Saturday, January 31, 2009

The #1 rule in real estate

I've been eyeballing the local housing market lately in anticipation of a move sometime in the next 18 months. I came across a rather nice looking house just outside our search area. It was reasonably priced, (too) large, and nicely appointed. A big plus was that it was new construction; you generally have to go pretty far out for that in Austin. Then I looked a little closer:

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What you're looking at is David Weekley's demo house. Rather, houses plural. See, they decided to build a couple of houses in a prime location in Austin to showcase their designs, amenities, etc. Basically a house showroom. They built two of them adjacent to each other. For easy access, they built them right on the feeder road of a major highway (spin the street view), and not far from another major highway. The houses are surrounded by massive parking lots, and ringed with strip malls and commercial real estate (my first full-time job was just a stone's throw away). The nearest other residences are on the other side of the highway behind a bunch of business. There's no neighborhood, nothing. It's just two adjoining houses smack dab in the middle of a bunch of strip malls (zoom out to see).

I can imagine someone finding this house on Trulia and not looking at the listing page too closely. I imagine them noting the address, then going for a drive by. And then the jaw dropping. What are they thinking? Who could possibly want that house there? It's hilariously awful.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

Children change your life

In discussion with a (childless) friend of mine, I said that having children doesn't have a huge impact on your disposable income. What it does hit, coining a term that I rather like, is your disposable time.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

A contributing factor to social apathy

One of the disappointments of adulthood has got to be how little interest other adults have in talking about anything real. Even issues of significance tend to be only attended to in superficial terms, with the repetition of whatever canned narrative fits their prejudices. I think part of it is a lack of time, and another part of it is that people are more set in their ways. That makes "stimulating discourse" less likely to be pleasing and more likely to cause discomfort and friction. I think a lot of people aren't actually shallow, but have learned to behave shallowly in order to blend in better. Just because it makes sense doesn't mean I like it, though.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Barack Obama, the 43rd President

Grover Cleveland served non-consecutive terms as both the 22nd and 24th President. If you count by distinct administrations, Barack Obama is the 44th President, but if you count by individuals, he's only the 43rd.

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Election '08

Also, I know it's old old old news, but I just can't get over it. Sarah Palin? What the hell?


The downside of the end of the Bush years

It means he can't be impeached and thrown from office in disgrace (not that it was going to happen anyway). This exit is more dignity than he deserves. Am I bitter? A bit.


Monday, January 19, 2009

8 long years of Bush

You can't say it was a complete disaster. Given the talk around 4 years ago, I think escaping the Bush Presidency with only two wars is getting off a little light.


Friday, January 9, 2009

The blanket octopus


The male blanket octopus spends his existence drifting along waiting to meet with a female. If the male meets a female, he fills one of his tentacles with sperm and tears it from his body. He gives this sperm-filled tentacle to the female which she then uses to fertilize her eggs. Afterwards, the female leaves the male who floats away and dies.

Double yikes:

An unusual defense mechanism in the species has evolved: blanket octopuses are immune to the poisonous Portuguese man o' war, whose tentacles the female rips off and uses later for defensive purposes.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Solve your problems as they appear

From an insightful blog post:

The problem is that we’re surrounded with information that confirms the threats we recognize. There are all those competitors that flubbed it because their engineers weren’t as smart. They got themselves Techcrunched and crashed under the pressure. Or they had some great feature but made it too hard to use.

The flaw in this sample, though, is its survivorship bias. The failures we hear about represent only failures big enough to get mentioned in the news. The more common failure might be the two guys in their garage that never manage to get out of their garage. Or the group of smart engineers that spend too much time working on the problems that are amenable to good code rather than the problems that end up being important to users. Or to the people who would have been users if you had actually done something they cared about!

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Broken glass

If you drop something glass on the floor, and it shatters, it can be tricky to find all the pieces. What I do is turn out the lights and get a bright flashlight. I shine the beam nearly parallel to the floor. That causes small objects to cast a shadow, and often makes the glass sparkle (it also makes your floor look really dirty). Hold the flashlight a foot or two away from your face; that makes it easier to see the shadows and reflections. Also try shining the flashlight straight down. A wet cloth can be helpful in gathering up the smallest pieces.

When it comes time to dispose of the glass, wrap it up in paper or put it into some non-recyclable container. Then tape it up. That'll save you from accidents; one time when I was about 8 I got jabbed in my leg when I was taking out the trash with a broken glass inside.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

You ain't got no horns, boy

Back in around 2003, I would regularly see this one distinctive car around Austin every few months. Then for a long time I didn't see it. Until yesterday. I saw it across the street as I was leaving the office. I wish I'd had my camera. Luckily, someone else with a camera saw it. What makes this car so special? Take a look. Only in Texas.

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Sunday, January 4, 2009

The one thing about winter...

That I miss is skiing. Skiing was an easy thing in Vermont. You got in the car, drove 30 or 40 minutes, and you were there. I can still ski, of course, not that I've tried in ~15 years, but from Austin, Texas, it's a production. It's like 800 miles, which means you can't just up and go. And you can't just ski once. You have to ski day after day after day to amortize the travel time. Even when I was 14, the first day of skiing for the season would leave me a wreck the next day. There's no way I could go skiing the day after. Now, at my age, with these creaky old bones? Forget about it.

My tentative plan to fix this is to live in Vancouver. Vancouver's pretty cool. We really liked it. There's a ski slope from which you can see downtown. It's no doubt mobbed, but there are two more It's there. Whistler is a 2 hour drive. Maybe it'll be faster after the improvements for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

I have no idea when we could do this. If it was all about skiing, the best time would probably be in around 7-10 years, because the kids would be old enough to enjoy it. The problem then would be getting them out of school. I guess we'd just bite the bullet.

The other tentative plan is to be massively wealthy. That would certainly solve the problem. It's a rather effective solution to a number of things, but I don't know if I should pin my hopes on it.