By Nathan L. Walls

  • Leaning Twist/Washington
  • Pamphlets + Reports/Lansford
  • Guide/Lansford
  • Lift/Lansford

Tool Sharpening: August 24, 2014

For some background on what’s going on here, see the first tool sharpening post

This week has been pretty light, so I’ll present this without much in the way of ceremony:

  • I read up on using pry as a debugger for Ruby
  • Started a small project to work on in order to refresh my Rails knowledge
    • Identified the project from a list of potential projects I’ve been keeping
    • Fleshed out the questions I want the product to answer
    • Instantiated a Git repository for the project
    • Sorted out dependencies
    • Built an initial schema diagram
  • Rebuilt smart mailboxes for Apple Mail
    • My previous mailboxes disappeared a little while ago and rather than chase down recovering them, I set-up new ones
      • All unread
      • Unread from the last two weeks
      • Unread from the past 2 days
      • Mailing Lists
      • Recent from the last two weeks
    • In the morning, checking email, I can check what’s new from the last two days and move on with my day
    • As I have other time, I can knock down more of the backlog

A tool to facilitate questions about Triangle tactical team usage

Yesterday, David Forbes of The Asheville Blade tweeted the results of a records request he made to the local law enforcement agencies in Asheville. He also published a story on The Asheville Blade resulting from the records request:

The unrest in Ferguson, Mo. has raised a multitude of important issues, including systemic racism in law enforcement and the level of violence directed at African-American citizens, like the disturbing shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.

On Thursday, Aug. 14, I made records requests with the Asheville Police Department and Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office to disclose all the military equipment obtained under this program over the past decade. The Sheriff’s Office responded within 30 minutes and wrote that they are in the process of gathering the information.

A city spokesperson replied the next morning with a similar response. Later that day, they revealed that the only item the APD had obtained through the 1033 program since 2004 was an armored car in 2007. According to city officials, the vehicle is no longer in use.

Just seeing Forbes' tweets, I was wondering about local to the Triangle research on the same topic.

The New York Times has a worthwhile interactive map that Forbes referenced in his story. That’s a start. Going back to my brief story about having the (a?) Raleigh Police Department tactical team in our backyard, I can tell you it was incredibly stressful seeing multiple officers carrying rifles, bringing dogs and shining flashlights in the dark of the woods behind our house looking for one or more armed robbery suspects.

To me, this instance seemed an appropriate instance to have a tactical team present. However, I want to know other instances where this team would be deployed. So, I’m thinking through some questions I would like to have access to the answers to:

  • Which Triangle law enforcement agencies – local, state or federal – have tactical/S.W.A.T. teams?
  • How large is each agency’s tactical team?
  • What equipment have these agencies acquired from the federal government that a reasonable person consider “war gear”?
  • Are the tactical teams the only teams with access to this equipment?
  • What rules govern the use of this equipment?
  • Are agencies obligated to use the equipment or return it to the federal government?
  • Under what circumstances is a tactical team activated?
  • Who is responsible for activating a tactical team?
  • Are these teams and equipment preemptively deployed to public events? When and why?
  • How many times a month are these teams deployed?
  • How many times a month is military-grade equipment deployed?
  • Where are these deployments?
  • Would less forceful tactics have been more or less effective? Why?
  • What reports are available regarding these deployments?
  • Were any complaints against officers filed in the wake of the incident?
  • Can these deployments be correlated with news reports of the incident?
  • What are the trends of deployment? Are they going up or down?

A local news agency would do well to ask these questions and report the answers. They would do better to get an ongoing update of records from area law enforcement agencies and get at trending data or look at particular incidents in more detail. This is in the ballpark of something I could expect to see from EveryBlock, a local Code for America brigade – the Triangle has several – or again, any of the local news agencies as a public-facing, web accessible application.

I’m thinking through these questions because these are sorts of questions I would like answered in the wake of the police response to protests in Ferguson, Missouri after the death of Mike Brown. I want you to think through questions of your own along these lines. These questions don’t replace community involvement in policing through oversight or review commissions. They don’t replace community policing. They don’t replace beat reporting. Instead, these questions that a tool helps answer should inform us for deeper conversations about what law enforcement agencies are doing in claim of protecting and serving the public. The goal should be to increase transparency and build trust that communities and governments understand where police powers are used, why they’re used and citizens believe these powers, when used, are used judiciously, proportionately, appropriately, equally and fairly.

Tool Sharpening: August 17, 2014

For some background on what’s going on here, see the first tool sharpening post

It’s been a busy couple of weeks with a really sweet work project and a couple of interesting events in the neighborhood I won’t go into here. Suffice to say, my time and attention to get this posted went elsewhere earlier. But, here we are now. Here’s some of what I’ve learned or refined over the last couple of weeks:

