The Porch Pirate of Potrero Hill Can’t Believe It Came to This

This is a deeply reported story about one individual package thief in Potrero Hill, my old neighborhood, and the neighbors who went all out to stop her. The conflict escalates as her life spirals out of control, affecting her young daughter.

— July 15, 2021
Don't panic
— July 11, 2021
Palm tree and clouds
— July 10, 2021

The housing shortage makes housing discrimination much easier

Housing is already a discriminatory industry, through the historical legacy of redlining and racial covenants, mortgage loan discrimination, lower assessments for black home owners, realtors steering clients away from certain areas, and freeways destroying minority neighborhoods. However, the housing shortage makes the problem worse:

In a healthy, nondiscriminatory housing market, buyers will compete for homes by raising their bids. American housing markets are neither healthy nor nondiscriminatory, and with supply at historic lows, sellers have increasing power to legally and illegally discriminate among buyers.

A property could get multiple offers well over asking price, which means that (while it’s obviously most relevant) the amount of money is not the only metric that sellers use to choose an offer. In addition to offering high prices, buyers have turned to a bevy of creative methods to distinguish themselves from their competitors — all-cash offers, waiving inspections and other important contingencies, and writing personal cover letters.

It’s this last strategy that raises flags for anyone familiar with fair housing law. Personal cover letters ask the buyer to sell themselves, their family, as a product for the seller to consider.

Hobart, a lawyer who lives in a suburb of Pittsburgh, told Vox this is what happened when he and his wife were looking for a home last summer: “I emphasized that we would be good neighbors and be committed to the community … trying to have some way of standing out by saying that we’re nice, normal people.”

This reminds me of the personal letters prospective adoptive parents write to birth mothers in order to convince them to pick their family for adoption. In that case, the decision is over a human being; housing ought to be abundant enough to be treated like a commodity. Unfortunately, it’s not.

— July 9, 2021
Voyager probe against the backdrop of stars

I love this JPL poster commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Voyager launch.

— July 8, 2021

Improving access to transit with improved street design

This is a great visualization of why walkability matters for transit.

— July 8, 2021

The Whiners Who Earn $200,000 and Complain They’re Broke

This is an interesting analysis of that most hateful genre of article (challenged only by how I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and a loan from my parents) about rich people who are barely scraping by. The people in these articles are invariably maxing out their 401(k) contributions, building equity with their home mortgage, and taking vacations, so it is a bit laughable to consider them living paycheck to paycheck. “After spending all my money on things I want, I don’t have any left!”

But as the great financial planner Charles Dickens once wrote, “Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.” That applies whether your annual income is $20,000, $200,000, or $2,000,000.

— July 7, 2021

The Benjamin Franklin Method of Reading Programming Books

This is an interesting idea for better learning a new programming language or technique, borrowed from Benjamin Franklin:

About this time I met with an odd volume of the Spectator. It was the third. I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished, if possible, to imitate it. With this view I took some of the papers, and, making short hints of the sentiment in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then, without looking at the book, try’d to compleat the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length, and as fully as it had been expressed before, in any suitable words that should come to hand. Then I compared my Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them.

Franklin would try to copy the writing he admired from memory, and corrected what he’d done poorly. James Koppel suggests applying the same concept to learning from programming books:

Read your programming book as normal. When you get to a code sample, read it over

Then close the book.

Then try to type it up.

Simple, right? But try it and watch as you’re forced to learn some of the structure of the code.

It’s a lot like the way you may have already been doing it, just with more learning.

I’m going to give this a try with my next technical book.

— July 6, 2021
Dog on a bike, May 2021, Bernal Heights, San Francisco
— July 3, 2021

Microsoft Natural number pad chop

I’ve used a Microsoft Natural keyboard for going on 20 years. My setup is a trackpad on the left and a mouse on the right, so I can switch hands when using the cursor. This keyboard doesn’t have any fancy switches or expensive build quality, but it’s a good keyboard for me. However, it is very wide. After one time too many slamming my mouse into the side of the number pad, I got a new keyboard without one (I hardly use the number pad, anyway).

If Microsoft made a version of this keyboard without the number pad, I would have bought it in a heartbeat. It seems like I’m not the only one. Dan Beahm chopped the number pad off the Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000:

Well, I finally got fed up enough with the pain in my right shoulder to take the time and effort to cut off my keyboard’s number pad. I’ve never understood why an “ergonomic” keyboard would dedicate so much physical real estate to a number pad, when that’s obviously where the mouse needs to be used.

Dan Beahm's modified Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000

He links to earlier, more detailed instructions for the Microsoft Natural Elite by Trevor Blackwell, which are now offline, but can be found on the Internet Archive:

It’s always bothered me to have the numeric keypad on a keyboard. I write programs and prose, but I never enter in columns of numbers. Are there still people who do this? I thought computers were supposed to liberate us from that sort of thing. Anyway, this vestige of adding machines had to go! It forces the mouse to be about 3 inches farther away from where I’m typing than it needs to be, which adds up to a lot of unnecessary arm movement over the years. So I set about to chop the numeric keypad off the otherwise excellent Microsoft Natural Keyboard. It worked well (on my second try) and took about two hours.

Trevor Blackwell's modified Natural Elite
— June 6, 2021