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Jul. 12th, 2014

why I do not support the current urban rail plan

The following is adapted from a post I sent to our neighborhood association list in response to a CapMetro rep being on the agenda for our next meeting, to promote the urban rail plan. Tl;dr version: I don't think that enough people will ride it to justify urban rail, and, if our first line is unsuccessful due to reliance on overly optimistic growth projections, then it will hurt transit over-all.

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Dec. 13th, 2013

a rough re-creation of my remarks to City Council tonight

Tonight I spoke at a City Council meeting, for the first time. This post is not going to be an in-depth analysis of the Austin transit planning done so far--there are much better places to go for that--but I wanted to write down what I said to City Council, as best I can replicate it, although there will probably be a closed caption record of it somewhere.


Thank you, Council. My name is Mike Gorse, and I am a resident of the Wooten neighborhood. I think that we can all agree that we want a rail line that is best for the city as a whole. However, I am here because I believe it would be a mistake to include Highland for further consideration while not including Lamar. Highland is being proposed primarily based on future projections which have inherent risk. Lamar, on the other hand, has the 1, which, combined with the 101, is the bus route with the highest ridership by far. To be successful, a transit line needs to allow a large number of people to easily walk to it and ride to frequently-used destinations, such as places of employment, that are in easy walking distance. We need to look at actual routes, which the study thus far has not provided. Guadalupe-Lamar fits that description well, and the ridership of the 1 would buttress that argument.

The other argument being made has to do with the FTA, which boils down to two separate issues. One is that Austin would likely need to reimburse the FTA for the existing BRT investment. Even if this is the case, it would constitute a small part of the total cost of a rail investment, and we could likely recover the funds if we filed a new application to relocate the BRT set-up somewhere else. The other argument being made is that the FTA would not look kindly on a rail investment where BRT is being deployed. If this were in fact the case, then the FTA would be saying that BRT precludes rail for decades, and I don't think it is a precedent that they would want to set given that funding is scarce and BRT can be a good way to improve transit while waiting for funds to become available.

I might feel differently if I felt certain that we would get rail on Lamar in 2028, but this would be predicated on our willing to pass a new bond proposal in a few years after we already incurred significant expense with the current plan. Additionally, a Lamar route may be seen as unjustified for being too close to the Highland route, yet it would be too far for most people near Lamar to benefit.

Thank you.

Oct. 21st, 2013

Montreal

A week ago, I went to the GNOME Montreal summit. Much thanks to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring me. Here's a brief summary of my trip:



  • Friday: Got maybe an hour of sleep; left home at 3am for a 6am flight. I hate flying. Got to Montreal at around 1:30. Took a cab to the hotel. Took a nap. Finished drafting an email to discuss some AT-SPI refactoring to reduce the needd for synchronous D-Bus calls. Had dinner at a Thai place with Alex and Joanie. Went back to sleep.

  • Saturday: Tried to get a Wayland test environment set up but wasn't successful--it seems that gnome-shell-wayland is exiting for some reason. Talked with Alex and Joanie some--we now have a page discussing the accessibility-related work that we need for Wayland. I need to figure out what to do about mouse events--AT-SPI has functionality to monitor them as well as synthesize them, but it requires X. Talked with Jasper a bit over beer; he suggested that mutter could possibly provide API for it, or otherwise I'd probably need to talk to the kernel directly.

  • Sunday: Started looking at Mutter and Wayland. Also researched reading the mouse via the Linux kernel. Found /dev/input/mice, but reading it doesn't seem like a good solution--for one thing, it reports the amount that the mouse has moved since the counter was last reset, which presumably doesn't tell me anything about where the compositor thinks that the mouse cursor is on the screen. Need to look more at evdev, though. Met Miguel, who works with an organization that wants to distribute computers with Linux to people in the area who are blind, if I remember correctly; he thought that it would be a good fit because they often have limited incomes. He is interested in improving sbl to add drivers for recent Braille displays or improving brltty to add features present in sbl but missing from brltty, so going to keep in contact with him. He was having trouble getting Orca to read while installing OpenSUSE, which should work as far as I know as long as you're using the GNOME LiveCD, so I plan to follow up with him. Talked to Matthias about a totally unrelated gtk bug that we have a patch for in SLED and need a review for; he suggested emailing Marek and CCing him. Had some poutin(sp?) for dinner, then went to the beer summit.

