It goes without saying that 2020 has been the year of the inconceivable. And to top it all off, after daily driving Linux on my laptop for nearly a decade, I just switched back to Windows! Let me explain—it’s not as if I’ve given up on the Penguin OS entirely. My servers and routers continue to run Linux, delivering funny cat pictures to myself and dispatching my own hot takes to the rest of the Internet.
In my family, the person with the fastest Internet connection is… Grandma, a Vietnam War refugee who has never used a computer in her life. This is by virtue of her residence on a main road in the great state of Delaware, which gets fiber TV and Internet service through Verizon FiOS. She subscribes to the cheapest Internet plan so that the grandkids can tap away at their tablets during family gatherings.
(Web technology changes fast! Mind the date this post was written, which was November 2019.) I get the feeling nobody uses WebRTC in the real world, since all of the tutorials use the same toy examples that don’t involve any actual network connectivity. That’s a shame, because WebRTC makes peer-to-peer communication a cakewalk. Somewhere in our imaginations, there’s a whole category of decentralized web apps, just waiting to get written!

“The Future is not Retro,” declares a recent Pedestrian Observation post that has been my metaphorical pea under the mattress for the last several weeks. Its tone is so bombastic and cavalier that the piece is difficult to take entirely seriously—much like another Alon Levy hot take, “The NTSB Wants American Trains to Be Less Safe,” or that infamous Market Urbanism tweet about rebuilding Notre Dame as a contemporary mixed-use skyscraper—but as an indicator of the way we urban planning nerds think and talk about cities, it should be taken very seriously, indeed.

Much of the post details Levy’s vision for the future of urban development, which goes something like this: In a few decades from now, the cities of the West—the largest of them, anyway—will look increasingly like the crowded, transit-oriented metropolises of East Asia. They will be crisscrossed by driver-less metros, whose stations will be surrounded by clusters of high-rise offices and residential towers, and be linked together by high-speed rail for zero-emissions, long-distance travel. Vacations will entail a bullet train ride to San Francisco or Miami instead of a road trip to some bygone natural wonder. (As for mid-to-lower tier cities, and the National Park Service, the outlook is rather grim—Levy fully expects those to shrivel up and die.)

So far, 2019 has seen the release of the new Dumbo, the new Aladdin, and the new Lion King—and a new Mulan, by the way, is in the works, too. All-mighty Disney used to inspire kids to sing about the “circle of life”; now they’ve got critics jeering cynically about the “circle of franchise reboots.” Et tu, Mickey? At least, Disney partisans can reassure themselves, creative bankruptcy is a relatively new look for the studio. In 2016, a year that wasn’t so long ago (best remembered, or forgotten, for a presidential election of biblical proportions), Walt Disney Animation released the surprisingly clever Zootopia, a thinly-veiled allegory for present-day identity politics and the millennial urban condition. Then November saw the release of Moana, a slightly-less-clever movie about a South Pacific teenage girl endowed with magical powers and a destiny to save the world.

Sia Slice in action. (On a remote system, with tmux.)

I dabble in cryptocurrencies, occasionally. I hesitate to get too partisan on a subject the Internet takes very seriously, but it seems to me that the fairest judge of a coin’s value is the utility it provides to its holders. So Bitcoin is useful because everyone recognizes and accepts Bitcoin, Monero is useful because it facilitates anonymous transactions, Ethereum has that smart contracts thing going for it, and so on and so forth.

On the night I opened my browser to buy a ticket to see John Wick: Chapter 3, I had never actually seen any of the John Wick films before. Fortunately, the premise of this sequel-to-a-sequel isn’t terribly complicated: John Wick himself (Keanu Reeves) is a professional assassin who has run afoul of the High Table, a world-spanning secret society of assassins. Wick is a master of his occupation, which entails committing dozens upon dozens of grisly on-screen murders with improvised weapons.

My movie buddies–human repositories of John Wick lore and repeat viewers of all his films–assured me the movie’s selling point would be its fight choreography. And at first, it indeed wowed me: The action started out as quirky, exhilarating fun. But as the gun-slinging, knife-slashing power fantasy dragged on, I couldn’t escape the feeling that that initial novel spark was gradually devolving into empty spectacle.

This post was rewritten on July 26, 2019 to incorporate a cleaner solution. The original version can be viewed here. LXD is my favorite containerization stack. For my use case, which is running various services on the same machine with isolated root filesystems, it’s more flexible and easier to use than Docker, particularly in terms of networking capabilities. Using LXD, I can bridge all of my containers to my local LAN, thereby providing each of them a unique local IPv4 and global IPv6 address.
Last week, I swung by the Wilson Library to attend Bakersfield’s 2019 Martin Luther King Jr. Day march. To me, it was a march that lacked bite, because the adjectives I would use to describe that event—docile, tame, by-the-book, ordered—are not words I would normally associate with a march for civil rights. Yet how else would I describe a civil rights march that had an itinerary? It had been sent out in the Bakersfield Californian in advance: set off at 6 o’ clock, march to the tune of “We Shall Overcome,” and then attend a service at the neighborhood church.

A contemporary review of The Power Broker, Robert Caro’s biographical masterpiece.


Big City, USA, in 2019—where the traffic doesn’t move at rush hour, the roads are full of potholes, the mass transit is useless, and the schools and parks are overcrowded and falling apart—and despite all of that, the rent is still too damn high.

Some say the modern American city increasingly resembles one of those generic science-fiction dystopias, neatly divided into the privileged and the underclass, beholden to the whims of Amazon and Alphabet and other such faceless corporations. Well, screw that. It’s about time we fixed our cities so they started to work for us again. All we have to do is agree on our diagnosis and its proper cure—easy peasy, right?

I’ve heard a lot of ideas on how to give our cities a good government kick, ideas from property tax reform to zoning reform to congestion pricing to privatization. Most of them are just plain stupid, but a handful sound like they might work. You probably have a few ideas yourself (don’t worry, they’re some of the good ones—I promise.) That’s great, because we need more interested citizens like you. But before you rush off to moonlight as a civic activist, I’d like you to meet this interesting figure, a reformer who worked in New York City throughout much of the twentieth century.

His name is Robert Moses, and he will teach you some valuable lessons about how cities work.