Total of 290 posts

Herein you’ll find articles on a very wide variety of topics about technology in the consumer space (mostly) and items of personal interest to me.

If you’d like to read my professional engineering articles and whitepapers, they can be found at Control System Space

I have also participated in and created several podcsts most notably Pragmatic and Causality and all of my podcasts can be found at The Engineered Network.

My Texas Driving Experience

When driving through Texas this past week I was greeted by those overhead digital signs that have an inspirational or perhaps cautionary message. Of the messages I saw, one in particular stuck out in my mind. Whilst I didn’t write down the exact wording the message in essence was 2,871 people had died on the roads in Texas in 2019 so far.

Given that the message was up the entire time I was there, I expect this was for January to October inclusive (about 300 days) which is 19 people killed every two days in Texas alone.

Okay, so Texas is a big state and has a big population, so what’s that equate to in terms of people killed per head of population? There are 28.7M living in Texas as of 2018 which isn’t that different from all of Australia (25M). So the current statistics in Australia from January to September 2019: 914 people killed (1,015 corrected over 10 months) for an average of 6.6 every two days, which means that in Texas there are 2.5-3 times as many people killed than in Australia.

In conjunction with this I’d like to point out a few other observations with comparisons to Australia:

  • Speed Cameras: In the whole time I was driving in the USA this week I counted one speed camera - a roadside trailer mount unit. I never saw a speed camera on a traffic light, intersection, or mobile van. I’m sure they exist and maybe I missed them? In Australia scarcely a day passes when I’m driving when I don’t see at least one mobile unit, or trailer mounted unit and my commute takes me through one twice each day. In Australia the detractors would tell you they are merely revenue raising machines but the truth is they make a lot of people think twice about speeding.
  • Speeding: In Australia I sit on the speed limit and on the freeway I’ll get overtaken maybe every 15-20th car at most, whereas in Houston and driving between Corpus Christie and Austin I was driving on the speed limit and was overtaken by almost every car! My best estimate was that most cars were driving 5-10mph over the speed limit. It was slightly scary.
  • Dangerous Driving in Wet Weather: During the wet weather in Houston on Thursday I was tailgated, cut off multiple times and the other drivers seemed to not care that it was wet with many still speeding and overtaking as they had in the dry. The amount of risk taking was insane, and whilst I won’t pretend that Australian drivers are angels, there was far more respect, slower driving speeds and caution in the wet, especially heavy rain.
  • Running Red Lights: On a typical commute in Brisbane I’ll see maybe one or two cars run a red light, however we have red light cameras fitted at many intersections so most of the time people don’t or won’t risk it. I lost count of how many cars blatantly ran red lights and honestly I began to pay additional attention to make sure everyone had stopped before I entered intersections, much to the annoyance of those behind me. Self-preservation y’all.

It’s likely that the high-density traffic in major cities is a focal point for accidents and it’s possible that due to large Texas cities having many freeways and congestion that this amplifies impatience and may go some way to explaining the tripling of the road toll compared to my home country.

In the end there’s probably a lot of complicated reasons why it’s so horrific but either way you slice it that’s a massive amount of bloodshed on the roads. There are other places in the world where people drive their cars just as much or even further on average, at or above those speed limits with significantly less fatalities. It can be better.

Anywhere you’re driving, drive safely. Please. Really, seriously please drive safely.

IndieWeb Meetup

Once I knew the conference dates in the States I realised that the IndieWeb meetup in Austin would be happening on the first Wednesday of the month, which was an evening when I would be in Houston. Noting it was a mere 2.5 hour drive (far closer than a 28 hour door to door flight) I decided to drop by.

I arrived at 6:30pm exactly, met a fellow geek who recognised my geekiness from my shirt and mentioned it was his first time coming to a meetup, not knowing what anyone looked like. Initially we didn’t see anyone else obvious so I ordered a coffee and then we checked again.

I recognised Manton immediately and we found a table to fit us all - seven in total. After introductions we talked about web development, the differences between ActivityPub and WebMention, different projects and sites we’re hosting and how, podcasts we’re involved with and lots and lots more.

