All posts by tim

Trail of Lights

Went to the tail of lights on Sunday. It was pretty miserable for us due to miscommunication and illness, but I thought it was still really pretty and worth the trip.

We drove to Barton Creek Mall, parked near the lower level Sears and got on a number 30 bus. It’s a bit of a circuitous route, but they drop you off right at the entrance to the trail. It’s a great painless way to get there.

Although we’ve got to do something about people letting their dogs off leashes and not picking up. It smells horrible there. Anyone who’s run the Hike and Bike trial when it’s raining knows the smell. I think that this area due to the number of people who let their dogs off leash might be even worse, though. I understand some people have high energy dogs, but seriously , if we’re going to have places where dog’s can go off leash they probably need to not be parks. They probably need to be outdoor areas completely covered in mulch, carefully graded for runoff to go directly into the sewer system. Like a cattle yard.

How do other cities deal with this? It’s foul.

Let’s get really pro-life!

Let’s get really pro-life. In addition to not letting Americans buy health plans that provide coverage for abortions, and not allowing the government to pay for abortions with tax dollars, I think we should also deprive health care funding for any prisons that have a death row. Seems fair to me.

Hey, I’m just taking a page from the Republican playbook.

Mediawiki Playwrighting Extension

When I worked on Empty Bowl I wrote some playwrighting extensions for MediaWiki. This lets you write scripts quite easily. You get easy revisioning and diffs. The scripts look something like this:

Seth 
The girl is not the problem. This house- I won't marry.

Laurel enters

Laurel 
Sure you will Seth.
 

And when you view or print them they look like this:

Seth

The girl is not the problem. This house- I won’t marry.

(Laurel enters)

Laurel

Sure you will Seth.
Act I
Scene I
Character Name
Stage Direction on its own line
Inline Stage Direction within a line

I have no plans to keep developing this, but I’m open to writing a couple more plugins if anyone wants them. I’m open to farming it out to some source control system if anyone else would like to keep developing.

Download Mediawiki Playwrighting Extension

Obama and Transparency

So this meme has come up a lot recently in my life, and I’m trying to figure out where it comes from. There seems to be a Republican meme that the Obama administration is incredibly opaque. This is obviously completely false unless we’re comparing his administration to the administration he was describing while campaigning.

Is Texas really a Blue State?

You know Texas has been lauded a lot as a new model for how to run a state. California (and Democratically run) is the old way and Texas (and Republican run) is the new way. Rick Perry certainly is quick to point this out.

But when you look at what’s really going on, about the best thing you can say for the state legislature and governor is that they stay out of the cities’ way. They’ve kept tax rates low which has allowed cities to raise more taxes. And past that they don’t interfere very much.

When you look at the power house cities in Texas, they’re all run by Democrats. Dallas, San Antonio, Austin, and Houston all have Democratic mayors. And those are really the cities that are being looked at when they talk about Texas as a great place to live and do business. The rest of Texas is poor, uneducated, and propped up by moving money out of the urban areas to help pay for the rural ones. They are a massive financial liability for the state. The places that don’t work are overwhelmingly Republican and run by Republicans.

There are Republican suburbs, but those are all simply leaching off of the good Democratic policy. They get the roads, the public transportation, and the business infrastructure paid for by the cities, and they can spend all their money on education.

So perhaps Texas is actually a Democratic triumph in spite of Republican inefficiencies. It looks that way from where I’m sitting.

Christiantiy and the old Snip-snip

So, my friends and I talk a lot more about circumcision these days. Probably talked about it more in the past 3 years than in the previous 29 of my life. It came up at a party the other day and how parents are having to fight grandparents over not circumcising their boys, on religious grounds. These are Christian grand parents. Growing up in “bible believing” churches I was very aware of this schism. Circumcision is viewed as being done for religious reasons. Which is fine if you’re Muslim or Jewish, but there is a lot of space spent talking about Circumcision in the New Testament. A lot more than any of your hot button topics like homosexuality, abortion, or pre-marital sex. So much time is spent talking about it, that you might get the idea that Paul is obsessed with penises (just saying).

Ok, so first let’s start with Genesis 17:11:

You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.

This is where most Christians are going to begin and end their discussion of Circumcision. Of course they’ve felt free to reject a host of other “barbaric” traditions that occur in the first few books of the bible, so it’s odd they’ve kept this one. God obviously didn’t want much intermarrying and this was a great way to ensure that you were serious before you got to marry some hot jewish chick. Old testament God was pretty anti-gentile.

So in Romans 2, Paul starts talking about this. He starts off just discussing what he feels circumcision means. If one is used to born-again analogies he’s basically saying you don’t need to be crawl back inside mom and literally be born again. Just believing and changing your life will do:

25Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the<sup class="footnote" value="[c]”>[c] written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.

28A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.

Then in First Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 7:19

Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.

Then in Galatians 2 we have fear of circumcised Christians:

12Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.

And here’s one that requires a lot of um… creativity to read “literally” and still advocate circumcision. Well I guess you can advocate it in Paul’s eyes as long as you go back to stoning adulterers:

2Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Here again in Collossians:

11In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature,<sup class="footnote" value="[a]”>[a] not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ,

Here in Titus, pointing out again that the circumcision group were actually the Christians who didn’t really believe and were trying to destroy the church:

Titus 1:10

For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group.

And that’s not even all of the mentions. It’s incessant. So please, next time you’re talking to a Christian who’s planning on getting their kid circumcised for relgious reasons, point them towards the Bible. Let them come up with a more valid reason, like germaphobia, or making it more unpleasant to masturbate.

