All posts by tim

Today I Was Manly

Today, I changed the serpentine and power steering belts on my 2006 Scion XB. It started with a trip to AutoZone. Except it was actually Advanced Auto Parts. I didn’t realize until I was leaving and passing AutoZone in the same parking lot, that I wasn’t actually shopping in AutoZone.

I did pick up their belt replacement rental kit for $30 (refundable). Which includes some narrow sockets and a bar to give you leverage. I could see it being really useful in a large engine, but in a small one it wasn’t that great. I frequently didn’t have the space to rotate a quarter turn and the bar they provided could only attach a socket at quarter turns.

The whole thing took me about 8 hours. Which might be a little excessive. But during the process I learned what a breaker bar was – and fashioned my own using a particularly strong ratchet and a piece of corrugated irrigation pipe. I spent many hours trying to figure out what the instructions meant. Even though they were incredibly detailed. Turns out the inside of a tiny car is not good for figuring out how a car works. There were a number of times when I moved the light a different way and suddenly realized that the entire car was working differently than I had spend the last hour assuming.

But more importantly than replacing the belts, I seem to have fixed the tension and my car no longer makes a horrible squealing sound. So both successfully replacing two parts, and having my fix do what I intended makes the day feel sweet indeed.

Steps to Protect the Aquifer

I just posted this to the ANC list in response to what we can do to protect the aquifer if we can’t stop Hayes County from building tons of homes over it.

Well obviously the answer is not going to be easy or popular. Otherwise the aquaifer would be completely protected and we’d be done talking about this. I do have 3 places where I think ANC could switch course and be a major force for positive change, however. I am aware these would be nigh impossible to implement due to their unpopularity. Nonetheless.

The top reason people cite for moving to places like Hayes County is more house for less money. So obviously in Austin we need more houses to lower prices, and we need them to be bigger. This will sop up demand in places like Hayes if people can live where they want (inside the Austin City Limits) in a reasonably (their definition not ours) sized house.

1) Repealing the McMansion ordinance addresses the size issue. There are other ways to deal with issues of large houses blocking out light from people’s windows (I can send this out if anyone’s interested). Every time we don’t let people build a 2500 square foot house in central Austin they seem to go out and build a 3500 square foot house over the aquifer. We need to couch this in terms of what’s more important – how close your neighbor is to you or Austin’s water supply?

2) Allow automatic density doubling. This addresses supply. If a lot currently has a single-family house allow a duplex. If a lot currently has a duplex automatically allow a four-plex. Remove all restrictions on vertical mixed use on our arterial roads.

3) Encourage developers to overbuild office buildings. 803 Barton Springs ran afoul of the waterfront planning commission, but at some point we need to ask what’s more important. The view from the water, or the water that fills Lady Bird Lake itself. ANC should have pushed to have the developer match the height of the buildings on either side to have extra space to lease to employers lowering prices for companies moving downtown and getting cars out of West Austin and off the aquifer.

All of these issues are ones that ANC and SOS are intimately involved in. I don’t expect anyone to change their views on this, but I think it does explain why there’s little hope for stopping development over the aquifer. We can’t stop Hayes County from building. The only thing we can do is provide so much supply in Travis County that there’s no demand.

HOAs and Grass

So Julie mentioned today that Texas’ drought could potentially last until 2020. Which brings up the question – what are we going to do about HOAs? Most HOAs have structures in place that involve penalties for letting grass brown or die, and provisions against replacing turf with – well, anything.

The CCR (Covenents, Conditions, and Restrictions) that govern neighborhoods generally require a quorum so large to overturn that it is nearly impossible. And that appears to be intentional.

I’m fascinated to see what will happen over the next few years. I know that the state attempted to pass a bill allowing Home Owners to install solar panels against the wishes of their HOA (it failed to pass). It seems there’s potential for massive uproar here.

What do you think? Will there be change or will homeowners just water our drinking water away?

A Music Server

So I’ve been wanting something to replace the music in our house for quite some time. We bought wireless speakers several years ago that are fantastic for parties and having kids (moving to another room? just pick up the speaker and go). The problem has been getting a stereo that works with them. And with an iPod. And with CDs, and it’s been a mess. So here’s what we’ve tried that we decided didn’t work quite how we wanted.