It’s odd but for most of us being complete strangers it really felt quite comfortable and as I look back as I’m writing this I realise just how much I’ve missed out on not living in or near hubs where like minded software developers tend to live. Austin has become a focal point, San Francisco has been for some time as well whereas in Australia there aren’t really any I know of, perhaps Adelaide up to a point, certainly none near me.

As the evening was closing Manton walked through the upcoming IndieWebCamp which sounds really interesting so if you’re a developer in the area I’d check it out.

We talked for over 1.5 hours in total and I had a great time. If you’re in the Austin area and you’re interested in becoming or already are a web developer then I highly recommend dropping by to a meetup. The venue is usually Mozarts Coffee, which make great coffee and have a wonderful setup and no issue parking, though to be safe I’d follow Manton for announcements and updates.

Thanks to Manton Reece for organising it and to everyone else that attended and made me feel welcome.

USA Fast Food Part Two

As I’m now flying back home it’s time to recap my culinary experiences since my last post. Again the following aren’t in order of anything:

  • Dunkin’ Donuts: Meal: Dinner (yeah I know keep that to yourself), Food: Chocolate Glazed, Maple Iced, Boston Creme, Mint Cookie and “GO TEXANS” special; My blood sugar was bottoming out and I needed sugar and since it was nearby I thought what the heck. Anyhow I actually found most of them to be quite dry. I liked the Maple, Boston Creme and Mint Cookie ones, but the others were quite forgettable.
  • Toll House Cookies: Meal: Snack, Food: Chocolate Chip, Double-choc Chip, White Chocolate Chip and Macadamia, Mini-choc chip with frosting; Honestly I couldn’t find anything to complain about for any of these. They bore a very similar taste to a local chain in Australia called Mrs Fields. Very nice though.
  • Aunty Mays: Meal: Snack, Food: Pretzel Dog; Grabbed this on a lark on the way to the gate to try it. Honestly thought it was pretty good though the “pretzel” was a bit doughy but then I suppose that’s intentional and/or inevitable.
  • Popeyes: Meal: Lunch; Drink: Diet Coke, Food: Chicken Sandwich with Chips; Firstly I was really impressed by the chips, nice batter, crispy and yummy. The Burger was originally offered a few months ago and was considered by some food critics (yeah, actual food critics) to be better than Chick-Fil-A but as it was a “Limited Time” offer at that point, Popeyes withdrew it from sale, only to return it to their menu co-incidentally a week before I came to the USA. Hence I was advised to get one this time around, noting that someone had been stabbed in line waiting for one only a few days prior. Hmm, well the one I had was very nice for sure though nothing I’d stab anyone for and I still think the Chick-Fil-A Chicken Sandwich was nicer overall. That said, it’s probably a second ahead of KFC.
  • Denny’s: Meal: Breakfast, Drink: Coffee, Food: The Grand Slamwich; Coffee was also surprisingly good given what it was, like IHOP before it just don’t add anything to the coffee and drink it black. The Slamwich was actually really nice but I had no idea what to make of the shredded style Hash Brown. The potato seemed undercooked and I suppose falling apart is supposed to be a feature but it wasn’t one I wanted.
  • Cinnabon: Meal: Lunch, Food: Cinnamon Sticks and Classic Scroll; I found the sticks to be a bit average without the dipping cream/whip but the scroll was off the charts! I knew that Cinnabon were intending to open their first Australian stores in the next few months however they were next to me in the food court at the time so I had it anyway.
  • Waffle House: Meal: Breakfast, Food: Original Waffle with a side of bacon; I was stunned how good the bacon was, but to be honest the Waffle was a bit tasteless, no matter how much whipped butter or syrup I added.
  • Starbucks: Truth be told I drank the same drink multiple times during the week: Venti Latte with an extra shot. Despite what I’d heard, Starbucks in the USA wasn’t that different from Australia. And whilst I normally have my Venti’s with an extra shot I had to repeat that request almost every time to each barista - apparently that’s an odd request over here.
  • McDonalds: Drink: Coffee; Having compared Starbucks coffee to Australia it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t also compare McDonalds coffee as well. Unfortunately the USA version of McDonalds coffee was pretty bad compared to home. About 9 months ago at home McDonalds introduced their “New Blend” which was less over-roasted than their usual blend to that point and I’ve come to not mind it in a pinch whereas previously I’d only drink it if I was truly desperate. This tasted much like the over-roasted kind they used to sell back home, but it wasn’t that pleasant. The other item of note though: I asked for a large and OMG was it comically huge! It was at least 30% bigger than the same “large” in Australia. I wasn’t prepared for that and therefore couldn’t finish it - there was just too much.
  • Mozarts Coffee (Austin): Meal: Dinner, Drink: Regular Latte, Food: Snickerdoodle Cookie; Okay I made the side trek to Austin to go to the IndieWeb meetup and meet Manton Reece of whom I’ve been a fan for years. Whilst there I had what was actually the only really nice quality coffee I had in the USA. That said, I never tracked down any specialty roasters in Houston and just tripped into Starbucks almost every time, which was easy since they were EVERYWHERE! Anyhow the cookie was a bit dry and crumbly but was quite tasty.

