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.
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 timeâ€”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 countyâ€™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.
At the behest of my ISP, Sonic, I wrote a letter to the FCC, via https://savecompetition.com/:
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.
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.Â (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.
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 â€œedgerunnerâ€ to refer to the profound role that myceliumâ€”an extremely beneficial fungusâ€”plays in Earthâ€™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.
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.
A question was posed as to whether folks should fight for or flee from the Silicon Valley.
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.
I noted that:
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.Â On the other hand, a controversy like this, deserved or not, impairs his ability to be an effective leader.Â His resignation draws a contrast with the other party. I respect him for falling on his sword, so to speak.Â Though, would he have resigned under a Republican governor? His seat is “safe” …
I think women need to be taken seriously.Â I also fear that we could enter an era of “Sexual Harassment McCarthyism” as someone put it.Â So, yeah, I guess I don’t know which bubble to hang out in.
A friend shared a pair of editorials:
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 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.
Notes from a great article in the EconomistÂ on the hidden costs of free parking.
Apple’s new “Spaceship” in Cupertino contains 318,000 m2 of offices and 325,000 m2 of parking.
Cupertino, the suburban city where the new headquarters is located, demands it. Cupertino has a requirement for every building. A developer who wants to put up a block of flats, for example, must provide two parking spaces per apartment, one of which must be covered. For a fast-food restaurant, the city demands one space for every three seats; for a bowling alley, seven spaces per lane plus one for every worker. Cupertinoâ€™s neighbours have similar rules. With such a surfeit of parking, most of it free, it is little wonder that most people get around Silicon Valley by car, or that the area has such appalling traffic jams.
Cars sit idle 95% of the time.
Water companies are not obliged to supply all the water that people would use if it were free, nor are power companies expected to provide all the free electricity that customers might want. But many cities try to provide enough spaces to meet the demand for free parking, even at peak times. Some base their parking minimums on the â€œParking Generation Handbookâ€, a tome produced by the Institute of Transportation Engineers. This reports how many cars are found in the free car parks of synagogues, waterslide parks and so on when they are busiest.
Car parking takes up space. Parking lots dominate the downtown area of Kansas City, MO. As space gets stretched out, walking and bicycling lose their appeal. “Besides, if you know you can park free wherever you go, why not drive?”
The rule of thumb in America is that multi-storey car parks cost about $25,000 per space and underground parking costs $35,000. Donald Shoup, an authority on parking economics, estimates that creating the minimum number of spaces adds 67% to the cost of a new shopping centre in Los Angeles if the car park is above ground and 93% if it is underground. Parking requirements can also make redevelopment impossible. Converting an old office building into flats generally means providing the parking spaces required for a new block of flats, which is likely to be difficult. The biggest cost of parking minimums may be the economic activity they prevent.
There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch: everyone pays for free parking:
And that has an unfortunate distributional effect, because young people drive a little less than the middle-aged and the poor drive less than the rich. In America, 17% of blacks and 12% of Hispanics who lived in big cities usually took public transport to work in 2013, whereas 7% of whites did. Free parking represents a subsidy for older people that is paid disproportionately by the young and a subsidy for the wealthy that is paid by the poor.
When autonomous cars become available, many will likely operate like taxis. Less parking will be needed for homes and businesses. There will be more demand for drop-off and pick-up areas. There will be more demand for service garages, where the autonomous cars can go to charge, clean, and receive maintenance.
Existing parking minimums, which provide a subsidy for individual car ownership, will retard the adoption of autonomous vehicles in the United States. Personal vehicles will be subject to a parking subsidy, whereas autonomous car operators will need to supply maintenance garages at their expense. See Also: streetcars versus buses, railroads versus trucking.
Market-rate parking permits for public streets are logical, but culturally unpopular, even in transit-based European cities like Amsterdam.
The result is a perpetual scrap for empty kerb.Â As San Franciscoâ€™s infuriated drivers cruise around, they crowd the roads and pollute the air. This is a widespread hidden cost of under-priced street parking. Mr Shoup has estimated that cruising for spaces in Westwood village, in Los Angeles, amounts to 950,000 excess vehicle miles travelled per year. Westwood is tiny, with only 470 metered spaces.
