A Tour of Austin’s New MoPac Bike Bridge

A shiny new bicycle and pedestrian bridge opened across Barton Creek in June, right next to the MoPac expressway. I finally got a chance to check it out last Sunday morning.

Here’s a photo tour, starting from the north toward Zilker Park and moving south toward Sunset Valley. You can also check out my corresponding editorial on The Daily Texan.

Coming from Zilker Park, the cycling route is on a wide sidewalk (only Austin would call it a “multi-use trail”).

Continue reading “A Tour of Austin’s New MoPac Bike Bridge”

Placemaking in the World of Grand Theft Auto

Several weeks ago, I came across a lovely article on Kotaku about the opening act of Grand Theft Auto IV, in which immigrant protagonist Niko Bellic first arrives in a fictionalized United States and explores his newly adopted home of Liberty City.

As the author Kirk Hamilton explains, it’s a rather slow start for a GTA game. Niko undertakes some decidedly ordinary tasks — defending his cousin Roman from loan sharks, driving for his cab company, going out on a date — that ease us into the game’s driving and shooting mechanics. In the process, we are gradually introduced to Niko’s new social circle — a girlfriend, criminals to do business for, and Russian mobsters — and his surroundings, the run-down industrial neighborhood of “Hove Beach.”

While GTA IV was cautious and restrained, other Grand Theft Auto games thrust you immediately into the action. Just after the opening credits of Grand Theft Auto V, you were stealing a pair of supercars from a wealthy residence, racing through the streets of downtown Los Santos, and then escaping from the police. Similarly, 2004’s Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas inserted you right in the middle of a gang war, fleeing a drive-by shooting on a BMX bike and then smashing up a local crack den.

In GTA IV, we get a sense of how the Liberty City criminal world operates before we dive into the over-the-top car chases, assassinations, and SWAT shootouts — we see the loan sharks at Roman’s throat, the neighborhood crack dealers struggling for turf, and the shopkeepers being extorted for protection money. Taking things slow allows us to connect with Niko’s brave new world in a way that the chaotic exposition in San Andreas and GTA V does not, so suggests Hamilton in a brilliant summary of his GTA IV experience:

Each time I return to GTA IV, I want to leave Hove Beach less and less. I know I’ll never feel more immersed and attached than I do in those opening hours. Nowhere else in GTA IV feels as real or familiar to me as Hove Beach. Nowhere in GTA V does, either. For all of the newer game’s candy-coated indulgences and technical wizardry, it never matched its predecessor’s powerful sense of place.

I was struck by the idea that a video game like GTA IV could have a “sense of place” — what I would call a sense of a distinct culture and community within a specific moment, location, and universe. Urbanists, geographers, and sociologists alike speak of the greatest cities as having it. Architects strive for it. As Hamilton has already noted, one way GTA IV achieves a “sense of place” is through its meticulously crafted introduction. But how else does the game outshine GTA V, its universally acclaimed sequel? Continue reading “Placemaking in the World of Grand Theft Auto”

Print Your Stuff from the Terminal with utprint.py

Recently — in the spring of 2016, I believe — the UT Austin libraries rolled out a new printing system that allows students and staff to upload documents via a web interface. This was a huge deal to me because previously, I had to get off my laptop and sign in to a library computer to print things.

Functional but frustratingly slow.

It works well enough, but as is always the case for university computer systems, it’s a little cumbersome to use. My typical workflow looked like this:

  1. Log in
  2. Upload my essay
  3. Set my standard printing options: no color, duplex

That works out to about ten clicks and a password manager access. The horror! We can do much better. We have the technology.

Over the last two weekends, I put together a Python script that can send documents straight from the command line. It stays authenticated for two weeks at a time and there’s a configuration file to specify preferred printing settings.

$ ./utprint.py ~/Documents/utcs.pdf
Print settings:
  - Full color
  - Simplex
  - Copies: 1
  - Page range: all
Logging in with saved token ... done
Uploading utcs.pdf ... done
Processing ... done
Finances:
    Available balance: $1.16
    Cost to print:     $0.42

    Remaining balance: $0.74

I’m sure it will prove useful to all the… one… UT Austin students who are handy with a terminal and do a lot of writing. Find it on GitHub.