  • Monday: Looked at Wayland some more to try to understand the interfaces relating to input devices. Had lunch at a Greek restaurant. Left for the airport shortly after.



In general, I'd say that I have a somewhat better idea of what should be done for AT-SPI to support Wayland, although the details still need to be worked out. Matthias followed up by sending an email to the wayland-devel list to try to get feedback in terms of how best to port a11y functionality to Wayland. Also, see the accessibility team page discussing the summit.

Feb. 28th, 2013

a flashback to 1988

Back in 1988, when I was in the 3rd grade, I had an Apple IIE equipped with an Echo II speech synthesizer that I used in the classroom at school. When other students were writing at their desks, I would type on the computer. It was easier than using a Braille writer would have been, both for me (because it was faster) and for my Teacher of the Visually Impaired (because I could print out my work and hand it to the teacher instead of it having to be transcribed from Braille). Anyway, the school was broken into, and several things were stolen, including this computer that I used. It received coverage in the local media (I think that the school Principal had the idea to go to the media, hoping that it would lead to the computer being recovered), and my parents video-taped the media coverage. My father ended up with the video (it is good that he had it, rather than me, or I would have certainly lost it in one of my moves), and now he has digitized it and placed it on Youtube, so it was an interesting flashback for me. I don't remember it all that well, except for various snippets of conversation. Read more...Collapse ) Anyway, there was a happy ending, since the computer was eventually returned by the police, after it was placed in a vacant field with their being anonymously tipped off to its location. The software was never found, although the school had another copy of the word processor that I used, so we didn't lose anything essential. I ended up switching to using a PC shortly after this happened--the Apple IIE wasn't new technology even then and was on the road towards becoming obsolete.



The media coverage led to offers to help. Someone had an Apple II+ (and older Apple II model) that she offered to lend, so I think that we tried to use it but could not get the speech synthesizer or perhaps the word processor to work with it.



It made me realize how much my thought processes have changed since I was a child. I was asked what I thought of the thieves who broke into the school, and my response was that "the people are real bad." Now I wouldn't give a response that was anything like what I said then. Mostly I'd wonder why they did it and hope that they would get help i it was drug-related. I don't know what happened to the people involved. One of them was eighteen at the time, and two of them were seventeen and were presumably treated as juveniles. Now they would be in their early 40's. I haven't ever thought about this until now, but I wonder how their lives have gone. I wonder if they're raising families and have put their teenage escapades behind them. I hope that they have gone on to lead productive lives rather than going on and ending up in prison. They did return the computer following the media coverage. They may have been motivated, at least in part, by a desire for leniency, but I would like to think that they felt some remorse after learning of the significance of what they had taken and decided to return it, and their deciding to do this could have been a step towards re-evaluating the trajectories of their lives, for all that I know.

land use

Last night I went to a panel discussion on land use hosted by Imagine Austin. The city is planning to revise/rewrite our zoning/land use regulations now that we've adopted a comprehensive plan. There were panelists from Raleigh, Denver, Madison, and Dallas. Here are the general themes that I remember coming up:


Codes get added onto and become overly complicated and hard to navigate. Revising the code can be a good way to simplify it and make it more accessible.

oning might make sense in the city while another kind of zoning makes sense in the suburbs.</p>

Inclusionary zoning (ie, mandating a certain amount of affordable housing) is illegal in some states, but revisions in the zoning code can eliminate barriers. Denver has eliminated minimum parking regulations for senior and low-income housing, figuring that residents often won't own cars anyhow. Also eliminated a 600 sq ft minimum dwelling size.


Denver has never had minimum parking requirements downtown, and things have always worked fine, according to the planner who was there.


General planning issues can come up in a zoning discussion, and zoning might not be the right place to address them--it may not make sense to write regulations around solar access for buildings if there is no policy anywhere else intended to address it. Some cities have created a "parking lot" for these kinds of things where the decision is made not to address them as part of the land use discussion while it might be worthwhile to consider them in some other context.


