The long and interesting history of East Palo Alto

Moreover, the questions being asked today about why the tech industry lacks racial diversity, and what the long-term consequences of gentrification are in the U.S.’s most economically vibrant regions like the San Francisco Bay Area are deeply intertwined in a way that is hard to perceive unless you step back.

This is a story of how two neighboring communities followed entirely different trajectories in post-war California — one of enormous wealth and power, and the other of resilience amid deprivation. It’s about how seemingly small policy choices can have enduring, multi-generational consequences.

A year ago, I told you my family’s history in Silicon Valley. Let me tell you another story.

from East of Palo Alto’s Eden | TechCrunch.

Great long form piece on East Palo Alto over the last 70 years. It makes you think about how national and state level policies play out in individual communities, sometimes in unexpected and undesirable ways.

Via Sean Collins on Twitter.

Dissecting an Infographic

This morning I woke up, made a cup of coffee, picked up my tablet, and took a quick look at Twitter. The following was in my twitter feed via retweet:



Huh, that's interesting. We do often see media blowing things out of proportion. See: Ebola in the United States panic this fall. I was about to move on before I noticed the scale on the upper left.

2014 had less than 500 deaths? That can't be. The two Malaysian Air lines planes that went down this summer (one shot down and one lost entirely) had to have accounted for more than 500 deaths just together. They had no survivors.

Then I noticed the lower right corner.


So I get things getting safer year over year, but there is no way that 2014 actually had an order of magnitude drop in crashes in one year. 10% decrease seems plausible, but not 80% drop.

That's because this infographic is from March (which makes a ton more sense). It's publication date is March 10, so we're really looking at 1/6 of a year at best in that final bar.screenshot_142


Note: the original author completely refuses to acknowledge he was wrong over the course of the twitter thread. Self denial is amazing.

This CNN article from right after the Ukrainian flight was lost on CNN accounts for 761 deaths so far as of end of July.

This year is still going to end up with less deaths than most years, it will look more like the early 2000s, and less like 2013. Not the worst year on record, but definitely not the safest either.

LED Lighting Primer - Part 4 (Native LEDs)

Forget the Bulb

I have replaced most of the traditional lights in our house now, with a plan to purge the rest over the next couple of months. However, for new lighting in the house, I'm starting to look into LED native solutions. A good example of this is the task lighting I added to the kitchen.



This kit provides you with 10 8" 2700K LED bars, wiring connections for them, 2 transformers, 2 small switches. The install is very quick, and you only need a spare outlet somewhere.

Susan had been asking for counter task lighting for years, and I was basically stalling until we had an LED solution for it, which wasn't really there 2 years ago (the last time I looked seriously). We've now arrived.

For our kitchen I only used half the components in the kit. The bars are bright enough that a single row is the right brightness. There are 4 under the main cabinet, and 1 that's under a side shelf in the corner. I'm still contemplating where the rest of the kit is going to be used.

RGB Lighting

Susan and I took a flight to India for a wedding in 2008. We flew on a new 767 that had a color changing LED light kit that meant that we got simulated sunrise (deep red -> orange -> yellow) and sunset (orange -> red -> deep purple) during our flight near meals. This was amazing. My entire interest in LED lighting started with this experience, as I wanted that in my home. I have parts and experiments scattered across my electronics workbench that never quite got far enough to be useful. Now you can buy this off the shelf.

Living room with Hue RGB light strip and Iris color pot

There are a few different systems out there. I bought into the Philips Hue universe for a couple of reasons. The Hue system includes a "bridge" which connects to your home network (wired only). It then communicates to up to 50 Hue devices via zigbee, which is a low powered wireless protocol that lives in the 2.4 Ghz spectrum.

They have a very open API, which means there are tons of 3rd party applications that can talk to Hue. That includes applications that do things the base system does not, like color animation (aka simulated sunset). Plus you can write your own.

They make regular A19 bulbs, unique color pods for indirect lighting, and connected light strips. They are definitely in a different price category than regular lighting, but if this is your thing, they are pretty awesome. And this was definitely awesome enough for me to spend some time and money to experiment with.


They make a scene switch for these lights which you program via smartphone app. It's actually 4 buttons, as the whole thing clicks in. Typically 1 will be off, then 3 different configurations. For our bedroom I've put Hue bulbs in both of our night stand lights. 2 is roughly a 2700K full brightness. 3 lights up only Susan's light on the lowest reddest bulb setting. This is to give her just enough light for nighttime feedings for Arwen, with hopefully the ability to get back to sleep after. 4 is currently a mellow orange light, just because.

