Category Archives: Uncategorized

Transformative Street Change

So I support the new Land Development Code (LDC) process. This is the thing formerly known as Code NEXT. But I’ve been thinking about two problems with it:

  • Deed Restrictions
  • It’s not enough

Deed Restrictions

The biggest problem with the LDC is that a huge part of our housing exists in areas with HOAs and deed restrictions. These are private covenants that will keep new housing from being built, regardless of how we re-zone the city. The city cannot override them. Also most of the neighborhoods without deed restrictions tend to be poorer and/or full of people-of-color. So without tackling the deed restriction problem we will guarantee further gentrification and displacement.

If your neighborhood was built after the 90s there’s little chance that you could possibly be impacted by the new code. But of course hat housing is exactly the housing that is most in need of transformation to deal with climate change. We cannot provide transit and walkable amenities to these neighborhoods without more people. And we cannot add more people because of deed restrictions.

Not Enough

I also think part of the issue with the new LDC is that it is not transformative enough. It’s pretty clear how it will inconvenience me, but it’s very unclear if it will go far enough to make my life better. Nearly everyone I’ve ever talked to responds positively to pictures of pedestrian centered European villages, but think there’s no way to do that here.

But what if we could?

Develop the Roads

The City of Austin owns most of the roads in neighborhoods. And those roads are *not* covered by deed restrictions. It’s part of the way we build neighborhoods. Developers build the roads and then hand them over to the city to maintain. What if we turned neighborhood roads into housing?

I know this is a huge change. But as we watch Australia burn it’s also the kind of huge change that I think people could get behind. Because we can demonstrate that things really will become more pedestrian and transit friendly. It won’t be a “wait and see eventually positive change will trickle down to you”. It will say “you can have this change now!”

Right now pretty much all neighborhoods in Austin look like this:

But what if we transformed the road into a bike track, house, and sidewalk. The city can take the easement on narrow streets, but trust me when I say that most roads in Austin could easily accommodate a full-sized house (or even better row houses) in the middle of them.

The bike track and sidewalk would eventually meet a corner with a major arterial where there would be a bike shed for storing your bike and a bus stop. Retractable barriers would keep cars out, but allow in police, ems, and maintenance vehicles.

Places where multiple streets meet in a neighborhood currently have even more space!

These streets (and some cul-de-sacs) would become small neighborhood parks. Think playscapes, basketball half-courts, and fenced-in dog parks.

Rather than all homes at corners we could also allow space for cafes, pubs, daycares, doctor’s offices, and small groceries. They would be only reachable by active transporation so we wouldn’t have to worry about negative issues like traffic, drunk drivers, etc.

Obviously there are a lot of specific issues related to specific places that will need to be addressed, and we’ll need a LOT more buses. But it will be very easy to justify those buses when everyone is using them.

What do you think? Would you be interested in this sort of transformative change in your life? What would hold you back?

Why your house is not an investment

Your house is not an investment. It is an asset.

I was talking to one of my neighbors. We’re both overwhelmed by our large suburban yards. She had talked about selling but decided not to. Her problem? Despite it being worth at least double what she paid for it, she can’t find anywhere to buy that would let her take out that money and not live somewhere completely impractical. Sure you can get a $100k home in temple, but that commute isn’t worth it.

I decided to quit. Give up on trying to maintain my yard. Something had to change. When we moved into this house I wanted to move into a garden home. I was already done doing yard work. A decade of substantially increased yard work has not made things better. And moving from working from home, to working in the office meant I no longer could keep up.

So I started looking around at homes. Selling our house we could afford a half million dollar house with only a small increase in house payment. Which sounds great. The only problem? It would increase our tax payment by 225%. Which would be like adding another half a house to our house payment. And unlike a house payment if our house keep going up in value that amount would keep going up. 10% a year increase in taxes on a half million dollar house is a substantially larger number than 10% a year increases in taxes on a quarter million dollar house.

So do we have an asset that has increased in value? Nope. We have an asset that has inflated in value along with all the other homes around us.

So we’re taking out a home equity loan and paying someone to make the yard lower maintenance. Also we’re going to do a ton of work ourselves and invest tons of money in those projects.

Because we’re trapped here in our “largest investment”.

Configuring a Wireless HP Printer without WPS

So newer routers don’t have WPS. This can be a problem if you have an older printer that connects to your network via Wireless. Here’s how I got my P1102w working.

  • First I reset the internet settings. This involves turrning off the printer. Holding down the wireless and cancel button and then powering on the printer. Once it’s done making noise you can release the buttons.
  • Next I printed a wireless information page. I held down the cancel button until 2 pages printed.
  • Then I connected to the printer’s device network on my Mac. The self-test page has a field Network Name (SSID). A network with that name was listed on my wireless menu under Device Networks. Note that while connected you won’t have normal internet access.
  • I then looked at the Host Name on that self-test page. Mine was NPI79343D. So I opened a web browser and visited:
  • I clicked on the Networking tab. Clicked on Wireless to the left.
  • I changed the network type to Infrastructure
  • Changed the Network Name to my home network
  • Changed the Security Mode to WPA/WPA2 and then entered my password.
  • I then hit Apply and got a blank white page. That’s good. It meant it had stopped using the device network and moved to the main one.

