Thoughts on Bait Bikes

San Francisco is looking at using “bait bikes” that have GPS trackers to catch bike thieves who’ve been targeting expensive bikes to re-sell. Part of the plan is to use bikes that are expensive enough to trigger felony charges.

Here’s a snippet from the NYT that describes the situation:

Bike theft here has soared in recent years, up 70 percent from 2006 to 2012, a year in which about 4,035 bicycles were taken, according to the latest estimate by the city.

The rash in thefts owes to the increase of bikers and their fancy two-wheelers. These are not your childhood Schwinns with banana seats, but $1,500 or more (sometimes $10,000) technical marvels, celebrated in this ecologically devout, outdoorsy tech culture like an iPad mated with a Tesla. Bikes can be all too easily snagged from outside offices or inside garages, then resold in flea markets or chopped up and sold piecemeal. Often, the police say, the culprits are drug addicts in need of a quick fix.

We live in a “tough on crime” culture, so it’s hard to imagine an objection to punishing people for stealing, right?

But, Zeynep Tufecki wrote a piece that says (in part):

in a city in which inequality is greatly increasing, in which those outside the tech industry are struggling to pay rents and deal with increasing cost of life, and in which flushed, moneyed tech employees are buying more and more expensive bikes (the article notes, can cost $10,000), those police are luring people to steal them by intentionally using bait bikes so expensive that the people tempted to steal them can be charged with felonies. If convicted, so that they can no longer vote in many states, and also are unemployable in large sectors of the economy for all practical reasons.

What could go wrong?

Sure, there is a cost to bike theft, and it is a problem. But there is also cost to rendering large numbers of people unemployable through felony convictions.

Now imagine a city in which areas in which tech workers lives were equipped with cameras that caught everyone who ever rolled through a stop sign. You got a felony charge, since the evidence was indisputable. You lost your job, and could never work in the same sector again. You can’t vote either. Maybe you have probation. Your life is ruined, forever, and fairly irrecoverably.

After a long-running thread on Twitter, I thought about this last night a bit more. I still disagree strongly with the comparison between rolling a stop sign and bike theft. Bike theft is intentional harm against another person, and every single time it has negative consequences for the victim and is an act of intent against another person.

Tufekci’s arguments about creating a larger population of felons only applies if people continue to steal bikes. If the program is a successful deterrent, then it’s a win. And, unlike locking people up for drug use, I have little problem punishing thieves. You want to smoke weed, snort coke, or shoot heroin? It’s your body. You want to steal my bike? Enjoy jail, jerkface.

But, but, but… there are other issues here.

One, it’s happening in San Francisco, where there’s a huge gap in incomes between the tech community and the rest of the community. (And, presumably, the landlord / property owner community…) It’s legitimately becoming harder for some of the non-tech community to scrape by.

Two, I sympathize with Tufekci’s point about “creating felons” in that there’s a huge problem for people leaving prison in finding a job and going straight after being tagged with a felony.

Yeah, Yay, Yea, and Yep

Here’s a collection of affirmatives that many people seem to get wrong or mixed up:

  • Yeah – as in “yeah, I’d like to go see that movie.” It’s not “yah or yea.”
  • Yay – as in “yay! I get an extra day off next week!” Not to be confused with yea…
  • Yea – as in “Does the jury find the defendant guilty? Yea or nay.” It is not a substitute for “yay.”
  • Yep – as in “Want a beer?” “Yep.” It’s not “yeap,” which is not actually a word.

I try not to let poor spelling on the Internet annoy me. I try but I fail mightily, most of the time. Also, as always, I like to clarify that my admonishments are only for native English speakers. If I were trying to communicate in another language, I’m sure I’d make lots of errors.

In the past few years, I don’t think a week has gone by without someone exhorting me to sign an electronic petition of some sort. Usually these are excellent causes and very well-meaning people who want to change the world… so long as it doesn’t involve actually having to put pen to paper, go anywhere, etc.

I’ve seen little evidence that people take these electronic petitions very seriously. I suppose there’s little to lose in signing one, except that it may substitute for “doing something” in the minds of people who care about a cause, and it replaces actually writing a letter, making a phone call, or even protesting or showing up in person to make a statement. Granted, you’ll only be able to mobilize a small fraction of the people who’d sign an electronic petition, but that small fraction may make more of a difference than a mob of digital signatures.

Tired of No-Effort Outrage Stories and Upworthy-Type Crap

Skimming headlines / posts on Facebook today, I caught yet another “outrage” story about a startup that was hacked, and OMG the founder was caught waving some cash on a profile picture and how dare he exhibit that kind of behavior in a personal picture when his startup had security vulnerabilities.

A couple of things annoyed me about this post, and I took a while to think about what they are/were.

  • Tying the founder’s picture holding cash to the security problem is a bit unfair. Young kid has a chance to hold more cash than he’d probably ever seen before, and gets silly. BFD. I know lots of people who’d do silly things with a pile of cash. That’s unrelated to whether or not they’d run their business/do their job with seriousness.
  • The continual barrage of things written to incite outrage is tiring. Yeah, I’ve written one or two stories in my time because I found something I thought deserved calling out. I didn’t pump out story after story like that, though. A steady diet of outrage simply leaves people fatigued and makes it more difficult to muster actual outrage when something truly bad happens.
  • The biggest problem I have, though? It’s lazy. Requires little to no effort, and constitutes little to no research. Something happened, blogger went into reactive mode, churned out a post, and… that’s it.

Not that this is a new thought or anything, but I am concerned and disappointed in how little actual journalism seems to be taking place today – and how unnoticed it is when it is done. There is still a world out there full of interesting and important stories, but there seems to be very little opportunity for writers to research and write them, and a damn small audience that would appreciate anything longer than 800 words with an Upworthy-type trash headline.

