Save Houston’s food trucks (from overly aggressive HPD officers)

A recent post to the Houston Press blog Eating Your Words discusses a baffling incident that almost feels like it’s straight out of the Twilight Zone. It involves local food truck The Modular, run by Joshua Martinez, and an as-yet-unnamed HPD officer.

Quoting the article:

“[The officer] told me, ‘You’re supposed to move every 59 minutes. You’re a mobile food truck,'” Martinez said, recalling the conversation 15 minutes after it happened last night. He spoke from the parking lot outside his food truck, which was parked on private property. “I showed him my licenses, explained that we are supposed to move every 24 hours and go back to our commissary.”

“He didn’t listen,” Martinez said of the HPD officer. “He just kept saying, ‘You’re in violation. I can give you up to $6,000 in tickets.'” […] “If I violated every health department violation there was, it wouldn’t be $6,000!”

The story goes on to say a formal complaint against HPD is pending. And for good reason; there is no excuse for this kind of disgraceful harassment of food truck operators by law enforcement. Especially considering that the officer did not name the city ordinance in question. The city’s own web page about mobile food units mentions nothing about this supposed “move every 59 minutes requirement.

Joshua runs a good food truck which I had the pleasure of patronizing at Canned Acoustica IV back at the end of August. I’m glad people like him are willing to stand up to this kind of flagrant badgering by law enforcement. I’m holding out hope that once the complaint is filed, the officer in question will be treated to some free weight loss (as in, being relieved of his badge).

Houston’s red light cameras meet the lens cap

Again I find myself with about 10 to 20 posts I want to write, and the time to write maybe three of them, tops. Actually right now, since my PC is inaccessible, I have the time to write this all-too-brief post before it becomes too untimely.

A recent story in the Houston Chronicle states that the red light cameras have finally been shut off, this time for good. And not a moment too soon. I remember voting against them in the referendum last year, and was severely disappointed when Mayor Annise Parker turned them back on in the midst of the legal fight and controversy following the referendum.

I was left with the feeling my vote was no good, along with untold numbers of Houston residents. Finally, we have been shown our vote does matter. That when more than 50% of the people who go to the polls and vote, that vote does count. We, as a community, stood up and said “no” to an invasive form of law enforcement that not only does not improve safety, but makes otherwise safe intersections more dangerous. I only hope that the other cities in the greater Houston area follow suit, along with non-incorporated munincipalities such as The Woodlands.

Interestingly, I am no longer a resident of the city of Houston proper, but for other reasons. I note with dismay that some time ago Houston annexed the area immediately around Willowbrook Mall. Those of us nearby (which now includes me) got an extra 1% sales tax on our shopping at the mall, a red light camera (until recently), and traffic tickets from HPD. I would like to see the city of Houston actually give us services in the annexed area, maybe a park or a library or something. Or is that just too much to ask? (I’m typing this in from a Harris County library computer, incidentally. However, it’s worth noting the Houston libraries have a lot of things in their collections the Harris County library does not.)

Thoughts (primarily) on the passing of Steve Jobs

First, I am saddened the same as most people to hear of the passing of Steve Jobs. Outside of Steve’s contributions to technology, reason enough to be sad would be the relatively young age at which Steve left us; in modern times, 56 is quite a young age at which to pass on, barely two-thirds of the 78.7 years life expectancy in the US.

I agree in principle with, and in fact admire, many of the advancements in technology and user interfaces which Steve played a part in. It is remarkable that Steve took a company on the verge of failure and transformed it into something that has made even Microsoft sit up and take notice. This is no small feat and Steve has earned his legacy in the history of computing and technology. I also agree with the substance of the statements made by President Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Disney president Bob Iger, and Mark Zuckerberg.

I say all this despite the fact I have been actively boycotting Apple’s products in the recent past up until the present (for reasons that should be obvious to frequent readers of this blog), and this is unlikely to change for the forseeable future.