In the 1950s, while Japan was still poor, Tokyo required motorists to show proof of access to a dedicated parking space. There is no overnight street parking in Tokyo.
Freed of cars, the narrow residential streets of Tokyo are quieter than in other big cities. Every so often a courtyard or spare patch of land has been turned into a car parkâ€”some more expensive than others.Â Once you become accustomed to the idea that city streets are only for driving and walking, and not for parking, it is difficult to imagine how it could possibly be otherwise. Mr Kondoh is so perplexed by an account of a British suburb, with its kerbside commons, that he asks for a diagram. Your correspondent tries to draw his own street, with large rectangles for houses, a line representing the kerb and small rectangles showing all the parked cars. The small rectangles take up a surprising amount of room.
Yesterday we tried out Slack’s new thread feature, and were left scratching our heads over the utility of that. Someone mused that Slack might be running out of features to implement, and I recalled Zawinski’s Law:
Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.
I think this is a tad ironic for Slack, given that some people believe that Slack makes email obsolete and useless. Anyway, I had ended up on Jamie Zawiski’s (jwz) Wikipedia entry and there was this comment about jwz’s law:
Eric Raymond comments that while this law goes against the minimalist philosophy of Unix (a set of “small, sharp tools”), it actually addresses the real need of end users to keep together tools for interrelated tasks, even though for a coder implementation of these tools are clearly independent jobs.
This led to The Duct Tape Programmer, which I’ll excerpt:
Sometimes you’re busy banging out the code, and someone starts rattling on about how if you use multi-threaded COM apartments, your app will be 34% sparklier, and itâ€™s not even that hard, because heâ€™s written a bunch of templates, and all you have to do is multiply-inherit from 17 of his templates, each taking an average of 4 arguments … your eyes are swimming.
And the duct-tape programmer is not afraid to say, “multiple inheritance sucks. Stop it. Just stop.”
You see, everybody else is too afraid of looking stupid … they sheepishly go along with whatever faddish programming craziness has come down from the architecture astronauts who speak at conferences and write books and articles and are so much smarter than us that they donâ€™t realize that the stuff that theyâ€™re promoting is too hard for us.
“At the end of the day, ship the fucking thing! Itâ€™s great to rewrite your code and make it cleaner and by the third time itâ€™ll actually be pretty. But thatâ€™s not the pointâ€”youâ€™re not here to write code; youâ€™re here to ship products.”
jwz wrote a response in his blog:
To the extent that he puts me up on a pedestal for merely being practical, that’s a pretty sad indictment of the state of the industry.
In a lot of the commentary surrounding his article elsewhere, I saw all the usual chestnuts being trotted out by people misunderstanding the context of our discussions: A) the incredible time pressure we were under and B) that it was 1994. People always want to get in fights over the specifics like “what’s wrong with templates?” without realizing the historical context. Guess what, you young punks, templates didn’t work in 1994.
As an older tech worker, I have found that I am more “fad resistant” than I was in my younger days. There’s older technology that may not be pretty but I know it works, and there’s new technology that may be shiny, but immature, and will take a lot of effort to get working. As time passes, shiny technology matures and becomes more practical to use.
(I am looking forward to trying “Kubernetes in a Can”)
Friend: Dang it Apple my iPhone upgrade bricked the phone and I had to reinstall from scratch. This is a _really_ bad user experience.
Me: If you can re-install the software, the phone isn’t actually “bricked” …
Friend: I had to do a factory restore through iTunes.
Me: That’s not bricked that’s just extremely awful software.
(Someone else mentions Windows.)
Me: Never had this problem with an Android device. ;)
Friend: With Android phones you are constantly waiting on the carriers or handset makers for updates.
Me: That is why I buy my phones from Google.
Friend: Pixel looks enticing, I still like iPhone better. I am a firm believer that people stick with what they know, and you are unlikely to sway them if it works for them.
Me: Yeah just because you have to reinstall your whole phone from scratch doesn’t make it a bad experience.
Good news via Streetsblog: the United States FRA are nearly done revising safety regulations which would allow for operation of high-speed trains in the United States!
