The Sparrow

I don’t know if speculative anthropology is a genre, but if it were, The Sparrow would be an exemplary piece. It gets categorized as science fiction, but the science is the least of its concerns. Yes, there are spaceships and aliens. But the spaceships are dealt with just enough to assure us that the trip is possible. It’s far, but not too far. It makes the plot timelines work, but doesn’t get into details of, say, rocket propulsion. Upon arrival at an alien planet, our explorers are lucky to be perfectly adapted to the plant, in mass, in atmosphere, and even in food sources.

The main concern of the story is the encounter with an alien society and how that might conflict with our ideas of meaning and faith. Our crew discovers an advanced society who evolved customs and norms under a vastly different ecosystem. The alien’s actions and attitudes towards each other are troubling. Actions that seem cartoonishly evil to us are the accepted tradeoff for a smoothly running society. If you believe–as the main character does–that God is leading you to this place, only to find yourself on the losing side of in this sometimes brutal society, you’re going to have second thoughts about the possibility of a loving God and his (or her) involvement in the world.

This book is not here to answer your questions, it is here to raise questions didn’t think to ask. Don’t look for an affirmation of your own sense of justice, or vengeance. At the end, our main character is having a crisis of faith, and the book tries to put us in that same frame of mind.

Happy MLK Day, 2021

Martin Luther King, in Letter from Brimingham Jail.

…I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I’ve posted this before, but it still feels relevent.

Here’s a reading list, and here’s an article that questions the notion of a reading list.

I like to give to local causes, so I give to the Austin Justice Coalition.

Edgerouter X

In the fall of 2020 I got Google Fiber. For about $5 more than I was already paying to my local cable company, I got 5x the speed. I remain skeptical of Google as a company, and I hate trusting them with my privacy, but so far Google Fiber is a good deal. Even better, though, is the discovery of the Ubiquiti Edgerouter X.

Gigabit Ethernet made it necessary to upgrade my home router. So instead of a consumer-grade plastic box of all-in-one router/switch/access point, I went for a small-business solution of the Edgerouter X. It is purely a wired router, with gigabit internet and a four-port switch built in. I added wireless network by pairing it with a Unifi access point. The access point draws power from the Ethernet cable connected to the router. The router and access point together require one power outlet, just like an all-in-one router.

The Edgerouter X has a web-based configuration assistant that will properly set up the router for 90% of the home users. Some additional customization is available in the web admin, but really the best way to customize this router is by connecting with SSH and using the command line interface.

Having a separate access point and router is a bit like having separate stereo components, or a separate computer and monitor. The freedom to mix and match makes it easier to match your exact requirements, and it gives me an incremental upgrade path. I can upgrade them separately.

I am somewhat late to the Edgerouter X party. It’s been out for a few years, and the newer access points don’t support the power over ethernet (PoE) that the Edgerouter X provides. But for $140 for the pair, it a steal, and will probably power my house for another year or so, until the next upgrade appears.

Is Austin the Next Silicon Valley?

By “next Silicon Valley, ” I mean a runaway housing affordability disaster that prices out all the diversity and creativity that we value about Austin.

Michael Agresta at Texas Monthly is opimistic that Austin won’t repeat the same housing mistakes as San Francisco.

If there’s one reason to be confident that Austin will not turn into the next Bay Area, it’s this: Austinites of all political types, from libertarian to social-justice-minded, have been warning each other for years that we don’t want to turn into the next San Francisco… there’s no chance we are sleepwalking through a reenactment of the past few decades of California history. For better or worse, what gets built here will be something brand-new.

I wish I could be as optimistic. That assumes that Austinites recognize and agree on what the mistakes of the Bay Area were. We may not sleep walk though it, but we seem to be courting disaster with our eyes wide open.

Happy New Year 2021

“Good riddance” seems to be a common sentiment towards 2020, but I can’t complain too much. I have my health. I have food and place to live. Nobody in my family got sick. Not everybody can say this. It did my best to stay healthy, but there are those who did the same and got sick regardless. Such is the nature of a virus.

I’m not big on resolutions, but the new year is a natural time to stop and think about the year past and future. I developed some good habbits in the last year that I’m happy about: cooking, exercise. I need to build on that to turn it into tangible health gains, like weight loss.

Another goal is to write more, to post more here. I wrote sporadically in the last year. About 12 posts, or once a month. I hope to increase the frequency.

“Find a niche and stay focused” is common advice for blogging. It’s advice I’m going to ignore. I don’t expect a large readership. I don’t plan to make money. I’m free to write what I want. The only unifying theme is what I’m interested in. Maybe technology, or programming, or photography, or books, or movies, or transportation, or urban design. Maybe cats. Of course, cats.

It’s all about small gains and incremental improvement. Nothing earth-shattering, just some improvements on past habits