Will this seem odd to many people? Certainly. But this isn’t the first time.

I once had a copy of the book Winning with the P&G 99 by Charles Decker, purchased in the middle of my active boycott of Procter & Gamble (among others) for their sponsorship of the Jenny Jones talk show, which ended upon the show’s cancellation in 2003 (and, thankfully, predated P&G’s acquisiton of Gillette, thus I never had to quit shaving with Mach3 or Fusion razors as a result of the boycott).

The tactics of a company, including marketing, PR, and basic business strategy, are still relevant to my career as a marketing and PR consultant, whether or not I personally purchase their products. The same general principles apply to Apple now that applied to P&G then (though at the time of purchasing the P&G book I was not actively in marketing consulting then, but in a more general self-directed study of business). And thus the same general principles apply, also, to the work of Steve Jobs as did to the staff of P&G during the time of my active boycott of the company’s products.

I have more to say, but it’ll come in a followup post in about a week or so. Right now is simply not an appropriate time.

Tale from the kitchen: lessons learned from a not-so-successful culinary experiment

This past Saturday was quite the eventful day. Between the photowalk in the morning, and an arts/music event in the evening, I had plenty of time to pass by. I took care of some personal business (okay, renewing and updating the address on my Houston Public Library card, which had been expired for a good 9 months and change), which still left me with a few hours. So, it was off to meet up with my friend Nick at a shared space he was a member of at the time, for my part in helping him out with culinary experiments in exchange for a share of the results.

Nick and I were attempting to reproduce this recipe for Enchiladas De Queso from After a quick trip to a nearby grocery store to get the ingredients, we start the process of getting everything ready.

A bit of a note here: despite the fact I don’t cook that often these days, I’m not a kitchen greenhorn by any sense of the imagination. Granted, most of what I have cooked is Hamburger Helper and simple stove-top concoctions, and of course untold numbers of frozen pizzas and TV dinners. (As a rule, since 2004 or so, I avoid consuming microwaved food whenever possible, to the point of improvising oven heating directions when I don’t notice an item is intended only for microwave oven preparation  until after it’s been bought.) That said, when it comes to cooking, I am still probably the more experienced of the two of us. I wound up doing most of the things like chopping the onions and the actual removal of the dish from the oven. (I had done my fair share of onion chopping from helping my mom make prepackaged red beans and rice in the weeks prior.)

We get to the part where it’s time to dip the tortillas in the oil and salsa. I never found out what the reason was, but we kept having the tortillas rip and/or not dip properly. So after the first few failed attempts to make “proper” enchiladas, I make the command decision to salvage this mess that’s going to culinary hell in a handbasket, and switch to making a Tex-Mex casserole dish. Basically, we just made layers of tortilla, onions, cheese, salsa, and green onions. Twenty minutes later, dinner is served. (Okay, so I originally planned this as lunch and it’s now closer to dinnertime.) There’s definitely something sort of missing (it’s edible, it’s just there’s not much to it). I’d do it all over again knowing the result, though there were things I’d have changed given the opportunity.

I have to give Nick some credit here for being adventurous enough to try cooking of this sort. Of course it is not realistic to expect someone to do a Julia Child impression the very first time. I am out of practice from cooking, having depended on fast food restaurants to fill the gap more often than I’m proud of (brown bagging it doesn’t really work when spending the entire day out and about).

I’m still trying to figure out what went wrong when we followed the directions as advertised. My first guess is that the oil simply wasn’t hot enough, and even if it was, the sauce was probably not the type really intended for making enchiladas (we used a store brand picante sauce, which is what we thought the recipe called for), so it may not have even mattered if the sauce was hot enough. I’m open to ideas if anyone with more cooking experience has any.

GM/OnStar “spy car” T&C update: followup 1

Oh, the things I find out by reading.