A fleet of TGV waiting to serve passengers in Marseilles, France in 2002. These trains have a top speed of 200 MPH. Proposed US safety rules would permit lighter, faster trains that meet European safety standards to run at speeds of up to 220 MPH.
Current US regulations, from the 1800s and the 1930s, mandate heavier trains to survive crashes. Unfortunately, heavy trains cost more to build, operate, and maintain. Heavier trains are also harder to stop in an emergency.
European train safety regulations are comparable to modern cars: lighter trains are cheaper to build and operate, and they stop faster. They feature “crumple zones” to absorb damage in an accident.
Since the United States is a small market for passenger trains, divergent safety standards make it even more expensive to buy trains. Instead of purchasing inexpensive, reliable, “off-the-shelf” European-designed train sets, vendors need to make alternate, heavier, slower, more expensive designs for American railroads. The adoption of European safety standards will make it cheaper and easier for American railroads to provide modern, comfortable, faster passenger service.
In anticipation of these new rules, Amtrak in September announced the purchase of 28 Avelia Liberty trains from the French company Alstom. The trains will be manufactured in upstate New York and will be used for Acela service starting is 2021. These trains can be upgraded to run at 220 MPH, but this will only be allowed after right-of-way upgrades on the Northeast Corridor.
These rules coming at the end of the Obama administration, with promises of infrastructure spending under the Trump administration, could help American rail transport see more rapid improvements in short order.
Via Steve Vance, Mapzen has a new tool, Mobility Explorer, which can generate isochrones for walking, biking, driving, and transit. I have previously used tools provided by Walk Score, but Mapzen seems more accurate, and the transit shed can be calculated based on a time-of-day.
Here is how far you can get on public transit from Sunnyvale at noon on a Wednesday in 15, 30, 45 and 60 minutes.
The colors on the web site color scheme are not that great. On Steve’s blog you can see he’s generated his own map via an API call.
I was in Chicago this week. There was a death in the family, so it was good to be among my kinfolk with our adorable, loving child.
Chicago is famously corrupt and moribund and the State of Illinois is mired in perpetual scandal. It is a magnet for immigrants but it is also a city from which many of us Californians are originally from. I’ve gotten used to the California way and I generally prefer it but what I noticed this week in Chicago was all the construction.
For a city that is corrupt and moribund, there was an awful lot of demolition and rebuilding going on. On the way to the L in the evening we stopped and stared over a fence as a variety of heavy machines worked under brilliant stadium lights. The star of the show was a yellow machine with a huge claw on the end of a boom arm reaching several stories up, to the top of a building, it was tearing down from the top, girder by girder, as another machine sprayed down the dust with a water hose. The claw was at the very end of its reach, it felt the machine was on tippy toes, as it tugged away, girder after girder, waiting for torrents of debris to fall, pulling the pieces out and dropping them into piles to be dragged into more discrete piles by lesser enormous machines. It was like watching dinosaurs go about their business. Father, Son, and Grandmother: none of us could take our eyes off the marvel. “They should sell beer and peanuts,” said I.
The neighbors of this derelict house in Sunnyvale are terrified at the prospect of it being replaced with housing for families.
We don’t get this in Suburban California. What little “history” we have is viciously guarded and any attempt to replace the old with newer and better is often met with resistance and exaggerated speculation as to the intentions and end results of new development. You don’t see that so much in the old country–In Chicago, and in any place with some history under its belt, everyone knows that they are surrounded by at least a century of continuity–Everyone is merely links in a great chain. The city is inherited and bequeathed and the hope is to leave it in a little better shape: Urbs in Horto.
In Dublin, I saw them building a light rail line, right down an ancient street. It made the Northern Californian in me jealous.
They say that University Politics is the most vicious because the stakes are so low. I get a sense of that observing some of the political rhetoric in Sunnyvale. Out here the city is so new and raw that the idea of changing it implies that those who built the city and have lived in it until now are being completely rejected by the hordes of newcomers flooding the city from the Midwest and the Far East. But in the ancient lands where the immigrants come from, there is no such sentiment: the cities are naturally timeworn, and the idea of redevelopment is an intuitive component of the cycle of death and rebirth.
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle
The land in which I live would be enriched if it embraced a bit of the poetry of the land in which I was born.
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