  • Having all mp3s on Playstation 3. Clunky interface. No control via iPod/Android.
  • Streaming to Playstation 3 using UPNP – too slow. No control via iPod/Android. Needs separate dedicated music server.
  • Dedicated music server hooked directly to wireless speakers. Cost for new system. Energy usage.
  • Stereo with iPod dock. No android support. iPod docks stop working.

So I began playing with my router and noticed I could put PHP on it. I decided to setup a web server to play with and in doing so, noticed that DD-WRT/OpenWRT had sound support. Puzzled, I looked it up and turns out I could plug this:

into the USB port on the back of my router and have sound. Intrigued I tried plugging in a USB hub and a USB hard drive with the sound card, and was able to get all my MP3s on the router with sound output.

I started writing my own interface, but found out there was already a program called MPD (Music Playlist Daemon) compiled for the router that had iPhone and Android control apps. So now Julie and I can walk around our house, pull out our phones and start, stop or change the music. And it’s all running off a router that was always on anyway. No music stopping because Tim has to reboot his computer.

Here’s the partlist if you’re interested in replicating it yourself:

Libertarianism and Totalitarianism

So I’ve been thinking a lot about libertarianism. It’s constantly paraded as “more freedom”. But the more I think about it the more it seems that it appeals to those who’ve become disenchanted with Democracy. It reminds me of the Russians constantly trying to revive the communist party because they felt it worked better. Ultimately if private companies provided all the functions of government, if they built our roads, provided our electricity, and removed our sewage we would have less control. Our democracy would disappear and we would have one or two choices. Perhaps this disillusionment with government and popularity of libertarianism goes hand in hand with our indoor TV culture. It’s too hard to get out and make a difference.

It’s much easier to just have a choice of two horrible Internet providers and pick one. Rather than have the government be the Internet provider and have to make decisions about infrastructure spending democratically, you can pick from one of two equally bad private entities.

The choice becomes easy, but you no longer have any Democratic control. We should strive to make our government more effecient, not to privatize it. Because privatizing it just the first step to corporate totalitarianism.

Productive Ideas #1

This post reminded me of one of the easiest ways we could encourage pedestrians in Austin. Neighborhoods love culdesacs. They keep cars away from your house and provide extra hard-scape for kids to play. The problem is that they also frequently create long impenetrable walls to pedestrians. In our previous neighborhood the developer had actually provided one of these sidewalks between two houses. No road went along with it. And it allowed pedestrians in the neighborhood to leave the neighborhood and walk to a bus stop. It could have been better. It could have been a walkway that went directly to the bus stop. But it was much better than the circuitous route that was almost twice as long to exit the neighborhood via the main road entrance.

So perhaps the City of Austin can setup a program to encourage people in the middle of blocks to give up some land for sidewalks. Perhaps have a trade where the city financially helps rebuild a homeowner’s fence in exchange for the land for the sidewalk. And maybe it wouldn’t even need that much. There are a lot of people in Austin who want it to be more walkable. The number of people willing to donate some land to the city in exchange for a sidewalk might be bigger than we think.

Conversations with Sabo

So I twittered after reading this chronicle article about my frustration that they interviewed Jason Sabo. He’d led the most unproductive group of parents who kept challenging the numbers, but were unwilling to even acknowledge or talk about any sort of compromise or fix for AISD’s facilities and budget problems. The group was known for labeling any potential solution as “trying to close ‘good’ schools”. So apparently Jason Sabo monitors twitter for mentions of his name:


@mdahmus: Jason Sabo was one of the worst of that lot. He tried to change the facts rather than fix the problems.

texassabo Jason Sabo

@tthomas48 If “that lot” refers to several hundred concerned parents, thanks for the shout out! Bad #s are not facts. @saveatxschools

tthomas48 Tim Thomas

@texassabo Attacking the numbers was unproductive and rallying parents with unreleastic solutions is not something to be proud of.

@tthomas48 Next time we’ll be sure to embrace bad numbers and “realistic” solutions like closing good schools. #lovethesetwitterdebates

tthomas48 Tim Thomas

@texassabo Yeah no ones suggested any other solutions. Like perhaps redrawing boundaries or tweaking the transfer policies.

tthomas48 Tim Thomas

@texassabo Challlenging “bad” numbers sounds like you’re trying to help, but really you’re just trying to justify closing other’s schools.

@tthomas48 Really? Can’t remember ever thinking or saying that, but thanks anyway for the clarification. #blessthemindreaders

@texassabo Feel free to tell me. What is your goal in having #AISD correct their numbers?