Ypsilanti

Donald Trump comes to Ypsilanti, MI

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What an unexpected treat! No, I’m not talking about the heavily redacted tax forms that were leaked from the White House…no, I’m talking about our Commander-In-Queef in the orange flesh! In my city! About 5 miles from my house, at the old Willow Run auto plant that has recently been converted to an autonomous car testing facility.

Will he use the word “bigly”? Will he take credit for the economic upturn, despite being a President for less than a financial quarter? Will he accidentally get run over by an autonomous car?

Well, 2 out of 3 isn’t bad.

Plastic: we’ve taxed it

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According to MLive, the Washtenaw County (Michigan) Board of Commissioners has just approved a 10 cent tax on each grocery bag (paper and/or plastic) that is used to package groceries. This would apply to any retail establishment that sells food, which means pretty much any store from gas stations to grocery stores in Washtenaw County would be subject to the tax.

Ultimately, this is just another ridiculous idea from the same board of commissioners that spends more time passing resolutions against things that they have absolutely no control over (i.e. diversity rights in other countries), than spending time on things that would actually improve the quality of life for the taxpaying residents of Washtenaw County.

A 10 cent tax makes sense on pop cans and bottles. A 10 cent tax makes less sense on plastic bags that costs retailers less than .0005 cents each wholesale. Plus, not all of us have Lululemon branded carrying bags to haul groceries into our spacious Subaru crossover vehicles. Many residents rely on public transportation to do grocery shopping. I have done it quite a few times when a car wasn’t available. Carrying 50 pounds of groceries onto the bus, and walking a mile home is barely feasible with triple plastic-bagged groceries. I sure as hell wouldn’t recommend attempting that with some raggedy old cloth bags that have lower centers of gravity and less room to store things. Although, we do have some people who are quite content to just push grocery carts full of groceries all the way back home, which is just as ridiculous. Maybe THAT’S where the focus on punitive fees and resource conservation should be? I see more abandoned shopping carts than I do grocery bags on the sides of the roads.

Another problem is the implementation of this fee. Many people use “U-Scan” self serve checkouts at grocery stores, partially for the convenience, and partially because there are usually no actual traditional cashier lanes open. The U-Scan machines are prone to break down, need constant calibration, and can barely work for their intended purposes…let alone if we were to add additional sensors to keep track of the amount of bags used. There are hardly enough human beings working the checkout lanes, so how the hell do you expect them to keep track of how many bags are used?

Of course, this could all be null and void if Senate Bill 853 passes, which was approved by the Senate and is currently waiting approval by the House of Representatives. Personally, I could care less either way. Being as environmentally conscious as I am a cheap bastard, I have used plastic grocery bags for many years to dispose of waste at my house. It saves money on buying trash bags, and is a great way to re-use old plastic bags. The way I see it, a package of trash bags might cost 3 bucks. With this tax, 3 bucks buys me 30 plastic bags that I can use for trash bags. See, now THAT’s the type of creative problem solving we need in this county! Maybe I should run for the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners…

Smile, Ypsilanti: You’re on camera!

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In the world of internet services and applications, nothing is ever truly free.

If you buy a game for your cellphone, you may have two options: a free version that contains advertisements, and a paid version that does not contain advertisements. Data-farming is highly lucrative, and identity theft is prevalent in a world where most people balk at two-factor authentication, where people complain about privacy settings on Facebook while thinking nothing of logging into sketchy third-party apps to play ridiculous games and surveys, and where many people still consider “abc123” a viable password.

If you aren’t paying for services with money, then you are paying for services with your data.

Which brings us to the lovely city of Ypsilanti, Michigan. If you decide to walk throughout the downtown and Depot Town areas, you will find some great bars, stores, and restaurants, as well as Riverside Park which is next to the Huron River. You will also find video cameras trained on these locations:

-The intersection of W. Michigan Ave and S. Washington St.