And I know some people are going to come up with the extremely creative answer that they want to show their fealty to God in the bodies of their Children, and Paul was just referring to adult males not needing to get circumcised to be Christians, but please – you’re just making stuff up to justify your beliefs.

Oh and don’t try the “it prevents AIDS” defense, unless you already have an appointment to get your daughter the HPV vaccine. Remember abstinence is the answer.

H1N1 Vaccines and Government Inefficiencies

I’ve started seeing a lot of people complaining about their inability to get the H1N1 Vaccine for themselves, their kids, and their pet cockatiel Roy. I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about the government munging this. And how the government isn’t making enough vaccines.

First off people, the government isn’t making the vaccines. It’s a company called Novartis. This is one of those private partnerships that Republicans like to talk so much about. Those partnerships that are far superior to anything the government could do. So here we are. This is (supposedly) better than the government can do. So quit your whining. Or not. Just direct it appropriately.

Novartis is delivering lots and lots of vaccines. The problem is that it’s not going to deliver vaccines for everyone who wants one. Why? Because they only have so much manufacturing capacity. And there’s no value to them of having extra H1N1 vaccine after flu season is over. They’ve done the math and exactly the number of doses that they’re making is what makes sense for them. A certain number of deaths is ok in their fiscal plan to not overbuild vaccines or manufacturing capacity.

So why isn’t the federal government that concerned? Because so far the deaths are pretty much on target with any other bad flu season. So realistically everything’s working the way it’s supposed to.

But it makes me concerned, and we should use this public outrage to do something. Does it really make sense to outsource vaccines? Isn’t this one of those things like having a military where the federal government should just have factories on standby ready to make vaccines for every American?

If we translated our vaccine policy to the military it would be like outsourcing the military, and having the private company decide that really it only made fiscal sense to have resources available to protect about 10% of the United States. The rest would probably get captured, probably some of the states would raise militias that could fight the invaders off, the wealthy would hire private security firms but we’d just accept that there would be some substantial loss of life and territory. A politician trying to sell that would have to be nuts.

And yet that’s basically our national vaccine policy. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t use private labs to develop vaccines. I think that part of the equation is working well. We should just set it up where we pay some large chunk of royalties to the company that comes up with a viable vaccine and then the US government produces it. If anything it would get more players in the market as scientists could work on developing vaccines without having to have a massive manufacturing capability to build out what they produce. Essentially the US government pays for the development of open-source vaccines to use a software analogy.

Because frankly flu vaccines are small potatoes. It’s debatable if they really work at all (since what goes in each year is just best guess). What happens when we really need a vaccine to some new disease, that’s killing more than a percentage of a percentage? And we can only provide vaccines to 10% of Americans? It seems like we’ve outsourced a pretty important part of our national security.

On Ticket Prices

So, I don’t mention this enough on this blog, but currently in addition to writing plays and running a theater company I have a small internet startup called BuyPlayTix. One of the things I’m really trying to do with the software is start to build a way to analyze your audience and budget the way a for-profit business would. Granted, I’m no where near where I want to be with this, but the small amount I’ve built has provided some useful results.

The one thing that works is our BoxOffice software and Box Office reports. You enter all you ticket sales into the Box Office and you can look at some aggregate statistics in the report. I know this sounds ridiculously basic, but I would contend that most theater companies in Austin do not know what their average audience size is, or what percentage of tickets they sell at what price points.

On our last show, like many companies, we needed to come up with a ticket price. We’d already created a budget, which is based on historical averages and what we know things cost. Julie does a fantastic job with this and we’re never off by more than 10%. But when it came time to decide on a ticket price we just said $15. I guess because that seems fair? Or something. Market rate? Out of curiosity I decided to go back and look at our average size. I took our average paid tickets multipled by 15 and realized we couldn’t pay our rent if we charged $15 per seat. So we went with $18. And we had our standard house size, so we didn’t loose large numbers of our audience due to the cost increase. And we made our money back.

Which brings me to my main point. One of the main things that I’ve been reading are people complaining about not being able to make a living off of the arts. But how exactly are we supposed to do that if we’re just making up ticket prices that seem fair? How do we arrive at fair? The large regional theaters in town charge $30/ticket. Which is double what we think is fair. And you know what the kicker is? They’re heavily subsidized. So you’re really competing with a company that should be charging $60-100 per ticket. No wonder we’re having trouble competing. We’re pretending we can do the same amount of work for 1/4 of the pay.

I think we need to start committing to fair ticket prices, and knowing what that is. In version 4.0 of BuyPlayTix I’m going to have the ability to manually enter BoxOffice data for people who still take tickets the traditional way. I think it’ll be really interesting to see what ticket prices do if companies actually know what they have to charge to make money.

I think Pay-What-You can nights can provide for people who can’t afford high ticket prices, and we’re not doing anyone a favor by offering ridiculously cheap tickets to people who can afford to see touring musicals.

Google Wave

I’m looking at google wave, and wondering if it’s ability to record changes to a document and comments on it over time, might not be a great way to write a play with constant dramaturgy.

The editor seems a bit rudimentary, but I’ve already customized mediawiki to make playwrighting easy, so this might be doable.

Deer. Seriously.

So, we crested the hill near our house and were shocked to see this in our front yard:

Uh, yeah. Two deer. Just hanging out. Julie was pretty freaked out. I often turn a corner while running and happen upon a deer, so I’m a bit more used to them. But these were pretty big ones for the city:

Sorry for the dark pictures, but it was night.