The thoughts that I were left with when finishing the earlier post about GM/OnStar were along the lines of “people really should not have to disconnect OnStar to preserve their privacy, there has to be something I am missing”. And in addition to being incorrect about being able to disconnect OnStar by just pulling a fuse (sometimes you disconnect more than just OnStar that way, unless you go straight to the OnStar box and disconnect power there), I also had no idea, until today, that Texas law actually forbids some of what GM is doing.

I was looking up something in the Texas Transportation Code researching an unrelated matter, and happened to notice entited “Recording Devices” which appears to address services such as OnStar. I have reproduced the section in its entirety below:

Sec. 547.615.  RECORDING DEVICES. (a) In this

(1)  "Owner" means a person who:

(A)  has all the incidents of ownership of a motor
vehicle, including legal title, regardless of
whether the person lends, rents, or creates a
security interest in the vehicle;

(B)  is entitled to possession of a motor vehicle
as a purchaser under a security agreement; or

(C)  is entitled to possession of a motor vehicle
as a lessee under a written lease agreement if the
agreement is for a period of not less than three

(2)  "Recording device" means a feature that is
installed by the manufacturer in a motor vehicle
and that does any of the following for the purpose
of retrieving information from the vehicle after
an accident in which the vehicle has been

(A)  records the speed and direction the vehicle
is traveling;

(B)  records vehicle location data;

(C)  records steering performance;

(D)  records brake performance, including
information on whether brakes were applied before
an accident;

(E)  records the driver's safety belt status; or

(F)  transmits information concerning the accident
to a central communications system when the
accident occurs.

(b)  A manufacturer of a new motor vehicle that is
sold or leased in this state and that is equipped
with a recording device shall disclose that fact
in the owner's manual of the vehicle.

(c)  Information recorded or transmitted by a
recording device may not be retrieved by a person
other than the owner of the motor vehicle in which
the recording device is installed except:

(1)  on court order;

(2)  with the consent of the owner for any
purpose, including for the purpose of diagnosing,
servicing, or repairing the motor vehicle;

(3)  for the purpose of improving motor vehicle
safety, including for medical research on the
human body's reaction to motor vehicle accidents,
if the identity of the owner or driver of the
vehicle is not disclosed in connection with the
retrieved information; or

(4)  for the purpose of determining the need for
or facilitating emergency medical response in the
event of a motor vehicle accident.

(d)  For information recorded or transmitted by a
recording device described by Subsection
(a)(2)(B), a court order may be obtained only
after a showing that:

(1)  retrieval of the information is necessary to
protect the public safety; or

(2)  the information is evidence of an offense or
constitutes evidence that a particular person
committed an offense.

(e)  For the purposes of Subsection (c)(3):

(1)  disclosure of a motor vehicle's vehicle
identification number with the last six digits
deleted or redacted is not disclosure of the
identity of the owner or driver; and

(2)  retrieved information may be disclosed only:

(A)  for the purposes of motor vehicle safety and
medical research communities to advance the
purposes described in Subsection (c)(3); or

(B)  to a data processor solely for the purposes
described in Subsection (c)(3).

(f)  If a recording device is used as part of a
subscription service, the subscription service
agreement must disclose that the device may record
or transmit information as described by Subsection
(a)(2).  Subsection (c) does not apply to a
subscription service under this subsection.

Added by Acts 2005, 79th Leg., Ch. 910, Sec. 1,
eff. September 1, 2006.

So, according to my interpretation of the law, it would appear that GM/OnStar can’t do what they plan to do with non-subscriber info. It is unfortunate that the law, as written, has a loophole in it that’s (pardon the awful pun) big enough to drive a truck through. Subscribers should be protected from undesired privacy invasion such as that which GM/OnStar is effecting with their change in terms and conditions.

I’d like to know what the official GM/OnStar line is regarding Texas Transportation Code section 547.615. Shouldn’t Federal law also prohibit what GM/OnStar is changing the T&C to allow? I think it should, and I doubt I am the only one.