errors were regrettable but forgivable. On the other hand, a controversy like this, deserved or not, impairs his ability to be an effective leader. His resignation draws a contrast with the other party. I respect him for falling on his sword, so to speak. Though, would he have resigned under a Republican governor? His seat is “safe” …

I think women need to be taken seriously. I also fear that we could enter an era of “Sexual Harassment McCarthyism” as someone put it. So, yeah, I guess I don’t know which bubble to hang out in.

A friend shared a pair of editorials:

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2017/12/the_republicans_have_built_an_uneven_playing_field_of_morality.html
http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/a14381583/al-franken-resign-moral-high-ground/

The gist of it is “good on the Democrats for holding themselves to the moral high ground while the other party digs a hole ever deeper but maybe we are harming the country because we’re the only ones playing nice.”

I wrote:

I think Democrats should continue holding themselves to moral and ethical standards. We are losing ground right now because of a lack of willingness to surrender our moral principles for political gain. But I think … you need to be good with yourself before you can be a good leader for your nation.

Our country badly needs good leadership. That the GOP is willing to fall behind Trump or Roy Moore illustrates just how badly deficient they are in good leadership. When you go too long without moral principle you lose your pipeline for good leaders.

National elections are won and lost in the middle. Hillary Clinton was tainted by old and unfair perceptions that she was morally compromised, so folks were able to toss a coin and take the other morally compromised candidate.

I supported the “Draft Franken 2020” thing … now I am hoping we find some fresh blood, who can be lifted up by a party which observes moral standards. That makes the next election a little easier for people to vote for a leader they believe will live by and lead from a place of ethics and moral decency.

I think we shouldn’t be afraid to fight hard within the system, but we should avoid the notion that we need to put forward leaders who can not uphold our principles.

Bill Clinton was a decent President, but we can do better than Clinton. We had Obama and now we have Trump: I know which direction I want my party to move.

We are at a time that will grow increasingly dynamic. When things get weird is when you need all the more to be centered and grounded and ethical. We need to weather the storms, but not at the price of losing ourselves.

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