Archive for October, 2008

Investing in Halloween…

Friday, October 31st, 2008

Here’s an approach to Halloween decorating I had not encountered before now. The family (crypt keeper?) next door to our friend Hoang apparently converted their second garage into a dungeon:

suburban house

garage dungeon

It’s complete with skeleton chairs, gothic arches, and bat-cycles. Clever!

I admit that we didn’t decorate here at all, not even a pumpkin. Between too many rescued possessions on the porch and too little spare time, Halloween just wasn’t happening. What about you all? Did any of you get into the spirit?

Voter-friendly democracy in action!

Friday, October 31st, 2008

My gran’mom has been voting for 74 years, and 2008 was no exception. This afternoon, I drove her down to the northernmost Galveston County annex so that she could once again exercise her constitutional right. Fortunately, it was a beautiful day for the trip!

Galveston County Annex

When we arrived, the early voting line snaked as far as we could see in both directions. I asked folks in line if there were any benches nearby and they said no. Since Gran’mom’s stamina isn’t what it once was, we were daunted. But a thoughtful constable overheard us fretting over the wait and said, “Don’t worry… I believe she can vote curbside.”

Curbside???

He was right. I went to the front of the line and found an election official who graciously accepted my Gran’mom’s voter registration card and confirmed her precinct. A second agent got her signed in. The next agent assigned her a ballot code. The fourth agent entered her code in the eSlate, and then reached up and disconnected it. He followed me outside and proceeded to walk Sarah patiently through the ballot.

Gran'mom voting outside

Apparently, grandparents-in-the-know just wait in the car while their loved one goes in to request the ballot. But the officials didn’t seem to mind that Sarah was out of the car. Regardless, we were done in under 15 minutes, and it was easy. I hadn’t appreciated how much energy I had to allocate to walking someone with limited stamina and diminished attention span through a prolonged voting process until I suddenly didn’t have to. This is a great service and I sincerely hope they continue it. Do you agree?

Candidates matter. Contribute today!

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

One of the engaging things about doing public policy advocacy is that I get to work with elected officials. In almost five years as an advocate, I have seen up close that individuals make a difference. Electing smart, thoughtful, hard-working people to Houston City Council — like Melissa Noriega, Sue Lovell, and Peter Brown — is shifting the public debate and changing the way our City operates. Our Mayor, Bill White, is a Harvard-educated CEO and our city runs better for it.

Have you heard the expression, “think globally, act locally”? For me it plays out this way: I believe the national races matter and I vote, both in primaries and general elections. But with local races, I know that my active participation — not only voting, but also contributing and campaigning — can make a significant difference in the outcome. Here are three of the local 2008 races I care about:

Michael Skelly for CongressEvery U.S. representative seat is up for election in 2008. Here in Houston, I am delighted to help our wretched Congressional representative face his most-compelling challenger ever. Michael Skelly is a bright, successful, Harvard-trained wind energy executive. He’s a first-time candidate who gets that domestic energy policy affects national security, the environment, and costs of living. I worked with his campaign to shape their messaging on transportation. The incumbent, John Culberson, is a Kool Aid-drinking socially-meddlesome, tax-and-spend republican. He has fought public transit, health insurance for children, and sensible immigration reform, and he cites Tom Delay as his mentor. Replacing Culberson will serve both our city and the nation. You can visit Skelly’s campaign website at skellyforcongress.com to learn more, and I hope you will consider contributing.

Ellen Cohen for Texas State RepresentativeIn Texas, every seat in the state house is up for election in 2008, too. Two years ago, I campaigned to help send first-time candidate Ellen Cohen to represent us in Austin. For 15 years prior, Ellen led the Houston Area Women’s Center. In Austin, she has fought effectively to expand health insurance for children, to allocate state funds to cancer research, and to ensure equitable funding for public schools. Ellen replaced one of the dimmest and most self-aggrandizing elected representatives I’ve ever met, and she has repeatedly demonstrated that electing her is well worth the effort.

Jason Norbury for Missouri State RepresentativeIn addition, our friend Jason Norbury is running to serve in the Missouri state house. Check out this cute web ad in which he explains his commitment to expanding health coverage for children. We obviously don’t live in Jason’s district, but we believe his race matters. Electing good people to serve matters in every district and in every office, and Jason is good people. I encourage you to call J or visit his website at jasonnorbury.com, to learn more about why he’s running for office, and consider contributing online. Good luck, J!