Button 2 - Normal Light
Basic soft white light
Button 3 - Red Feeding Light
Note the hallway light difference from the prior, this is actually extremely dim, and the camera is compensating with much higher iso.

What's super cool is once you have a few of these you start thinking about the lighting in your house in a different way. We can set the lights to a very low level while watching TV, so you can still see in the room, but it doesn't impact the watching experience. I'm leaving the living room ones on at the lowest red level.

Note - not quite RGB after all: 

One last thing I discovered on Hue is that the A19 Bulbs actually live in a different color space than the "Friends of Hue" gear like the Iris or Light Strips. The bulbs are optimized for nicer whites so they can act like normal bulbs. Which means they can't do a super deep red, and don't do cyan at all. The Friends of Hue are optimized for color control, which means their whites are a little odd, but their deep colors are really straight on. So depending on whether you'll be using this more as normal lights, or more in color accents, choose accordingly.

The Future of Lighting

I've been listening to BBC's History of the World in 100 objects, which has made me think a bunch about long term evolution of objects.

The history of light is a curious thing. It's kind of amazing to think that the way we got light in the 20th century is to run so much current through a wire that it heats to the point that it glows white. Then put it in an evacuated glass sphere to prevent it from igniting. Fluorescent lights use a bit more physics, but are equally baroque.

But LEDs are extremely malleable. They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Honestly, it wouldn't surprise me if the ceiling fixture standard we know today becomes a thing of the past. To my daughter the light bulb will probably be the same way I think if vinyl records, a thing that I saw as a kid, felt nostalgic about, and now have no place for in my life.

My journey experimenting in this space has just begun. I'll continue to write about some of this in the future. But hopefully this primer has been useful in providing a base line to let others explore the space as well.

Read the whole series:

The backstory on the Shrimp on a Treadmill

Exactly how much taxpayer money did go into the now-famous shrimp treadmill? The treadmill was, in fact, made from spare parts—an old truck inner tube was used for the tread, the bearings were borrowed from a skateboard, and a used pump motor was salvaged to power the treadmill. The total price for the highly publicized icon of wasteful government research spending? Less than $50. All of which I paid for out of my own pocket.

via How a $47 Shrimp Treadmill Became a $3-Million Political Plaything – The Conversation - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Education.

From the intersection of science and politics. Kind of like Ebola no longer being a thing everyone is freaking out about now that we're past the midterm elections.

Longreads on Jim Henson

On Muppets & Merchandise: How Jim Henson Turned His Art into a Business | Longreads Blog.

Honestly, I can never quite read enough about Jim Henson. It's kind of amazing that he both did IBM corporate meeting videos, created the most iconic childrens television, and created a studio that went on to make one of my favorite science fiction series well after he passed on.

This article looks at his balancing act between Art and Business in getting established.

New Cold Frame

In the better late than never camp, I just finished off the new cold frame (an unheated green house). This is a project that started this summer, and I needed to finish it before first snow so that we can get the cars back in the garage.

Made of 2" Ceder and Thermoclear sheets (which is corrugated Lexan with a UV coat), it should hold up for quite a while.





All the joints were done with a Kreg Jig, a completely invaluable tool that I got to know during the day of service at the Poughkeepsie Farm Project a few years ago.



LED Lighting Primer - Part 3 (Tube Lights)

Beyond normal screw bulbs in our house, we've got a bunch of florescent tube lights. The primary lighting for the family room, workroom, and garage are tube lights, and are old enough that their flicker and hum is something I want to get rid of.

Unlike with screw bulbs, we're now in a part of the lighting catalog where the major manufacturers haven't showed up yet. So there are a bunch of options coming from people you've never heard of before. It means you won't find them in any retail stores. As such I've been trying a few things to figure out what's gong to work for me in the long run.

LED Tubes

You can actually get T8 LED tubes which fit in a tube light fixture. You can even get it at 3000K, so you can get a much nicer color than tube lights typically produce.

LED tube lights

The results are quite good. These are at least as bright as what I was replacing, the color is better. The only interesting thing is that these are on the same switch as a couple of SlimStyle bulbs, and the tube lights are delayed in flipping on by about half a second. I'm assuming lag in the transformer / rectifier.

Installation is a bit interesting, as the LED lights actually have the transformer built in, only have pins live on one end, and just take raw 120V AC across those 2 pins. That means that for a florescent light fixture you are going to gut and rewire it to bypass the ballast, and cut off anything flowing to the far end. This is a one way conversion of that light fixture. All in all it took me about an hour to figure out what I was doing and solder the internal connections appropriately.

But this whole process made me think, once I was all done, I was basically just using the tube light hardware as a holder. Tube light fixtures aren't exceptionally attractive, so while this is fine the one place I did it, I'm not sure I'd do it again.