And that’s it. My printer is now discoverable and working again.

Single-Family Homes and Social Justice

Have you ever thought about how people know where “good schools” are? Like really thought about it. With the exception of people like me and my wife who can not only tell you which programs each school has, but also how their test scores rack up relative to other schools. Most people aren’t like that, though. At best they might which of the 4 rankings the TEA hands out their school has obtained. And then there are plenty of schools that have the best rankings from the TEA that “people have heard have challenges”.

So how do we find “good schools”.  Take a minute and think about areas around you. How do you know they have good schools? What are the features of the communities?

I’ll bet you came up with something very suburban. Single-family homes with large green lawns. Homes on cul-de-sacs. New homes being built all the time. Ultimately these places do frequently have better schools by keeping out everyone without a college education, or parents rich enough to help with the down payment.


But this is ultimately the zoning of discrimination. It allows racism and segregation to persist in the guise of an obtainable dream. But the down payments and housing prices can always be set just a bit higher to ensure the right sort of neighbors.

We see this in Austin. Super-high end suburbia in the city ringed by apartment complexes. But what if we knocked out the suburbia entirely?

Seattle’s doing something very interesting about this. A Seattle committee recommends replacing “single-family zones” with “low-density residential zones”.  Every neighborhood right now that has single-family homes could add row houses, duplexes, and triplexes. This is something I’d really like to see happen in Austin. What do you think? Would you be willing to give up a suburban single family neighborhood to help out people who rent? If you rent would you be willing to fight for this change?

Think Creation Centers not Basic Wage

There’s a lot of talk about the need for a basic wage in the US. Self-driving vehicles have the potential to wipe out huge swaths of our economy. The obvious ones – truck and taxi cab drivers. And the less obvious – gas station attendants, fast food workers, grocery store cashiers and anyone else who works in a business that makes money off of luring you in while you drive by in a car.

It’s also pretty clear that a certain subset of the population is too influenced by 20th century propaganda to ever accept a basic wage.

A basic wage is socialism, communism, or welfare – and they don’t want it.

But when you look at the future of companies like Apple, the future is terrifying. Apple requires not only a wealthy consumer base, but a growing wealthy consumer base. Apple cannot survive in a world where the US has 40% unemployment.

I would suggest to see the future we look at Silicon Valley.

We already see the results of people with too much capital and not enough return on investment pouring money into startups praying for some sort of payoff. Take that concept wider.

I participated in Manuel Zarate’s first ArtSpark festival that gave participants space to work and a chance at a cash prize to work on new pieces of art. It kept a lot of people very busy and producing new things for several months. It didn’t have the capital we see in Silicon Valley, but it certainly could. Create foundations to sustain these incubators all over the US.

Inside the incubator participants would receive an “iPhone wage” along with bonuses and cash prizes for creating marketable ideas. Have them on every subject matter –

Create gardening incubators. Transportation incubators. Culinary incubators.

Ultimately they don’t have to be profitable, but if they are companies like Apple get new products, and at the very least they create jobs so people can afford new iPhones.

What do you think of this? Is it more feasible than a basic wage?


Please don’t be a NIMBY

Recently there have been several Austin posts suggesting taking back the word NIMBY as a point of pride. That’s a horrible idea. Please don’t be a NIMBY.

It’s Intellectually Lazy

Sure, being a NIMBY can seem great. You are assured that no matter what happens, you didn’t suggest the wrong answer. And you can always blame other people if something goes wrong. What a great moral position to take.

It supports decay

With the recent kerfuffle over the off-leash area at Auditorium Shores. The NIMBYs took great pride in standing tall and insisting the park was fine and nothing needed to be done. But only the most disingenuous person could say nothing needed to be done. Clearly there were erosion control problems that needed to be dealt with.

anti-NIMBY != pro-developer

There are many middle ground positions you could take. Come into meetings with ideas. Steer the conversation towards solutions you find palatable. Accept compromise to get what you want.

Don’t accept all input

It is important to identify suggestions that are meant to kill a project. We waste a lot of time in Austin trying to accommodate points of view that are meant to be poison pills, and are not offered seriously.

Be direct

Ask point blank what is required for support of a project. If a person in your conversation suggests that they will not support a project you can safely exclude them from further discussions.

Let’s Go!

Together I think those of us who are not NIMBYs can make Austin a better place. We can get the kind of development we want rather than taking an all or nothing approach. We can maintain our parks without bulldozing the way people currently use them.

Let’s say no to NIMBY-ism and come together as a community!



The Impact of Austin Homestead Exemptions

I did a new spreadsheet with what happens to your City of Austin tax rate with the two homestead exemptions currently on the table if your home continues to increase in value at 10%/year (as mine is currently doing). Note that your City of Austin taxes are only about 1/5 of your tax rate, so that’s why the numbers below may look low to you.