  • Took two Ruby-based typing.io typing practice session and found that {, }, * and & are some of the hardest coding characters for me to type
  • I found a general purpose typing practice site, keybr.com
    • Practiced for about 20 minutes, discovering S and Q are two of my worst characters to type
    • Registered for an account the following day
  • Recalling again that BBEdit makes use of Emacs keystrokes, I researched how I might use some of those Emacs commands to navigate text better
  • Fixed a bug and issued a pull request on the Fleakr gem, which I use to update photos on this site from my Flickr stream
  • Updated a work environment script/BBEdit text filter I use to format a list of JIRA cases
  • Created a new tmuxinator profile for my current work project
  • Built a plan to reaquaint myself with Rails code by looking at Rails code I’ve written in the past with the accompanying tests
    • Further, I want to improve my understanding of browser-based integration testing by writing Cucumber or Turnip tests
    • With my team’s current project wrapped up, during our retrospective, we decided that during our next project, we are going to investigate front-end testing methods like JavaScript unit testing and Capybara tests
  • I evaluated how I could update my split repository dotfile setup to use thoughtbot’s rcm. My plan is this:
    • Take a diff between the last version of thoughtbot’s dotfiles repository I had and the upstream HEAD
    • Identify which files and diffs I need to undo and move those into a local dotfiles repository with the diffs
    • Compare the structure of my existing local dotfiles repo and determine how I’ll need to shuffle it around to conform to rcm expectations
  • One of my coworkers showed me a trick to remove untracked files in Git – git clean
  • I watched a number of RubyTapas episodes ($9/month)
  • I subscribed to System Administration Screencasts and watched Episode 1: Virtual Box and CentOS 6.3
  • Finally, on the aforementioned work project, I had an opportunity to put RSpec shared examples to work, and learn better how they worked

I’m expecting more consistency with learning and personal project work this week. I hope whomever reads this is working on their own learning projects as well.

Tool Sharpening: July 28, 2014

For some background on what’s going on here, see the first tool sharpening post

In reference to the impact stress has on creative energy and drive I mentioned last week, I am pleased to report that this past week has yielded additional, positive, changes. For that, I’m thankful. A stressful early summer has broken and I’m legitimately able to focus on creativity and practice.

Taking advantage of that restored energy, one of the changes I made this past week was to take some of the advice I gave at my July 8 talk and set up some two hour chunks of time for practice and project work. I recommended two, two-hour blocks of time to build a code portfolio by working on a project. So, that’s now on the calendar. I also set up two more two-hour blocks for things like code reading, typing practice and similar activities. These are different enough that I want to address them separately. Monday and Wednesday are “Practice”. Tuesday and Thursday are for “Projects.”

I put the practice time to work, with the following activities:

  • Updated the Markdown template I use to build these tool sharpening posts
  • Updated the Markdown/ERb template I use to build a daily report
  • Unsubscribed from several marketing lists I found myself on
  • Unsubscribed from a few aspirational mailing lists
  • Added better filtering around mailing lists I’m still on
  • Added and updated some TextExpander shortcuts
  • Updated BBEdit keyboard shortcuts to create a shortcut for <strike>foo</strike>
  • Took three more typing.io lessons
  • Fixed an issue with error messages from cron jobs on my web host not being addressed properly and thus going to my local mail junk filter
  • Found a couple of Vim online tutorial sites to help me with my Vim fu.
  • Working with BBEdit, I found notes on the Go menu, which I’d previously overlooked
    • I found capabilities to jump by functions, markers and jump history
    • Added keyboard shortcuts to interact with the same
    • Set-up a BBEdit palettes workspace to save state of palettes I want to have open
    • Such functionality, along with earlier discoveries with efficient text editing may mollify the impetus to go all in with Vim
    • All that said, improving my Vim skills is still something that’d be beneficial

I may yet decide I want to practice over two consecutive nights and work on a project over two consecutive nights. I staggered the schedule because I want to acknowledge that many times, my brain needs off-time for an idea to gel. While I work on practice, my hope is that project ideas and problems tumble and become smoother.

Until next time.

Tool Sharpening: July 21, 2014

For some background on what’s going on here, see the first tool sharpening post

It’s been far longer than I’d hoped with my previous entry. Sometime reasonably soon, I’ll have some thoughts on stress and creative energy. In short, I’ve found that a lot of the creative energy I would otherwise have put into my tool sharpening was going into other, more stressful arenas. Ergo, when I was home and otherwise “available” to make some of these tool sharpening changes, I found that my will and energy to do so was exhausted. Consequently, I’ve spent a lot of time reading fiction. Doing that, I could focus on material far away from my normal day-to-day routine as a stress-reducer. I’m disappointed that I wasn’t writing or making tooling improvements. I am happy about doing what I needed to in order to take care of myself.

The situation that resulted in said stress is improving. After a very relaxing weekend, I’m back to tool sharpening. Onto the batch of recent changes:

  • Added a TextExpander shortcut to correct my constant misspelling of visibility
  • Added additional mailing list filters
  • Adjusted my git commit message template to use BBEdit placeholders to move from segment to segment
  • Set-up a typing.io account to begin language specific typing practice
    • This was a pick from Ruby Rogues Episode 147
    • I suspect I’m a slow coding typist and I want to get better
    • My first Ruby on Rails lesson resulted in a 35 wpm typing speed with an unproductive keystroke overhead of 10 percent
  • Opened a RubyTapas account and watched episodes 219 and 221
  • Found a few options for converting PDFs to EPUB format
    • I’m taking a hint from Michael R. Bernstein and attempting to read more papers
    • A lot of the papers I see linked around are in PDF format
    • I’d prefer to use an EPUB, where I have better control over the text sizing. I can also highlight and comment
  • Updated git.bbpackage, Source.bbpackage and ryans_rails.bbpackage to latest versions

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