Young people often can't/don't want to drive, and seniors often can't drive, so it should be possible to get around a city without having a car.


If you say "no" to something, then you're saying "yes" to something else. If you say no to rentals, then you're saying "we're not sure that we want you here" to young people and seniors. (I think that this applies to a lot of kinds of policy decisions.)

Dec. 8th, 2012

so I'm just an Austinite?

It's supposedly 82 degrees out, but I don't feel like it's July. Is this really what a typical summer day used to feel like when I lived in MA?
Of course, it's supposed to go below freezing Monday night.

Nov. 27th, 2012

Sometimes games are kind of like real life.

You can make mistakes that have drastic consequences that you can't reverse, and then, in real life, you need to accept that you can't change the past. You can make less-than-ideal decisions that you didn't really need to make because you didn't realize that you had other options and/or didn't understand the way things work.

Nov. 20th, 2012

AHA!

For a while now, I've been struggling to figure out why my filter in libatspi wasn't seeing NameOwnerChanged signals from D-Bus, even though in theory I'd added a match rule for them, and then suddenly it came to me while I was eating lunch. At-spi2-core and at-spi2-atk share a D-Bus connection, at-spi2-atk also listens for nameOwnerChanged signals, and its filter was returning DBUS_MESSAGE_RESULT_HANDLED when it saw them, meaning that no other filter (ie, not the one in at-spi2-core) would be called.

Also, I like how it's in the low 80's and I'm sitting outside in the sun in the middle of November.

Jul. 19th, 2012

There's more than one way to skin a cat.

I was trying to do something and having trouble figuring out how to get things to work. Then I realized that I could do it another way, and, at around the same time, I remembered a former boss saying that "there's more than one way to skin a cat." For a second, I wondered if remembering that comment helped me figure out that there was another way to do what I was trying to do, but in actuality I think that probably it was the other way around.

Jul. 16th, 2012

collaborative budgeting via the net?

Along the lines of this post, I think it would be neat to have a site where people could vote on what they want a budget to look like. The current year's budget would be a starting point, perhaps with automatic adjustments across the board to compensate for projected inflation. Users would have various options in terms of where to start; they could start with the original budget, or with one done by a friend / other person, or perhaps with the current average as determined by previous submissions (although this might be problematic in terms of expressing rationale, since these users will be starting from a different point from other users--see below). The budget would be presented as something like a tree view, with nodes that could be expanded or collapsed. A user could raise or lower the budget of a node, which would have the effect of proportionally adjusting the budgets of all sub-nodes. When doing so, the user would be asked to either provide a rationalization or +1 a rationalization provided by someone else. When a change is proposed, the site would present a list of rationalizations given by other users, sorted by their rating. (This could result in poor visibility for things written in by users, so, to help boost the visibility of items that are similar to other items, the author of one item could request that it be merged with another item, and, if the author of the other item approves, the items and their ratings will be combined.) Sometimes a rationalization for a node will be inherited from its parent, meaning that it was subjected to an across-the-board cut or raise from its parent, and sometimes they will be specific to the node. Users could have the option of importing changes made by other users. In this way, a budget could be planned and submitted collaboratively by several people, with each person taking an area in which they have expertise.

It would be interesting to have a process like that and pass along the outcome to congress for consideration as a baseline, although doing this has problems that I can foresee (and probably some that I can't). The integrity of the system would be a major issue, and, as with electronic voting, I don't know how to ensure it. Whoever administers it could tamper with the results and probably not be detected. If there are security holes, then an outsider might be able to do something similar. Also, I am defining "the outcome" as the average of the budgets passed by users, but taking this as final might cause problems. For one thing, some projects might be possible with a given amount of funding; otherwise they would not be possible, so funding them half-way might not make sense. Also, the results might (or might not) be more variable than the variability in the budgets passed by Congress, and institutions will want to have some amount of stability in their budgets to facilitate planning. Also, such a system would be subject to bias in that it would select for the positions of the people who participate, and some people may be prevented from doing so for reasons other than their willingness, although all forms of democracy are subject to one form of bias or another. Some of these limitations could likely be accommodated, although lack of security seems like a fatal flaw that might make the whole system impractical in terms of influencing public policy.

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