With election day only a week away, these talented individuals (and others!) are in the final crunch of working to get elected. For better or worse, they need dollars to help get their message in front of voters and to help turn out the vote. I hope you will consider supporting these candidates. If there are other local candidates you are passionate about, please tell us about them below in the comments. And finally, I fully expect you to exercise your constitutional right. Election day is November 4 and in many places, the polls are already open. Vote early, vote often!

Adventias: Discovery Green as a happy diversion

Sunday, October 26th, 2008

I signed up to spend today with my Gran’mom so that Sharon could have some downtime. It was 85 and sunny, so I couldn’t bear the thought of us wasting away indoors. I decided we needed an entertaining diversion. My choice: a picnic lunch at Discovery Green.

Discovery Green is Houston’s newest urban park, which opened downtown in April 2008. The 12-acre park includes both quiet natural places and fun recreational spaces, as well as restaurants and amenities. On a day like to day, it’s an obvious destination!

Sarah rested while I packed our lunches, and then we headed downtown. With her limited stamina, it was all Sarah could do to make it up the long flight of stairs out of the parking garage. But once we were out in the park, she was captivated. For more than an hour, we sat and watched the people: teens with a frisbee, little kids playing catch, a girl doing handstands in between throwing a frisbee, young parents with toddlers in strollers, kids wet from the splash fountain, a cop on a bicycle, a park employee in an electric cart, a couple playing badminton, pretentious people with little dogs. We also heard a string quartet performing from the other side of the lake. There was much to see and hear! It didn’t seem to matter that Sarah didn’t have energy to do any of the available activities; she seemed happy to take it all in.

Bill biked over to join us
Bill biked downtown to join us for lunch

Gran'mom and Bob

By the time we returned to Sharon’s at 4:30 pm, Gran’mom was very ready for a nap. When I asked her how she liked the park, she smiled and said, “That was interesting… and fun.” I don’t know whether she’ll remember it tomorrow, but today was a good day.

Delayed but not deterred…

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

Our friend Bowie, whom I’ve known since my freshman year at Rice, turned 40 on September 12th, the same night that Hurricane Ike blew through Houston. Needless to say, his birthday dinner was postponed to a more conducive occasion. Tonight, five weeks later, ten of us gathered for a wonderful, intimate dinner in the wine room at Cavatore Italian Restaurant.

Bob, DJ, and Bowie
Bob, DJ, and Bowie

birthday group

Nicole and Brandon
Nicole and Brandon

Michaelangelo the pianist

My favorite moment involved Michaelangelo, the restaurant’s accomplished and accommodating live piano entertainer. After our group sang loudly along to his “Tequila” performance by shouting “Vodka!” at the otherwise appointed spot in the song, he came to our room to greet us. He asked us what we’d like to hear, asserting boldly that he could play “anything”! We deferred to Bowie, in honor of his birthday, to choose the next song. Tantalized by the bold offer, he requested Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor”. Michaelangelo returned to his piano and to our amazement and delight, he not only played it but played it well, leading us to pass the proverbial hat and tip him handsomely!

These few hours of good food, good conversation, and laughter were among the most enjoyable I’ve spent in six weeks. Happy birthday, Bowie!

Your cable bill? It’s Comcastic!!

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

For those of you who are Comcast victims from Hurricane Ike, check your most recent cable bills. Comcast is not automatically crediting you for any downtime you had as a result of Hurricane Ike. Instead, you have to call into the billing department and have them calculate and apply the credit individually. Wasting 15 minutes on hold? It’s Comcastic!! (713-341-1000)

Oh, yeah, they are also jacking up rates nationwide as of November 1st by 3.7% nationwide. We will have to see with the next billing cycle how much we get hit from this. On the one hand, there may still some protection left from the Time Warner separation agreement*, or we could get hit more as we “catch-up” to those Comcastic! national rates.

* I will put my editorial remarks into the comments.

UPDATE (10/29/2008): Comcast just released its third quarter earnings. They’re Comcastic!, too!

Comcast said its net income rose 38% to $771 million, or 26 cents a share. Excluding special items, the company reported earnings of 24 cents a share for the period, beating the average forecast of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters of 22 cents a share.