Just because you just read an article today, doesn’t mean it was published today. Read datelines before you respond to or share something on social media. If something’s years old, maybe reconsider whether it’s still fresh enough to share or expect it to be current…

A Beautiful Chaos

LOVE-by-Cirque-du-Soleil-Valentine-Day-GiveawayHad an evening to kill in Las Vegas after AWS re:Invent, so I went to one of the discount places to get a ticket to see Cirque du Soleil’s “Love” show.

Generally speaking, I’m not a musicals kind of guy. Stuff like “Evil Dead: The Musical” or “Bukowsical,” sure. But for the most part… meh. Not my cup of tea. I’ll appreciate a well-done show, but be almost as likely to turn down tickets to about half the shows that are in production.

But, I’ve been a Beatles fanatic since I was seven. As a kid, I caught “Help!” on TV one Sunday afternoon, and I was hooked from the first few notes of the title song at the beginning of the movie.

Wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from “Love,” but figured that with a Beatles soundtrack, it’d be fun even if the show itself was dull. The show was not dull. It was an amazing production. If there was supposed to be anything more than a hint of a story or narrative, I missed it – but the whole thing was fabulous to watch, just a beautiful chaos set to some of my favorite songs of all time.

I knew going in that they’d restructured some of the songs, mixed some together, etc. Wondered if it’d lessen my enjoyment of the show, but I really enjoyed what they did with the music – and the sound system in the place was out of this world. Just hearing the songs in a fully immersive sound system was almost worth the price of the ticket alone.

Definitely planning to see it again if it’s still playing the next time I find myself in Las Vegas.

[Review] Thor: The Dark World

Thor: The Dark World (Review)When a film lives up to your expectation, it’s usually a fun time in the theatre. When a movie far exceeds your expectations, then you’re really in for a good time. That’s how I felt about Thor: The Dark World when I caught it yesterday.

The trailer for Thor: The Dark World did not do a lot to excite me about the movie.  It looked very much like the sequel would be a repeat of the first Thor movie: OK with a little bit of action and generic romance thrown in to tick off the “romantic interest” box for movie-goers.

Dark World does continue the silly romance with Thor and Jane Foster, and that’s probably the weakest part of the movie. Natalie Portman has decent acting chops, and she’s got lots of geek cred, but she’s given damn little to do in the movie other than be rescued and sit around pining for Thor.  (If superheroes were real, they’d have self-help books for women about dealing with the problematic relationships that ensue. But I digress…)

The best part of Dark World is the relationship between Thor and Loki. Of the two, Loki is the far more interesting character anyway: Big, loud, and heroic may be what you want in a superhero, but Thor isn’t a really complex character. He gets a bit more personality in Dark World and Hemsworth does a fine job in the role, but Loki is the really interesting character. Not quite as interesting as the North mythology, but I think the movies are doing a better job breathing life into the character than the comics have. Loki has much more of the trickster about him in the films, and that’s a far more interesting character. (Disclaimer: I’ve read a number of comics with Loki as the main villain, but I haven’t read all of them…)

The character is written quite well in the movies, but the credit goes to Tom Hiddleston, who really makes the character fun to watch and impossible to pin down. You never know if Loki is capable of change, or feeling any remorse. You can’t fully embrace Loki, because the character is capable of unspeakable betrayal and at the same time, you can’t entirely dismiss him. You can’t help but to feel a bit bad about the character raised in the shadow of Thor by a foster family that includes Odin – the guy who slew Loki’s real father. Hiddleston does a great job of playing the villain that just might be capable of doing something noble. Though you’re never sure whether, if Loki comes through, whether it’s part of a larger plan or if Loki is playing it by ear.

But whatever the reason, I enjoy the dynamic here. Thor clearly loves his brother, but at the same time doesn’t trust him, but can’t entirely dismiss the relationship. To me, that’s 100 times more interesting than the cardboard caricature of a romance between Thor and Foster. Suggestion for the next movie, ditch Jane Foster early on, and put Thor and Loki on a very long adventure.

If I’m remembering right, the original Thor was a bit off in its pacing. A bit too slow at times. I never felt that way in Dark World – the pacing was tight, they did a great job of balancing action, character development, humor, and moving the plot forward.

The actual villain (Malekith, played by Christopher Eccleston) is sufficiently malicious and chews scenery acceptably well. The character isn’t terribly well-developed, just a archetypal Big Bad that wants to see the world burn. Again, though, the real focus is on Thor and Loki – so Malekith’s evil plan is really an excuse to put Thor and Loki together to watch the Asgardian dysfunctional family try to work through its problems.

Speaking of Eccleston, is it just me, or did the second-tier baddies in the movie just have a slight hint of Doctor Who about them? The masks just seemed like a much higher-budget rendering of Doctor Who artwork. The movie clearly needed a few nods to Doctor Who, taking place in London and all. (Or maybe there were a few, but I missed them.)

The CGI was great, and I enjoyed seeing the familiar cast (Odin, Volstagg, Heimdal, etc.) and the battle scenes are good fun. Dark World amps it up a notch, without going over the cliff the way Superman did earlier this year. Special shout-out to Idris Elba for just owning the character of Heimdal. That guy really needs his own break-out movie. He showed damn fine chops in Pacific Rim and kicked ass in The Wire, it’s time to put him front and center.

It’s not fine cinema, but it was a damn enjoyable movie. Strongly recommend it, unless you just really don’t like superhero movies. To avoid any spoilers, I’ll also say this: Watch for a damn fun cameo about midway through the movie, and you’ll also (as always) be seeing Stan Lee front-and-center too. Stay to the very end of the credits, too.