Currently Steve Adler is proposing a full 20% exemption at a cost of over $36,000,000 to taxpayers. That’s the entire City of Austin library budget to put things in perspective.

Kathy Tovo is proposing a flat rate $5,000 (it can only be $5,000 due to the trick being used to get the flat rate which are technically not allowed in Texas).

I have to say I don’t see much value in punching a hole in the budget for either of these cuts. What do you think?

Year Taxable Value Tax with Current Rate Tax with 20% Homestead Exemption Tax with $5000 Homestead Exemption
2013 $168,385.00 $846.47 $677.18 $821.34
2014 $185,223.50 $931.12 $744.89 $905.98
2015 $203,745.85 $1,024.23 $819.38 $999.10
2016 $224,120.44 $1,126.65 $901.32 $1,101.52
2017 $246,532.48 $1,239.32 $991.46 $1,214.18
2018 $271,185.73 $1,363.25 $1,090.60 $1,338.12
2019 $298,304.30 $1,499.58 $1,199.66 $1,474.44
2020 $328,134.73 $1,649.53 $1,319.63 $1,624.40
2021 $360,948.20 $1,814.49 $1,451.59 $1,789.35
2022 $397,043.02 $1,995.94 $1,596.75 $1,970.80
2023 $436,747.32 $2,195.53 $1,756.42 $2,170.39
2024 $480,422.06 $2,415.08 $1,932.07 $2,389.95
2025 $528,464.26 $2,656.59 $2,125.27 $2,631.45
2026 $581,310.69 $2,922.25 $2,337.80 $2,897.11
2027 $639,441.76 $3,214.47 $2,571.58 $3,189.34
2028 $703,385.93 $3,535.92 $2,828.74 $3,510.79
2029 $773,724.53 $3,889.51 $3,111.61 $3,864.38
2030 $851,096.98 $4,278.46 $3,422.77 $4,253.33
2031 $936,206.68 $4,706.31 $3,765.05 $4,681.18
2032 $1,029,827.34 $5,176.94 $4,141.55 $5,151.81

Writers you CAN do something.

Like the rest of the US I’ve been thinking a lot about race and racism in the past few days. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the Bechdel Test. We just finished writing a play that revolves around six women, technology, and heavy metal. I think it’s awesome.

But I’m going to let you in on a secret. It was also hard to write. It wasn’t hard to write because writing for women is hard. Writing good female characters is easy. It was hard to write because the default kept coming back “men”. Every time we needed a new character for some reason a man showed up. Plot lines twisted around to being about men. Boyfriends were called in to kneecap bad guys. And this was in a show that we had intentionally set out be women focused. It’s no wonder that when not thinking about writing for women, men dominate our stages. Changing this requires intentional action. It can’t just be a magical, mysterical, more just world that shows up because we’ve better educated our children that everyone is equal and has value. It requires intentional work.

So what does this have to do with race?

Same thing. We wring our hands and hope that we can create a more just world, but how exactly is that going to happen when a black man has become shorthand code in our media and literature? I don’t even need to fill you in. If you see a black man on the screen with no dialog you know why he’s there. He’s a default. A placeholder. Is it any wonder that our society just pulls up that same default, and walks away quickly, pulls him over, shoots him thinking he has a gun?

So here’s my challenge. I’m not saying don’t write any more bad guys who are black. I’m saying be intentional. Is there a reason for your bad guy to be a person of color (or a man for that matter)? Then change it. Shake things up. Be intentional.

You’re being a lazy writer. And propping up a racist society at the same time. So this is my challenge to you. Writers – let’s stop this shit.

Dooce posted a link to this great article about the difference between jogging through an upscale neighborhood as a black woman and riding a bike through it armed with a machete as a white man.

Read the Affected Article on Chookooloonks

I was just thinking about this this morning as I ran down the trail at AMD/Spansion with the “No Trespassing” signs. An area where no one has even looked at me twice running.

I think about when a mom in our neighborhood sent out a note that her son was going to be walking to the pool with friends. You know, so we wouldn’t call the cops on them.

And last week I got unintentionally involved in a Travis Heights NextDoor thread where a neighbor reported that an unseen person pounding on her door in the middle of the night “sounded black”. A woman married to a black man who lived in the neighborhood was of course most concerned by this. But in the end the conversation had to be closed because there was too much “hateful talk”. Of course all the “hateful talk” was just pointing out that saying someone you didn’t see “sounded black” was uncool. But we all need to think of the racists’ feelings.

How to make some money off this?

I was a little shocked to read this on Mark Cuban’s blog.

I truly believe that supporters of Romney that watched Fox News thought it was a no brainer and that Gov Romney would win. Living in Texas I was around a lot of Romney supporters on Tuesday night who had no doubt that Gov Romney would win. None.

I think I always believe these business leaders were just being cynical and letting all those poor white men watch their Fox News while they picked their pocket. It hadn’t really occurred to me that our business leaders actually watched Fox News.

So now it occurs to me that there are more than likely other disconnects where business leaders are betting on what Fox News says and not reality. I could probably make a lot of money on this…