-The intersection of N. River and Cross St.

-The parking lots for N. Huron, S. Huron, and N. Adams

Now…the man who is responsible for these video cameras is Steve Pierce. He is a local businessman who has been involved in local political elections. He is also the person responsible for the Wireless Ypsi initiative, which provides the immediate downtown area with free wireless internet access.

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Steve Pierce, who is responsible for the installation and oversight of the cameras in downtown Ypsilanti.

 

The issue that people are starting to have, is that Pierce has refused to sign an agreement with the Ypsilanti Downtown Development Authority, which states that he will not sell the images that he receives while using these cameras.

For his part, Pierce thinks that what he is doing is completely legal, and that what he is doing is no different than videotaping animals at zoos, or videotaping the geyser Old Faithful.

And, for my part, I think that videotaping actual human beings is a hell of a lot different than videotaping a monkey or an attraction at a national park. Yes, these videos are available for the public to watch (I’ll provide a link to the website at the end of this article), but why would Pierce want to videotape city parking lots and intersections?

I can only speculate, but whether he is simply a voyeur, whether he is gathering metrics, data, and images to sell to other businesses or to use for his own business purposes; or whether he is a calculating politician hoping to catch a particular person stumbling out of a bar into a parking lot, there really are no valid reasons for a private citizen to administrate the videotaping of large public areas in a city, with no oversight. This is probably more of a case of Creepy Uncle rather than Big Brother, but there are still many questionable things about this.

The only valid reason to have cameras in public places are for security reasons, and even then there need to be limits imposed on the amount of data collected and the time allotted to store the data. The video cameras in the West Willow neighborhood is a good example, which has helped somewhat to reduce and deter crime in a traditionally high-crime area, and which was approved by the residents themselves, in collaboration with the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department.

It’s really unfortunate that Moore’s Law (which is starting to plateau) is still more accurate and relevant than the laws governing usage of the internet, and internet enabled products. This has ignited a good debate in the community, however, and the Ypsilanti DDA will continue to debate the legality of these video cameras at their next meeting in April.

The video cameras in Ypsilanti, offering real-time feeds available to the public, can be seen at http://cams.ypsi.com/ .

 

 

 

Ann Arbor embarrasses Why-piss-a-lan-tee again

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Gametime at Rynearson Stadium in 2015. Believe it or not, this was actually one of their games with the highest attendance.

 

 

Even though Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti are only separated by a couple of miles, the distance between their college football programs couldn’t be farther apart. The University of Michigan has the most total wins out of any college football team, their latest recruiting class is ranked #1 by most analysts, and they routinely make headlines for such clickbait minutiae as Jim Harbaugh’s choice of refreshments when he went to go see Star Wars at the movie theater.

Eastern Michigan University, on the other hand, has never had a top-tier football program. Not even middle-tier. The last good player to come from EMU was Charlie Batch, who made a decent career in the NFL as a journeyman backup quarterback. I actually met him at a house party back when he went to EMU, and EMU didn’t even get many fans back then, either. In the late 1990’s, I remember doing community service at Rynearson Stadium a couple times, where the policeman in charge would just drop us off in the middle of the game to pick up trash. There were almost as many of us picking up trash as there were actual fans!

Well, here’s the ultimate embarrassment: The University of Michigan got the biggest average crowds in 2015. And Eastern Michigan University got…yep, the smallest crowds. Less than 5,000 per game. And we all know attendance numbers are inflated, so I’d be surprised if they got half of that.

So, if Michigan State is U of M’s “little brother” -and that little brother has had one hell of a football team this year-  what does that make Ypsilanti? Bastard stepchild? In the rare instance that you might hear the word “Ypsilanti” mentioned on television, it will invariably be mispronounced Why-piss-a-lan-tee, making it the only instance where someone on TV can say “piss” and not be censored.

Yep, bastard stepchild sounds about right. Or college equivalent of the Detroit Lions.