Revenue was $8.55 billion, in line with expectations and up from $7.78 billion in the year-earlier period. Its free cash flow jumped 77% to $928 million, thanks to reduced capital spending of $1.3 billion as the weak housing market led to lower equipment costs for the company. Capital spending in the year-ago period was $1.6 billion.

Comcast now expects to exceed its previous free cash flow target for 2008 of $2.3 billion, due largely to continued reductions in capital spending. It reiterated its previous forecast for revenue and operating cash flow growth of 8% to 10%.
[..]
“It’s good to be a subscription-based business when times get tough,” said Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Craig Moffett. “And it’s even better to be the only high capacity pipe into the home — in the overwhelming majority of markets — at a time when people are using more and more bandwidth, and are spending more and more time at home.”

With that kind of earnings, I’m feeling Comcastic! all over.

Ike storm photo scrapbook…

Monday, October 13th, 2008

For 10 days after Hurricane Ike hit the Texas gulf coast, we were without power or internet access. But we didn’t stop taking photos. I’ve been wanting to organize them to help me remember all the ups and downs of this experience. I’ve also been wanting to share them, but I wasn’t sure where. Our blog is mostly chronological, and I didn’t want to disrupt the flow. More to the point, I have a LOT of photos of our Ike experience, and I really don’t want our blog to become all Ike all the time.

Over the weekend, it finally dawned on me to create a separate online photo gallery. You can access it from the links at the top of the right sidebar, or click Ike photo gallery 1.

Here you’ll find some of our most memorable photos from the days after Ike, along with personal commentary. I hope you enjoy them! Enjoyment probably isn’t the right goal. Let me say instead that I’m interested to hear what you think.

What’s that you say?

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

Since we launched our blog in March 2008, we have really enjoyed having a place to share our news and keep our friends and family current. We have also really enjoyed reading your comments, answering your questions, and hearing your encouragement. We have even discussed interesting items from time to time.

We have a bunch of new readers since Hurricane Ike, and we invite you to participate in the comments, too. Because we also want to avoid spammers, we have set it up so that you will need a user ID and a password.

Word Press loginFirst, find and click the [Register] link in the right sidebar. It should be easy to find, but depending on your browser, it may be low on the page.

Enter your name, email address, and click [Register]. The blog software will automatically email you a temporary password and instructions for completing the registration process. Once you receive the email and instructions, return to our blog page.

In the right side bar, now click [Log in]. Enter your user ID and your password and click [Log in]. Now you’re enabled to post comments for the rest of your browser session.

Below each of our blog posts is a blue link that says “XX comments >>”. Just click that link to read the comments others have posted and/or add your own. The very first time you comment, Bill or I will have to “approve” your comment before it appears. But after we do that, you will be able to log in and comment at will. And we look forward to hearing from you! If you have any questions, just ask.

Fun with Stats

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

Years ago, when I registered the domain datapopulli.com, I dreamed of creating a site that was focused on highlighting key pieces of data that I thought people should know (e.g., the difference between a deficit and total debt, changes in the growth rate of the economy vs. the change in the economy itself). To that end, the guys at www.FiveThirtyEight.com have done that ambition one better as it relates to the Presidential election. Borrowing from my good friend, the Central Limit Theorem, they are trying to track the reliability of political polls at a fairly granular level.

I haven’t vetted them for bias, but I originally caught them on Dan Rather’s show on HDnet. It’s a great premise, and one for the stat geek poll watcher in all of us.

On the lighter side…

Saturday, October 11th, 2008

With all of the stuff going on around here, I thought it would be good to post a couple of bits that I’ve come across that I find refreshingly funny. Oddly enough, they come from Saturday Night Live. I gave up watching SNL at the end of the Dennis Miller (sell out) era, since the shift to more physical and whiny comedy just didn’t work for me. However, with the Presidential campaign in full swing, one has to respect how well Tina Fey can mimic Sarah Palin. This bit from a “joint message from Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin” is particularly funny:

I had heard all over the news that Ms. Palin’s interview with Katie Couric was “disastrous”, and the Tina Fey spoof is also really funny (especially about 3:45 in when they get to “the bailout”):

What’s frightening is that the funniest piece of it is less absurd than the actual portion of the interview it mocks. For those of you who missed it, check this out:

Yikes!