To reiterate the following notes once again:

  • I am not a food critic
  • Repeat: Not a food critic
  • Your taste bud mileage will definitely vary and all tastes are very different
  • There are many other options on menus but I can’t try them all in a week

In summary I’m really glad I tried this fast food. I almost sensed a bit of bewilderment from some of my friends. I got the feeling they thought I should be eating “better” options rather than the most popular Fast Food chains. Some suggested restaurants with award winning dishes and their personal niche chains for example.

I considered their suggestions seriously and decided the way to think about it was this…

The Fast Food chains I tried are a mixture of good marketing, good pricing, good food and overall popularity amongst a significant number of Americans. If I truly want to have the most representative American food experience then I should start with those restaurants and fast food outlets that the majority of Americans prefer. If they didn’t prefer them, they wouldn’t have succeeded in their business. Hence most of my choices.

Both of our countries have brought different culinary options to the table and the world is a better place for it. I’m grateful for the advice from my friends and family on what to try, and I regret nothing that I tried this trip. It was fun but I’m ready to get back eating healthier meals again now. My body is quite frankly done with junk food for a few weeks. (At least)

I look forward to returning to the USA again next year to sample some more.

Thank you America :)

(…until next time…)

Audible Alert

The other night, I was just minding my own business having dinner at Olive Garden, enjoying a bread loaf…I mean “stick” yeah that thing’s more like a bread trunk or bread branch than a stick.

I digress…

An odd alert sound went off through the entire building. At first I thought it was a car alarm going off outside. It wasn’t. I looked around and nobody seemed to be reacting, flinching or panicking. In fact, most people looked as though there was nothing out of the ordinary and kept eating, talking and walking by. I was, frankly, puzzled. My iPhone is currently on an international roaming agreement with AT&T and then I received an Amber Alert on my phone.

Those people that follow me know that I always turn the volume off, using my Apple Watch for haptic feedback for incoming calls, messages, everything so I was shocked when my phone made noise and started vibrating! I had no idea what an Amber Alert was, so I Googled it (as you do) and realised that it was the US Emergency Warning system. I had heard of it, but never connected what it was until I read about how it worked.

I hope they find the child that was abducted - that’s a horrible thing and not unique to America. It happens the world over and it’s terrible.

The also disturbing part for me upon reflection was the lack of movement, lack of concern, lack of any real detectable reaction from the locals in the restaurant.

I study control system, human interfaces in my job and there’s a field of study that focuses on desensitisation of people to repetitive alarm inputs. How often must people be getting these alerts to have that reaction - i.e. no reaction? I looked it up. In 2018 there were 200 Amber Alerts issued nationwide averaging about one every two days. According to the Amber Alert website, as of April 2019 957 children had been rescued specifically because of an Amber Alert since the program began in 2006. Of course that’s an amazing result but I can’t get past the reactions of the locals.

Systems like this will fade in effectiveness with the passage of time, it’s inevitable. In the meantime I just hope that people don’t treat them like a nuisance EMail alert, and pay attention.

PS: I looked for a vehicle matching the description in the car park and on the drive back to the hotel. I did not see it.