Tube Light Tasks

In our home the tube lights are used in 3 rooms: workroom, family room, and garage. I installed the ones in the garage to make it a place I could work on projects after dark. We have a bunch in the workroom for starting plants in the spring. These are used largely because they are cheap, throw a lot of light, and were about all that was available at the time.

LEDs have way less design constraints. You are are starting to get some really interesting designs coming out of Chinese manufactures, now that selling directly to international consumers is a thing. One of my favorites are these 1/2 inch thick illuminated panels that give off 900 lumens with 12W. From what I can tell they are a minimalist package built around a high end CREE (yes the same CREE) super bright LED component. They come in a few different shapes, sizes, and light colors.

Mudder LED Ceiling Panel

Which looks kind of like this in action (taking pictures of lights is hard).


For overhead bulk lighting in places like the garage, this is probably going to become my go to device. You do need to build a bit of a box for the unit to hang in, but it will still have a lower profile than the tube lights. They'll also be instant on and not flicker.

Grow Lights

The other place lots of people (including us) use fluorescent lights is to grow plants. We have a small side garden mostly for early greens, peppers and tomatoes. Susan starts everything inside in March and we transplant to the great outdoors mid May.


We have a lot of science around photosynthesis now, specifically what wavelengths of light are used for these chemical processes. We've had that information for a long time, but we couldn't do much about it until recently, because our ability to create custom colors was limited. You now can actually buy LEDs that nicely land inside those absorption peaks. I was planning on building my own light pods from scratch a couple years ago (I even have most of the parts) but never got around to it. Now you can buy it off the shelf.


I got one of these to experiment with, it's currently just pointed at some African violets until we need it for seed starting. Definitely a little trippy. What looks like imaging artifacts... aren't. The red and blue shadows are really there in real life.


We'll probably need 4 total for the grow area we have. We'll also need to put heating pads under the plants as these don't generate any heat (the fluorescent lights did) and soil temperature is important to germination.

So the net of all of this is that I'll probably end up replacing the rest of the tube lights that I have with LED panels (or some other more interesting LED fixture), and use proper LED grow lights for that task.

Design Constraints

By the time I had gotten to tackling the tube lights in the house I was beyond what I could buy at retail, so have been experimenting with some one off purchasing on Amazon.

But modifying that tube light unit really made me think about how many physical constraints have shaped our thoughts about lighting for the past century. The light bulb is a curious set of physics that is about running too much current through a tungsten wire that lives in an evacuated glass sphere so that it doesn't burn out. Which also explains most lighting fixtures, as they have to be built to protect these lights, and vent the enormous amount of heat they generate.

A very similar set of constraints apply to fluorescent bulbs, with slightly different physics. The CFL was a very odd set of tricks to do what you needed to with fluorescent bulbs in the design point for the Edison light.

LEDs are going to change a lot of the way we think about lighting. If the Edison bulb was stone, and fluorescents are wood, LEDs are clay. A building material that can be reworked into all kinds of shapes and sizes natively. But I'll dive into this all more in the next section.

A Better Beer Growler

We've now got quite an explosion of local breweries around Poughkeepsie. So I'm now finding myself wanting to pick up beer on Friday for the weekend. I've got a ton of classic glass growlers but by day 2, the beer in them is getting noticeably flat.


Lifeline 7508 Silver Stainless Steel Vacuum Insulated Double Wall Barrel Style Growler - 64 oz. Capacity
Lifeline 7508 Silver Stainless Steel Vacuum Insulated Double Wall Barrel Style Growler - 64 oz. Capacity

This growler is different. I was originally turned onto these by my brother in law Andy Tveekrem, who knows a thing or two about beer. With the rise of all kinds of local breweries in Poughkeepsie, I finally picked up one of my own. Filled on Saturday, and Tuesday night things were only starting to lose carbonation.

Available on Amazon.

PlexNoSS for Roku

We're big Plex & Roku users in the house, and recently I installed Weather4Us which runs as the Roku screen saver so any time the device goes idle, you get the weather report cycling on screen. The problem is, it doesn't work if the Plex app is running.

The issue appears to be a Roku bug (or unintended feature). If an application has a screen saver entry point, it will only fall back to the actual Roku default (out of the box) screen saver, not the currently selected screen saver. The work around is basically to delete the entry point.

Because the Plex Roku client is Open Source, and on github, I created my own branch with this one change. And I've uploaded it to the Roku store as a private channel called PlexNoSS. Feel free to install if you want this change. I'm going to be using this as my main plex install, so I'll keep try to keep current on the plex client changes, but realize their might be a lag.

Various rambling thoughts from my personal corner of the internet